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Friday, November 29, 2013

An Abundance of Engraving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Or rather Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving by the time you read this.  Hopefully, you have the day off and are enjoying some nice family time, squeezing in some hunting, or just plain trying to digest all the goodies you devoured yesterday while simultaneously eyeing up the small mountain of leftovers in the fridge.  Of course, some of us have to work today and that's OK too.  After the glut of unemployment the last few years, I think we can all be thankful for work.

To honor the abundance we all enjoy, I thought it best to cover the abundance of engraved firearms in our December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction.  In Colts alone, there over are 50 factory engraved firearms!  Finely engraved guns should hold a special place in any collector's heart.  An engraved firearm can blur the lines between gun and art; complimenting each component while still making something greater than each alone.  Many of the pieces in this auction will catch the eyes of collectors involved with other genres, such as coins, cars, and sculpture, and paintings.  There's just something universal about the aesthetics and craftsmanship of firearms when worked upon by a master.  Take a look at some of these fascinating, elegant, and masterfully completed works.

Lot 1257: Extraordinary Documented Marston, Superposed Three Barrel Retractable Knife Blade Derringer Exhibition Quality Engraved and Signed by L. D. Nimschke

With a large cat featured in the engraving in front of the barrel selector
This side, in addition to showing the blade in its extended position, features a mythical beast
in the engraving that appears to be a cross between a dragon and an eagle.

Lot 1258: Extremely Rare Nimschke Panel Scene Engraved Frank Wesson Small Frame Superposed Deringer with Pearl Grips and Sliding Dagger

Brass and ivory always looks so regal together.  Only 6 are of this derringer are known to be engraved and
this may be only only example featuring both engraving and the dagger. 

We love the tiny woodland scene engraved near the base of the barrels.

Long Arms
Lot 1007: Extraordinary "Highly Finished Arms" Benchmark Example of a Factory Gold Inlaid No. 2 Engraved Winchester Model 1894 Deluxe Fancy Sporting Takedown Lever Action Rifle Originally in the Mac McCroskie Collection

A true masterpiece.

Lot 1166: Extremely Rare Deluxe Presentation Factory Engraved and Inscribed Colt Lightning Slide Action Rifle with Factory Letter

This engraved Colt Lightning enjoyed quite a bit of attention at the
34th Annual All Colt Convention held by the Colt Collectors Association

Lot 81: Factory Engraved Gold Washed Deluxe Marlin Model 1897 Lever Action Rifle

Lot 1016: Magnificent Deluxe Factory Engraved, New Haven Arms Henry Lever Action Rifle with Silver Plated Frame

Beautiful coloring on the silver that appears to highlight the game scene

Lot 3012: Rare Deluxe Gold Plated Factory Engraved Henry Lever Action Rifle

Lot 3031: Desirable and Rare Samuel J. Hoggson Factory Engraved New Haven Arms Co. Henry Lever Action Rifle


Lot 1697: Attractive and Desirable Engraved Gold Inlaid Winchester Field Grade Model 21 20 Gauge Double Barrel Shotgun with Case and Factory Letter

Simply a stunning firearm.

Lot 1669: Exceptional Engraved and Gold Inlaid Pre-64 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Bolt Action Rifle in 358 Winchester with Box

Lot 1700: Exhibition Quality Angelo Bee Master Engraved Gold Inlaid 16 Gauge Winchester Model 12 Slide Action Take Down Shotgun

All the hues used in this engraving make it particularly striking.

Lot 3004: Extremely Rare Special Order Factory Engraved Silver-Plated Take-Down Winchester Model 1892 Fancy Sporting Rifle with 1934 Factory Letter


Lot 1206: Exceptional Documented Early Production Helfricht Factory Engraved Colt New Service Revolver with Ivory Grips

The bold, confident engraving of Helfricht truly sets him apart as a Master.

