Napoleon Conquers in Second-Largest Firearms Auction in History
By Joe Engesser
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To call 2021 a record year for Rock Island Auction Company would be a colossal understatement. On Friday, December 3rd, Rock Island Auction became the first firearms auction house to join the century club by cracking $100 million in annual sales, and continued to shatter that lofty benchmark as the weekend rolled on with an unprecedented $121 million in annual sales. RIAC’s December 3 – 5 Premier Firearms Auction posted a staggering $25.2 million, the second-largest firearms auction in history and an exclamation point on an industry-defining year.
A RIAC competitor once said his dream would be reaching $20 million in a single auction. Rock Island Auction Company realized that achievement four times in twelve months, hosting a $22 million “Sale of the Century” last December, and following up with a trio of record-setting firearms auctions in May, September, and December of 2021. That success is not luck.
In 2020, RIAC broke its own industry record by reaching $92.7 million in annual sales, doubling the sum total of their top 5 competitors combined. Now Rock Island Auction Company is set to surpass that astounding figure by as much as $27 million, with one auction still remaining for the year.
December 2nd Preview Day
Each preview day at Rock Island Auction Company gives the public a firsthand look at the highest level of history and artistry that the industry has to offer. RIAC’s December Premier delivered in force, presenting a preview hall filled with over 2,200 of the most headline-worthy firearms publicly available.
Firearms enthusiasts from across the country were drawn to Rock Island Auction Company on December 2nd, thrilled to examine a breathtaking selection of legacy guns, investment-grade arms, and museum-worthy masterworks from world-class collections. Pieces belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, Brigham Young, and Emory Upton awed the crowd, an exquisite assembly of treasures to rival anything else in the decorative arts field.
As lavish as Rock Island Auction Company’s full-color catalogs are, they only offer a taste of attending a Premier Auction Preview Day. Anyone with an interest in firearms, history, militaria, and fine art is encouraged to visit and share in the experience, as each preview day is a celebration of arms collecting at its most prestigious and exclusive level. The auctions that follow are just as exciting, and RIAC’s December Premier, winter’s flagship event in the world of fine arms collecting, set yet another record for the company in a record-setting year.
Rock Island Auction Company’s final Premier Auction of 2021 opened on Friday to standing room only inside the auction hall. With troves of historic, one-of-a-kind firearms up for bid on day one alone, the energy in the building was brimming. Everyone knew they were in for something special, and the next nine hours did not disappoint.
Winchester lever action rifles consistently rank highly with collectors, and Friday was no exception. Among the multitudes of scarce and desirable Winchesters featured was the "Brigg’s Patent” Henry rifle that kicked off the auction with an impressive $184,000 total. But there was one Winchester that truly won the day.
As the only known solid silver Winchester rifle, L.D. Nimschke’s masterpiece Winchester 1866 is an absolute magnum opus of 19th-century firearms engraving and is featured in numerous books. The iconic rifle is monumental in a thousand different ways, and the bidding world certainly took notice Friday morning.
When it comes to high art, few craftsmen from the Golden Age of gun engraving can top Gustave Young. Like L.D. Nimschke, Young was a giant in his field, and turned this already desirable Colt 1849 pocket revolver into a true masterwork that found a fitting price on Friday of $119,025.
Nothing embodies the theme of treasures in gun collecting more than December’s crown jewel offering, an immensely historic collection of militaria presented to General Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. This six-piece garniture of five exquisitely engraved and relief carved firearms, plus a gilt dress sword, are each the works of Nicolas-Noël Boutet, the famed royal gunsmith at Versailles, and had received worldwide media attention leading up to December’s event.
The bidding started fast, with a spirited battle waged between the phones and the floor. The lavish garniture broke two million and continued to rise, along with the crowd’s eager anticipation. In the end, only one bidder would stand victorious, and Napoleon’s garniture triumphed with $2.875 MILLION, the single biggest sale in Rock Island Auction Company history.
The incredible provenance, condition, and rarity offered in December’s auction was on full display with the George Moller Collection. The esteemed author and historian assembled a bounty of incredible firearms, many among the rarest examples in their genre, like his U.S. Army Colt Model 1877 “Bulldog” Gatling gun. Though not a shoulder arm, as Moller is most known for in his writings, this Gatling Gun fit his criteria for unique, scarce, and transitional weapon technology, and Friday it roared in for a $345,000 grand total.
Military arms continued their rally throughout the afternoon, heavy firepower offerings like the Inglis Bren Mark II and the M60 machine gun both cutting past their high estimates for $92,000 and $86,250 respectively. An assemblage of scarce 1911s also came in hot, delivering some of the day’s greatest thrills.
In terms of sheer variety, top-tier collections, and firearms history covered, Friday was nothing short of groundbreaking. When the dust settled, the day’s total was one of the largest single sale days for Rock Island Auction Company, a tremendous showing that set the tone for the rest of the weekend to follow.
