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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Colt Family Tragedy: Caldwell Hart Colt

Lot 331: Documented Historic Presentation Engraved and Silver Plated Colt Model 1877 Thunderer Double Action Revolver Shipped to Caldwell Hart Colt, the Son of Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt and his contributions to a young nation are nearly mythic in scale.  People speak of Col. Colt in reverent tones laden with solemnity, and why not?  He was a brilliant marketer and businessman, he envisioned the assembly line decades before most industrialists, and gave the world the most iconic revolver of all time.  His success was beyond doubt.  At the time of his death, Colt's net worth is said to have been around $15 million.  Keep in mind, those are 1862 dollar values, equivalent to around .001% of the entire Gross National Product of the time.  That may seem like a small percentage, but anytime one can measure their fortune as a relevant percentage of GNP, they've achieved a clear indicator of financial success.

Yes, Samuel Colt had made it in the business world.  After his failed Paterson and revolving hammerless rifle, a foray into underwater cable and detonators with Samuel Morse, and even trying to sell tinfoil cartridges - as opposed to paper "envelopes" containing ball and powder, which could get wet - Colt finally found success with Captain Samuel Walker in 1847 and his recommendations for a new revolver.  Not long after his ascent began, Samuel Colt would meet his wife, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt (nee: Elizabeth Hart Jarvis), a woman 12 years his junior from a particularly wealthy and well-known family.  They would be married five years later and life could not have been any better for the rising businessman.

Here Sam & Elizabeth Colt can be seen strolling the grounds of Armsmear with a bustling Colt Armory on the horizon.  Also note the depicted peacocks that roamed the grounds.

With an extremely rosy future in front of him, it might have been easy for Colt to forget the family tragedies of his past.  His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only six.  His father later remarried, but of his three half-sisters one died during childhood, the eldest was taken by tuberculosis at 19, and the third committed suicide.  Of these three brothers, one would go on to murder and mutilate a creditor, in a widely-known crime some say inspired Edgar Allen Poe's The Oblong Box, as well as Herman Melville's "Bartleby, The Scrivener," only to commit suicide the day of his planned execution.  To say this was a young life beset by tragedy is an understatement.  It is nothing short of a miracle that his early setbacks didn't force Samuel to just give up.  Then again, perhaps the early hardships in his life prepared him for the difficult road he would eventually pave with gold.

Elizabeth Jarvis Hart Colt and her son, Caldwell
by Charles Loring Elliott
Unfortunately for Samuel Colt, fate continued to torment him with the worst tragedies life can afford.  Despite being married in 1856 and moving into their mansion, Armsmear, the very next year, they couldn't seem to fill it with the family they so desired.  They would have four children, but the first, William Jarvis Colt, would die as infant in 1857.  The second, and only to live into adulthood, would be Caldwell Hart Colt - his name a mixture of his paternal grandmother's surname (Caldwell) and his mother's middle name from maidenhood.  The third child would be the first daughter, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, and the fourth would be another daughter Henrietta Selden Colt, born in 1861.  In January of 1862, within the first year of the Civil War, Samuel Colt and Henrietta fell terribly ill.  Samuel would succumb to gout on January 10 at the age of 47, and Henrietta would follow 10 days later.  Daughter Elizabeth, her mother's namesake, remained sickly, but held on to life.  Samuel Colt left behind a 3-year old son, an ill daughter, and a wife three months pregnant.  In July, six short months later, Mrs. Colt would give birth to a stillborn baby, and in 1863 would finally lose her resilient daughter.  If life's cruel trials were not yet unimaginable enough, on February 4, 1864, with Elizabeth passionately carrying out her husbands life work, the East Colt Armory, with its iconic "Blue Onion" dome and its rampant colt finial, burned to the ground, allegedly set ablaze by Confederate sympathizers.  When the gilded dome and colt finally crashed through the ceiling of the armory it is said that Mrs. Colt could no longer hold back tears.
The Colt Armory after the fire on February 4, 1864
- Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company

Let all that sink in for a moment.  Four dead children and a widower in the span of six years.  A husband's life's work in ashes.  A large empty house that should have been filled with laughter and running footsteps would linger on, quiet and nearly empty.  All that remained were the indomitable Mrs. Elizabeth Colt and her 3-year old son, Caldwell.  By 1866 she had selected an architect, Edward Tuckerman Potter, to build a church to memorialize her lost family.  It would be finished in 1868 and was appropriately placed on the Colt Armory "campus" (a.k.a. Coltsville) so that workers and families living on the grounds would have a convenient place to worship.  The Church of the Good Shepherd would be a fitting tribute with no small detail overlooked.  The color of stones was selectively chosen, wood carved to look like foliage is abundant, a blue ceiling once bore golden stars just as the Armory's "blue onion" had, and countless luxurious materials were implemented.  A description of the church from its National Register of Historic Places may be quoted as saying, "This interior is Potter-Victorian at its finest.  There are no extant churches from this particular period of Potter's development that are as intact or have as much of his sumptuous ornament."

In addition to its architecture, the church is also noted for its wondrous stained glass.

This is called the "Armorer's Porch."  It is located on the southwest corner of the church
and formerly served as the primary entrance. It appears quite normal at a distance.