Lot 3184: Exceptional Pair of First Generation Ed Bohlin Engraved and Embellished Colt Single Action Revolvers with Deluxe Silver Grips
This revolver is doing double duty for engraving, featuring it on its barrel, frame, and even its silver grips!

Lot 1174: Beautiful Factory Engraved Pre-World War II Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Carved Ivory Steer Head Grips

Vivid and colorful case hardening!

Smith & Wesson

Lot 99: Factory Documented Spectacular and Extremely Rare Gustave Young Factory Engraved Smith & Wesson Model 320 "Buntline Special" Revolving Rifle with Shoulder Stock and Case
This gun has received a lot of publicity from us and rightly so.

Lot 106: Rare and Excellent Factory Documented 1893 Chicago World's Fair Exposition Engraved Two-Tone Smith & Wesson 38 Safety Hammerless Third Model Double Action Revolver with Pearl Grips and Factory Letter
When a product was exhibited at a World's Fair, it was put forth by its company as its best.


Lot 3298: Master Engraved Remington Model 700 Bolt Action Rifle in .375 H&H Magnum with Sling

Lot 1251: Exceptional Factory Engraved Remington Rider Magazine Pistol with Pearl Grips

Well, we hope you've enjoyed looking at these engraved beauties as much as we have.  These are but a taste of the full Thanksgiving feat of engraved firearms that will be available at the December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction, to be held December 6th, 7th, & 8th.  To search out YOUR favorite gun, please check our search page!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, from all of us here at Rock Island Auction Company.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Relics of the Reich

More often that not, if someone wants to see an important or unique item from history, they have to go to a museum to do it.  This is the case in for the majority of fields:  art, inventions, important documents, personal items from historic public figures, and even militaria.  Rock Island Auction Company is in a fortunate position to see numerous historic items pass through its doorway year after year, and this year has been no different.  In fact, this week's article will cover some items from Nazi Germany that any museum would be happy to have in their collection.  Let's dive right in to these historic and fascinating relics.

Estimated Price: $95,000 - $180,000

Despite being the smallest of the three historical German items, this baton carries the most dramatic price estimate.  It was once the property of Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg, Hitler's first Field Marshal.  Such batons were only given to Field Marshals and were issued in pairs.  The first of the pair, like the one shown here, was for everyday use and made of fine materials such as ebony, gold, silver, and platinum.  The second baton, known as the "parade baton," was a highly ornamented, richly jeweled, lavish presentation piece whose duties were little more than ceremonial.  The parade baton of von Blomberg currently resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

As with most high-ranking officials in Nazi Germany von Blomberg's tale of ascending the German military ranks, and his eventual downfall, is one of Machiavellian tactics, politcal backstabbing, blackmail, and murder.  His story is well documented in our item's description, but the short version would read something like this.  After joining the German military and climbing its ranks throughout World War I, von Blomberg continued in his promotions until 1935 when he was appointed to minister of war and commander-in-chief of the German Army. This was followed by a promotion in 1936 to the position of field marshal, which angered Hermann Goering who wanted the illustrious position for himself.  Goering then blackmailed von Blomberg with the criminal record of his pretty, young second wife who once had taken nude photographs and lived with a Jewish man.  In January 1938, Goering would have made the information public had von Blomberg not resigned.  This is an especially ruthless betrayal considering that Goering had stood as best man at his wedding.  Blomberg and his wife, Erna Gruhn, took a year long honeymoon (some say exiled) to the island of Capri.  For not having his marriage annulled, and therefore bringing shame to the German Army, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder dispatched Captain von Wangerhaim to Italy to convince Blomberg to commit suicide.  He did not oblige.  Blomberg's fall from office as well as that of Werner von Fritsch are often referred to as the "Blomberg-Fritsch Affair."  Eventually, Blomberg would be captured by Allied forces in 1945, testify at the Nuremberg Trials, but would die in captivity on March 14, 1946 of cancer.

