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December 2, 2020

December Antique Firearms Auction All Stars

By Mike Burns

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History, high art, and impeccable guns are what Rock Island Auction Company specializes in. From revolvers owned by former U.S. Presidents, to one-of-a-kind items, our auction hall feels more like a museum than anything else, and for good reason too.

Rock Island Auction Company's Premier Auction takes place December 4-6.

Rock Island Auction Company’s December 4-6 Premier Firearms Auction is filled with so many incredible pieces of technology, innovation, and prominence that it has been dubbed the “Sale of the Century.” One quick glance through the digital catalog and the reason behind this name readily becomes apparent.

With so many different gorgeous and notable items from across the ages, it might be somewhat overwhelming when first looking through the literal thousands of lots available. So, in a friendly effort to provide a good place to start when looking through items available, here is a list of some of the most interesting and intriguing lots that will be sold during this 3-day extravaganza.

Exhibition Quality Maximilian Winchester Model 1866 Carbine: Lot 1022

Certainly one of the finest Winchester firearms ever produced, this Model 1866 carbine has been an icon in the field of fine arms collecting for over half a century. Subject to intense photography and even more intense discussions around it, this gun is not only beautiful but also possesses a long and interesting history.

Lot 1022: Extremely Well-Documented, Historically Significant, Museum Quality L.D. Nimschke Exhibition Engraved and Relief Carved 19th Century Masterpiece Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Saddle Ring Carbine with Impeccable Provenance Including the Collection of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz

Simply known as the Maximilian Carbine, which is believed to have been created for the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, comes from the arms collection of later Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz. A crown jewel of Winchester collecting, this beautiful work of art is something that most gun collectors only fantasize about owning. We are here to tell you that you can stop dreaming. The crème de la crème has arrived!

Portrait of Maximilian I of Mexico (1832-1867).

Maximilian I was an Austrian archduke who reigned as the only emperor of the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 until his execution in 1867. The younger brother of Franz Joseph I of Austria and closely related to the famed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Maximilian has been praised by some historians for his genuine desire to help the people of Mexico through various progressive reforms as well as his unwillingness to leave his loyal followers when confronted with execution. Others, however, consider him short-sighted in his reluctance to give up his power and restore the country to a democracy.

Following the American Civil War and Andrew Jackson’s invoking of the Monroe Doctrine, international support for the Mexican Empire quickly began to erode. Threated with invasion, Maximilian refused to relinquish the throne, despite the urging of many of his political allies.

Coupled with a growing opposition and lack of military support, the empire fell ultimately concluding in the subsequently capture and execution of former emperor on June 19, 1867. Following the empire’s collapse, the republic of Mexico was restored with Benito Juárez residing as president until his death in 1872.

Manet, Édouard. The Execution of Emperor Maximilian. 1868-69. Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany

Eventually this carbine, originally belonging to Maximilian, found its way into the hands of Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz. Diaz was one of the most significant presidents in the history of the country. Credited with drastically modernizing the country during the early 20th century, Diaz improved public health programs, expanded the infrastructure of the country, and is widely regarded as moving Mexico from being a target of ridicule to a country of substantial industrial, scientific, and economic prosperity.

He was also a prolific firearms collector and amassed an incredible collection of stunning weapons during his life. While there is speculation that this carbine might have been built specifically for Diaz, other evidence has suggested its original owner was in fact, Emperor Maximilian I.

Lot 1022:Exhibition Quality Maximilian Winchester Model 1866 Carbine

Since then, the carbine has traveled around the world being displayed at the Met and various other world fairs and expositions of the mid-20th century. Absolutely gorgeous and estimated at $250,000-$400,000, it is no wonder this carbine was awarded the coveted NRA Silver Medal No. 5 as issued in 1960, the first year for this NRA competition.

The silver plated receiver is profusely engraved with beautiful foliate scrolls on a stippled background. Flourishes of scrollwork decorated the top of the barrel and appear behind the front barrel band, ahead and behind rear barrel band and at the breech, a most unusual expression of scrollwork encountered on embellished 19th century Winchesters.

The trapdoor buttplate is engraved to match and a cross hatching pattern with floral blossom in the middle along with a fine zig-zag pattern border that adorns the cartridge elevator.

Lot 1022: Exhibition Quality Maximilian Winchester Model 1866 Carbine*

Further adding to the rifle's allure beyond its historical significance and beauty is its proximity to master engraver, L.D. Nimschke who designed the patterns along the body. Typical of his elongated sweeping scrollwork as well as including his favored border motif just ahead of where the receiver and sideplate meet, this carbine is an amazing example of history and art converging. Own it during the Rock Island Auction Company “Sale of the Century.”

