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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Announcing The Bretherton Collection

Rock Island Auction Company is proud and deeply honored to have been chosen to market at auction the legendary Robert “The Bear” Bretherton Collection. The Robert Bretherton Collection houses European and American automatic pistols, classic European high art arms, American and European sporting rifles and swords, incredible Colt revolvers, Winchester rifles of the West and their competitors, plus combat and prototype arms of the Allied and Axis powers; representing an epic feat in the field of fine arms collecting.  Aside from its tremendous size and high condition are the unforgettable rarities that span more than four centuries of technological advances, design, and craftsmanship. Even with all these tremendous accolades, the most appealing aspect of the collection is its unmistakable freshness, having never been viewed by a single collector in its entirety.

Born in 1925, Robert “The Bear” Bretherton had an insatiable appetite for fine arms even at an early age, acquiring his first gun by his sixth birthday. Over the next 80 years he hunted and pursued fine firearms across the globe on an unprecedented scale. After viewing the collection, President and CEO of Rock Island Auction Company Patrick Hogan commented, “It was quite clear to me even at first glance, the level of scholarship and passion Mr. Bretherton had when building his collection.  He understood rarity and condition, the difference between good and great, and had an obvious adoration for the history behind the firearms, as was exhibited by the collection’s vast range from classical European wheelocks to 20th century military arms."

 “Having been in this business for nearly 25 years, I have examined collections in almost every state and throughout Europe. In all my experience, I have never encountered a group of arms equal to the supreme quality and quantity as what is represented within the Bretherton Collection.  To say his collection is a lifetime achievement would only be scratching the surface,” said Hogan. “It is simply magnificent.” Many times when a collection of this size is amassed by an individual and that person passes, that collection can fall into neglect.  Thankfully, in this case the caretaker was an outstanding curator who ensured all items were well cared for and cherished.

Rock Island Auction Company is coming off the heels of the most successful year to date for any firearms auction house or firearms division, posting the unprecedented sum of over $51 million in sales for 2015. This cemented their 12th consecutive year as the world’s number one firearms auction house. “We are extremely proud of what our team was able to do in 2015 and equally thankful to our customers, both consignors and buyers,” said Laurence Thomson, Executive Director of Operations at RIAC. “We have a company culture that is never satisfied with average and pushes to be exceptional each and every year, one auction at a time. Over the last four years we have averaged $48 million annually.  No other firearms auction house has ever hit $40 million! We are beyond excited for 2016 to announce the acquisition of the Bretherton Collection.  It’s an unbelievable opportunity for our firm and for collectors everywhere.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Guns: 2015 December Premiere

Time to review the top guns of our 2015 December Premiere Firearms Auction, and the event was HUGE. In case you hadn't heard, the event resulted in nearly $15 million in sales and pushed our annual total to $51 MILLION! That is another record in the firearms industry set by Rock Island Auction Company and we couldn't be more proud. Since no one else has breached even $40 million, these phenomenal numbers cement our place as the world's #1 firearms auction house for a twelfth consecutive year. Of course, we couldn't have done it without the trust of our consignors, the loyalty of our buyers, and a super active internet community like you that likes our posts, shares our photos, watches our videos, and reads our blogs.

Numbers like this should be extremely encouraging for the entire firearms community! It's no secret that the number of new guns being sold seems to reach a new high every other month and by our own numbers the overall market for collectible firearms is also at new and exciting heights. We had bidders from 21 countries bidding via the RIAC website alone! Let's take a look at some of the high dollar, popular, and over-achieving guns in this sale.

Most Popular

Lot 3665: U.S. Winchester Arms M1 Garand Semi-Automatic Rifle with Case
Estimate: $700 - $1,000
Realized Price: $1,725
Number of Sealed Bidders: >30

The popularity of M1 Garands does not appear to be waning anytime soon, especially high condition examples.  This has been especially apparent in 2015 when we sold M1 serial number 7, prototype models from the SALVO project, and more famously a National Match refinished by the CPRPFS (now the CMP) that belonged to President John F. Kennedy. The Winchester M1 shown above was manufactured in 1944 and wonderfully restored by Miltech of California.  Original or restored, people want a good looking Garand; this rifle simply allowed them to do it with a significant reduction in price but still with high attention to detail and authenticity.

Top Dollar

Lot 1262: Important, Fresh and Extremely Significant Middle Eastern Treasure: 15th Century Shirt of Mail and Plate with Elaborate Gold Koftgari Decorated Plate Reinforcement with the Property Stamp from the Janissary Arsenal at the Hagia Irene Church in Istanbul with Inscription that Appears to Bear the name of the Recipient: Qaytbay Mamluk Sultan of Egypt 1468-1496
Estimate: $200,000 - $500,000
Realized Price: $2.3 Million

If you receive our emails or look at our social media pages, then you already knew about this one. A 15th century shirt of armor belonging to an Egyptian sultan sold for $2.3 million dollars! This is far and away the highest amount achieved by any item at Rock Island Auction Company, and what an exciting moment it was to watch it sell. It is simply an incredible piece that was covered in more depth by our "More Museum Worthy Pieces" article last month. For a blow-by-blow account of the sale of the shirt, read our full auction write-up.