The baton itself features an ebony shaft, masterfully crafted Germanic eagles, lightly beaded borders, and other incredible details.  As it appears in the picture the shaft has been broken and while the exact cause of the damage is unknown, the honor weapons and regalia of top-level German officers often took abuse when they were captured.  One documented case of this is when Field Marshal Erhard Milch handed his Interim Baton to a British Brigadier who promptly beat Milch with it until it broke.  This in mind, it wouldn't be too far of a stretch to imagine a G.I. breaking this baton over his knee when capturing the Blombergs.  The accompanying documents which show Blomberg holding the actual baton give a true sense of the history behind this item.  In ANY condition, these batons are rare, unique, and likely in museums.  Opportunities to have one in a private collection are far and few between.

Estimated Price: $25,000 - $40,000
While many people are aware of the infamy surrounding Hermann Goering, few are aware of that his German military career extends back to WWI.  It was during the Great War that Goering encountered Karl-Heinrich Bodenschatz, a decorated WWI veteran who served in the Army before being transferred to the Air Force and becoming the chief adjutant to Manfred von Richtofen, better known as The Red Baron.  Later Goering's path also took him from the infantry to the air where he would later assume commander duties of "The Flying Circus" (officially "Jagdgeschwader 1") from the Red Baron in the final days of World War I.  At the conclusion of the war, both men would go their separate ways; Bodenschatz would remain active in the military and Goering's path would lead to National Socialism.  In 1933, the two men would again cross paths when Bodenschatz would become Goering's adjutant in his role as Chief of the Luftwaffe.  It was two short years later, in April 1935, when Goering would wed actress Emma Sonnemann and receive this punch bowl from Bodenschatz as a wedding gift.

The inscription reads, "With the best wishes for the newlywed couple and good luck in the future of the German Empire!  From your old comrade Bodenschatz, General of Flyers, 10 April 1943."

The bowl itself is a testament to German craftsmanship and is constructed entirely of solid silver.  It measures 15 inches wide and 17 inches tall and covered in decorative Germanic motifs.  Noticeable throughout the bowl's design is the oak leaf and acorn patterns that Germany used liberally both before and during WWII.  Also elaborately shown is the motif of "bounty" shown in both the abundance of game, such as elk, grouse, and boar, as well as the more subtle heads of wheat.  The bowl is highly ornate with the animal figures of the elk and grouse serving as handles on this generous wedding gift.

Estimated Price: $35,000 - $65,000

With all the detail on this chair it may take some time before one sees the pair of H's on the backrest of the chair that indicate their first owner: Heinrich Himmler, Reichsf├╝hrer of the SS and architect of the Holocaust.

Himmler's notoriety and history is well known, but not his association with a man named Karl Willigut.  Willigut was often referred to as "Lord of the Runes" as well as "Himler's Rasputin" for his influence with Himmler as well as his obsession with the mystical and the occult.  Perhaps his greatest push on Himmler was to acquire Wewelsburg Castle and turn it into the nerve center for the "Society for the Promotion and Care of German Cultural Monuments," which would eventually become the headquarters of the SS.  There were four chairs ordered for Himmler from the master wood carvers of the Tyrol (a state in Austria) to be placed in the castle.  The only problem was that Himmler enjoyed the chairs so much that instead of sending them to the castle at Wewelsburg, he kept them at his home in Gmund am Tegernsee.  After the war, the chairs were almost destroyed under the post-war de-Nazification rulings, but instead were sold for a pittance to those that could promise collector or museum interest.  Of the four chairs made for Himmler, one was destroyed in a house fire and the other two reside in private collection, making this one of three existing "Great Chairs," and the only one available at open sale.

