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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

RIAC Remembers the 50th Year of JFK's Assassination

This November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  Surely that month will provide an abundance of Kennedy history, pictures, videos, and conspiracies.  It will undoubtedly also re-open the debate on his policies and effectiveness as a president.  Are people more apt to remember The Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Marilyn Monroe or the Space Race?  Of course, no president is perfect and the conversations that arise will hopefully be an excellent chance to study American history and learn from administrations past.

In this year of remembrance, Rock Island Auction Company has come across two very important pieces that will be sold at the December 6th, 7th, & 8th Premiere Firearms Auction.  One of which is from this extremely popular Democrat, and other is from one of the most revered Republican presidents - Ronald Reagan.


John "Jack" Fitzgerald Kennedy
Kennedy sitting aboard PT-109.
This history of President Kennedy is well-known and will not be reviewed in this article.  Instead, we will cover his history as related to the item being offered at auction: a rocking chair owned and used by President John F. Kennedy that is documented and authenticated by the Kennedy Family.

President Kennedy had severe health issues his entire time in public office.  One of the earliest of his chronic ailments was his bad back, which began to cause him troubles as early as 1936.  Jack had followed his elder brother Joe to Harvard and also like his big brother, began to play football there.  It was during his participation in this rough-and-tumble sport that young Jack ruptured a disk in his spine.  The injury would never be fully recovered from and would continue to plague Kennedy the rest of his life.  It kept him out of the Army in 1941, so Kennedy joined the Navy.  His bad back would be exacerbated even further in 1943 when  Lt. Kennedy's Motor Torpedo Boat, PT-109, was rammed by the Japanese Destroyer Amagiri, splitting it in two and instantly killing two of Kennedy's men.  In the accident Lt. Kennedy was thrown hard into the cockpit further injuring him.  Survivors were led by Kennedy to a small island several miles away and Kennedy even towed badly burned crew mate Patrick McMahon to the island by clenching a strap of McMahon's life jacket between his teeth.  He would later be treated for this injury, released from active duty in 1944, and receiving a honorable discharge in early 1945.


Kennedy after a spinal surgery in December 1954
After defeating the Republican incumbent for the U.S. Senate seat in 1952 and marrying Jacqueline in 1953, Kennedy would have several spinal operations over a course of two years.  The surgeries plus other medical issues were severe enough to warrant Kennedy being read his last rites on more than one occasion.  It was during his recovery from these surgeries that he wrote his Pulitzer prize-winning Profiles in Courage.

In the 1950s Kennedy consulted with New York doctor Janet Trevell regarding his lower back pain.  Suffering some similar maladies herself, Dr. Trevell recommended a style of rocking chair that had a tall, stiff back.  She called it the "Carolina Rocker" and the future president found it to be an effective remedy.  It is estimated that JFK owned between 12-14 of these chairs, each at different place he would frequent.  The chair for sale by Rock Island Auction Company is believed to have come from the Kennedy Palm Beach estate that served as the family's winter home.  These chairs have come to be known as "Kennedy Rockers" and are an iconic image associated with the young president.  This particular chair, used by Kennedy himself, was given to long time family cook Nellie McGrail (1911-1995).


For roughly 20 years McGrail was the family cook at the Palm Beach home and was Rose Kennedy's personal cook until 1984 when the matriarch would suffer a stroke.  McGrail was a beloved member of the Kennedy staff.  She was flown to Hyannis Port every year to celebrate Rose's birthday and on any other occasion that required her culinary delights.  She also had close ties with the family of Senator Edward "Teddy" Kennedy.  The chair was presented to McGrail upon her retirement in 1994 with a brass plaque attached to its left arm stating that the chair was indeed owned by the late President Kennedy and the reason for its presentation.  As if the brass plaque were not enough, the chair also comes with the following documentation and Kennedy family items:

Lot 1202: Documented President John F. Kennedy's Rocking Chair as Authenticated by the Kennedy Family
A letter from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Nellie McGrail
A letter from Sargent Shriver to Nellie McGrail
  • A letter from Senator Edward Kennedy on his U.S. Senate stationary confirming that the rocker was owned by his late brother and was presented to McGrail as a retirement gift
  • McGrail's invitation to Caroline Kennedy's wedding to Edwin Schlossberg
  • A personal 1983 dated letter from Sargant Shriver to McGrail thanking her for taking care of Rose Kennedy, his mother-in-law
  • A 1973 dated letter to McGrail from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis expressing her regret that she would be unable to enjoy McGrail's cooking since she was traveling throughout Europe with Mr. Onassis for the year
  • A handwritten thank you note to McGrail from Ethel Kennedy
  • A 1974 handwritten letter from Joan Kennedy hoping that McGrail has "an enjoyable day and evening at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts" and inviting McGrail to join her and the Senator for dinner after the performance.
  • A 1974 thank you note from Eunice Kennedy Shriver praising McGrail's cooking
  • A 1960s era color photograph of McGrail with Rose Kennedy's birthday cake, likely one of the many that McGrail baked for Rose over the years
  • A 1970s era color photograph of McGrail with Edward and Rose Kennedy
  • A 1987 handwritten thank you note from Senator John Kerry praising McGrail's cooking while he visited the Kennedy home in Palm Beach
  • An 11x14 black and white photgraph of Joan Kennedy, Nellie McGrail, and Edward Kennedy, Jr. with his birthday cake and signed by Edward, Jr., "To Nellie, Thanks a lot!  Teddy K."
  • The Palm Beach Post obituarty of Nellie McGrail which details her relationship to the Kennedy Family.

