Rock Island Auction Company’s next Regional Firearms Auction will be Feb. 21-23, 2014. That means a lot of new hardware is going to find its way into new hands and homes. RIAC’s Regional Auction is different from its premiere auctions; the former is for shooters or beginning collectors, while the latter is for moderate to expert collectors or investors and feature some of the best and most collectible firearms available. That is not to say that the regional auctions are without gems. In fact, RIAC aims to show a few of the more interesting lots that caught our eye.
OK, so maybe the first one is a collection and not an individual item, but it still warrants attention. If you have ever surfed the Internet for shooting videos, odds are you probably have come across the feats and showmanship of Tom Knapp. An exhibition shooter extraordinaire, Knapp performed the seemingly impossible with ease. But shooting was not the only thing he did easily. Holder of two world records with the shotgun, he was a true ambassador sportsman and seemingly friends with all he met. Like a favorite uncle, his booming baritone, sense of humor and love for life shone on and warmed those around him. The guns owned by Knapp are a highlight of the auction. No antiques or exhibition-level firearms here—just out-of-the-box, usable firearms that Knapp could coerce to make the impossible seem possible.
These may look like little more than a pistol with a stock or some variation of a “Buntline Special,” but there is more to these rifles than meets the eye—namely rarity. Any Smith & Wesson collector would be thrilled to have one of these firearms. They were only produced between 1879 and 1887, and a scant 977 were ever manufactured. That makes them rare enough, but when you also consider that some are even more rare by having special-order features—such as factory engraving, nickel plating, one of three different barrel lengths, a scope, various sights and a case—they are a pieces that some collectors will chase for decades. Oh, and did I mention that the hard rubber grips and fore-ends (at the time, considered a deluxe material) were molded from dyes cut by legendary Master Engraver Gustave Young? In its most recent premiere auction, Rock Island had some high-condition examples that have sold well into the five figures, but the examples in this sale give collectors a chance to own one of these rare Smith & Wesson pieces for a much more reachable sum. There are four available in this sale alone.
The Collier patent pistol, whether it uses a percussion or flintlock firing mechanism, holds a very special, yet little known, place in American history. Patented in the United States in June 1818, this design is largely recognized to have influenced Samuel Colt during his 1830-31 voyage to England and India as a sailor on the S.S. Corvo. A fascinating piece for early Americana collectors and an essential for Colt collectors, these desirable handguns are few and far between. To give an idea of its rarity, RAIC sells from 20,000 to 22,000 firearms a year, and this is only the fourth Collier revolver it has had the pleasure to sell.
It should come as no surprise that Winchester will have a prominent place at a firearms auction. What is surprising is that there are so many available at the less-expensive regional auction. There are 4 Winchester Model 1866s, 3 Henry rifles (not including reproductions or modern production), many Winchester 1873 rifles and even a Volcanic lever-action pistol. A quick glimpse at RIAC’s pre-made categories shows there are also many other Winchester models available in addition to the very earliest, such as 1876s, 1892s, 1894s and 1895s. Those guns illustrate that you can add classic, early Winchester and Henry rifles to a collection with relatively little financial commitment and great ease. This February’s regional auction should garner attention from collectors everywhere who have sought attractive prices on guns that typically command top collectors’ attention.
Last, but certainly not least, one cannot help but notice this Colt. Everything about it screams, “I’m extravagant.” With silver and gold plating, this Colt is further ornamented with floral-pattern engraving that even crawls out on the barrel, the loading lever and around the cylinder. However, while you will see an engraved gun fairly regularly, you rarely see one with a Tiffany-style cast grip. This particular grip is especially ornate and features patriotic scenes on each side and an eagle on the bottom. Add to that the purplish hue of tarnish and the already attractive design on an 1860, and you have one impressive gun.
An auction containing more than 6,000 firearms in 2,700-plus lots does not lend itself to much more coverage than the few highlights above. We could show one gun each day, and it still would take us more than 17 years to finish. However, you can browse RIAC’s catalog at www.rockislandauction.com/search—but if you plan on bidding you should hurry. The auction is this weekend, and with guns like these, you can bet we are not the only ones who has noticed them.