|By Pete Prunkl
ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — The information in the catalog for Rock Island Auction Company’s (RIAC) Premier sale on Dec. 6-8, was the equivalent of an advanced course in the history of firearms in America. More than 3,300 antique and contemporary handguns, rifles, shotguns, edged weapons and cannons crossed the auction block during the three-day auction. After the sale grossed $16 million, firearms collectors came to a long-anticipated conclusion: Oil paintings may no longer be America’s most expensive antique.
Prices on a few select lots – those with direct ties to sharpshooter Annie Oakley, President Andrew Jackson, Civil War General George McClellan and firearms innovator Samuel Colt – blasted holes in the price ceiling at the Rock Island venue.
December’s top lot was a Marlin Model 1897 lever action .22 caliber rifle. It was presented to Annie Oakley (1860-1926) at the Marlin factory in New Haven, Conn., on March 25, 1903. Oakley’s gold-plated rifle was engraved with vines, scrolls and game scenes and included a personalized silver presentation plaque. The engraver was assumed to be Conrad Ulrich Jr., Marlin’s master engraver at the time. The one-of-a-kind rifle sold for $575,000. All selling prices include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.
General George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885) is remembered as the officer President Lincoln removed from command after the 1862 Battle of Antietam, and the civilian who in 1864, ran against Lincoln for the presidency. In 1863, in recognition of his service to the country, the president of Colt Manufacturing presented General McClelland with a Colt Model 1850 Army revolver engraved by Gustave Young. The historic .44 caliber pistol, accompanied by a letter from the Colt factory, sold for $299,000.
The handgun that took first place among the sale’s 1,373 other revolvers and pistols was an 1879 Colt single action Army (SAA) revolver with ivory grips and engraving on almost every exposed metal surface. The Colt’s three engraved panel scenes set it apart. Just below the chamber on one side was a buffalo hunting scene; verso was a bear hunting scene. A Native American warrior in full headdress on horseback decorated the back strap. Kevin Hogan, president of RIAC, attributed the work to master engraver Gustave Young (1827-1895). The gun, nicknamed the Peacemaker, was believed to be part of a Colt traveling exhibition that toured Europe in the late 19th century. RIAC officials speculate that this is one of only five such Colt SSAs. Its sale price of $517,500 was a clear indicator of its rarity.
That stunning figure did not quite reach the $1.03 million that a Colt Walker, E Company Number 120 revolver brought in RIAC’s September Premier sale. In 2019, RIAC sold not one, but four handguns for over $1 million. No wonder the year just passed set a record for the Illinois company. When all the gun smoke cleared, RICA grossed $77 million in 2019, a new world’s record for a firearms auction house.
For more information on sales or consignments at RIAC, visit their website, www.rockislandauction.com or call 1-800-238-8022.