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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Interesting Facts from the December 2014 Premiere Sale

Our December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction had a few surprises for us.  Sure, it was as successful as ever with its realized total of $11.4 million, but that success came from some interesting places.  Some of the "old reliables" maintained the grip of their popularity, other genres and models experienced a surge of renewed interest, and some were way out of left field.  Today, we'll take a look at a few of the pieces that livened up the auction and whose results may not have been entirely expected.

Highest Performing Item Overall (Based on Highest Percentage Over Estimate)

Lot 1799: Colt Python Double Action Revolver
Low Estimate: $1,200
Realized Price: $11,500

"Highest Performing," for the purposes of this article, means the item that sold the highest percentage over its low estimate.

Colt Pythons have really enjoyed upswings in both popularity and price in the last several years.  The love for these high quality, fat-gripped wheel guns has carried over to other Colt "Snake Guns" and even into large Smith & Wesson revolvers for those unable to afford the reptilian revolvers.  This particular revolver remained in near perfect condition and was manufactured in 1956, making this a second-year production.  That early production also means it bears the remarkably low serial number of 543.  Perhaps even more staggering is that this isn't even the highest price brought by a Python in this auction, a honor belonging to lot 1795, which sold for a princely $14,950.

Highest Performing Antique

Lot 175: Custom Engraved Civil War Colt Model 1860 Army Percussion Revolver with Factory Letter Shipped to the New York Arsenal
Low Estimate: $3,000
Realized Price: $19,550

This classic Colt percussion revolver enjoyed a little more attention than usual thanks to its attractive customization, but moreso because of details in its factory letter.  First off, the letter details the gun as having a "blue/brass" finish and wood grips.  It's easy to see that the grips have been replaced with antique ivory that bear a carved eagle clutching an American-style shield in its talons.  In closer-up photos, one can also tell that the revolver has been custom engraved and that the front sight is made from German silver.

While those changes will appeal to some collectors, certainly its shipping destination will endear it to a larger number.  The factory letter lists that this revolver was sold to the "United States Government" and shipped to the "Commanding Officer" at the New York Arsenal on Governor's Island, New York on June 18, 1863.  That's a pretty intriguing history on a model of revolver that already has cemented its place in U.S. military firearms lore as the primary cavalry handgun from its adoption until the introduction of the legendary Model 1873.  The combination of looks, history, and a classic arm was too good to ignore.

Most Popular Item

Lot 3787: Colt Python Double Action Revolver

This is a tricky title to give, as we're measuring it by the amount of bids an item received.  The amount of pre-auction sealed bids go a long way into consideration and are easy to calculate, but how do you measure live participation?  Numerous buyers can raise their card for one bid, but the auctioneer can only take one, so it's difficult to measure how many bids an item truly received.  Not to mention the online participation, where the same scenario could unfold and you'd never even have the chance to see additional bidders.

That said, and with some wiggle room figured in, we claim a four-way tie between four lots of Colt snake guns!  Lots 1799 (the highest performing item overall), 1797, 3787, and 3790 all averaged around 50 bidders each!  That makes these three lots of Pythons, and one containing an Anaconda and a King Cobra, the most sought after items in the auction!  The best part is, we didn't need to look at the numbers to know it.  The bids were pouring in the minute these guns crossed the block and every single phone line was occupied with a bidder waiting for a chance to win one of these revolvers.  The buzz in the auction hall told this story before the numbers ever could.

Oldest Gun Sold

Lot 3093: Highly Ornately Gold, Silver, Pearl, Coral and Bone Inlaid Ottoman Miquelet Rifle
Low Estimate: $1,400
Realized Price: $3,162

There are many that feel these ornate antique guns are greatly underappreciated.  The high level of craftsmanship, the luxurious materials, and the aesthetics are often found far under the price of what it would cost to produce such a firearm today.  This gun is a prime example of such an argument thanks to its intricate inlays of gold, silver, pearl, coral, and bone.  It is simply mystifying what people could do with what we would consider "primitive tools" by today's standards.

While we can't always determine an exact year for many of the firearms in our auctions, we can come pretty close based on several helpful factors.  This is the oldest gun I could uncover after some in-depth searching.  Our describers estimate that this Ottoman rifle likely dates to the late 17th or early 18th century.  While that qualifies it for the oldest gun in the auction, it is not the oldest item.  That honor belongs to the 16th Century Italian style, swept-hilt rapier in lot 120.

Highest Selling Colt

Lot 1270: Impeccably Documented Captain Walker's C Company Colt Walker U.S. Model 1847 Revolver
Realized Price: $172,500

Believe it or not, that six-figure price is actually a great find for the lucky buyer.  Also in the "believe it or not" category is that the contest for highest selling Colt was far from a landslide.  May other phenomenal Colt firearms were also in the running like the presentation grade, recently discovered Model 1855 revolving shotgun, a 'D Company' Colt Walker, and a Squareback Texas No. 5 Paterson with its original holster.  By the way, many companies will go years without the privilege of selling a Colt Walker - they are ridiculously rare and sought after.  To have two in one auction, and another in each of our previous two auctions, is border-line impossible.  Well, impossible for most auction houses.  For those keeping track, that's four Walkers in 2014, 2 in 201`3, and another 4 in 2012!

