December 23, 2021
By Joe Engesser
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Rock Island Auction Company has played host to some of the coolest looking guns of all time. As the world’s number one firearms auction house, encountering gorgeous guns comes with the territory, and getting to handle these fantastic firearms is an absolute joy.
Choosing the “best” in any category is subjective to say the least, especially when the best looking guns available are a mainstay at Rock Island Auction, and it’s not uncommon for the description team to examine hundreds of guns a day. But every once in a while a standout emerges that catches the eye of even the most seasoned firearms expert.
So what are some of the best looking guns we’ve seen in recent months? We asked Rock Island Auction Company’s team of firearms specialists, who analyze and write the description for each item that passes through our doors, to list off some of their favorite guns, and which qualities made those guns stand out.
To many collectors, classic Winchester lever actions are considered gorgeous guns all around. Andrew Padavich, the Descriptions Team Leader at Rock Island Auction Company, was particularly impressed by an engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1894 rifle.
“It’s no surprise that this spectacular factory panel scene engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1894 Takedown Rifle has been featured in several works,” Andrew said. “Most prominently, the rifle is displayed in R.L. Wilson’s ‘Winchester Engraving’ and George Madis’ ‘The Winchester Book.’”
“This Winchester’s factory style 9 engraving coverage with beautifully executed game scenes, takedown configuration, deluxe stock, and part octagon barrel make for a seldom encountered combination of factory special order features. Without a doubt, this Model 1894 is a true work of Winchester art that is highly prized by collectors.”
Most gun lovers can appreciate brilliant game scene engraving. Add that to a mint condition level of preservation, a classification RIAC virtually never uses, and you have a clear candidate for one of the best looking guns around.
The FG42 assault rifle was an ambitious German design intended as an all-in-one miracle gun of sorts. Calling the Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 one of the best looking guns of WW2 wouldn’t be a stretch considering its refined engineering and unique aesthetic, which Rock Island Auction Company Senior Describer Ryan Sullivan observed.
“From a collecting standpoint, the FG-42 represents the peak example of the fully automatic battle rifle,” Ryan said. “The weapon is visually distinctive and eye-catching regardless of the level of initiation, showing a profile that has more in common with later in-line recoil weapons than its peers of the same era.”
“From a technological perspective, the FG-42 demonstrates everything right and everything wrong with the battle rifle concept. The gun is a compact and mobile weapon, but also hamstrung by the directive to be all things to all troopers, being forced to fill conflicting niches in the table of organization and equipment.”
The skyrocketing popularity of WW2 collectibles has contributed to renewed interest in the FG42 today. As one of the rarest to find and coolest looking guns of WW2, it’s easy to understand why this ambitious German assault rifle is a favorite among arms enthusiasts.
A double-barrel flintlock pistol owned by a British prince? That sentence alone would pique the interest of any antique arms collector, and Rock Island Auction Company Lead Historian Seth Isaacson immediately noticed the pistol’s lofty significance.
“This fascinating over/under pistol from Tatham & Egg was owned by Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany in the early 1800s,” Seth said. “It has really attractive patterns in the Damascus barrels and the grain of the checkered walnut stock, along with classic English engraving on the locks.”
“There’s so much to appreciate about this pistol, from its well-designed single trigger mechanism that fires the upper barrel first and then the lower, to a gold escutcheon engraved with the crest, garter, and motto of Prince Frederick. All around, it is a very attractive and innovative piece by London gunsmiths Henry Tatham and Joseph Egg.”
When it comes to rare and gorgeous 19th-century flintlocks, Rock Island Auction Company frequently plays host to some of the world’s finest. This Tatham & Egg masterpiece is a great representative of the genre and one of the best looking pistols of the period.
Many WWII collectors would agree that the M1 Garand is a great looking gun. The M1’s predecessor, the 1924 Garand prototype, is even more striking, with a sleek silhouette unlike anything else from the era. Rock Island Auction Company Senior Describer Austin Ellis observed just that.
“The 1924 Garand prototype sets itself apart from just about any rare military rifle,” Austin said. “It’s built like an expensive watch in terms of fit and finish.”
“You want to talk about special, this is it. This fine condition example is serial number 2 of only 24 serialized examples of its kind. The gun encompasses the genius that is John Garand in that it is one of the first truly functional high-power self-loading rifles that can be easily carried and shouldered.”
The design philosophy that made John Garand’s M1 rifle a success is fully present in the 1924 trials rifle. For a prototype, it looks incredibly polished, showing off the eye for craftsmanship that won Garand his engineering position in the first place. Definitely one of the coolest looking guns you'll find in the genre.