Saturday was another banner day for Colt, Winchesters, sporting arms, and military guns as December’s all-star lineup continued. The crowd was just as energized, as was the bidding between the phones and Rock Island Live. Day two showcased the sheer diversity and range of the collectible firearms market, offering everything from exquisite 16th century wheellocks to heavy-duty machine guns.
One of December’s most headline-worthy firearms came up next, “The Midas Bull 1 of 1000.” Only four "1 of 1000" rifles are listed in the Winchester factory ledgers as factory engraved with a gold-plated finish, a John Ulrich signed, ensuring that such a crème de la crème piece of finery was sure to make a statement. After another intense round of bidding, the lavish rifle carried the Midas touch heralded by its moniker as it earned a lofty $431,250.
Another high art offering soon took center stage, this time a splendid Wheellock Petronel, circa 1575, and formerly from the Collection Baron Frederic Spitzer, Paris. Only a handful are known to exist and are seldom offered for sale in any venue. Saturday morning, one lucky collector was rewarded this head-turning piece with a $57,500 bid.
The immense rarity wasn’t lost on the appreciative crowd who attended December’s Premier, and many of Rock Island Auction’s guests found themselves walking away with early Christmas presents from George Moller's storied collection.
Rock Island Auction presented some fantastic military arms on Saturday, warming up with some WWII classics before breaking out a collector’s wish-list worth of Class III guns and some explosive surprises. Everything from Bazookas to BARs, and Johnson 1941 semi-automatic rifles were presented, and almost each of these heavy hitters met or exceeded its high estimate.
December’s spectacular concluded Sunday with a packed parking lot and a vibrant energy that showed no signs of slowing despite the long weekend. The passion for fine firearms united the crowd from the start, and Sunday’s unique presentation was certainly an attention grabber.
The collection of Milan J. Turk was offered in its entirety Sunday, a single day devoted to a single, elite collection. Milan J. Turk, a longtime client of Rock Island Auction Company and an accomplished collector, pursued only the best. In terms of value, condition, and rarity, Mr. Turk’s assembly reflects the highest level of the pursuit, and featured a range of fine arms for all collecting aspirations.
Rock Island Auction Company has had the privilege to offer some outstanding Marlin rifles in the past, but the stunning assortment of Marlins found in the Milan J. Turk collection are truly one of a kind. Rare prototypes, engraving, inlays, and superb condition were all exhibited in abundance on Sunday, rifles that spanned decades of Marlin production, and the crowd was quick to take notice.
One of the most unique antique arms from the 19th century is the E. Remington & Sons line of cane guns, a gentlemen’s defensive weapon, and Milan J. Turk’s collection included an extensive assembly of these fascinating firearms. An inscribed coral colored cane gun pulled in an outstanding $28,750. The equally desirable, large silver plated "dog's head" Remington cane gun soon followed suit and marched off with a handsome haul of $31,625.
The day was a remarkable success from start to finish, and a fantastic end to the second-largest firearms auction ever held. Excitement pushed bids up and pushed bidding long, and the persistent enthusiasm from the crowd who attended live, as well as the hundreds who joined the event via the phones and online consoles resulted in one of the most spirited and competitive firearms auctions to date.
Two DWM Model 1900 American Eagle U.S. Army Test Luger pistols earned $63,250
Rock Island Auction Company Breaks 100 Million Dollars
$121 million in annual sales to date is an astounding achievement and sets a new high watermark for the collectible firearms industry. Rock Island Auction’s total auction sales to date have now surpassed one billion dollars, nearly half of that figure achieved in the last six years alone. The future looks brighter than ever for the industry, with new collectors and investment buyers tuning into the fine arms market every day.
December’s Premier was a showcase for everything Rock Island Auction Company has worked toward since its founding nearly three decades ago. The little auction company on the banks of the Mississippi that started in a garage committed itself to delivering the highest standard of presentation, expertise, and customer service in the industry, and they’ve never lost sight of that goal.
Rock Island Auction’s dedication to quality has attracted a loyal clientele from around the globe and resulted in some of the biggest names in the field of fine arms collecting consigning with the company and trusting RIAC to present their esteemed collections. These efforts have cemented Rock Island Auction Company’s status as the world’s number one firearms auction house for 19 years running, a title made possible by the finest staff and clientele in the business.
December’s auction was a holiday event for the ages, and Rock Island Auction Company is already preparing a spectacular lineup of Premier Auctions and Sporting & Collector Auctions for 2022. December 15th sees the final Arms & Accessories Auction of 2021, one last chance to pick up something special for Christmas.
None of this success would have been possible without Rock Island Auction Company’s loyal clients and consigners. The passion from RIAC’s guests was on full display as they shared their love of fine arms collecting and made the December Premier a weekend to remember. Rock Island Auction and the Hogan Family thank everyone for their continued support and wish all their firearms friends a safe and joyous Christmas and a happy New Year.
As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, or future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today. Our 2022 auction schedule is now available on our website, with new auctions frequently added, so be sure to go through the listing and start making your plans to visit. All our events adhere to the latest COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. We can’t wait to see you here!