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Friday, February 6, 2015

Oddities of the 2015 February Regional Auction

The appeal of firearms is different things to different people.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, and one doesn't have to sell over 20,000 guns a year to realize it.  It goes without saying that many collectors appreciate the history behind certain firearms, like the Peacemaker or the '73 Winchester.  Others seek collectible firearms by virtue of a keen fascination with a certain conflict, say the Civil War, Great War, or World War II.  There are also those who desire mint condition guns to know what they were like when they originally left the factory, folks that appreciate the fine precision and machining of a well-made sporting arm, aficionados that want to trace every single variation of a firearm be it Lugers or M1 Garands, and even people who just like the raw power of a Class III weapon barking some lead down range.

Well, today's items enjoy an appeal all their own and it's none of those mentioned: they're just unusual.  Be it by way of their appearance, design, or just an item we don't receive very often, all the following items are what I'd like to call Atypical Items.

Calico Carbines

The Calico has always been a pretty odd bird.  Using a helical magazine located on top of the frame and coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, the firearms from Calico Light Weapons Inc. have always had a very distinct, futuristic appearance.  It's this very appearance that has placed them in many movies such as Spaceballs, Total Recall, RoboCop 2 & 3, Bad Boys, Star Trek: First Contact, and even the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies. 

Lot 5604:  American Industries/Calico M100 semi-automatic carbine (top) & Calico M900 semi-automatic carbine (bottom)

Besides its appearance, there is an unspoken "fun factor" when dealing with a Calico firearm.  That big helical mag on top will either hold 50 or 100 rounds of .22LR or 9mm making it one darn good plinker.  Granted the weight of 50 or 100 rounds in a full mag will drastically change the handling of the weapon and making it far less practical, but we're not focused on that right now. OK, Mr. Wet Blanket?  RIAC has two chances to get your hands on a Calico in this auction.  One is in lot 5604, which holds a Calico M100 carbine (.22 LR) and one M900 carbine.(9mm).  To add to the curiosity factor of the M100, it has been nickel plated, ensuring whomever wins it will have a suitable and stylish firearm in any sci-fi movie cameos they make.

Apparently, the M100 with it's scary folding stock, large magazine, and black finish was too scary for some folks, so Calico came up with the M105S.  The new variant implemented a wooden stock with thumbhole, making it much less black and removing its folding SPAS-12 looking stock.  The M105S can be found with three other guns in lot 5600. One of these things is not like the others.

Lot 5600: The Calico is clearly the second from the top.

Cased Antique Surgical Tool Kit

Lot 1262: Cased Antique Surgical Tool Kit

If you've never gotten the heebie-jeebies when thinking of the horrors of war, this surgical kit should help.  Still not convinced?  Kits with tools like these were commonplace during the American Civil War, where historical accounts likening field surgeons to butchers are not uncommon (and are also not without a dramatic flair accumulated over time).  Even the great poet Walt Whitman documented the scenes he saw.  When looking for his wounded brother George, Walt's travels took him to Fredericksburg, where he witnessed the barbarity of "modern medicine."  He writes,

"FALMOUNT, VA., opposite Fredericksburgh, December 21, 1862. — Begin my visits among the camp hospitals in the army of the Potomac. Spend a good part of the day in a large brick mansion on the banks of the Rappahannock, used as a hospital since the battle — seems to have receiv’d only the worst cases. Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c., a full load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each cover’d with its brown woolen blanket. In the door-yard, towards the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel-staves or broken boards, stuck in the dirt. (Most of these bodies were subsequently taken up and transported north to their friends.) The large mansion is quite crowded upstairs and down, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody. Some of the wounded are rebel soldiers and officers, prisoners. One, a Mississippian, a captain, hit badly in leg, I talk’d with some time; he ask’d me for papers, which I gave him. (I saw him three months afterward in Washington, with his leg amputated, doing well.) I went through the rooms, downstairs and up. Some of the men were dying. I had nothing to give at that visit, but wrote a few letters to folks home, mothers, &c. Also talk’d to three or four, who seem’d most susceptible to it, and needing it."

— Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

Quite a harrowing description and one that affected Whitman profoundly.  Besides writing about the horrors of war, Whitman would also go on to pen many patriotic poems, including the well known "O Captain!  My Captain!" as well as spend countless hours in war hospitals visiting with soldiers, comforting them, or helping them write letters.

While primitive compared to today's technology driven field of medicine, kits such as these were often the most effective tool against the wounds from another piece of high technology of the time: the Minié Ball.

Volcanic Cartridge

Speaking of the Minié Ball and developments in ammunition, you may be surprised to see a round of ammunition included with the Volcanic Lever Action Navy Pistol in lot 5002.  It is a Volcanic round, patented by Smith & Wesson and is a direct development from the Minié Ball.  The Minié Ball is essentially just a bullet with a hollowed out tail.  The very rear of the bullet, where the lead was the most thin,would expand due to the pressure created by the expanding gases when the weapon was fired.  This expansion is the source of the round's advantages.  Once the lead had expanded, it created a tighter seal forcing more gas to push the bullet instead of escaping around it.  This more efficient use of the gas from the ignited gunpowder increased muzzle speed significantly, creating a faster and more deadly cartridge.  This tighter fit of the bullet in the barrel also allowed the bullet to grab the rifling more effectively, in turn providing more accurate shot placement.  The third benefit was that the tight fit also helped remove fouling from previous shots.

