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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why the Iver Johnson Deserves Some Respect

When one mentions old firearms manufacturer Iver Johnson, it's often in a way that doesn't garner much respect.  One might elicit a chuckle and knowing glance as if to say, "You can't possibly be mentioning such a cheap, poor quality gun, can you?"  Today, Iver Johnson arms are often synonymous with low quality, poor aesthetics, and inexpensive prices; not exactly characteristics gun collectors clamor over.  But what if I told you that Iver Johnson didn't always have this disdain upon it?  What if someone said that at one time Iver Johnson arms utilized technology far ahead of its time, supported notions of self-defense that are popular to this very day, embodied the American Dream, and sold millions of firearms?  Does it now sound more like a company you'd buy from?  Let's take a look at the grand history of this now defunct and disrespected manufacturer

The genesis of this article comes from the collection of a Mr. Charles Best, who has through time and patience, assembled a virtual encyclopedia of Iver Johnson firearms (hereafter referred to as IJ).  This collection will be available in our February 2014 Regional Firearms Auction and Rock Island Auction Company is pleased to work with such a dedicated and passionate collector.

Lot #1685: A Scarce Presentation Cased 100 Years Commemorative Iver Johnson DA Revolver Set

Our tale begins in 1841 with the birth of Iver Johnson in possibly the most Norwegian sounding city in history, Norfjord, Norway.  Little is known of his childhood or education, but we do know that at the age of 16 he became an apprentice gunsmith in Bergen, Norway and only five years later opened a gun shop in Christiana at the age of 21.  By that time it was 1862 and the United States was embroiled in Civil War.  Ever the entrepreneur, young Iver emigrated to the U.S. began working for Allen & Wheellock Co. in Worcester, Massachusetts, then the hub of America's firearms industry.  He would also tinker as an inventor in his spare time.  Sources dispute when he married Mary Elizabeth Speirs, either 1863 or 1868, but marry her he did and she would eventually bear him three children: Fred John Lovell, Walter O. & Mary Louise.

While working for Allen & Wheellock, he would primarily work on pepperbox revolvers.  After the Civil War, IJ would partner with a man named Martin Bye to form the Johnson & Bye Gunsmiths right there in Worcester. Their primary purpose was to improve on the design of the pepperbox revolver with which they were both so familiar.  Unfortunately, the popularity of the pepperbox plummeted after the Civil War thanks to the rise of the fixed-barrel revolving cylinder hand guns (a.k.a. revolvers).  The two were not disheartened, but instead went on to make the most lemonade as possible from the lemons life had given them.  They began manufacturing small, personal defense weapons, a very popular item at the time, and also using their manufacturing machinery for any and all tasks they could find.  This included handcuffs and leg irons for the local police departments, toy tops, cap guns, strollers, and even their own line of bicycles and tricycles once they moved the company into its new five story building in 1873.  The partnership between IJ and Martin Bye ended in 1882 and for the first time the business would be called "Iver Johnson & Co. Revolvers" and marked solely in IJ's name.

With his rapidly growing business it took IJ until 1888 to become a U.S. citizen and another two years for the business to place its signature owl's head on its revolvers' grips.  1891 found them moving to their long term home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where they remained until 1975.  In 1894, the company would again be reborn as the Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works, thanks to their newly purchased bicycle shop, and would introduce their most successful revolver, the Safety Automatic.

The Safety Automatic got its name from two places: the highly touted "safety" of the gun that would prevent negligent discharges, and because it would "automatically" eject the spent cartridges upon opening the revolver.  Given that the first commercially successful semi-automatic pistols were several years away, there was no real danger of confusing the public upon its release.

Lot #227: Collector's Lot of Two Iver johnson Revolvers.  An Engraved Iver Johnson Safety Automatic with Relief Carved Grip and a Cutaway Iver Johnson Safety Automatic

For those that have heard of the Safety Automatic, but have yet to grasp its success, please soak in the following facts:
  • While the actual number manufactured is unknown, it is estimated that 4 - 6 million Safety Automatics were sold.
  • This number was accomplished without a military contract.
  • It was in continual production from its inception until 1941.
  • It only experienced one major internal change and several minor external ones in that time.
  • W.E. Goforth, whose book remains the authority on Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works handguns, states that, "the safety design was so far ahead of its time, that in the 1970s and the 1980s, when product liability became a problem, that just about every major handgun manufacturer in the United States switched to it in one form or another." (p. 21)
Lot 229: Engraved Iver Johnson Top Break Revolver with Swift Marking and Pearl Grips

