August 25, 2021
By Seth Isaacson
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Rock Island Auction Company’s September 10-12 Premier Firearms Auction is absolutely packed with hundreds of muzzleloaders from several collections in the U.S. and abroad.
These firearms span an incredible period of time reaching back into the colonial era and up to nearly the present day, encompassing both military and civilian arms and everything from matchlocks and wheellocks to the classic flintlocks of the 18th century and the percussion arms of the 19th century. They also cover a variety of price points with estimates ranging from as low as $1,400 to elite pieces with estimates as high as $350,000, making this an excellent auction for anyone interested in muzzle loading and black powder firearms.
With such a wide selection, it’s impossible to write an article that does the selection justice, so please scroll through Rock Island Auction Company's online catalog to see the sheer number and variety of firearms available. Better yet, come to Preview Day on September 9th and see them all in person in our dedicated Preview Hall. Instead of trying to cover everything, I'll whet your appetite focusing on some of my favorite pieces from the sale. The printed catalog, online portfolio, and the website version are great places to view the full descriptions and vivid photographs for each of these lots in detail.
I could bury this one at the bottom of the list and build up to arguably the top muzzle loading firearm in the sale, but it is simply too cool not to address at the top. In my Top 10 video for the upcoming premier auction this rifle came in at number 1: a beautiful, German silver mounted full-stock flintlock rifle from A. Harrington of New York inscribed "Old Hickory" and attributed as owned by President Andrew Jackson.
Even without the “OLD HICKORY” inscription on the cheekpiece and thus the attribution to President Andrew Jackson, this incredible rifle stands as a magnificent example of American fine arms from the "Age of Jackson" and would be near the top of my list for the muzzle loaders in this sale. Once you add the connection to the famous and controversial 7th President of the United States of America, you have a firearm that is truly in a class of its own.
It is believed to have come from the shop of A. A. Harrington of Poughkeepsie, New York, who ran the "Poughkeepsie Gun Factory" also later known as "Harrington's Gun Manufactory." While researching this rifle, I found his June 2, 1832, dated advertisement in the Poughkeepsie Journal. It was published on the same page as the town's proclamation of support for Andrew Jackson in the election of 1832 and notes that A.A. Harrington of Poughkeepsie, under the sign of an eagle, offered double and single barrel guns for $4.25 to $75, fine rifles for $10 to $100, "smooth rifles" for $9, pistols, a variety of muskets for $4 to $8, and an assortment of accoutrements. A $100 rifle would certainly have been a high end piece. For some context, the Ellis-Jennings four-shot repeating rifles, arguably the most advanced firearms in use by the U.S. at the time, cost the government around $25 each.
The Latin motto "NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT" on the banner in the eagle's beak on the patchbox means "no one provokes me with impunity" and is most famously the motto of the Stuarts and the Kingdom of Scotland as well as the Order of the Thistle and multiple Scottish organizations. Given Andrew Jackson's parents were Scottish-Irish immigrants and Jackson’s fiery character, the motto is certainly fitting for Old Hickory. By that time, he had fought in multiple duels to defend his wife’s honor and his own, including killing Charles Dickinson in a pistol duel on May 30, 1806, during which Jackson was also shot. Jackson went on to famously lead American riflemen during the War of 1812 to defend the young nation against insufferable trespasses and abuses by the United Kingdom that required Americans to fight to defend their country’s sovereignty and honor.
The incredible embellishment may be the work of Richard Bates Inshaw who was active in New York in the early 1830s and engraved arms for Samuel Colt in the Paterson era before moving to work for Ames in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1836. A comparison to the Inshaw rifle in the Chicopee Historical Society's collection that is shown on pages 68-71 of "Colt Factory Engravers of the Nineteenth Century" by Houze is warranted. Houze is recorded as saying that the Inshaw rifle is believed to have been a "masterpiece" example of the Inshaw brothers' work and "Is it without a doubt the best pre-1850 American firearm I've ever seen." This A. Harrington flintlock rifle is certainly every bit as fine and even more fascinating thanks to its connection to Jackson.
As I mentioned earlier, the incredibly rare Ellis-Jennings repeating rifles are among the most elusive and fascinating U.S. martial arms. Very, very few of these rifles are known today, and they are almost never available to the public. This high condition example is pictured on pages 457-459 of "American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume II: From the 1790s to the End of the Flintlock Period" by George Moller, arguable the best book out there about American military firearms from this period.
As explained by Moller, these rifles were based on Isaiah Jennings's September 2, 1821, patented improvement of Joseph Belton's earlier repeating system and were manufactured under contract with the federal government through Reuben Ellis of New York by Robert and J. D. Johnson of Middletown, Connecticut, for issue to the New York militia. To see how it works, I recommend you go check out either my top ten video or the video on repeating flintlocks in the premier sale on the RIAC YouTube channel. As I noted before, these were expensive for martial arms.
The 521 rifles cost $13,090, a very significant amount for the period. At that price, each Ellis-Jennings rifle cost around 2 1/2 times what the government paid for earlier contract rifles. The State of New York actually authorized the acceptance of these rifles in lieu of half of their annual federal allotment of muskets from the Ordnance Department.
While in theory a fairly practical system, they clearly were too expensive for widespread issuance, and their more complex loading sequence likely made them overall less practical than a traditional muzzle loading rifle. Nonetheless, the Ellis-Jennings repeating rifle is definitely one of the most interesting and fascinating martial arms of the flintlock era.
So far we’ve been focusing on some of the rarest and most valuable muzzle loaders in the sale, but I promised there would be something for everyone, so how about some more “common" muzzleloaders that most collectors can afford, particularly a model that has been on my personal wishlist for a while now and has jumped to the top as of late: the U.S. Model 1817 "Common Rifle."
The beginning estimates start at $1,600, and the high end is $5,000. They certainly aren’t cheap, but they aren’t that expensive compared to many muzzle loaders people collect and shoot. The three in the sale are all from the collection of renowned U.S. military shoulder arms collector and author George D. Moller and represent contractors Simeon North, Nathan Starr & Son, and Robert & J.D. Johnson. I'd personally be very happy with an example from any of the contractors.
These three are just a small taste of the massive array of U.S. martial arms in the sale, the bulk of which come from Moller’s renowned collection. We have many additional muzzle loading rifles, rifle-muskets, muskets, and other martial long guns in the sale as well, including examples from several other collections. Collectors of American martial arms are sure to be able to fill many holes in their collections.
There is a fine selection of American long rifles (aka Kentucky rifles) offered in the upcoming sale from multiple collections. Both the photography and graphics design teams do a standout job showcasing these classic American firearms, like this scarce, Henry Pickel signed Lancaster Flintlock American Long Rifle, engraved and carved in a high end period style.
Next up is another scarce rarity in this J.P. Beck signed and engraved, raised relief carved smoothbore flintlock American Long Rifle.
A documented, engraved, and carved American smoothbore flintlock hunting gun attributed to Hans Jacob Honaker of Virginia with a sideplate inscribed for A. Moode on Sept. 15, 1789.
The Kentucky Rifle Association's 1994 Best Relief Carved Rifle Award winning engraved Golden Age Flintlock American Long Rifle attributed to John Bonewitz.
A documented carved 18th century American flintlock smoothbore rifle from somewhere East of Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the historic homes of American rifle making.
I’ve been yapping on about flintlock rifles so far, but let's next take a look at the tremendous variety of muzzle loading firearms featured in September's Premier Auction. For the rare and the weird, you can't get much better than the musket below. I can still remember when my fellow describer colleague Austin Ellis asked me about this unusual musket when he was writing it up. It’s a French “Charleville” style musket with a long extendable spear bayonet under the barrel and a folding comb that together turn this musket into a long pike!
Not unusual enough for you? How about an incredibly ornate Turkish/Caucasian miquelet long gun with a gorgeous damascene lock? This is a piece representative of a different region than we’ve covered so far, and it also represents a different embellishment and a different ignition system, though many people erroneously lump miquelet locks in with flintlocks.
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. They can be absolutely stunning like this 17th century hunting rifle by the renowned "Master of the Animal-Head Scroll.”
How about we go back to the earliest form of gunlocks with a beautiful matchlock pistol from Japan. We also have an elaborate Japanese Tanegashima matchlock arquebus in the sale along with two 17th century European matchlock muskets.
Those still weren’t unusual enough for you? This one will certainly do the trick: an incredible rare flintlock repeating sporting gun that reloads by twisting the barrel and magazine group. The Chelembrom is attributed to a French gunmaker operating in India in the late 18th century. Oh, and there is a cool little bayonet in a compartment in the buttstock. How neat is this!? Between this rare rifle and the Ellis-Jennings repeater, the Chelembrom is definitely the more complicated of the two.
This beautiful 1827 date smoothbore miquelet sporting gun is a gorgeous example of the quality of work coming from the Neapolitan gunmakers in the 19th century. It is silver mounted and signed by Camerchioli, Matteo Fonzo, and Lupi.
Need more barrels and a lot more firepower? We’ve got you covered with this Revolutionary War era Henry Nock seven barrel volley gun. Who doesn’t love a volley gun? It basically takes the cool factor of a blunderbuss and triples it. These were said to have been taken out of service during the Napoleonic Wars because their excessive recoil was dangerous to their users, and they also risked lighting their ship on fire!
In addition to military rifles like the Model 1817s discussed earlier, the sale has a wide selection of smoothbore military arms from both the U.S. and Europe. I’m pretty partial to the European smoothbores in the sale, especially Lot 1130.
I covered this one in my top ten video, but I don’t grow tired of it, and I’m pretty certain you won’t either. It is a Revolutionary War era silver mounted officer’s fusil by Twigg, and the weapon is featured in George Molller’s American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume I: Colonial and Revolutionary War Arms on pages 243-246. Like all guns by John Fox Twigg that I’ve had the pleasure of examining, this fusil is beautifully made. It is much lighter than the Brown Bess muskets used by regular troops (about half the weight), but it is still around 20 bore (.62 caliber) and would pack a punch on the receiving end.
It shoulders and points very naturally, much more akin to an English sporting gun than a musket. It is mounted with all sterling silver furniture with hallmarks dating to 1777. The stock has relief shell and scroll carving around the barrel tang that coordinates with the wrist escutcheon which is inscribed with a coat of arms and the motto “Pro aris et focis” (usually translated from Latin as “for hearth and home”). It very well may have been used by a British officer attempting to suppress the American patriots defending their homes during the American Revolution.
Another of the European smoothbores that I really love in the sale is lot 133, a James II era flintlock carbine with a plug bayonet. It is really rare to see firearms from that brief time period, and the style is definitely different than later flintlocks, and the plug bayonet is really neat.
So far we’ve spent a lot of time gawking at the incredible selection of muzzle loading long guns, but what about something for those that prefer handguns? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. This sale has a great selection of muzzle loading handguns from martial pistols to beautiful royal arms, like this beautiful early pair of pistols from Italy. I can’t explain how gorgeous these are in words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Prince Frederick (1763-1827), Duke of York and Albany, must have had a preference for double barrel pistols by the Egg family as he owned several. Joseph Egg (1775-1837) was partnered with Henry Tatham from 1801-1814, and they served as royal gunmakers and cutlers for King George III.
The Duke of York’s long military career included both triumphant victories and humiliating defeats such as the failed Flanders expedition that led to the "Grand Old Duke of York" mocking him. Following that campaign, he revitalized the British military and reconstructed it into the force that ultimately smashed Napoleon at Waterloo.
This next pair is also of royal quality. On fact, these flintlock pistols are of near identical form as the pair built for the future George IV (then the Prince of Wales) by Durs Egg (1748-1831) that are contained within the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number: 35.81.1.-.2) and recently on display as part of the MET's "The Art of London Firearms" exhibit. The current pair has silver hallmarks for 1792 indicating they may actually predate the completion date of the Prince of Wales pistols by one to two years (noted as hallmarked 1793 and 1794).
The embellishment, robust stock, and .65 (carbine) caliber bores would have certainly been very fitting for an English officer serving during the French Revolutionary Wars such as the War of the First Coalition that Britain took part in starting that same year. Perhaps they were made for an officer of one of the Prince of Wales's regiments such as the 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, 3rd (Prince of Wales's) Dragoon Guards, or 12th (Prince of Wales's) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons.
Let’s jump forward in time a half century. These incredible pistols were made for the famous 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, the first World’s Fair. Louis-Julien Gastinne-Renette (1812-1885) was one of the leading Parisian gunmakers of the era and won numerous awards at French national and international exhibitions. Rock Island Auction Company is no stranger to the exceptional exhibition pistols of Gastinne-Renette of Paris, but their pistols never fail to impress, including these beauties which feature gorgeous Gothic architectural designs throughout.
Historic cased pair of chiseled and relief carved Gastinne-Renette Percussion dueling/target exhibition pistols with coordinating suite of accouterments displayed at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, the First World’s Fair.
If you are talking about high end French muzzle loaders, you can’t skip Nicolas Noel Boutet, the famous head of the Versailles Manufactory. This case set is a beautiful example of what the finest arms of Boutet looked like when they left his shop in Paris in 1818-1833 following Napoleon's downfall at Waterloo. They demonstrate Boutet's immense talent designing firearms that were equally high quality weapons and works of art. Also, be sure to check out lots 1131, 3337, and 3345 for a Boutet fusil and two other pairs of pistols from the iconic gunsmith.
Who doesn’t love a beautiful double barrel pistol? Even if you aren’t worried about a tiger leaping up to kill you while you are hunting from your perch back of an elephant, a double barrel pistol is just always incredible cool.
Having just one Civil War sharpshooter in sale would be a privilege, but this auction actually has multiple, and these are just a small selection of Civil War firearms in the sale. We also have lots of rifle-muskets, Colt revolvers, and more, including a Berdan Sharpshooters Sharps New Model 1859 rifle in lot 1195.