Engraved S.C. Robinson "Confederate Sharps" Percussion Rifle: Lot 185

Rock Island Auction is proud to present another “World-Class Collectible” to our clientele: an engraved S.C. Robinson “Confederate Sharps” percussion rifle. Authentic items from this era are already hard enough to come across on their own and, given the fact that there are no other engraved Confederate firearms known to exist, this one in particular is extremely rare.

Lot 185: The Rarest Confederate Firearm Known to Exist, Historically Significant & Well-Documented, Beautifully Engraved "Confederate Sharps" Percussion Rifle with Deluxe Stock

Research shows it to have been one of five manufactured in March of 1863, and one of only 3 with a deluxe, special order treatment applied a month later. These were likely manufactured the same month the factory was sold to the Confederate Ordnance Department and engraved the following month, possibly for the most important senior officers of the Confederacy. It would also not be unlikely that the company wanted to show off their capability to produce high quality rifles in addition to their well-known carbines, of which over 5,000 were produced during the war.

Lot 185: Engraved S.C. Robinson "Confederate Sharps" Percussion Rifle

One of the most interesting features of this rifle, in addition to the outward appearance, is the use of extraordinary "micro-rifling” in the barrel with sixteen deep lands and grooves rather than the usual six, affording the user with sniper-like accuracy. Unlike the usual Robinson Carbines, this rifle has no sling bar nor provisions for a sling on the fore-end or butt.

The fore-end cap, action, lever screw, lever, lock plate and hammer, tangs, patch box, and heel of the butt-plate are all beautifully engraved with primarily Germanic scroll engraving with textured vertical line backgrounds. There are also some floral bloom accents, a sun burst pattern around the hammer screw, border designs, and a scene on the patch box of a reposed fox below a tree with a rabbit in its jaws. The breechblock pin is an excellent museum quality replacement, engraved in-suite to the rest of the rifle.

Lot 185: Engraved S.C. Robinson "Confederate Sharps" Percussion Rifle

Estimated at $75,000-$170,000, there are not enough words to describe how rare and significant this rifle is. It should be seen and handled to be fully appreciated.

Presentation Engraved & Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Revolver: Lot 3169

High art at its finest, this spectacular and iconic revolver is simply a different level of exceptional. Manufactured in 1864-1868, this revolver is one of the most well-known antique American revolvers known, and is considered by many to be L. D. Nimschke’s Magnum Opus on a percussion handgun. Even more interesting is the absence of the serial numbers, further adding an additional layer of intrigue.

Lot 3169: L. D. NIMSCHKE’S MAGNUM OPUS: Iconic and Well Documented, Cased Presentation Deluxe Engraved and Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Percussion Revolver with "Statue of Freedom" Relief Carved Grip Believed to Have Been Presented to Former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard

Belonging to Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the commander during the bombardment of Fort Sumter and other significant battles of the American Civil War, this revolver is absolutely breath-taking. Featuring dazzling and intricate gold embellishments and inlays, this revolver also exhibits a portrait of Beauregard himself, in gold no less.

The gold contrasts beautifully with the dark blue and casehardened finishes and making said portrait exceptionally hard to ignore. Elaborately engraved, it is almost impossible to locate an area on this firearm that doesn’t bear the scroll and floral works that defined Nimschke’s style.

Portrait of Confederate General, P.G.T. Beauregard.

While there were a fair number of embellished Manhattan revolvers produced immediately following the American Civil War, this is the best of the best. Gold inlay is the ultimate form of embellishment on antique firearms, including gold inlaid percussion Colts. Like the gold inlaid Colts, gold inlaid Manhattan revolvers are very rare and highly desirable.

Lot 3169: Iconic and Well Documented, Cased Presentation Deluxe Engraved and Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Percussion Revolver

In addition, it is our opinion that this revolver may have been embellished in collaboration with another master artisan based on areas of distinctly different engraving and the exceptional quality of the portrait and gold inlays. It is our sincere belief that this incredible revolver could display the work of not one, but two of the 19th centuries most well-respected and prolific master engravers: L.D. Nimschke and Gustave Young.

Lot 3169: L. D. NIMSCHKE’S MAGNUM OPUS: Iconic and Well Documented, Cased Presentation Deluxe Engraved and Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Percussion Revolver with "Statue of Freedom" Relief Carved Grip Believed to Have Been Presented to Former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard

Nimschke did very little gold inlay work, and a close examination of the gold inlays on this revolver shows them to be more refined compared to his previous works. Other vignettes and portraits by Nimschke are also not nearly as detailed as seen on this revolver. The gold inlays are more in keeping with Gustave Young's work, seen on revolvers presented to foreign heads of state, including the Sultan of Turkey, Tsar Nicholas I, and King Charles XV of Sweden.

