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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Good Things Come in Pairs: German Rarities

Thanks to two studious German military collectors, Rock Island Auction Company has amassed a German Military arms collection that will stun enthusiasts, collectors, and investors of the genre, as well as more than a few curious spectators.  These collections are the illustrious Gene Smith Collection and Part II of the meticulous Von Norden Collection.  As many collectors saw previously in our May Premiere Firearms Auction, the Von Norden Collection is a comprehensive study into German arms and what at times seems like an endless list of variants.  The Gene Smith Collection, on the other hand, while also filled with many excellent quality and rare firearms, showcases the labor of love over several decades in its abundance of prototype and rare German arms.

Today's story is going to cover two supremely rare German military arms from the Von Norden Collection.  Specifically, they come from a portion of the Collection so thorough and impressive it nearly warrants its own collection.  The congregation of World War II German Machine Guns in the Von Norden Collection defies belief.  This will stand as the finest and most significant compilation of World War II German Machine Guns ever before offered.  With a claim like that, let's show you a pair of items that can help prove it.

Super Rare Original Fully Automatic Class III/NFA World War II German C.G. Haenel Manufactured Mkb.42(H) Assault Rifle with Original Sheet Metal Sniper Scope Mount and ZF41/1 Sniper Scope

The gun you see above is the ONLY known one in private hands - making it a top collectible even were it without its superb condition.  It is an MKb.42(H) ("MKb" is an abbreviation of "Maschinen karabiner"), the grandfather of all German assault rifles.  Around 1935-1937 a contract was issued from HWaA, the weapons agency of the Wehrmacht, to C.G. Haenel Waffen und Fahrradfabrik to develop a short-range intermediate round that would eventually become the 7.92x33 Kurz (short).  That was finished in 1938 and with their new cartridge the HWaA then tasked them in 1939 with building a prototype, fully automatic rifle to fire the new round.  Walther also submitted a prototype to compete for the eventual contract, but the Haenel design won out.  Working for Haenel at that time was renowned designer Hugo Schmeisser who borrowed from the already successful MP-40 design to ensure the rifle could be constructed almost entirely of sheet metal stampings instead of machined parts, resulting in a cheaper and more quickly produced gun. The design was a success and the MKb.42(H) would begin to make its way to the front lines in late 1942.  As with all initial designs, it would eventually be improved upon and in 1943 its improvements would be released in a new rifle, the MP-43.  The switch from MKb to MP came in 1943 when Hitler decreed, due to infighting, that all rifle development programs were to cease so that additional newer submachine guns could be produced that utilized existing ammunition.  Since the MKb wasn't something Hitler wanted developed, it was simply given an MP moniker, the MP-43, and development continued.  Unfortunately, the trick was discovered by the f├╝hrer who stopped that program yet again, only to allow it continue later solely for evaluation purposes.  The gun's performance and superior results saved it from history's dust bin.  Hitler approved continuation of development and eventually distributed the first MP-43s to the Waffen-SS.

The exact scenario of Hitler and his Minister of Armaments Albert Speer is unknown, but Hitler appears
less than pleased with the weapons lain before him.  On the left appears to be the MkB.42 and on the right a more finalized version of the weapon.

Making the earliest predecessor of the MP44/StG-44 even more exceptional is World War II sheet metal sniper scope mount and the ZF41/1 sniper scope that it holds.  Only a handful of these original stamped metal mounts are known to exist today!  Together, the rifle and the scope mount arguably mark two of the most scarce pieces of the genre.  As if this lot could not get any more desirable for collectors, the rifle comes with an original leather sling and an original magazine with the "MKb.42" marking.

Exceptionally Rare Original World War II German STG-44 Assault Rifle with the Ultra Rare Experimental Krummlauf Curved Barrel and Optical Sighting Device

The second gun we'll look at today is already a rare gun, but its ultra rare attachment is what pushes its appeal to a fever pitch.  Well out of the early developmental stages of the previous gun, this World War II StG-44 assault rifle is a solid representation of those that saw widespread use in battle.

A total of 425,977 StG-44 assault rifles and all its variants were produced by the end of the war and development had already begun on an StG-45.  One of those aforementioned variants that remains in ultra rare status to this day is the Krummlauf, a bent barrel attachment with its special optical sighting device.  Working much like a periscope, the optics allowed the user to see "around corners," though they were originally designed for use by troops in armored vehicles so they could effectively defend the "blind spots" that occurred in close range around the vehicles.