However, Architect Edward Tuckerman Potter liked to include personal touches
related to the life of those who commissioned his work.  This entrance has subtle touches
related to firearms such as loading levers, revolver frames, grips, a percussion cylinder, and
other revolver related images.  A wonderful flourish and very appropriate for the Colt family.

Depictions of revolvers were used to decorate the pillar capitals.

Through all her grief, Elizabeth continued her husband's work with the help of her brother, and thankfully so.  Without her spirit and perseverance (and foresight to have the factory insured after Sam's death), we might never known such beloved firearms as the Model 1873 Peacemaker, the Model 1911 pistol, and an unknown number of others.

Caldwell Hart Colt
Caldwell would grow to become a man and attend Yale University.  With plans to follow in his father's footsteps, he designed his first firearm in 1879, the Colt double barrel hammer rifle, chambered in .45-70.  With only 35 produced from 1879 to 1885, and most of those examples supposedly going to Caldwell and his friends, it is today considered one of the rarest Colt firearms.

Sadly, the sole heir did not pursue his gift with much fervor.  Instead becoming what author William Hosley calls, "a stereotypical icon of foppish indulgence whose fame was earned by his courage and audacity as a celebrated yachtsman."  Much of the only information available on Caldwell describes his enthusiasm for yachting, but hints at a lavish lifestyle that involved gambling, drink, and expensive parties. He was heavily involved in several yachting clubs and his love of leisure and life in the lap of luxury overtook the interest of his birthright in firearms.  However, life had one more catastrophe planned for the Colt family.

Dauntless, 1888

In January 1894, Commodore Caldwell Hart Colt died rather mysteriously at sea in January of 1894, while aboard his schooner yacht Dauntless.  Some sources say he drowned, others say tonsillitis struck while abroad, and the more sensationalist historians claim that he was shot by a jealous husband.  Regardless the cause, the sole surviving Colt sibling died at the age of 35, leaving his widowed mother to bury her sole remaining child.  In his memory, she obtained the same architect (who had since retired) to build a parish house to the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Much like the church, it would be masterfully constructed and also contain many references to those it memorialized.  For the Parish House, that meant references to Caldwell reflecting his love of sailing and the sea.  (Note:  I highly recommend reading the description of the Parish House and the Church of the Good Shepherd to learn about all the fascinating symbols utilized in  its creation).

Here a depiction of Dauntless can be seen alongside web-footed Colts, Neptune, his trident,
waves, clams, coral, and other oceanic imagery.

The Parish House
The Parish House Ballroom

The Colt 1877 Thunderer Double Action Revolver shown below was shipped to Caldwell Hart Colt on October 19, 1880 when he was just 22 years of age.  This beautiful gun was sent with presentation grade factory engraving, a nickel finish, gold cylinder base pin and trigger, and pearl grips.  The revolver now bears period silver plating.

The backstrap is inscribed "H. F. Robinson."  The Robinson name is familiar to Colt collectors who know of Colonel Charles L. F. Robinson who married Elizabeth Colt's niece, served as the President of Colt Firearms from 1911 - 1916 and also for the Gatling Company.  The recipient of this revolver is likely a relative of Col. Robinson and may be Herbert F. Robinson who worked for the U.S. Indian service in the Southwest, specializing in irrigation.

A piece of history from the Colt family can be held in your hands!  Its direct ties to the famous family, its condition, and its beautiful embellishments have earned it a place in even the most advanced of Colt collections.  This and many other fine Colts will be available during our 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction.  Take a look for yourself by heading over to and find out why so many are excited about this tremendous sale!

-Written by Joel Kolander


Description of Church and Parish House from National Register of Historic Places

New at RIAC - Outbid Notifications

Rock Island Auction Company is pleased to announce our new Outbid Notifications service. This advancement, typically only offered by the largest of online auctions, will send emails to bidders who have elected to receive them notifying them that they have been outbid or tied for the high bid. In the auction before this new service was implemented, we saw a record number of sealed bids, around 21,000! This resulted in hundreds of tie bids for many items, with some items having as many as 50 different bidders. As an auction house, it’s tough to witness so many ties, knowing that people making an earnest run at collectibles they want will not win. The outbid notifications will eliminate some of those ties and allow the auction to function the way an auction should, the prizes go to the highest bidder.

It is a very common scenario for people who tie the winning bid, or come within 90% of it, to not win an item.  Obviously, that can be pretty confusing to know you bid the correct amount, but did not win your lot.  The outbid notifications look to limit this type of scenario, even though it is impossible to eliminate completely.  Here are some of the ways this can happen:

Tie Bids: It’s very possible that two or more absentee bidders bid the same amount (and bid higher than any live bidders). In that case RIAC awards the lot to the first of the tie bids placed. Each bid input into our systems is stamped with date/time it was received. This is why we encourage absentee bidders to give us your bids as soon as possible, since this scenario is very common.

Bid Increments: We treat absentee bids as if the bidder if here live at the auction, trying to buy as cheaply as possible under their maximum amount they have specified in their bid. With that comes the chance that another bidder will beat them to that amount. Here’s an example of how that might happen.

Let’s say that Dan places an absentee bid on a lot for $1,000. Live bidders and other absentee bidders have bid the lot up to $900. At that point, we would advance Dan’s bid on his behalf to $950. If there are no other bids, Dan would win that lot for $950. However, if a competing live bidder bids $1,000, we are obliged to accept that bid. Since Dan has only authorized us to bid up to $1,000, we cannot place another bid for him and the lot would be won by the live bidder even though Dan had the exact same amount in his sealed bid.

