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Friday, November 6, 2015

More Museum Worthy Pieces

You may recall our article from this past August entitled, "Five Guns that Belong in The Met." It focused on some stunning high art firearms in our September 2015 Premiere Auction that would easily fit in at the illustrious New York museum, or those that closely resembled items that already had earned their place.

Fortunately, our 2015 December Premiere Auction is also filled with items possessing rich provenances, direct historic ties, or masterfully executed high art. In fact, many of the highlights in this article have already spent part of their lives in a museum (or two).

Lot 1235: Historic Cased Tintype of a Young Man, Verified by Advanced Facial Recognition Technology as Notorious Western Outlaw John Wesley Hardin, One of the Deadliest Gunfighters of his Age,

In the news very recently has been much publicity about a second authenticated photo showing the notorious American outlaw Billy the Kid. It is rightfully big news as the last auctioned sale of a verified Billy the Kid photograph took place in 2011 to the tune of $2.3 million.

John Wesley Hardin is another infamous outlaw of the American West that was as bad as they come. At 15, he killed his first man who tried to ambush him in retaliation for losing a wrestling match, and then killed the three soldiers who came to capture him while on the run.  Not bothering to learn other less-than-savory skills like robbery or gambling, Hardin was a gunfighter through and through. He was quick to anger, ready to fight, and skilled with his gun. Intentionally or not, Hardin once even fired drunkenly through a wall at a snoring man in an adjacent hotel room.  He may have meant to wake the noisy neighbor, but instead one of the bullets entered the man's skull and the snoring stopped forever. Though harboring a venomous disdain for slaves, holding them partially responsible for the ruin of the south, Hardin's guns knew no bias. He killed whites, slaves, Mexicans, freemen, gamblers, marshals, sheriffs, deputies, Yankees, Texans, Native Americans, and those known only to God.  By the time he was captured by Texas Rangers he would be charged with 27 murders (though there are 42 by Hardin's own count). He would serve 17 years, during which he would run the prison Sunday School and obtain his law degree. While practicing law in El Paso after his release, it wouldn't take Hardin long to involve himself in trouble with the local law.  Unfortunately, he chose the wrong folks to tussle with and one of them put a bullet in the back of his head while he was playing poker in the Acme Saloon.

In the video below, the photo is compared to an authenticated photo of Hardin by Mr. Bob Schmitt, the former Vice President of Biometrica Incororated, a company that supplies facial recognition software to casinos and law enforcement. In his opinion the photos are unmistakably of the same man. Previous photographs of Hardin have been identified and appraised for $30,000 - $50,000 and have even appeared on the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow. This tintype presents an amazing opportunity for aficionados of the Wild West or collectors of the lawless pages in American history.

Lot 1262: Important, Fresh and Extremely Significant Middle Eastern Treasure: 15th Century Shirt of Mail and Plate with Elaborate Gold Koftgari Decorated Plate Reinforcement with the Property Stamp from the Janissary Arsenal at the Hagia Irene Church in Istanbul with Inscription that Appears to Bear the name of the Recipient: Qaytbay Mamluk Sultan of Egypt 1468-1496

That is one massive headline to describe this item.  However, if any item has earned it, it's this one.  It is reported to be only one of two mail and plate shirts identified to Qaytbay, the 18th Sultan of Egypt, and remains the sole version available to private collectors.  The only other example is housed in the Topkapi Armoury Museum in Istanbul.

For many of us Westerners not up to speed on our Egyptian history, Qaytbay is remembered fondly as a Sultan that presided over a period of unprecedented economic comfort, political stability, and artistic prevalence. He donated large portions of his wealth to combat poverty, which gave rise to his reputation, in his own kingdom and abroad, of being charitable and practicing conservative religious piety. Qaytbay's ability to defend his homeland and obtain peace with the largest neighboring military power made him an even greater hero to his people.  Though for all these achievements, the sultan is more largely known for the most tangible and lasting of his contributions: architecture.  Not an architect himself (at least not known to history), Qaytbay provided for more than 230 monuments, many of which can still be found in areas ranging from Cairo and Alexandria to Damascus and Jerusalem.