The Krummlaufs came in several variants and angles.  There were versions with 30°, 45°, 60°, & 90° bends, an "I" version for infantry, a "P" version for tanks, one for the StG-44, and one for the MG-42.  This particular model is the "V" version, the final one ever produced.  It utilized a series of vent holes along the top rear portion to help relieve excess gas to help keep the barrels from bursting.  The 30° "I" version is the only one produced in any significant number, though even that number is small - while 20,000 units were ordered only an estimated 500 were ever delivered.  Making these low numbers lower still are the incredibly short life spans of these devices.  Due to the redirection of gases and the high resultant friction from the bullet, the 30° version could fire roughly 300 rounds and the 45° could handle even fewer, 160. That huge amount of friction also affected the speed of the bullet, again in varying amounts depending on the angle of the Krummlauf.  Some reports indicate muzzle velocities as low as 300 meters per second, but this was not listed as a problem for the Wehrmacht since they intended the attachment to be used primarily for short-range combat.

Looking through the optics and seeing the front sights (barrel is lowest object in photo).
Note the different angles for where the device attaches and the muzzle.

While these two fully automatic German  firearms easily qualify as the type that collectors dream about, they do not come close to showing the full selection present in the September 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction at Rock Island Auction Company.  Not only will there be additional Stg-44 rifles, but also MP-40 submachine guns, two MG-34 machine guns, an MG-42 with its accessories, an MP43 from Steyr-Solothurn, a Mauser Model 1932 Schnellfeuer machine pistol, a DWM World War I 1908 heavy machine gun, and the finest known FG-42 paratrooper rifle in existence!  And those are just from the German class III weapons.  We haven't even started on the American models or those from other European countries!  If you ever considered collecting or investing in foreign military arms, this is an auction you can't afford to miss.  If these two astounding collections had machine guns of this rarity and high quality, imagine what else they contain.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How RIAC Makes Online Auctions Different

If you've participated in one of Rock Island Auction Company's many auctions, chances are you've also tried to purchase a gun with one of several online firearms auctions.  Furthermore, if you've tried some of the online auctions available, you know there are a number of different formats available.  Some have an "eBay" type format where the bidding stops at a certain time, usually resulting in several last second bidders trying to "snipe" the item at the last possible moment.  To avoid such scenarios, other sites use a format that allows an item's listing to stay open for bids 15 minutes after the last bid.  The list goes on and on, but Rock Island Auction Company has a format that sets itself apart from the competition and we think you'll like it.  It provides many advantages and is an experience as close to being in our auction facility as possible.  First of all, some details on our Online Only Auction.

  1. All Online Only Auctions happen in our facility in Rock Island, IL.
  2. It is the only auction type we host with NO on-site audience/bidders.  All bidding must be done off site.
  3. Three Online Only Auctions are held per year
  4. Online Only Auctions contain items that might not typically appear in a Regional or Premiere Auction, but are still of interest to the firearms collecting community.  They have ranged in price from $50 - $5,000 and include any number of firearms, accessories, uniforms, militaria, ammunition, books, art, and more.

Live Auctioneers

Most of the benefits of RIAC's Online Only Auction start with our live, licensed auctioneers.  Their wealth of experience is a huge advantage over one hosted by a computer.  They have a feel for the action and won't close a lot early if the action is still hot, ensuring that your bid is recognized.  Auctioneers also won't wait around on a lot with little activity, thus ensuring the auction continues to move quickly and potentially giving some lucky bidder an attractive price.

Streaming Audio & Video

All of our auctions provide streaming audio & video to our customers bidding online and our Online Only Auction is no different.  After all, what good would live auctioneers be if you couldn't see or hear them?  At these auctions, you get to hear the auctioneers just as you would at our facility!  There's no watching numbers count down to when a lot is finished, you actually get to hear the lot hammered "SOLD!" by our licensed auctioneers.  This also allows you to hear some of the ribbing and fun goes on at a RIAC auction.