As you can see, this is entirely unpredictable and depends on how the live bids fall during the auction.  In the example above, had the live bidding stopped at $900, we would have advanced Dan’s bid to $950. With no other live bidders he would have prevailed. Take note, this is exactly what would happen if there were two live bidders in the audience who both planned to stop at $1,000. One would get it and the other would not.

Preventing this from happening to you is simple. Since we buy for you as cheaply as possible at or below the maximum you specify, be sure you bid the true maximum you would go to if you were bidding live. Ask yourself, “If I was there, and the bid stopped with someone else winning for $1,000, would I go $1,100?” If so, bid a “plus one” or enter the larger amount. You still may fall on the “bad side” of the increment, but the exact same thing might happen if you were bidding live. That’s the nature of an honest auction.

We realize there may be some questions and feedback on this process. This is a new service for us and there may be some changes needed along the way, so we invite your input. You can send your thoughts to us through our three-question, online survey which has a spot for comments at its conclusion. The survey may be accessed by clicking here. For some Frequently Asked Questions that we feel might arise, please continue reading to see if we have covered your question. If not, please feel free to contact us via email or phone at and 1-800-238-8022, respectively.

Of course, if you're not interested in receiving these outbid notifications, no action is necessary on your part.  By doing nothing, your account will stay just as it is. You must opt-in to receive these notices and you can switch at any time simply by logging into your account.


Q: Do I have to receive outbid notifications?
A: No. The service is completely optional and you must opt-in to receive them. If you do not want to receive them, do nothing. If you DO elect to receive them, you may turn them off again at any time.

Q: How can I receive outbid notifications?
A: It’s a simple email preference that you can change in your account at any time. Follow these steps.

  1. Go to
  2. Log in to your account.
  3. In the “My Account” section on the right, click the “Edit Account” link.
  4. Below your personal information are your email preferences. The bottom preference should include an unchecked box for “Outbid Notifications.” Simply click that box.
  5. Click the “Save Changes” box at the bottom to finalize your selections.

Q: Which bids are eligible to receive outbid notifications?
A: Outbid notifications are only sent for sealed bids submitted through the RIAC website.

Q: How often will the outbid notifications be sent?
A: Outbid notifications will be sent sparingly this auction.  We are waiting for the results of the survey to find out how often our customers would like them.

Q: If I am outbid on several items, will I receive a notification for each one?
A: Only one email will be sent, but will list all the lots on which you have been outbid.

Q: Will I receive a notice if I am a tied for the high bid?
A: Yes. Remember, in the event of tied sealed bids, the winning bid will be the first of the bids received.  The notification will not tell you if you are the first bid received, only that you are tied for the high bid.

Q: How common is this really?
A: Very. In our February 2015 Regional Firearms Auction we received a record 21,000 sealed bids! On average, that’s six sealed bids per item.  With so much interest comes an astounding number of tie bids, and bids within one bid increment (or 90%) of the highest bidder. Tie bids are exceedingly commonplace.

Q: How can I give feedback on this service?
A: Through this weekend, you may click here to take our 3 question survey. After the final question there is also a blank space for you to tell us how much you love it, hate it, or just to offer some constructive feedback on how we can make it better. This is a new service for us, so we’re all ears to our consignors and buyers for possible improvements.

If you'd like to leave feedback after the survey closes, please feel free to write to us at

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wells Fargo's Shotgun Messenger, "Hold the Fort" Aaron Ross

Note: This week's article comes to us from Seth Isaacson, a Describer here at Rock Island Auction Company.

The history of the American West is perhaps the most mythologized aspect of our nation’s past. The very mention of “the West” conjures up images of idealized outlaws like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kid running wild robbing the trains, stage coaches, and banks; stealing horses and cattle; and hiding out in canyons and secluded reaches of the untamed West. The lawmen and posses who chased these men down have equally been romanticized. Men like Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill Hickock are remembered as larger than life for their tremendous collective efforts to tame the West, increase spread of “civilization,” and bring about the end of an “lawless” era. It is a period of American history often associated with prospecting for gold, towns bustling with saloons full of cheap whiskey and loose women, gambling, and violence from both sides of the law. In many of the best Western movies these legendary gunslingers somehow reform themselves, often via a local woman who is not intimidated by their rough past, and find their way back to society. In reality, most of these true outlaws and some of the lawmen met an untimely end at the muzzle of a Colt Single Action Army, 1873 Winchester, or a Parker double barrel shotgun, and other times from the end of a rope.

From time to time, we get the pleasure of offering firearms tied directly to the mythic American West. We have sold firearms and historic items related to many of the West’s most famous heroes and villains. Over time, their stories grew to exaggerated tales. A well-known example is Billy the Kid, who is said to have killed twenty-one men in some versions of his life story, “one for every year of his life.” The reality is likely much closer to four. Despite the mythologizing and romanticizing of the West, there were men whose lives were full of adventure, intrigue, and who lived by the gun. One such man was Aaron Y. Ross. In our upcoming 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction we have the pleasure of offering a Wells Fargo marked Parker Brothers double barrel shotgun inscribed to Aaron Ross for defending an express car while outnumbered and surrounded by seven robbers.