Highest Performing Item Overall

Lot 1132: Finely Carved Powder Horn with French-Indian War Themed Decoration
Estimate: $1,800 - $2,750
Realized Price: $25,875

With the wonderfully high sale price of the armor, you'd think it would be a no-brainer for the highest performing item in the auction. However, this unassuming powder horn takes that prize by hammering for 1,150% over its low estimate, while the armor hammered over its mark by 900%. The engraving on the horn is sharp and, at its base, depicts armed Native Americans bearing a flag of Great Britain.  The rest shows an unnamed river with tributaries that wraps around the horn almost two complete times. The horn may have doubled as a map for someone who frequently traveled that waterway.

Highest Performing Genre: The Royal Hunt Collection

Lot 1329: Massive and Magnificent European Red Stag Wall Mount From King Frederick William III Accompanied by Mid-19th Century Military Themed Items

Average Percentage Above Low Estimate: 260%

OK, so the true top performing genre was the "Antique European Military Item," but that stat is definitely going to be skewed by the sale of the armor. The next genre in the list is the items from the Royal Hunt Collection.  An incredible collection of hunting trophies taken by top men in the Imperial German military and assembled over 40 years through the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II's descendants. The moment these began to be offered, you could hear the buzz in the room and it was reflected in the bids. It was nearly dumbfounding to see mount after mount pass their estimates by thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Selling a mere 60 lots after the Egyptian armor, it was a very exciting afternoon at Rock Island Auction Co.

Obviously, the non-firearm items in this auction had a spectacular day, but let's look at some of the top sellers in some of the most popular areas of collecting.

Highest Selling Colt

Lot 1687: Super Ultra-Rare Early Production Colt Model 1909 Serial Number "22" 45 ACP Semi-Automatic Test Trial Pistol with Factory Letter
Realized Price: $161,000

The headline for this weapon says it all.  It's a ridiculously high condition example of an important developmental stage of an iconic weapon.  There were 23 ever made, serialed 0-22 making this the final one ever produced! It was easily the top dollar Colt in the auction with its $161,000 realized price.  In second was a San Francisco shipped, Glahn engraved Single Action Army in .44 S&W with an R.L. Wilson letter in lot 1220 that realized $103,500. Each one a beauty!

Highest Selling Winchester

Lot 1014: Magnificent John Ulrich Masterpiece Factory Engraved, Signed, Gold Inlaid, and Elaborately Ornamented Winchester Model 1894 Lever Action Rifle From the Legendary Mac McCroskie Collection

Realized Price: $207,000

This was the highest estimated Winchester in the auction, so there's no big surprise here.  Though guns that were not the highest estimate have come through before! It's another outstanding piece from the Mac McCroskie Collection, so you know it is of the highest quality and condition. As Director of Auction Services Kevin Hogan says, "If there was a Mount Rushmore of gun collecting, he'd be on it." This gun is a fine representation of the caliber of guns in his collection (no pun intended).  Expertly master engraved, gorgeous wood, gold inlaid, high condition, and featured in several books, it is everything a collector could want from a top of the line Winchester.

Highest Selling Civil War Arm

Lot 3174: Rare U.S. Civil War Era Ames Foundry Model 1841 6 Pounder Cannon Dated 1855 with Provenance
Realized Price: $109,250

It's true, this isn't a small arm, but it is definitely the highest selling Civil War Era item in the sale. Many cannons come through our doors, but few are original models like this one. This cannon is one of very few 6-pounders in private hands, especially when accompanied by its large quantities of documentation. The highest selling small arm of the sale was sold only two lots earlier and was the Sharps Model 1853 in lot 3172 that was captured during John Brown's raid on the Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. That historical carbine sold for $28,750.

Highest Selling Non-Firearm

This was easily the Egyptian armor.  Since we've covered it already, we'll be moving right along.

Highest Selling German Arm

Lot 1584: Rare Historic Factory Engraved Walther PP Gold Plated Nazi Presentation Semi Automatic Pistol with Leather Holster and Spare Magazine
Realized Price: $37,375

We have seen some absolutely incredible European arms collections come through our doors this year. This was especially apparent in The Iconic Ralph Shattuck Collection filled with amazing Lugers and German military pieces. Pistols like this gold plated, presentation Walther PP show that the collections are still rolling in and going strong. It's beautiful, pre-WWII, fresh to the market, and according to the inscription, was a Christmas present in 1934. The collector that secured this fine firearm has some fascinating research ahead of them. Following the Royal Hunt Collection, German Military Lugers were the 2nd highest performing genre in the entire auction - a good sign of a continuing solid market for those collectors.

