December 16, 2019
By Danielle Hollembaek
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In our many auctions at RIAC, some of the most sought after guns are the legendary Colt Single Action Army revolvers. The cowboy guns are popular among history buffs, collectible gun enthusiasts, and newcomer collectors alike. We have sold some highly embellished and extremely historic Colt Single Action Army revolvers in our years of operation. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and take a look at the top 10 we have ever sold.
We should also mention, that while there are many ways to select a Top 10 gun list for Colt Peacemakers, these are the Top 10 SAA revolvers as determined solely by their sale price at Rock Island Auction Company events. In this list we excluded pairs and groupings of revolvers in favor of guns who brought massive sale prices all on their own. Now let's get to the guns!
This Colt Single Action Army is fairly similar to many of the Dalton gang Colt Single Action Army revolvers. However, this particular gun was personally used by Bob Dalton himself. It is fascinating that the notorious outlaw gang used such high class and embellished revolvers for bank robberies, but according to Emmet Dalton of the gang, Bob wanted the most flamboyant and memorable guns to eclipse Jesse James and the James-Younger gang.
The double bank robbery in Coffeyville was another attempt to out-do the rival outlaw squad. This Colt Single Action Army was used by Bob Dalton during the Coffeyville Raid according to copious documentation. It was on loan to the Dalton Museum from the 1960s until 1991 when the private collector who loaned the gun passed away and his family inherited the revolver.
This Colt Single Action Army has extensive documentation and a provenance few SAA revolvers can live up to. The gun is also great looking, with floral scroll and punch dot engraving on the barrel and frame. It sold during the September 2012 Premier Firearms Auction for $322,000.
Did someone say... Deja Vu? Bob Dalton met his fate on October 5, 1892, when he and a group of accomplices attempted to rob two different banks in the same town on the same day. Due to poor planning, bad luck, and the readiness of the well-armed citizens of Coffeyville, Kansas, Dalton and the rest of the gang never made it out of the town alive. Recovered off the still-warm body of the famed outlaw was his trusted Colt Single Action Army revolver, adorned with attractive engraving and pearl grips.
The Dalton Gang is now considered one of the last of the notable frontier outlaw gangs that stalked the lawless American West. Over 100 years later, the revolver found itself up for auction at Rock Island Auction Company where it sold for $345,000 during the September 2020 Premier Firearms Auction.
It is not every day that we auction a gun that was hidden for decades behind books in a historic home, but this revolver was one of those rare finds. Being one of only two Buntline 16-inch barrel revolvers that were set aside for Colt employees makes this gun exceptionally special. The other Colt SAA revolver of this kind is on display in the Colt Museum.
The gun has masterfully sculpted, special order English stocks and the barrel has a dovetail-mounted, nickel-silver rifle front sight and special flat-top frame with gas port, a feature that makes this Colt Single Action Army stand out amongst all others. The gun was identified by Osborne Klavestad from the Stagecoach Museum in Shakopee, Minnesota and he stated that, "The Colt Buntline is probably the finest specimen in existence today, being mint, original, unfired and complete with stock." The $386,000 price tag is remarkable but not unexpected for a near new, one-of-two, Colt Buntline SAA revolver.
Snatching the number 4 spot on our list is a Colt SAA accompanied by a Letter of Authentication from Colt Single Action Army expert John A. Kopec that heaps praise upon the revolver that can summarized with the following:
The overall finish of this revolver remains today in "as new" condition... This revolver remains today in un-fired condition. The factory applied blued finish remains within the bore and cylinder chambers.
The letter describes the casehardening as "near-new" maintaining 99% of its Colt "military blue" finish on the barrel, cylinder, trigger guard, and back strap. The screws and trigger display beautifully vibrant nitre blue coloring, and the oil-finish on its one-piece black walnut grips still shines. So many elements on this gun are in perfect condition, it is almost unbelievable to see a gun age with such grace.
This revolver is 1 of the 150 Colt Single Action Army revolvers delivered to U.S. government inspectors Lieutenant David A. Lyle and Sub-Inspector David F. Clark on April 21, 1880. Its condition sets it apart from almost all other Colt Single Action Army revolvers, not just martial arms. It is a time capsule in condition and the finest Colt Cavalry SAA revolver RIAC has ever sold. Its well deserved $403,500 price realized came as no shock based purely off the condition of this unsurpassed gun.
Bat Masterson’s Colt is another legendary revolver that found success at Rock Island Auction Company. William Barclay Masterson was a quintessential figure of the American West. Buffalo hunter, scout, gambler, sheriff, marshal, gunfighter, Bat was perhaps best known as a frontier lawman.
Masterson counted a spectacular array of personalities as friends, like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody, Luke Short, and Jim Courtright, and his name is associated with Old West fixtures such as Dodge City and Tombstone. His involvement in multiple shootouts of the Wild West in the 1870s and 1880s are fully documented, some in sworn testimony, with the number of men killed ranging from three to more than 20.
Bat Masterson earned the reputation as the Old West’s toughest and deadliest lawman. This Colt Single Action Army revolver is only one of four shipped to him personally.
Our YouTube video of this gorgeous SAA took 24 minutes for RIAC President Kevin Hogan to cover all the history, significance, provenance, rarity, and artistry on this incredible wheelgun. Thankfully, he took the time to do so since so little is documented on these rare panel scene engraved Single Action Army revolvers. They have immediate ties to some of the World’s Fairs held in the late 19th century, history’s most notable master engravers, and the top firearms collections of the last 100 years.