Ross was born in Maine in 1829, and like many men in his day went west searching for opportunity. He headed to California to mine for gold, found no success, and headed north where he again failed to strike big. Recognizing that prospecting and laboring in the mines of other men was far from the guaranteed path to riches promised by advertisements and stories he had read back east, Ross found work as a stagecoach messenger for Wells Fargo in 1867.

In August that same year, Ross was involved in defending a Wells Fargo stagecoach in a battle that could have been torn straight from John Ford’s landmark western Stagecoach. As the horses sped the coach along the road during the night, a group of approximately twenty-five Native American raiders on horseback surrounded them. The driver did his best to keep the horses galloping at full speed while Ross poured lead from the passenger seat using his shotgun and revolver in the fight for their lives. The high speed battle of several miles must have felt like days until finally the attackers retreated to gather their wounded. Ross had given better than he had received. Unwounded, he had taken fire from 25 bandits, but had killed as many as five of the attackers.

Here, famed Western stuntman Yakima Canutt makes a jump for John Wayne in 1939's "Stagecoach."

In another instance Ross was confronted at Silver Star by the Stinking Water River, this time by an outlaw named Baker who already had multiple robberies under his belt. Attacking after nightfall, Baker’s gang found Ross’ stage to be less than an easy target when instead of throwing up his hands, Ross brought up the barrel of his scattergun and sent the villains fleeing for their lives. Ross then was transferred to Nevada where he was confronted by another outlaw: Andrew Jackon “Big Jack” Davis. When Davis attacked the stage Ross guarded, he was not as lucky as Baker, and paid for his crime with his life.

Lot 306: Historic Wells Fargo Marked Parker Bros. Under Lifter Double Barrel Shotgun with Presentation Plaque Inscribed to Express Messenger Aaron "Hold the Fort" Ross For Heroism with Research

Perhaps the most exciting story from Ross’ time in the West occurred on January 23, 1883. At 53 years of age, Ross was the lone guard in an express car headed east from San Francisco. Aside from the Wells Fargo assets, the train carried $80,000 in gold bullion (worth $2 million or more adjusted for inflation). Another source lists the cargo as $600 in Wells Fargo assets in the express car with Ross and $500,000 in other currency in the postal car. At Montello, Nevada, a group of seven outlaws forced the conductor to stop the train. They tried to convince Ross to leave the car and surrender, but he instead tried to buy some time while fortifying himself in the car using the freight. The robbers threatened to burn him out of the car and murder him if he did not surrender, to which he fired a few rounds through the side of the car at his assailants. They surrounded the car and returned fire from all sides. Three of the bullets found their mark, but Ross was not going to give up despite injuries to his finger, hip, and chest. He fired multiple shots towards the end of the car and then heard one of them on the roof. He calculated the villain’s location by sound as best he could, and with a well-placed shot, dropped the ambitious and unfortunate outlaw.

Wounded, he silently bided his time while the gang planned its next move. They tried to gain entry using coal picks and fired in upon him to cover their actions. Ross managed to stay safe and kept quiet. The robbers found the picks were no use and came up with a plan to open the doors using the other train cars. They ordered the engineer to ram the express car and the doors flung open a few times, but Ross was able to secure them again. When the robbers discovered another train would arrive within a half hour, they decided to gather their losses and flee. For their efforts they lost one of their men and only rode away with $10 stolen from the wallet of the conductor.

In return for his effort “Hold the Fort Aaron’s” medical bills were paid for, he received multiple handsome cash rewards, and the Wells Fargo Superintendent, John J. Valentine, sent him a letter, a check for $1,000, an inscribed gold watch worth $650, and its own gold chain. Matched for inflation, these rewards would be worth over $40,000 today.  After being shot three times, and not prone to exuberance, Ross asked for, “a day off.”

The letter read: “Dear Sir - Supplementing my letter of February 5 relating to your intrepid conduct at Montello, Nev. January 23, in successfully resisting the attack of seven highway robbers on your car, and, in fact, having practically protected the lives and property of the passengers of the train, I herewith inclose (sic) you a check for $1,000, as a substantial tribute this company, and, also as a mark of especial recognition and possibly more enduring testimony, a gold watch, chain, and seal, engraved as follows: ‘From Wells, Fargo & Company TO MESSENGER Aaron Y. Ross. In token of his courageous and successful defense of the EXPRESS CAR against Highway Robbers at Montello, Nev. JANUARY 23, 1883.’ I never doubted, from previous knowledge of your bravery, that in such an emergency as that which occurred at Montello, your heroism would be manifested; but its sturdy exhibition could not and cannot be otherwise than inspiring to all fellow employees and persons holding places of trust, stimulating them to emulate such an example of fidelity and valor. With all good wishes for you and yours I am very truly, JOHN J VALENTINE General Superintendent”

Though not mentioned in the April 1883 letter, Ross was also rewarded with the Parker Bros. shotgun he used during the defense. The inscription plaque and the watch are engraved in nearly identical hands.  It may have been given to him prior to the watch as only the plaque needed to be made and affixed whereas the watch had to be custom made and sent to him.  Another possibility to be considered after viewing the photographs of Ross holding a double barrel later in life, is that the shotgun was given to him upon retirement. He would have likely had used it for many years and become fond of it. Wells Fargo continued to show him favor even after his retirement by inviting him to various company events. Photographs of Ross and other famous messengers were even put in a display as part of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. Ross himself took part in the “California Fair” as late as 1917.