Lot 3169: Presentation Engraved & Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Revolver

The bulk of the engraving on this revolver was clearly executed by Nimschke. If Nimschke did indeed supply the additional embellishments and gold on this revolver, it is without question his finest work and reflects an effort to make the entire piece an instrument of perfection. It is important to note the possibility of collaboration with Young. This is certainly not out of keeping with fine arms making both in the past and now.

Lot 3169: Presentation Engraved & Gold Inlaid Manhattan Navy Revolver

The Beauregard Manhattan cased set is of far greater significance than anyone previously thought and–estimated at $250,000-$400,000–it is a symbol of the reunification of the North with the South after four traumatic years of intense conflict.

Tiffany & Co. Embellished Smith & Wesson .38 Double Revolver: Lot 288

Self-described as an “American multinational luxury jewelry and specialty retailer,” Tiffany & Co. created some the most spectacular, expensive, and highly embellished deluxe firearms from the late 1880s to the early 1900s for America's leading firearms manufacturers including Colt, Winchester and most notably Smith & Wesson.

Lot 288: Exceptionally Rare, Iconic, Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Embellished Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolver with Factory Letter

Often intended to be showpieces for the World's Columbian Expedition of 1893, the Exposition Universelle in Paris of 1900 and the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York of 1901, these highly stylized arms fully embodied the classic Art Nouveau style, as clearly demonstrated on this S&W revolver.

Lot 288: Exceptionally Rare, Iconic, Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Embellished Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolver with Factory Letter

Although the number of surviving Tiffany S&Ws remains unknown, they are arguably the rarest and most desirable of the late 19thcentury American high art firearms.

Lot 288: Exceptionally Rare, Iconic, Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Embellished Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action 3rd Model Revolver with Factory Letter

This revolver is chambered in .38 caliber and features iconic Tiffany designed attributes such as the sterling silver Tiffany grip that covers the frame and recoil shield that is littered with masterful leaf and vine pattern of the Art Nouveau movement. With the barrel and cylinder plated in nickel, trigger guard blued, and a casehardened hammer and trigger, this stunning revolver is patiently awaiting bids and is estimated at $35,000-$55,000.

Buntline Colt Single Action Army Revolver: Lot 247

Offered here is a newly discovered, exceptionally rare, historical and the only period documented Colt Buntline revolver that was the property of William P. Vandevert of Fort Griffin, Texas and Bend County, Oregon.

Lot 247: Exceptionally Rare, Historic and Well-Documented Buntline Colt Single Action Army Revolver, Serial Number 28814

William Plutarch Vandevert was a western adventurer, a cattleman, and Oregon pioneer of the mid-19th and early-20thcenturies. After travels in California, Texas, and Arizona, he established a cattle ranch fifteen miles south of present-day Bend, Oregon and effectively transformed the area from wilderness to civilization. He blazed trails through the Cascade Mountains and was a renowned bear hunter. He sired eight children, including three doctors, and was a leading citizen of Central Oregon for many years.

The history of William P. Vandevert is amazing, and being a prolific huntsman and trailblazer in areas of great danger, he certainly knew the value of carrying a .45 Long Colt revolver vs. any alternative. Included with the revolver is a framed 14 X 5 inch board, burned with a 19th century cattle brand in the form of a hash-knife, provided by the Vandevert's granddaughter, which was removed from the wall in her living room and given to our consigner, stating that the brand was burned into the board and kept by her father as a memento of home and family.

Framed Board with 19th Century Cattle Brand

Along with the board, she gave an old framed photograph of two mounted cowboys, the right cowboy she identified as her grandfather, William P. Vandevert. Vandevert is credited in at least one publication with designing this famous brand while in Texas. It was used on Vandeverts’ first ranch near Albany, Texas, later used by the massive Aztec Land & Cattle Company (also known as the notorious “Hash-Knife Outfit”) of the Southwest and the Vandevert ranch of Oregon.

Colt Single Actions with carbine length barrels are popularly known as "Buntline Specials." Colt factory records list 18 Buntline Specials between serial number "28800" and "28830." This revolver has a .45 caliber, special frame with folding leaf rear sight and gas port, elongated hammer screws and skeleton style detachable stock.