While not the cheapest pistol on the market, they certainly had a price advantage over the Colt and Smith & Wesson models of the day.  As a fellow firearms enthusiast once pointed out, this is especially apparent in the back-to-back pages of the 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalog.  Unfortunately, IJ would not live long enough to see the success of the Safety Automatic.  He passed away on August 3, 1895 of tuberculosis at the age of 54, leaving his eldest son Fred to take the reigns and his two brothers John and Walter, to help.  With their various levels of involvement things looked rosy.  The very next year after IJ's death, they issued their first catalog and opened two retail stores.  In 1900, the still blossoming company bought up J.P. Lovell Co, who was previously the exclusive retailer of all Johnson & Bye products, owned retail stores in New York City and Boston, and also sold to large mail order houses.  It was a big deal and the pupil had finally become the master.  The 1901 assassination of President William McKinley with a .32 caliber Iver Johnson Safety Automatic did little to slow their sales.

But they didn't stop there.  In 1903, they opened sales offices in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco in the U.S. as well as Hamburg, Paris, London, and Constantinople.  With this grand expansion came the need for a slogan and copious amounts of advertising, both of which IJ did with panache.  In 1904 it launched its "Hammer the hammer" campaign and began releasing many of the IJ ads that we still see today.

This "Hammer the Hammer" motorized display was one of 12 manufactured in 1910 to demonstrate that the hammer will only fall if the trigger is pulled.  Dealers or buyers could push the button for an electronic demonstration.  Only three are known to still exist and this example still functions.  It will be sold in Lot #224.

One of their more recognizable ads.

Note the international addresses listed after the prices.
A 1914 ad for Iver johnson

In 1909 IJ began manufacturing firearms to use smokeless powder cartridges.  This model was called the Third Model and is the first one to be able to take a smokeless powder cartridge.  With the release of this new model, IJ would never again see the production figures that it enjoyed with the First and Second Models.  Goforth says that, "The First and Second Models were strong and dependable revolvers, but - by today's standards - they can only be considered safe with black powder loads.  The reason so many of them are found loose and worn out today is that their owners used them with smokeless powder cartridges, regardless of the fact that they were designed for black powder pressures."  He later seems to reverse himself when he says, "Even though their First and Second Model Safety Automatic revolvers were designed for the pressures of black powder, they were in fact strong enough for smokeless powder pressures.  (After a steady diet of smokeless powder for 20 or 30 years, they would become worn and loose as can be seen from those around today.)"  That same year power passed from brother to brother and IJ's second son John became the president of the company. Starting in 1910, the company began to shift their priorities from their proven Safety Automatic to shotguns and large frame .22 rimfire revolvers, an evolution that had finished in the mid-1920s.

1911 is often associated with an exciting time in firearms, thanks to John Moses Browning's model of the same year, but at Iver Johnson's Arms and Cycle Works they were excited for a whole new reason.  No longer content to market just well-made bicycles and safe firearms, decided to release their first motorcycle.

Unfortunately, the venture would be short-lived.  The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) would erupt a short three years later with U.S. involvement coming six years later in 1917.  All said and done, the motorcycle division of IJ launched in 1907 and would close in 1916 courtesy of a burgeoning arms market resulting from WWI.  Even with no government contracts, IJ found it more profitable to manufacture firearms and tools.  With a year on each end of their motorcycle venture for startup and shutdown, the motorcycle business only truly ran for eight years.  Any existing example is rare and will be costly if found in good condition.  The 23 year old bicycle business was also shut down by the accelerated demand in the IJ arms division.

