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Monday, April 29, 2013

Beware of Dog

Here's a confession for you: today's article isn't even about a weapon that Rock Island Auction Company is putting up for bid.  However, it is an item that is being put up for bid by the NRA-ILA.  For any of you that have attended a recent auction at RIAC, you've heard Pat Hogan, the owner, talk about donating to NRA-ILA.  The "ILA" after the NRA stands for Institute for Legislative Action.  It is this branch of the NRA that is largely responsible for defending "the right of individuals to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

Friday May 3, 2013 will mark the seventh time that the NRA-ILA has hosted their Dinner Auction.  They will receive donated items from Remington/Dakota Arms, Midway USA, FNH, Smith & Wesson, Frontera Wingshooting, Shikar Safaris, Barrett, our neighbors ArmaLite & Les Baer, numerous other firearms related companies, and of course, the Rock Island Auction Company.  Having seen the list of assembled items, it can be safely said that they are some of the most beautiful, high-end, and luxurious firearms, knives, and trips that any hunter could dare to fantasize about in their blind, lodge, or stand.

One that I want to focus on today is the Factory Engraved, Serial #1, Colt "Second Generation" Model 1877 "Bulldog" Gatling battery gun.

Look at all that 19th Century American goodness!  Colt has outdone themselves yet again with another firearm that is truly a work of art.  This blending of wood and metal would be just as at home in a museum as it would an art gallery.  In fact, Colt grades this Gatling gun as "museum quality" and includes the beautiful brass & iron tripod, walnut stained hard wood carriage, striking brass barrel cover, and deluxe transit chests, tools, & accessories.  It is said that you could take any part out of the reproduction and put it in a functioning original, though I could not find a place where Colt verifies that claim.

Interchangeability aside, the reproduction is the original size, fully operational, and can throw pound after pound of 45-70 government caliber lead down range with its five fully brass enclosed, direct drive barrels.  In fact, it does just that at a rate of 800-1,000 rounds per minute.  A huge advantage of the Gatling gun during its hey day, is that even inexperienced operators could lay down that massive amount of firepower with minimal training.  Only seventeen of the original machines were made bearing the serial numbers 190 and 203 - 218, making it one of the rarest and most sought after of all the Gatling guns.  It features V-notch rear sights graduated out to an ambitious 1,000 yards and has a bolt for each barrel, which are numbered to match.

Original plaque on 1877 Bulldog

Plaque on the Reproduction Colt Bulldog

This particular model of Gatling gun already has a grocery list of characteristics that make it supremely collectable:  its aesthetics, its scarce production numbers, its innovations, its noble beginnings, and its appearance between large American wars.  What you haven't heard yet are some of the features of this specific reproduction model that set it apart and is sure to have bidders' paddles waving frantically.

First and foremost, this gun will have the Second Amendment factory engraved on its brass casing by none other than Colt Master Engraver George B. Spring III.  Mr. Spring has a career with Colt spanning back to 1975.  With numerous commissions to his name and a style all his own, Spring's masterpieces have been published many times and featured at dozens of events.  To have an item residing in your collection created by this Master craftsman is quite an honor.

George Spring III hard at work.
The second aspect that makes this gun even more special and collectable is that only 50 of the limited edition "second generation" were made.  Colt decided to reproduce this particular model because it had the lowest manufactured number of any of their Gatling guns.  Not only are the originals limited, but even the reproductions are far and few between!  The engraving alone makes it truly a one-of-a-kind item, but this is the first of the second generation models.  That's right, folks.  That means it's Serial No. 1!  This gun exemplifies a list of "What to Collect" all on its own.  What more could you ask for?