Highest Selling Winchester

Lot 1043: Magnificent, Deluxe, Documented Special Order, Winchester Third Model 1873 with Casehardened Frame and Factory Letter
Realized Price: $149,500

Besides being completely gorgeous thanks to its iridescent case hardening and wood that seems to glint like a tiger's eye gemstone, this gun is also extremely rare.  Just like today, if you wanted to order a gun with custom features, you were going to have to pay for it.  Also just like today, not everybody wants to spend that kind of money, instead preferring a cheaper firearm for a life of service.  This makes special order Winchesters rare and it makes Winchesters with a combination of features increasingly more rare as their list of features increases.  This particular rifle has no shortage of special order features: 1/2 octagon barrel, set trigger, deluxe 3X fancy grain walnut stock, "Style H" checkering, pistol grip (the bottom of which has an ebony inlay), gold washed beach folding front sight, rare folding 62-B rear peep sight, and the casehardened forearm cap, receiver, hammer, lever, and crescent buttplate.  It is very much deserving of its sale price.

Highest Selling Luger

Lot 1446: Extraordinary Finest Known DWM Model 1906 Russian Military Contract Semi-Automatic Luger Pistol
Realized Price: $46,000

Those pistols made for a Russian contract are the rarest of all military contract Lugers.  Distinct with their Cyrillic text and crossed "Mosin-Nagant rifles" marking over the chamber area, these Lugers easily catch the eye of discerning collectors.  This gun's rarity and "excellent" condition grade are made even more valuable by remaining all original, and having all matching numbers, with the exception of its original, nickel plated, wood base commercial magazine.

Highest Selling Civil War Item

Lot  1269: Extraordinary Deluxe Gustave Young Panel Scene Engraved, Presentation First Model Maynard Breechloading Carbine

Realized Price: $37,375

One might not associate a gun so finely decorated to be a "Civil War firearm," but over 20,000 Maynard Second Model carbines were made for Union cavalry units.  The one shown above is a First Model.  It has a fancy grain, walnut stock with a patchbox and an inlaid and inscribed silver plate.  It is in exceptional condition, and most notably exhibits delicate and flawlessly executed European  style scroll work and panel scene engraving.  The work, while not documented, was almost certainly performed by the legendary Master Engraver Gustave Young.

Highest Selling Non-Firearm

Lot 1601: Two Inscribed United States Marine Corps Mameluke Officer Swords with Scabbards, Documented to Two Navy Cross Winners

Realized Price: $4,312

The swords themselves are attractive and fascinating pieces of U.S. military history.  They have brass cross guards, brass fitted/nickel finished sheaths, etching in a Marine Corps motif, and even the rig necessary to wear the swords properly.  The history of the swords is even more impressive than their decor.

One of the swords was issued to one Col. Miles R. Thatcher.  A man who started out as a 2nd LT in 1905 and by 1946 had retired as a full Colonel.  In his tenure with the USMC he earned quite a few medals to pin to his chest: the Navy Cross, the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit, the Haitian Medialle Militiare, the Mexican Campaign Medal, and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal.  The Navy Cross is the second-highest military award for valor eligible to the Navy, USMC, and Coast Guard.

The other was issued to a Gilbert Durnell Hatfield, a Marine enlistee in 1915 who would eventually retire as a Lieutenant Colonel.  Hatfield earned his Navy Cross for his "coolness and military way of handling the situation."  What situation, you ask?  He was serving in Nicaragua when Augusto Sandino, a bandit and later namesake of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, launched a pre-dawn raid on his camp with a 5:1 troop advantage.  When Sandino sent a messenger to Hatfield requesting his surrender, Hatfield replied, "Marines don't surrender.  Go to hell."  Well put, Marine.

Well, there you have it.  Whether people spoke en masse or with their wallets, those were some of the most desirable items in the auction.  Far from an exhaustive list of items that performed well, we thought it would be interesting to show some items that you made into highlights.  This list wasn't created by RIAC, it was created by enthusiastic and passionate collectors and investors,  If you'd like to see this type of lists after other auctions, leave us a comment below and let us know.  Also, if you have an idea for a "highlight" you'd like to see after subsequent auctions, feel free to put that in a comment as well.  We can't thank you all enough for a fantastic 2014!  See you all in February for our first ever FOUR DAY AUCTION taking place February 19, 20, 21, & 22, 2015.  Stay tuned to this blog and our social media pages for more details as they develop.


  1. I really like your blog. You have a sense of humor and very informative article. Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work.


  2. Intelligent, factual analysis after an auction is far more useful to collectors and dealers than the mindless cheerleading featured by other firearms auction houses. Thank you RIA for offering the firearms fraternity a great resource!