By: Peter Suciu
At least a few firearms collectors didn't wait until Christmas this year – while perhaps some even received a gift behind their wildest dreams – as the Illinois-based Rock Island Auction Company (RIAC) announced this month that it had seen more than $121 million in total auction sales for 2021. With 21 auctions over the past 12 months, RIAC also had four of the largest firearms auctions ever held.
That included the May 2021 auction, which set the bar at $30 million; while the September 2021 auction brought in $24 million, and the December 2021 auction hit $25.2 million – notably higher than the December 2020's $22 million in total sales. RIAC has become globally recognized as one of the premier firearm auction houses in the world, and in 2021, it drew bidders from 26 different countries and all 50 states, as well as bidders from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
"Every year we continue to see more people express interest in collecting historic firearms. People are seeing the value behind investing in a piece of history and are realizing that art doesn't just hang on the wall," said Kevin Hogan, president of Rock Island Auction Company. "This year was a milestone for our brand, with more than 30,000 firearms and related items selling. In the last 12 months, we had two items sell for more than $1 million and another sell for more than $2 million, which was the Napoleon Garniture that sold in December's Premier Auction."
As 2021 winds down, it will see the second highest number of sales of firearms on record – surpassed only by last year. More than 18 million firearms have been purchased this year, down from the record high 22.8 million sold last year, but surpassing the 16.7 million sold in 2016. The strong sales for firearms are likely to continue into 2022.
For auction companies such as RIAC, which typically deal in much higher-end firearms than most of us mere mortals could hope to afford, sales are also expected to remain strong. So much so in fact, that Hogan recently announced that his company would expand firearms sales operations to Texas, which is a hot market for antique guns – especially those from the Old West.
The company's expansion to Bedford, east of Fort Worth, will allow it to conduct auctions out of both facilities. An added benefit will be the better ease of access for those who fly in to do the bidding. And in case you're wondering who might fly in to just have a chance to buy a gun, one only needs consider what sold this year.
Topping the block was the aforementioned Napoleon Presentation Garniture of Six Arms from Boutet, which sold for $2,875,000 earlier this month. The set was presented to Napoleon in 1797 by the French Directory, and it was crafted by one of the most renowned European arms makers in history, Nicholas-Noel Boutet of the Versailles Manufactory.
Top Sellers for 2021
Other notable firearms sold this year included a pair of national treasure flintlock holster pistols that had once been owned by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Those sold in May for $1.15 million.
An L.D. Nimschke engraved solid silver Winchester Model 1866 rifle, which was made as a presentation from the President of Peru, Jose Balta, to the President of Bolivia, Mariano Melgarejo, also sold in the December 2021 auction for $977,500; while a Jack Crawford & James Barton Adams presentation Winchester 1873 lever action rifle with dual presentation plaques had a gavel price of $718,750 in September's auction.
Western lawman and gunfighter Bat Materson's Colt Single Action Army revolver and holster rig – which was purported to have been used by the American legend in the multiple shootouts in the 1870s and 1880s – sold at the May auction for $488,750; and a pair of engraved Remington New Model Army revolvers went for $460,000 also in May.
If that seems high for the New Model Army revolvers, it should be noted these specially engraved models with silver finish and carved ivory grips and were a gift from President Abraham Lincoln to Czar Alexander II of Russia. Split up sometime after the Russian Revolution in 1917, one turned up in Montana in 1929, while the other first came on the collector's market in 1991. Reunited as part of the collection of F. "Slim Kohler" of the Remington Society of America, these are certainly seen as truly historic firearms.
Given such treasures that showed up this past 12 months, we can only wonder what firearms of note could be offered from the globally renowned auction house next year.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.