What a sale and what a year! It was an exciting weekend that put an exclamation point on an already successful season. Newcomer collections were top performers and led the way via the Legendary Mac McCroskie Collection and the Royal Hunt Collection, but traditional genres such as the German Military pieces were not far behind.  Again, a hearty and sincere thank you to everyone who helped make this year, and the previous 11 a reality. We'll continue to work as hard as we can to keep your interest, your trust, and your loyalty.

Our next auction will be an Online Only Auction held on Friday, January 29, 2016 beginning at 9:00 a.m. CT. The first batch of lots in that auction has posted today!  Head on over to search today to browse and bid on these items. It'll be a great way to start the new year.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Surprisingly Modern Colt 1903

Lot 1453: Excellent Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol with Original Box and Papers
(Lot 1468 is another pristine example of a 1908 in its original box)

At the 2015 Shot Show in Las Vegas there was the usual hullabaloo around a lot of new guns and gadgets, and rightly so.  For those unfamiliar, Shot Show is basically the Detroit Auto Show of the gun world. It's on par with the biggest industry shows in the country: E3, CES, Comic-Con, NRA Convention, etc. Annually, new stuff gets unveiled before throngs of both the passionate and the curious. However, one little pistol stuck out at Shot2015 that was not the usual piece of innovative technology.  In fact, its roots go back over 100 years.  Needless to say, the presence of a Colt Model 1903 "General Officer's Pistol" surprised more than a few people.

Also known as the 1903 Pocket Hammerless, even though they possess a shrouded hammer, these classy little pistols are perhaps more at home in today's world of concealed carry options than most folks recognize. Here's how it compares side-by-side with the Glock 43, arguably one of the most anticipated handguns in recent memory.

The larger of the Colt measurements pertain solely to the first variation of the Colt 1903, which
accounted for the first 71,999 produced.
Glocks are frequently heralded for their utilitarian nature, but at over one century old, the Colt still holds its own. In addition to the comparable dimensions, the 1903 has something else going for it that newer pistols simply cannot match: history.

Original Models

Designed by John Moses Browning and initially called Model M by Colt, these "hammerless" pistols were made for over four decades (1903 - 1945) with approximately 572,215 entering civilian production and 200,000 more for the military. They were immediately popular with the public, and approximately 10,000 were sold in the first year. Even though production stopped in 1945, so many parts had been produced that they continued to be assembled until 1953, and were issued to general officers in the Army and Air Force as late as the 1970s. These totals include all five variations of the 1903. The Model 1908 was a nearly identical pistol in .380 ACP that differed only in chamber/bore size and magazine capacity.  The larger round of the Model 1908 meant that only 7 rounds could fit in the magazine, but the new cartridge, developed by John Browning for the Colt 1908, could not compete with the popularity of the .32 ACP that had been in production since 1899. Only 138,000 Model 1908 pistols were sold retail and an unknown amount were made for military contracts.
The smooth lines and relative small size, compared to other early semi-autos, made the Model 1903 a hit with good guys and bad guys alike. Besides being issued to general officers in the military the pistol also saw service with the Shanghai Municipal Police (M1908) in the 1920s and 1930s, including by noted knife fighter, secret agent, commando, and all-around dangerous guy, William Fairbairn. Pistols used in Shanghai are clearly marked as such and are likely to have seen heavy use given the infestation of crime the city during the early 20th century. Perhaps it was Fairbairn's positive experience with the Model 1908 that led to its use by both the OSS, a precursor of the CIA, and the British SOE, both organizations that greatly valued Fairbairn's covert contributions. George Patton was also known to own a 1908 Pocket Hammerless.

Lot 1476: Scarce Documented Shanghai Municipal Police Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol with Factory Letter

However, the same advantages that made it so desirable to many police departments, including the NYPD, also made it popular among criminals of the day. Bonnie Parker of "Bonnie & Clyde" infamy had two with her the day they were gunned down in their V8-powered Ford. John Dillinger, despite his affinity for .45 caliber weapons, and a well-known quote of, "Never trust a woman, a district attorney, or an automatic pistol," was photographed wearing a Model 1908 and was killed with one on his person.

New Models

At Shot Show 2015, Colt had a Model 1903 at their booth.  There was no grand reveal, no unveiling, hype, or fanfare.  Just a pistol displayed under glass and one being shown by one of the creators in the massive Colt booth. The full story is that Colt contracted U.S. Armament Corp to make a licensed copy of the 1903 pocket hammerless general officer's pistol.  This U.S. Armament Corp is the same organization that made exact replicas of the Colt Model 1877 "Bulldog" Gatling gun several years back.  Not only are the Gatling guns gorgeous with their highly polished brass and walnut, the reproductions are said to be so exact that parts of the originals and the reproductions are said to be interchangeable. That's the kind of precision and attention to authenticity U.S. Armament brings to the table when reproducing the Colt Model 1903 pistols.  (Note: According to USAC, the parts of the new pistols may or may not fit the original Colt pistols because many of the original Colt pistols were hand fitted, as are the parts for the reproductions. Sometimes, even original parts don't properly fit on original guns.)

