May 18, 2021
By Joe Engesser
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The Sale of the Century never ended; it just took a few months off so that Rock Island Auction Company could prepare a record-breaking lineup for our May 14th to May 16th Premier extravaganza. Not only did the Sale of the Century finale smash the previous world record, it rocketed into the history books with an astronomical $30 MILLION in realized sales, the largest firearms auction ever held by a stunning margin.
Not content to coast on their success and maintain the status quo as the world's number one firearms auction house, Rock Island Auction constantly strives to break its own numerous records. The three-day May Premier Firearms Auction lived up to its promise as the Sale of the Century’s second chapter and then some, matching the record set by the December Premier Firearms Auction in the first two days alone and then shattering it by Sunday.
This crown jewel event kicked off in dazzling fashion on Thursday as a spectacular selection of rare historical firearms filled the RIAC Preview Hall. The preview day turnout was tremendous, and that excitement and anticipation carried through to the three-day sale that followed, where collectors, investors, and gun enthusiasts from across the country gathered to bid on over 2,200 top-tier offerings from an all-star line-up of gun collections. From national treasures to holy grails to dozens of headline-worthy firearms, this three-day auction was stacked from top to bottom, including pieces with direct ties to legends like Bat Masterson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton himself.
Friday morning opened to standing room only inside the auction hall. With over twelve thousand sealed bids, a jammed-packed audience, and hundreds of phone and online bidders eager to jump in on the action, the competition was spirited from the start and never let up.
The auction kicked off in high gear with a John Ulrich signed, gold inlaid Winchester rifle that achieved an impressive $718,750. Other historic arms followed, such as an incredible pair of ornate presentation pistols that realized $115,000, and this standout factory engraved Winchester Model 1866 carbine that took in $80,500.
The momentum continued with the war pistols of Alexander Hamilton, the flagship centerpiece for the record-shattering weekend. It’s not often a private gun collector can own such a prominent part of the American Revolution, and the historic pistols found a new home with a stunning final price of $1,150,000.
Old West gunslinger Bat Masterson’s Colt SAA, complete with original holster, was another legendary offering that crossed the podium on Friday. After the dust cleared, the auction hall erupted as one lucky collector took home the spectacular six-shooter for a striking $488,750.
Colt revolvers continued to make an impression throughout the morning, with a trio of standout sixguns from the great state of Texas leading the charge, like a first gen Colt SAA that sold for $48,875, then a factory engraved rarity in the same model that realized $103,500, and this historic, well-documented Colt Walker that achieved a spectacular $218,500.
The big guns made a statement as well Friday morning, with a one-of-a-kind Confederate Columbus Arsenal 9-Pounder lighting up the auction with a spirited round of bidding between the phones and the floor and achieving a thunderous $661,250. A Napoleon 12-pounder Model 1857 was another explosive success at $138,00 and an 1842 Swivel Gun blew past its high estimate six times over to realize $19,500.
Speaking of heavy firepower, Friday afternoon saw the rare appearance of a Type I FG-42, a wishlist item for every WWII gun collector. After an exciting back and forth, this scarce German Paratrooper rifle sold for a notable $316,250.
Military guns continued to make their mark Friday with the unique British Welrod Mk II bolt action clandestine pistol achieving $40,000, and a Remington Sportsman Model 11 semi-auto Aerial Trainer raked in $40,250, leading a great day for shotguns which saw high estimates repeatedly shattered by leaps and bounds, as was the case for this Engraved Belgian Browning Superposed Diana Grade Shotgun that went for $18,400, and a Winchester Model 1897 side action that shredded its estimate and achieved a whopping $25,875.
It wouldn’t be a Rock Island Auction Company Premier sale without some 1911s, and May’s event delivered in style with one of the scarcest Colt pistols out there. Assembled in the first block of 40 Model 1911 pistols at the Colt plant on the first day of production, these pistols were the height of military technology at the time, and this serial number 9 sold for a jaw-dropping $322,000.
Day two opened in grand fashion with a visit from Congresswoman Miller-Meeks, follows by a trio of generous donations to the USA Shooting Team. A few clouds and scattered showers only reminded the gathering that spring was in full bloom and the year was still young. That hopeful energy was contagious as several museum-worthy pieces crossed the podium early on, like Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War appointment document, which brought in an impressive $86,250.
Another Civil War era treasure, these two masterpiece Remington revolvers represent a forgotten alliance between the United States and the Russian Empire during Lincoln's term. Separated after the Bolshevik Revolution and reunited over 120 years after their presentation, this piece of forgotten history stunned the auction hall as it sold for $460,000.
