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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Samuel Colt's Henry Rifle

For those not familiar, Rock Island Auction Company sent out a series of emails containing some of the highlights in our May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction. These messages covered a number of popular genres and gave a first look at some firearms that are bound to attract the attention of some of the world's foremost collectors and investors. This blog, and the ones to follow, are a reprint of those emails for those who do not receive that type of communication. As an added bonus, these blogs will also include many photos that did not appear in the original emails in order to keep them at a reasonable size. We hope you enjoy these collectible firearms and their multitude of photos!

If you like what you see below, be sure to check out our auction highlights in the Photo Preview4-page Sneak Preview, or our full 16-page mailer. To search our entire auction listing please visit

Our first item truly takes its place not only as a star of this article, or even of this genre, but as a featured piece of our entire May Premiere Auction. People love Henry Rifles for their history, innovation, and distinct look. Collectors also revere Samuel Colt for his game changing designs, place in both frontier and U.S. military history, and some of the most beloved firearms in history. If one were to somehow roll those two honored figures together, you'd have one of the most desirable pieces of collectable firearms history. Rock Island Auction Company has come across a gun that has done just that. We present for your viewing pleasure the stunning Henry Rifle from the Samuel Colt Collection.

This rifle was acquired by the original Colt's Patent Firearms Mfg. Co. Museum shortly after then production of Henry rifles commenced in late 1861. Many of the museums initial pieces were personally acquired by Samuel Colt with the intention of forming a collection that showed the evolution of repeating arms. Expert and author R.L. Wilson, then the Colt Firearms Historical Consultant, wrote in a 1978 letter that this rifle, serial number 205, "joined the Colt Museum Collection c. 1860-1861. It shows no signs of ever having been fired... Note that Colonel Colt died early in 1862, and there can be no question but that he examined #'s 205 and 250 personally." As one can see the rifle remains in pristine, near new condition. It is also accompanied by a host of documents from R.L. Wilson testifying to its fantastic condition, historic provenance, and details of manufacture.

Only one other Henry rifle on the face of this earth can also claimed to be owned by Samuel Colt and that is the other serial number, 250, mentioned in R.L. Wilson's letter. It is an iron frame Henry that was also part of the Samuel Colt's museum and it currently is on display at the Museum of Connecticut History in Hartford. Wilson also states that, "By state law only duplicate arms can be disposed from this historic collection, and for that reason only #205 was allowed to leave. Furthermore, only via trade could the arms considered duplicates be permitted to depart the Colt Museum." In other words, barring a change to Connecticut State Law, iron frame Henry #250 is staying put.

The second Henry on our list is one of the most desirable variations of the beloved rifles. Iron frame Henry rifles were only made during the earliest productions and it is estimated that between 200 and 275 examples exist. This particular rifle, serial number 64, is one of the 90 known examples as listed by Les Quick in his book The Henry Rifle.

Lot 1090: Extremely Rare Iron Frame Henry Rifle with Provenance

This rifle also enjoys quite the rich history. The included family history traces the rifle back to L.D. Rasdall, who in 1862 enlisted in a Confederate Cavalry unit raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky known as Buckner's Guides. Using information such as sales records, limited personal sales of Henry rifles to Confederate soldiers, Rasdall's place of enlistment, and previously recovered Henry rifles, it becomes likely that Rasdall obtained this rifle around the time of his enlistment and carried it during the Civil War. It remained in the Rasdall family for three generations.

Henry rifles, even in rough condition, can easily command 5-figure price tags and those in better conditions drive prices even higher. Henry rifles with the scarce iron frame can easily fetch six figures, even with little original finish. Examples such as this with its plentiful original condition and known, traceable history should draw some exciting bids come auction day. Rare, iconic firearms with fascinating histories will always attract experienced collectors.

Moving from Henry rifles to Volcanics, we come across an extremely fine New Haven Arms Volcanic lever action carbine. Manufactured circa 1857, this rifle, with its 16 1/2 inch barrel, bears the legend on top of its barrel that began to appear once Oliver Winchester took control on the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in April of 1857 and reorganized it as the New Haven Arms Co. While Volcanics were not successful (thanks partially to its anemic rounds), these innovative rifles paved the way for the Henry rifles and other early, iconic Winchesters. This example is serial no. 7.

Lot 3000: Very Fine New Haven Arms Company Volcanic Lever Action Carbine with 16 1/2 Inch Barrel

Finally, we come to this wonderful factory engraved, New Haven Arms Volcanic lever action carbine. This example was manufactured slightly later than the above example, circa 1859, but was given a more special treatment before leaving the factory. The brass receiver and buttplate were silver-plated and engraved with a scroll and border pattern with punch dot backgrounds. The straight grain American walnut stock enjoys a high polish "piano" finish.

Lot 1020: Rare Factory Engraved New Haven Arms Co., Volcanic Lever Action Carbine with Inscribed 25 Inch Barrel

Besides holding a critically important place in firearms history, this particular Volcanic rifle is a carbine with the scarce 25-inch barrel, which is made even more desirable by the inscription "John K Henry" upon it. It's a high condition example of a revolutionary firearm with factory embellishments and a rare configuration - a combination certain to draw the interest of collectors everywhere.

We have over a dozen New Haven Arms in our May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction! There are Volcanics, iron frames, martially inspected examples, low serial numbers, factory engravings, U.S. contracts, first year productions, and those with historical provenances to the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry, the 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry, and of course, firearms icon and pioneer, Samuel Colt.

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