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September 15, 2020

Real Art. Real History. Real Results. RIAC September Premier Auction Exceeds $18 MILLION

By Mike Burns

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Rock Island (IL.)-Rock Island Auction Company held yet another spectacular Premier Auction event this past weekend that displayed some of the most incredible examples of high art, rare, and exquisite firearms known to the world. With over $18 million worth of firearms, accessories, and militaria sold, this Premier Auction was one for the books. But this auction wasn’t just an extravaganza of guns, ammunition, and artillery, featured in the hundreds of lots sold during the weekend were war memorabilia that took to the skies in aerial combat during the First World War, incredible works of art from influential artists hailing from across Europe and the Americas, and a stunning collection of vintage advertisements, some of which are the only known surviving examples available for private sale. Of course there were a vast collection of firearms so extensive it would take weeks to pursue every item with the attention and admiration each one individually deserves. On top of all of this, Rock Island Auction Company was proud to raise over $100,000 in donations to the NRA-ILA in support of upholding the rights preserved under the Second Amendment and encouraging firearms enthusiasts everywhere to cast their votes this November. Thanks to the support of our loyal, supportive, and enthusiastic team of customers, Rock Island Auction Company continues to push the limits of what is possible in the industry, despite major obstacles that were ultimately conquered.

Leading the auction was a very special collection of firearms that holds significant historical importance but also remains so rare, other examples simply do not exist. Take the Colt engraved 1847 Walker revolver that sold for $460,000 during the auction, it is believed to be the only Colt Walker extant to have engravings and was the highest price realized throughout the event. Colt Walkers are already an extremely rare firearm to find, but an engraved one has no other equivalent known. It was an honor to be able to sell this fine piece of history, and Rock Island Auction Company looks forward to the next Walker to make its way through the doors. Apart from the Gatling guns that will be discussed later, the next highest grossing item would be the triple set of remarkable Fabbri shotguns master engraved by Manrico Torcoli. With startlingly realistic bulino engraving, these high-art sporting guns display a unique combination of fantasy imagery that blends human and animal forms in a style conceived completely by Torcoli himself. Selling for an incredible $402,000, these beautiful shotguns could be considered more art than weapon. Third place on the “winner’s podium” of highest prices goes to the breathtaking cased pair of high-art exhibition pistols crafted by Brun of Paris, an expert gun maker of worldwide note. Originally displayed at the International Exhibition of 1862, known as The Great London Exposition, these pistols have survived in amazing quality for more than 150 years. After spending over a century touring around the world for others to enjoy (most recently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a part of the Dr. Gerald Klaz collection), these guns have finally found a more permanent home after selling for $373,750.

Pat’s Place

Besides the literal elephant in the room, one aspect of the Preview Hall that might have looked a bit different from previous auctions was the addition of the 19th century American-frontier firearms trading post that was constructed in anticipation for the event. Housed within “Pat’s Place” sat swaths of frontier firearms, weapons, and tools authentic to the period to help immerse audiences and customers in the experience of being in that time; granting a sense of perspective, significance, and appreciation for the artifacts around them. Further adding to the frontier motif, the frontier cabin was “alive” with the inclusion of various stuffed woodland creatures, traps, signs, bullet boards, and art work.

While the décor and feel of the exhibit were notable, the real substance of Pat’s Place was the sheer number of firearms showcased in the space. Housing over 100 items, the trading post featured lots ranging from impressive Merwin Hulbert revolvers, a pristine golden miniature Gatling gun, and bullet boards of extreme rarity. The impressive and elaborate Union Metallic Cartridge Co. bullet board exhibits an extensive number of rim fire cartridges, center fire cartridges, and shotgun shells that extend to the massive 1 inch Berdan Gatling shell. Incredibly rare, this bullet board is only one of three known to exist (the other two being housed in the Smithsonian and the Springfield Armory Museum). It is quite possible that this is the only example known to exist that features a navy blue paper background and is the only known example available for private sale. Being of such rarity, it is no wonder that this lot blew past its evaluations to sell for an impressive $51,750. Paintings of Wild West shootouts and saloon-roaming bandits adorned the walls of the cabin while intricately designed display cabinets boasted ordered sets of revolvers, lever actions, and tomahawks. One only has to imagine what life was like on the American frontier during the 19thcentury, but Pat’s Place might be the closest thing to it.

