by Terry Wieland
At Rock Island’s pre-auction viewing day last week, a common topic of discussion was how the performance of the stock market would affect the bidding.
Would the crushing losses of recent months make bidders feel poor, and keep the bids down? Or would fear of 1970s-style inflation cause a rush for hard assets that retain value, pushing prices up? A good argument could be made either way.
There was, however, a third possibility: That neither would have any effect whatever. Based on the results I saw over the next three days, that turned out to be the best guess. Some guns sold for eye-watering prices, far above the pre-auction estimate; others brought half the low estimate or failed to sell at all.
In the eye-watering category we have a pair of Remington revolvers (lot #106) presented to Ulysses S. Grant, and held in the Grant family until 1976. Rock Island estimated they would sell for $1,000,000-$3,000,000.
In the final stages, two bidders were head to head, one on the phone and one represented by an agent in the auction hall. When the gavel fell, the pair sold for $4,400,000. They went to the guy bidding by phone, whomever he might be. The agent in the audience muttered a word we don’t use in Gray’s.
One should add that the buyer’s premium on top added $770,000, bringing the “price realized” to $5,170,000!
From here on, I will quote the price realized, rather than the hammer price. In case you’re wondering, there is both a buyer’s and a seller’s premium. For example, if a gun has a hammer price (high bid) of $1,000, the buyer pays an additional premium of $175 (17.5 per cent) to the auction house. The seller pays a similar premium, meaning he nets $825, and the auction house gets $350 for its efforts. The seller’s premium, however, is negotiable. Although Rock Island isn’t saying, the consensus was they probably got the prestige (and money-laden) commission to sell the Grant Remingtons in return for waiving the seller’s premium. Such is the world of gilt-edged auction houses.
The prices realized for the Premier Auction, May 13-15, have now been posted on the Rock Island website (www.rockislandauction.com).
To give you an idea of how contradictory the results were, consider this: A Malcolm-scoped Henry rifle (lot #1011), expected to sell for at least $40,000, realized only $35,250; the very next item, an 1886 Winchester take-down (lot #1012), realized $152,750, more than twice the high estimate of $65,000. And a four-piece Henry Repeating Rifle cleaning rod (lot #3010), expected to bring a max of $4,000, realized $7,050. For a cleaning rod! That’s one serious Henry collector.
For comparison, a 16-gauge Purdey (lot #3415), in a case, brought $6,463. Granted, it had been rebarreled, but it was a Purdey! For less than a wooden cleaning rod…
While we’re in the realm of the mind-boggling, a WWII German Fallschirmjägerhelm (paratrooper helmet, lot #1449) expected to bring, at most, $5,500, realized $26,438. Granted, it was painted a seductive “Tunisian pink,” but even so.
An intriguing duel occurred late on Sunday, when three Parkers came up for sale. First was a 16-gauge A1-Special (lot #3433), “extremely rare” with factory engraving and gold inlay. Expected minimum, $85,000; realized price, $99,875.
It was followed by a 10-gauge Grade 2 (lot #3434), dating from 1897, with “rare” 40-inch barrels. Picture it, if you will. A special order, never catalogue-listed, possibly one of a kind. Expected max, $19,000; realized price, $64,625! That came down to two guys who wanted it really badly.
It was immediately followed by an identical gun (lot #3435), except in 12 gauge, made a year earlier. Same two guys, same bidding pattern. The expected high was slightly lower ($18,000) but the realized price was even higher at $70,500. The loser of the first duel was the winner of the second. Fear of inflation or the determination of the serious Parker collector? You tell me.
Here’s another comparison. A pair of MacNaughten shotguns (lot #3401) brought $21,150, right at the expected high. Two STEN guns were also in the auction. The STEN is the WWII British SMG, made from stamped parts and costing, to produce, less than two bucks apiece during the war. One (lot #470) brought $12,922, the other (lot #473) $9,400, for a total of $22,322 — more than the MacNaughtens, which are genuinely legendary Scottish ‘best’ guns.
Which “pair” would you rather have? Having trained with a STEN, and knowing they were designed to be cheap and disposable, I think of them as little more than decoy anchors. One didn’t even have a magazine with it. Sheesh. And a Vietnam-era Stevens pump riot gun? $23,500! (Lot #1376, by the way.) More than the MacNaughtens, four times the 16-gauge Purdey…
And speaking of pump guns: A Winchester Model 42, expected to sell for $5,500 max, brought $26,438.
But them’s the vagaries of auctions, gun collectors, relative value, and passion versus common sense. Broadly speaking, Lugers and English doubles were down, Winchesters and Colts held up, and anything military from the Revolution to Viet Nam is hot.
Oh, one last one, too good not to share: An “early production” Newhouse No. 6 Slick Pan Bear Trap (whatever that means; lot #40) weighing in at 50 pounds, brought $11,163, twice its high estimate.
As to what effect, if any, the stock market and fears of inflation had on the bidding, my guess is none at all.
Gray’s Shooting Editor, Terry Wieland, says anyone who takes his financial advice deserves to go broke.