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Friday, November 18, 2016

The Belgian Behemoth Wall Gun

Wall guns, rampart guns, turret guns, fortress guns, "Jingals," and boat guns, are all names used to describe essentially the same weapon, though for this article they will be referred to primarily as "wall guns" if for no other reason than it is shorter to type.

These guns can essentially be described as massive longarms. Initially designed as muskets, but developing into rifles as the technology became available, these guns are roughly the height of a man and accompanied by an appropriately large bore...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Civil War Surgeon's Educated Colt Revolver


There are times when you can look at a gun and know it has a story or two to tell. Guns that have earned their own name increase this likelihood exponentially. Take some famous examples, such as "The Hand of God" in the movie 3:10 to Yuma or Davy Crockett's "Old Betsy." Of course, this practice of naming weapons is not new, with references extending as far back as Thor's hammer Mjölnir and Beowulf's sword Naegling. Even in antiquity folks had a fondness for high-performing weapons that had gotten them through some tight spots.

The cased and silver plated Colt 1849 pocked of this article seemed destined to offer such services. Its silver finish beckons to the viewer - seldom does a revolver that can view its sesquicentennial in the rear view mirror possess such a lustre. Just like a bass tracking down a spinner bait, the shiny parts get the attention and draw you in, but this gun sets the hook deep when collectors see the numerous inscriptions on the prized revolver.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Letter of Grief-Stricken General Beauregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (a.k.a. "PGT") is a name so distinct that it is readily recognizable to most Americans, even if little can be recalled. Best known for his service as a Confederate General in the Civil War, PGT also served admirably in several battles during the Mexican-American War. Born to parents of proud pedigree in French Creole Louisiana, Beauregard's family was hardly ever in want. He attended private schools in New York and finally learned to speak English at age 12, having been raised speaking French.

The bilingual young lad eventually made his way to West Point, where he often went just by "G. T. Beauregard" to better fit in with his classmates. He graduated second in the Class of 1838, and then began his storied and controversial military service, which includes such deeds as ordering the first shots fired in the Civil War upon on Ft. Sumter, the First Battle of Bull Run (earning him the title of General), the Battle of Manassas, and several successful coastal defenses.

But before he became the man known to U.S. history, he was the man known to Marie Antoinette Laure Villeré, whom he married in 1841 after an "overwhelming" courtship while stationed at Barataria Bay, LA. She was the daughter of another well-respected French Creole family who found their fortune in the sugar cane fields. The fact that her great-grandfather was the second governor of Louisiana didn't hurt either. Their marriage was a happy one with two boys, René and Henri, whom PGT would steal away from the fort to see at every available opportunity. Their marriage was unfortunately short, when Marie died giving birth to their third child on March 21, 1850, a day short of her 27th birthday.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Loose Artifact of Jefferson Davis

Inscription reads, "Presented to Gen. Jefferson Davis, Late U.S. Sec. of War,
By the Workmen of Col. Colts Armory, Hartford, CT"

The history and political contributions of Jefferson Davis are well-documented so they will not be recounted here. Instead, attention will be brought to a small object in Rock Island Auction Company's 2016 December Premiere Firearms Auction. This object is rather unassuming in itself. In fact, close attention must be paid to know that it is anything special at all, but once light is shown on a single special feature, a whole new respect comes for the little collectible with a tremendous history. RIAC is proud to offer the presentation shoulder stock for a Colt 1851 Navy revolver, inscribed to then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Samuel Colt and the Charter Oak

The Charter Oak, Charles DeWolf Brownell, 1857, oil on Canvas

If asked to talk about the Charter Oak, few Americans aside from Connecticut residents, American history professors, or dedicated Colt collectors would be able to touch on the topic. Yet, despite the recollections of the general public, the Charter Oak remains an enduring symbol of American independence. In a modern-day reference, the recent 1999 Connecticut state quarter recently featured its expansive boughs on its reverse. However, the story of the charter oak long predates Samuel Colt, or even the first white explorers to set foot on this continent.

The Oak

The Charter Oak began its life in the 12th or 13th century in an area populated by various Algonquian tribes. By the early 1600s the first Dutch explorers entered the area, notably Adrian Block who sailed the coast of the Long Island Sound, up what would become the Connecticut River, and up to where it joins the Park River, the current site of Hartford. In a 1614 journal entry (which I am unable to find and directly quote), Block notes a massive tree believed to be the Charter Oak.

By any measure, the tree was truly a giant. Sources state that the tree and branches measured some 70 feet across, while the trunk was said to be 33 feet around or "large enough that 27 persons have stood in the hollow." It's gnarled and gothic branches spread in a way that seems more jaggedly drawn by a child than in anything that could be considered stately. Often photographed in its last years without its foliage, the tree appears grotesque in design, but with its verdant mantle, Samuel Colt gushingly referred to it as the "aged monarch of the forest."

Last known photo of the standing Charter Oak, 1855
Dutchman Block also had much to do with accurately mapping the area, establishing trade with the local native Americans, and before long, Dutch and English settlements began to pop up in the area. In short order, the shared importance of the tree between Native American and European settler would become apparent, when in 1638 George Wyllys, third Governor of Connecticut, bought a parcel of land and was having it prepared to make a dwelling, clearing much of the local vegetation. Now known as Wyllys hill, this lot contained the Charter Oak, and as preparations were being made for the lot, a group of the Suckiag tribe came to Wyllys so that the tree might be spared. Known as their Peace Tree, it is said that local tribes held council meetings under its branches, and even tied their canoes to it during spring floods.

"[The Suckiag] came up to remonstrate against the cutting down of a venerable oak that stood... With the true eloquence of nature, the brown sons of the forest pleaded in behalf of the immemorial tree. 'It has been the guide of our ancestors for centuries' said they, 'as to the time of planting our corn. When the leaves are of the size of a mouse's ear, then is the time to put the seed in the ground.' At their solicitation the tree was permitted to stand, and continued to indicate the time when the earth was ready to receive the seed-corn; a vast legendary tree, that must have begun to show signs of decay a hundred years before that day..."