Bid in Real Time

Sure lots of places let you place your bids online in real time and RIAC is no exception.  But how many other online auctions let you place live phone bids?  None that we've ever heard.  RIAC's Online Only Auction not only lets you place sealed bids through our website,, but also bid live via third party auction services such as Proxibid and inValuable as well as by phone!  Bidding by phone means instant updates on what the lot is doing, bids that are placed immediately, and an increased chance of winning.  There's no waiting for the screen to refresh when working with one of our trained phone bidders.

Of course, if placing sealed bids (fixed, pre-auction bids) is more your preference, you can also do that via the RIAC webpage.  What's more, there's no charge to do so, whereas some third party sites that host our auction often charge an additional 3% to use their service.  Why not save some money and bid directly at the source?

Rock Island Auction Company's Fantastic Service

Bidding with Rock Island Auction Company means you get access to our full range of services, while a collector with a private listing on a gun auction website might not be willing to do all the things that RIAC considers standard.
  • High resolution, full color photos that show the complete gun, with other photos available on request.
  • A dedicated customer service center to answer your questions
  • Excellent shipping, meaning your guns arrive exactly how they left
  • Helpful condition codes so you can make better decisions
  • We do invoicing by email or by phone if you have questions on your bill.  The choice is yours!
  • RIAC provides the Prices Realized on our website after each sale.

We hope this information helps drive home how RIAC's Online Only Auctions are different from your run-of-the-mill online auctions.  It's as close as it gets to sitting in the auction hall in the comforts of your own home, while still reaping all the benefits of working with Rock Island Auction Company to build your collection.  These auctions are a great opportunity for collectors at all levels to participate!  Head on over to today to find the next addition to your collection.

Click here to view all the items in our latest Online Only Auction

-Written by Joel Kolander

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good Things Come in Pairs: John Ulrich

They say that "good things come in pairs," so why should Rock Island Auction Company be any exception to this long-lived idiom?  Without any further ado, let's take a look at two extraordinary rifles in Rock Island Auction Company's September 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction.  This will be the first of several of this type of article that juxtaposes deserving items worthy of collectors' attention.  Today's focus is a twosome of classic Winchester model 1866 lever action rifles

The first of these two iconic rifles was manufactured in 1869 and is factory engraved and signed by legendary artist John Ulrich.  Besides providing a spectacular example of the master engraver's early work of scrolls, animal heads, punch dot backgrounds, and geometrically framed panels, on the receiver, both tangs, forearm cap, and buttplate, it also boasts casehardened pieces, silver-plating, an original leather sling, and a beautiful, variegated, polished walnut stock and forearm.  Even the sights are the rare "Rocky Mountain" style in the front and the folding Henry-style tang sight at the rear.

Considering all these special features, the most notable characteristic of this rifle is its serial number, 36481.  This serial number combined with its engraving make it the earliest known John Ulrich engraved and signed Winchester.  The previous earliest known appeared in R.L. Wilson's "The Book of Winchester Engraving" on page 138, and was serial number 36484.  Early Winchesters are, at the risk of stating the obvious, some of the most sought after collectible firearms.  Add a high condition grading and you've just exponentially multiplied the value.  To top it all off with historical significance, an early production of a beloved model that bears the earliest known work of a master engraver, and you have everything you need to draw the rapt attention of the foremost collectors.

The second of the two Winchester '66 rifles came to be not too long after the first.  However, the date of production is likely the only way in which serial number 103671 cannot match its partner in this article.  It is another superb example of the first rifle to bear the Winchester name.  This third model 1866 instantly demands your attention with its superbly aesthetic, exhibition grade, factory performed master engraving.  The receiver is smothered with vines and four panel scenes depicting elk and stags.  Our official item description says it best, "The flawlessly executed engraving has a three-dimensional, relief quality and represents some of John Ulrich's best and most elaborate work."  What else needs to be said of Ulrich's work after such high and deserved praise?

In addition to the receiver, the master engraving also extends to the forearms cap, both tangs, and the buttplate.  The receiver is gold-plated and nestled between a stock and forearms made from "3X" fancy grain walnut with a high polish piano finish.  It is simply a stunning piece that requires a viewer spend adequate time with it to appreciate it in all its finery.