These decisions to focus on firearms and tools resulted in the company surviving the Great Depression, though some attribute this to the periods higher rates of armed robbery, which in turn helped keep the market for personal defense firearms viable.  Relatively little is mentioned of the company between the Great Depression and WWII.  The only mention, besides manufacturing data, is that Walter, the youngest of Iver's sons, became the president of the company in 1935.  One would think that with another World War shortly after assuming control that IJ's success as a company would be assured.  However, Iver Johnson would begin producing Melvin Johnson's (no relation) M1941 Johnson Rifle.  All said about 70,000 Johnson rifles were produced, but with the M1941 not replacing the M1 Garand, nor becoming a secondary option, for U.S. Military contracts the market for the M1941 Johnson was limited at best.  The fact that the Johnson wasn't even in a prototype stage until 8 months after the Garand was adopted (and was "declined" by the U.S. Ordinance after the Garand had already been in production for four years) may have also had something to do with it.  Regardless the reasons, or their validity, the Johnson Rifle was not adopted by any U.S. military branch and Iver Johnson would not taste the success enjoyed by so many other firearms manufacturers of the time.

As if that weren't enough of a missed opportunity, Iver Johnson decided to stop selling its small frame Safety Automatics in 1946.  Even Goforth is stumped by the company's action.  "The small frame centerfire was the most popular model and was still selling well right up to the beginning of World War II," he writes.  Goforth further hypothesizes that, "The need to modernize and keep up with the influx of cheaper imported handguns seems to have been the main reason for its demise.  True to Iver Johnson's belief of making 'honest goods at honest prices,' his sons and grandson discontinued the Safety Automatic revolver rather than cheapen it."  This also seems to be the final step of the brand's decision decades earlier to move focus away from the Safety Automatic and onto other types of firearms.  Oddly, they also discontinued their Skeet-er shotguns that same year, the same type of guns they were allegedly turning their focus toward.

Lot #233: Iver Johnson Skeet-er Model Side by Side 28 Gauge Shotgun

Lot #239: Collector's Lot of Six Iver Johnson DA Safety Automatic Revolvers

It seems that the missed opportunities of WWII and the discontinuation of proven sellers spelled the beginning of an inglorious end for IJ.  In 1953, Luther Otto III (Iver's grandson by his daughter Mary) became president and then the company's timeline becomes a bit fuzzy.  About the only mention of Iver Johnson in this time period is the fact that Sirhan Sirhan used an eight shot IJ .22 caliber Cadet 55-A revolver to assassinate Robert F. Kennedy.  While the years cited by various sources differ, they all agree that IJ was puchased by a man named Louis Imperato.  There is strong evidence to suggest this happened in 1973.  In 1977 Imperato also purchased assets of the Plainfield Machine company in Middlesex, NJ that was currently producing M1 carbines from leftover parts. He moved Iver Johnson from its longtime home in Fitchburg to New Jersey in the fall of 1977.  At that point Iver Johnson was in the business of producing M1 carbines in several variations such as the "GI Model," the "Paratrooper" with a telescoping stock, and the "Enforcer" which featured a pistol grip.  1978 was also the year that IJ offered their first semi-automatic pistol.

GI Model ad
Paratrooper Model ad

Enforcer Model ad

Lot #275: Three Semi-Automatic Iver Johnson Carbines

After that, things get a little messy and begin spiraling downward; essentially a lot of business deals to likely take advantage of tax breaks and bankruptcy laws.  Imperato sells the business in 1980 and it moves to Arkansas in 1983.  In 1982, they would produce a copy of the Walther PPK called the TP22 and in 1984 a copy of the post-WWII Colt Woodsman called the Trailsman.  As a further example of a business grasping at straws, they would also produce the Iver Johnson Model MP9, a 9mm submachine gun for law enforcement and military.  It had an 11" barrel, flash suppressor, weighed seven and a half pounds, and still insisted on using a modified M1 carbine receiver and miscellaneous M1 carbine parts.  Approximately 96 of these baffling pistols were sold and its production would soon be halted due to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1986.

Lot #273: Collector's Lot of Four Iver Johnson Semi-Automatic Pistols

Photo of the Iver Johnson PM9

The bankruptcy, three short three years after Imperato sold IJ, ceased production, and closed the plant.  A mere two years after the Chapter 11, Imperato again assumes ownership of IJ via a series of lawsuits against current ownership during the bankruptcy proceedings and resumes production of the M-1 carbine, as well as assembly of semi-automatic handguns.  This latest purchase of Imperato would market their guns as "Iver Johnson Arms by AMAC" (American Military Arms Corporation).  With a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo going on behind the scenes, IJ would eventually declare bankruptcy again in 1990 at first as a Chapter 11 (intending to resume business) and then refile to a Chapter 7 (unable to restructure).  Insert more legal mumbo-jumbo. Iver Johnson Arms, as we knew it, was dead despite a Florida based company that began using the name and owl in 2006.  Their website plainly states that, "We do not have any parts, guns, or info related to the old Iver Johnson name."