Whether the tree was saved on behalf of the Native Americans, or because the English feared them, or even because that lot was likely chosen primarily for its beautiful mature trees, is beside the point. The Charter Oak's importance had been imparted to the white man, who would soon give it an importance all his own.

The Charter

By 1639, Connecticut has already written and adopted its own sort of constitution called the Fundamental Orders. It established a government, but made no mention of jolly ol' England or her king. Eventually, John Winthrop ("Winthrop the Younger") decided to make things right, and apply for a charter from the king as so many other colonies had successfully done. Winthrop negotiated a very permissive charter from King Charles II, since both of their fathers ( John Winthrop, 1st Governor of Massachusetts and King Charles I) had been very close. In 1662, the Connecticut Charter was granted and all was well in the newly legitimized colony.

However, once the "Merry Monarch's" reign came to an end upon his death in 1685, his successor and brother, King James II, was not nearly so tolerant. In fact, he hated the liberal charters so much that in 1686 he consolidated several colonies into the "Dominion of New England," and revoked their previously issued charters to impose a firmer rule on the distant land. He tasked Sir Edmund Andros as Governor of the Domain and named him "Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over the Colonies of Massachusettes Bay and New Plymouth, the Provinces of New Hampshire and Maine, and the Narragansett count or King's Province."  You thought your job title was long. Andros apparently felt the need to collect the physical documents from each colony to finalize the revocation and demonstrate his control.

An Act of Rebellion

Andros was an arrogant man who likely loved every bit of his lengthy title. When retrieving the charter from Connecticut, he did this with all the fanfare and pomp one would expect from a power-hungry, vain statesman. A letter was set earlier to announce his arrival, and he later arrived on a handsome gray steed amidst trumpet fanfare and numerous armed red coats. He met with Governor Robert Treat and other politicians at Moses Butler's Tavern on Main Street, on October 26, 1687, with the intention of receiving the treaty. However, Treat refused to give the charter at this time, so the King himself arranged a meeting for the two parties to again meet on October 31 at a local public house.

The story goes that Gov. Treat was well-known to speak at length, and on that Halloween eve, did so until dusk, when two candelabras were brought in to light the room. When a frustrated Andros was finally able to speak, he demanded the charter, and stated that failing to present it would be treason. After all, he was "the King's Governor of all new England and that they in turn were all subjects of the king." Such treason would be punished with a splitting of Connecticut colony and dividing the land  between Massachusetts and New York. These threats were not taken lightly and the armed colonists present were likely making the red coats quite nervous. Governor Treat sent immediately for the charter, with Captain Joseph Wordsworth obliging. In the meantime, loud arguments were made about whether or not the charter should actually be delivered to Andros and his entourage, essentially arguing for rebellion against the king.

Such arguments reached a fever pitch when the treaty was brought into the room inside a locked chest. When it was opened, an older gentleman cited as Andrew Leete, "sprang to his feet to rail against the return of the charter." He was frail and gesturing wildly in a patriotic furor, when he suddenly collapsed sending both candelabras to the ground, extinguished. In a spontaneous act of rebellion, Assemblyman Nathaniel Stanley snatched the charter in the dark and quickly passed it out an open window to Captain Wadsworth, who had just brought the charter from the Wyllys mansion. Apparently not thinking clearly, Wadsworth immediately took off for the mansion again. Upon arriving, Ruth Wyllys, suggested he hide the charter in the great cavity of the huge oak since the troops would be sure to search the house knowing the charter had been kept there earlier. Wadsworth agreed, quickly wrapped the document up in his jacket, and hid it inside a hole in the great oak's trunk.


One can safely surmise that Andros was none too happy about the current turn of events, but he made a great effort not to show it. Instead he issued a proclamation that made good on all his threats, which "took into his hands the Government of this Colony of Connecticut, it being by His Majesty annexed to the Massachusetts and other Colonies under his Excellencies Government," effectively taking charge.

However, he was still forced to return to the King without the charter, and in the eyes of the colonists that meant it had never been nullified, even if Andros did still carry the authority of the King. A bit of a semantic victory perhaps, but a victory none-the-less for the colonists who viewed this as an act of direct defiance against the crown. Also, since they never voted to give Andros the charter, they had only recorded Andros' authority, but had never made a vote of submission. Other versions of the story state that Andros was given a copy of the charter while the original was kept in the Charter Oak, thus symbolically keeping the charter in the hands of the colonists. Most sources acknowledge the existence of three copies of the charter, making Andros' mission more hollow than the trunk of the great oak.

Regardless of how it came to be, Andros' rule was a short one in the colonies. The Glorious Revolution took place in the spring of 1689 resulting in William and Mary assuming the throne, which also coincided with the Boston Revolt, a popular uprising against Andros.  Sources differ on whether the colonists simply reverted back to the charter after Andros left, or whether the colonists petitioned King William to reinstate the 1662 charter. Either way, it remained in effect until 1818 when the Connecticut State Constitution was drafted.

A Giant Falls

Even in 1687, the Charter Oak seemed on its last gasp. The trunk had hollowed out so much from decay at the bottom that even in the time of the Native Americans it is noted that the "vast legendary tree, that must have begun to show signs of decay a hundred years before that day, in the cavity at its base, that was gradually enlarging as one generation after another of red men passed from beneath its shadow." In later years its declining health, which was owed "in part to the neglect which dilapidated fortunes of the family and want of male guardianship" and some terrible inclement weather, more poetically described as "the corroding tooth of time or the sharp violence of the tempest."

On August 21, 1856, nearly two centuries after its shining moment in American history, a great storm passed through the area, and was more than the oak's decayed foundation could bear. The mighty tree, beloved by many a generation, had fallen.