For such a beloved leader, especially one so fond of the arts, only armor as fine as this would do. Brass rings trim the chain mail and gold koftgari, damascene artwork where steel is inlaid with gold, is liberally applied to the entire surface of the plate armor. Rarity, beauty, and historic significance are the big three that collectors seek and this armor, older than our entire country, possesses all three in spades.

Lot 1272: An Extremely Rare and Magnificent Wheellock Holster Pistol with Superbly Chiseled and Gilt Steel Mounts by Emanuel and/or Daniel Sadeler Royal Gunmakers to HRH Duke William of Bavaria Circa 1605

One look at the impeccable chisel work that appears all over this wheel lock should tell you all you need to know about this gun's worthiness to be placed in a museum. One could spend pages writing about all the minute details: chiseled metals, gilded pieces, mythological depictions, and engraved horn inlays. Instead, let us tell you about the rarity of a Sadeler pistol.

This occasion will mark only the second time in the past 50 years a Sadeler wheel lock has appeared on the collector market.  The other was sold by Christie's of London for more than $250,000 and now resides in one of the world's preeminent collections. This is very fitting considering that this incredible work of art was once the prized possession of the 9th duc de Lynes, Honore d'Albert. Please click on the above headline of this item and view the additional pictures housed on our website.  Firearms of this character do not come around often and certainly deserve much more than a simple fleeting glance.

Lot 3083: Historic Dual Presentation War of 1812 British HMS Guerriere Sword Surrendered Aboard The U.S.S Constitution "Old Iron Sides" and Later Presented and Inscribed to Edward Z.C. Judson A.K.A. Famed Wild West Dime Novelist Ned Buntline and Formerly Displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum

Many of us have heard the term "Old Ironsides" in American history and likely some have mis-associated the term with Monitor or the Merrimack, two ironclad warships utilized during the Civil War.  While originally the stout nickname applied to the British ship HMS Britannia, in American history the namesake belongs to the USS Constitution, a large, wood-hulled ship with three masts, named by George Washington himself, and launched in 1797. One of six such ships completed, each one was built for combat with more guns and more size than typical frigates of the era. Such advantages would come in handy against the French during the Quasi-War or against pirates, both of which actively targeted American merchant vessels. However Old Ironsides found her fame when used in combat in the War of 1812.  She would defeat 5 British warships, most famously the HMS Guerriere, where the cannonballs of the British ship many times thumped harmlessly against the hull of the Constitution, causing one sailor or famously erupt, "Huzzah!  Her sides are made of iron!" News of the victory at sea arrived to port before the ship and so the captain, crew, and ship arrived to a hero's welcome. It was a decisive triumph against the greatest naval power in the world and the USS Constitution became a symbol of victory for the young nation.

A letter that accompanies this sword, written by author and sword expert Richard Bezdek, states the following about it:

"A Sword captured from the captain of the H.M.S. Guerrier by an officer of the U.S.S. Constitution during this famous sea battle of the War of 1812, which was later presented to a U.S. Naval officer must be considered one of the most important and desirable swords in the history of the United States Navy. . .There is no other maritime artifact that would equal this sword in value. . ."

In its life it has been passed down from one deserving Navy man to another, and even into the hands of Midshipman Z.C. Judson, better known to most by his pseudonym, Ned Buntline. Judson would eventually pass the sword to the ancestor of the current owner, who came to possess it after three generations.  It has also rightly been displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.

The historic value of this piece is astonishing.  This is THE sword given in surrender from a battle that emboldened and inspired our nation and changed the course of what would come to be known as the Second War of Independence. Its significance is difficult to overstate as is the sheer luck that it should be available for a private collection.

Lot 3269: Beautifully Engraved and Bone Inlaid Pair of Silesian Wheellock Pistols

If there was one word to describe the design of these two pistols, it would be "delicate." Their slender shape, intricate inlays, elongated dogheads, and narrow trigger guards all radiate the grace and elegance of these 17th century wheel lock pistols. As is common on pistols of this era, there are no visible maker's markings, but based on other known pistols, one can infer this to be made in the Germanic states circa 1640.  If one couldn't tell by the embellishments alone, this set was almost certainly made for someone of nobility. However, in a time when all parts where handmade, the complexity of a wheel lock almost guaranteed that only the wealthy could afford such an arm.

The inlays are made from bone, antique ivory, horn, and mother of pearl, and depict numerous animals such as dogs, unicorns, rabbits, and mythical beasts. Dogs provide an obvious hunting theme on the gun, but unicorns, then considered real, symbolized grace and purity - fitting subjects for such sophisticated pistols. Rabbits, besides being a popular game animal, have long stood for vitality, fertility, and rebirth.  These guns were much more than just hunting pieces, they were individual pieces of art, each of which bore good omens for the bearer or perhaps, symbolized something about the user or his family.

Lot 83: Historically Significant Harmonica Rifle Built by Jonathan Browning, Carried with Him During the Mormon Exodus, and Purchased from the Browning Family with Documentation

We featured a Jonathan Browning harmonica gun in our previous Premiere Auction (Sept 2015).  It was even the subject of a video on The fascination with the iconic John Moses Browning apparently spread even to the man's father and the curious rifle, estimated between $50,000 - $100,000, found a new home to the tune of $138,000. The rifle appearing in our 2015 December Premiere Auction could earn an even higher amount thanks to a provenance that traces all the way down the Browning family tree to the patriarch himself.

First things first, simply because two of these rifles have been in two consecutive auctions, please do not make the assumption that these guns are common or will be seen again. Firearms expert, author, and icon Norm Flayderman has written that very few of these rifles are known to exist, and are "rarely seen or traded on the open market place."

According to members of the Browning family this particular rifle accompanied Jonathan Browning on his trek from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Utah after the Mormons were violently persecuted and forced to leave the state of Illinois.  After being pushed out of Quincy and Nauvoo, IL, Browning lived in Council Bluffs for a short time and continued his blacksmith and gunsmith trades before finally acquiescing and migrating to Utah in 1852. After violence befell the Mormons, especially founder Joseph Smith, a gunsmith was likely an extremely valuable member of the community, not only for manufacturing arms, but also for repairing those already in the community.

How the rifles came to leave the Browning family is best said in our official description of the rifle.

"The documentation included with the John Moses Browning falling block rifle also in this sale states that gunsmith and firearms collector John Kontes had first seen this rifle and the single shot in the office of a Buick dealership owned by J. Ed Browning, a John M. Browning descendant, after learning of them while shining the man's shoes. He stated that the rifles had been passed down from father to son for generations. When J. Ed Browning died without any children of his own, he gave the rifles to his younger brother who had twin sons: "Ed" and Merwyn. Ed received the harmonica rifle, and Merwin received this deluxe single shot. Kontes purchased this harmonica rifle directly from Ed, and purchased the single shot from his friend who had purchased it directly from Merwyn. A copy of the original check written to "J. E. Browning" for this rifle is included along with a hand written bill of sale signed "J. E. Browning."

The fact that not one, but two guns directly traceable to the Browning family are being offered in a single auction is absolutely unheard of.  In addition, there are also two rare and significant falling block rifles and a deluxe single shot rifle made by his son (lots 8586, & 84, respectively), the heralded John Moses Browning, as well as an additional example of his early single shot rifles, which is serial number 44 and has the initials "JB" carved into the right side of its buttstock (lot 87).

Yet again, Rock Island Auction Company has an auction rife with items that more than qualify to sit behind museum glass for decades or even centuries.  Such items are historical and aesthetic treasures that provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors and investors alike to not just view them, but to actually own them.  The variety of these pieces is also sure to please!  Egyptian sultans, Wild West outlaws, and known participants in the War of 1812 are only the beginning. Add to that outstanding provenances, high condition, and impressive documentation, and you have the makings for supremely desirable items and an edge-of-your-seat auction.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander

1 comment:

  1. If you look at the other old picture of Hardin, the jaw line is also squarer and the distance from mouth to bottom of chin looks shorter.