That said, the guns are reproduced with most of their imperfections.  The grip safety that some users found difficult to activate appears in its original form. The right-handed, manual safety that offers no tactile or audible feedback, yet is easy enough to use, is still a simple checkered lever with a smooth pivot. The small sights, curiously prevalent among guns of that period, have not been enlarged. No push button magazine release has been added, so the original heel release must be used. Also since the Model 1903 pre-dates the 1911, the slide does not lock open on the final shot, nor is there accompanying slide release for such a feature. Those wishing to carry this gun as an alternative to modern concealed carry options will be pleased at the authenticity, but may also wish to consider the lack of many common and desirable features.

Image from

The only true downside to the reproduction of these once popular little pistols will be the limited run. initial reports after Shot Show 2015 were that 2,500 of these pistols were going to be produced, 500 of which would be GO-issued pistols. A quick call to USAC reveals that those numbers have been updated. Now, a total run of 3,500 pistols will be produced. 2,500 will be parkerized general officer's pistols, and 500 of those will be "presentation" models with serial number duplicates to those issued to specific U.S. Generals, deluxe presentation cases, and information on that specific general. It is likely that those serial numbers issued to the most famous generals (Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, etc) will likely be donated or presented. The remaining 1,000 pistols are going to be shipped in the white to Colt's Custom Shop where they will undoubtedly get any number of special grips, finishes, engravings, and inlays. Also disclosed at Shot Show was the base price of $1,395. In comparison, original models of the 1903 and 1908 in our December auction have low estimates ranging from $800 - $6,500.  Those guns will be shipped with one mag in the military style kraft boxes, with wax pencil serial numbers on the box to boot. Model 1908 pistols will come later (likely 12 - 18 months out) with a limited production run of approximately 5,000. Before you can ask: no, Colt Pythons reproductions are not planned at this time despite the immense number of requests for the wheelgun.

New Info on the New Model

What has not yet been discussed or divulged is the possibility of USAC producing a special "OSS Presentation" version of the pistol. This gun would likely receive its own presentation case and some OSS related goodies, but would also be able to accept a suppressor! USAC says that the suppressor (as of this writing) would likely be outsourced, but the pistol itself would involve a longer, threaded barrel produced in-house. As if a popular old gun receiving its due renaissance isn't cool enough, USAC will potentially take it one step further by giving a very visible modern nod to the pistol's clandestine past. That is one idea that this writer personally hopes makes it all the way into final production, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Timeline for such a piece would be roughly 12 - 18 months.

Photo taken from the USAC Facebook page, and not, unfortunately, from my desk.
Speaking of timelines, I spoke with Jake Nyman, Vice President of USAC, with a few clarifying questions regarding these reproductions. Of course, one of the questions I asked was if the timeframe for the 1903 was still correct. He gave details of the production that are perhaps not what people anticipate.  His answer was that a run of 3,500 guns is still anticipated (though an extension of the license with Colt may be sought for the aforementioned "OSS version"). However, the way he answered it communicated that these guns are not being "released" en masse like the latest iPhone. There is no set "release date." These guns are being carefully hand-fitted and will take time to produce.  With some very recent hiring at USAC to build these guns more quickly, rate of manufacture should ramp up to about 100-120 guns per month, meaning about two more years of production. For those wondering, yes, that means these reproductions are already being sold.

Image on unpacked Model 1903, also from USAC Facebook page.

On a side note, the original Model 1903 pistols are said to lack a mechanical firing pin safety and can discharge if dropped hard enough on its muzzle or rear of the slide. The inertia of such an drop has been known to whip the firing pin forward and touch off a chambered round.  This is also the alleged reason for Fairbairn not permitting the Shangai Police to carry with a round in the chamber. Since USAC is known for their dedication to authenticity and accuracy in these reproductions, I asked Mr. Nyman about this design flaw and whether improvements had been made or they stayed 100% true to the old design.

Jake gave an answer that showed a little of each was taking place. A firing pin safety had not been added to the pistol design in order to maintain authenticity, but he did assure me that the sear and hammer pockets were deepened to prevent the accidental discharges. He said, "We and Colt have put this pistol through every drop test you can imagine," with no experienced failures.

Models Appearing in Our 2015 December Auction

It should come as no surprise that the reason we decided to write about these sleek little pistols, in addition to their surprising modern relevancy, is the amount of exceptional examples in our upcoming 2015 December Premiere Firearms Auction. One collection, that of Ralf Eyster, focuses entirely on these pistols. Here are a few of the highlights appearing in this sale.