There are only 5 or 6 known genuine panel scene Colts in the wild, so to have one come through our doors was truly a honor and a privilege. This particular example was likely part of the Colt display at an exhibition in Europe, and presented to a person of note (hence why it was not returned to Colt). It has been through collections in Italy and Germany, but finally made its way back to the United States much to the collectors of Colts and high art firearms.
As Hollywood’s most famous Western star, and one of most recognized faces in American history, John Wayne was the perfect embodiment of the strong hero archetype that dominated the Golden Age of Hollywood. The iconic actor owned many Colt Single Action Army revolvers over his lifetime, but he favored one particular wheelgun later in his career, and called it his shooting revolver during the filming of 'True Grit.'
John Wayne was the quintessential American cowboy, the face of the genre for millions of Western fans across the world. Like Zorro’s rapier and Bond's PPK, the Duke’s six-shooter is an inseparable part of his larger-than-life persona, and on a fall afternoon at Rock Island Auction Company, a lucky crowd witnessed John Wayne's gun go up for bid.
The world’s #1 auction house gave the world’s greatest silver screen smokewagon the attention it deserved, and when the dust finally settled, the legendary revolver awed the crowd as it achieved a phenomenal $517,500, a worthy sum for such an incredible gun.
The most sought after and desirable form of a Colt Single Action Army revolver is a Buntline Special, so it is no wonder that two of the top four guns on this list are exactly that. Buntline Specials were produced in serial range 28,800-28,830 and a minuscule amount of 18 revolvers are recorded as a Buntlines in that range in Colt's factory records with only 10 revolvers noted as having 16-inch barrels.
Accompanied by two factory letters and years of official documentation, this is the best documented Colt Buntline Special SAA revolver in existence. This revolver has been examined and written about by experts over the decades and can be found in books like A Study of the Colt Revolver by Ron Graham, John Kopek, and Kenneth Moore. With all its original parts and with its blue finish still showing through, this revolver is an unexpected rarity and very well deserving of it $546,250 price realized.
Artifacts from the Battle of the Little Bighorn are an extraordinary rarity.
Rock Island Auction Company was honored to bring to the collecting public a Colt Single Action Army documented as retrieved from that hallowed battlefield and then tucked away for over 140 years.
Noted Colt Single Action Army expert John A. Kopec in his included 2021 dated letter about this revolver states, "It is...very significant that this old holster still accompanies this important 'Custer-era' revolver...We have truly enjoyed reviewing this very significant 'Custer-Era' revolver, and believe that it may be the finest representation of a 'Lot-Five' revolver we have ever had the privilege to examine."
In addition to being attributed to Custer's ill-fated 7th Cavalry, this revolver is notable for its high condition which itself is rare for any early Colt Single Action Army revolver, let alone one associated with the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Of the 12,500 Colt Single Action Army revolvers inspected by Ainsworth, only around 1,285 are known in collections today.
Kopec indicates that this revolver was new to their survey in the letter and was manufactured c. June 1874 and has not been found recorded in the National Archives. However, he indicates the revolver was part of the historically significant "Lot Five" which he notes "was one of the 'prime' lots from which those revolvers which had been issued to the Seventh Cavalry were drawn."
Ordered shortly before his 54th birthday, this revolver is not only extremely beautiful but carries serious historical significance with it. It was said that after an attempted assassination on his life failed only four days prior to ordering this gun, Roosevelt never left home unarmed again.
Theodore Roosevelt's Colt Single Action Army revolver sold during Rock Island Auction Company's 2020 December Premier Auction for $1,466,250.
Unlike many of the other famous firearms owned by Roosevelt that have been institutionalized (such as his Holland & Holland Double Rifle "Big Stick" now on display at the Smithsonian), this Colt Single Action Army revolver is a recent discovery and is perhaps the most highly embellished firearm owned by the 26th President still in circulation. Its significance is further amplified by the impeccable documentation placing this specific revolver in the hands of Theodore Roosevelt late in his 1912 presidential campaign for the "Bull Moose" Party.
The revolver features beautiful engravings by Colt Master Engraver, Cuno Helfricht. Mainly consisting of classic scroll patterns backed by punch-dots, as well as some entwining lines, checkered patterns, and floral accents, it is incredibly difficult to spot even one small portion of the revolver that isn't magnificently covered. Chambered in .38 Long and featuring an extraordinarily detailed carved steer head on the grip, Colt seems to be boasting its ability to walk a tight rope between brute strength and refined beauty. While a Colt medallion immediately catches the eye, it is the contrast between silver and ivory tones on the gun that captivates the viewer's attention. Estimated at $350,000-$550,000, Theodore Roosevelt’s revolver blew past this evaluation and sold for a whopping $1,466,250.
There you have it, the top 10 Colt Single Action Army revolvers Rock Island Auction Company has sold over the last ten years. These revolvers are some of the most iconic and beautiful old guns a person could dream about adding to their collection. We always have a wide variety of Colt Single Action Army revolvers in our auction catalogs. Be sure to browse through them during the year to try and win your own piece of Colt firearms history.
As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, and future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company. Excellence is a destination at Rock Island Auction Company, so be sure to check back to see updates to this list as more auctions are finished. 1
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