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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.

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