The Hartford community immediately fell into mourning, not least of all Samuel Colt, who was noted to express an "admiration and passionate fondness for old trees," let alone those with local and national historic significance. Many began taking wood and acorns of the old giant before an honor guard was set up to cease it. Colt's Armory Band played dirges at noon: Dead March from Saul, Home Sweet Home, and Hail Columbia. Flags were draped over its trunk and stump, and when dusk fell on the city all the church bells tolled for an hour in a solemn chorus. The Hartford Courant headline the following morning read "The Charter Oak is Prostrate!" and ran the story as an obituary.

Wood of the Charter Oak was instantly in demand from all corners of the country. Large portions were set aside and made into a number of wood carvings and furniture pieces. Most notably, is a large hunk of wood for the state of Connecticut that was carved into an incredible, high backed chair. The "chair of state" was "paid for and is still used today by the lieutenant governor in the state senate chamber. Also famously known is an exquisite cradle made for Samuel  Jarvis Colt, Jr., one of many pieces that was created by wood purchased by Samuel Colt that currently reside at the Wadsworth Athenium Museum of Art. The most lavish of the pieces remains the "Charter Oak Chair," a throne of elaborate wood carving, and a masterpiece by any measure. A depiction carved in relief of the Charter Oak comprises the chair's back. Originally commissioned for use by the mayor, the city balked at the $375 price tag (almost $20,000 today). After nearly a year Colt stepped in to buy the chair above and beyond the cost asked of the city calling it, "cheap at any price."

L to R: The Charter Oak Chair, the Charter Oak "Chair of State," and the cradle made for Sam Jarvis Colt
(end photos credit: Wadsworth Atheneum)

Now we have come to the heart of the matter. Finally knowing the history behind this venerable and beloved tree, we can now know the significance behind the artifacts made with its body. Two such artifacts appear in Rock Island Auction Company's 2016 December Premiere Firearms Auction.

Magnificent Factory Cased Colt New Model Pocket Pistol with Charter Oak Grips

This factory cased Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer revolver was manufactured in 1867 and is fitted with grips made with wood harvested from the Charter Oak. Only eight other Sidehammers and one Model 1849 pocket are known to also wear the wood of the revered tree. The case is made of mahogany, and lined with red velvet.  Well known to collectors, this exact pistol is shown and described in great detail in R.L. Wilson's "Magnificent Colts" on pp. 220-225.  It is truly an incredible rarity in Colt collecting and is certain to find a new home with a deservedly prominent collection.

Historic Presentation Walking Stick Carved Directly from the Famous Connecticut Charter Oak Inscribed to Connecticut Governor’s Horse Guard Major-Commander Henry Boardman, Militia Commander and Adversary of Colonel Samuel Colt

The walking stick presented to Major-Commander Henry Boardman requires we give some background on its recipient. Boardman was a Connecticut militia officer who was appointed as commander of the First Company, Governor's Horse Guards in 1845. The Governor's Guards, specifically the First Company of Foot Guards holds the honor of being the American military formation with the longest period of unbroken and unaltered service, which is noted as gallant in many instances.

A single event put Boardman at odds with Samuel Colt, who was called upon to help revive a local Horse Guard. It had long since fallen dormant, much to the displeasure to local residents. Used largely in ceremony, the First Company of the Governor's Hose Guard had failed to appear for the bicentennial celebration of Hartford (1835), the passing through of Gen. Winfield Scott, and even an appearance of Vice President R.M. Johnson was escorted by every possible military unit in the area except the horse guard. Having been a source of pride for so long in the community, many citizens were disgusted and disappointed in their absence.  So much so, in fact, that in 1853 a group of over 100 young men voted to adopt the charter of the old horse guard. To give credence to this newly revived organization Samuel Colt was invited and gladly accepted the opportunity to be a part of something so flashy, ceremonious, and important to the people. He was also elected as Major Commandant of the new unit, despite not seeking the office.

No doubt it took some time for the members of the newly formed guard to practice, find uniforms for members that were not part of the old horse guard, and so on. This was also more than enough time for Boardman to hear of the new group and to seethe about the fact that this group had been usurped right from underneath him! On May 3, 1854, when the new Horse Guard was making its first appearance to a delighted public, Major Boardman's Horse Guard also showed up for the first time in eight years, surprising everyone who thought the group had died out.

This left two groups claiming to be the First Company, Governor's Horse Guard, and instead of making a decision, the governor passed this dilemma on to the General Assembly. Both sides had arguments in their favor. Boardman stated that he had never disbanded the group, been discharged, nor been notified of any reorganization, feeling the new movements "too fast for him, or not quite courteous enough." Colt also had plenty of ground to stand on, with the prior group not having performed any service for eight years, having no recent membership records, and a lack of interest in its body of members. Eventually Governor Dutton met with the two men to resolve the matter, when in the course of debate Colt snarkily stated, "I felt...that Hartford should have something better than a comatose troop of cavalry and I was willing to do my share in putting some life into it." A remark that brought Boardman to his feet ready to trade blows with his adversary.

Gov. Dutton eventually allowed Boardman's group to continue as the First Company Governor's Horse Guard, with Colt's guard to be recognized as a "Company of Cavalry to be attached to the First Regiment of the First Brigade of the Militia." The scrap breathed a new fire into the belly of the Horse Guard and thereafter they presented themselves in full uniform and full number with a martial band and an enthusiasm long since absent.

This cane, made of solid Charter Oak, was presented to Maj. Boardman on May 4, 1858 by I.W. Stuart, an author, politician, and local historian perhaps most responsible for raising the legend of the Charter Oak to such lofty heights.

(Note: Not related to the Charter Oak, a sword also presented to Major Boardman will also be offered in the sale. Pictured below)

These items bring their significance to American history, as well as their rarity, to the Rock Island Auction Company 2016 December Premiere Firearms Auction. A Colt sidehammer in this condition alone would be a fantastic find for any collector, but to have Charter Oak grips, and knowing how dear the Charter Oak was to Samuel Colt, puts it in a special realm for Colt collectors. The cane on the other hand, represents a strong opposing force to Colt's life in Hartford. Just as competitors to Colt's M1911 pistol are now strong collectibles, this cane represents a vanquished foe whose name is left in the dusty pages in history. Its rarity and fascinating tale make it an appropriate addition to the most thorough and comprehensive Colt collections.