One of the first thoughts of a naturally curious person is, "What do all those runes mean?"  Thankfully, previous research has been completed and will be heavily sourced here:

Left side reading down

  • The victory ("Sig") runes shown side by side that came to represent the Shutzstaffel or SS organization. 
  • Next is the swastika or 'Hakenkreuz.' This is the one sign with the strongest effect on people even before Hitler’s Reich and its continual use dates back centuries by several cultures. It was the sun wheel to the Teutonic people and it is the symbol of productive life - "forever turning like a producing mill wheel."  In earlier centuries the swastika had been a talisman of good fortune. 
  • The Hagel Rune:  The all-surrounding Hagel. It literally means “I destroy!” The ancient Teuton believed that through the destruction of the enemy, overall peace is achieved.  Maybe because there would be no one left to fight. This symbol was very meaningful to the SS ideology. 
  • The Rune of Life of Man:  Its lifted arms depict the birth of a living creature. If the arms point down it indicates the cessation of life (death). This symbol was also used in the upraised form by the Ahnenerbe, the office of ancestral heritage, as their symbol and was worn on a patch that can be seen on their uniform sleeves.

Right side reading down
  • The first symbol seen is the double blitz or runes of victory. The symbol of the SS. 
  • The “Rod” Rune:  This is the symbol of male species’ strength to the ancients. It also can be a form of the rune of life previously mentioned, but with extra outstretched arms. Here it has been said that this symbolized the service and reverence of man to his God.
  • The Lily (a.k.a. fleur de lis): Very common in various coats of arms. The Christians made it a sign of purity, but in the Bronze Age it was a sign of generative power and the will to create. The lily is flame tongued between two cradle-like forms held by a horizontal tie.
  • The Three-armed Swastika or Drei Bein Hakenkreuz:  Possibly a symbol of Blut und Boden, blood and soil (supposedly where the Nazi flag got its colors). In 1940 the Celticist professor Gehard von Tevenar extolled the three-armed swastika as the exaltation of the native Germanic presence, “Germanness.” He talked about the varient with three legs as used by the people of the Isle of Man and known as a "triskeleon" in ancient times. This symbol suggests the act of running which in turn symbolized man’s energy and determination.  Used as far back as ancient Greece.

Obviously there is also much symbolism that is associated with the back of the chair and its depictions of oak leaves/acorns, the "Tree of Life," a ring, and the sun.  More information on these runes is included with the chair.

Nazi Germany will continue to be stain on the escutcheon of humanity for hundreds of years to come.  However, whether because of the notoriety or educational opportunities it will also remain an intensely fascinating period that gives many answers into human nature, but asks many more than may never be known.  The items above provide glimpses into a life of cruelly distributed opulence and wrongfully obtained luxury that is often rightly overshadowed by even more overwhelming atrocities.  Undoubtedly, these items will find a home with a collector or museum who will seize the chance not only to own items of such acute rarity, but also items that have been imbued with an eternal sense of horror, fascination, and endless opportunities to educate future generations.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Company K Colt: An Attic Treasure

On January 23, 1873 an order was placed by the U.S. Government to Colt Manufacturing for 8,000 revolvers "of the new model."  The first 1,000 would only take Colt 41 days to complete, but before a single one could leave the factory they would of course need to be inspected.  Enter one Orville W. Ainsworth, the civilian "Principle Sub-Inspector" for the Ordnance Office of the War Department, who would perform the physical inspections of revolvers numbered #202 - 14,343.  He took ill before he could finish inspecting the subsequent contract renewal, but his stamp was still used until that renewal was finished.  According to A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, that means that the actual dates of service for Ainsworth (and not his stamp) were from mid-October 1873 until November 7, 1874.  If you're wondering why any of this matters, there are two major reasons.
  1. This limited use of Ainsworth's "A" inspector stamp makes revolvers bearing them rare, collectable, and valuable items.
  2. It was these two large orders of arms that supplied much of the U.S. Cavalry and therefore they saw heavy use in the Indian Wars, including the Battle of Little Big Horn.
When the aforementioned book, an essential resource for Colt SAA Collectors, was originally printed in 1976, only 375 of the original 12,500 Ainsworth inspected revolvers were known to exist in collections, a humbling 3% of the total.  As of the 1994 printing of Kopec and Fenn's Cavalry & Artillery Revolvers: A Continuing Study, that number had shot to 1,655 or 13.2%.  One can only hope the number has improved in the almost ten years since that book was published.