Weapon History
Of the 17 of these machines that were purchased by the U.S. Government, all were sent out west for various assignments mostly accompanying Army garrisons.  Gatling guns, by and large, saw extremely limited use at the end of the Civil War and were not decisive in any engagements against Native Americans.  By 1911, the U.S. Army had declared them obsolete after 45 years of service, thus eliminating them from participating in The Great War.  This leaves the Gatling gun virtually unheralded in history, despite the grand ambitions of its inventor, Dr. Richard Gatling, which are widely quoted from an 1877 letter to the widow of Samuel Colt,

“It may be interesting to you to know how I came to invent the gun which bears my name. I will tell you: In 1861, during the opening events of the war…I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick, and dead. The most of the latter lost their lives not in battle but by sickness and exposure incident to the service. It occurred to me if I could invent a machine—a gun—which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished.”

This obsolescence was made even further insulting when many Gatling guns were melted down for scrap during The Great War.  By then true machine guns had been developed and the M1895 "Potato Digger" machine gun had been adopted by the U.S. Military.

Thankfully for Gatling, his marketing efforts overseas proved more fruitful than those conducted stateside.  Most notably was Gatling's presentation of the machine at the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition.  He brought both a 1 inch and .50 caliber model, which caught the attention of Napoleon III.  The Emperor was himself a former artillery officer and had a natural fascination with the device, returning several times to inspect it.  Though it was perhaps at the urging of the beautiful Empress Eugenie, who enjoyed turning the crank to produce its trademark clatter, that Napoleon requested a demonstration of the device.  Gatling must have felt that the Bulldog performed admirably enough to have earned the following notes in Gatling's January 10, 1868 note to General William B. Franklin, even if history does not remember it quite so kindly due to the lack of reliable, uniform cartridges.

"...All trials here, have been a success so far & after a few private trials are mate - at which the Emperor has promised to be present - I hope a respectable order for the guns will be given... All Europe is arming & if France gives an order (as I feel confident she will) they will... want the guns in as short a time as possible.  - I have had an interview... with the Chirg of Ordnance 7 the Secretary of War & Genl Fave, & prospects seems to bid fair for getting an order soon..."

The original 1877 Bulldog as appearing in the book
The Art of the Gun:  Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collction

The Bulldog broke a lot of ground regarding Gatling gun design.  It was the first Gatling gun to have 5 barrels, whereas both earlier and later models would feature more.  It was also the first model to allow the operator to crank in an opposite direction of firing in order to clear a jam; previous guns would need their rear portions disassembled to accomplish the same task.  In a battlefield scenario, this benefit would be immeasurable.  It was the first to feature the barrels enclosed in a receiver.  Finally, it was the first to move the crank firing mechanism from the side to the rear; this eliminated the gear train and increased the rate of fire by about 30%.

Thankfully, even though Gatling's gun never truly enjoyed military success, it is unlikely to be forgotten from the annals of American history.  It has seen several reincarnations in numerous combat scenarios.  The earliest is arguably the M61 Vulcan cannon that saw development ironically, just after World War II.  It was a notable improvement, capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute.  Decades later in North Vietnam the Vietnamese nicknamed the AC-47 airplanes "dragons" due to the fire and smoke they spit out courtesy of the 7.62mm M134 miniguns that were mounted to it.  These were capable of firing 2,000-4,000 rounds per minute; not bad considering that they weren't the primary weapon of a fighter jet like the Vulcan.  Though the M134 minigun can stake its claim to fame as being wielded by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as the T-101 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  The AC-47's current day variant is the AC-130 - an even meaner version than its predecessor.  The most modern of Gatling-style guns are some of the military's most impressive weapons.  The first such example is mounted on the A-10 Thunderbolt II or "Warthog."  It is officially known as the GAU-8/A Avenger cannon. It is a seven-barrel, 30mm behemoth with a ammunition cache larger than a Volkswagon Beetle.  It is commonly used against ground targets and has earned the Warthog the additional, self-explanatory nickname of "Tankbuster".  The second of its modern uses, is that of the Phalanx Close in Weapons System (CIWS).  Mounted on all classes of  modern U.S. combat ships, this automated Gatling-style gun detects missiles and other threats and then destroys them with a thundering volley of tungsten or depleted uranium rounds fired at a rate of 4,500 rpm.  A land-based system is also available to detect and destroy incoming mortar or rocket fire.  It would have been impossible for Gatling to see how powerful and how recognizable his device has become in the 150+ years since its inception.