Framed Photograph of Two Mounted Cowboys, Including William P. Vandevert

The original barrel was cut to 6-1/2" during its time of use and is now accompanied by a 16" replica barrel as well, featuring a cut-in coin front sight. The ejector rod has the early bullseye head and the hammer has elongated, bordered, knurling on the spur. The revolver is accompanied by its original, period shortened 6 1/2-inch barrel stamped with the partial serial number "8814," and fitted with a period replacement front sight in the form of a coin.

Coin sight found on lot 247.

Manufactured in very limited numbers, the Colt Single Action Army Buntline Special revolvers are among the rarest and most desirable of all Colt Single Actions and the rich Western history associated with this revolver put it in a league of its own.

Lot 247:Exceptionally Rare and Well-Documented Buntline Colt Single Action Army Revolver, Serial Number 28814

It is in as-found condition. Its history is not word-of-mouth, a maybe, a possibility or could have been. This revolver has rock-solid provenance, authenticity and Wild West history. Estimated at $25,000-$50,000, this is a gun that true collectors can really appreciate.

Singer Manufacturing Co. Presentation Model 1911A1 Pistol: Lot 1444

This is an outstanding and scarce variation of a World War II era U.S. Model 1911A1 pistol that was manufactured by the Singer Manufacturing Company. Singer Model 1911A1 pistols certainly need very little introduction, and their desirability in the 1911 and 1911A1 collectors market is unmatched.

Lot 1444: Stunning, Near Mint and Historic, Scarce and Desirable, World War II Singer Manufacturing Co. Presentation Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

There were 500 of these extremely rare pistols produced as part of Educational Order No. W-ORD-396 awarded April 17, 1940. It is reported that almost all of the 500 that were produced were issued to the Army Air Corps early in World War II.

Standard production Singer 1911A1 pistols are incredibly rare in their own right, but this pistol is a true scarcity, as it bears no serial number, frame markings, or inspector markings, and was presented to a member of management of the Singer factory.

Lot 1444: Stunning, Near Mint and Historic, Scarce and Desirable, World War II Singer Manufacturing Co. Presentation Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

These unmarked guns are often referred to as "lunchbox guns," examples of which can be seen from all of the manufacturers of 1911A1 pistols. These "lunchbox guns" were often produced at the end of production runs for presentation to high ranking officials of the company.

This example appears to have been assembled from parts pulled off the standard assembly line early in the process, which are lacking most of the normal government markings seen on the standard production pistols, and it displays the same high quality fit and finish that makes the standard production Singer 1911A1 pistols so desirable to collectors.

This particular pistol when previously sold, had documentation (which has subsequently been lost to time) identifying its presentation to Shirley James Murphy upon his transfer from the Singer Elizabeth Works to manage their largest factory at the time, located in Clydebank, Scotland. Murphy attended Purdue University where he was a member of the R.O.T.C. and graduated in 1942.

Lot 1444: Stunning, Near Mint and Historic, Scarce and Desirable, World War II Singer Manufacturing Co. Presentation Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Upon graduating, he entered active duty and was part of the 401st Field Artillery Battalion, serving until February of 1946. He continued to serve in the active reserves until 1957, reaching the rank of major. He had worked at the Singer factory before attending college, and upon leaving active service returned to the factory, working in various roles before becoming Assistant Vice President.

In 1965 he was transferred to manage the Clydebank facility which he remained at for four years before being transferred to Ealing, London, England as Senior Vice President of Manufacturing for Europe. In 1974 he retired after working for Singer for 30 years. This information was including by Murphy's daughter when the pistol originally sold.

Lot 1444: Stunning, Near Mint and Historic, Scarce and Desirable, World War II Singer Manufacturing Co. Presentation Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Not only is this item an incredibly rare piece of history, but it also boasts an incredible personal history to this specific handgun itself. Estimated at $90,000-$180,000, this amazing pistol is beautiful, rare, and patiently waiting for a new collection to call home.

Sale of the Century Indeed


Words cannot describe how exciting this auction will be. Where–or when for that matter–will an opportunity like this present itself that features the variety, the beauty, or the history that is encapsulated in this Premier Auction?

Items for sale in the December Premier Auction.

Rock Island Auction Company’s “Sale of the Century” starts on December 4th with the preview hall opening for exhibit on the 3rd. If you plan on attending, please contact us for arranging plans and accommodations. As always, bids can be placed online through RIAC Live or our online catalog available now.

For any question regarding the items discussed here, please contact Rock Island Auction Company. For any other questions regarding future auctions, consignment opportunities, or registration, please follow this link.

The Sale of the Century is only a stone’s throw away. Are you ready?

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