February 11, 2019
By Joel R Kolander
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The United States has been fighting in wars since The Shot Heard Round the World. Unfortunately, America was an ocean away from the established industrial capability of Europe and early in her days was forced to manufacture her own weapons or risk being without. This has led to centuries of American gun makers who have crafted a nearly endless variety of military firearms. Collectors today are reaping the benefits of such efforts and U.S. military gun prices have reflected this flourishing interest in recent years.
That in mind, let’s take a look at a dozen of the popular and unusual U.S. military arms and the remarkable gun prices they have achieved.
Snipers are feared and respected members of militaries around the world, doing a job that few can. Their specialized firearms are much rarer than regular military rifles, and it is this combination of respect and rarity that drives the gun prices of sniper rifles far above their standard issue counterparts.
The M1903 saw service as a standard issue rifle dating back to the Great War; a role it maintained even into the early part of the Vietnam War. Because of its longevity and its abundant production, the stock M1903 is familiar to many. Since its time in the military it has also found use among sportsmen, collectors, and competition shooters.
A sniper variant of a popular rifle such as the M1903 will always sell well, but when it’s even rarer than usual, the price can reach new heights. The M1903A1 is an interwar variant that was produced in very small numbers thanks to the quick evolution into the M1903A3 and the adoption of the M1 Garand. To have a sniper rifle of an already rare gun AND to have it documented to the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II is a perfect storm of desirable traits. It all added up to help this piece of U.S. history sell for $40,250.
The Pedersen Device was a super-secret weapon developed in the waning days of World War I. It was so secret, the Ordnance Department officially dubbed it “The U.S. Automatic Pistol, Caliber .30, Model of 1918.” It may not look like much, but this small device, developed by noted inventor John Pedersen, converted the standard issue M1903 bolt action rifle, into a semi-automatic rifle that utilized the smaller .30 Pedersen ammunition, instead of the powerful .30-06 rifle rounds. That March the government quickly placed an order for 100,000 of the wonder weapon in anticipation of a large offensive planned for the coming spring. Three months later, the British placed and order for 500,000 for a version that would fit their Enfield rifles.
Fortunately for everyone, the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, but this newfound peace resulted in the cancellation of nearly all the outstanding orders for the Pedersen Device. Long story short, about 65,000 were produced in total and most sat in storage until 1931 when they were declared surplus and the U.S. government ordered all remaining examples destroyed. Less than 100 are estimated to survive today.
It’s a fantastic combination of a great story, an engineering innovation, and tremendous rarity that drives up the gun prices for these collectibles. A complete example of the Pedersen Device, including the rare metal case, canvas pouches, magazines, and modified M1903 rifle, sold in 2013 for $69,000.
The Springfield Trapdoor rifle is a significant piece of U.S. military history as the first standard-issue longarm that wasn’t required to be loaded from the muzzle. Using a small hinge, the rifle could be loaded at the breech, allowing soldiers to reload much more quickly. It also allowed the Army to utilize its existing stock of muzzleloading rifles since only a small modification was required to convert it into a trapdoor.
Within two years, beautiful and embellished versions became available known as Officer’s Model rifles. Never issued to troops, they were available to officers for private purchase. It is estimated that less than 500 were ever made. Some of the rare deluxe features are seldom seen on military rifles: wonderful engraving, target sights, checkered stock, and a detachable half-pistol grip. Gun prices on these rifles can vary significantly, but the superb version shown here brought $46,000 in a 2013 auction.
The Remington 700 is more widely known as a hunting rifle, but during the Vietnam War it was pressed into service to replace the aging arsenal of Garand M1C and M1D rifles as well as the Winchester Model 70 rifles (another sporting arm used by the military). The 700 was the standard rifle for Marine snipers beginning in 1967, most notably by Charles Mawhinney who used it to notch 103 confirmed kills.
Known in the military as the M40, many were converted to the M40A1 configuration, making original configuration examples worth a pretty penny. Further driving the gun prices of these sniper rifles is the fact that few were ever released by the U.S.M.C. This particular example was also part of the original contract of 700 rifles, which helped result in a $43,125 realized price.
