Continuing our series of articles dedicated to the most valuable firearms consigned to major American auctions, today we’ll take a look at the top 5 most expensive lots sold during the June 2020 Rock Island Premier Gun Auction. This auction took place from June 4th to 7th and as usual, shortly after it ended, Rock Island Auction Company published the results in the auction’s online catalog as well as in a form of a downloadable list of prices realized which were the sources for writing this article.
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.
#5 – $207,000
This is the Serial Number 2 prototype Colt Model 1910 pistol, a well-documented rare specimen that is an extremely important link in the 1911 development history. Representing the evolution of Model 1909, this pistol first incorporated some significant design changes that were later adopted in the 1911 and became features that today we consider standard on 1911-pattern pistols. Such design improvements included the more pronounced grip angle, internal extractor, one-piece sear/trigger/grip safety spring, square grip heel, enlarged ejection port, lower bore axis, etc.
After another stage of the US Army pistol trials, this pistol was further improved with some final changes, and after successfully passing the final endurance testing, eventually was adopted as the M1911, America’s new pistol that was destined to become a classic. Very few Model 1910 pistols were ever made (presumably no more than a dozen) and even less (likely less than half a dozen) survive to our days.
#4 – $345,000
Firearms made in Colt’s Paterson, New Jersey factory are rare guns on their own. However, what makes this .52 caliber Colt Paterson Model 1839 carbine even more desirable is that it’s the only Model 1839 known to exist that is equipped with a cavalry sling bar: a small design detail that, however, makes this gun one of a kind. The sling bar is mounted on the left side of the stock wrist.
Why exactly it was equipped with a sling bar is unknown. In the description of the lot, Rock Island Auction Company suggests the following theory: “We feel very strongly that this carbine, No. 766 was manufactured in March of 1841 as the “prototype of the military pattern” to be submitted to the ordinance department.”
Lastly, what also contributes to the value of this firearm is its condition. Most of the parts of this 180-year old gun are well preserved with some of them being like new. For example, the cylinder retains 95% of the original blue finish and 100% of the engravings.
#3 – $431,250
A gun that saved Colt from bankruptcy, a gun that was issued to the Texas Rangers, a gun that was made in a quantity of only 1000 government and 100 civilian samples – rarity and historical significance come with any Colt Walker revolver, no wonder why if one is consigned to an auction, it almost guaranteed makes into our top 5 lists.
Ordered by the Texas Ranger Captain Samuel H. Walker, these revolvers were issued in pairs to the personnel of Mounted Texas Rifle Regiment. Companies A, B, C and D received 110 pairs of revolvers each, and Company E was issued 120 revolvers – a total of 1000 revolvers. This particular one is the A Company’s number 50. Most of the Colt Walker revolvers were used in the Mexican War and very few of them survive until our days. Besides being a piece of American history, this revolver has also been a family heirloom of the Texan Darst family who played a significant role in the history of the Lone Star State.
#2 – $488,750
A Smith & Wesson lever-action rifle? Yes, they do exist! These rifles were made in very small numbers which makes them extremely rare and highly sought after firearms. It’s believed that less than ten Smith & Wesson lever-action rifles were ever made and only three of them are known to exist. Another sample of this rifle is kept in Cody Firearms Museum.
As mentioned in the “Volcanic Firearms” book by Edmund Lewis and Stephen Rutter, this rifle was manufactured circa 1854-1855. It was made in the first Smith & Wesson company that was founded in 1854 and produced lever-action pistols before it was reorganized and renamed to Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1855.
This rifle lacks any markings and was likely an exhibition firearm not intended for sale. Unlike S&W lever-action pistols and Volcanic rifles and pistols that used caseless ammunition, this Smith & Wesson lever-action rifle was designed to fire a 41 caliber self-contained metallic cartridge that, however, remained a prototype and was never mass produced.
#1 – $575,000
This richly gold-mounted pair of French flintlock pistols was made in the early 19th century in the state arms factory at Versailles under the direction of luxury gunsmith Nicholas-Noel Boutet who was a gunmaker to King Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1808 it was presented to French naval officer Cesar-Joseph Bourayne by merchants of Isle de France (Mauritius) as gratitude for defeating the British H.M.S. Laurel that was blocking the island.
The pistols are literally covered with gold inlaid and engraved embellishments. The engravings include Bourayne’s coat of arms, lightning motifs symbolizing Jupiter and a variety of marine motifs including the mask of Neptune on the pommel caps.
Bourayne started his naval career at the age of 13. Interestingly, he took part in the American Revolution onboard the ship Auguste and was present in many naval battles, particularly, Battle of Fort Royal, Battle of the Chesapeake, Battle of Yorktown, Battle of St. Kitts and Battle of the Saintes. During his career, he was promoted to the rank of Contre-Admiral and elevated to “Baron de l’Empire” in 1811 by Napoleon.
As mentioned by the Rock Island Auction Company, “These pistols were last offered for sale publicly by Christie’s on Wednesday, December 18th, 1974 as property of the Bourayne family where they realized £32,400.”
Overall, the June 2020 Rock Island Premier Auction was very successful generating $21,135,447 and setting a new industry record becoming, in RIAC’s own words, “the highest grossing firearms auction in history“. With a combined realized prices of $2,047,000, the firearms in our top 5 most expensive lots list make roughly the 10% of all sales.