- Written by Joel R. Kolander


Barnard, Henry. Armsmear: The Home, the Arm, and the Armory of Samuel Colt: A Memorial. Place of Publication Not Identified: Beinfeld, 1976. Print.

Hosley, William N. Colt: The Making of an American Legend. N.p.: U of Massachusetts, 1996. Print.

Howard, James L. The Origin and Fortunes of Troop B: 1788, Governor's Independent Volunteer Troop of Horse Guards, 1911, Troop B Cavalry, Connecticut National Guard, 1917. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1921. Print.

Lee, Robert M., R. L. Wilson, Donald E. Zilkha, Michael V. Korda, Vance Fox, Douglas Sandberg, Conor Fitzgerald, and Charles F. Priore. Magnificent Colts: Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection. 1st ed. Vol. I. Sparks, NV: Yellowstone, 2011. Print.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Blades Gun Collectors Should Love

It may be the understatement of the year to say that Rock Island Auction Company sells a few guns, and if there's one thing that gun collectors like almost more than anything, it's one with real history. Something with a story to tell, that's not just a story - having the proof to back it up is paramount.

For this reason, we are always pleased to offer a wide assortment of swords and other bladed weapons in our world-class auctions. The history and artisan work on these blades should endear them to many a firearms collector, who certainly appreciates the same qualities in their guns. They vary from the battle tested sabers of the Civil War era, to the finest, gilded and sculpted presentation swords for men of great military prowess.  Here are some selections from this auction that self professed gun guys should have no trouble appreciating. In fact, I bet we have a blade for almost every area of gun collecting.

For the High End Gun Collector

Lot 1350: Historic Presentation Grade C. Smith & Son Gilt Accented Sword, Etched as a Gift from Queen Victoria to Don Rafael Carrera, First President of the Republic of Guatemala, Hero of the Battle of La Aranda, with Two Scabbards, Sword Superb and Important Historic Cased Presentation Saber by C. Smith & Sons, Picadilly, London Presented by Queen Victoria to President Don Rafael Carrera, First President of the Republic of Guatemala

Since last week's article detailing the hunting knife of Teddy Roosevelt was more than enough to satisfy this section of the article, this week we'll show you something different. This lavishly decorated sword and hilts were once presented by none other than Queen Victoria herself to Don Rafael Carrera.  Who was he? Oh, just a passionate revolutionary, the hero of the Battle of La Aranda, and the first President of Guatemala. His whole story is incredible to read and this sword is a fitting gift for such a remarkable life. It is a truly a piece of high art and a testament to 19th century master craftsmanship. This historic and beautiful piece would be at home in the most regal of sword collections or even on display in a fine museum.

For the Sporting Arms Enthusiast or Hunter

Lot 610: Virtually Unmatchable Gathering of Eleven Robert "Bob" Loveless Custom Knives Dated to the 1950s and 1960s with Sheaths, Sleeves and an Impressive Travel and Display Case

If there's one thing that hunters or sporting arms enthusiasts always require of their equipment, it's that it works how it's supposed to when called upon. Such reliability requires a certain level of quality, and these unbelievable blades have far exceeded any such threshold. This is a collection of 11 Robert Loveless custom knives from the middle of last century. To the untrained eye, they may look little different than your standard Buck knife, but their quality, rarity, and design significance make them a horse of a different color.

Those who know knives need no introduction to Bob Loveless. For those unacquainted with his significance, an apt description comes from our official catalog description.

"Entering the knife making field in 1953, Bob Loveless is one of the grand names in 20th century American knifemaking, credited as the godfather of the hollow ground drop point blade (now virtually the de-facto standard utility and multi-purpose knife blade at home and abroad), the innovator of using 154CM and ATS-34 steel for blademaking, a founding member and early supporter of the Knifemaker's Guild and a blade designer for Gerber and Schrade...

According to legend, one of the first things that spurred then-sailor Loveless into making knives professionally was being told by an A&F [Abercrombie & Fitch] clerk at their New York store that he'd have to get on a nine month waiting list for a Randall Made knife (the current waiting list for a Randall is just shy of 4 years), and responding by making a knife himself good enough for the retailer..."

Any of these knives would be worthy of an advanced knife collection, but a gathering such as this is for the most accomplished collectors or those who wish to join such ranks.

For the Cowboy

Lot 322: Scarce English & Huber Philadelphia Clip Point Bowie Knife

You love the Wild West. The idea of "prairie justice," right besting wrong, a cool head and a hot barrel. A simpler time appeals to you, and you probably wouldn't mind a ride on a horse if it was offered to you. You likely have more than one Colt six-shooter in your collection and a few lever guns to boot. For you we have this English & Huber clip-point Bowie knife. Based in Philadelphia during the 1830s and 1840s, James English and Henry Huber Jr. got their start marketing a "Sheffield Works" knife, borrowing on the name of the well known English knife-making area. Thankfully, their knives lived up to the sturdy reputation, and the pair went on to enjoy success. English & Huber are also credited as the first American smiths to produce a proper clip-point Bowie knife and were reported by some sources as a supplier of knives to Jim Bowie himself. If you're after a product from the maker of James Bowie's bowie knives, then this is clearly the lot for you.

For the History Lover

Lot 1108: Outstanding Historic High Grade Cased Clauberg Figural Statue Hilt Civil War Officer's Presentation Sword

This sword's aesthetics alone are enough to make it desirable to military collectors, but it becomes truly special when one discovers all of the documented history that accompanies this beautiful blade. 

There are more embellishments on the scabbard, guard, and blade than can be readily recounted here, so please click this link to view more photos of this exceptional sword.  In brief, the scabbard is silver plated and features highly detailed and gilded mounts with a large American shield covering its lower half. The blade is adorned to match with intricate engraving, abundant gold wash, and precise acid etching.