Though that wasn't the end of the firearms business for the Imperatos.  Louis Imperato and his son Anthony started Henry Repeating Arms in Brooklyn, NY in 1998.  With Louis passing away in 2007, Anthony became president and moved Henry to its current home in Bayonne, New Jersey in 2008.  The company appears to be thriving and even increased production in 2013.

Perhaps the last three paragraphs explain why so many collectors have such a bad taste in their mouths about IJ firearms.  They tried to survive reproducing M1 carbines from spare parts, had two copied semi-automatic handguns, one ugly and flopped original sub-machine gun, and were surrounded by ownership changes and court battles the last two decades of their existence.  Replica designs, ugly originals, and excessive drama are not exactly ways to garner respect in the gun collecting community.  Combine that with the fact that most of the IJ examples that collectors saw were likely beat up thanks to decades of smokeless powder cartridge use for which they were never intended and you've got yourself one terrible reputation.

Lot #254: Engraved Iver Johnson Favorite No. 2 Revolver with Ivory Grips

However, to focus on the last desperate decades of a once proud manufacturer is to forget what allowed them to grow, thrive, and survive in the first place.  IJ was making the safest handguns around by a long shot.  One of their huge priorities (and subsequent marketing strategies) was safety and they took it very seriously.  They also believed in providing exactly what their company slogan stated, "Honest Goods At Honest Prices," and so they did.  Their revolvers were not only safe, but also satisfied a middle price point.  These were not originally the "Saturday Night Specials" that so many have made them out to be in recent decades, nor were they some "bottom of the barrel" manufacturer as is claimed by others.  On the contrary, these were the revolvers that so many consumers could affordably turn to without having to resort to a cheaply made, unsafe, and potentially unreliable gun.

Goforth states it plainly by writing, "Iver Johnson's personality was such that he could not stop at just producing a good revolver, he had to make the safest, most dependable revolver, while keeping cost at a minimum."  These little revolvers provided millions of people with a reasonably priced, relatively safe way to protect themselves and potentially their families.  Furthermore, could the beginning days of IJ sound any more like the American Dream?  Self-starting, hard working young adult starts his own business, emigrates to America, takes job, works his way up, and eventually starts this own successful business.  Iver Johnson was everything gun collectors value about America and he wasn't even American: pro-self defense, hard worker, and fair businessman!  Hopefully, the next time you see someone roll their eyes at the mention of IJ or see them smirk when someone even suggest an IJ purchase, you can kindly suggest that the name Iver Johnson does not necessarily equate to what they think it does.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Goforth, W. E. (2006). Iver Johnson's arms & cycle works firearms 1871-1993. Hudson, WI: Gun Show Books Pub.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Life of a Gun Collector, Part II

As covered in the first segment of this series, there are different stages to collecting. Despite the fact that there are millions of different collectors and many more millions of guns, collectors of all different motivations find themselves with a collection not only of firearms, but of universal experiences. Beginning experiences are undoubtedly the most discussed in any venue for the simple fact that more people have requisitely entered or passed through the beginning stage than the other stages. What's next? What happens when a collector starts to know their subject matter, actively begins buying and/or trading guns, and owns a healthy number of firearms? This installment will be about what one interviewed collector called, "constant, gradual improvement."

Collecting vs. Accumulating
People will often argue the definition of a gun collector. One group will say that, "if you have more than 3 guns, you're a collector." Another faction will say that you have to buy guns specific to a particular genre. What defines specific? One collector tells the following story of his time at a museum's gun collection, most of which was not on display, but kept in vaults and back rooms.

"We had an inside deal.  My friend took me there.  The curator turned to my friend and said, "What do you collect?"  My friend, who had been at this for years said, "I collect U.S. military guns from 1820 to the current."  The curator looked at him and said, "You're not a collector.  You're an accumulator."  So he turned to me and said, "What do you collect?"  I said, "I collect Sharps."  He said, "OK.  Come over here."  He took me across the hall and he said, "I want to show you this gun."  And the gun was about 10 to 12 feet away and I said, "Yeah, that's on of John Brown's guns."  He looked at me and said, "How do you know that?"  Suddenly I rose up about 11 layers in that curator's list because I knew what that gun was when I was 10 feet away."
- D.C.