The shotgun was manufactured in 1878 and has “WELLS FARGO & Co. EXPRESS” marked on the barrel rib. The shotgun has an inscription shield marked in matching script to the watch: “TO/MESSENGER A.Y. Ross PARKER SHOTGUN used in your heroic and successful defence of the EXPRESS CAR against Train Robbers at Montello, Nev. W.F.&Co. January 23, 1883.” The shotgun was likely not mentioned in the news articles as it was a trifle in value at the time compared to the watch and monetary reward. Many images of express guards, including multiple of Ross, show them carrying double barreled shotguns of various makes. These men were regularly referred to as “shotgun messengers” in period literature and their position on the stages is the origin of the concept of “riding shotgun.” Period sources note that agents were armed with locally purchased weapons and were generally given one or more revolvers, a shotgun, and a rifle. Most would have turned the firearms back to the office.

Unlike most gunslingers, Ross later retired with a Wells Fargo pension and died surrounded by his family at the ripe old age of 93 at his daughter’s home in Ogden, Utah, the very same destination as the train in his story. He would be remembered by history as a prospector, Indian fighter, stage coach guard, and a bandit-killer and was detailed as such in his New York Times obituary.

Lot 306: Historic Wells Fargo Marked Parker Bros. Under Lifter Double Barrel Shotgun with Presentation Plaque Inscribed to Express Messenger Aaron "Hold the Fort" Ross For Heroism with Research


Express Transportation. The Express Gazette 46-47 (January 1921): 160-161.

"Four Wells Fargo Generations." Wells Fargo Messenger, Vols. 5-6 Nov. 1917: 55. Web.

Hume, James B., John N. Thacker. Edited by R. Michael Wilson. Wells, Fargo & Co. Stagecoach and Train Robberies, 1870-1884: The Corporate Report of 1885 with Additional Facts about the Crimes and Their Perpetrators. Jefferson: McFarland and Co., 2010.

“Passing of ‘Dad’ Ross, Stage Coach Guard and Indian Fighter Dies at 93.” New York Times Tribute. July 9, 1922.

Wells Fargo. “Presentation Watches for Bravery.” Guided by History Blog. (January 4, 2008).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Top Guns: 2015 February Regional

What a sale!  Rock Island Auction Company's 2015 February Regional Auction set all kinds of fun records - most notably with over 20,000 sealed bids and the $5.6 million final figure.  That's a lot of participation, strong bids, interest, and exposure.  With all that activity surely, some interesting trends must have become apparent, right?  Let's take a look.

Read our full auction write-up by clicking here.

Most Popular Item

Lot 5598: Two AR-15 Style Semi-Automatic Long Guns with Scopes
Low Estimate: $900
Realized Price: $3,450

As we mentioned the last time we "awarded" this title, it can be tricky to calculate.  After all, how does one measure live bids (especially multiple live bidders all of whom may try bidding at the same dollar amount)?  That said, based largely on sealed bids (pre-auction bids of a fixed amount), the winner far and away was lot 5598 and its AR platform rifles chambered in .450 Bushmaster and 5.56 mm.  Before these modern sporters even hit the auction block, there were more than 50 bids placed on them, making for some fierce competition.  Other, classic guns also had over 40 bids a piece such as the two Lugers in lot 1844, the Vickers machine gun in lot 3998, the four Marlins in lot 128, and the Union Switch & Signal 1911A1 in lot 3895.  There was no shortage of participation in this massive auction!

Highest Performing Item Overall (Based on Highest Percentage Over Estimate)

Lot 1895:  Large Assortment of Nazi-Style Daggers, Accoutrements, and Artifacts
Low Estimate: $1,000
Realized Price: $8,625

First things first, this title is technically a tie.  Lot 1895 (shown above) and lot 3805 (Seven German Style Edged Weapons) both destroyed their low estimate by a whopping 650%.  However, since Lot 1895 had the higher of the two sale prices, I'm giving it the edge here.  Do you see anything in that lot we might have missed that made it such a sleeper?

Second, for this "highest performing" item, I would love to show you a beautiful antique firearm or some gun with a great story to tell.  We're primarily a firearms auction house after all, and we like to show those off to collectors.  However, the numbers do not lie.  This is what the data shows and you'll soon see it's no error, leading me to our second "award" of the article.

Highest Performing Genre (Based on Highest Percentage Over Estimate)

Lot 3805: Seven German Style Edged Weapons
Lead by strong performances in several lots, our genre of "swords," with its wide focus on a variety of edged weapons, takes the cake with an average of selling 159% OVER the low estimate.  To give an example, that's not a $100 item selling for $159.  That's a $100 hypothetical item selling for over $250!  You can imagine the multiplication that occurs at larger amounts.  Sword and dagger collectors have a lot to celebrate!  Publicizing results such as these, especially with so many German and Nazi related items involved, often treads a thin line with many who feel such detestable symbols ought not be "glamorized."  In that light, we're not publicizing these results to glorify National Socialism in any way, but instead as a tool for collectors and investors so that they may better understand and pursue their hobby.  Besides, if it makes anyone feel better, a large group of Soviet militaria also smashed its estimate by 494%.  While not containing any edged weapons, it goes even further to show the high level of interest in military, non-firearm collectibles.