Lot 3593: Historic Documented U.S. Property Marked Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol as Issued to Brigadier General Joseph L. Bernier with Original Wooden Shipping Crate

Lot 1454: Documented Factory Engraved Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol with Letter

Lot 1452: Scarce Factory Documented OSS Shipped U.S. Property Marked Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol with Boxed OSS-Pattern Concealment Holster and Two "Cloak and Dagger" Pattern Patches

Lot 3591: Exceptional U.S. Military Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol

Lot 3571: Wolf and Klar Shipped Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless Semi-Automatic Pistol with Box and Factory Letter

Lot 1680: Exceptional U.S. Property Marked Colt Model 1908 .380 Hammerless Pocket Automatic Pistol with Ammunition Pouch and Spare Magazines

Not only are Model 1903 and 1908 pistols still relevant today, they basically set several standards upon their introduction. Their ability to be concealed and streamlined shape gave them practicality beyond their years. The popularity of the gun and its early appearance in the lifetime of semi-automatic pistols, made its design virtually the definition of how a pistol "should" look, especially in TV and movies. It was seen in early Dick Tracy comic strips (and the 1990 movie) and in the hands of Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca."  It quickly turned into an "every pistol" and is a highly under-recognized accomplishment in the John Moses Browning design portfolio. They provide great alternative for someone who wants to concealed carry, but might not appreciate the aesthetics or lack of history of modern pistols.

Luckily, there is no shortage of either of these pistols in our upcoming 2015 December Premiere Firearms Auction. Likewise, there is also an excellent assortment not only of the 1903 and 1908, but also the 1908 Vest Pocket, and a splendid smattering of other early Colt semi-automatic pistols. Please click any of the links below to view the full selection.  You can place bids directly on our website or just peruse the various roles that these guns filled through their four working decades. Whether you choose buy an original Colt, a licensed reproduction, or just look, be sure to do it fast, because the popularity of these little guns seems to be catching on quickly.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Ayoob, Massad F. Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World. Vol. II. Iola, WI: Krause, 2012. Print.

...and a big thanks to Jake Nyman for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions!

Friday, November 13, 2015

George Washington's Telescope

To claim an item as George Washington's is nearly as American as the Pater Patriae himself. As was shown in our story about the Thompson submachine gun that was thought to be John Dillinger's, in a surprisingly short time myth and rumor can take the place of fact and documentation. So many items and places are associated with George Washington that the cliché has even entered the popular realm with a comedy stage play entitled "George Washington Slept Here," that was also adapted into a 1942 movie starring Jack Benny.

Granted, in George Washington's younger days he would've undoubtedly slept in a number of beds.  He was a surveyor in the 1750s and a colonial officer, both jobs that required frequent travel. From 1775 and on, he rarely found himself at his Mount Vernon estate, instead spending time in either Philadelphia for business with the Continental Congress or in Massachusetts to satisfy duties as the head of the Continental Army.  Even after the American Revolution, Washington was far from sedentary. Just four short years later, he would be elected president and would feel an obligation to tour the nation as a way to introduce himself to his constituents. With this kind of travel, any number of locations can rightly state that "George Washington Slept Here," used their dinner set, or gave a new found importance to any number of what would otherwise be mundane, everyday objects.

Lot 3084: Historic Dolland Brass Spyglass Inscribed "G. Washington, Mt. Vernon" with Notarized Letter of Family Provenance from William Lanier Washington with Case
This unfortunately, and as with nearly every object of value, gave rise to a counterfeit market of items all claiming provenance to George Washington. Collectors of Washington artifacts have every right to be skeptical of any item claiming a first-hand interaction with the first president, especially important ones such as pistols, swords, uniform pieces, silverware, or other items of value. With both the importance of Washingtonian artifacts and the wariness of spurious memorabilia in mind, Rock Island Auction Company is proud to present an item of significant historical significance: a brass spyglass of President George Washington.

It is a humble looking treasure of Americana. While its brass bears a pleasant patina, dings and scratches fleck its surface, the optics themselves need work, and several parts bear over 200 years of honest age.  However, this field telescope is the product of one of the finest optics manufacturers of the era.  It was made by The Dollond (later spelled Dolland) family, who built their superior instruments from the mid-1700s until the last decade when they have become the subject of several corporate acquisitions. Named as "Optician to the King" in 1761, the Dolland family also made several important contributions to the telescope. For these reasons and others, early Dolland telescopes remain in high demand by collectors.  Examples are currently housed at Monticello as well as a model at the National Museum of American History that was used by Washington during the American Revolution. Telescopes have been highly valued historically - the wealthy and social elite of Washington's day drove their popularity and, in turn, their technological development. Both a invaluable tool to the military man and a hobby of the wealthy, Washington fit squarely into both groups and unavoidably found himself in possession of a telescope.  In fact, Washington's will lists "11 Spye glasses" (sic) in his estate's inventory at the time of his death. The social and mechanical significance of the telescope are sure to entice some, but the historic importance of this telescope cannot be overstated.