The chair itself will be enough to attract the attention of Camelot enthusiasts across the nation, but when combined with the assortment of hand written letters, signatures, and photographs from well-known members of the Kennedy family, the lot will become a highly valued prize for one lucky collector.




Ronald Wilson Reagan
Reagan circa 1939
Ronald Reagan's presidency is also one that, despite its highs and lows, is remembered quite positively by many.  Like the Kennedy rocking chair, the item in this auction that was presented to the sitting 40th president has its origins in the president's younger years.  Nearly everybody is aware that before Ronald Reagan was a politician he was an actor.  Raised in Dixon, IL, just over an hour's drive from Rock Island Auction Company's current facilities, Reagan began working as a radio broadcaster in Iowa before moving to Los Angeles in 1937 to start a career as a film and television actor.  He signed a contract with Warner Brothers that same year after a successful screen test.  Reagan would star in many films, including over a half dozen westerns, but would eventually move toward television as his film roles slowed - a slowing that perhaps took place thanks to the call of WWII which would halt the young star's rise.

This brief role in western film would be time for the future governor and president to meet one Mr. Arvo Ojala.  Ojala also worked in Hollywood as a firearms technical adviser and as a "gun play artist."  Known as a quick draw master, Ojala would often be called in for close up camera shots involving a quick draw, gun spinning, or other fancy gun handling.  He had the privilege of working on westerns during the apex of Hollywood's western movie obsession.  He began his work in the 1950s, but unlike Reagan, continued even into the 1990s participating in such films as "The Three Amigos" and "Back to the Future III."  His coaching of movie stars and his manufacturing of holsters provided a priceless resource for the many, many directors that had the pleasure of working with the man who could draw, fire, and hit a target in one sixth of a second.  Arvo is likely most known as the "unnamed man" who is shot by Marshal Matt Dillon in the opening sequences of the TV drama Gunsmoke.

Clearly the two men became friends during their shared time in Hollywood.  Good enough friends that Ojala would make a rather extravagant gift to the sitting president.  Reagan would glowingly receive a cased set of consecutively serialized Colt Third Generation Single Action Army revolvers.  Not only would the  the revolvers come with their backstraps inscribed, "President Ronald Reagan / Presented by Arvo Ojala," but they would also come with one of Ojala's holster rigs featuring meticulously tooled leather and a solid gold and silver presentation belt buckle.

Lot 1201:  Historic and Superb Fully Documented Cased Consecutively Serialized Pair of ColtSingle Action Army Revolvers Presented to Sitting 40th U.S. President Ronald Reaganwith Exquisite Tooled Presentation Holster Rig and Important Gold and Silver Presentation Presidential Belt Buckle



Words alone cannot describe this offering enough and the Gipper showed he clearly felt the same way in a thank you letter to Ojala that reads, "There are no words to properly express my appreciation for the magnificent gift of the belt, holsters, and pistols so beautifully displayed in that case.  I know you described what you were planning, but I had no idea it would be so spectacular and so handsome."  That signed letter, from Reagan to Ojala, is included in this lot in addition to the holster rig, two pistols, and another letter from then Colt Vice President D.W. Davis to Ojala stating how honored he was that President Reagan has accepted the gifted Colt revolvers.







History remembers these presidents fondly, despite conflicts that arose during their administrations.  One representing the romance of Camelot and the other that of the Old West, each man was wildly popular in his time and has set forth for themselves a lasting legacy in the history of this nation.  Their glamour, notable sound bites, ideals, and respective roles in the Cold War have enshrined them in U.S. culture more solidly than their statues and other honors ever could.  This auction is a fantastic chance to own some of the personal items of these two monumental U.S. presidents.  Each one is a glimpse at that man's past, and iconic of the men they became.



In addition to these two historical offerings, other presidential items are also available in our December 2013 Premiere Auction.  We present for your approval:

A carved bust of a youthful John F. Kennedy
Standing 51 inches tall, this wooden sculpture and pedestal makes a striking and academic addition to any Kennedy or presidential collection.  It is the perfect companion piece to President John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair in Lot #1202.  The sculptor R.S. Saldibar is noted on the front as is the 1972 date of the sculpture's completion.




A large, impressive leatherbound book of official White House presidential portraits
The black leather cover is  16 ¼ inches wide by 20 inches tall and features a large, metal Great Seal of The Unites States mounted on it.  Only upon opening the large cover does one discover the title, The White House Gallery of Official Portraits of the Presidents.  The book was a limited edition release and is individually numbered, likely thanks to the extremely thick pages and high-quality printing of the portraits that must have been created at great expense to the publisher.  The book’s number is #4144 and was presented on October 5, 1907 to a Mr. H.C. Gill.  The portraits of every president are present up through William McKinley, whose administration stretched from 1897 – 1901, the final year of which is also the book’s copyright date.




































SOURCES

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001654/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-John-F-Kennedy.aspx

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/johnfkennedy

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ronaldreagan

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Unsung Trapdoor Rifle




In terms of American military long arms very little attention is given to a predecessor of the much heralded M1903 and M1 Garand, the Springfield Trapdoor.  The Springfield Trapdoor was produced for over 20 years and would experience many changes throughout its life.  The rifle would take its place in history just after the Civil War, despite the justifiable hesitation of many military personnel who were all too aware about the superiority of repeaters and magazine fed rifles.  It would kill buffalo by the thousands as America expanded westward and would also play a role in the wars against the Native Americans.  Militarily it represents the watershed transition for U.S. forces from the musket to the rifle.  Today we find out a little bit more of this rifle, its origins, the question of its performance, and its role in history.