As that small anecdote conveys, some people have a very broad definition of collecting, while others keep it very specific and narrow.  Regardless of focus, every collector enters into a stage of accumulation.  It's as universal as a beginner wondering if they're getting a good deal.  One starts to recognize good guns at good prices and purchasing them.  Maybe guns are accumulated as the following collector describes them.

"You come to a show like this and somebody can't afford to buy this piece, so he'll put together a little bit of cash and 2-3 other guns.  Well, you like this gun and that gun, but you don't like that one, but you take the whole thing in trade.  You'll just get rid of it later."

You might get them from neighbors, friends, or other folks you meet as you delve deeper and deeper into the hobby.  Whatever the circumstances, firearms seem to make their way toward the collector and the collector accepts almost all comers into the flock.  It all results in an increase to the volume of firearms owned.  However a hodge-podge of guns does not make one a collector.  That person may love guns, love to use them, love to purchase and take care of them.  A lot of tools doesn't make one a tool collector.  It just means that person likes tools and has a lot of them.  There is no problem with this type of firearms enthusiast.  It is what some will refer to as an accumulator and all collectors are at one point accumulators.

If this stage of collecting looked like a line graph, that graph would look like the cross-section of a hill or a gentle bell curve; there is a period where the volume increases, where it tapers off, and where it decreases.  Accumulation turns more toward a true collection when the volume of a collection is turned toward a specific area of interest and/or toward a higher quality.  When a collector sets their sights (no pun intended) on a preferred genre or quality level, there will be guns in their collection that no longer fit.  These “out of place” guns then become a vehicle to acquire more desirable pieces by either selling them for money or using them in trade to acquire items that further the collection.  In other words, you’re going to sell a lot of guns to make some money in order to buy few, higher quality guns.

"A lot of people in the hobby build volume for volume's sake.  Then you get to a point where you say, I've got an awful lot of money sitting here.  I'm gonna sell some stuff and refine.  Everybody does it, I believe.  Refine, refine, refine.  You end up with a smaller percentage of guns than you've had before in your collection, but they're nicer.  They're finer."
- Chuck B.

A collector is entering a special time! While there may not be a conscious moment of decision to collect a certain genre or manufacturer or timeframe, the collector's preferences begin to emerge and those preferences will absolutely shine as their collection grows smaller and better. There may be less guns involved, but the focus of those guns should be narrowing and their quality should be increasing. This is the "constant, gradual improvement" universal to established collectors. A newly honed area of interest could be as narrow as only collecting Colt Baby Patersons or as broad as the collection in the story. A collector might give up some of their old shooters to get that one piece toward their collection. One might also sell off a few lesser quality guns to obtain one of higher quality. Maybe even the same gun! The point remains that many collectors in this stage begin to move from a period of accumulation and increasing volume to one that shapes a collection and decreases in volume.

Of course, not all all collections have to decrease in volume.

Changing Ships Midstream
Sometimes collectors who have started a nice little collection for themselves find their eyes wandering to another genre or collection.  This happens quite frequently.  Tastes change and mature.  Some collectors can only find excitement in the chase and have been known to sell entire collections just so they can start off fresh in a new area.

This is the beauty of collecting.  Enjoyment and the appreciation of what you are collecting are essential parts of the hobby.  Why collect something no longer enjoyable or interesting?  Plenty of collectors change genre midstream and move on toward pastures with more bluing.  Changing might be tough to swallow at first after all the effort, searching, bargaining, and hunting that took place to acquire those pieces.  It might feel like a lot of work down the drain.  Don't worry, soon those feelings of loss will be replaced by excitement and anticipation as new pieces are chased down to form the new collection.

"I wanted the best Winchesters I could afford.  Eventually I realized that I couldn't afford the kind that I wanted and I didn't want the ones I could afford and so I switched to Smith & Wessons."


"I visited a man... and I liked his collection better than mine."
- W.L.

Methods of Purchase
The options for purchasing firearms have never been easier for collectors and investors.  The tried and true methods still exist: local gun stores, gun shows, clubs, friends/neighbors, retail stores, pawn shops, estate sales, and the like are still very popular methods for finding guns.  However, the advent of the internet as well as the rise of firearms based auction houses in the early 80s have provided a boon to collectors who want to find the guns they want in one place.

