May 8, 2019
By Danielle Hollembaek
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The Civil War, an era in America history that changed the country’s future. The war itself not only shaped the country politically, but also spiked a rush of innovation in manufacturing. One particular area that tends to see a boost during wars is artillery development and the 1860s assuredly had its fair share of firearm improvements. The side with the best production plants and firepower was ultimately more likely to win the war. Long guns like the Springfield Model 1861 musket and Sharps rifle were key elements to battle and are sought after guns by Civil War memorabilia collectors today, while those who fancy hand guns seek out Colt Model 1860 Army or Model 1851 Navy revolvers. The rare Confederate Le Mat revolver is another highly desirable Civil War gun. Advances in firearms technology were quickly progressing in the mid-1800s making for some seriously well designed and powerful arms development during the Civil War. For this reason, many Civil War guns are still quite popular among firearm enthusiasts.
One of the most iconic and memorable of all Civil war guns used by the Union during is the Springfield Model 1861 musket. With over 1 million being produced during the war by Springfield Armory and about two dozen other firearm producers, the dependable rifle gained fame during the early years of the war with many being produced in 1862. The percussion musket used .58 caliber Minie balls for ammunition which provided additional range and accuracy for soldiers using the gun. The rifling also improved precision over traditional musket. Slight improvements were made on the rifle in 1863 and new production Springfield rifles were called the Model 1863. The Springfield may not have been the top of the line or most advanced gun available on the market, but it was definitely the most widely available to Northern troops and got the job done in battle. The Springfield was such a widely used rifle that most Civil War re-enactors own one for use in their battles.
Like with all historical firearms, the prices can vary throughout the years on certain models and type of arms with condition and provenance playing a role on cost. Back in our 2018 December Premiere Auction, RIAC sold a standard, good conditioned Springfield Model 1861 for $3,163. The rifle showed gray patina and mild wear from use which is pretty astounding considering the age. This is a pretty accurate depiction on what owning the Civil War gun Springfield Model 1861 would run you in the current day prices. It is a great option for a collector on a budget.
The Spencer carbine and rifle were first presented to the government in 1860, but were rejected by the United States because they were 7 shooters and fired “too fast” for accuracy. The long gun eventually was approved for battle later in the war and made its first official appearance in the Battle of Gettysburg. However, some soldiers personally bought the Civil War gun before the government approved a contract. The speed and reliability of the Spencer is what made it stand above many of the other guns produced at the time. Besides the Henry, no other long gun could provide a shooter with 7 rounds before having to reload. The lever action gun could fire off 20 rounds a minute on average making it ten times faster than the traditional muzzleloaders of the time. It is assumed from official records that somewhere around 230,000 Spencer rifles were used in the second half of the war.
Spencer rifles and carbines are highly desirable Civil War guns to military memorabilia collectors. In our 2019 May Premier Auction, we sold an excellent conditioned, beautifully casehardened and original blue preserved Spencer Model 1860 rifle for an astounding $48,875. The firearm was one of the finest examples of a well-kept Spencer a gun enthusiast could ask for with minimal wear, markings, or signs of use. This had to be one of the finest Spencer rifles still surviving today.
Back in May of 2017, we sold a Spencer 1865 carbine for $9,775. The rifle was completely original and still retains almost all its blue coloring on the barrel. Again, the high level of condition shown is rare to come by with Civil War guns considering the predicted heavy use and age of the firearms.
Sharps carbines were the most highly desirable carbines during the Civil War for sharpshooters. The Civil War gun was a breech loading falling block in .52 caliber and proved to have excellent accuracy and rapid fire ability. Starting in 1850 and throughout the Civil War, roughly 100,000 Sharps carbines were produced for military use. During 1863, Sharps was the carbine prominently used by Union soldiers. The Civil War gun became so popular that the Confederate forces copied the design and started producing their own versions of Sharps carbines. Sharps was without a doubt the finest produced and best functioning carbine of the war.
Sharps rifles of the Civil War era tend to be unique and more sought after Civil War gun finds. In September of 2018, RIAC sold a confederate copy of a Sharps rifle for a whopping $28,750. The rifle was produced under military contract with S.C. Robinson Arms Manufactory and was made in the breech loading style of the Sharps rifle. This may not be a true Sharps, but the historically relevant and rare nature of a Confederate made copy made this a popular item. In April of 2018, a desirable Sharps Model 1853 slant breech percussion carbine sold for $12,650 at auction. The Civil War gun was the model that John Brown used in his raid of Harper’s Ferry. The gun itself was in well used condition showing age on the steel and patina in areas, but the significant story behind the model made it sell well.