This angle makes it easy to see the Bruce-style feed system for loading ammunition
via the vertical magazines.

This phenomenal Colt Gatling gun is just one of the dozens of gorgeous, luxurious, and collectable items being auctioned off by the NRA-ILA on Friday May 3, 2013 at the 2013 NRA National Convention.  This revolutionary weapon (pun not intended), is immaculate in appearance, rare, engraved by a Master, is Serial No. 1, and is the second generation of the "white whale" of Gatling gun collectors.  If you're a bidder, best of luck to you on this fabulous machine!

If you have any questions on the items or absentee bidding, please email Mike Benecke at or write to the email listed below by the NRA-ILA.

The NRA Convention website has this to say about the auction:
"The Seventh Annual NRA-ILA Dinner and Auction will be held on Friday, May 3, 2013. This year's venue is The Bell Tower on 34th located at 901 W. 34th Street in Houston, TX. The Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) plays a critical role in determining the future of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage. As you know, we face great challenges in 2013. NRA-ILA's ability to fight successfully for the rights of America's law-abiding gun owners directly reflects your support. All auction items are provided by generous industry partners and supporters, and proceeds from the auction support NRA-ILA's legislative, legal and political efforts. Please email with questions."

Picture courtesy of the NRA Auction Items Catalog.


Lee, Robert M., and R. L. Wilson. The Art of the Gun: Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection. Special First ed. Sparks, NV: Yellowstone Press, 2011. Print.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Historic Spurs!

Click here for lot details.
When you speak of the American West certain names seem to keep coming up:  Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, "Wild Bill" Hickok, Annie Oakley, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and of course, the Outlaw Jesse James.  The history of Jesse James is a clouded one.  Some folks call him "America's own Robin Hood," while others think of him as nothing more than a bank robber and cold-blooded murderer.  In either case, he is a fascinating character in the early history of our young nation.  Our April 2013 Premiere Auction will be offering no less than the spurs attributed to this American legend!  The items have a rock-solid documentation extending through two United States Congressmen and all the way back to the Outlaw's own progeny!  First, a little history to help separate man and myth.

Early Life
Born in 1847 in the state of Missouri, Jesse James was a product of the Antebellum Era of the United States.  It was a hostile time between North and South as legislation and talk of slavery was already beginning to tear the country asunder.  Soon enough, secession was declared by several states and the Civil War began.  The Jameses, having over half their family's wealth in slaves, was unabashedly supportive of the Confederacy.  However, in a border state like Missouri, this was often easier said than done.  Missouri's populace was largely supportive of the Confederacy, but it was taken and occupied early on by the Union.  This led to many southern sympathizes resorting to guerrilla-style fighting against the Union.  Of course, the Union didn't take too kindly to that and things spiraled quickly.  Suspected Rebels and their associates were often lynched, shot, had their homes burned, or were simply kicked off their own land.  Union loyalists were shot while they worked their fields or in their own homes.  It was in this "eye-for-an-eye" environment that Jesse James spent some of his most formative years.  The Civil War was a bitter and very personal event for the Jameses.  He was only 13 when the Civil War began and learned much in the arts violence and depravity from these guerrilla fighters or bushwhackers.  The brutal massacres, inhuman mutilations, and merciless killings that young Jesse James would have witnessed would forever alter his life.