George Washington holding a brass-colored spyglass in "George Washington Before
the Battle of Trenton" painted by John Trumbull
This artifact of President Washington's had been passed down through family generations for over 120 years. We know this because the spyglass was previously sold by the first auction house in the United States, the now defunct American Art Association (AAA), in February, 1920. The sale was billed as "William Lanier Washington's Collection of Relics and memorabilia of George Washington."

Accompanying this spyglass is a notarized 1920 affidavit from William L. Washington, the great-great-great grandson of George Washington's brother Colonel John Augustine Washington. It states that the spyglass was given by George Washington to his nephew Col. William Augustine Washington (son of the aforementioned Col. John Augustine Washington) while George was still alive. This nephew must have held a place of importance in Washington's life as he is also listed in George's will as the Executor of his estate after his wife, Martha.

From there it was passed on to the nephew's son, Colonel George Corbin Washington (William's great grandfather), who in turn passed it to his son, Colonel Lewis William Washington.  The affidavit then states that "His widow gave it to their son, William d'Hertburn Washington, who, during his lifetime, sold it to my younger brother, Lewis William Washington... from whom I inherited it."

Furthermore, in the investigation of this article, I was able to track down a digital copy of the original auction catalog with some assistance from the helpful Chief of Archives and Records Management at the Frick Art Reference Library, an institution that houses the records of the former AAA. Beginning this catalog is a lengthy and detailed five page letter written by William Lanier Washington describing special items in the collection and listing "several direct family sources" that at one time point inherited or bequeathed many of the items in the sale. It is strikingly thorough. The section discussing the Washington heritage reads nearly like the first verses in the Gospel of Matthew, giving detailed lineage all the way back to George Washington. Thankfully, William also takes the time, at nearly every level of the family tree, to quote extracts from that person's last Will & Testament detailing to whom these historic artifacts should go, and specifically mentioning many of the items. It is astounding that the provenance of these items should be detailed so thoroughly and even more so that such information is available to collectors and investors today!

As shown in last week's article, Rock Island Auction Company regularly offers astounding pieces of history from America, Europe, Japan, and of firearms development. Many of these items would not be out of place in the world's top museums for history or art, and we are proud to do our part in finding new stewards for these remarkable pieces. If you would like to get more up close and personal with this important spyglass, or any of the items in our auction, you are cordially invited to attend our Preview Day. Held the Thursday before every auction, Preview Day is your opportunity to hold, inspect, touch, or shoulder any item in the auction. It's been called "the Museum You Can Touch," by many collectors, but it improves on a museum in two distinct ways.  First, our inventory revolves a lot more frequently than any museum.  That happens when you sell over 22,000 guns annually.  Second, you can actually own the items you see! It would be our pleasure to have you as our guest at this or any of the industry leading auctions at Rock Island Auction Company, and when you see the care we take in presenting these phenomenal specimens, we promise you'll want to come back.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Friday, November 6, 2015

More Museum Worthy Pieces

You may recall our article from this past August entitled, "Five Guns that Belong in The Met." It focused on some stunning high art firearms in our September 2015 Premiere Auction that would easily fit in at the illustrious New York museum, or those that closely resembled items that already had earned their place.

Fortunately, our 2015 December Premiere Auction is also filled with items possessing rich provenances, direct historic ties, or masterfully executed high art. In fact, many of the highlights in this article have already spent part of their lives in a museum (or two).

Lot 1235: Historic Cased Tintype of a Young Man, Verified by Advanced Facial Recognition Technology as Notorious Western Outlaw John Wesley Hardin, One of the Deadliest Gunfighters of his Age,

In the news very recently has been much publicity about a second authenticated photo showing the notorious American outlaw Billy the Kid. It is rightfully big news as the last auctioned sale of a verified Billy the Kid photograph took place in 2011 to the tune of $2.3 million.

John Wesley Hardin is another infamous outlaw of the American West that was as bad as they come. At 15, he killed his first man who tried to ambush him in retaliation for losing a wrestling match, and then killed the three soldiers who came to capture him while on the run.  Not bothering to learn other less-than-savory skills like robbery or gambling, Hardin was a gunfighter through and through. He was quick to anger, ready to fight, and skilled with his gun. Intentionally or not, Hardin once even fired drunkenly through a wall at a snoring man in an adjacent hotel room.  He may have meant to wake the noisy neighbor, but instead one of the bullets entered the man's skull and the snoring stopped forever. Though harboring a venomous disdain for slaves, holding them partially responsible for the ruin of the south, Hardin's guns knew no bias. He killed whites, slaves, Mexicans, freemen, gamblers, marshals, sheriffs, deputies, Yankees, Texans, Native Americans, and those known only to God.  By the time he was captured by Texas Rangers he would be charged with 27 murders (though there are 42 by Hardin's own count). He would serve 17 years, during which he would run the prison Sunday School and obtain his law degree. While practicing law in El Paso after his release, it wouldn't take Hardin long to involve himself in trouble with the local law.  Unfortunately, he chose the wrong folks to tussle with and one of them put a bullet in the back of his head while he was playing poker in the Acme Saloon.

