September 13, 2022
By Joe Engesser
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Rock Island Auction Company’s fantastic slate of firearms auctions are overflowing with every type of gun imaginable. Whether you’re a seasoned gun collector or a first-time buyer hoping to get started in the hottest hobby around, the selection of gun collection must haves up for bid caters to every type of arms enthusiast.
When you think of the most American guns, the M1911 probably ranks high on the list. And why shouldn't it? "Old Slabside" is the longest-serving sidearm in U.S. military history and the pistol that helped the United States become back to back World War champs. The 1911 genre is wildly popular, and every great gun collection should contain at least one original 1911.
After serving with distinction in WW1, the M1911 design pioneered by John Moses Browning underwent a series of small refinements intended to make the .45 ACP handgun even easier to shoot. These included a shortened trigger, extended hammer spurs, simplified checkered grips, an arched mainspring housing, a thicker front sight, and angled clearance cutouts. Designated the M1911A1, no major changes were made to the 1911’s internals, testifying to the pistol’s exemplary performance record. As the most widely carried American pistol of WW2, the M1911A1 is a gun collection must have for any US military aficionado.
The continued popularity of the 1911 pistol and its variants is reflected in the genre's impressive price growth in recent years. When it comes to design, reliability, customization, historic pedigree, and iconic silhouette, the 1911 pistol design has few rivals, and modern examples like the Nighthawk Custom Predator 1911 continue to turn heads at Rock Island Auction Company.
A must have gun for the modern 1911 fan. Uncludes Trijicon/Heinie night sights, Nighthawk's Predator barrel system, full length guide rod, extended beavertail grip safety, and a Surefire MR07 light rail adapter.
Everyone loves Old West guns, and RIAC's bounty of gun collection must haves includes a wide assortment of authentic Wild West sixshooters. Leading the lineup is the Colt Single Action Army revolver, a wheelgun on everyone's wishlist. Hollywood’s favorite Western handgun served as the choice sidearm for countless lawmen, desperados, homesteaders, and cowboys who braved the frontier, and fall's selection carries numerous examples of the storied revolver offered at attainable price points.
Early percussion Colts like the Colt Dragoon are another gun collecting cornerstone. Known by Sam Colt as the “Old Model Holster Pistol,” the Colt Dragoon is a familiar sight to fans of Westerns like 'True Grit' and 'The Cowboys'. The Dragoon was an improvement on the Colt Paterson and the Walker in several respects, with the Third Model being the final and most prevalent iteration of the American Dragoon revolver.
Another prevalent big iron revolver from the Old West, the Smith & Wesson First Model Schofield single action revolver was designed by Col. George Schofield to improve the S&W No. 3 American for military use, offering greater ease of reloading compared to the Colt SAA. 3,000 S&W Schofields were ordered in 1875 with 5,000 more produced two years later in the Second Model. Many Schofield revolvers were issued to the 4th, 9th, and 10th Cavalry during the Indian Wars in the American Southwest. Others were delivered to state militias across the country. The Schofield's quick reloading capability and hefty .45 caliber cartridge made them a favorite to outlaws like the James Gang and law enforcement agencies like the San Francisco Police department during the time of the Sandlot Riots.
A civilian sale, New York engraved Smith & Wesson Second Model Schofield revolver from the Jim Supica gun collection.
Another genre of gun collection must haves would undoubtedly be Old West Winchester rifles. Vintage Winchester lever actions remain as popular as ever today with arms collectors, cowboy shooters, and fans of frontier history. The “Improved Henry,” or what would become known as the Winchester Model 1866, is often hailed as "the first cowboy rifle" and is also the first rifle to bear the fabled Winchester name. Though a highly competitive genre, affordable antique Winchester lever guns within reach of the average budget can be found in Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting and Collector auctions.
As one of the archetypical Wild West guns, the Winchester 1873’s tough frame, stronger chambering, and wide-scale availability helped this legendary Winchester become the rifle that won the West. Ned Crossman, a prolific firearms writer in the early 20th century, wrote that the sturdy Model 1873 “put the name Winchester on the map of the West, trotting along with the equally formidable Colt gun at the belt of the frontiersman.”
The Winchester Model 1894 emerged too late to claim the title “Gun That Won the West,” but it certainly kept Winchester’s frontier legacy alive. The Winchester 94’s balance and slim profile made it a favorite walking gun for hunters, ranchers, and law enforcement who appreciated the power and reliability of Winchester’s .30-30 WCF smokeless cartridge. The classic lever gun’s accuracy, simplicity, and rugged resilience added up to an ideal big-woods whitetail gun, and more than a century later the venerable rifle has become one of the most memorable pieces of Americana.
General George Patton once hailed the M1 Garand as, “the greatest battle implement ever devised." Fielded by millions of American GIs from 1936 to 1959, the M1 Garand served as the standard United States infantry rifle, and it continued to see use as late as the Vietnam War. Nearly a century after gun inventor John Garand first started developing the storied rifle, the M1 Garand is more popular than ever with shooters, collectors, and WW2 arms enthusiasts, and the rifle is an absolute must have in any U.S. military collection.
An accurate, reliable German bolt action rifle, the K98 was the infantry standard for the Wehrmacht throughout WW2 and was carried by all branches of the German military. After WW2, captured Karabiner 98 rifles were fielded by Soviet allies during the Korean War and Vietnam War. It's no surprise that the precision and engineering of these fantastic bolt action rifles are still widely admired by military collectors today.
The WW2 Model 1941 Johnson semi-automatic rifle was seriously considered by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as an alternative to the M1 Garand in 1941. Although the Army never officially adopted the Johnson rifle, after the fall of the Dutch East Indies to Japan in 1942 some of the Dutch contract Johnson rifles were obtained by the Marine Corps and issued to the Marine Parachute and Raider Battalions for use in the early island hopping campaign in the South Pacific in 1943. With fewer than 21,500 manufactured, these scarce and intriguing rifles represent rare opportunities for WW2 gun collectors.
77 years on, and the legacy of WW2 looms larger than ever in the public consciousness. Adding arms and militaria from the Second World War to a gun collection is a way to honor the exceptional men who carried, wore, and won these items in their fight to defeat the Axis powers. Captured German arms were viewed as valuable war trophies for the Allies, and these “bring back guns” are considered some of the most desirable pieces in the gun collecting community today.
The Nambu line of Japanese semi-automatic pistols was created by their namesake Kijirō Nambu, a legendary gun inventor. Trying to compete with smaller, more compact pistols from Europe and America, the “Baby Nambu” was a scaled-down version of its two predecessors, the Grandpa and Papa Nambu pistols. Only 6,500 Baby Nambu were made, almost all of which were privately purchased by senior Japanese officers, making these rare sidearms a tempting item to add to any pistol collection.
Rock Island Auction offers no shortage of options for gun collection builders looking to add some sniper rifles to the mix. From the Mosin Nagant, the Walther G41, the Kar98k, the Mauser 98, the British Lee-Enfield, and more. Sharpshooting rifles evolved in the late 19th century and WW1, with improvements to telescopic sights making their WW2 counterparts even deadlier.
The distinctive Luger is often called the most famous pistol in modern warfare. Manufactured in numerous variants, George Luger's creation was one of the most widely carried sidearms of WW1 and beyond. Captured Luger pistols were considered valuable war trophies for the Allies, and it's no surprise the desire to own one of history's iconic pistols continues today in the gun collecting community.
Trench guns have a larger-than-life reputation for their slam fire heroics in WW1, with the Winchester Model 1897 shotgun leading the charge for the United States. As America prepared to enter the Great War, General John Pershing recalled the effectiveness of the Winchester shotgun in the Philippines and envisioned how they could be wielded in the trenches of Western Europe. These incredible military shotguns lived up to their reputation on the battlefield and have become one of the gun collecting world's rising stars today.
The Springfield 1903 is another absolute gun collection must have for every military collector. Based on the German Mauser bolt action, the 1903 rifle became a cornerstone of accuracy and rugged resilience. Many early 20th-century rifles like the Springfield 1903 are still carried by hunters and shooters today, including thousands of sporterized examples, a testament to the character and craftsmanship of these timeless designs.
The Mauser C96 self-loading pistol is another gun collection must have. Known as the Broomhandle, the Pistole 7.63, and many other slangs and designations, the C96’s unique silhouette makes it a standout sidearm with collectors and a favorite in Hollywood, featured onscreen in period dramas like Peaky Blinders and serving as the basis for Han Solo’s DL-44 Heavy Blaster, perhaps the most eminent of all Star Wars guns. Though a highly sought-after collectible, quality examples of the Mauser C96 can still be found at attainable prices.
Perhaps the most famous Civil War repeating rifle, the New Haven Arms Co. Henry rifle is also one of the most recognizable collector guns today. These trailblazing lever actions were chambered for the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge, 15 of which were kept within a tube magazine located under the barrel, offering an unprecedented rate of fire for the era. Many other Henry rifles were acquired by individual soldiers during the Civil War, often veterans using a portion of their re-enlistment bonus to obtain the expensive firearm. With only roughly 13,000 Henry rifles manufactured, these historic guns are a hot commodity in the collecting world.
The Colt Model 1851 Navy was one of the most prevalent sidearms of the Civil War and the most common revolver carried by the Confederate forces. Indeed, the 1851 Navy became the basis for numerous Confederate produced brass-frame revolver styles like the Griswold & Gunnison Revolver and the Leech & Rigdon revolvers. Building off of the successful Colt 1849 Pocket percussion, the Colt 1851 Navy was a personal favorite of Samuel Colt and a preferred sidearm for Western legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, and the sturdy sixgun continued to see widespread use long after the Civil War.
