The Latest From Rock Island

If ever there was an American classic, this is it. This rifle brought $7,475. Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction

by Terry Wieland

It would appear that two kinds of weather are afflicting my acquaintances far and wide: Either it’s too unmercifully hot to even go outside, much less go shooting, or it’s raining a deluge. 

Where I am, we seem to alternate between the two, with the rain favoring Saturdays and Tuesdays, two days when the brethren (and two sistren) like to gather at the trap and Skeet grounds.

However, all is not gloom, for the catalogue for the next Rock Island premier auction (August 26-28) has just been published, and as long as your internet connection has not been fried or drowned, you can huddle by your computer screen and drink in the offerings.

Rock Island holds three premier auctions every year. These are the sales where you see Wild Bill Hickok’s 1851 Navy, or a nice watercolor by Adolf Hitler, or…well, you get the idea. Lesser auctions occur at a rate of better than one a month, with some being purely online affairs. That’s where they sell a lot consisting of “…seven single-shot rifles, various makers…” mostly to dealers.

My routine when the premier catalogue is published on the Rock Island website ( is to look at Lot #1, then progress one after another, adding items of interest to my “wish list” for that particular auction. 

It’s an easy matter to open an account, which allows you to compile and store these lists. Last time, I believe, I had some 83 items on the list from the three days (approximately 2,200 lots) that were offered. Most of them I had no intention of bidding on; I simply wanted to examine them when I got there, thereby furthering my education in a way no museum or gunshop could hope to match.

About a third of the way through the offerings on day two, with a full day yet to go, I’m already pushing a hundred things to look at. These range from duelling pistols, to Stevens Schützen rifles, to a couple of behemoth pachyderm bashers, and even a German flintlock fowling piece.

So far, I haven’t come across anything comparable to Hickok’s 1851, but not every auction has a superstar item like a Walker Colt or Hermann Goering’s Walther PPK.

A Stevens Model 53 Schützen rifle, in .38-55, built around 1900 on the original No. 44 action, and fitted with a false muzzle. It was auctioned at Rock Island four years ago. There are at least three comparable Stevens rifles in the forthcoming premier auction. No one makes rifles like this anymore. No one. Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction

Lots #1326 and 1327 present an interesting comparison. The first is a Purdey game gun, built around 1902, a nice but not remarkable gun, in nice but not remarkable shape. Still, it’s a Purdey. The estimate:  $7,000-$10,000.

Lot #1327 is an Armas Garbi Model 100, made in 2004, in almost new condition. The estimate on it is $3,000-$4,500.

To me, the Purdey seems remarkably low, the Garbi remarkably high. Certainly, no one admires the better Spanish guns more than I do, but the 100 is Garbi’s lowest-priced model and no one would consider it a deluxe product. In 1987, on my first trip to Spain, I ordered one and it cost me, made to order, delivered, and with a trunk-style case, around $1,400.

This Rock Island gun has a very nice piece of walnut on it, having been made during the era when American importers were sending extravagant blanks to Spain and having them dress up the lower priced guns. Still, if it goes near the high estimate, and the Purdey goes near the low, they’d end up priced very close together. I can’t wait to see.

A few lots later (#1340), a Grullas Armas Royal (their best grade) is estimated at $4,000 to $7,000. Who knows?

If nothing else, watching this action will provide a good indication of the state of the market for side-by-side shotguns. Apropos of nothing, if offered the three of them, I would grab the Garbi at $2,000, the Grulla at $6,000, and the Purdey at $10,000, but if offered them for double those prices, I would decline with thanks.

If you’re a Colt guy, either the Peacemaker or the 1911, there is more than enough in the auction to satisfy you, as well as the usual sprinkling of Winchesters, Smith & Wessons, military stuff, and very high individual items, such as a Parker single-barrel trap gun. That’s what I’ve gleaned so far, having paused at Lot #1500 to let my eyes uncross.

More in a few days.

Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland, having found a scenic and enjoyable way to drive up the Mississippi to Rock Island, now regards these auctions the way other people feel about Cancun. He still insists, however, that he’s actually working.