Regarding its tremendous history, the most readily available information comes from the scabbard which reads, "Presented to Capt. Jacob W. Clark by the members of the 59th Regt N.Y.V." His service history, time in a Confederate POW camp, and life after the Civil War are all detailed in period documents or subsequent archival research done on the man who received his remarkable gift from the members of his veterans volunteer unit. From the "Bloody Angle" to "Camp Asylum" his story is one that any history buff can dive right into and find tremendously fascinating. 

For the WWI Buff

Lot 3514: Collector's Lot of Two Variant World War I Era D-Guard Model 1917 Trench Knives with Sheaths

Trench warfare, enfilading fire, poison gas, and the advent of military dogfights are all in your wheelhouse. Giant battleships, submarine warfare, and early tanks aren't far behind. You've studied World War I, knows its ins and outs, and likely subscribe to The Great War YouTube Channel (and if you don't, you should).

For you we have this stunning pair of savage trench daggers. This simple device was effective for the up close and personal fighting demanded by the trenches. It was also a fine psychological tool to have something so mean and barbaric in one's possession. These two D-guard Model 1917 trench knives are arguably the nicest we've come across, and you'd be hard pressed to find others in a higher condition. If you're assembling as "as-issued" collection of U.S. gear from WWI, these brutal. stiletto-bladed, Hun-stabbers are just the trick.

For the WWII Historian

Lot 3469: Very Fine World War II Soviet Cossack Shashka Cavalry Saber with Attached Mosin Nagant Bayonet

By WWI, swords were all but entirely obsolete in combat, relegating their duties to ceremony and uniform purposes. That said, there are still some outstanding edged weapons to be found up through WWII (the next section on German military blades illustrates this nicely). This sword is that of a Russian shashka, used by the few Soviet Cossack regiments still maintained throughout the World War II. A note that accompanies this sword (and Mosin Nagant bayonet) states that it was acquired to pay off a gambling debt from a man who "picked the sword up" as a merchant marine in the 1940s.

For the German Military Collector

Lot 3367: Exceptional Weyersberg Production Nazi Party SA Dagger with Hangars

For many, this knife is what comes to mind when they think of Nazi daggers, even though Nazi Germany had different daggers for the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, SS, and even the Hitler Youth. This dagger is an "SA" dagger, as indicated by the roundel on the handle which bears the SA letters on a red background. SA stands for "Sturmabteilung," a paramilitary wing of the early Nazi Party known as "Brown Shirts" for obvious reasons.

Hitler formed this group with Ernst Röhm, who led the group. It initially served as brutish protection at early Nazi rallies, but eventually began committing violence against other political parties, while harassing and intimidating groups they viewed as undesirable. They are largely responsible for quashing other political parties in the early 1930s and helping the Nazi party's rise to power. They numbered over 3 million members at one time and Röhm saw them as taking over the role of Germany's national army.

The army, then the Reichswehr, was obviously concerned about this. So they convinced Himmler, Goering, and Reinhard Heydrich, to conspire against Röhm and the radical SA. They constantly fed Hitler false stories and evidence to increase his suspicions. Eventually Hitler acted against the SA to preserve his own power after he was threatened with martial law by President von Hindenburg. The result was the now infamous "Night of the Long Knives," where 150-200 senior members of the SA were killed, after which their power and influence was greatly diminished.

This dagger is in "as issued" condition and very few will surpass it - a fine addition to any German military collection. As would either of the following:

Lot 3366: Exceptional World War II Clemen & Jung Production NSFK Dagger with Sheath

Lot 3363: Attractive SS/Police Officer's Lion Head Pommel Sword with Portapee and Sheath

For the Japanese Military Student

Lot 3209: Signed Wakizashi-Length Japanese Sword with Saya

This sword could do double-duty in a Japanese military collection OR a U.S. military collection as it is accompanied by its 1945-dated bring back papers. It also comes with some fascinating research completed by the previous owner,such as a mark on the sword which may indicate a successful test of cutting through a cadaver torso just below the pectorals.

Civil War: For the Union Supporter

Lot 211: Highest Quality Clauberg Officer's Presentation Sword Inscribed to a Civil War Veteran of the Eastern Iron Brigade

For all you Yankees out there, this is one stunning piece of steel. The engraving, the gold, the carved handle, the acid etching, are all bathed in a staggering level of expertly applied details. To interest you further, it is a presentation blade given to "Col. T. Sullivan By the 48th Regt. N.G., November 21st, 1871." Colonel Sullivan has a lengthy military career that concluded at the rank of Brigadier General. He was clearly an accomplished military man to have earned such a high quality, and richly embellished sword such as this from swordsmith W. Clauberg.

As if that weren't enough to make it appealing to the Union supporter, the script on the blade reads, "For the Union and the Constitution."

Civil War: For the Confederate Son/Daughter

Lot 138: Desirable Confederate "CS" Marked Staff & Field Officer Sword with Scabbard Marked Made By James Conning Mobile, (Alabama)

Don't you worry Johnny Reb, we've got something for you too. For starters, this rare and authentic James Conning sword. It shows some particularly impressive design work on the brass hilt, especially considering the lack of resources and optimum conditions the South endured during the war. The lines of the sword are also long and elegant, which the hilt, handle, and handguard compliment nicely. As most collectors of Confederate items know, any goods that were manufactured for the war were used and used hard. To find this sword and its scabbard in this condition still make it a solid representative example of a scarce and desirable piece.

For the Curio Collector

Lot 3162: Elaborate Acid Etched and Gold Finished Dumouthier Double Barrel Dagger Pistol

A curio collector, eh?  We like you. You've probably got the type of collection that people don't need to know anything as a prerequisite to gawking at it for hours. Besides being appealing to "regular" firearms collectors, your items also appeal to those who know little to nothing about guns, and that makes you an important ambassador to the public. You didn't ask for the job, but sometimes it comes with the territory. Remind us to buy you a drink sometime. Here are a few other lots you may enjoy.