In the video below, the photo is compared to an authenticated photo of Hardin by Mr. Bob Schmitt, the former Vice President of Biometrica Incororated, a company that supplies facial recognition software to casinos and law enforcement. In his opinion the photos are unmistakably of the same man. Previous photographs of Hardin have been identified and appraised for $30,000 - $50,000 and have even appeared on the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow. This tintype presents an amazing opportunity for aficionados of the Wild West or collectors of the lawless pages in American history.

Lot 1262: Important, Fresh and Extremely Significant Middle Eastern Treasure: 15th Century Shirt of Mail and Plate with Elaborate Gold Koftgari Decorated Plate Reinforcement with the Property Stamp from the Janissary Arsenal at the Hagia Irene Church in Istanbul with Inscription that Appears to Bear the name of the Recipient: Qaytbay Mamluk Sultan of Egypt 1468-1496

That is one massive headline to describe this item.  However, if any item has earned it, it's this one.  It is reported to be only one of two mail and plate shirts identified to Qaytbay, the 18th Sultan of Egypt, and remains the sole version available to private collectors.  The only other example is housed in the Topkapi Armoury Museum in Istanbul.

For many of us Westerners not up to speed on our Egyptian history, Qaytbay is remembered fondly as a Sultan that presided over a period of unprecedented economic comfort, political stability, and artistic prevalence. He donated large portions of his wealth to combat poverty, which gave rise to his reputation, in his own kingdom and abroad, of being charitable and practicing conservative religious piety. Qaytbay's ability to defend his homeland and obtain peace with the largest neighboring military power made him an even greater hero to his people.  Though for all these achievements, the sultan is more largely known for the most tangible and lasting of his contributions: architecture.  Not an architect himself (at least not known to history), Qaytbay provided for more than 230 monuments, many of which can still be found in areas ranging from Cairo and Alexandria to Damascus and Jerusalem.

For such a beloved leader, especially one so fond of the arts, only armor as fine as this would do. Brass rings trim the chain mail and gold koftgari, damascene artwork where steel is inlaid with gold, is liberally applied to the entire surface of the plate armor. Rarity, beauty, and historic significance are the big three that collectors seek and this armor, older than our entire country, possesses all three in spades.

Lot 1272: An Extremely Rare and Magnificent Wheellock Holster Pistol with Superbly Chiseled and Gilt Steel Mounts by Emanuel and/or Daniel Sadeler Royal Gunmakers to HRH Duke William of Bavaria Circa 1605

One look at the impeccable chisel work that appears all over this wheel lock should tell you all you need to know about this gun's worthiness to be placed in a museum. One could spend pages writing about all the minute details: chiseled metals, gilded pieces, mythological depictions, and engraved horn inlays. Instead, let us tell you about the rarity of a Sadeler pistol.

This occasion will mark only the second time in the past 50 years a Sadeler wheel lock has appeared on the collector market.  The other was sold by Christie's of London for more than $250,000 and now resides in one of the world's preeminent collections. This is very fitting considering that this incredible work of art was once the prized possession of the 9th duc de Lynes, Honore d'Albert. Please click on the above headline of this item and view the additional pictures housed on our website.  Firearms of this character do not come around often and certainly deserve much more than a simple fleeting glance.

Lot 3083: Historic Dual Presentation War of 1812 British HMS Guerriere Sword Surrendered Aboard The U.S.S Constitution "Old Iron Sides" and Later Presented and Inscribed to Edward Z.C. Judson A.K.A. Famed Wild West Dime Novelist Ned Buntline and Formerly Displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum

Many of us have heard the term "Old Ironsides" in American history and likely some have mis-associated the term with Monitor or the Merrimack, two ironclad warships utilized during the Civil War.  While originally the stout nickname applied to the British ship HMS Britannia, in American history the namesake belongs to the USS Constitution, a large, wood-hulled ship with three masts, named by George Washington himself, and launched in 1797. One of six such ships completed, each one was built for combat with more guns and more size than typical frigates of the era. Such advantages would come in handy against the French during the Quasi-War or against pirates, both of which actively targeted American merchant vessels. However Old Ironsides found her fame when used in combat in the War of 1812.  She would defeat 5 British warships, most famously the HMS Guerriere, where the cannonballs of the British ship many times thumped harmlessly against the hull of the Constitution, causing one sailor or famously erupt, "Huzzah!  Her sides are made of iron!" News of the victory at sea arrived to port before the ship and so the captain, crew, and ship arrived to a hero's welcome. It was a decisive triumph against the greatest naval power in the world and the USS Constitution became a symbol of victory for the young nation.

A letter that accompanies this sword, written by author and sword expert Richard Bezdek, states the following about it:

"A Sword captured from the captain of the H.M.S. Guerrier by an officer of the U.S.S. Constitution during this famous sea battle of the War of 1812, which was later presented to a U.S. Naval officer must be considered one of the most important and desirable swords in the history of the United States Navy. . .There is no other maritime artifact that would equal this sword in value. . ."