Lot 3507: Rare Early Springfield Armory Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle with Rare Metcalfe Device


Origins
After the Civil War, the War Department wanted a breech-loading rifle.  To be specific, they wanted a breech-loading rifle that would chamber a self-primed, metallic cartridge.  This led to the formation of an Army Board who, in 1865, would host trials of different rifles by makers both foreign and domestic.  The idea of the Master Armorer at the U.S Armory at Springfield, Mr. Erskine S. Allin, was to take the existing Civil War muzzle-loaders, of which there were thousands, and convert them by adding the now well known "trap door" to the receiver.



Lot 3512: U.S. Springfield Model 1879 Trapdoor Rifle


This appealed to the Board for a number of reasons:
  1. It used existing materials, thereby saving money and manufacturing time.
  2. Money was even more important with the War Department's newly slashed budget.
  3. Single shots were viewed as more reliable and rugged than repeaters or magazine rifles.
  4. It looked like proven guns of the past, especially with its pronounced hammer.
  5. Their priority on long range accuracy over rate of fire.
  6. Single shot rifles were thought to force a more efficient use of ammunition
Lot 3101: Civil War U.S. Springfield Model 1861 Percussion Rifle-Musket with Bayonet

The Springfield Model 1861 percussion rifled musket was the most used rifle by the Union in the Civil War.  It is not difficult to see its relation to the Model 1873.

The Board adopted the National Armory's (a.k.a. the U.S. Armory at Springfield, later just "Springfield") design, now referred to as the "First Allin."  However, this "adoption" was more of a test drive than a final acceptance.  As reports came in from the field in subsequent years, the rifle would be adapted, redesigned, replaced in the field in small numbers.  This went on for about 5 years from National Armory's Model 1865 to their Model 1870, until on September 3, 1872, the Board of Army Officers held another trial.  This trial was designed to find a rifle with more in line with their preference toward range and power than the Model 1870 being "test driven" by soldiers in the field.  The Board, now known as the "Terry Board," was headed by Brigadier General A.H. Terry and requested roughly 100 different breech-loading rifles from various makers to put through trials.  They again received both foreign and domestic submissions from some of the most prominent firearms manufacturers of the day such as: Winchester, Remington, Springfield, Sharps, Spencer, Whitney, and others.  All but 21 were rejected almost immediately and only two of those were modifications of the current .50 caliber trap door

Lot 1476: Rare U.S. Springfield Armory Model 1875 Officer's Model Trapdoor Rifle, Late Type II


Breech from above of the Officer's Model 1875


At this point, a "sidebar" study was held by the Terry Board.  It was a separate, yet related, study to determine which combination of caliber, powder charge, and bullet weight would provide the best performance.  They tested .40, .42, and .45 caliber bullets, powder amounts from 65-80 grains, several rifling variations, and bullet weights from 350-450 grains.  Each variation had its own barrel and was tested with 20 shots at 6 targets 500 yards away.  The winner would be barrel #16 with the #58 ammunition, which would be the 45-70-405 cartridge.  We know it better as the .45-70 Government.  The round was deemed so effective that Colt would be making Gatling guns to utilize that round later that same year.  It is surprising that both government and private manufacturers took so long to realize that by increasing powder and lessening bullet weight, they could produce rifles with much greater range.  The development of this round and its subsequent rifle, literally made for each other, would mark the American shift from muskets to longer range rifles.

By the time the .45-70 was decided upon, the Terry Board had further narrowed the field of long arms to six possible candidates.  Each was altered to use this new cartridge and tested further.  In the end, their bias to an older style of warfare and rifle won out and the trap door action was selected.  The preference for a powerful rifle that would be accurate at long distances also implies interesting things about the state of American conflict at that time.  The Civil War having ended a short 7 years earlier, the thought was to again select a weapon that would perform nobly in a similar type of conflict.  The thought of fast-moving battles against Native Americans may have been a secondary priority at that time, hence the lack of urgency to adopt repeating and magazine based rifles.

Lot 1482: Extremely Rare Martially Inspected U.S. Springfield 1892 Dated
.30 Calibre Experimental Trapdoor Rifle Number "I"
Same rifle in full.

Use
It is known that trapdoor rifles were not developed until after the Civil War and through Springfield's manufacturing records one will find that the first 1,940 Model 1873 carbines and 2 rifles were not made until the final months of 1873 with an additional 6,521 weapons ready by March 31, 1874.  The Model 1873 was the fifth improvement of the Allin design.

The Spanish-American War would not start for another 24 years.  Until that time the Allin System longarms would be used in the American plains for two purposes: killing buffalo and fighting American Indians.  As a buffalo killer, the weapon was apt.  Its muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet/second would allow it to penetrate 17 inches of white pine at 100 yards, certainly enough to kill a buffalo.  This power when combined with its long range accuracy also made it an excellent hunting rifle for other large game of the prairie and coyotes.  The classic cowboy song "Home On the Range," was first published in 1873 with its now well-known lyrics of buffalo roaming while deer and antelope play.  Little could author Brewster M. Higley have known how much the Springfield, developed that same year, would affect those animals.

