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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt's Hunting Knife

To say that Teddy Roosevelt is a well-known, beloved, and important character in American history is an understatement. Though fame tends to find perspective when one's face has been immortalized with granite in the Badlands of South Dakota. TR was admired across the nation. He had a robust personality, gave profound speeches, lived his beliefs, and changed the face of this country forever with his efforts in wildlife and habitat conservation. Whether leading the legendary Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, embarking on prolific hunting adventures, offering "Square Deals" to his constituents, surviving an assassination attempt on his life, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, or beginning construction of the Panama Canal, the tales of Teddy Roosevelt's life have become part of the fabric of this nation's great history.

Roosevelt in October 1910
It should come as no surprise that a knife once owned by President Roosevelt also has more than a few tales to tell. Its origin begins in 1909 when TR received this national treasure from his good friend New York Supreme Court Justice James W. Gerard. Both men served in the Spanish-American War, but upon leaving the service found opposite ends of the political spectrum. They likely became acquainted in the New York political scene when Roosevelt served as the New York governor for two years and Gerard sat on the Supreme Court bench. The story of the knife's presentation is recalled best in the words of U.S. Marshal Thomas D. McCarthy, whom Justice Gerard had asked present the hunting knife to Roosevelt with the following instructions, 

"'Be sure to get a coin, a penny from the President when you give him the knife,' the Justice told me. 'Remember the old superstition that a gift of that sort cuts friendship unless a small payment is made for it.'

     When I gave Colonel Roosevelt the knife I asked him for the penny. He didn't have one in his pocket, neither did his secretary Mr. Loeb, neither did Senator Chamberlain who was present. So I volunteered: 'Here, Mr. President. I'll lend you a cent.' He took it and put it in his vest pocket.

     After ten minutes of conversation during which time he gave me an autographed photograph for myself and a book for my father who always admired him, the President suddenly reached into his pocket, withdrew the coin and said: 'Mr. McCarthy, it gives me great pleasure to hand you in return for Judge Gerard's gift this one cent coin.' Ever since then I have prized the photograph and the book Mr. Roosevelt gave me is one of the most cherished possessions of my father. And I always have been proud of the fact that a President of the United States owed me a penny."

The knife was considered an extremely lavish gift and wore a 1909 price tag of $1,250, about $33,266 in 2016 dollars. It was such a send off to the nation's youngest president, that it warranted national news coverage. In Rock Island, Illinois, the city's newspaper at that time was the Rock Island Argus. On Thursday, March 10, 1909 they printed at article on the sixth page entitled, "Fine Knife for Roosevelt."  It reads as follows:

"Gem Studded Hunting Weapon Presented to Ex-President by a Friend.

One of the handsomest of the presents that have been pouring in upon former President Roosevelt from friends in every part of the United States who have wished to give him some token of their friendship to carry with him on his African hunting trip is a hunting knife given him by Justice James W. Gerard of the supreme bench of New York city, who is an old friend of the ex-president. The weapon is a masterpiece of jeweler's workmanship, the hilt being wrought in gold and platinum and ornamented with jewels. The top of the handle is carved in the shape of an eagle's head of solid gold. The eagle's eyes are garnets.

On one side of the hilt beneath the eagle's head is depicted a forest scene, with two American Indians behind a birch tree, one of them standing, rifle in hand, the other crouching. The tree is done in gold upon a platinum background. On the reverse side is set the arms of the United States, surmounting a wishbone and intertwining tree boughs in gold. Below is the monogram 'T.R.' The background on this side is also of platinum. Two bears' heads extending out from the handle form the guard at the base of the blade, which is of the finest steel and engraved as follows: 'Presented to Theodore Roosevelt by His Friend, James W. Gerard.' The knife is nearly a foot long and is said to have cost $1,250."