Lot 282: Unique German Silver Paneled, Finely Engraved Percussion Knife Pistol

Lot 3113: Very Fine Dolne Apache Pinfire Pocket Revolver with Knife
After all, what curio collection would be complete with out at least one Apache revolver? With iron frames, brass frames, engraved, plain, pinfire, rimfire, and several different configurations, the intimidating little revolvers are essentially a collection in themselves.

How deeply someone dives into their particular genre can be an indicator of how seriously they take the hobby. Many of these knives, swords, and daggers are a perfect compliment to weapons that many collectors already own. Such blades add depth to a collection. They add details, history, and help to paint a more vivid and complete picture of the men who carried them and their related firearms. You'll find these and plenty more in our 2016 September Premiere Auction, or any auction for that matter. Edged weapons are a mainstay here at Rock Island Auction Company, and just as these blades have been present for centuries, they show no signs of fading away anytime soon from the minds of collectors.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt's Hunting Knife

To say that Teddy Roosevelt is a well-known, beloved, and important character in American history is an understatement. Though fame tends to find perspective when one's face has been immortalized with granite in the Badlands of South Dakota. TR was admired across the nation. He had a robust personality, gave profound speeches, lived his beliefs, and changed the face of this country forever with his efforts in wildlife and habitat conservation. Whether leading the legendary Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, embarking on prolific hunting adventures, offering "Square Deals" to his constituents, surviving an assassination attempt on his life, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, or beginning construction of the Panama Canal, the tales of Teddy Roosevelt's life have become part of the fabric of this nation's great history.

Roosevelt in October 1910
It should come as no surprise that a knife once owned by President Roosevelt also has more than a few tales to tell. Its origin begins in 1909 when TR received this national treasure from his good friend New York Supreme Court Justice James W. Gerard. Both men served in the Spanish-American War, but upon leaving the service found opposite ends of the political spectrum. They likely became acquainted in the New York political scene when Roosevelt served as the New York governor for two years and Gerard sat on the Supreme Court bench. The story of the knife's presentation is recalled best in the words of U.S. Marshal Thomas D. McCarthy, whom Justice Gerard had asked present the hunting knife to Roosevelt with the following instructions, 

"'Be sure to get a coin, a penny from the President when you give him the knife,' the Justice told me. 'Remember the old superstition that a gift of that sort cuts friendship unless a small payment is made for it.'

     When I gave Colonel Roosevelt the knife I asked him for the penny. He didn't have one in his pocket, neither did his secretary Mr. Loeb, neither did Senator Chamberlain who was present. So I volunteered: 'Here, Mr. President. I'll lend you a cent.' He took it and put it in his vest pocket.

     After ten minutes of conversation during which time he gave me an autographed photograph for myself and a book for my father who always admired him, the President suddenly reached into his pocket, withdrew the coin and said: 'Mr. McCarthy, it gives me great pleasure to hand you in return for Judge Gerard's gift this one cent coin.' Ever since then I have prized the photograph and the book Mr. Roosevelt gave me is one of the most cherished possessions of my father. And I always have been proud of the fact that a President of the United States owed me a penny."

The knife was considered an extremely lavish gift and wore a 1909 price tag of $1,250, about $33,266 in 2016 dollars. It was such a send off to the nation's youngest president, that it warranted national news coverage. In Rock Island, Illinois, the city's newspaper at that time was the Rock Island Argus. On Thursday, March 10, 1909 they printed at article on the sixth page entitled, "Fine Knife for Roosevelt."  It reads as follows:

"Gem Studded Hunting Weapon Presented to Ex-President by a Friend.

One of the handsomest of the presents that have been pouring in upon former President Roosevelt from friends in every part of the United States who have wished to give him some token of their friendship to carry with him on his African hunting trip is a hunting knife given him by Justice James W. Gerard of the supreme bench of New York city, who is an old friend of the ex-president. The weapon is a masterpiece of jeweler's workmanship, the hilt being wrought in gold and platinum and ornamented with jewels. The top of the handle is carved in the shape of an eagle's head of solid gold. The eagle's eyes are garnets.

On one side of the hilt beneath the eagle's head is depicted a forest scene, with two American Indians behind a birch tree, one of them standing, rifle in hand, the other crouching. The tree is done in gold upon a platinum background. On the reverse side is set the arms of the United States, surmounting a wishbone and intertwining tree boughs in gold. Below is the monogram 'T.R.' The background on this side is also of platinum. Two bears' heads extending out from the handle form the guard at the base of the blade, which is of the finest steel and engraved as follows: 'Presented to Theodore Roosevelt by His Friend, James W. Gerard.' The knife is nearly a foot long and is said to have cost $1,250."

One item of note not covered in the Argus article is that of the knife's creator. That honor belongs to two separate companies: J. Russell and Co. of Green River, New York whose stamp is on the blade, and Dreicer & Co., whose name is printed on the handle's edge. It should be of significant note to collectors that Dreicer & Co, despite being in business only from 1904 - 1923, were a top jewelry retailer and a direct rival to such well-known names as Fabergé. With the split of duties for the blade and the highly ornamented handle, it is unknown which shop performed the acid etched inscription.
The knife has been passed down through the Roosevelt family for the last 107 years. It has never been made available to the public prior to this sale. When Theodore died in 1919, the knife went to his second wife, Edith (his first wife, Alice, passed in 1884). Edith in turn bequeathed the knife to her eldest daughter Ethel Roosevelt Derby. Mrs. Derby intended to present the knife as a wedding gift to her granddaughter in 1976. To secure the knife during her cross-country travels from Oyster Bay to Seattle, Mrs. Derby kept the knife in her purse. However, this was cause for alarm at the security checkpoint in John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York City. Upon seeing this incredible knife and hearing its story, security allowed the knife to be transported by the pilot in the cockpit for the duration of the flight. Upon landing, it was returned to Mrs. Derby who presented the knife to the couple several days later at their wedding. Thrilled with such a historic and beautiful gift rife with family history, the couple immediately used it to cut their wedding cake.

