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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Top Guns: 2015 September Premiere Auction

Here we go again, fellow firearms collectors!  Another successful auction and another recap that shows you the highlights, over achievers and most popular items from that weekend.  If you haven't seen this type of article, we have been writing them after the last several auctions, and like to emphasize that these results are in no way "cherry picked."  The guns, knives, and results shown here are listed solely by virtue of their data regardless of condition, history, embellishment, provenance, or other factors.

Most Popular

Lot 990: Two Cased Smith & Wesson Double Action Revolvers
Estimate: $1,000 - $1,600
Realized Price: $2,587.50
Number of Sealed Bids: 34

With Rock Island Auction's recently developed outbid notifications, the amount of bids on particularly desirable items can escalate quickly.  One might also think it helps eliminate tie bids, but hundreds of items had bids still locked in a dead heat, some as many as a five-way tie!  Those who use these notifications have a huge advantage  to win the lots they want.

That said, the lot that received the most sealed bids (bids placed before the auction took place) is this lot of two cased Smith & Wesson revolvers - one a 29-2 and the other a 27-2.  Looks like Colt Pythons aren't the only wheelguns that collectors want in their safes.

Top Dollar

Lot 1621: Rare and Impressive Krieghoff Second Model FG-42 Fallschirmjaegergewehr Paratrooper Rifle, BATFE Registered Fully Transferrable Machine Gun with Boxed Ammunition
Estimate: $160,000 - $220,000
Realized Price: $322,000

With an FG-42 selling at RIAC in last year's September Premiere Auction for $299,000 perhaps it should come as no surprise that a Krieghoff manufactured version would fetch a higher price.  However, it should signal to the collecting community that last year's price was no fluke or random spike, as these fearsome German machine guns continue to command high prices from some of the world's top collectors.

Even at this high price it was still a close race at the top.  Lot 1657 held an engraved and gold washed Walther PP presentation pistol with an "H. Himmler" signature on its grips, that sold for $287,500.  It also provided the most excitement of the auction as jump bids were being placed in $50,000 increments!  Both of these should also indicate that the German military collectors market is still as strong as ever.

Highest Performing Item Overall

Lot 3114: Two Confederate Style Leather Belts One Dagger and One Holster
Estimate: $1,400 - $2,250
Realized Price: $12,650 

It might not be as pretty as some of the other "top guns" shown in this article, but the historical significance of these Confederate pieces made them more than attractive to more than one collector.  Confederate items remain remarkably desirable even in the wake of popular opinion regarding the Confederacy and the American Civil War.

Highest Performing Genre: German Military - Walther PP/PPK

Lot 3501: Excellent Nazi Party Leader Walther PPK Semi-Automatic Pistol Rig with Party Leader Leather Holster, NSDAP Manual and Post-War Walther Case

Average Percentage Above Low Estimate: 109%

Undoubtedly led by the aforementioned golden "H. Himmler" PP, this dauntless little pistol continues to cement itself as a classic firearm.  Often dwarfed, literally and figuratively, by other beloved military pistols such as the M1911, the C96 Broomhandle, the P08, and the P38, these little pistols still have a hot spot in the collector market and its overachieving performance goes to show exactly that.

Highest Selling Colt

Lot 1232:Phenomenal Deluxe Gustave Young Factory Engraved Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer "Root" Revolver with Incredibly Rare Buhl Presentation Case

Estimate: $85,000 - $130,000
Realized Price: $109,250

The top selling Colt in this action may be up for some discussion as to which one technically takes the crown.  Shown above is the gun I feel should win the award.  It's a Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer "Root" revolver that has been elaborately engraved by Gustave Young and comes in the supremely rare Buhl case.  First off, the pistol features eight punch dots on its hammer, which with Gustave Young engravings indicates the number of days taken to complete the work.  Eight is a large number, especially when the work was done on such a small revolver, and Colt aficionados know this.  The revolver is stunning in and of itself, but the debate arises because arguably the larger portion of the lot's sale price is tied to the case and not the revolver.  Buhl cases  were used by Colt for only the most prestigious of presentations, with examples being presented to Edward Prince of Wales, his father Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, and his ever-important patent attorney, Edward Dickerson.  This particular example is brass bound rosewood and inlaid with antique ivory, silver, brass, and pearl.  The lot was estimated at $85,000 - $130,000.