Lot 3515: Desirable Custer Era U.S. Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Carbine with Indian Markings

The Allin System's performance in the Indian Wars is much debated.  Often cited are the "large number" of empty cartridges found at the Battle of Little Big Horn which exhibited signs of malfunction.  Such examples were found, however, they are a small percentage (2.7 - 3.4% by some counts) of the thousands rounds that were fired in that conflict.  The  concern over jamming weapons in the Indian Wars is not a modern one.  Even at the time, it was a known concern among soldiers.  This was due in large part to the use of a copper alloy ("Bloomfield Gilding Metal") in the manufacture of the ammunition's case.  Copper was prone to expanding in the breech upon firing and could also prevent the extractor from properly functioning.  This often required the user to pry the cartridge from the breech or to push it out by using the ramrod.  Such a remedy was not an option on the carbine version which did not include that valuable tool.  This brought about the use of brass cases to reduce  expansion, a material still in use to this day.

The Springfield Model 1873 carbine was the standard issue longarm of all U.S. Cavalry units from 1874 to 1896, but the rifle would be switched out in 1886 for the improved Springfield Model 1884.  The Allin system would not be replaced as the standard U.S. rifle until the adoption of the Krag-Jørgensen (a.k.a. Springfield Model 1892-99) which would also be produced by the Springfield Armory from 1894 to 1904.  For those paying close attention to dates, this means that the Krag, using its smokeless ammunition, was the primary rifle used in both the Spanish-American War as well as the Philippine-American War, though the sheer number of available trap doors inevitably meant that the outdated black powder guns would still see use.

Lot 1488: Excellent U.S. Springfield Model 1884 Trapdoor Rifle


Previous gun's breech as seen from above


Variations
It's hard to see how any troops could complain about the Springfield trap door.  With a new variation out almost every year of its production, any issues could be dealt with rapidly and remedied in subsequent variations.  The only issue that could not be fixed was that of its relatively low rate of fire, a quality inherent to its loading method.  I will not cover the vast number of variations here.  For an exhaustive list of the changes and varieties in all their minutia, please consult what many consider to be the Bible of Springfield Trapdoors, Robert Frasca's The .45-70 Springfield.  With his list of all the parts that were altered from 1873-1894, it is difficult to imagine one piece remaining throughout all 20 years of production.


Not only did the Model 1873 miss the major conflicts of the 17th and 18th centuries, it was also vastly overshadowed by the iconic Winchester repeater and Colt revolver released that same year.  It was a rifle languishing in the past by a population in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and hungry to adopt the new technologies that accompanied it.  The Model 1873 was relegated to ill-chosen government contracts, slaughtering buffalo, and killing Native Americans. Outdated in its loading system before it was even adopted by the government and lacking the celebrity of a military conflict, the Springfield Trapdoor plays a quiet role in the story of U.S. military arms, yet remains a highly desirable collector's piece with its unique loading system, endless varieties to collect, and aesthetically pleasing components like the lockplate, hammer, and sweeping breech block.  Even a highly dedicated collector would stay busy for decades happily collecting this long arm of the American plains.

In fact, one collector did just that, Dr. Richard Branum.  Our upcoming December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction will have over 50 trapdoor rifles at all levels of collecting!  Dr. Branum's collection represents a lifetime of collecting and has resulted in the most comprehensive and academic collection of trapdoors.  Represented will be rare, experimental variations, extremely high condition models, unusual calibers, accouterments, and many different years of production.  The collection possesses every caliber of manufacture: .58 rimfire, .50-70 government, .45.70 government, the rare .45-80 long range cartridge, and .30-40.  It also contains every barrel length and every variation of the ramrod bayonet.  It is a living history lesson to view all the chronological variations in this fantastic collection.

If early American militaria and rifles are your passion, the Springfield Trapdoors alone will be enough to get you champin' at the bit.  There will also be nearly 70 Civil War pieces that help make up the nearly 1,000 antiques available in this auction.  And we all know why antiques can be so nice.  Stay tuned each and every week for more fascinating and laudable firearms.



-Written by Joel Kolander





Note: This article incorrectly referred to the rifles in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Arsenal at Springfield" as trapdoor rifles.  We were notified by several readers that those arms would have pre-dated the trapdoor rifles and that trapdoor rifles would not have even fit correctly in those massive and impressive racks.  We regret the error and those references have since been omitted.





SOURCES:

Frasca, Albert J., and Charles R. Suydam. The .45-70 Springfield: Springfield Caliber .58, .50, .45 and .30 Breech Loaders in the U.S. Service, 1865-1893. Springfield, OH: Frasca Pub., 1997. Print.






Friday, October 18, 2013

Stocks, Bonds, or Barrels?

Ask any firearms collector if guns are a good investment and you're bound to receive a response in the affirmative. It's not exactly an unbiased answer, but it is still drawn from sound personal experience. Besides, wasn't the economy's most recent low spot in 2008? Haven't such indicators as the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 recovered nicely since then? What about gold? I keep hearing about its value skyrocketing.

These are reasonable questions from someone debating on whether or not to invest some money into firearms versus other more traditional investment vehicles. Of course, we're not talking about the stocks of firearms companies as investments (although those are doing quite well for themselves currently), but the firearms themselves. Are guns a good investment? Aren't all the "good ones" taken? Not so fast. Here's some information that might make you think otherwise.


1.  Values Are Up

Gun values are up and it's not just some bubble in the market. Yes, modern sporting rifles (a.k.a. "assault rifles") saw a recent price bubble, but over the last five years the vast majority of guns in their usable life have seen and maintained an increase in value. Guns past their "useful life" and in their "collectable life" have been largely gaining value for decades.