The next iteration would be the "Rocket Ball."  The Rocket Ball would be patented in 1848 by Walter Hunt, a00 seldom-remembered but great inventor responsible for things like the safety pin and the fountain pen,  Hunt is also critical to the Winchester story, not because he invented the Rocket Ball, but because he also invented the Hunt magazine (tube magazine) and the very earliest version of a lever used to operate his gun.  All that aside, his "Rocket Ball" or "Volitional Ball" for his Volitional Repeater, was created by essentially filling the cavity of the Minié Ball with propellant and sealing it at the rear with a cork disk which had a tiny hole at its center so that a source of ignition could reach the propellant.  It was a weak cartridge with a short range due to its limited amount of powder.

Lot 5002: Desirable Volcanic Lever Action Navy Pistol

The next logical step was for someone to make the cartridge truly self-contained by adding a primer.  So that's exactly what Horace Smith & Daniel B. Wesson set out to do.  By adding a primer and making improvements on Hunt's lever action, the partnership of Smith & Wesson would eventually become the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, thanks to several new investors, one of which was a familiar New York shirt maker named Oliver Winchester.

So besides the round having a really fascinating history, the gun itself is part of Winchester and Smith & Wesson lore and quite rare.  Only 1,200 of these pistols are estimated to have been made between 1855-1857.  To sweeten the pot even further, it has matching serial numbers on its lever, the underside of its grips, and on the grip strap under the left grip.

Helmets, et al.

Most nations have military dress uniforms with no purpose what-so-ever.  With their aim on symbolism and statement instead of practicality, they can be flamboyant, highly ornamented, and occasionally silly to those not familiar with the meanings behind them.  If you need proof of this, please feel free to Google "Evzones" or "Swiss Guard," but don't take a drink of anything before you do.  It turns out that helmets are no exception.  In our February Regional Auction is an impressive assemblage of helmets, czapkas, pickelhaubes, and shakos.  All of which I'm sure are laden with symbolism, military significance, and national pride.  However, to look at them through 21st Century glasses and with no national context, some of these helmets can appear downright flashy.  Here are a few examples.

Lot 5171: Prussian Grenadier Guard Officer's Pickelhaube

Ah yes, the pickhaube.  It's what makes finding the Imperial Germans so easy in all those World War I films, right?  That big ol' spike on the top, plus the large brass plate were designed to appear very aggressive, though the brass plate may have providing another thin layer of protection as well.  After the Germans beat the French in 1871, these were the big ticket item for many European armies  The early versions were much taller and ridiculously impractical.  The short version you see before is much more akin to later styles that would have existed right up until the introduction of the German Stahlhelm in 1916.  A stahlhelm, with its now classic "coal scuttle" design, remained roughly the same shape throughout World War II, though other changes were made.  Pickelhaubes were not durable enough for the trenches and provided no real protection being composed primarily of leather, lacquer, and the brass adornments.  Combined with their high cost to manufacture, both government and soldier alike were likely glad to move on to superior designs.

Lot 5207: 17th or Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers Officer's Czapka with
an additional Helmet Plate

While czapka in Polish simply means "cap," the word now is generally understood to mean the type of Polish helmet shown above.  Its four-sided top resembling a mortar-board hat from graduation day, these were for full dress.  Also like graduation day, different colors and plumes in different locations symbolized different units.  Lancers were exactly what they sound like - troops with lances.  Just like knights, Romans, and Greeks, these troops on horseback with spears or lances could be an effective military force, and they were up until the technological developments of the Great War.  Today very few military units, even ceremonial ones, wear the helmet that once symbolized Polish independence.

Difficult to see in this photo, notice the depiction of a skull in the lower front portion of either helmet plate.  Just because they were fancy doesn't mean they weren't trying to be scary.

Lot 5188: 17th or Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers Officer's Czapka with Plume

Remember how we said they sometimes featured plumes?  This czapka is nearly identical to the one above it, with the obvious exception of the prominent feathers off of the left brow.  The skull on the helmet plate is much easier to see in this photo.

Lot 3173: Identified 1st (Royal) Dragoons Officer's Helmet with Storage Tin and Period History
A final example of the many, many helmets this auction contains, is this Dragoons Officer's helmet.  Historically dragoons have been cavalry troops bearing a number of different weapons depending on both the commander and nation they served, though that definition began to change as horses became less effective on the battlefield.  Most dragoon units today are comprised of a wide variety of armored fighting vehicles.

This particular 1871 pattern helmet is accompanied by its storage tin, which thankfully bears a nice surprise for any amateur historian.  An outfitters tag on the tin lists the helmet as belonging to one "Capt. H.E.F. de Trafford."  This helmet might not be able to talk, but with tiny bits of information like this, one may be able to find out where it went, what it saw, and more about the man that wore it.

Homemade "Gatling" Gun

Lot 5425: Six Norinco SKS Semi-Automatic Rifles with Gatling Type Fixture

This is making the rounds on the internet right now and it just wouldn't be fair to leave so many questions unanswered.  What you see is 6 Norinco SKS semi-automatic rifles mounted in a homemade "Gatling gun" type stand.  It works using very simple principles.  The crank is located on the right hand side of the device and when the crank is turned the assembly that has the barrels mounted to it rotates.  You know what, I'm just going to let Joerge from the Slingshot Channel explain it to you. He makes devices like this all the time and can show you show this functions.  Joerge has done this with cap guns, marbles, and several other projectiles.  This isn't exactly how it works, but it's pretty close.  Long story short, as the unit spins, different "fins" attached to each trigger, brush past a fixed "tooth," thus moving the fin, activating the trigger, and firing the gun.

Looks like someone was having some fun with a surplus of SKS rifles they had lying around.  Is it just me, or is this thing just dying to be taken to a range?

Has your curiosity piqued yet?  There are over 7,000 items in this auction, more than 6,500 of which are firearms, so it's darn near effortless to find fascinating collectibles.  As always, there's only so much we can show you in a short blog, so go and take a look in the catalog for yourself!  You'll be glad you did.


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