Rare and Beautiful

Featured in the Premier Auction event were an abundant assortment of gorgeous and remarkable firearms; each being a practical library of historical context, holding stories nearly lost to time. Like a quahog clinging tightly to the priceless pearl within, these items grip to the stories they have carried for generations in an attempt to escape the obscuring tides of time. They find solace and relief in the oasis that is Rock Island Auction Company; where they can, at last, expose their knowledge of the world and its fickle nature to grant us a momentary glimpse into the past. It’s fascinating how a certain combination of metal, wood, and craftsmanship can bring such a personality to an inanimate piece of technology; yet, after spending only a short time examining and admiring these items, there is somehow a connection to them, reeling you in to sit beside them next to a roaring fire, soaking in the adventures, conquests, and tragedies they beg to tell.

Just a quick glance through this auction’s massive preview catalog and the incredible collaboration of art and history presents itself instantly. For example, an extraordinary Ainsworth inspected Colt Single Action Cavalry Model revolver, with its rare Company K, 4th Cavalry history sold for $207,000.The 4th Cavalry is one of the most famous and decorated U.S. regiments in American history that has significant ties with the pacification mission in Texas. A Texas Confederate L.E. Tucker Navy revolver sold for $207,000 and is one of only three known to exist. With direct ties to the American Civil War, its serial number 1 listing, and its accompanying documentation, this revolver is a fantastic example of how rarity and history can create a perfect storm of desirability and reverence for the past.

Bob Dalton met his fate on October 5, 1892, when he and a group of accomplices attempted to rob two different banks in the same town on the same day. Due to poor planning, bad luck, and the readiness of the well-armed citizens of Coffeyville, Kansas, Dalton and the rest of the gang never made it out of the town alive. Recovered off the still-warm body of the famed outlaw was his trusted Colt Single Action Army revolver, adorned with attractive engraving and pearl grips. Over 100 years later, the revolver found itself up for auction at Rock Island Auction Company where it sold for $345,000.

John Jeremiah Garrison Johnston was an ordinary man living in early 19th century America until, after striking an officer while enlisted in the military, would embark on a journey unlike anything he would think imaginable. Described as a large man weighing nearly 260 lbs (with little to no body fat), Johnston would change his name to “Johnson,” after fleeing the military and eventually settled in the wild Montana frontier. There, he would become a legend. Rumors and stories about him started circulating as early as 1847 that involved incredible acts of revenge. The most famous accounts of his life begin with the murder of Johnson’s wife at the hands of a tribe of Crow Native Americans, indigenous to the area. So distraught, Johnson took matters into his own hands by reportedly killing over 300 Crow Native Americans, single-handedly. Johnson frequently devoured the livers of the slain Crow, an insult to the tribe who believed the organ to have immense spiritual value, earning him the nickname: “Liver-Eating” Jonson. By the end of his life, John “Liver-Eating” Johnson was a sailor, scout, soldier, gold seeker, hunter, trapper, whiskey peddler, guide, deputy, constable, and log cabin builder. An incredible man with an incredible life. His Winchester Deluxe Model 1876 lever action rifle, documented to the man himself, sold for an amazing $69,000. Johnson’s legacy lives on to this day, and this rifle is a sheer testament to one man’s vengeance.