The selection of Winchesters, Henrys, and Volcanics in Rock Island Auction Company's September 2014 Firearms Auction is not to be missed.  There will be Civil War production models, marvelous factory engraved receivers, opulent inlays, martially inspected pieces, stunning high condition items, and those with rich histories.  We can't wait to show you more of what is in store for September's auction, so be sure to read next week's article for another fascinating pair of collector firearms.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Technology of the Revolutionary War

As we celebrate this Independence Day weekend, let's examine one of the weapons used on the battlefields that forged this nation that was as popular as it was innovative.  Having some small mobile cannons to aid your cause was not a new idea in the Revolutionary War.  It extends nearly as far back as the cannon itself, even predating the first handheld firearms, and the success of such guns can be traced to the 17th century.  The less powerful nature of small artillery made them ideal as anti-personnel weapons and they would often accompany infantry as a maneuverable addition of firepower and psychological edge. Periods of time would come where large artillery was the preference, but the mobility and speed of smaller field guns always would seem to win out.

For centuries, field artillery largely relied on iron barrels because they were strong, cheap, and easy to make.  What was then viewed as a critical component, iron, would stagnate fighting tactics in Europe for centuries thanks to its weight.  If you wanted more powerful guns, by necessity they had to be larger.  However, as it has been proven over and over, it would only be a matter of time before modern technology would change the battlefield.

Lot 2100: Revolutionary War Style Verbruggen Three Pound "Grasshopper" Cannon with Carriage

Technology of the Grasshopper

What was the leading battlefield technology by the 1700s?  Bronze.  This is a funny coincidence since people had been using bronze for centuries, nay millennia, before iron was used, and because using bronze for cannons was not a new idea at all.  The Chinese had done so almost four centuries earlier.  That precious mixture of 90% copper and 10% tin was not only more expensive than iron, as most "new technologies" are, but also heavier.  Thankfully, due to its flexibility and increased strength, less of it was needed to construct barrels, thus resulting in an overall lighter weapon.  By the mid 1700s big, heavy artillery pieces were quite popular.  The line of heavy guns would set up as a line and fire throughout the battle.  They were powerful, stationary, and intimidating.  However, smaller cannons could be maneuvered more easily for a number of purposes.  Want to attack a certain point in the enemy lines?  Soften it up with cannon fire first.  Need to reinforce a weak spot in your own lines?  Move some cannons over there.  Wish to conceal some troop movements?  Fire your cannons and let the smoke hide them.  Smaller guns could adapt to the changing needs of a battle, giving them more uses, and making them much more valuable.

Not only was bronze lighter than iron, but it had many other desirable metallurgic qualities.  Its flexibility meant that even in a catastrophic failure, it may rupture, but it wouldn't explode sending dangerous fragments into its own ranks.  Lighter weapons also meant less animals to transport them, less care of said animals, and as the British found in the Revolutionary War, they were much easier to transport on America's dismal roads.  The fact that bronze cannons could be melted and reused, while iron cannons had to be scrapped, was another side benefit.

Speaking of the British, they officially had been using more 3-pound guns ("grasshoppers") as far back as 1686, but other innovations had also improved their performance, namely that of the boring mechanism via what is now known as the Martiz method.  Instead of a casting the guns vertically around a core to create a barrel, solid cannons would be bored using what was essentially a large lathe.  This resulted in higher accuracy, more precisely fitting projectiles (less windage), faster production, less gun powder required for each shot, and the ability of armies to field many more cannons.  Another new technology utilized in the Grasshopper was that of the spherical powder chamber, which allowed for a more rapid combustion that in turn resulted in more power and less powder being used.

All that considered, you're looking at what is almost the pinnacle of battle field technology in the 1700s.  With its newly utilized materials, rethought powder chamber, increased safety, and ease of transportation, it was certainly the envy of armies still relegated to using heavy, less accurate, iron artillery.  These new 3-pounders were nicknamed "Grasshoppers" for two reasons.  The first was their appearance on the battlefield.  Moved via handspikes (a.k.a. "big levers for moving stuff") they would flit forward and backward on the battlefield like a grasshopper.  It is also said that, when fired, they jumped back like a grasshopper.  It's not certain how their recoil would have been different that any other cannon, but the story remains.