Lot 1836: Large Grouping of Soviet and East Asian Militaria Including Various Badges and Medals, Two Field Radios, and Other Related Items

Highest Selling Colt

Lot 5658: Early Three Digit Serial Number 613 Colt Model of 1911 U.S. Navy Semi-Automatic Pistol

Low Estimate: $2,250
Realized Price: $7,475

This Colt M1911 is a very early specimen.  So early, in fact, that it bears the three digit serial number 613, was manufactured in 1912, and was part of the first batch of M1911 pistols sent to the U.S. Navy!  This resilient pistol blew past its high estimate of $3,500 and found a new home for $7,475.  It's another piece of evidence that supports the ever-growing popularity of World War II items, whether belonging to the Axis or the Allies.

Highest Selling Winchester

Lot 3003:  Desirable Ulrich Engraved Factory Documented Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle with Factory Letter
Low Estimate: $20,000
Realized Price: $25,875

No surprises here.  This Winchester had the highest estimate of the entire auction and surpassed its low estimate to ring in at $25,875.  Manufactured in 1876, this Third Model 1866 Winchester letters to all the features seen on the gun: factory engraving, silver plating, and an octagon 24" barrel.  On the left side of the receiver (shown above) is even a nice panel scene of a bull elk.  It just goes to show that high end collectibles can always be found in our Regional Sales along with the scores of firearms that still have many years of service left in them.

Highest Selling German Arm

Lot 1589: Ludwig Loewe Model 1893 Borchardt Semi-Automatic Pistol with Stock and Case
Low Estimate: $5,000
Realized Price: $12,650

Important to both German firearm collectors as well as enthusiasts of early semi-automatic weapons, this M1893 Borchardt earned a more impressive sum that we expected thanks to its accompanying accessories, matching numbers on its frame, trigger, and rear toggle link, and of course two determined bidders.  One of the best parts about winning this firearm?  Getting to go home with it the same day because it's an antique!

Highest Selling Civil War Item

Lot 1000: Civil War New Haven Arms Henry Lever Action Rifle

Low Estimate: $18,000
Realized Price: $25,875

Again, this should come as no surprise as this item enjoyed the second-highest estimate in the entire auction, though it is always comforting to see accurate estimates on auction items.  As sort of an "honorable mention" in this category, I'd also like to include lot 3241 (shown below) which outperformed the Henry shown above.  It's a handsome Civil War Era Second Model Lemat revolver, arguably the pinnacle of handheld firepower at the time with its 9-shot cylinder and fearsome "grapeshot" underbarrel.

Lot 3241: Desirable Civil War Era Second model LeMat Percussion Revolver
Low Estimate: $7,500
Realized Price: $14,950

This has been an interesting exercise in data.  The items in this article aren't cherry-picked items we selected to make us look good.  These are items that are the results of collectors, dealers, and investors all fighting for the items and firearms that they want.  This is raw data showing some interesting trends in new areas such as militaria and edged weapons, as well as confirming some well-known information on old favorites such as Winchesters, Colts, and Civil War pieces.  If there's a genre you'd like to see us cover in future post auction round-ups, please leave a comment below.  It was a great February Regional and we can't wait to build on it with the spectacular items appearing in our April Premiere Firearms Auction.  Use either of the links below to see some high resolution, full color photos of the gorgeous, rare, and historical firearms in our upcoming sale.  Thank you again to everyone for your participation!  We couldn't do it without you.

-Written by Joel Kolander

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Lifetime of Lugers

This article, appropriately enough, is being distributed on Georg Luger's birthday, March 6.  It is the 166th anniversary of the occasion.  Happy birthday, Georg!

Rock Island Auction Company has been extremely privileged during our last few Premiere auctions to host the Gene Smith Military Collection.  Mr. Smith's massive, encyclopedic grouping of German military arms has been featured in our sales since mid-2014, bringing high condition, rare, historic, and significant German firearms to the collecting community who can't snatch them up quickly enough.

Regarding this astounding collection, we bring good news and bad news.  The bad news is that our 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction will mark the final installment of this landmark collection.  It has truly been our pleasure to see, handle, and experience such an array of amazing guns, and with one final opportunity, that pleasure can be yours as well.  The good news is that besides having one final opportunity to own an item from this outstanding collection, another convergence of extraordinary arms waits in the wings, waiting to be unleashed.  We are referring to The Lifelong Collection of Icon Ralph Shattuck.

Viewing Mr. Shattuck's passion for firearms has resulted in a "dream collection" that many aspire to match and very few ever do.  His assemblage of Lugers, Mausers, and Borchardts is unparalleled, and a multitude of other nations are represented as well.  Here, for the first time, is a glimpse at the host of rare and attractive firearms that comprise this lifetime of dedication.  Before we begin, many of the firearms pictured here by Rock Island Auction Company can already be found with descriptions in the book Lugers at Random by Charles Kenyon, Jr.  Long considered to be an important reference since its release in 1969, the book contains numerous photos and descriptions of important Lugers from Mr. Shattuck's collection.  Also, Mr. Shattuck, acknowledged as the "Dean of Lugers," has a book published on his collection aptly titled "Lugers of Ralph Shattuck," which can be easily found on Amazon for those who would like a more in-depth view of his collection.  There was even an a CD made of high-resolution photos of the guns in his collection.  People just couldn't get enough of these rare, unusual, beautiful, and high condition Lugers.