Challenging this sidehammer's crown is Lot 1329, which holds an amazing pair of Colt Single Action Army revolvers that bear superb factory engraving and opposite, relief carved, steer head grips.  It is "Grade B" engraving performed by Master Engraver Wilbur A Glahn, and the guns themselves remain in excellent condition.  Their estimate was $110,000 - $160,000.

I'm awarding "Highest Selling Colt" to the 1855 Sidehammer based on several factors:
  1. It outperformed its estimate
  2. The price is based on only one gun and a case, not two guns.
One could argue that the Root isn't in as high of a condition as the SAA revolvers, or that each lot had two valuable items so the number of guns shouldn't enter into it.  When it comes right down to it, the lot with the Root has the benefit of being a rarer lot thanks to the Buhl case, and the immeasurable benefit of being something Samuel Colt would've almost certainly had his hands on at some time in his life.  The rarity of the cases and the importance of their individual presentations almost ensures it.

Highest Selling Winchester

Lot 1021: Magnificent John Ulrich Signed Factory Engraved and Big Game Gold Inlaid
Winchester Model 1910 Self-Loading Rifle
Estimate: $100,000 - $180,000
Realized Price: $138,000

Three words to describe this rifle: gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.  It rightly earns its place as the top Winchester in this auction.  It is magnificently master engraved and gold inlaid by John Ulrich, who also signed his work.  I try to keep these sections brief because there is so much good information to cover, so I'll just let the following picture do the talking.  Take a look at the expertly carved stock, the tightly scrollwork on the receiver, and the shading work on the gold inlays.  You can even click on it for a larger view.  It truly is an amazing rifle.

Highest Selling German Arm

Since the top two selling items of the entire auction were German arms and have already been covered, I'll not rehash it here.

Highest Selling Civil War Arm

Lot 3016: Historic Illinois Civil War New Haven Arms Co. Henry Lever Action Rifle
with Cavalry Saber and Documented History

Estimate: $37,500 - $65,000
Realized Price: $57,500

This is one of a select few Henry rifles that come through our doors with a documented history.  It is even accompanied by a British pattern 1821 saber.  Both weapons can be traced to Samuel H. Light (1834 – 1914), a man who can be found on the Illinois Civil War Muster Roll, joined the 7th Illinois Cavalry on September 15, 1861, and re-enlisted on November 4, 1865 as a sergeant.  The family home was located in Edgar County, Illinois, an area known to have raised men for a number of Illinois regiments.  Both items have been passed down through the family for generations before finally ending up at Rock Island Auction Company.  Not only is it the centerpiece of a rich history, but it is absolutely “fresh” to the collector market.  This Henry has resided in an Illinois farmhouse for the last 150 years!  It can’t get much fresher than that.  Both the provenance and the "freshness" of the rifle trumped its "attic" condition to bring a welcome sale price.

Highest Selling Non-Firearm

Lot 3154: Reproduction Confederate Tredegar Iron Works Style Twelve Pound Napoleon Field Gun
with Carriage, Limber and Accoutrements

Estimate: $14,000 - $22,500
Realized Price: $17,250

Our newest auctioneer, Alex, is standing next to this positively massive field gun to give a perspective of its true size.  Our official description lists it as "The massive cannon is just over 11 foot long from the muzzle to the end of the carriage tail and is 5 1/2 feet wide from the outside edges of the wheels which stand 4 feet and 10 inches tall. The bore is 4 1/2 inches at the muzzle..."  These twelve pound "Napoleon" cannons were first used in the U.S. in 1857 and were the most used smoothbore cannon during the Civil War.

Most "light 12-pounders" were made of bronze, but when the Union Army took the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1863, the Confederacy no longer had access to the 1,000 pounds of copper required to make each gun.  They began to make the critically important weapons from cast iron with iron reinforcing bands, but only around 120 could be produced by the South before the end of the war.  Given that this 12-pounder is made from iron and the bore lacks the Union signature swell at the muzzle, it can be safely said that it is a reproduction of a Confederate light 12-pounder as made by the renowned Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia.  It would be quite the eye-catching piece in any Civil War or Confederate weapons collection.  The light 12-pounder was likely used to greater effect on Civil War battlefields (in terms of casualties and fatalities) than any other piece of artillery, so it should come as no surprise that some astute collector made it the top selling non-firearm in this auction.