Moving a Grasshopper via the "Irish Method"

Details of the Grasshopper

First things first, this particular cannon, to be sold in Rock Island Auction Company's July 2014 Regional Firearms Auction is an excellent reproduction made in the 1960s.  This type of cannon is known more generally as a "3-pounder" because it fires a 3-pound ball (give or take several ounces) of solid lead.  With such a round, troops could typically expect between a 800 - 1,000 yard range, but with grapeshot the range dropped to 600 - 700 yards maximum, and to 200 - 350 maximum for canister shot.

The three numbers shown in the picture below indicate the Grasshopper's weight.  The first digit tells the "hundred weight" (112 lbs), the second tells "quarter hundred weight," and the last digit is for pounds.  That in mind, a reading of 1:3:10 tells us that this barrel weighs 206 pounds (112 + (28 x 3) + 10).  This is a significant reduction in weight from previous barrels (sometimes more than half) and must have been a surprising sight to a likely skeptical artillery man seeing it for the first time.

This gun also shows the "broad arrow" (a.k.a. "crow's foot") which was placed to indicate ownership by the British military and was used between 1717 - 1800.  The cannon's measurements are:

Length: 40 1/2"
Width: 11"
Trunnions: 2 1/4"
Bore: 3"

Upon investigation of the markings on the cannon, one will also notice the words "I. & P. VERBRUGGEN."  These are the makers Jan Verbruggen (indicated by the "I") and his son Pieter.  He was born in 1712 and is alleged to have quite a knack for drawing at an early age.  No one knows how that talent was harnessed for manufacturing artillery, but by 1746 Jan was the master founder of the Dutch Admiralty's bell and cannon foundry in Enkhuizen and soon after that he was also made the master gunfounder.  His eldest child and only son, Pieter, was born in 1735 and shared his father's knack for art and foundry.

The year after Jan was made the master gunfounder, the Dutch Government finally adopted the aforementioned Martiz system (the lathe-like creation technique) of creating cannons and by 1755 Jan's hard work and abilities were again recognized as he was named the master founder at the National Heavy Ordnance Foundry at The Hague.  Jan & Pieter remained there until 1770 when the story takes an interesting turn.  Some sources say that Britain, in an effort to improve their ailing manufacturing abilities, turned to Jan and obtained the services of the father/son duo.  The two would eventually all but rebuild the entire Royal Brass Foundry at Woolwich and turn it into one of the top producers in the British Empire.

The other story of the Verbruggens leaving The Netherlands and their string of successes there is that the pair was virtually run out of the country for concealing flaws in their cannons.  It all started when Verbruggen destroyed the imperfect furnace of his predecessor and replaced it with one of his own design.  This created an instant grudge with the Inspector General of Artillery, away on business at the time, who thereafter resolved to pay back Verbruggen for the offense.  It didn't take long for accusations to fly that the two Verbruggens would alter and repair their cannons between the boring and proofing stages to hide errors in the casting process.  Granted, these corrections were more common than people at the time liked to admit, and the accusations were made by two men whom Verbruggen had previously fired, at least one of which had an excellent reputation as a founder.  Verbruggen was successfully defeating the accusations as more and more cannons were found NOT to have the claimed defects and repairs, but numerous dangerous repairs were found in a third investigation.  Numerous screws were found used to fill in imperfections along with many other plugs, repairs, uneven metal composition, and various unsafe defects which would make the guns unreliable and even dangerous to use.  Despite Verbruggen's claims that the barrels were sound and that the repairs were only made to keep a high trust in his product (not true), he knew he would not keep the position.  As legal procedures were being formulated for his removal, he took the post in Woolwich and resigned that in the Netherlands.

Whether one wishes to focus on the Machiavellian drama that was certainly unfolding in the foundry at that time or rather on the fact that Verbruggen was making unsafe repairs, the end results are the same: he left the Netherlands, took over for Britain, and revitalized Woolwich - a facility long overdue for a cleaning, new equipment, and new methods.  This finished revamping of the Woolwich facility in 1773 was so effective that the British Government allegedly classified it as "secret," despite the fact that several other nations had already been actively using the Martitz Method for over a decade.  It then promptly cancelled all of its contracts to private foundries for brass and bronze cannons feeling that their new methods would be adequate to meet their manufacturing needs.  Their production prowess would soon be put to the test thanks to a group of unruly Colonials.


Strach, Stephen G. "A History of the Three Pound Verbruggen Gun and Its Use in North America: 1775 - 1783." Thesis. 1986. Print.