Lot 3163: Extraordinary Ainsworth Inspected Company K 4th Cavalry Marked Colt Single Action Army Cavalry Model Revolver

Of these 1,655 known Ainsworth inspected revolvers only 16 of them are known to be stamped on their frame with the text, "CO. K. 4. CAV"  When latter of the two books mentioned was published in 1994, there were only 15 known to exist.  The example that will be sold in Rock Island Auction Company's 2013 December Premiere Auction, serial number 3576, is the 16th.  The known serial number range spans from 2902 - 4596.  This range has perplexed Colt scholars for years, for the following reason.  All of the Company K, 4th Cavalry revolvers were ordered on January 15th, 1874 and shipped to the San Antonio Arsenal.  Thanks to letters sent at the time, we know that the 6th and 10th Cavalries were each to receive 1,000 of the "new Colt's revolver," but that "upon recommendation of the General of the Army, the Secretary of War designates the 4th Cavalry, as the next regiment to receive the Carbines and Revolvers of the new model."  A note on that letter states that the arms to be shipped to the San Antonio Arsenal for the 4th Cavalry, but the specific number shipped is not mentioned.  One can assume that a shipment of 1,000 (1,000 per Regiment) was shipped to San Antonio that January.  So while existing historic documents would imply that 1,000 items were shipped to San Antonio, the known serial number range spans over 1,700 guns.  Were 2,000 revolvers diverted to San Antonio?  Have enough not been uncovered to show us the full serial range? Were the serial numbers sent simply non-sequential?  Furthermore, if there were so many, where are the remaining examples?  These are all questions that persist regarding these coveted revolvers.

Some credence is given to the "non-sequential" theory by another firearm present in this auction.  In lot #1181 is what our headline describes as a "Rare Second Year Production Ainsworth Sub-Inspected Colt Single Action Army Cavalry Revolver with Period Holster."  It has all the early production features, the "A" sub-inspection stamp of Ainsworth, and most importantly, a serial number of 3316.  This serial number puts it in the same serial range as the CO. K. 4. CAV revolvers, yet it lacks that rare and desirable marking!

Lot 1181: Rare Second Year Production Ainsworth Sub-Inspected Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Period Holster.  While not marked to a designated unit on its frame, this unaltered, Ainsworth stamped Colt, which falls in the Company K, 4th Cavalry serial range, is still expected to sell for between $10,000 - $20,000.

History of Co. K. of the 4th Cavalry
In 1848, after the Mexican War, the U.S. Army slowly came to realize that it needed additional mounted soldiers as the young country spread westward.  The 4th Cavalry Regiment has its origins in the year 1855, when it was known as the 1st Cavalry, having been formed to alleviate the government's self-assessed lack of horse borne troops.   However, on August 3, 1861 all cavalries were to be renumbered according to seniority.  Having been preceded in formation by the 1st Dragoons, 2nd Dragoons, and the "Regiment of Mounted Rifleman," the 1st Cavalry was re-designated as the 4th Cavalry Regiment.

Immediately after their formation, they spent a great deal of time in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to help protect settlers from Cheyenne Indians and to help quell any disturbances that would arise from a population heavily divided on the issue of slavery.  This newly-formed group possessed the seeds of greatness by having 22 of its 28 officers become general officers serving on both sides of the Civil War including such historic names as Maj. Gen. George B McClellan and Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.  In fact, then Colonel Robert E. Lee commanded the 1st Cavalry for a month before resigning to join the Confederacy.

Prior to the Civil War the 1st Cavalry found themselves split-up with half at Fort Riley, Kansas and the rest spread around the state.  During the Civil War, the newly-renamed 4th Cavalry found itself in places stretching from the mighty Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.  The earliest Civil War mention (that could be found by this writer) of Company K of the 4th Cavalry is on May 9-14, 1862 where the action of Co. K, as well as Companies B, C, D, G, & I were "present at Corinth, Miss... a detachment under Lieut. Gordon took part in an affair near Farmington, Miss.: no casualties."