The stories this knife can tell after scant more than a century are enough to endear it to the heart of any collector or history enthusiast. Even without the tales that have truly given this item a personality all its own, its provenance alone elevates its status to that of National Treasure.  A hunting knife given to arguably the greatest conservationist and one of the most well-known hunters of the 20th century? What could be more perfect representation? Rock Island Auction Company is honored to present this perfect slice of American history to the public for the first time in its existence, and cannot wait to hear of the new adventures in which it partakes.

- Written by Joel R. Kolander


"Fine Knife for Roosevelt." Rock Island Argus 11 Mar. 1909: 6. Print.

Herbert, Thomas. Theodore Roosevelt: Typical American, His Life and Work. United States: L.H. Walter, 1919. 341-42. Print.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Guns of the Great Shooters from Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Reunions with old friends can be a time filled with nostalgia, laughs, and more than a few old yarns to tell. In our business, the phrase, "if this old gun could talk," is a desire commonly expressed. Firearms with rich histories find their way through our doors on a regular basis, and I've had questions on more than one occasion that I would've like to have posed to one or two of them as they passed through our hallways as part of their grand journey. The grouping of items in this article is no exception. The reunion of these trusty arms would undoubtedly result in a whirlwind of stories, knowing nods, and a list of accomplishments that require no exaggeration in their retelling. These arms all have ties to members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and even the ol' scout himself, William F. Cody. Their backgrounds are as varied as the people they belong to, but time and circumstance have brought them back together at Rock Island Auction Company's 2016 September Premiere Firearms Auction for one last reunion. If only they could talk.

Buffalo Bill

Lot 1036: Historic and Well Documented John Ulrich Signed Factory Engraved Deluxe Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Short Rifle with Factory Exhibition Special Order Finish and Features Presented by Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) to Robbie Campbell Adams Twelve Year Old Son of Wild West Show Pamphlets Publisher for the Wild West Shows Performance at Madison Square Garden

In this case, the headline for our item is so long it almost tells the story itself. Medal of Honor recipient William F. Cody began his own wild west show in 1883, which toured annually in the United States and Europe. He had already earned a solid reputation as a prolific bison hunter, as well as a scout and Indian fighter in the Army, and his reputation continued to grow. However, it was an encounter with author Captain Edward Zane Carroll Judson that began Buffalo Bill's road to stardom. Capt. Judson often wrote under many pseudonyms, but his best known was Ned Buntline. It was a combination of Buntline's dime novels about Buffalo Bill's adventures, as well as Cody's proficiency he displayed in front of top men, such as General Sheridan, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, and New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, that resulted his star's continued rise.

In that first year, Buffalo Bill's Wild West was such a popular attraction that it was able to take its act indoors to the first iteration of Madison Square Garden, built in 1879. It had no roof since P.T. Barnum converted it into an open-air "Great Roman Hippodrome" in 1873. It was a large oval-shaped arena where he presented circuses (naturally) and other forms of entertainment and performance. It was a fantastic space that traded hands several times, and each owner had a new vision for what the space should offer: events catering to high brow clientele, illegal boxing matches, indoor track and field, dog shows, concerts, religious revivals, and one of the first indoor ice rinks in the nation. Most importantly, people knew of the venue and its attractions. The boxing matches had long drawn crowds over the venue's capacity, and an elephant purchased by P.T. Barnum from the London Zoo in 1881 readily drew enough onlookers to earn back its purchase price of $10,000. So when Buffalo Bill took his show there in 1883, he had no trouble finding crowds willing to fill its seats. Having names such as James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, Buck Taylor, Captain Adam Bogartus, Doc Carver, and Texas Jack Omohundro on his payroll couldn't hurt either. it was a time of transition for Buffalo Bill from small exhibitions and reenactment performer to an arena-filling showman and master entertainer.

He no doubt gave partial credit for the fine attendance to the man producing the publicity pamphlets for his shows at Madison Square Garden. This same man was also a partner in the Beadle and Adams publishing house, well known for producing the "yellow-back" dime novels of the day. Not to be confused with the publisher Street & Smith, also located in New York, that had published "The Buffalo Bill Stories" which led to a large part of his fame. To thank Mr. Adams for his support in several areas, Buffalo Bill presented this Winchester Model 1873 to his son 12-year old Robbie Campbell Adams. Rock Island Auction President Kevin Hogan says it best, "This is akin to receiving Michael Jordan's sneakers." It was a prized gift from one of the finest performers of the day.

The gun is a remarkable presentation grade gun with a grocery list of special order features:

- Gold plated frame, tip, and buttplate
- Nickel finish
- Ulrich engraved
- checkered, fancy walnut stocks
- short rifle
- shotgun butt
- pistol grip

On the right side of the frame is a panel scene depicting a hunter peering out from behind a tree to shoot a bull elk. The left side also bears masterfully done floral scrollwork along with the inscription that reads, "Presented by Buffalo Bill (W. F. Cody) to Robbie Campbell Adams ~1883~"

Besides being lavished with presentation grade features, the gun was clearly chosen for the boy to be able to use it if he so chose.  It's a short rifle for easier handling by a lad, it is chambered in the relatively mild yet still effective 32 WCF, and the 22-inch barrel would also not have been unwieldy for a 12-year old. Obviously, the gun never saw the typical boyhood use and it remains in very fine condition.

This remarkable rifle's provenance is extensively documented, as it has been in the public eye for quite some time, appearing in numerous books and magazines. Rock Island Auction Company is proud to offer this rifle to the public, taking this oft dreamt-about gun and making the possibility of owning it a reality.

Frank Butler and Annie Oakley

Lot 1770: Documented Historic Factory Engraved Remington Model 12-B Gallery Special Model Slide Action Rifle Sold to Frank Butler Husband of Famed Exhibition Shooter Annie Oakley

Phoebe Ann Moses, better known as Annie Oakley, is a woman that needs no introduction to most Americans, let alone those interested in shooting. However, much fewer folks know about her husband, Frank Butler, or the story of how they met. First things first, there is much debate over the exact significant dates of the young couple. That in mind, precise dates will be avoided as much as possible in an effort to stick to the story.