In its life it has been passed down from one deserving Navy man to another, and even into the hands of Midshipman Z.C. Judson, better known to most by his pseudonym, Ned Buntline. Judson would eventually pass the sword to the ancestor of the current owner, who came to possess it after three generations.  It has also rightly been displayed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.

The historic value of this piece is astonishing.  This is THE sword given in surrender from a battle that emboldened and inspired our nation and changed the course of what would come to be known as the Second War of Independence. Its significance is difficult to overstate as is the sheer luck that it should be available for a private collection.

Lot 3269: Beautifully Engraved and Bone Inlaid Pair of Silesian Wheellock Pistols

If there was one word to describe the design of these two pistols, it would be "delicate." Their slender shape, intricate inlays, elongated dogheads, and narrow trigger guards all radiate the grace and elegance of these 17th century wheel lock pistols. As is common on pistols of this era, there are no visible maker's markings, but based on other known pistols, one can infer this to be made in the Germanic states circa 1640.  If one couldn't tell by the embellishments alone, this set was almost certainly made for someone of nobility. However, in a time when all parts where handmade, the complexity of a wheel lock almost guaranteed that only the wealthy could afford such an arm.

The inlays are made from bone, antique ivory, horn, and mother of pearl, and depict numerous animals such as dogs, unicorns, rabbits, and mythical beasts. Dogs provide an obvious hunting theme on the gun, but unicorns, then considered real, symbolized grace and purity - fitting subjects for such sophisticated pistols. Rabbits, besides being a popular game animal, have long stood for vitality, fertility, and rebirth.  These guns were much more than just hunting pieces, they were individual pieces of art, each of which bore good omens for the bearer or perhaps, symbolized something about the user or his family.

Lot 83: Historically Significant Harmonica Rifle Built by Jonathan Browning, Carried with Him During the Mormon Exodus, and Purchased from the Browning Family with Documentation

We featured a Jonathan Browning harmonica gun in our previous Premiere Auction (Sept 2015).  It was even the subject of a video on The fascination with the iconic John Moses Browning apparently spread even to the man's father and the curious rifle, estimated between $50,000 - $100,000, found a new home to the tune of $138,000. The rifle appearing in our 2015 December Premiere Auction could earn an even higher amount thanks to a provenance that traces all the way down the Browning family tree to the patriarch himself.

First things first, simply because two of these rifles have been in two consecutive auctions, please do not make the assumption that these guns are common or will be seen again. Firearms expert, author, and icon Norm Flayderman has written that very few of these rifles are known to exist, and are "rarely seen or traded on the open market place."

According to members of the Browning family this particular rifle accompanied Jonathan Browning on his trek from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Utah after the Mormons were violently persecuted and forced to leave the state of Illinois.  After being pushed out of Quincy and Nauvoo, IL, Browning lived in Council Bluffs for a short time and continued his blacksmith and gunsmith trades before finally acquiescing and migrating to Utah in 1852. After violence befell the Mormons, especially founder Joseph Smith, a gunsmith was likely an extremely valuable member of the community, not only for manufacturing arms, but also for repairing those already in the community.

How the rifles came to leave the Browning family is best said in our official description of the rifle.

"The documentation included with the John Moses Browning falling block rifle also in this sale states that gunsmith and firearms collector John Kontes had first seen this rifle and the single shot in the office of a Buick dealership owned by J. Ed Browning, a John M. Browning descendant, after learning of them while shining the man's shoes. He stated that the rifles had been passed down from father to son for generations. When J. Ed Browning died without any children of his own, he gave the rifles to his younger brother who had twin sons: "Ed" and Merwyn. Ed received the harmonica rifle, and Merwin received this deluxe single shot. Kontes purchased this harmonica rifle directly from Ed, and purchased the single shot from his friend who had purchased it directly from Merwyn. A copy of the original check written to "J. E. Browning" for this rifle is included along with a hand written bill of sale signed "J. E. Browning."

The fact that not one, but two guns directly traceable to the Browning family are being offered in a single auction is absolutely unheard of.  In addition, there are also two rare and significant falling block rifles and a deluxe single shot rifle made by his son (lots 8586, & 84, respectively), the heralded John Moses Browning, as well as an additional example of his early single shot rifles, which is serial number 44 and has the initials "JB" carved into the right side of its buttstock (lot 87).

Yet again, Rock Island Auction Company has an auction rife with items that more than qualify to sit behind museum glass for decades or even centuries.  Such items are historical and aesthetic treasures that provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors and investors alike to not just view them, but to actually own them.  The variety of these pieces is also sure to please!  Egyptian sultans, Wild West outlaws, and known participants in the War of 1812 are only the beginning. Add to that outstanding provenances, high condition, and impressive documentation, and you have the makings for supremely desirable items and an edge-of-your-seat auction.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander