As usual, shortly after the end of another Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction, the list of prices realized was published and we examined it to find out what lots were the most appealing in collectors’ eyes and were sold at the highest prices. Like any RIAC auction, the December 2019 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction was full of unique pieces of firearms engineering and history many of which were sold for over $100K. Below we’ll present you the list of most expensive lots sold during this auction.
Our list goes in the price ascendancy order with the most expensive lot being the number one and shown at the end of the article. Names of the lots are linked to the corresponding Rock Island Auction catalog pages where you can find more photos and more detailed descriptions of the firearms. This time we have two pairs of lots that were sold at the same price and share the same spot in our top 5 list – that’s why there are two firearms in #5 and #3 positions.
#5 – $149,500
The Gatling gun was a true military technology leap in the second half of the 19th century. In the era where single-shot firearms were the primary service weapon of the infantry, Gatling gun was basically a manually operated machine gun capable of firing as fast as the crank handle can be turned and providing a firepower unseen before.
This particular model 1874 Gatling gun was purchased by the U.S. Army in July of 1874 and it is chambered in then newly adopted .45-70 Government cartridge. The Model 1874 was made with two barrel lengths – 32″ and 18″. This one is the 18″ barreled version which is often called “Camel Gun” because it was mounted on camels in Egypt.
Besides being a fine sample of American firearms history, this particular first-year production Colt Model 1855 sidehammer pocket revolver is also a unique piece of American history in general. It was presented by Samuel Colt himself to Edward Everett, one of the most influential American politicians and orators of the era who among other great achievements and speeches is particularly known as “the other speaker at Gettysburg” thanks to his speech delivered at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg right before Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
This 28 caliber revolver is beautifully engraved by the master engraver Gustave Young. The revolver was presented in a case that also housed its reloading accessories. Since the day this revolver was presented to Edward Everatt, it remained in the Everett family for 164 years and is preserved in virtually new condition.
If you want to learn more about Edward Everett and this presentation Colt, I’d suggest you watching the Rock Island Auction video dedicated to this lot.
#4 – $195,500
Serial number 81 Colt Model 1911 pistol that belonged to an American Army General and is preserved in perfect condition retaining 95% of its original finish. Such extreme rarity, provenance and condition are the ingredients that increase the value of this pistol to almost $200K. This pistol was issued to West Point graduate Adjutant General Lutz Wahl (1869-1928). It remained in the Wahl family and like the previous lot, it is first time auctioned.
These very early 1911s have some design details that were changed shortly after the start of the mass production and distinguish them from more standard later models. Such details include the large font of “United States Property” marking on the frame, the early style of serial number stamping (No. 81), hand checkering on the slide stop and thumb safety, lanyard loop on the magazine, high polish Colt commercial blue finish and niter blue finish of small parts.
To learn more about this pistol and Adjutant General Lutz Wahl, watch the below-embedded video.
#3 – $299,000
Another Colt handgun that belonged to an American general. This time it is a Model 1860 Army 44 caliber percussion revolver that was presented by the Colt factory to West Point graduate Civil War Union General George B. McClellan. And like many other Colt presentation firearms, it is engraved by the renowned master engraver Gustave Young which further increases the value of this firearm. General McClellan was the organizer of the Union Army of the Potomac, the Union leader at the Battle of Antietam, the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1864 elections and the Governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881.
The known mate of this revolver and the case for the pair are kept in the National Collections of the Smithsonian Institution.
Another Colt percussion firearm, also sold for $299,000, is sharing the number three position of our list with General McClellan’s revolver. This, however, is a revolving carbine. Particularly, a Colt Paterson Model 1839 carbine presented in 1942 by Rhode Island governor Samuel Ward King to Orderly Sergeant of Rhode Island Company of Carbineers Henry C. Clark for, as the inscription on the stock plate states, “As a slight memento of the gratitude of the State for services rendered during the late Dorr insurrection“.
Not only this carbine is valuable for the history behind it, but it is also a very rare firearm. Only 950 of Colt Paterson Model 1839 carbines were ever made many of which didn’t survive to our days at all, let alone in such great condition. Interestingly, the Model 1839 carbines have smoothbore barrels.
#2 – $517,500
This richly engraved revolver with ivory grips is a Colt Single Action Army that is virtually identical to those included in the company’s wheel display board of firearms showcased during the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The display board included 18 engraved Colt SAA revolvers. While the 1879 production year of this revolver excludes it from being one of the Centennial display revolvers, it is identical to them. The fact that it is chambered in a British caliber, .455 Eley, and that it was discovered in Europe suggests that this gun was probably part of a traveling display board.
In the video below, Kevin Hogan, President of Rock Island Auction Company, tells about these rare exhibition Colt SAA revolvers.
#1 – $575,500
This engraved and fully gold plated Marlin Model 1897 rimfire rifle was presented by the Marlin Firearms Company to Annie Oakley, one of the most famous American exhibition shooters. As seen on the inscription on the silver stock plate (see the top image of this article) this gun was presented to Annie Oakley in 1903. According to Rock Island Auction Company, this is one of two such Marlin Model 1897 rifles with the second one presented to her in 1906. When this rifle was made (1902), Conrad F. Ulrich Jr. was the engraver of Marlin Firearms before he left for Winchester and most likely he engraved this gun.
Annie has been performing in the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She was nicknamed Little Sure Shot during one of these shows by Lakota Chief Sitting Bull who was amazed by the level of her marksmanship skills. One of the trick shots mostly associated with Annie Oakley is splitting playing cards while standing with your back towards the target, resting the rifle above your shoulder and aiming through a mirror.
And lastly, another Rock Island Auction video for those of you who want to learn more about the story of this rifle and the Little Sure Shot.
And that was the list of the most expensive firearms sold during the December 2019 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction. This time the list exclusively consists of gems of American history. It’s also interesting to note that with the exception of the #1 lot, all the other six firearms in the list are made by Colt.
In total, this auction generated $16 million. Rock Island Auction Company also set a new industry record by selling firearms worth $77 million during a calendar year. By the way, RIAC broke their own record ($77.5 M) set a year ago.
That’s it for this year, folks! This was the last major American auction of 2019. As the 2020 auctions start, we’ll continue our series dedicated to the most interesting, rare and expensive firearms seen and sold in major American auction houses. Thanks for reading and see you next year!