An Outlaw is Born
After the Confederates lost the Civil War, many bushwhackers continued their terrorizing by robbing banks and other disruptive acts as a way to protest the new Republican government.  It was in this time, December 1869 to be precise, that Jesse James first found his notoriety.  In an attempt to avenge the killing of local guerrilla leader "Bloody Bill" Anderson by Samuel P. Cox, Jesse mistakenly identified a local banker, John W. Sheets, as Cox and shot him dead.  Despite Jesse's earlier involvement in some of the most infamous guerrilla massacres during the Civil War, this botched vengeance killing is what would first earn him a bit of newspaper fame, the title of "outlaw," and a bounty for his capture offered by no one less than the governor of Missouri.

From this point on Jesse James and his gang, known as the "James-Younger Gang," would go on to rob banks, stage coaches, payroll offices, and trains in a brash style that defined the gang.  Most robberies took place in broad daylight, involved murder, and were generally reckless.  It was early on in his turn to crime that Jesse was befriended by editor and founder of the Kansas City Times, John Newman Edwards.  Edwards, a former Confederate soldier himself, made no secret of trying to revitalize the politics of the Democrat party.  He appreciated Jesse James acts no doubt, but also saw him as a symbol for the South that was still fighting to right itself against a hostile North even after the War had ended.  It was this appreciation that led to much press about Jesse James, some even penned by James himself with Edwards' assistance.  Much of it plead Jesse James as innocent, but much of the column space was also dedicated to Rebel-sympathetic rhetoric of a victimized southern man robbing the radical Union banks and greedy corporate railroads that were ruining the lives of hard working Midwestern farmers.

It's not hard to see James becoming a folk hero through these articles.  There were tales of him being polite, handsome, well-groomed, religious, saving widows from foreclosure, and showing kindness to women, children, & animals alike.  Historically, the only evidence supporting any of these claims is that James' later robberies of trains only took money from the safe on-board the train and not the passengers.  However, any "Robin Hood" type claims are fanciful at best, as there is no evidence to show that the James-Younger gang gave their money to anybody's cause but their own.  

The spurs that you see below are attributed to Jesse James himself. They are both made of stamped steel with their chain studs on each side near the front.  They were originally part of a collection of Mr. Harry Hawes, a United States Senator of Missouri who had the spurs certified as legitimate by none other than the son of Jesse James himself, Jesse Edwards James!  From Senator Hawes' collection, the spurs were then procured by Alabama Congressman Frank W. Boykin, and eventually passed on to his son Richard Boykin, Sr.  The pedigree of these spurs is well documented and much of the rest of Senator Boykin's collection currently resides in the Mobile Downton Museum!

To own these spurs is to own a little piece of Americana.  It's the same reason that companies that make football and baseball trading cards with little pieces of game worn jersey inside of them.  We all seek to own a piece of history, a unique moment in time that connects us with great people or places.  We all want to be closer to someone or something that we admire.  We want to show our admiration by becoming knowledgeable on the subject, conversing with others who appreciate what we do, and by possessing something, however small, to truly make that admired subject part of our own lives.  These spurs not only put a piece of American history in your collection, but also bring with them a rarity that few people could hope to match.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vive la France!

Oh, the French.  Our relationship with them this past decade or so hasn't exactly been cozy (Sarkozy?).  Historically, however, our two nations have a strong friendship and alliance extending all the way back to our nation's infancy.  Let me refresh your memory in case your early American history is a little hazy.

- They supplied and fought with us in the Revolutionary War, helping to birth our country.
- They sold us the Louisiana Territory, effectively doubling our country's size.
- They gave us the Statue of Liberty in 1884, one of our nation's greatest symbols.
- They were an ally in The Great War, a.k.a. World War I.
- Were an ally again in World War II
- They placed troops in our control during the 1991 Iraq Gulf War.

How's that for a list?  And those are the just the things that France has done for us as a nation.  They've also shown our country volumes in the way of the painting, writing, wine, film, and cuisine.  Today's post is for one more thing they've sent our way, or rather, a pair of things.  Though to call them "things" seems a grave insult.  They are stately, elegant, and one of the most beautifully understated pairs of dueling revolvers to ever come out of 19th century Paris.