Speaking of historic treasures, this lavishly embellished £100 sword from Lloyd's of London, one of very few to exist in private hands, found a new home for $287,500. Other classic weapons received similar enthusiasm from the collectors gathered at Rock Island Auction Company’s May Premier, including this award winning Kentucky "deer rifle" that went for an impressive $161,000, followed by a cased pair of percussion target pistols for $126,400, then an even more elaborate black powder pair with gilt mounts that realized $149,500, a price deserving of their high level of artistry. Revolvers came in strong once again, and this exceptional, documented Texas Paterson took in a phenomenal $276,000.
A weapon bridging the classic and modern era of warfare, the Gardner Gun was invented after the Gatling gun and just before the machine gun. Among the scarcest firearms in the world, and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime buy, the Gardner Gun went to a lucky bidder for $218,500.
The Gardner led the way for the day’s big guns, and the cannons again would not be silenced as an 1861 Civil War 6-Pounder and a 10-Pounder took in $46,000 and $57,500 respectively. The unique Hotchkiss revolving cannon followed up with an impressive $34,500, and even a miniature got in on the action as this antique 1829 1/9 scale model of a prototype breech-loading cannon sold for $69,000, more than eight times its projected high!
Finally, the day saw the appearance of another pinnacle in 1911 collecting, the Model 1911A1 WWII era automatic pistol. Few of the original 500 Singer pistols survived, let alone in such exceptional condition, and this king of the 1911 collector market racked in $195,000.
The sun shone again Sunday morning and our guests were treated to a perfect third and final day of bidding. Day three made an early statement with the sale of British hero Lord Cardigan’s 1851 Colt Navy revolvers. Samuel Colt presenting a pair of revolvers to the Commander of the legendary Light Brigade sounds like the stuff of fiction, and these well-documented presentation guns captured the attention of the entire auction hall and achieved a noteworthy $184,000.
Other historic Colts included an SAA attributed to the Dalton Gang and their fateful final raid, a storied six-shooter that brought in $138,000. A unique self-cocking revolver realized an impressive $46,000, and a pristine cased Colt Pocket percussion revolver landed a staggering $40,250, over four times its high estimate.
Surprisingly, Winchester might have stolen the spotlight for revolver of the day with this supremely rare Centennial 1876 single action six-shooter. Originally produced for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, most of the surviving examples are held in the Winchester Museum in Cody, Wyoming, but one lucky bidder was able to attain this elite offering for $287,500.
Colts mounted a comeback when the rare “Baby Colt” Model 1910 prototype 9.8 mm pistol hit the auction block. Being one of only five known, it was no surprise to see it achieve a worthy $92,000. Other exceptional Colt pistols included a North American Arms Co. Model 1911 semi-automatic that sold for $138,000, and a highly desirable Pre-World War II F.B.I. shipped Colt .38 Super pistol that soared past estimate for an impressive $23,000.
The interest in military guns was stronger than ever Sunday afternoon, as one of the signature WWII weapons, the German MG42 came out guns blazing and landed an outstanding $63,250. A rare experimental M1 Garand T-35 more than doubled its projected high, and a reproduction Colt Model 1897 Gatling gun raked in a hefty $43,125 after a competitive round of bidding.
Fine watches and fine firearms go together like Smith & Wesson. For the first time, Rock Island Auction Company featured a lineup of iconic Rolex watches, and these artisan timepieces were eagerly welcomed by our audience of dedicated collectors.
Almost every timepiece exceeded its estimated price throughout the weekend, many exceptionally so. A Rolex Submariner nearly tripled its high estimate for an impressive $25,875. A GMT Master “Pepsi” garnered an outstanding $46,000. A Rolex Sea Dweller made waves and hauled in $86,250. But the clear standout was the “Big Red” Daytona, one of the Holy Grails in Rolex collecting. Realizing a remarkable $103,500, this classic timepiece is a first-hand example of how a luxury Rolex can hold or appreciate in value.
Shattered. Crushed. Annihilated. No adjectives can adequately describe how thoroughly Rock Island Auction Company broke their own world record for the single largest firearms auction in history. For context, that previous record was the impressive $22 million from RIAC’s December Premier event in 2020. Needless to say, a $30 million dollar auction total is a staggering feat, and we can’t begin to thank our attendees, bidders, consignors, and collectors enough for helping us reach this grand achievement.
The sheer number of historic offerings, artistic antiques, and exhibition-quality militaria kept the enthusiasm high throughout the entire three-day event, and the passion from our guests was on full display as they shared their love of fine arms collecting and made our May Premiere Firearms Auction a smashing success. We strive to treat our clientele like family, and this weekend they returned that sentiment a hundred times over. Your support means the world to us.
Rock Island Auction Company will be hosting an incredible Sporting & Collector Auction from June 10th-12th, 2021, and another exciting Premier Auction will be held from September 10th-12th, 2021. For more information on consignment, registration, or future auctions, or if you have any other questions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today. We can’t wait to see you again!
Fabulous auction, and ease of bidding live.
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