2.  Increasing Gun Values Exceed Other Market Increases

The examples we list below are only the beginning. While their values have increased, and done so at a handsome percentage, other genres of collecting make these look like small gains. Through research and careful selection, one stands to outperform even such vaunted standards at the S&P 500 and even gold! Haven't each of those investments vehicles been improving since 2008? Didn't the S&P 500 just experience a new record high this week? The answer to both questions is "yes," but the right guns readily show larger gains in leaps and bounds.

3.  You Can't Shoot Stocks

OK, so this may not be an apples to oranges comparison, but it's a huge plus to investing in guns. Firearms are useful beyond their investment value. You can display them, you can clean them, you can take them to shows, you can take them hunting with your old man, you can teach a youngster about them, and they're a lot easier to trade than stocks. Truth be told, you may not want to fire a high dollar firearm into which you've invested tens of thousands of dollars as you may harm the value, but many of the other activities still apply.

Guns can be enjoyed in ways other investments cannot. You may hear one collector excitedly telling another about a recent purchase that he has chased for years; you'll never hear that from a day trader. You might hear the pride in a collectors voice as he describes his collection; the only time you'll hear financial experts talk that way about a portfolio is if it makes money. In gun collecting, there's so much more than money, like history and the pursuit. Not only is investing in guns worthwhile financially, you can use them as tools as well as for recreation.

4.  Guns Are Tangible

This section isn't meant to be some "the sky is falling" message about our government or the stability of the world economy, etc. However, there is a lot of risk present to investors today: the Eurozone, a government shutdown, debt ceilings, recessions, defaults, and so on. It is in unstable climates that investors seek stability. One only has to look at the popularity of precious metal commodities in the last several years to know that people want finances that aren't just potentially vulnerable electronic numbers in a bank or on the stock market. People want things they can touch, things that they can hold on to and guarantee its security. Collecting firearms provides that opportunity. You can hold them, they're worth an increasing amount of money, and you don't have to worry about losing them if a bank or market collapses. 

Examples

Now, we're not licensed financial planners or sages of what the future may hold, but we can speak from the experience of selling over 22,000 firearms a year and evaluate some past information in an intelligent fashion. We are not licensed financial advisors.  Please due your own due diligence or contact a professional before making any and all financial decision.  We simply have the good fortune to possess loads of data and we're not afraid to use it. All data that we used to derive the information below was obtained in the following way:
  • We only used guns that are in 95-100% of their original condition
  • We attempted to eliminate as many "special" guns as possible (unique history, one-of-a-kinds, etc) since they can cause larger swings in value.
  • All dollar figures shown are a yearly average.
  • Values for gold, S&P 500, and Dow Jones are year end figures, except for 2013, which uses October 16 as its final day.
Keep in mind, the amount that you bought/sold a gun for may not match the figures that we provide below. Our figures are averages. They take into account many different finishes, barrel lengths, grips, calibers, serial number ranges, boxes, letters, and so on. These numbers are not published to a pricing guide of any sort, merely to indicate a rising trend in value for several of the most popular firearms that we have sold in the last 5 years.










 Last 3 years: 72.68%
 Last 6 years: 183.31%

There's more than a dozen Colt Pythons to choose from in our upcoming auction in varying barrel lengths and finishes.















 Last 3 years: 43.84%
 Last 6 years: 52.78%

This classic piece of American firepower, called "the greatest battle implement ever devised," has also enjoyed quite the rise in value over the last several years. Patton would be proud.















 Last 3 years: 123.52%
 Last 6 years: 107.93%

Colt 1911s have been a proven high riser for several years.  The numbers on the left don't even reflect the high dollar 1911s such as Singers, high condition first year production models, prototypes, and especially not the world record Singer than we sold in 2010 for $166,750.












 Last 3 years: 111.89%
 Last 6 years: 79.95%


There are over 15 different high end Model 12 shotguns to choose from in this auction!  They include two engraved and gold inlaid by Master Engraver Angelo Bee, several trap and skeet grade models, and of course some of the ever popular trench shotguns.








 Last 3 years: -9.39%
 Last 6 years: 52.24%

Despite gold's popularity and media coverage as a high performing investment, it still lacks the gain in value attached to many genres of firearms









 Last 3 years: 36.89%
 Last 6 years: 17.24%


The S&P is finally starting to look like its old self and is actually breaking some records as of late.  However, even considering that record breaking performance the returns still pale to that of numerous genres of guns.













Last 3 years: 32.79%
Last 6 years: 17.75%


Even at its historic highs, the mighty Dow Jones fails to match the growth of collectable firearms.






We could list guns, pictures, and charts for numerous pages, we could also spend an entire month comprising values and breaking them down and making them as specific as possible, but this is not a pricing guide.  What we are doing is drawing trends and averages by looking back at the data from hundreds of sales of the firearms selected.  As with any rise in value there may be a few segments left behind.  Even in a bull market, not every stock gains money or even gains every year.  However, by taking a step back and looking at those trends over a larger period, it becomes easy to see that guns have been a sound investment for quite some time.  This financial benefit comes almost as an aside to most people who buy guns simply to enjoy them, use them, and be a part of that community.  It's yet another added perk to do what you love.