One item of note not covered in the Argus article is that of the knife's creator. That honor belongs to two separate companies: J. Russell and Co. of Green River, New York whose stamp is on the blade, and Dreicer & Co., whose name is printed on the handle's edge. It should be of significant note to collectors that Dreicer & Co, despite being in business only from 1904 - 1923, were a top jewelry retailer and a direct rival to such well-known names as Fabergé. With the split of duties for the blade and the highly ornamented handle, it is unknown which shop performed the acid etched inscription.
The knife has been passed down through the Roosevelt family for the last 107 years. It has never been made available to the public prior to this sale. When Theodore died in 1919, the knife went to his second wife, Edith (his first wife, Alice, passed in 1884). Edith in turn bequeathed the knife to her eldest daughter Ethel Roosevelt Derby. Mrs. Derby intended to present the knife as a wedding gift to her granddaughter in 1976. To secure the knife during her cross-country travels from Oyster Bay to Seattle, Mrs. Derby kept the knife in her purse. However, this was cause for alarm at the security checkpoint in John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York City. Upon seeing this incredible knife and hearing its story, security allowed the knife to be transported by the pilot in the cockpit for the duration of the flight. Upon landing, it was returned to Mrs. Derby who presented the knife to the couple several days later at their wedding. Thrilled with such a historic and beautiful gift rife with family history, the couple immediately used it to cut their wedding cake.

The stories this knife can tell after scant more than a century are enough to endear it to the heart of any collector or history enthusiast. Even without the tales that have truly given this item a personality all its own, its provenance alone elevates its status to that of National Treasure.  A hunting knife given to arguably the greatest conservationist and one of the most well-known hunters of the 20th century? What could be more perfect representation? Rock Island Auction Company is honored to present this perfect slice of American history to the public for the first time in its existence, and cannot wait to hear of the new adventures in which it partakes.

- Written by Joel R. Kolander


"Fine Knife for Roosevelt." Rock Island Argus 11 Mar. 1909: 6. Print.

Herbert, Thomas. Theodore Roosevelt: Typical American, His Life and Work. United States: L.H. Walter, 1919. 341-42. Print.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Guns of the Great Shooters from Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Reunions with old friends can be a time filled with nostalgia, laughs, and more than a few old yarns to tell. In our business, the phrase, "if this old gun could talk," is a desire commonly expressed. Firearms with rich histories find their way through our doors on a regular basis, and I've had questions on more than one occasion that I would've like to have posed to one or two of them as they passed through our hallways as part of their grand journey. The grouping of items in this article is no exception. The reunion of these trusty arms would undoubtedly result in a whirlwind of stories, knowing nods, and a list of accomplishments that require no exaggeration in their retelling. These arms all have ties to members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and even the ol' scout himself, William F. Cody. Their backgrounds are as varied as the people they belong to, but time and circumstance have brought them back together at Rock Island Auction Company's 2016 September Premiere Firearms Auction for one last reunion. If only they could talk.

Buffalo Bill

Lot 1036: Historic and Well Documented John Ulrich Signed Factory Engraved Deluxe Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Short Rifle with Factory Exhibition Special Order Finish and Features Presented by Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) to Robbie Campbell Adams Twelve Year Old Son of Wild West Show Pamphlets Publisher for the Wild West Shows Performance at Madison Square Garden

In this case, the headline for our item is so long it almost tells the story itself. Medal of Honor recipient William F. Cody began his own wild west show in 1883, which toured annually in the United States and Europe. He had already earned a solid reputation as a prolific bison hunter, as well as a scout and Indian fighter in the Army, and his reputation continued to grow. However, it was an encounter with author Captain Edward Zane Carroll Judson that began Buffalo Bill's road to stardom. Capt. Judson often wrote under many pseudonyms, but his best known was Ned Buntline. It was a combination of Buntline's dime novels about Buffalo Bill's adventures, as well as Cody's proficiency he displayed in front of top men, such as General Sheridan, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, and New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, that resulted his star's continued rise.

In that first year, Buffalo Bill's Wild West was such a popular attraction that it was able to take its act indoors to the first iteration of Madison Square Garden, built in 1879. It had no roof since P.T. Barnum converted it into an open-air "Great Roman Hippodrome" in 1873. It was a large oval-shaped arena where he presented circuses (naturally) and other forms of entertainment and performance. It was a fantastic space that traded hands several times, and each owner had a new vision for what the space should offer: events catering to high brow clientele, illegal boxing matches, indoor track and field, dog shows, concerts, religious revivals, and one of the first indoor ice rinks in the nation. Most importantly, people knew of the venue and its attractions. The boxing matches had long drawn crowds over the venue's capacity, and an elephant purchased by P.T. Barnum from the London Zoo in 1881 readily drew enough onlookers to earn back its purchase price of $10,000. So when Buffalo Bill took his show there in 1883, he had no trouble finding crowds willing to fill its seats. Having names such as James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, Buck Taylor, Captain Adam Bogartus, Doc Carver, and Texas Jack Omohundro on his payroll couldn't hurt either. it was a time of transition for Buffalo Bill from small exhibitions and reenactment performer to an arena-filling showman and master entertainer.