Designed by the famous Civil War General Ambrose Burnside in 1853 before the war, the Burnside carbine was originally produced, delivered, and trialed to the United States government in 1858. The carbine was the first ever produced to use metallic cartridges (not to be confused with the first self-contained metallic cartridge) and was very popular with its shooters. The government was impressed with the inventive gun, however, the first carbine order took Burnside’s company two years to produce and the government had no money left for contracts to produce more by the time the guns were delivered. Burnside’s company went under and he sold his patent to Charles Jackson. Jackson had little luck with sales of the carbine until the Civil War broke out. It is estimated that the Union armed 43 cavalry units with the gun. More interestingly, there is evidence that at least 7 Confederate brigades possessed Burnside carbines and used them in battle. The guns effective range was listed at 200 yards which was fairly impressive for a long gun of the era. Muzzle velocity reached 950 feet per second. The carbine was the third most used amongst forces during the war only trailing behind the Spencer and Sharps. It’s no wonder both sides wanted a handful of Burnsides in their soldiers hands.
Our most recent sale of a Civil War 4th Model presentation grade Burnside rifle was in our May 2019 auction. We auctioned off the beauty for $21,850. The price is accredited to the surviving blue finish and gorgeously preserved wood. Very few Burnside rifles can be found still in this excellent of condition. In that same auction, we had a selection of regular Burnside rifles sell from $2,300 to $4,025 depending on condition and provenance.
From the start of the war, the Colt Model 1860 Army took over as the hand gun primarily used by Union forces. Interestingly enough, Colt Manufacturing sent around 2,200 Model 1860 Colts to the South on contract early in the war. The Colt revolver made its way to be the second most common military hand gun of the Confederacy. The six shooter, single action black powder gun could do some damage to an opponent up to about 100 yards away. It’s no wonder that even as Colt developed new revolver models during the war, like the 1861 Navy, that the Union’s first choice was still the Model 1860. The range and accuracy were big selling points, as well as its .44 caliber which provided excellent stopping power.
In our 2019 May Premier Auction, we had four Colt Model 1860 Army revolver sell at auction. The lowest selling went for $3,163and was a civilian model. Civilian models did see war time uses if a soldier privately purchased the firearm, but it is hard to tell if the Civil War gun was for battle or just purchased by someone for general protection. The highest selling Colt Model 1860 revolver in May was a Confederate shipped fluted cylinder model and sold for $12,650. There were only around 4,000 fluted cylinder Colts of this design produced, so that combined with its Confederate rarity boosted its price tag.
A popular revolver with both Northern and Southern forces, the Colt Model 1851 Navy was a longstanding Civil War gun that famously is also a hand gun of classic outlaws, Texas rangers, and famed figures of the west like Wild Bill Hickok. During the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was equipped with an 1851 Navy and the revolver model was the most prominently used by Confederate forces. The differences between the Model 1860 Army and the Model 1851 Navy were the Army has bigger grips and a rounder look, and a more powerful caliber as compared to .36 caliber and smaller boxier design of the Navy.
In our 2018 December Premier Auction, RIAC sold a U.S. Colt Model 1851 Navy percussion revolver for $4,600. The revolver was in in good condition retaining gray and brown patina and had character with a few dents and scratches. A higher conditioned Colt Model 1851 can sell for quite a bit more such as the one we sold for $20,700 in September of 2017. The Civil War gun was in exceptional condition maintaining almost all its blue on the barrel and having little wear marks. This was one of the best examples of a Model 1851 revolver to pass through RIAC. That is definitely at the high end of the pricing spectrum.
This one is thrown in the list for fun, who doesn’t like a good Le Mat revolver? Designed by Jean Alexandre Le Mat with his manufacturing backed by P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate Civil War general, the Le Mat was created in 1856 before the outbreak of the war. The South didn’t have the manufacturing ability to produce the guns they needed, so they contracted 5,000 to be produced overseas. Only about 2,500 made it to the Confederacy by means of their gun runners. The majority of Le Mats that actually saw use in battle were produced in France and shipped via the United Kingdom to the Confederacy. The gun was very popular with the army because of its large caliber .42 caliber and up to 100 yard firing range and 9 shot capability. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the Civil War gun is its .60 caliber, 18 gauge under shotgun barrel located right underneath its .42 barrel giving the user an addition shot. If a soldier needed a firearm that had versatility and good repeating capability, it doesn’t get much handier than this grapeshot revolver combo. This is one of the most unique Civil War guns a collector can get their hands on considering its provenance and rarity.
In September of 2018, RIAC sold a Paris marked First Model Le Mat revolver for $17,250. This is a good price for a scarce and desirable gun. The Le Mat saw wear-and-tear but still showed good plum and brown patina. The action was excellent which is more than one can ask for in a gun that is over 150 years old.
So there you have it, the top 7 most desirable Civil War guns for collectors and Civil War enthusiasts alike. Whether the Civil War gun you’re in the market for is a rifle, carbine, or revolver, you hopefully now know a little more about which ones to purchase for your taste and budget.
Guns with a story and background are extremely interesting and exciting to collect with the Civil War era being a time that has many tales to tell. Rock Island Auction Company has a wide variety of Civil War guns in our Premier and Regional Auctions. Be sure to keep an eye on our catalog so you don’t miss out on your next chance to bid on the Civil War gun your collection needs.
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