Frank Butler was a dog trainer and exhibition shooter who, like many others, toured the country taking on challengers in shooting competitions for money, bragging rights, and an increase in reputation. On one of those trips he placed a $100 wager with Jack Frost (yes, that's his real name) who owned a Cincinnati hotel. Butler stated that he could best any local who dared to challenge him. When a challenger was found and the match was set, imagine Butler's surprise when out from the crowd walked a young lady. "The last thing Butler expected was a five-foot-tall... girl named Annie," recalled Frost. As was customary at the time, they would shoot live birds, and both sides agreed to a best-of-25 contest. Frank Butler lost that contest by a single bird, but both lives would be changed forever. Frank had fallen for the then-shy young lady, while Annie seemed more interested in his French poodle named George. Frank courted Annie by sending her postcards and letters signed by George. The two would be wed within a year.

It was 1885 when Annie Oakley and her husband, Mr. Frank Butler, became part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Annie's stature earned her the nickname "Little Sure Shot" in  Cody's publicity flyers and ads, a name given to her by Lakota leader Sitting Bull, himself a participant in the early years of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. There is no need to recount her numerous feats and popularity. However, she is an intriguing personality, known for fierce independence, an advocate for suffrage (as was William Cody), as well as a kind heart, a gentle word, a strong desire to maintain her sterling reputation, and to always portray herself as a lady despite her involvement in what was then a very masculine sport.

The first time Annie and Frank tried to settle down was in 1901, an attempt to alleviate Annie's terrible back pain suffered during a train accident, but such joie de vivre could not be tamed for long. Defeating an early diagnosis of paralysis after five spinal operations, Annie left the Buffalo Bill show in 1902 and began a less travel-intensive career in stage acting. She would return again to another show in 1911, "The Young Buffalo Show," while consecutively serving as a representative for Union Metallic Cartridge Co. Annie never lost a step as she aged, with one reporter quoted as saying, "Annie Oakley looks as though she had discovered the secret that Ponce De Leon sought so long in vain...She is as bright and alert, as when I saw her a slip of a girl with long braids 25 years ago when I was a kid." However, it didn't last long and the couple "retired" once again in 1912, even though Annie toured sporadically with another show.

For the most part, the Butlers were finished with life as performers (until Annie attempted a comeback in 1922). Perhaps as a retirement gift for his wife, Frank purchased this Remington Model 12-B on February 28, 1912. Designed by J.D. Pedersen, the model had been introduced three years prior and Annie would have already been familiar with it. Later she became quite prolific with the model using it to shoot apples off of the head of their beloved dog, Dave, and another Model 12 of Annie's (SN 600125) still resides in the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

The example in Cody, while in excellent condition, is relatively plain compared to the Model 12-B currently offered by Rock Island Auction Company. The example purchased by Frank Butler has a highly grained, fancy stock, checkered forearm, half octagon-half round barrel, a folding peep sight, and is finely factory engraved with panel scenes of rabbits and squirrels.

The rifle may have been a perfect retirement gift for Annie, but it didn't help her desire to settle down. Annie often gave pointers on shooting to those around her, be it at trapshooting tournaments, impromptu exhibitions, or even fellow guests at the Caroline Hotel of Pinehurst, NC. "The lessons [at the hotel] began by accident when the shooting star had overheard a wealthy New Yorker comment to another in the hotel's ballroom, 'My, how I wish I were a man so that I could shoot.' Oakley replied, 'Your sex does not prevent you from learning to shoot.'"  It is documented in numerous sources that her skills had not faded in the slightest even into her fifties and sixties. In 1922, in a shooting contest in Pinehurst, the 62-year old hit 100 clays in a row at 16 yards. Unfortunately, her sixties was as long as Annie would live. She passed on November 3, 1926, at the age of 66, of what the doctor termed "pernicious anemia." Frank Butler went into intense mourning and refused to eat. He followed Annie in death 18 days later.

This is not only an incredible rifle with numerous special order features, but it remains an incredible piece of memorabilia tied to arguably the greatest American exhibition shooter from the sport's Golden Age. Opportunities like this may never arise again, and any collector or museum would be extremely fortunate to acquire this little rifle.

Buck Taylor

This remarkable Colt Single Auction Army owned by Buck Taylor, the true "King of the Cowboys" has already been covered in depth in a previous article. If you'd like to find out more about this incredible cowpuncher, his history with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and how the important provenance of this beautiful revolver was almost lost forever to history, please read our story "Buck Taylor: The True King of the Cowboys."

Memorabilia of William F. Cody

There is also a fascinating lot in this auction that contains two items with intimate ties to Buffalo Bill.  Frankly, with all the items shown above, also with ties to the man, it could not have arrived at a better time. These items were consigned to us by someone who purchased them from an estate sale 25 years ago. The sale was being held by the niece of a man who had worked for Cody in Wheaton, Illinois. With the birthplace of Buffalo Bill a short drive away from Rock Island Auction Company, it is not surprising to hear of artifacts of the man in nearby areas. The first item is a briefcase with his name clearly printed on the closing flap. It is likely no coincidence at all that the case is designed to resemble a saddle bag. The second item is a tri-fold mirror that, according to its inscription, was a Christmas gift from Cody to "my darling wife Louisa."

Both items are a simple reminder of the wonderfully ordinary life of a man more known for his spectacle, crowds, and showmanship. They would be welcome in any accomplished collection of the man or his storied show.

These marvelous items revolving around the America legend that is Buffalo Bill's Wild West, are only the beginning of the historic and presentation grade items available in the 2016 September Premiere Firearms Auction. With items from celebrated figures such as President Teddy Roosevelt, to infamous Nazi leaders, the selection has never been better. Two juggernaut groupings among several other accomplished collections lead the way, but they are accompanied by hundreds of single gun consignments from around the country. They all combine to make a sale that collectors will be talking about for years to come. Visit today to browse the items and see for yourself.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Sorg, Eric V. "Annie Oakley." Wild West Feb. 2001: n. pag. Web.