Best of luck in your collecting, investing, and of course, your shooting.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Response

Readers,
This letter is a response to an email sent by James D Julia, Inc. to its customers.  Their email claims that "a competing auctioneer" has launched a campaign to "disparage" not only their auction service, but also the lifelong collection of Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess.  This email also attempts to paint their "competitor" as an organization that would shy away from "the truth and what the facts are."  Obviously, we wish to offer a rebuttal and have done so with the following letter. -Ed.



Dear Fellow Collectors, 

As many of you are aware, Rock Island Auction Company recently published an article as part of our ongoing series written by RIAC employees. This article pertained to import marks on collectable and investment grade firearms. This article has been widely read and received a great deal of attention in the firearms collecting community. An employee of RIAC wrote this article with full knowledge of the importation of the Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess Collection. In fact, it was because such an impressive collection was being imported that collectively we decided to address the topic. Not only would such an article be extremely relevant, but also very helpful to the gun collectors. We covered various sides of the issue, though thanks to many responses in various internet forums and comments sections there was still much that people had to say on the topic. With any article, there will be those who agree and those who dissent and both sides have been posting. The overall conclusion is that import marks are detrimental to collectability and push value down. Unfortunately, James Julia has taken our article as a direct attack, claiming that Rock Island Auction Company has “disparaged” both his auction service and the Sturgess Collection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, as a collector myself and my company have no reason to besmirch the Sturgess Collection; it is a lifetime of a collector’s work that we admire just as we do with so many collections that also indicate such dedication and passion. We have no reason to drive down gun values as Julia claims. For surely as such an effect would happen to Julia, it would also happen to us. The aphorism says, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” after all. Furthermore, we do not believe we have “damaged” nor had a “negative effect on the industry as a whole.” On the contrary, the article was written as an educational point of interest on a subject pertinent to collectors worldwide. Not once does the article mention James Julia or the Sturgess Collection by name in an attempt to call out either one. However, since Julia’s has addressed us directly in an email seeking “facts” and “the truth,” we should like to respond to this email and the specifics surrounding this sale. We shall do this in the interest of further protecting gun collectors, whether they are our customers or not.

Regarding Import Marks
We have seen the picture and document supplied by Julia showing an example of the import marks and unfortunately, they raise more questions than they answer.  Julia promises “truth” and “facts” in his email, yet neglects to show collectors everything they need to make an informed decision.  Both pictures showing import marks show the “SIMPSON LTD / G’BURG, IL” mark on a Luger pistol.  While abbreviations are certainly allowed when making import marks, where is the rest of the required ATF importation information?  As our article pointed out, by law several pieces of information are required to be included in the marking of a firearm for import.  Certainly some information is already present on the gun, such as a serial number, and not required to be duplicated in the import markings, but where is the rest of the information?  Sometimes, however, experimental guns do not have the serial number and the importer is required by law to assign one.  Some Lugers will indicate that they are made in Germany, but most do not.  Collectors and potential buyers must be shown where the importer marked that.  This is not some grand challenge.  This is an opportunity for transparency on the part of Julia for the benefit of the buying public.  Where are the caliber markings?  The law also says you must indicate the model of the gun if designated (27 CFR § 478.92).  In the spirit of truth and fact, we ask Julia show the buying public where that has been properly marked on firearms requiring it.

The placement of these marks also raises questions. ATF Guidelines clearly state that they “require markings that legibly identify each item or package and require that such markings be conspicuous… ‘conspicuous’ means that all required markings must be placed in such a manner as to be wholly unobstructed from plain view.” In Julia’s own words, their markings on the appropriate Sturgess Collection items have been described as “almost indistinguishable,” “imperceptible,” “impossible to see,” “non-noticeable,” and most damningly, “inconspicuous.” According to his own description of the marked items, they do not comply with ATF standards, which state, “Held further, an imported firearm with any part of the required marking partially or wholly obstructed from plain view is not marked in accordance with 27 CFR § 478.92 and 27 CFR § 479.102,” (all emphasis as written). If the ATF judges these to be improperly marked, are they then contraband? While we do not know the answer, we believe this is one of several questions to which customers deserve an irrefutable answer. Furthermore, such markings are required to be “placed in a manner not susceptible of being readily obliterated, altered, or removed” (27 CFR § 479.102). The opening of the magazine well does not lend itself well to either of the above requirements and is, in our opinion, an attempt to circumvent the legal stipulations, but that is for the ATF to determine.


Regarding Taxes
We all know that Uncle Sam gets what is owed to him. Even people as powerful as Al Capone, Judy Garland, and Abbott & Costello have been brought down by not paying what was due. While we are not suggesting that anyone is currently not paying the United States properly, the issue remains unresolved of who will be paying the FAET taxes on these imported guns. Julia’s statement from his own attorney states that “James D. Julia, Inc. is not liable for paying FAET as it is not the beneficial owner of the firearms.” It goes further to indicate that only FFL dealers would have to pay if they are not using them for personal use or if they import less than 50 firearms per calendar year. However, when Butterfield’s sold the Rolf Muller Collection in 1994, it consisted of mostly antique European revolvers. Little did collectors know that a Federal Excise Tax would be incurred on such items as Lugers. 6 months after the sale a notice arrived stating that they would owe 10% of the entire sale price (including the buyer’s premium). The 50 gun exemption, as of October 1, 2005, did not yet apply. In this case, the guns were imported not singularly, but as a collection. Therefore, there is no “under 50 gun” exemption.

