October 12, 2018
By Joel R Kolander
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Updated June 2021
Ever since we published our post on the Top 10 M1 Garand rifles sold by Rock Island Auction Company, people have asked, “What about the Top 10 machine guns?” Given their fun factor, fixed availability, and resultant high prices, this is a pretty natural question to have.
At Rock Island Auction Company, we see some rare, unusual, and downright awesome machine guns that pass through our doors. Powerful, intimidating, and certainly fun to shoot, who doesn't love a machine gun? So without further ado, here are the Top 10 Machine Guns ever auctioned by Rock Island Auction Company.
It might be the first time we see an MG-42 on this list, but it won't be the last. One of the most feared weapons on the Word War II, the MG-42 earned the nickname “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” for troops’ inability to distinguish individual rounds being fired. Its cyclic rate of around 1,200 rounds per minute made this possible, and the gun’s easy and inexpensive manufacture made it an instant success. Its advanced features such as quick change barrels and the new delayed roller-block locking system influenced arms design for decades to come. Over 400,000 were produced and were an integral part of the German war machine.
This example was manufactured during WW2 by MAGET (Maschinen und Geraetetbau GmbH) in Berlin. Until mid-1943, they used the code "cra" to designate the manufacturer, which today helps collectors dates this specific example.
This is not your average Ma Deuce! Of course any M2 machine gun would be a prize in a collection or as a supremely enviable range toy. They have seen service with every branch of the American military in essentially in every American conflict since the 1930s. They are rugged, effective, and versatile as this water-cooled configuration proves. M2 machine guns were mounted to vehicles, placed on tripods, served as anti-infantry weapons, armed American fighter planes, and also served in anti-aircraft roles.
Serving as the latter is this water-cooled configuration, designed to help cool the barrels and lengthen their lifespans during prolonged fire at fast moving enemy aircraft. It was accompanied by a host of accessories including the M3 pattern mount, armored protective plates, anti-aircraft sight, water chest & hoses, tool cases, tools, period instruction manuals, and even some "oven mitt" protective gloves for handling of the hot components. Thankfully, this extraordinary piece of military history was registered in the 1968 amnesty.
This particular Thompson came with an original 1934 registration from the Dayton Ohio Police Department stating that it had been “confiscated from bank robber,” and whispers that bank robber had been none other than John Dillinger himself. Some hefty research into that claim of provenance resulted in a lengthy, two-part article (part 1 here, part 2 here) digging deep into its history.
We discovered that while it was not confiscated from Dillinger, it was definitely involved in aspects of his life and is extremely likely to have been used to escort him from Dayton to neighboring Lima. Collectors and historians appreciated the effort and forthright coverage of the Thompson and its time at RIAC ended with an $80,500 realized price – far beyond the price of a standard Model 1921.
Here we arrive at the second MG-42 on the list. Its higher price tag comes from its higher condition and its differing accompanying accessories, including the extremely desirable Hensoldt/Wetzlar scope & storage can, two drum mags, and its original WWII folding bipod. It differs from the MAGET MG-42 listed at #10 in its wartime manufacturer code. Where #10 lists a "cra" code, this example uses the "swd" code which began use during 1943, helping to date this military collector's treasure.
Coming from the esteemed Allan Cors Collection, this MG-42 LMG came ready for the range and in remarkable condition. The gun itself was correct and boasted 98% of its finish. An impressive testament to the bravery and heroism of the soldiers who had to fight against this menacing weapon, it sold in 2018 for $86,250 at Rock Island Auction Company's September Premier Auction.
This presentation grade M1A1 Thompson Submachine Gun was manufactured by the Savage Arms Corporation in 1943 and was formerly part of the famed Champlin Fighter Museum small arms collection. It is a standard configured Savage M1A1 Thompson Submachine Gun but was specially finished as a presentation piece.
This may be the only existing example of a presentation grade World War II production Thompson submachine gun. The fact that the gun has Ordnance inspection marks, a special serial number, presentation plaque, commercial grade blue finish and deluxe, fancy grade walnut stock, pistol grip and forearm make it a one-of-a-kind Thompson Submachine Gun that was significant enough for the Savage Corporation to display in the company lobby.
This is a one-of-a kind custom Savage M1A1 Thompson Submachine Gun that sold for $86,250 in December of 2019 at Rock Island Auction Company.
One of the many notable products of American arms designer Eugene Stoner (of AR10, M16/AR15, and AR-18/180 fame, among others), the genesis of the 63 was in the early 60s, shortly after his departure from Armalite. Working with Cadillac-Gage's establishment in Costa Mesa, California, Stoner developed a modular weapon system, intended to be capable of a radical degree of customization at the field armorer level, creating a receiver that could be reconfigured rapidly for mission and environment; while a number of modern weapons designs have touched on this sort of flexibility, this was an exceptional capability for the era.
Developed with an eye for military sales, the 63/63A was issued on a trial basis in multiple configurations to the United States Marine Corps and select elements of the Navy SEALs and U.S. Army Special Forces operating in Southeast Asia.
This beautiful example sold for $103,500 during Rock Island Auction Company's June 2020 Premier Auction and came from the highly distinguished Larry Vickers Collection.
This is an exceptionally rare early Colt Model R80 Monitor, fully automatic, C&R registered machine gun. This was an early 1920s version of the Colt Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) that was produced and sold in very limited numbers to various law enforcement agencies, mainly out East.
It was basically an improved and slightly redesigned version of the original Browning design that incorporated a small pistol grip on the rear of the lower receiver for better handling, in lieu of a pistol grip type buttstock, a shorter forend, and a slightly shorter barrel (only 18.5 inch) making it easier to handle as well as a redesigned three position gas regulator/plug and a completely new and redesigned muzzle break/flash hider.