He no doubt gave partial credit for the fine attendance to the man producing the publicity pamphlets for his shows at Madison Square Garden. This same man was also a partner in the Beadle and Adams publishing house, well known for producing the "yellow-back" dime novels of the day. Not to be confused with the publisher Street & Smith, also located in New York, that had published "The Buffalo Bill Stories" which led to a large part of his fame. To thank Mr. Adams for his support in several areas, Buffalo Bill presented this Winchester Model 1873 to his son 12-year old Robbie Campbell Adams. Rock Island Auction President Kevin Hogan says it best, "This is akin to receiving Michael Jordan's sneakers." It was a prized gift from one of the finest performers of the day.

The gun is a remarkable presentation grade gun with a grocery list of special order features:

- Gold plated frame, tip, and buttplate
- Nickel finish
- Ulrich engraved
- checkered, fancy walnut stocks
- short rifle
- shotgun butt
- pistol grip

On the right side of the frame is a panel scene depicting a hunter peering out from behind a tree to shoot a bull elk. The left side also bears masterfully done floral scrollwork along with the inscription that reads, "Presented by Buffalo Bill (W. F. Cody) to Robbie Campbell Adams ~1883~"

Besides being lavished with presentation grade features, the gun was clearly chosen for the boy to be able to use it if he so chose.  It's a short rifle for easier handling by a lad, it is chambered in the relatively mild yet still effective 32 WCF, and the 22-inch barrel would also not have been unwieldy for a 12-year old. Obviously, the gun never saw the typical boyhood use and it remains in very fine condition.

This remarkable rifle's provenance is extensively documented, as it has been in the public eye for quite some time, appearing in numerous books and magazines. Rock Island Auction Company is proud to offer this rifle to the public, taking this oft dreamt-about gun and making the possibility of owning it a reality.

Frank Butler and Annie Oakley

Lot 1770: Documented Historic Factory Engraved Remington Model 12-B Gallery Special Model Slide Action Rifle Sold to Frank Butler Husband of Famed Exhibition Shooter Annie Oakley

Phoebe Ann Moses, better known as Annie Oakley, is a woman that needs no introduction to most Americans, let alone those interested in shooting. However, much fewer folks know about her husband, Frank Butler, or the story of how they met. First things first, there is much debate over the exact significant dates of the young couple. That in mind, precise dates will be avoided as much as possible in an effort to stick to the story.

Frank Butler was a dog trainer and exhibition shooter who, like many others, toured the country taking on challengers in shooting competitions for money, bragging rights, and an increase in reputation. On one of those trips he placed a $100 wager with Jack Frost (yes, that's his real name) who owned a Cincinnati hotel. Butler stated that he could best any local who dared to challenge him. When a challenger was found and the match was set, imagine Butler's surprise when out from the crowd walked a young lady. "The last thing Butler expected was a five-foot-tall... girl named Annie," recalled Frost. As was customary at the time, they would shoot live birds, and both sides agreed to a best-of-25 contest. Frank Butler lost that contest by a single bird, but both lives would be changed forever. Frank had fallen for the then-shy young lady, while Annie seemed more interested in his French poodle named George. Frank courted Annie by sending her postcards and letters signed by George. The two would be wed within a year.

It was 1885 when Annie Oakley and her husband, Mr. Frank Butler, became part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Annie's stature earned her the nickname "Little Sure Shot" in  Cody's publicity flyers and ads, a name given to her by Lakota leader Sitting Bull, himself a participant in the early years of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. There is no need to recount her numerous feats and popularity. However, she is an intriguing personality, known for fierce independence, an advocate for suffrage (as was William Cody), as well as a kind heart, a gentle word, a strong desire to maintain her sterling reputation, and to always portray herself as a lady despite her involvement in what was then a very masculine sport.