Next, we have a cased William Craig Pittsburgh percussion target rifle, one of my absolute favorite Civil War guns to ever come through Rock Island Auction Company. While factory presentation cased Colts and other high end pieces owned by generals and famous war heroes are rightfully exciting and valuable, I really love a gun used by a more common man. I suppose that may be an unfair designation for Union sharpshooter Private Robert John May (1830-1896) who served in Company D of the famous 149th Pennsylvania, the 2nd Bucktail Regiment since he was clearly a talented marksman compared to a common soldier, but he is also far from a household name.
Documented Civil War Union sharpshooter's cased William Craig, Pittsburg percussion target rifle with Morgan James scope, false muzzle, accessories, powder horn and diaries of R.J. May of Company D of the 2nd Bucktail Regiment and the Sharpshooter Battalion
The fact that the rifle is accompanied by the actual diaries of R.J. May discussing getting and using this rifle during the Civil War along with other details of his life in the Union Army plus other period correspondence really adds a lot to the value and historical interest of this "telescope rifle." For example, in his entry for January 3, 1863, he notes he had given Lincoln's "paw a wag" while stationed in D.C. and felt sorry for the president.
In an entry on July 19, 1865, "In front of Peter'g, Va." he said, "Wrote to Will concerning those Telescopic rifles. . ." (his brother William May), and the following day wrote, "This morning more names were taken for the sharp-shooting Battalion. Wrote to Will this evening ordering two 'Target rifles'..." Further entries from Petersburg in August include: August 7: "I last night rec'd a letter from Will containing express rec'pt for two gun..."August 12: "I am getting impatient for my Telescope." August 15: "...four of us went to our captn of Sharpshooters to report to duty..." August 17: "I rec'd my Telescope Rifle yesterday evening & so did some others - I am well pleased with my gun."
On September 1 at "P & W. R.R. Va." May wrote, "eight of us - with our Telescopes, went nearly a mile [and a quarter] toward Petersburg along the R.R. and took position. the Johns honored me with a few shots while I was crossing the road [wagon] pretty soon we opened on them at about 700 yards - in about an hour two rebs came out signifying a desire for a talk, one of our pickets met them. It was agreed there would be no firing, except an advance should be attempted by either party..."
On the 10th, he noted having an accidental discharge that damaged his wiping rod and required him to pull a ball. On the 17th at "The Yellow House, Va." he "was busy making a Powder horn" and on the 20th he notes "I worked at a horn Powder-flask during spare time." This would be the horn included with the rifle and signed by May. On October 9, 1864, at "Pegram place" he wrote of a Confederate deserter telling them they had killed 7 gunners and 6 horses of the Confederate battery.
This next rifle is pictured on page 436 of "American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume III: Flintlock Alterations and Muzzleloading Percussion Shoulder Arms, 1840-1865" by George Moller in his discussion about the rifles supplied by Horace E. Dimick of St. Louis, Missouri, during the Civil War, including the rifles he supplied for Birge's Western Sharpshooters. This one may not have been issued to the sharpshooters, but it is certainly of the type Dimick supplied to them and may have seen use in the war.
This rifle is pictured and discussed on page 437 of George Moller's "American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume III: Flintlock Alterations and Muzzleloading Percussion Shoulder Arms, 1840-1865." The muzzle is marked "US," "WSS" (Western Sharpshooters) and "1071" (rifle number) and Moller wrote, "These markings suggest the rifle may have been delivered after April 1862." The riflemaker is not known but was likely based in the St. Louis area and sold the rifle to Horace E. Dimick who brought in rifles from other area gunmakers to help fill his contract for the sharpshooters.
The Western Sharpshooters were known as Birge's First Sharpshooters early on and was formed from men from various states in the Midwest. They were originally intended to be dressed as hunters to give them a distinctive look that matched their distinctive "deer" rifles, and it is said that recruits were required to prove they could shoot 3 inch groups at 200 yards with open sights.
As Moller notes, they are the only regiment armed entirely with sporting arms. They fought against the Missouri guerrillas in Missouri initially and went on to fight in many of the war's most significant battles, particularly in the western theater in the first half of the war and then also in the eastern theater late in the war, including in Sherman's March to the Sea. They are among the most storied units of the war. Many of the men later replaced their “deer rifles” with Henry rifles at their own expense.
I feel like I could just keep adding more and more categories and discussing more and more incredible muzzle loading firearms until my keyboard is worn-out. Muzzleloaders from every era are a consistent hit with shooters and collectors during any of Rock Island Auction Company's gun auctions, with demand for historic collector pieces continuing to grow.
As you can tell from the pieces featured here, the crème de la crème muzzleloaders are offered during Rock Island Auction Company’s Premier Firearms Auctions, so take a look and make your wish list and get ready to expand your collection this September.
As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, or future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today. Our upcoming auction schedule is updated frequently on our website, so be sure to go through the listing and start making your plans to visit. All our events adhere to the latest COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. We can’t wait to see you here!
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