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Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Note on Questionable Firearms

Quote from James D. Julia March 2014 Firearms Auction Catalog, Lot 2230

In the business of firearms auctions, it is simply an unavoidable fact of life that one is going to come across what is known as a spurious firearm.  For those unfamiliar with the term, "spurious" is the most gracious way of calling something a fake.  Phony.  Bogus.  At its most innocent, a fake or counterfeit item can be sold as such.  Someone may want that Russian Contract 1911 pistol with spurious Cyrillic text, as a representation of the original but at only a fraction of the cost.  In fact, many replica cars are sold just the same way.  You wouldn't find me turning down a replica of a 1968 AC Cobra, but I'm definitely not going to pay the same price as the original.  There is a market for such pieces given that they are priced accordingly and disclosed as such to the buying public.  Much like the AC Cobra example, replicas can be extremely desirable and a lot of fun.

Sometimes, either collectors, and even auction houses, can make mistakes in good faith.  Perhaps they in possession of such a meticulously crafted forgery that it is impossible to tell the difference save for some of the world's foremost experts.  Is anyone to be held to blame in such an event except the forger?  No, for both parties acted in good faith and intent with what they thought was a "real" object.  However, if after the fact the buyer were to find that their item was not 100% as claimed, then it would be the duty of the seller to make it right.  It is exactly scenarios like this why Rock Island Auction Company offers a guarantee of the headline of every single item in their Premiere Firearms Auctions.  Should that item not be as advertised in the item's headline, RIAC will make it right via a full refund.  We even put it in the front of every Premiere Auction Catalog right there in the Terms and Conditions.

Honesty and integrity are two qualities indispensable to an auction house, or any selling business.  It's as simple as knowing that if you burn someone once, they're not going to return, and if there are too many people who question their transactions, the sellers carefully built reputation can nose-dive faster than German U-boat.  Businesses stand to gain much more from positive experiences and good word-of-mouth advertising, than they could ever achieve by being less than completely truthful.

It is with that dedication and responsibility to fairness, that we can examine the last kind of spurious arms: out and out fakes maliciously sold as the genuine article for profit.  It goes without saying that the faking of firearms hurts the collecting community.  Not only is it fraudulent, it erodes trust, and could potentially lower the prices of authentic items.  Jim Supica, current Museum Director of NRA Museums, once detailed several types of fraud in an article he wrote for the Blue Book of Gun Values.
  • Aging and modifying a modern reproduction or replica firearm to pass it as an original
  • Altering a common model to make it appear to be a rare model
  • Adding modern engraving to an older gun, and passing it as original period engraving
  • Creating false historical documentation or attribution of historical usage.
  • Altering a firearm to a more valuable configuration - for example, rare barrel length, uncommon finish, special grips, or fancy stock, rare caliber.
  • "Upgrading" a low grade gun to resemble a higher grade by the same maker.

As we mentioned before, even Rock Island Auction Company is not immune to these types of guns, and the obvious recourse is to make it right.  We have done so on numerous occasions, most notably on an episode of our T.V. show "Ready, Aim, Sold!" when we found we were dealing with a fake Winchester 1 of 1,000.

You may wonder what causes an article of this type to be written.  It is the need to distance ourselves from several potentially spurious firearms previously in our possession and sold by RIAC and currently being offered for sale at James D. Julia Auction.  In their auction is a collection with many firearms with claims of provenance to the Battle of Little Bighorn, Gen. George Custer, and several Native American warriors.  However, the claims of provenance appear downright false and we know because we have previously sold some of the firearms in question.  We would like it to be known that Rock Island Auction Company never sold any of the guns in this collection with any of their current provenance claims and did not sell them to the current consignor of James Julia.  Two of the firearms in question were sold by RIAC, to a dealer, within the last 14 months.  A third, a single action revolver with alleged ties to Cheyenne chief Two Moons, was previously turned down by RIAC from this same Julia consignor when its lack of documentation was discovered. However it was sold in a previous James Julia sale for an enormous amount of money.

Colt 1860 Army sold in RIAC's June 2013
Regional Firearms Auction.
Hammered for $2,000
SAME Colt 1860 Army, listed in Jula's Oct 2014 sale as "found by
Nicholas Black Elk at the Little Bighorn Battlefield."
Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000

SAME Southerner Single Shot, listed in Julia's Oct 2014
sale as "used by Oglala Sioux warrior Chargin Hawk
to kill George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of
Estimate: $25,000 - $40,000
Southerner Single Shot sold in RIAC's February 2014
Regional Firearms Auction.
Hammered for $1,000

A fourth firearm was sold by Little John's auction house during their May 2011 sale.  It is also being listed again with questionable claims.

Colt 1860 Army with holster as listed by
Little John's in May 2011
Estimate: $1,500 - $3,000
SAME Colt 1860 Army, listed in Julia's Oct 2014 sale as,
"used by Nicholas Black Elk at the Battle of
Little Bighorn."
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000

Now, since we have discovered these questionable guns, James D. Julia has pulled them from their website catalog.  We do not know what their plans are with these guns, but we are hoping it is a transparent act in the spirit of honesty to help return some peace of mind to the collecting community. Further we wonder what recourse the buyers of the same consignor items in the Julia sale in March have? However, as it currently stands, we are not optimistic for a positive out come for the people for the following reasons.

The first reason lies in the listing for a facsimile Colt Walker sold by them in their sale held in the spring of 2014.  In the items description, after touting what an excellent fake the gun is, the following sentence appears in the item's official description.

Please click on screen capture to enlarge.

Those are words you will never find at Rock Island Auction Company.  As discussed earlier, to sell guns openly disclosed as fakes or replicas is one matter, but to encourage deception of another firearms collector is something that no collector or investor should abide.  This sort of sentiment, in combination with the wild claims of provenance, should cause grave concern to any buyer who purchased some of the $240,000 of items sold by this collector in the James D. Julia March 2014 auction.  We began this article by stating that every auction house will, from time to time, receive fake guns.  Julia's is no exception and we await to see how they not only handle the items currently removed from their website, but also the $240,000 worth of  items sold this past March. Let it be known that RIAC sold some of these guns previously, but we have no ties to this obvious deception now on going in the next James Julia sale.

"A gun with a story and no documentation, is just a gun with a story."
Joel R. Kolander

Buy from Rock Island Auction Company. Here is a story published buy Gun Digest: 

Antique Guns: Can You Spot a Fake?

The author thought he was buying a genuine Cochran Turret Revolver like this one that recently sold through Rock Island Auctions. However, his – bought through a local antique store – turned out to be a fake. The surest way to avoid getting burned is to buy through a reputable auction house like RIA where in-house experts ensure authenticity. 

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