October 12, 2018
By Joel R Kolander
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Updated May 2023
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.
A descendant of Browning's 1917 HMG, the development of the M2 Heavy Machine Gun was first prompted by the emergence of armored aircraft among German forces in World War I, calling for a greater level of firepower to bring down. Development continued after Browning's passing in 1926, and in 1933 it was adopted by the U.S. armed forces.
In service to this day, the air-cooled M2 HB has been used in a wide spectrum of roles on sea, air and land, from as fundamental as an infantry heavy machine gun, as rarified as the main armament of top-of-the-line fighter aircraft, to as oddball as being used as a sniper rifle; the famed Carlos Hathcock used a scoped M2 to set a confirmed kill record in Vietnam that wouldn't be beaten until the War on Terror, and still holds a spot on the top 10 as of this writing. The M2 famously gained the affectionate handle “Ma Deuce” from the troops who relied on Browning’s .50 caliber behemoth to protect themselves and their company.
Thompson submachine guns, known as the Tommy gun, "Chicago typewriter," "rat-tat-tat", "trench broom," and an assortment of other colorful nicknames, are always popular items at Rock Island Auction Company and this one, sold in August 2022, knocked previously sold Tommy guns off the list that achieved more than $80,000.
This gun was shipped as part of a 12-piece order on April 11, 1930 to Chief Lester Tiffany of the Lake Forest, Police Department. It was sold in 1935 to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office of Wisconsin. Included in the lot was a 50-round “L” drum, four stick magazines, a black leatherette transport case, manual, cleaning rod, two Waukesha County Sheriff patches and a rare and complete period Thompson spare parts kit consisting of a tin containing an extractor, firing pin, firing pin spring, sear spring, sear lever spring, trigger spring, hammer pin, pull through cleaning brush, and cleaning rod brush.
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 gun was accompanied by a 1918-dated tan canvas magazine belt with 12 magazines, a copy of Ordnance Department Handbook #1923 (dated February 1918).
The Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, was a signature weapon for generations of American GIs, seeing action first seeing action in both world wars and Korea. The gun was introduced in World War 1 too late to have a significant impact.
It was John Moses Browning’s take on “walking fire,” the term given to a standard infantryman laying down covering fire as troops crossed “no man’s land.” The gun, brought to production by Colt, was chambered in the stout .30-06. Colt already had too many manufacturing contracts for World War 1 so production was passed off to Winchester Repeating Arms Company and Marlin-Rockwell Corporation. More than 50,000 were made by the end of World War 1.
Between wars, the Browning Automatic Rifle received some minor updates before getting its biggest redesign in 1938 when it became the M1918A2 with two rates of full auto fire, a flash suppressor, and iron sights. It also received a carrying handle and the buttstock was lengthened by an inch. Unfortunately, it added 4 lbs. to the gun. Soldiers tended to shed some of what they felt were unnecessary accoutrements from the BAR to make it lighter.
The M60 is one of the most recognizable weapons to come out of the Vietnam War. Nicknamed the “pig,” it was carried by GIs, but also mounted on Huey helicopters, and gunboats. It is only fitting that it ties with the BAR since it was the gun to replace it in the Arsenal of Democracy. The M60 could throw a controllable 600 rounds per minute downrange and offer plenty of firepower against structures and vehicles.
The gun went into widespread service in Vietnam in 1965 and has developed a reputation as one of America's most famous guns . Soldiers loved it for its reliability but hated it for its bulk, and the awkward process of changing out the barrel. The M60 was usually assigned to the newest member of a unit because they were considered expendable since machine gun fire tended to draw the most attention in a firefight.
Several M60s have crossed the podium at auction at Rock Island Auction Company and like the Thompson submachine gun, hammered for more than $80,000, falling just short of this list.
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.
Known as “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” and “Hitler’s Zipper,” The German MG42 was a signature weapon of World War 2 and one of the best infantry weapons of the war, blending portability and intense firepower. The gun could spit up to 1,200 rounds per minute, giving it a distinct and intimidating sound, unlike those heard by Allied soldiers who trained to slower-firing weapons. The West German armed forces continued to use the gun after the war, in a rechambered to NATO-standard cartridges. Alongside the FG42, It was an inspiration for the M60.
The MG42 entered production in 1942, intended to supplement and replace the more expensive to produce the earlier MG34. Made of inexpensive parts, the MG42 also proved to be more reliable and resistant to jamming than its predecessor. The gun was so fearsome that the U.S. War Department produced a film to lessen the weapon’s psychological effect on soldiers. The film’s narrator further assures his naïve audience that the MG-42 isn’t as scary as it sounds, and closes with, “Its bark is worse than its bite.”
This gun featured three extra barrels: one chambered in 7.62x51 mm, one in 8 mm, and a third welded shut at the chamber.
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.
The FG42 rifle was specifically designed for the Fallschirmjäger, Germany's WW2 paratrooper branch. The FG42 could be many things, a squad machine gun, a submachine gun, sniper rifle, and infantry rifle.
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 Type 1 FG 42 rifle broke RIAC's previous record when it sold for $411,250 in May of 2023.
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. With an extremely limited pool available, no hope of additional supply, and an expanding interest in the genre, machine gun values were destined to skyrocket.
Given their blistering performance in recent years, machine gun prices should be on the radar of every savvy firearms collector, and rising values 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.
Anyone thinking about dipping their toe into the world of firearms collecting should visit one of Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting & Collector
Have you ever had for sale an " Astra Model F with stock and 10 and 20 rd magazines"?????
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