In addition to the historic items that populated the Preview Hall, there were also an incredible array of high art firearms fashioned and engraved by some of the most famous designers the world has ever seen. Several lots brandished names from the likes of Nicolas-Noël Boutet, Louis Daniel Nimschke, and Gustave Young while others gloated the reputation of industry legends such as Tiffany & Co. Some items, like the incredible 16thcentury Saxon ball pommel wheellock pistols (that sold for a whopping $109,250), were the reflections of monarchies, regimes, and dynasties that extend back centuries. Such is the case with the cased pair of the gold inlaid percussion pistols made by Manceaux of Paris that were presented to Lord Cochrane by the King of France himself, King Philippe I. Cochrane was a British naval officer who proposed saturation bombing and chemical warfare during the Napoleonic Wars and would later become an incredibly successful mercenary admiral for a range of different countries after being falsely convicted in connection to an economic scandal. Cochrane would ultimately make his way to Paris, where he was pardoned by King Philippe (a good personal friend of his) and presented with these pistols as a token of the King’s esteem. The pistols, almost 200 years later, have traveled thousands of miles to find themselves selling at auction for an impressive $161,000. An amazing and beautiful display of history, royalty, and legacy contained in a single case.

A Rock Island Auction Company first came in the form of a set of Spanish percussion pistols and a damascened sword crafted by master Spanish designer Eusebio Zuloaga. This is the first time Rock Island Auction Company has encountered work by this particular artist and it will be remembered here for a good time to come. The incredible quality of items that are almost 200 years old coupled with the historical significance of Zuloaga, his work with the Spanish Royal Armory of Madrid, and the breath-taking details that cover absolutely every inch of surface area on these are jaw-dropping in every way. Considered one of the most famous and skilled metal workers in all of Spain, Zuloaga and his family have been credited with preserving the art of Spanish damascening and trace their long lineage as arms makers to the 17th century. A central figure in the preservation of Spanish pottery techniques while head of the Royal Factory of La Moncloa in the 1840s, his works have been more recently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the end, the gorgeous Renaissance-style percussion pistols sold for $126,500 and the Damascened sword sold for $195,500.

L.D. Nimschke is a name familiar to collectors and enthusiasts alike. Not only are his designs iconic representations of traditional German scroll work, but they have survived and appreciated in value to this day. Keeping this in mind, it is no wonder that some examples of his work gained considerable attention and interest. For example, the phenomenal, well-documented L.D. Nimschke identified panel scene engraved Evans Rifle sold for $126,500, the cased pair of Nimschke engraved Colt 1861 Navy revolvers sold for $31,625, and Dr. Fluhrer's Smith & Wesson revolver sold for $23,000. Most notable of the Nimschke firearms to make an appearance in the September Premier Auction was the documented Nimschke engraved Colt Lightning carbine that sold for an incredible $92,000. Engraved Colt Lightnings are extremely rare and it is estimated that fewer than 40 Lightning rifles were factory engraved in total.

A Colt 1851 Navy revolver inscribed to U.S. Secretary of War John B. Floyd sold for $230,000. Besides being a stunning piece of firearms art in exceptionally fine condition, this revolver was the property of the aforementioned John B. Floyd, who would later defect from the Union to join the Confederacy on the verge of the American Civil War. An interesting bookmark in the life of a man whose capricious loyalties and allegiances reflected a much larger national tone of uncertainty and anxiety as the nation plunged into war. On top of the amazing history behind this firearm, it was cut by master engraver Gustave Young. A numerical price tag certainly does not do justice to the significance this revolver has in the annals of history. However, this item was not the only lot to feature the works of Gustave Young. A factory engraved and gold inlaid Smith & Wesson No. 3 American 2nd Model revolver, featuring the elaborate scroll works and floral arrangements that made the style of Gustave Young so famous, sold at auction for $57,500. A similar Smith & Wesson No. 1 engraved and gold inlaid revolver by Young sold for $31,625.

A name that needs no introduction nor explanation is Tiffany & Co., whose presence at the September Premier Auction would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to ignore. A rare deluxe Tiffany embellished Smith & Wesson .32 hammerless 1st Model revolver sold for a notable $46,000. Complete with a period correct pipe case featuring red silk lining and the Tiffany & Co. Paris label in gold, this item still remains a strong semblance of luxury and quality. Emerging from the famed Robert Sutherland Collection was an extraordinarily rare deluxe Tiffany & Co. embellished Colt 1895 double action revolver that sold for a remarkable $25,875. An incredible representation of the Art Nouveau movement and first exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the rare and iconic deluxe Tiffany & Co. Smith & Wesson double action First Model sold for $74,750.