It seems that any number of photos is inadequate to capture every remarkable detail, but I shall do my best.

Try and claim that this is not stunning!

You are feasting your eyes on two Gosset Underhammer Percussion Dueling Pistols, Lot #1182 in our April 2013 Premiere Auction.  They were made by none other than the revered Parisian gunsmith Louis-Marin Gosset sometime between the years 1820 - 1825.  Gosset worked from 1793 - 1813 as an assistant to Nicholas-Noël Boutet, who was the armorer to the Crown, "arquebusier ordinair du Roi" for Louis XVI, and also made weapons for Napoleon I.  Gosset's tutelage and skill were obtained directly from what many consider to be the pinnacle of French gunmaking.  Every square inch of these guns is saturated with exquisite craftsmanship.  In this case a picture truly is worth a thousand words, so I shall let the pistols speak for themselves.  Please click the photos for larger images.

These pistols showcase the following features:

Gorgeous coloring from the carved walnut grips to the case hardened barrels, hammers, and trigger guards.

Phenomenal gold inlays, which also label the pistols "1" & "2"

Gold front and rear sights and octagonal, rifled barrels.

Stallion heads are engraved on to each gun's trigger guard.
This image gives an idea of how wonderfully small these detailed engravings truly are.

Whether or not this particular genre of firearms is your specialty, its aesthetics are undeniable.  These are the timeless works of a master craftsman and would be a jewel in any collection.  Even the case is handsomely crafted out of mahogany, is French fitted, features a German silver plate on its lid, and a brilliant green baize lining.

Auction Description

Lot# 1182: Magnificent Cased Pair of French Engraved Gold Inlaid Underhammer Percussion Pistols by Gosset -A) Gosset Underhammer Percussion Pistol
Deluxe cased pair of percussion pistols manufactured by the premier Paris gunmaker Louis-Marin Gosset c. 1820-1825. The pistols have distinctive underhammer actions with octagon poly-groove rifled barrels with swamped muzzles. The pistols have spur trigger guards and carved flattened European walnut grips with oval pommels. The barrels, hammers and trigger guards are casehardened. The barrels have gold fore-sights and back-sights. Each barrel is gold inlaid with two bands, foliate designs and the numbers "1" or "2" at the breech. "Invention Gosset" followed by a floral spray is inlaid in gold on the top flat of each barrel. Each barrel tang is gold-inlaid with the number "1" or "2" ahead of the back-sight and inlaid with "GOSSET/A PARIS" in gold oval behind the sight. The iron forearms, hammers, spur trigger guards, receivers and barrel tangs are covered with delicate relief-engraved floral designs. A small oval panel on the forearm of pistol "1" is engraved with a detailed bear head. Pistol "2" is engraved with a lion head in the same position. A stallion's head is engraved on the bottom of each trigger guard. The pistol grips and the sides of the flared butts are relief-carved decorations. The oval shaped pommel caps feature a detailed Medusa head wreathed in serpents. The pistols have a mahogany French fitted case with a German silver plate in the lid and a green baize lining. The case contains: a pewter oil bottle with urn-shaped top, a carved mahogany cask for percussion caps, a mahogany ramrod, a casehardened single-cavity round ball bullet mold, a mahogany mallet and a combination nipple wrench/screwdriver with fluted walnut handle.

Fortunately, our two nations are beginning to thaw their recently icy relationship and we can again unabashedly appreciate these fine French pieces of art.  These pistols are still an excellent opportunity to feast your eyes on some of the finest craftsmanship of the era, normally reserved for kings, emperors  and other important persons.  Firearms of this period show unequaled technical perfection and precision and these pistols are no exception.  Their beauty even draws comparisons to the firearms designed by Tiffany & Co., but that's an article for another day.

Psst!  If you liked these cased French dueling pistols, you might like these too!  We have no shortage of gorgeous weapons at this auction!