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Marked by a Master — 1866 Winchester

We’ve all seen the reality shows with pickers on the road looking to find a hidden gem from an unwitting seller who doesn’t know what the real value of what he owns. The picker negotiates and looks to turn a profit on the sale—somewhat at the expense of the seller. This is a game where knowledge is king. I don’t have a problem with the picker. The price was negotiated and both sides agreed to the deal. If you were the seller though, would you rather have the reality-show picker or Kevin Hogan of Rock Island Auction Company knocking on your door?

Model 1866 Winchester Rifle Engraved by Conrad F Ulrich
Model 1866 Winchester Rifle engraved by Conrad F. Ulrich courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company
“In our job you have no idea what you’re getting into before you go into a house,” said Kevin Hogan, director of auction services at Rock Island Auction Company. “You can talk on the phone until you are blue in the face and still have no idea what you are getting into when you venture out to look at a collection. Driving up, the house may be the biggest thing you have ever seen, but the collection may be little more than common junk. On the other hand, I have stepped into the most modest of homes and been pleasantly surprised with fantastic old stuff.” Recently, RIAC sent Kevin out on little more than a cold call. “I knew he had some guns and was told it might be some pretty good stuff, but we couldn’t be sure one way or the other. My GPS had me driving thorough what I would politely term as not the nicest of neighborhoods, when I suddenly came to the world headquarters of an international company.

“There were 850 oil paintings worth millions on the walls of the offices, which really gave me hope for something great. Upon meeting the owner however, my hopes were quickly dashed. His first admission was that he knew absolutely nothing about guns. He had bought a bunch of guns from a friend 25 years ago and had no idea if they had any real value,” said Hogan.

Model 1866 Winchester Rifle engraved by Conrad F Ulrich
Model 1866 Winchester Rifle engraved by Conrad F. Ulrich — image courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company
A statement along those lines does not inspire much hope for an auctioneer looking for something great, rare or historic. “It’s just not a good thing to hear. We went to the basement and it was also amazing. It was like a private tour of a museum with more works of art on the walls,” recalled Kevin.

“It turned out all he had was 25 derringers that were worth about $200 to $300 each — and on an adjacent table, three 1866 Winchesters. The engraving caught my eye and I could feel the heavy beating in my chest as I realized these were engraved by one of the 19th Century masters, Conrad F. Ulrich. These were $100K guns and the gentleman had absolutely no idea. I was thrilled because these were just good, honest guns. They were not 100 percent, but they were fresh; the kind of gun that has never been touched or altered. Best of all, they will garner significant interest from the collecting community when they go up for auction,” Kevin concluded.

Yeah, I don’t think I’d opt for the reality-show cameo either.

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