Most astonishing to come from the selections of Tiffany & Co. items was the silver Civil War officer's sword inscribed to Major General Henry W. Halleck. Along with its impressive and beautiful design, the sword is a historic checkpoint of sorts that marks the sliver of time Major General Halleck spent in the military before being promoted to General-in-Chief of All of the Union Armies by President Abraham Lincoln. Due to his calculating mind and well-known studies, Halleck was known as "Old Brains" in the military community and, despite complaints about his cautious approach to the war, stood as one of Lincoln's pallbearers at the president’s funeral. Halleck might not be the most famous name to come from the Civil War, but his relations with notable historical figures such as Lincoln, Ulysees S. Grant, and his own wife (the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton) prove he was, at the very least, extremely influential during his life.

Interestingly enough, as if straight out of an episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” the sword was recently rediscovered in a Chicago attic nearly 150 years after Halleck’s death and sold for $74,750. The immaculate condition of the sword indicated that it essentially hadn’t been touched for decades. An amazing piece of history that grows more astounding by the second. Where will this object travel to next? Uncertain, but it has been granted a new life in an era practically alien to that of its conception.


The September Premier Firearms Event at Rock Island Auction Company was packed to the brim with historical, rare, and absolutely stunning pieces of technology. However, there were other items that packed a bit more heat. A mighty Stetr “bnz” MG42 machine gun sold for $54,625. Dubbed "Hitler's Buzzsaw,” the MG42 machine gun was one of the best and most significant infantry weapons of World War II. Firing at about 1,2000 rounds per minute, it gave it a distinct and intimidating sound, very alarming to American and Allied troops familiar with slower-firing weapons.

A World War II Singer manufactured M1911-A1 semi-automatic pistol sold for $80,500. A rare example of American history, the Singer pistol is reflective of the many companies of the time that had to drastically change their product manufacturing process to aid in the War efforts. Like many other companies, Singer had to pivot from designing and engineering sewing machines to produce a limited number of firearms for the military. Only 500 were estimated to have been made in total.

A Colt Model 1921 Thompson submachine gun sold for $57,500. A fan favorite and an iconic personification of the roaring 20’s, prohibition, and the approaching Great Depression, these firearms are, arguably, the most famous sub-machine guns in the world. From the “gangland” areas of Chicago and New York to the beaches of Normandy, “Tommy” guns have seen usage on the streets and the battlefield.

Perhaps most notable of the lots to sell during the Premier Auction were the Gatling guns. The smallest of which was the .22 Caliber miniature Model 1893 gun that sold for $8,625 and the largest being the Colt 1890 Gatling gun that sold for an impressive $431,250. The finest known example of a Colt Model 1890 Gatling Gun extant, this particular model is mounted on an original field carriage. A Model 1874 Colt Gatling battery gun also made an appearance selling for $126,500, while not as large as the previous model, it was effective, intimidating, and deadly in combat. Despite a relatively long production period, only around 1,300 or fewer Gatling guns were manufactured by Colt across multiple models.

Thank you to everyone who was able to make their way to this spectacular event. Rock Island Auction Company is truly blessed to have such an incredible group of loyal attendees, bidders, consignors, collectors who continue to help make the company successful. This excitement, loyalty, and love for the hobby shone brightly all weekend long, even though the sun did not chose to return the favor. One never knows what will show up at an event like this, but the only way to find out is to attend one for yourself.

Rock Island Auction Company is committed to helping preserve the rights guaranteed to every American under the Second Amendment, and with such an important election coming up this November, it is critical to cast your vote to help protect these rights. Please remember to cast your ballots come November 3rd. Thank you for all the support displayed thus far in 2020 and throughout this auction. Rock Island Auction Company looks forward to hosting another exciting Premier Firearms Auction December 4th-6th as well as a Sporting & Collector Auction taking place only a few weeks away from now from October 7th-10th.

As always, if there are any questions regarding bidding, consigning, or future auctions, please contact the helpful people at Rock Island Auction Company.

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