by Terry Wieland
This is the week of Rock Island’s second premier auction of the year, and I will be there from the opening gong to the closing gavel, partly because it’s like a vacation, and partly because duty demands that I attend. Oh, darn!
As I mentioned in an earlier missive, the seriously big-money items in this one are a pair of Remington revolvers that belonged to Ulysses S. Grant (Est. $1,000,000 to $3,000,000), a Colt 1851 Navy that belonged to James Butler Hickok, a.k.a., Wild Bill ($140,000 to $225,000), and an unexceptional Walker Colt ($250,000 to $375,000) — unexceptional in everything except that it’s a Walker, and if you don’t have one, your Colt collection is incomplete and here’s your chance.
When the auction catalogue was posted on-line a few weeks ago (www.rockislandauction.com/auctions) I went through it from Lot #1 to Lot #3654 and compiled a list of items of interest. A couple I hope to bid on, a couple more I might try if the bidding stalls low, but most of them I just want the chance to look at.
High on the list are a pair of paintings by Adolf Hitler, watercolors created during his days in Vienna before the Great War, living in a home for indigent men and living by selling such small paintings. Even mentioning this has drawn looks of horror from some people, as if one might become tainted or marked somehow, just by touching them. Actually, I expect they’ll be out of touching distance, behind glass. Each is expected to bring a minimum of $7,500. And yes, they are on the “if the bidding stalls low” list. But it would have to be really low, and I expect there’s a reserve.
One truly legendary shotgun that few of us ever get to touch is the James MacNaughton, the Scottish gun with the trigger-plate action that looks like a bar-in-wood. There is a pair of them, made a century ago for a father and his son. They are out of my range financially ($12,000-$18,000) but one does not get the opportunity to caress a MacNaughton every day. And since there’s a James Dickson in the same auction, one can handle and compare them side-by-side. Dickson absorbed MacNaughton in 1947 and afiçionados have been arguing the relative merits ever since.
There are two rather interesting double rifles. One is a .222 Remington bearing the name of Asprey and made in 1991. It’s a sidelock with beautiful engraving and every nuance of a London ‘best’ double rifle. Asprey, of course, is London’s most famous jewelry house, and for a few hundred years made a specialty of having guns elaborately engraved and inlaid in gold, silver, diamonds, and what have you, for Arabian oil sheikhs and the like. In the 1990s, they began having guns and rifles made for them ‘in the trade,’ and even made an offer for Holland & Holland before it was acquired by Chanel. It will be fun to see if it goes for the expected $30,000-$50,000.
The other is a .22 Magnum double rifle made by Tony Galazan’s Connecticut Shotgun Mfg. Co., on a Winchester Model 21 action. It is elaborately chequered and engraved in a dragon motif, and obviously a Galazan ‘best.’ The estimate on this is $25,000-$40,000 — remarkably close to the Asprey. No one is questioning the workmanship, but my guess would have been half what the Asprey brings. We shall see.
(If anyone wants to purchase either one and give it to me, it will be gratefully received.)
Altogether, I have 57 lots on my list, which Rock Island insists on calling a “wish list” but many of them I only wish to examine.
However, and here’s the thing: Since I first attended Rock Island in 2018, at every single auction I have found some unsuspected gem that leapt into my arms and begged to be taken home. Surrendering to these heart-rending pleas has led me back into a long-dormant passion for American Schützen rifles, a venture into original German Schützens, into duelling pistols both flintlock and percussion, and even a heretofore unsuspected interest in Winchester Low Walls. Other guns, of course, I have pursued with malice aforethought, but it seems it’s the serendipitous ones that have led me the most deeply into arcane realms of history, handloading, and shooting.
That’s why I need to be there from start to finish, and even including the viewing day ahead: I want to give these poor waifs every chance to make my acquaintance.
Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland spends most waking hours in the weeks ahead of Rock Island coming up with imaginative excuses and elaborate justifications for what he knows will happen when he gets there.