The attorney’s statement further says, “While we are confident in our position, we always caution clients that the TTB is not bound to take a similar view. We also take this opportunity to point out that anyone not our client may treat this summary as general guidance only, and we are specifically disclaiming providing tax or legal advice to anyone except James D. Julia, Inc.” Is the buying public to accept “guidance” from somebody paid by and solely representing Julia or will they heed facts and events that have actually taken place?

Julia’s email ends with a wish that gun collectors will make their own decisions based on fact and reality. We do too. Our article was not an attack. It was a service to collectors who may consider buying from this or other imported collections. Questions remain despite all Julia’s empty assurances.
  • Are the guns properly marked? If so, show us the markings for caliber, model, and country.
  • Are there consequences to owning improperly marked guns?
  • Are improperly marked guns contraband?
  • Who exactly will be paying the taxes on these guns? Are you liable?
  • On experimental guns without a manufacturer’s serial number, were they assigned a number by the importer? If so, where was it placed? We have not yet been shown. Also, can we be assured that it meets the .003 inch depth and 1/16th inch height required of serial numbers?
All Rock Island Auction Company has sought in this whole endeavor is to investigate the ins and outs of imported firearms as an important collection was coming to market. Julia has seen fit to take this to an entirely different level. Therefore, we ask the buying public to demand and insist on complete answers and proof to these very pertinent questions. Collectors want peace of mind, privacy, and to keep the government out of their business. Right now none of those is assured. You be the judge. Is all of our talk about import marks just sour grapes or is it necessary information for collectors? Draw your own conclusions. Protect yourself.

Best of luck to Dr. Sturgess at auction and congratulations on an amazing collection.


Sincerely,

Pat Hogan
Owner/President




Friday, October 4, 2013

Beautiful Big Bores at RIAC

Over the past few months, Rock Island Auction Company has seen a pleasing inflow of beautiful high end sporting guns that will appear in its December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction.  There are elegant double rifles, beautiful drilling rifles, and many impressive safari grade rifles.  When admiring these finely crafted firearms one by one an exciting trend began to emerge: these are big guns.  The more guns I looked at, the more large bore weapons I discovered and not only were they made to fire large rounds, but they were absolutely alluring.  I could yammer on all day about them, but I'm guessing you would prefer prefer seeing a lot of pictures instead.  So without further ado here is a selection of the large bore sporting rifles that will appear in RIAC's December 2013 Premiere Auction.


Engraved Gold Inlaid Rodda Double Barrel 8 Bore Under Lever Hammer Paradox Shotgun



This gun is a flat out stunner!  It is a paradigm of color with its handsome chocolate brown Damascus barrels, gold inlays, and positively vibrant case coloring.  Even the textures presented are as various as they are beautiful: the tiny eddies within the steel, the near liquid smooth finish, the contrasting distinct checkering, the minute English scroll engraving, matted rib, bright gold lettering, and the brindled stock.



The gun is much more than just style.  It's an 8 bore paradox shotgun that weighs in at a hefty 15 1/2 pounds and is capable of firing shot or slugs from its rifled barrels..  No doubt the weight was incorporated to eat some of this long gun's massive kick.  One can scarcely imagine how massive the 8 bore slugs would have appeared.  This is one heavyweight beauty most deserving of collectors' attention.






Daniel Fraser & Company Double Barrel Boxlock Big Bore Rifle in 577 Express, with Case and Accessories



The previous firearm is a tough act to follow in terms of beauty, but the Fraser & Co. rifle does quite a respectable job.  It's contrasting colors are visually compelling, from the crude oil black barrel to the coffee and creamer-like swirls of the wood.  The silver color and serpentine lines of the receiver also are juxtaposed nicely with the darker oblong checkered grips to its aft.  The engraving is superb, showing tight floral pattern scrolling that positively saturates the receiver, hinge pin, and break lever.  Other garnishments of note are the pistol grip, cheek piece, horn gripcap, golden oval with inscription, and the leather case which includes 8 primed brass cases, 15 cast conical bullets, a brass single chamber ball mold, a cased set of three screwdrivers, and a two-piece cleaning rod.


This beauty is chambered in .577 Express, which means she packs one hell of a punch.  In fact, in normal situations the .577 Express is considered excessivly powerful with its 7,000 foot pounds of force at the muzzle.  By comparison, a 30-06 with a 180 grain bullet has about 2,900.  The .577 Express is another heavy gun that would have been a pain to lug around the African Savanna, but in the event a wounded, adrenaline-fueled elephant or rhino was ripping through the vegetation to turn you into a red pulp on the dry African earth, a double dose of acute lead poisoning from this fantastic double rifle would be perfect for the task.



Walter Locke & Co. English Back Action 8 Bore Double Barrel Hammer Rifle

This ample firearm takes some of the previous two firearms and blends them together in yet another visually attractive piece capable of knocking down even the toughest game with the thickest hides.  Like our first gun, the Rodda, it also is an 8 bore with casehardened parts.  Similar to the Fraser, it uses contrasting blued components and engraving.  In the picture below you'll notice that the engraving is very light and used mostly as a border, but it can also been seen on the locks and hammers.  The gun features walnut wood, an ebony insert in the forend, silver initial oval, and a round knob pistol grip.

While this is not one of the "giant bores" sometimes used for safari hunting (like 4, 6, or even 2!), the 8 bore was considered the largest gun that a man could comfortably use and haul.  Even well known safari hunter, explorer, rifleman, and conservationist Frederick Selous would eventually give up using his beloved 4 bore muzzleloader stating that it was "upsetting my nerve."  The classic game getter is accompanied by 12 round lead bullets, 3 conical, approximately 20 No. 8 gauge shells, and 5 No. 8 gauge rounds.