Ralph Shattuck and his wife Nancy.

Ralph Shattuck was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 28, 1929 mere months preceding the Great Depression, but would go on to become one of the pioneers and giants of the Luger collecting community.  Even as a child Shattuck would ride around on his bicycle and purchase whatever pistols he could with the intention of selling them to make some money.  His home, both his first residence in Michigan and his later one in Arizona, was open to many collectors throughout the years and was nearly considered a pilgrimage site for Luger enthusiasts - containing hundreds of Lugers in his personal collection and even more in "inventory."  Ralph and his bright red suit jacket were a staple of many gun shows for decades, resulting in endless stories of his generosity, character, and genuine love of the hobby.  Ralph passed away on his birthday at the age of 81, but not before helping build one of the most zealous and educated genres in gun collecting.  Rock Island Auction Company is honored to offer such a prestigious collection from such a collecting icon and trailblazer.

Outstanding Ultra Rare DWM Model 1902 U.S. Army "Cartridge Counter" American Eagle Test Luger

This completely original and totally unaltered version of the "Cartridge Counter" Luger is one of the most desirable Lugers for both German and military collectors.  Made at the behest of the U.S. Ordnance Board in 1902, exactly 50 of these pistols with the "Powell Indicating Device" (and grip safety) were manufactured for testing the following year.  The device was simple and accurate, but ultimately deemed to fragile by the Ordnance Board, and rightly so.  The left grip would first have a slot cut into it, and then have a delicate metal strip and feeble 3 1/4" celluloid strip covering the newly created slot.  The concept itself was quite simple.  To work, the gun required a special magazine, which involved a pin poking out the left side of the magazine.  This pin was attached to the magazine follower, so that every time a cartridge was fired and the follower rose, the pin would also.  That pin also moved an indicator corresponding to the numerals visible to the user.  In a bit of a perhaps unintended redundancy, when loaded, the bullets of the cartridges were also visible through the celluloid window.

Estimate: $45,000 - $65,000

Extremely Rare Original DWM Model 1900 "GL" Marked Prototype Luger Pistol with Unique Reversed Toggle Mechanism

The photos are worth a million words in the case of this gun.  With its numerous unique and potentially one-of-a-kind design variations, not only is the gun a bit difficult to describe through text alone, but the purpose of the prototype changes is not fully known.

Note the reversed toggle "hinge" on this pistol as compared to the photo of the top of the previous Luger.  The rear portion extends into the front, instead of the other way around.
There's also this unusual undercut front sight and muzzle
with dimples on each side.  Were they for an attached
suppressor or muzzle break?  Do these tie in with the reversed toggle?

"GL" Georg Luger marked prototype.

Finest Known Exceptionally Rare Documented DWM Model 1900 Bulgarian Contract Luger Pistol

Authentic Cyrililic text appearing in place of the "GESICHERT" ("secured") marking, is always a good sign for a Luger collector. The total production of these pistols is estimated at approximately 1,000 pistols and this example is in the appropriate serial range.  While seven rebarreled Model 1900 pistols are known, it is reported that no more than 3-4 original 1900 Bulgarian contract Lugers are known as many were converted to 9mm before and after the Great War.  Most saw heavy use through WWII, with many samples being captured by Russians.  Another unusual feature of this Luger might not appear unusual at first glance.  Note the placement of the "DWM" monogram and the Bulgarian crest.  On many Lugers, this placement is standard, but on these guns one would much more commonly find the markings reversed, making this "normal" looking Luger even more rare and desirable.

So by now, you know our April Premiere Auction will have two colossal German collections contained within in it.  Did you also know that amazing single pieces have come in as well, creating a perfect storm for German and foreign military collectors?  Here are additional highlights for collectors sure to be wringing their hands with anticipation.

Rare, Documented DWM Prototype 1900 Luger Carbine, Serial Number 58

OK, we fibbed.  One more from the Shattuck Collection, and this one presents a mystery to collectors.  This gun was featured in the aforementioned book Lugers At Random and since 1969 it has stymied Luger collectors.  The source of conflict comes primarily in determining whether this 1900 Carbine  was manufactured for commercial sales or as a prototype.  Lugers At Random is quoted in describing the gun by stating,

"The uniqueness of this variation makes it difficult to determine the proper designation for this weapon and there is support for both theories (commercial or prototype) among collectors.  The unique five position rear sight lends support to the Prototype theory, but the serial number range is of the 1900 era.  VERY VERY RARE.  Only one example is known to collectors." (Emphasis theirs)

Extraordinary, Historic Pre-World War II Walther Factory Engraved Gold Plated Model PP Presentation Pistol For King Carol II of Romania

Obviously this gun has some extensive ornamentation going for it, making it a prize for any collector who appreciates such craftsmanship, but this gun also bears some special provenance.  Just looking at it, one might be able to guess that it is a presentation gun, however, a presentation for whom is not as evident.  This spectacular Walther PP was commissioned by the Nazis for King Carol II of Romania during his second reign.  It was around 1937-38 when Nazi Germany was pulling out all the stops so that Romania and its "the playboy king" would ally itself with the Third Reich.  The fact that the Romanians were sitting on the oil fields at Ploiesit didn't hurt either.  This pistol was part of the efforts to woo the King.