Auction houses like Rock Island Auction Company combine high volume with the highest quality firearms.

Never has searching for a gun been easier than simply typing what you want into a computer and seeing nearly instant results from any number of potential sellers.  However, the internet's biggest benefit is also its downfall - it is a search tool for the masses.  Any number of common or even semi-common firearms are readily available for the right price.  Search a common place, find a common gun.  But what about that "special" gun?  What about a gun so rare and sought after that an example might only come up for sale a handful of times in a collector's life?  For such guns this difficult to obtain, one can often hope to be in the right network of collectors or one can turn to a firearms based auction house.

Where the internet offers immediate availability and an infinite amount of firearms for sale at any given time, auction houses take the cake with respect to specialty, rare, or incredibly high-priced collector firearms.  Good auction houses also provide security and accountability.  A lot of collectors simply aren't willing to drop thousands of dollars on a firearm from somebody they've never seen nor met.  Auction houses provide that peace of mind, along with a chance to inspect the goods prior to purchase, and often much better photos and research than other online sources.

Advice from Experienced Collectors

"Second rule is, buy all the accessories and the little stuff.  Young collectors, new collectors don't do that.  The guns are always available.  It's the rest of the stuff that's very difficult... Buy the little accessories when they're available, if they're reasonably priced.  There will always be guns.  I don't care what kind of gun it is, it won't be long before you see the gun.  If you don't have enough money, go around and buy the accessories even if you have to grit your teeth because you have to pass on a gun.  Spend the money on the accessories."
-Dave C.

"You gotta decide what you like.  Like women, all at once there's one and you decide that's the one.  Just like guns.  It's gotta appeal to you.  Maybe it's the history.  Maybe it's the style.  Maybe it's the design.  You study up on it and go, "These are really cool!"  What winds your clock?  If you’re not enjoying it and it's not of interest to you, then you're an investor."

"I was just working for wages.  I was a poor workin' slob!  I’d been doing that all my life.  So I took all this old junk that I had, got tables at the next gun show, started selling that off, and making money.  'My God!  Look at the money I'm making!' I put all that into the best item I could find at that show."

"Never buy a gun for X amount of dollars without knowing that you can sell it somewhere down the road. because somewhere down the road, you'll tire of it. Somewhere down the road you'll get a better one."

"Nobody ever mentions measuring the value of things.  It’s rather excepted.  One simply makes their collection bigger and better.  Or smaller and better.  Smaller and better is more my liking.  I once traded 61 for 1. (Really?! Was it worth it?)  No!  it was a foolish move, but I'm still happier with what I've got."
- T.L.

"You never complete a collection."

“In my case, it’s the mystery of what I call the “guns that talk to me.”  If they don’t talk to me, then I’m not interested in them.  I’m waaaaaay past buying great guns just because the price is right.  I’m not saying I don’t do that, but that’s not what does it for me.  What does it is the chase.  Finding them.  Beating the bushes.  Where do they come from?  I bought guns in the last year that I’ve been after for 30 years, easy.”

“As in many facets of life, quality is more important than quantity.  A collection of five high condition guns is more impressive than a hundred of mediocre quality”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dallas Safari Club 2014 Convention

I was told I wouldn't believe it.  I was told that I would see sights that would drop my jaw.  I was told of nightly culinary delights.  I was told my feet would hurt a lot.  All of these things would come to pass.

For those that are unfamiliar with the Dallas Safari Club, it is an organization formed in 1972 that attracts thousands of international hunters, conservationists, and wildlife enthusiasts.  They have tasked themselves to raise money to help conserve wildlife, protect wilderness, educate and promote hunting to youngsters, and to help protect the rights of hunters.  It's a pretty massive challenge, but DSC has proven more than up to the task by absolutely ballooning membership and event attendance in recent years and by putting on a massive and extremely impressive event.

Thursday, January 9
Technically the event started the previous day, but most vendors would wait until Thursday to set up their extravagant and themed booths.  Rock Island Auction Company would arrive and set up our booth on Thursday as well and even though most of the other exhibitors were still composing and constructing their booths, it didn't take long to see that this was going to be very impressive.