Extremely Rare Engraved Ludwig Brovnik Side by Side Double Rifle in Desirable 458 Win Mag
This double rifle, chambered in .458 Winchester Magnum, is the smallest of the calibers in this article, but don't read that as it being a small round.  Unlike most of the rifles in this article, the .458 Win Mag could be used for longer distance shooting.  This rifle, thanks to the terrain in which it was intended to be used, and the up-close-and-personal nature of safari hunting, was regulated for 60 meters.  Some still claim that the cartridge is the most popular for hunting dangerous game.  Its popularity was driven when it offered similar ballistics to the large, English double rifle rounds, but was available in a bolt action rifle, thus making both the rifle and the ammunition cheaper to manufacture and purchase.


As if there were any doubt as to the rifle's purpose, the engraving on the bottom leaves little to the imagination.  Its tight scrolling with vine and foliage lines frame a running cape buffalo, a sight this gun is prepared to handle.  This Austrian-made gun is only one of two in the United States.  It is of "Best Gun" quality and uses many of only the finest quality materials in its manufacture.  This working double features barrels formed from Bohler Special G 55 steel.  This particular steel possesses a high chrome content and is of the very highest strength and quality.  The wood has also experienced the utmost in care and quality and is a hand-oiled finish with a horn gripcap.  Even the checkering on the pistol grip and the entire length of the forend is a unique style that at a distance almost evokes a plaid pattern.  No detail was left overlooked in the creation of this luxury rifle.



Engraved and Gold Highlighted Winchester Custom Shop Model 70 Big 5 Safari Classic Super Express Bolt Action Rifle with Scope




This gun might look a little bit more like your father's prized hunting rifle than some of the others on this list, but it's not for knocking down whitetails.  It is the iconic and recognizable Winchester Model 70, but a closer inspection reveals a special purpose: safari hunting.



Not only is it a Model 70 with shared characteristic of the Super Grade rifles, but its floorplate is engraved and gold inlaid and has a gold and silver highlighted image of a rhinoceros.  Some of you may also be noticing the "BIG 5" and the silhouette of the African continent and thinking, "It's designed to take down the Big 5?  What is that Model 70 chambered in?"  For those that don't know, the Big 5 are the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa and any one of them is capable of killing you without so much as a second thought. They are:

African elephant: An animal that is smarter and more likely to charge than the others.
Rhinoceros: A lethal tank of a quadruped capable of easily lifting a Cap Buffalo with its deadly, solitary horn (this used to be specifically the black rhinoceros, but their critical endangerment now also allows for white rhinos to be taken).
Lion:  The King of the Jungle.  These unpredictable cats will often rather confront trespassers than flee.  Their stealth, power, and fearsome reputation are all factors when hunting this beast.
Cape Buffalo:  These massive bovines can reach up to two tons in size.  Like the lion, they are unpredictable; a quality that has prevented them from being domesticated.  A large bull's horns can span over a meter from tip to tip.
Leopard:  Currently this beautifully spotted feline is the most difficult to hunt for two reasons: the licenses are laborious to obtain and the cats themselves are nocturnal and extremely wary.  Hunting a leopard using stalking is essentially impossible.

But why is this rifle included among these other large bore firearms?  Simple.  It fires a .470 Capstick cartridge.  The .470 Capstick was created in 1990 and named after safari hunter and writer Peter Hathaway Capstick.  The round itself is essentially a .375 H&H Magnum that has been necked out to hold the larger .475 bullet.  It is a cartridge 3.65" in length and is a near ballistic duplicate of the more well known .470 Nitro Express.  It is more than capable of handling big game.






Honorable Mention

Scarce Cased Charles Lancaster Quad Barreled Hammerless Shotgun with Accessories




While this 16 gauge shotgun is certainly not considered a larger caliber, this gun earns a honorable mention because it packs a punch in a different way - volume.  This is a quad barreled shotgun made by noted London gunsmith Charles Lancaster.  Four shots might not seem like much today with the tube magazines that are taken for granted, but four shots in a time where single and double barrel breech loading long guns were the norm was quite the improvement.  This is a great example of gunsmith ingenuity trying to solve the mystery of a reliable repeating weapon.  The shotgun would not be cocked by opening the breech, but instead by a double action internal hammer - a design he also used in his pistols.  With each pull of the trigger, the striker would line itself accordingly, cock, and then strike each on the four fixed firing pins in sequence.  All this in addition to its stunning cosmetics: light engravings, Damascus barrels, checkered walnut stock, case hardening, stately case, and a gold inlaid "Safe" indicator.  This has all the rarity, innovative design, beauty, and firepower that a collector could want.  An extremely similar (single action) example is currently housed in the NRA's National Firearms Museum, but one will find this gun in a far superior condition.

Here 3 of the 4 barrels are visible.





If you like what you see here, there is plenty more where that came from.  These are just the "big bore beauties!"  Whether you're looking for a rifle or a shotgun, Rock Island Auction Company's December 2013 Premiere Firearms Auction has numerous options from which to choose: high grade American and English-made doubles & shotguns, safari grade rifles, and rare, high condition field guns.  All this in addition to all your collector favorites like Colts, Winchesters, Smith & Wessons, U.S. military, German military, antiques, militaria, bladed weapons, and historically significant pieces.  Stay tuned!  In the coming weeks we'll be showing all sorts of fascinating items that will be crossing the block here at RIAC.