Golden age double rifles are some of the best looking firearms around. Rock Island Auction Company Describer Matt Omerza made a similar observation when examining a particularly breathtaking piece from John Rigby & Company.
“This rifle was one of my favorite guns that I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Matt said. “The engraving is exemplary and the gold inlay is superb.”
“The rifle is elegant in its design with clean lines and a wonderful feel when put to the shoulder. Rigby is one of the oldest continuously operating gunmakers in the world, and as they put it themselves, ‘the oldest gunmaking firm in continuous existence in the English-speaking world.’ The name Rigby is synonymous with excellence, and this fine double rifle does not disappoint.”
Expensive and difficult to produce, double rifles were advertised to wealthy big game hunters who could afford the premium craftsmanship offered by masterworks like this John Rigby & Company sidelock. The elaborate artistry and high condition elevate this example to one of the best looking rifles to cross the podium in recent months.
As the diversity already featured here testifies, the question of best looking gun is a matter of individual tastes. For Rock Island Auction Company Describer Thomas McCallum, that beauty can be found in modern military arms as well.
“The M240 struck me because it’s not every day a modern military behemoth like this comes across your desk,” Thomas said. “I’m a smaller guy so when I heard we were doing nice photos for work and to bring a firearm we liked, it was a no-brainer that I was going to bring the biggest gun I could find that day.”
“It also felt in a way nostalgic for me to hold one in person after growing up playing video games for all of middle school and high school. The M240 was a standard in that regard. The ACOG was just the icing on the cake in cool factor. This is just one example of the true fun of working here. One day it’s an M240, the next day it’s a bullpup Barrett M82. You just never know what’s coming next.”
Popular YouTubers like Brandon Herrera and Demolition Ranch certainly share Thomas’ passion for big modern military arms, and it’s no stretch to say that millions of fellow firearms aficionados would agree that the M240 is one of the coolest looking guns out there.
Flintlock pistols often display an elegant artistic finish. To Rock Island Auction Company Describer Brian Beck, these late 18th-century officer’s pistols by Durs Egg represent some of the finest in the genre.
“As an aspiring arms builder myself, this pair of pistols really spoke to me,” Brian said. “They show a level of refinement in both form and function that speaks to their having been crafted by a true master artisan.”
“Dueling pistols and officer’s pistols, as well as long guns of similar pedigree, always seem to pique my interest. The way they seamlessly meld finely tuned mechanical function, usually of the most up-to-date technology, with an often slightly reserved, but no less stunning, level of artistry is very appealing to me. When you wield an arm of such high-level craftsmanship it just feels right. Like slipping on a well fitted glove, the weight, balance, and way they point are just immaculate.”
When you have a high condition work from a gunsmith as prestigious as Durs Egg, it’s hard not to be impressed. As far as craftsmanship goes, calling this impressive pair some of the best looking pistols around would not be an understatement.
The space-aged pistol. The Lighting Model. The Whitney Wolverine was designed and marketed as an advanced firearm for the Atomic Age. With an aluminum frame almost as sturdy and lightweight as Adamantium, this uncanny handgun brings a futuristic X-factor to any gun collection. Puns and marketing aside, the Whitney Wolverine is a gorgeous piece of engineering, and by all accounts a fine handgun to fire.
One of the most recognizable close-combat weapons of the Second World War, the MP40 made extensive use of metal stampings instead of costly machined parts like its MP38 predecessor, as well as synthetic materials to make a weapon robust enough to withstand the rigors of war while being simple enough to manufacture to keep up with the demand. The results are refined, streamlined look that stands out today as one of the coolest looking guns around.
Few weapons in history are as famous or as impressive as the Colt Gatling Gun. Tacticians came to view the Gatling gun and its machine gun successors as force multipliers that would significantly change the face of combat strategy, but collectors also marvel at its beauty and engineering.
The range of genres listed by the Rock Island Auction Company firearms describers reflects the immense diversity sought by the gun collecting public. Where you're looking for the finest in antique arms or the coolest looking guns in the military genre, you’re likely to find an exceptional example offered during one of RIAC’s Premier Auctions.
2021 was a banner year for great guns. With giants like John Wayne’s revolver, Alexander Hamilton’s pistols, and a six-piece collection of gilded arms presented to Napoleon Bonaparte himself, choosing a single favorite gun sold by Rock Island Auction Company becomes harder every month.
The best looking guns are found at Rock Island Auction Company, and the best is yet to come. Keep an eye on our website for our latest gun auctions and remember to bid early and often so you can add some of these fantastic firearms to your collection.
Anyone thinking about dipping their toe into the world of firearms collecting should visit one of Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting & Collector
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