The second earliest mention of Company K occurs at Murfreesboro, TN, during the Stone River campaign (1862-1863) on December 31, 1862, when a two-company brigade of the 4th U.S. Cavalry charged "an entire brigade of cavalry and routed them to such an extent that they disappeared from the field altogether."  Company K also saw action at Middleton, TN (May 20-23, 1863), and Okalong, MS in February of 1864.  After the Civil War, Co. K. of the 4th Cavalry is most noted for its campaigns against the Comanche and Kiowa during the early 1870s under Col. Ranald Slidell "Bad Hand" Mackenzie, one of the seven colonels honored by the 4th for their distinction in service.  Mackenzie's fascinating history, stretching from the Battle of Second Bull Run and well into the Indian Wars, is vast, heroic, and documented enough that it could easily fill its own column.

The 4th Cavalry in 1909

The condition of this revolver cannot be overstated.  The amount of finish is unprecedented and the mature case hardening provides it a striking ghostly grayed contrast.  Lest one think that we are biased in our enthusiasm for this firearm, here are two evaluations from noted industry experts.

"Regarding Subject Revolver; Colt Single Action Army, serial # 3576.  In my opinion, This revolver is the finest Ainsworth inspected, U.S. Army marked, Single Action known to exist.  It was my pleasure to examine it..."
-A letter dated July 6, 1998 from
Ronald A Ogan, President
Ogan Antiques, Ltd.

"Considering the low survival rate of early US-marked Single Action Army revolvers  and considering the exciting and important times in which these revolvers were used, this scare and desirable Colt is an object of considerable significance.  The author will be pleased to illustrate number 3376 in the forthcoming revised edition of THE BOOK OF COLT FIREARMS, which will be issued in a two-volume book.

In condition and originality, no revolver equals, or surpasses, number 3376.  The color of the blue, the patina of the steel and wood, the old grease from years' past, and the clouded color the case-hardening (excepting on the relatively bright hammer) are all indicative of the attic-condition, unused survival of this remarkable and rare Single Action Army Colt revolver."
- R. L. Wilson
Author and Expert

The fact that this gun came to light after so many years of only having 15 examples, in addition to its remarkable condition must have made quite a stir in the Colt collecting community.  Its existence alone would be a noteworthy find, but its "finest known" quality truly makes it a special story.

A rarity within a rarity that also possesses a fascinating history and some persistent, unanswered questions that have stumped Colt scholars for decades, the Ainsworth inspected, Co. K 4 CAV Colt Cavalry Model revolver is a simply fantastic piece that Rock Island Auction Company is proud to have in its 2013 December Premiere Auction.  The 4th Cavalry has served this country since before the Civil War and continues to serve through the current wars in the Middle East.  Their history of brilliant and illustrious service is forever noted in the annals of U.S. history and even earned them their own march in 1926 written by the "March King," John Phillip Sousa, himself a dedicated horseman.  That history, combined with an exquisite condition, make this a revolver that will have Colt collectors' hearts racing.  This is one example of the over 600 Colts available in our December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction, which will contain everything from a near-pristine Colt Model 1851 Navy to a Model 1874 Gatling gun, and SIX different Paterson revolvers!  Click here to search our catalog or use one of our previously created Colt categories such as 1st Generation Single Action Army or Colt - Auto Early.  You're bound to find something you love!

-Written by Joel Kolander


Graham, Ron, John A. Kopec, and C. Kenneth Moore. A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver. S.l.: S.n., 1976. Print.

Kopec, John A., and H. Sterling. Fenn. Colt Cavalry & Artillery Revolvers: A Continuing Study. 1st ed. Vol. 2nd. Whitmore, CA: J.A. Kopec Publications, 1994. Print.