The first standard U.S. infantry rifle to utilize smokeless cartridges, the Norwegian-designed “Krag” was adopted in 1894. It is easily identified by a distinct large, hinged door on the right side of the receiver that permits access to the magazine. While it initially presented benefits preferred by the Ordnance Department, those benefits were quickly found to pale when compared to those of the Mauser rifles used by opposing forces in the Spanish-American War. Indeed, by 1903 the U.S. would adopt a near clone of the Mauser, the M1903 rifle.
The Krag saw use in numerous smaller conflicts such as the Boxer Rebellion, the Filipino Insurrection, the Philippine-American War, and the aforementioned Spanish-American War. Already obsolete by World War I, the Krag was never produced in as large of numbers as other standard issue longarms. Thankfully, they remain easy to find today and are still well-known for their smooth, quick bolt action. Gun prices for Krag-Jørgensen rifles and carbines can be under $500 for sporterized examples, but only increase when condition and rarity are added. One extremely early example, serial number 33, somehow escaped a series of government updates and remained in its original, as-issued condition. In September 2018 it sold for a remarkable $46,000.
Elgin cutlass pistols are easily distinguishable and are quite the intimidating piece of military hardware. The Bowie-style knife on the bottom was patented by George Elgin on July 5, 1837 – nearly 10 years after the blade earned its moniker. They were made by two companies: C.B. Allen and Morrill, Mosman, & Blair, both circa 1837, with the blades said to be made by the renowned smiths at N.P. Ames. The Allen-made version is the only such antique pistol ever issued by the Navy, or any U.S. military branch.
Coming in a variety of sizes and from two different manufacturers gives collectors a nice selection to hunt down. Many specimens have seen the ravages of time and are in a condition one might expect from a firearm nearly 200 years old. However, gun prices for those remaining in excellent condition can be quite handsome. The example shown above is one made by Morrill, Mosman, & Blair and is the finest known of its kind. Even well-known institutions such as the Smithsonian do not have an example in this high of condition. Thus it fetched an appropriate sum at auction: $48,875.
A few years after the Great War the United States began accepting submissions for semi-automatic rifle designs to replace the standard issue M1903 bolt-action. Numerous designers threw their hat into the ring result in a bevy of interesting rifles from top designers: Hatcher-Bang, Vickers-Berthier, Garand, and, those from Thompson.
The Thompson design from Auto-Ordnance Company was already being produced by Colt in the Thompson submachine guns (aka “Tommy guns”). With those same partnerships in place, Auto-Ordnance submitted their “auto-rifle” to the trials in 1921. The rifles were ruled out quickly, but the Chief of the Ordnance Department purchased 20 of the rifles in 1922 on his own authority. This rifle is one of those 20.
With so few ever produced and their intimate tie to U.S. long gun history, these historic arms bring lofty gun prices for any collector fortunate enough to own one. The example shown above, one of the 20 purchased, sold in May 2016 for $54,625, and prototype of that design sold in September 2018 for $63,250.
Everybody loves a trench shotgun. The bayonet lug, the heat shield, and the ability to deal devastating damage at close range. From the Winchester 1897 and onward, they have been an extremely effective weapon in close quarters; so much so that their use in World War I prompted protest by the German government.
One of the rarer versions of these militarized shotguns is the Remington Model 10 pump-action shotgun. With its hammerless design and single loading/ejection port, it was able to be used by both left and right handed shooters and gave fewer opportunities for dirt to foul the action – both noted improvements over the much more heavily-issued Winchester Model 1897. It was designed by famed inventor John Pedersen, and the Model 10 originally competed in the commercial market prior to entering military service. Those military-issued versions are scarce with only 3,500 ever produced by Remington, and many of which were converted back to a “riot” configuration postwar. The high condition, unconverted trench gun shown above is an incredible specimen that brought an appropriately high $74,750 in September 2018.
Everyone knows about the M1 Garand rifle, but fewer are familiar with the M1’s primary competitor from designer John Pedersen. Known as the Pedersen rifle, it featured a unique toggle lock action, much like that seen on Luger pistols. Unfortunately, Pedersen was late to the party and his design never found the military success the envisioned. Despite this, the Pedersen rifle had a profound effect on the selection process for the standard-issue rifle and was at certain points considered the front-runner.