As if one could look past the impressive provenance, the gun alone is capable of generating high interest among collectors.  First off, this is the earliest known factory engraved Walther Mod. PP pistol.  With a serial number of 751249, that makes this the 1,249th Walther PP!  The engraving itself is also masterfully done by the Zella-Mehlis Guild/Walther engravers and features a dense, floral scroll work mixed with an abundance of edelweiss blossoms. The gold plating speaks for itself and the grips have an inset on the left side that shows the Romanian crown over the initials "CC" (standing for Carol Caraiman, the full name of King Carol II).

Exceptionally Rare, Early Production Mauser Model 1896 20 Shot Flatside Cone Hammer Broomhandle Semi-Automatic Pistol Serial Number 91 with Matching Shoulder Stock

Everybody can recognize a "broomhandle" pistol.  The C96 has a look that people still find attractive today and a quite a following among military enthusiasts.  This particular Mauser Model 1896 is one that should be paid special attention for a number of reasons.  What is immediately most noticeable is that it is a desirable 20-shot version.  Soldiers may have griped about the difficulty in reloading the gun with two 10-round clips, but today they stand out from a gun that was produced for over 60 years and imitated by many.  Looking closely, one will also notice that the pistol is without its standard milled frame panels.  This is known as a "flat side" Broomhandle and is indicative of an early production, before the milled panels began to appear to reduce weight and save on materials.  Being an early model, it also has many of the other features found on those guns such as a cone hammer, the long extractor on the breech bolt, and many others.

Perhaps most impressive about this gun, which cannot be easily observed, is that it still has all its original parts.  Even the grips and the rare wooden holster bear the "91" that ties this wonderful firearm together.  The wooden shoulder stock/holster is an anomaly in itself.  Their large size made them prone to breakage, leaving few surviving models.  Even the stock shows "91" on its lid, attaching iron, and on the flat edge of the stock itself.  Why the number "91"?  it is yet another interesting fact about the pistol that cannot be gathered solely by its appearance.  As if all the other features mentioned here did not make this iconic little pistol rare enough, only an estimated 90-100 of this variant were ever produced with most of them being shipped to South America.  Since few things that are shipped out ever seem to find their way back home, that makes this pistol a rare bird, and its late number of "91" means it was one of the very last Broomhandles produced for those South American shipments.

Exceptional Rare Original Early Gabbet Fairfax MARS Semi-Automatic Pistol

This rare and monstrous handgun once had bragging rights as "the most powerful handgun in the world."  Considering it was only produced from 1898-1907 and would not lose that title until the 1970s, that's quite an accomplishment.  That small production time, of course, resulted in a very limited run of these guns.  Approximately 80 were ever produced in all their proprietary configurations (8.5mm, .36 (9mm), .45 Long, and .45 Short).  The example shown above is an extremely early version (c. 1898-1900) and stamped with the serial number 4.  It also has the fine blued finish and wonderful checkered walnut grips.  It remains in its all-original and unaltered condition.

The pistols were very well-made with all hand-fitted parts, and extremely powerful, but ultimately they were not to be.  Why?  A few reasons existed and they all had to deal with the gun's rather complex design.  First of all, complex designs historically tend to not render themselves well to life in military service.  Complex devices have more parts to foul and are difficult to repair/clean in the field.  Second, this complex device, utilizing a long-action recoil, had such horrendous recoil that it was prone to feeding problems.  The recoil was partially due to the powerful cartridges, but also because of the long travel of the moving parts.  It also suffered from a heavy trigger pull.  All these gripes led to the MARS being passed over for military contracts, the sole hope of its designer, Hugh Gabbert-Fairfax.  There were never any issues with its "man-stopping" ability, but its recoil was its ultimate undoing.  Fortunately, it left us with some rather entertaining quotes such as, "No one who fired once with the pistol wished to shoot it again," and "singularly unpleasant and alarming."

Even without military contracts or commercial sales, this rare curio remains a supremely desirable collectible.

German collectors, do we have your attention yet?  These two collections combine to form a spectacular selection, the contents of which have the potential to turn good collections into great ones, and great collections legendary.  The guns mentioned here are a fine, yet small, sampling of a cornucopia of European arms.  Not only are there German arms, but the Shattuck Collection also contains such gems as an uncommon Japanese Pedersen, a rare Czech ZH29, a Heinrich Himmler inscribed Jacquemart double barrel shotgun, a 1908 Mondragon semi-automatic rifle, and many more.

Not to mention the Dr. Joel Glovsky Collection, which holds the most complete and advanced array of 7.65mm pistols ever made available - the fruits of 60 years of dedicated labor.  This collection includes most of the 7.65mm pistols from the estate of the late Sid Aberman.  It is a smorgasbord of rarity, prototypes, experimental variations, and high condition, which will be covered in a blog of its own before our 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction.

Who will be the lucky, dedicated collectors that will not rest until these firearms reside safely in their gun rooms?  If that collector is reading this, we wish you best of luck on your bids for these incredible firearms.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Kenyon, Charles. Lugers at Random. Chicago: Handgun, 1969. Print.