RIAC crew just starting to set up the booth.
The view walking into the convention as they were still setting up.
They had clearly done a LOT of work already... had many of the other vendors

Here some of the RIAC crew puts the finishing touches on one of the TWO
Gatling guns we brought with us to the show.

Here we carefully place just some of the Colts we brought.

With one exception, all the guns we brought to Dallas will appear in our May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction.

Friday, January 10
Friday was the first day that attendance of the show was close to what we had expected.  It took a while for attendees to make their way back to our 20' x 50' booth, but soon the trickle of convention goers turned into a deluge.  The fact that it took any time at all is a testament to the treasure trove of eye candy, curiosities, jewelry, taxidermy, and displays that were all vying for just a few precious moments of their time.  The RIAC booth was stuffed for much of the day and this wasn't even one of the "busy days."  People who appreciate some of the finer things in life, definitely showed that same appreciation for our antique arms, Gatling guns, sporting long arms, Colts, and a trio of consecutively numbered Holland & Holland rifles.

Plenty of accessorized ATVs were present!

All variations of decor and furniture were available.

One booth was selling ring-necked pheasant pelts and I couldn't
resist the photo opportunity.
Purses, furs and shoes provided for lots of shopping.

To say that taxidermy was abundant would be an understatement.

Friday also provided RIAC with the opportunity to again sponsor the Ladies' Luncheon which took place that morning.  It's a much anticipated event within the convention weekend filled with a live auction, a silent auction, giveaways, delicious food, and lots of new friends.  Rock Island Auction Company not only sponsored the event, but also donated a Gaulois Number 2 Palm Pistol with its fitted purse to be raffled at the event.

Friday night's banquet was sponsored in part by Rock Island Auction Company.  Not only did we get our large custom sign hung in the front of the room, but a 60 second commercial on the projection screens hung all over the banquet hall.  These were two amazing ways that RIAC ensures that not only that people know about our consignor's items, but that collectors from around the world know where to come to buy and sell collector firearms.

Saturday, January 11
Saturday was definitely the first day that finally brought the excited crowds we had anticipated.  Here are just some of the pictures from what seemed like an endless stadium filled to the brim with these vendors.

Don't worry everyone!  THESE ARE NOT REAL STUFF BALD EAGLES.  This gentleman
takes molds of actual bald eagles beaks and feet, but uses various other birds' feathers
for the rest of the mount.  These samples involved goose, turkey, and chicken feathers

A stunning and graphic mount!

Had never seen a mount like this before.  VERY impressive!

Tons of raffles were available for pretty amazing items

This bronze was HUGE!  A 6 foot tall man would have to look slightly up to meet this Indian's eyes.

Customer leather belts, cases, briefcases, holsters, etc.

Custom boots!

Lots of fur outerwear....

...and lots of material pieces for English tweed hunting suits.

High quality, hand crafted knives were at several booths with their makers.

Antler and natural wood decor

Many, many jewelry booths

Art galleries were numerous and impressive

Several major manufacturers were there and were also sponsors.

Stands and blinds of every shape and size.

Did I mention they had amazing taxidermy?

Even though Rock Island Auction Company is not a safari outfitter, hunting guide service, nor a taxidermist, show goers were constantly in our booth.  The trio of consecutively numbered Holland & Holland rifles received loads of much deserved attention in the custom display cases that RIAC made especially for the event as did the 2 Colt Gatling guns, one of which will be for sale in our May Premiere Firearms Auction.  Our booth even caught the attention of Midway Founder and CEO Larry Potterfield who spent some time with our early Winchester and Henry rifles.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the convention happened during the auction which took place immediately after the Saturday evening banquet.  A gentleman approached the podium to speak and began to tell a touching story of his friend's military service in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The presenter was Dan Catlin and he works for The Wildlife Gallery taxidermist in Blanchard, Michigan.   He told the story of his co-worker Robb Gustafson and his exemplary military service record: two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, four Army Commendation Medals, and an Army Achievement Medal.  Gustafson served as a weapons instructor, land navigation instructor, and sniper, but had his service cut short when a combatant's bullet slammed into his helmet leaving him brain damaged for several months.  Thankfully, the soldier was able to recover and resume his life, part of which involved a passion for hunting.  After previously hearing this heroic story, optics manufacturer Trijicon graciously offered to send the soldier on the hunt of a lifetime! Gustafson was so touched that he decided to pay it forward.  At this year's DSC Convention, he would auction the helmet that he was wearing that fateful day.  Not only would all proceeds gained by the auction be used to provide safaris to other young hunters, but specifically to those who had lost a parent to combat.  The helmet was a standard issue helmet with the monochrome green colored flag stuck to one side and the digital camouflage helmet cover still in place.  In fact, the helmet looked in remarkably good shape minus the large divot that dented the surface over the right temple.  It stood on a handsome wooden stand and was ready for auction.