A high condition, very rare, and early Colt Model R80/Monitor BAR type machine gun, this item sold for $115,000 during the December Premier Firearms Auction at Rock Island Auction Company in 2018.
Grandfather of the German assault rifles, which in turn gave rise to all other assault rifles, the M.Kb.42 holds a special place in the history of firearms development. Every nation in the world that currently uses a carbine length rifle with an intermediate cartridge owes it their thanks. With development beginning as far back as 1935, it was the German Army’s answer for a gun with higher capacity than their standard bolt actions, a longer range than their submachine guns such as the MP-40, but without the unnecessary long range capability as the full power 7.92x57mm rifle round.
Few battles were fought beyond 300 yards, thus the 8mm Mauser rounds, so necessary in the trench warfare of the Great War, were now not as practical, adding extra weight and reducing weapon controllability. Enter the maschinenkarabiner 1942. Firing the newly developed 7.92×33 Kurz round it was too short for bayonet fighting, lacked the required accuracy for sniping, and was too weak to fire a rifle grenade. However, it excelled at accurate, controllable fully-automatic fire for the distances most commonly found in firefights, could provide covering fire like a machine gun, and could outreach the Russian submachine guns, and thus became a favorite for front line troops to whom it was issued. Only 10,700 were made with many being lost on the Eastern front. It would go on to see further developments as the MP-43, MP-44, and eventually the StG-44.
This rifle is one of the rarest and most desirable of all the WWII MP43/44 series of fully automatic weapons we have had the opportunity to sell. The M.Kb.42(H) is truly the grandfather of the German Assault rifles, and also for any follow-on assault designs produced after WWII to include the vaunted AK47. Consequently this would be a pivotal piece in any advanced WWII German or military assault rifle collection and is probably one of a handful of legal fully registered, and fully transferable M.Kb.42 (H) available for sale. A high condition, extremely rare early production C. G. Haenel Mk(b) 42 (H) assault rifle, this rifle sold for $161,000 at the April Premier Firearms Auction at Rock Island Auction Company in 2016.
Another example sold for $149,500 in September 2014, but is not listed separately here in order to provide better variety. It was an exceptional example in 98% original condition including an early ZF41/1 scope, mount, sling, and the magazine.
The development of this German battlefield classic is a fascinating one that will be covered below, but RIAC was especially pleased to sell this machine gun for a reason not often uttered in their halls: they've never sold one before. By May 2021, RIAC had sold several of the Type 2 versions with great success, but a Type 1 had never crossed their door. These early production models have several distinct visual cues that set them apart - such as their swept pistol grip and smooth flash hiders.
However, they also differ from their later iterations by use of a forged receiver, where later examples would use stamped receivers. While the scope of this example was a reproduction, the gun was a bona fide war trophy, and had the paperwork to prove it. The Type 1 came with a 1946-dated Treasury Department Form 6 import application from a Captain John Starkweather. Quite the trophy indeed! One fortunate collector thought so as well, and the only Type 1 FG-42 that RIAC has sold to date brought an impressive $316,250 at the May 2021 Premier Firearms Auction.
The FG-42 (fallschirmjaegergewehr 42) is almost early enough to take the title as the “Grandfather of the Assault Rifle” away from the M.Kb.42, but its development began just several years after the legendary arm. Taking its name from the German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers), the rifle was specially designed for the requirements of the Luftwaffe’s airborne infantry. Much like the BAR, it combined the firepower of a machine gun into a rifle to be wielded by a single man. However, unlike the BAR it did so in a form shorter and no heavier than the standard rifle in use at the time, the Kar 98k.
Some of the more notable weapon designs that used this concept were the FN/FAL and M14 rifles, which used a full sized rifle round in both the semi-automatic and fully automatic mode. One of the most unique aspects of this weapon was that it fired from a "closed bolt" when shooting in the semi-automatic mode and an "open bolt" in the fully automatic mode, which aided in reducing cook-offs.
It is truly an accomplishment of design and engineering, however it was never intended for an infantry role/mass production as the M.KB.42 was. In fact, it suffered from several flaws that became apparent through use. It was too light to controllably fire the full power 7.92×57 mm Mauser rounds and the magazine purportedly left the rifle unbalanced. However, those things might have been forgiven had the FG-42 been less complicated, cheaper and faster to produce, and not fighting for the same lightweight metals used in critical airplane production.
All of these things combined to shorten the life of the FG-42, limiting its production, and making it even more appealing to future generations of collectors. It is estimated that only appropriately 5000 were ever manufactured with most being destroyed after the war with very few surviving intact examples know today.
This phenomenal rifle broke the world record and sold in 2015 for $322,000 at Rock Island Auction Company. Other Type 2 FG-42 machine guns have drawn similar prices. Again, they are not listed separately in the interest of variety.
- This fine example sold in September 2014 for $299,000
- Another late-war production model offered in May 2017 brought $241,500
There you have it, collector friends: the Top 10 Machine Guns ever sold by Rock Island Auction Company. We’ll be sure to update this list from time to time and we shouldn’t have to wait long. Rising values in this genre almost assure a new crop of machine guns to stake their own claim to this list. Will they be the same models? New ones? Will they overthrow the FG-42? We’ll just have to wait and see. While you’re waiting read our other article on the value of Class III firearms and machine guns, for some insight on what makes them so valuable to collectors and a very secure place to invest.
As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, and future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, we constantly see exciting and amazing machine guns in each one of our auctions, Premier or not. That being said, this list is subject to change to be sure to check back here after every auction for updates.
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Very good and informative.
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