Popularized recently by Quigley Down Under, the various Sharps rifle and carbine models manufactured from the Antebellum Era through the late-19th century were some of the most renowned firearms of the American frontier. Sharps were well-trusted for their accuracy and reliability during the Civil War, and the Union purchased approximately 80,000 Sharps carbines and almost 10,000 rifles. Specially ordered Sharps rifles were fielded by the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooter Regiments (the Berdan’s Sharpshooters) to great effect. They were later produced for centerfire metallic cartridges and were manufactured in a dizzying array of configurations through the decades.
Revolver? Shotgun? Why not two-in-one? Some of the coolest guns came out of the Civil War era, and this unique Confederate revolver was no exception. The LeMat revolver stored nine black powder pistol rounds with an additional smoothbore "grapeshot" barrel below. This unconventional design offered the LeMat two distinct firing modes that could be alternated by toggling a movable firing pin on the hammer. Surviving LeMats are comparatively scarce due to their limited production run and heavy use during combat, making examples like the revolver below absolute gun collection must haves.
The Spencer rifle and carbine offered an unprecedented level of firepower during the Civil War and in the following decades out on the frontier. The Spencer's rich history and innovation makes surviving examples of these fantastic weapons all the more desirable today and a must have gun for military collections.
The vaunted Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum was the first production gun to fire the .357 Magnum cartridge and was offered as a high-end, customizable revolver with a focus on quality. Each Registered Magnum came with a registration card that the buyer could mail back to Smith & Wesson to obtain a registration certificate, a guarantee of quality from S&W. Only 5,224 of these premium revolvers were offered. The model's rarity combined with its remarkable quality marks the Registered Magnum as a must have gun for every revolver collector.
The Colt Detective Special is one of the most famous early modern factory production snub nose revolvers. The wheelgun was made as a double action with the ability to function as single, used a swing-out frame for faster loading, and was specifically designed for the .38 Special. The classic snubbie is a must have gun for any collection thanks to its history with undercover cops and detectives, as well as Taxi drivers, store owners, and mobsters.
When it comes to gun collection must haves, antique pistols make for some of the most impressive display pieces. Flintlock officer's pistols were often crafted as matching pairs that carried a higher level of prestige and embellishment compared to the more standard pistols of the lower ranks. These pistols typically exhibit quality engraving and ornamentation, and surviving examples tend to be well preserved. Antique pistols that include their original box and accessories are particularly valued in the collecting community, and a number of intriguing examples can be found amid RIAC's extraordinary selection.
A cased pair of Durs Egg flintlock officers pistols. Includes hardwood case with Egg gunmaker label underneath the lid, powder flask with ball compartment, lead balls, bullet mold, brush, screwdriver, and a cleaning rod.
Revolutionary-era arms are some of the rarest gun collection must haves around, like this 18th-century German Hessian Jaeger rifle. As a unique example of a jaeger rifle attributed to one of the earliest elite Hessian sharpshooter units, this would make for a prized centerpiece in any early martial arms or Colonial era collection.
Carried both on land and sea, the unique-looking blunderbuss belongs in any antique arms collection. Drawing its name from the Dutch word 'donderbus', or thunder pipe, the blunderbuss is a smoothbore short-barreled long gun with a flared muzzle that was especially useful for defending ships from boarders and carriages from highwaymen. Much like a modern shotgun, the blunderbuss was designed to deliver a devastating blast of shot or buck and ball at close range. George Washington equipped them to his dragoons late in the Revolutionary War, and other militaries around the world issued the blunderbuss as cavalry weapons through the early 18th century.
Want to get away from flint and steel ignition? Wheellocks are always unusual and attractive. There is a reason these high art examples are staples of fine arms and art collections in both Europe and the U.S.
How about we go back to the earliest form of gunlocks with a beautiful matchlock pistol from Japan? To build a truly ‘complete’ antique military arms collection, the matchlock would is an undeniable must have.
Aside from the joy of building a fantastic gun collection, firearms can be a rewarding investment, with gun prices seeing an impressive upswing across many genres as the hobby swells in popularity around the globe. From vintage to modern, from new-in-box pieces to guns marked with honest wear, Rock Island Auction Company’s offers a vast selection of gun collection must haves that truly span the centuries.
Whether you're looking to start or upgrade your collection or pick up some gun gifts for the firearms aficionados in your life, Rock Island Auction's free digital gun catalogs always offer an exciting slate of arms, accessories, and rare militaria. Subscribe to the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter to receive new gun blogs and gun videos on all the firearms genres covered here and more.
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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