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Friday, November 28, 2014

Museum Quality

Rock Island Auction Company is always offering some rather stunning arms: mint condition antiques, rare variations, gorgeous special order arms, classic military arms, unusual prototypes, and all kinds of items tied to important figures from bank robbers to presidents.  This considered, perhaps the large number of "museum grade" pieces in this auction should come as no surprise.  While I would personally love to have written about each one individually, the December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction draws nigh and so we're forced to cover several of these incredible items in one go.

The best part is that, unlike a museum, these items do not rest behind glass, inaccessible to the collecting community.  Each and every one of these pieces will be sold to collectors and investors.  The items are spectacular in their own right, but the fact that they have somehow evaded curators' grasps for sometimes hundreds of years makes them all the more remarkable.  Take some time to look and judge for yourself.

Peter Knecht Solingen Production Gold and Niter Blue Accented French Presentation Sword with Scabbard Inscribed from the National Guard of France to the Marquis de Lafayette, Hero of the American Revolution

For those unfamiliar, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was a hero of the Revolutionary War.  He was not a man who led a single heroic charge or captured a single machine gun nest.  No, Lafayette fought in numerous battles, held many ranks, and even helped secure critical aid and troops from the French.  The United States has perhaps never had such a devoted and passionate ally since.  George Washington himself, upon the Marquis' departure for France at the end of the Revolution wrote him a letter stating,

"I owe it to your friendship and to my affectionate regard for you, my dear Marquis, not to let you leave this country without carrying with you fresh marks of my attachment to you, and new expressions of the high sense I entertain of your military conduct and other important services in the course of the last campaign, although the latter are too well known to need testimony of my approbation."

High praise indeed from the Father of Our Country.  Lafayette came from very wealthy roots, joined the military at 14, as was family tradition, and after the American Revolution held various roles helping to form the tumultuous French government.  The day after the Bastille was stormed, he would be made commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France - an order keeping force comprised of urban militia units throughout France.  Not long after he would propose the symbol of the French tricolor, essentially the French national flag of today.  He held numerous French military titles through those conflicts, would be taken as a prisoner of war by the Austrians and the Prussians for 5 years until 1897 when his release was secured by Napoleon Bonaparte.  The Emperor of France would go on to offer Lafayette several high-ranking positions, but he refused them all, stating that he might have accepted them had they come from a democratic government.

He would continue a long and close friendship with George Washington until Washington's death in 1800, even naming his son Georges-Washington Lafayette.  Eventually Lafayette would also form a solid friendship with Thomas Jefferson exchanging many letters and gifts over years of correspondence.  In 1824, Lafayette was invited by President Monroe and Congress to visit the United States in honor of its pending 50th birthday.  He was greeted like a modern rock star.  Revolutionary War veterans greeted him, citizens rightly recognized him as a national hero the likes of which might not be seen again in their lifetimes.  His initial arrival in new York was celebrated with four non-stop days and his trip to Boston was lined with well-wishers.  This set the tone for Lafayette's entire trip, with towns and cities bound and determined to show their respect, enthusiasm, and gratitude to a man who had been essential to their liberty.  It was on this trip that Lafayette of course visited his old friend George Washington's grave and took some soil from Bunker Hill so that when he died, as he would in 1834, it could be sprinkled on his Parisian grave.  A true American icon in his belief and commitment to representational government, this sword would have no problems finding a place of prominence in any museum.

Elaborate Cased Exhibition Grade Silver and Gold Inlaid LeFaucheux Pinfire Revolvers

Moving from the historic, to the aesthetic brings us to this incredible pair of exhibition grade LeFaucheux pinfire revolvers.  The craftsmanship and valuable materials used in its construction would easily place it in museums that appreciate such art, such as The Met in New York City.  This is truly high art with a revolver as the artist's medium.  They shine as if they were jeweled and not a single detail was spared in their creation by Parisian gunsmith LeFaucheux, whose notable contributions to firearms also include the pinfire cartridge in 1835, one of the first self-contained cartridges, which in turn assisted in the design of breech-loading firearms.

The pistols themselves are exquisite.  Perhaps most noticeable are the revolvers' high polish blue finish on the barrels, cylinders, frames, and butt caps.  Said finish provides a myriad of vibrant blue, aqua, indigo, purple, and royal blue shades that provide a striking backdrop for the ornate and superbly executed gold and silver inlays which cover a large percentage of the guns.  The delicate lines of precious metal intertwine to form geometric designs, floral scroll work, and elegant borders.  The two-piece grips are fine antique ivory and end in a lavish inlaid silver band and a high polish butt cap that also includes more gold and silver inlay.

Even the case of the pistols is extraordinary!  Constructed of ebony and lined with striking red velvet, it has brass handles on its sides and its lid bears a brass inlay and monogram.  The compliment of tools was designed to match the set of pistols: the cap container has a blued, silver & gold inlaid insert, the oiler also wears the same high polish blue and has a silver and gold inlaid  applicator handle, and even the screw drivers are silver inlaid.   While one could dedicate several pages to adequately describe this stunning pieces, we'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Abraham Lincoln Hand Signed 1864 Presidential Appointment

Certainly, Abraham Lincoln is a man who needs no introduction to American readers.  Largely considered the greatest American President, his presence in American history is huge.  This document signed by Lincoln and his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, appointed Henry S. Williams as an Additional paymaster for the volunteer forces on June 3, 1864. Our official description succinctly details the position:

"During the Civil War, the U.S. president had the power to appoint paymasters at a rate of one paymaster to every two regiments. Paymasters served under the command of a paymaster general, an officer with the rank of colonel. Under the colonel were two deputy paymasters with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Under the deputy paymasters were 25 deputies with the rank of major. Deputies or additional paymasters were appointed to temporary duty only."

Given Lincoln's steering of American history, anything authentic associated with the man is nearly guaranteed to take on new and important significance.  This genuine, original, hand signed document was not only graced by the man, but also has strong and undeniable ties to that bloodiest of American conflicts - the Civil War.  This is not only an extraordinary document of pure Americana, but also a museum-worthy piece of history of these United States.

Documented Historically Significant One of A Kind Charter Arms Undercover Revolver Used In the Attempted Assassination of Governor George Wallace of Alabama

Many people my age have seen the movie "Taxi Driver" starring Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster, but few are aware of the effect it had on a pair of psychopaths in previous decades.  Most notably is the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 by a man obsessed with Jodie Foster and determined to get her attention by shooting the leader of the free world.  Lesser known to later generations is the assassination attempt of Alabama Gov. George Wallace by loner Arthur Bremmer.

The aspiring assassin had also been motivated by the final scenes of "Taxi Driver" and was determined to gain an infamy for himself after feeling overwhelmingly lonely and anonymous.  His "story" has been well told thanks to a detailed, rambling, and horribly misspelled diary he began keeping nearly two months after his first relationship ended.  It was only three dates, but it would be hard to argue that the event did not add to his feelings of loneliness.

The journal begins, "Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace." Feeling that killing Nixon would make him more famous, he began attending events where Nixon would be featured. Bremmer would often attend armed, but could not get close enough or when we could, was thwarted by tight security. Bremmer had delusions of grandeur and would write things in his diary like, "I'm as important as the start of WWI. I just need the little opening and a second of time."

Gov. George Wallace
Making an attempt on Reagan's life was proving impossible, so Brenner switched his attentions to divisive Gov. George Wallace.  Wallace was a segregationist/populist Democrat, known famously for his inaugural speech in 1963 that included the line,

"In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Later that year, Wallace made headlines by personally blocking the doors at the University of Alabama to prevent the entry of black students, and again at four separate elementary schools in Huntsville, Alabama.  By the time of his assassination attempt, he was making his third run for the U.S. presidency.  He was a national figure and his would-be assassin was going to try to exploit that.  During the Democratic presidential primaries in May 1972, Wallace would be approached by Bremmer while shaking hands in a crowd.  He fired all five shots of .38 special ammunition, twice hitting the Governor in the chest and the abdomen, and wounding three bystanders: a state trooper, a Secret Service agent, and a campaign volunteer.  All shot would survive, but one of the bullets that struck Wallace would lodge in his spinal cord, permanently paralyzing him from the waist down.