There you have it, collector friends.  By the numbers, those are the top items from our 2015 September Premiere Firearms Auction. Seeing big revolvers as the most popular was no surprise, but to not see a lever gun in the top Winchester spot certainly was!  Also, two German WWII guns and two Confederate pieces each found their way into top spots.  Even though the users of each took arms against the United States, collectors admirably overlook that in search of the aesthetic, well-engineered, or tangible pieces of history.  It may seem silly to say, but there are many that cannot or choose not to do so.

From an 11-foot long item to one barely the size of a man's hand, these top items truly run the gamut:  military and civilian, royalty and infantrymen, leaping out of planes and riding on horses, and that's just in the top several items!  We hope that you'll come to an auction sometime to see our "rotating museum" of fascinating, historic, and stunning collector firearms.  We promise it's worth the trip!

-Written  by Joel R. Kolander

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Piedmont Collection of World Class Kentucky Rifles

They go by many names:  Kentucky rifles, American longrifles, Pennsylvania rifles, and so on, but they all reference a single style of muzzleloader that instantly evokes images of a young American nation - and rightly so.  Those distinct long and rifled barrels are a unique American twist on a design that is linked directly to this country's origins.  Capt. John Dillin said it best in his 1924 book, The Kentucky Rifle,

"From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest; and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil; an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination. Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity; and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed."

These eloquent guns earned their name from the location of their manufacture.  Most "Kentucky" rifles were actually created somewhere in the foothills or mountains of the Appalachian mountains by European immigrants who had settled there.  These rifles exemplify the hard work, gumption, and dogged persistence shown by those early pioneers.  Truly a "one stop shop," there was no division of labor.  Each gunsmith was responsible for every stage of manufacture: barrel, lock, action, stock, and any artistic embellishments he wished to add.  It required a gunsmith to also be a blacksmith, carpenter, engineer, and sometimes a silversmith, carver, and engraver.  It was hard work done entirely with hand tools, but the fruits of the labor were sweet.  At the finish, a man would have a tool that was indispensable on the frontier.  Much like today, it could be used to provide food as well as protection, two vitally essential functions.

The Kentucky rifles featured in Rock Island Auction Company's September Premiere Firearms Auction represent the finest ever made.  Produced during the "Golden Age" of Kentucky rifles, some of the most well-known and skilled gunsmiths are represented in the sale courtesy of the expansive and impressive Piedmont Collection of World Class Kentucky Rifles.   Such a grouping is the result of decades of collecting, focusing on the very finest, high condition pieces that exude the beauty of a bygone era.  Here are some of the top arms of this collection.

Lot 204: Extraordinary John Armstrong Golden Age Percussion Long Rifle with Raised Relief Carved Stock

Estimate: $65,000 - $95,000

John Armstrong was a gunsmith located in Emmitsburg, Maryland whose smithing career spanned circa 1808 - 1841 (though some say he started as early as 1793).  His works can be found in many of the most respected books written on Kentucky rifles and he is generally considered to be one of the very best of the era.  His pieces often draw comparisons to Swiss watches and Rolls Royce automobiles - classics that defy time.  We could only find one previous rifle built by Armstrong using percussion ignition, though there are rumored to be as many as four originally created as percussion arms.  In either case, this example remains supremely rare.  The rifle was undoubtedly produced in his later years of manufacture and features inlaid brass plate, beautiful wood carving, twelve silver inlays, engraving, and checkered sections of the stock.

Lot 207: Documented Award Winning Peter Neihart Golden Age Flintlock Pennsylvania Rifle and Matching Contemporary Miniature with Award Plaque

Estimate: $20,000 - $35,000

This flintlock Kentucky rifle made by Peter Neihart has enjoyed quite a bit of attention in its lifetime.  Featured in several noteable books, this significant piece has a stunning, full-length curly maple stock, brass wire inlays, carved embellishments, an attractive patchbox, silver inlays, engraving, and other brass accents.  It won the Kentucky Rifle Association's "Best of Show" in 1969 and is accompanied by a contemporary miniature of itself!