With their unique design and important place in U.S. military history, gun prices for Pedersen rifles are usually quite high. Not only are there the rifles that were actually used in trials, but there are also rare prototypes that have come to public market. One of the original 20 manufactured for the 1929 tests was sold by RIAC in September 2016 for $74,750. Rarer prototypes such as Pedersen’s Model GX and GY, have brought similar hefty amounts, while the few commercial versions produced sell for significantly less.
Original Model 1799 flintlock pistols are among the scarcest and most highly prized American firearms and certainly the most desirable of all U.S. martial flintlock pistols. The Model 1799 pistol was the first official pistol adopted by the United States and were replaced with the more conventional Model 1805 pistols after less than a decade. Only 2,000 were manufactured by Simeon North and his brother-in-law Elisha Cheney, a clock maker, in Berlin, Connecticut, in 1799-1801
Antique pistols such as this have had to survive for centuries and remaining examples of the scantly produced sidearms are a true prize for collectors and students of early American history. The scarcity and significance of this flintlock help drive the gun prices for these antique firearms. The example shown here achieved $86,250 in a September 2017 auction.
“The greatest battle implement ever devised” needs no introduction to even casual U.S. military historians. The standard issue rifle of World War 2, appeals to a wide range of people, even those who don’t typically collect firearms, but whose forebears carried it in defense of their country. With 6.5 million produced in just over two decades, there is no shortage of variations for collectors to seek.
Despite their prolific production, this wide variety inevitably leads to rare and unusual examples that can command tremendous gun prices. Prototypes, experiments, unusual calibers, early examples, and those with extraordinary provenance are all at the top of the list for collectors. Many of Rock Island Auction’s top selling firearms have been M1 Garands, but even common examples have seen increasing gun prices in recent years.
The current world record high price for an M1 Garand currently belongs to that bearing serial number one million, which was presented to the inventer John C. Garand upon his retirement from Springfield. In September 2018, it smashed world records by selling for $287,500. Watch this video for more information on this outstanding piece of U.S. military history.
Known in World War one as the M1911 and after 1924 as the M1911A1, this iconic pistol is now the basis of design for the vast majority of centerfire pistols sold today. It saw service from 1911 through 1986, a testament to the reliability and ruggedness of the John Moses Browning design. In addition to its military success the platform has also seen use in modern days with competition shooters in numerous disciplines.
Numerous 1911 pistols populate the list of RIAC’s best sellers. These include early production guns, rare manufacturers, high condition examples, guns issued in low numbers, those with rare markings and, of course, those manufactured by Singer Sewing Machine Company. In 1939, Singer was issued a contract by the War Department for a test run of 500 M1911A1 pistols. The test run was successful, but for several reasons the government did not extend Singer a larger contract for the pistols, likely because they needed Singer’s highly qualified machinists to produce equipment that required expert levels of precision, such as bomb sights and other aeronautic instruments.
Of the 500 “Singers” that were produced, most were issued to Army Air Force crewmen, who experienced an extremely high casualty rate, resulting in many lost men and lost pistols. Remaining examples are far and few between and are generally considered a holy grail of U.S. arms collecting. Gun prices for military issued 1911 pistols can range wildly. Well-used common examples can be found for under $1,000 at the time of this writing, but the top of the mountain seems to know no end.
Nearly 20% of RIAC’s top 50 U.S. military items have been Singer M1911A1 pistols, with the most notable coming in December 2017, when the finest known example shattered the world record price by selling for $414,000.
It is not hyperbole to say that the weapons in this article have changed the history of the world. Specifically in use during the 20th century, these tools have protected nations, shaped policy, and shifted borders. It is no mystery why collectors, historians, recreational shooters, and investors all want to put these weapons in their own collection. While this article did highlight the crème de la crème of certain models, there is a wide range of gun prices for nearly every single arm shown here with affordable versions available to the collector excited to own versions that don’t have to qualify as “world class.”
Rock Island Auction Company is the leading source for unique and rare military guns, and caters to collectors at every level. For your next U.S. military gun purchase check out our upcoming auction schedule. Searching the past auctions at that same link can give you a great idea of the gun prices you can expect to find for nearly any model.
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