The bidding began at $30,000 and was quick to escalate.  Eventually there would be only two bidders remaining: a generous woman in the audience and RIAC Owner and President Patrick Hogan.  Mr. Hogan would finally win the helmet with a bid of $80,000!  The crowd immediately gave a standing ovation and on the screens that projected views of the speakers on stage, one could tell that Catlin was extremely pleased.  However, upon winning, Mr. Hogan quickly beckoned the auction assistant who was taking his bids and signaling them to the auctioneer.  He came to our table and Hogan quickly told him something, and then told him to "Hurry!" as the auction assistant turned to walk toward the auctioneer.  Before long, the auctioneer's voice came over the microphone in a much slower tone that we had just heard in the bidding.  He said with some astonishment in his voice, "Ladies...and... Gentlemen.  I have just been informed that Rock Island Auction Company will be donating back the helmet AND WE'RE GONNA SELL IT AGAIN!"  With that announcement, the entire crowd leapt from the chairs with whoops and whistles!  In the midst of all the excitement, one could still see Catlin on the projector screen with tears welling in his eyes.  It was truly a touching moment for many of those in attendance.

The helmet would eventually sell again for $60,000 and receive an additional donation from a large fishing outfit for $10,000, bringing the total to $150,000 for the budding organization that would provide once in a lifetime hunts to children that had lost parents to war.  Throughout the night Mr. Hogan would be approached by friends and strangers thanking him for his generosity, though the most touching was unquestionably when Catlin himself approached, shook Mr. Hogan's hand, looked him in the eyes, and sincerely said, "Thank you for making our dreams come true."  Saturday night could not have ended on a better note.

*** The organization to send more young people on hunts is still in its infancy, but you can be sure that as it develops Rock Island Auction Company will be sure to post updates on our social media pages.  If you would like to make a donation, please contact Dan Catlin at ***

Sunday, January 12
Sunday would only be a half day, but the attendance did not seem to suffer for it.  Plenty of people still came by to see the pair of Gatling guns, the Holland & Holland rifles, the early Colt semi-autos, the early Winchesters, the Henry rifles, the Model 90s, the Olympic grades, the high quality sporting arms, Colt percussion and SAA, some Merwin & Hulbert revolvers, and a simply gorgeous Dickson & Sons triple barrel shotgun.  RIAC definitely made an impression that our May Premiere Auction is not to be missed.  Even though we are not a hunting outfit, nor is our existence focused on preserving wildlife, people came to our booth and were impressed.  After all, it's hard not to be impressed with 2 Gatling guns.

The RIAC booth was packed!

People were not afaid to get a closer look or even make a phone call about either of our TWO Gatling guns.

Some gentlemen look approvingly at our sporting arms and Model 90 rifles.

Everyone likes a photo of the Gatling guns!

These two collectors look on our assortment of Henry rifles and early Winchester rifles.

They were quite a hit.

Winchesters in the background.  1897 Colt Gatling in the foreground.

All ages can appreciate the Model 90 "Gallery guns"

RIAC made three custom display cases for our three consecutively serial numbered Holland & Holland rifles.
Rifles of this high quality were VERY well received among all the safari hunters in attendance.

President and Owner Pat Hogan shows off the unusual reload process on a Merwin & Hulbert revolver.

He also enjoyed sharing some info on the Model 90's.

The Dallas Safari Club's Convention was a fantastic and friendly experience!  They made it very easy to see why they are considered a premier organization in their field.  Everything was top notch, from the facilities and nightly banquets to their publications and the quality of exhibitors.  This was another great experience for RIAC where we not only showed some of our consignors' guns off to thousands of potential buyers, but we also met a lot of great new folks, saw some welcome familiar faces, and contributed to saving a lot of wildlife and habitat.  I can't wait to go back and show off what RIAC will have next year!