Nobody won.  Wallace's presidential bid was all but over, even though he easily retained his place in the Governor's mansion.  The assassination attempt also cast doubts on his health during fourth and final run at the presidency in 1976.  Bremmer also gained nothing.  For one, it would forever be known as an "attempt,"  not a an actual assassination.  He did not get the infamy of Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, or even Sirhan Sirhan.  In fact, it is doubtful he even became more well known than the movie character he so desperately tried to emulate.  Instead, he spent 35 years of his life in prison, though he has been out on parole since 2007.

Wallace's assassination is reportedly at the root of his change of heart toward segregation. In the late 70's, he became a born-again Christian, apologizing to African-American civil rights leaders.  Of his "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door," in 1979 he recanted by saying, "I was wrong.  Those days are over, and they ought to be over."  In 1995, he even wrote to his would-be assassin offering forgiveness and seeking reconciliation.

An important political figure for decades in the 20th century, the assassination attempt rocked the nation and was an important event in the lives of many Americans.  The revolver for sale isn't just a link to the history that happened that day, it IS a part of that history.  This small, unassuming, 5-shot, blued, walnut gripped, snub nose changed U.S. history that day.  It is accompanied by small library of documentation, police reports, hospital records, a nine page Report of investigation by the Prince George County Police, and the original sales receipt when the gun was sold to Bremmer.  Any museum would love to have this behind glass in their collection, but we offer to the collecting public.

Honorable Mention

The following two guns are also significant, but have been already been discussed in previous articles.

Outstanding One-of-A-Kind Serial Number 1 Swiss Model 1908 Mexican Contract Mondragon Semi-Automatic Rifle

When the NRA Firearms Museum titles their video on this model of rifle, "A National Firearms Museum Treasure Gun," the item clearly has an important significance.  One of the earliest semi-automatic rifles ever made, it is largely accepted as being the first to see wide military use.  It was used by Mexico, Switzerland, and nearly a dozen other countries.  Particularly of note is its use by the Germans in their aircraft during the Great War.  Before the advent of machine guns in aviary use, the rear seated soldier or those in observation balloons would be armed with these rifles, then dubbed the "Flyers self loading carbine model of 1915."  We don't often associate rifles with aerial combat, but this gun has the unique honor of that distinction.  The NRA's 1st Vice President and avid tank collector Allan D. Cors puts it best in the above linked video when he says, "you're witnessing firearms history at its finest."

The best part is Mr. Cors is speaking of the rifle in the video, which is a fine specimen and appears to be serial number 2756.  The Mondragon to be sold by Rock Island Auction Company this December is in excellent condition and is serial number one.  The rifle itself in this condition would make any collector happy, but the possibility of owning the very first of these historic rifles should have the attention of collectors and investors from around the world.

Documented "National Treasure" Factory Engraved and Inscribed Savage Model 1907 Semi-Automatic Pistol Presented To Buffalo Bill Cody By The Factory

We spoke at length in last week's article about this once-in-a-lifetime pistol, so we won't beat a dead horse.  However, to speak of museum quality pieces and omit this historic and direct tie to the prairie, Westward Expansion, and the Old West would be borderline unforgivable.  To read last week's article on the Model 1907 Savage pistol presented to Buffalo Bill Cody by the Savage factory, please click here.

Each and every one of these guns could unquestionably placed be in a museum. They deserve it.  Their craftsmanship, innovation, history, and remarkable preservation have earned them that right.  While these are extraordinary examples of the quality in our December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction, they are far from all-inclusive.  Give our online catalog a search today to see for yourselves.  Or, for more educational content on some incredible firearms, head over to our YouTube Channel and sit back while you hear all about them.

-written by Joel Kolander

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