The gun's significance in Kentucky rifles is also notable, as detailed by George Shumway in his book Rifles of Colonial America, Vol. I.

"A lot is known about Neihart from the research of Ronald G. Gabel... This rifle serves as a transition piece linking the Germanic style of rifle made at Christian Spring with the classic curved-butt Lehigh Valley rifles of the Federal Period and beyond... The two-piece engraved brass patch-box on this rifle, with the lid bearing the date 1787, has a finial of fleur-de-lis pattern. This is the earliest dated use of this pattern that we can be certain of..."

Lot 1140: Extremely Rare John Armstrong Golden Age Flintlock Long Rifle with Raised Relief Carved Stock

We're fortunate enough to have a second John Armstrong piece in this auction, but, unlike the first, this is a flintlock.  Note the design similarities between this and the first rifle shown in this article.  Armstrong rarely varied in his design, but this suited the perfectionist manufacturer and allowed him to hone his craft to a fine art.  His consistency and benchmark quality spawned numerous imitators and provided inspiration to even more.
Part of that perfection lies in the locks.  When most makers were purchasing their locks, saving them both time and money, Armstrong was crafting his from hand.  Albert Sullivan phrases the importance of these locks as such,

"Incidentally, there is a feeling, a very sensible one, in the Kentucky rifle fraternity that the absence of the original lock in a Kentucky rifle is not too important. This is because the lock was almost never made by the gunsmith and so did not represent his handiwork. Also, locks were expendable they wore out and they were replaced, so they seldom related to the gunsmith who made the rifle. But this does not hold with Armstrong. Because he made and signed his own locks, and because they were so special and were so appropriate to his guns..."

To read more of Sullivan's article is to understand the reverence and respect that is held by collectors for these iconic and classic firearms by Armstrong.

Lot 1145: Documented Adam Ernst Golden Age Flintlock Pennsylvania Rifle with Raised Relief Carved Stock and Brass Lock Plate

One of the aforementioned artisans who took inspiration from Armstrong's designs is clearly Adam Ernst, a top gunsmith in his own right.  A quick look at the patchbox, cheeckpiece, engraving, and buttstock carving reveals more than just a slight influence from the era's preeminent maker.  What stands out as unusual on this rifle is its brass lock plate when most were made from browned or case hardened iron.

These magnificent guns represent only a fraction of the more than one dozen spectacular Kentucky rifles appearing in this auction courtesy of The Piedmont Collection.  The brief descriptions given here only scratch the surface of the deep, rich histories of both the arms and their makers.  It cannot be overstated that Kentucky rifles played a role in shaping this great nation.  Initially a tool of "rugged individualism," well before Herbert Hoover coined the phrase, these rifles' superior range and accuracy provided a distinct combat advantage in numerous conflicts such as the Seven Years War, the War of 1812, Texas' War for Independence from Mexico, and the American Revolution.

Please view our extraordinary selection of this historically significant rifles from some of the era's top gunsmiths.  Collectors' respect for these early artisans is not misplaced!  Ponder for a moment that often one man was responsible for specializing in a number of areas in the manufacturing process.  To do at such a high and renowned level, even recognized hundreds of years later, is something that can be recognized by anyone who appreciates a superior level of quality and dedication to task.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Thursday, September 3, 2015

German MP3008: The People's Machine Pistol

This week's blog is actually a video focusing on the German Volksmaschinenpistole, or "people's machine pistol."  It's a rare gun to see, let alone handle, and I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity.

One of the famous "last ditch" weapons of Nazi Germany, it's a near exact copy of the British STEN gun.  Weighs just over 7 lbs, is sighted for 100 meters, and fires 9mm Luger rounds from an open bolt at a rate of 450 - 500 per minute.

This is one of over two DOZEN videos that have been made featuring firearms in our 2015 September Premiere Firearms Auction.  Some are made by us and some are made through our partnership with the website Forgotten Weapons.  To see the rest of these videos, head on over to our YouTube Channel.  All are sure to entertain as well as educate.  

Other fine firearms appearing in this video:

MP3008        -
STEN            -
FG-42           -
Thompson     -

-Written by Joel R. Kolander