The first time Annie and Frank tried to settle down was in 1901, an attempt to alleviate Annie's terrible back pain suffered during a train accident, but such joie de vivre could not be tamed for long. Defeating an early diagnosis of paralysis after five spinal operations, Annie left the Buffalo Bill show in 1902 and began a less travel-intensive career in stage acting. She would return again to another show in 1911, "The Young Buffalo Show," while consecutively serving as a representative for Union Metallic Cartridge Co. Annie never lost a step as she aged, with one reporter quoted as saying, "Annie Oakley looks as though she had discovered the secret that Ponce De Leon sought so long in vain...She is as bright and alert, as when I saw her a slip of a girl with long braids 25 years ago when I was a kid." However, it didn't last long and the couple "retired" once again in 1912, even though Annie toured sporadically with another show.

For the most part, the Butlers were finished with life as performers (until Annie attempted a comeback in 1922). Perhaps as a retirement gift for his wife, Frank purchased this Remington Model 12-B on February 28, 1912. Designed by J.D. Pedersen, the model had been introduced three years prior and Annie would have already been familiar with it. Later she became quite prolific with the model using it to shoot apples off of the head of their beloved dog, Dave, and another Model 12 of Annie's (SN 600125) still resides in the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

The example in Cody, while in excellent condition, is relatively plain compared to the Model 12-B currently offered by Rock Island Auction Company. The example purchased by Frank Butler has a highly grained, fancy stock, checkered forearm, half octagon-half round barrel, a folding peep sight, and is finely factory engraved with panel scenes of rabbits and squirrels.

The rifle may have been a perfect retirement gift for Annie, but it didn't help her desire to settle down. Annie often gave pointers on shooting to those around her, be it at trapshooting tournaments, impromptu exhibitions, or even fellow guests at the Caroline Hotel of Pinehurst, NC. "The lessons [at the hotel] began by accident when the shooting star had overheard a wealthy New Yorker comment to another in the hotel's ballroom, 'My, how I wish I were a man so that I could shoot.' Oakley replied, 'Your sex does not prevent you from learning to shoot.'"  It is documented in numerous sources that her skills had not faded in the slightest even into her fifties and sixties. In 1922, in a shooting contest in Pinehurst, the 62-year old hit 100 clays in a row at 16 yards. Unfortunately, her sixties was as long as Annie would live. She passed on November 3, 1926, at the age of 66, of what the doctor termed "pernicious anemia." Frank Butler went into intense mourning and refused to eat. He followed Annie in death 18 days later.

This is not only an incredible rifle with numerous special order features, but it remains an incredible piece of memorabilia tied to arguably the greatest American exhibition shooter from the sport's Golden Age. Opportunities like this may never arise again, and any collector or museum would be extremely fortunate to acquire this little rifle.

Buck Taylor

This remarkable Colt Single Auction Army owned by Buck Taylor, the true "King of the Cowboys" has already been covered in depth in a previous article. If you'd like to find out more about this incredible cowpuncher, his history with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and how the important provenance of this beautiful revolver was almost lost forever to history, please read our story "Buck Taylor: The True King of the Cowboys."

Memorabilia of William F. Cody

There is also a fascinating lot in this auction that contains two items with intimate ties to Buffalo Bill.  Frankly, with all the items shown above, also with ties to the man, it could not have arrived at a better time. These items were consigned to us by someone who purchased them from an estate sale 25 years ago. The sale was being held by the niece of a man who had worked for Cody in Wheaton, Illinois. With the birthplace of Buffalo Bill a short drive away from Rock Island Auction Company, it is not surprising to hear of artifacts of the man in nearby areas. The first item is a briefcase with his name clearly printed on the closing flap. It is likely no coincidence at all that the case is designed to resemble a saddle bag. The second item is a tri-fold mirror that, according to its inscription, was a Christmas gift from Cody to "my darling wife Louisa."

Both items are a simple reminder of the wonderfully ordinary life of a man more known for his spectacle, crowds, and showmanship. They would be welcome in any accomplished collection of the man or his storied show.

These marvelous items revolving around the America legend that is Buffalo Bill's Wild West, are only the beginning of the historic and presentation grade items available in the 2016 September Premiere Firearms Auction. With items from celebrated figures such as President Teddy Roosevelt, to infamous Nazi leaders, the selection has never been better. Two juggernaut groupings among several other accomplished collections lead the way, but they are accompanied by hundreds of single gun consignments from around the country. They all combine to make a sale that collectors will be talking about for years to come. Visit today to browse the items and see for yourself.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Sorg, Eric V. "Annie Oakley." Wild West Feb. 2001: n. pag. Web.