Firearms collectors are sure to take dead aim the rifle once owned by famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley when Rock Island Auction opens up the bidding in December.
The plate on the gold-plated lever-action rifle says “Presented to Annie Oakley, ‘Little Sure Shot,’ by Marlin Firearms Co. New Haven, Conn., 3-25-03.” The rifle is among hundreds of collectible historic and investment-grade firearms to be sold Dec. 6-8 at Rock Island Auction Co., 7819 42nd St. W., Rock Island. A preview day is scheduled for Thurs. Dec. 5.
More than 400 Winchesters, 600 Colts and 600 military arms will be part of the estimated $18 million auction, which is expected to draw buyers from all over the world. RIA holds auctions of this value three times every year.
“We’ve been the largest auction house of antique firearms, collectors firearms, rare guns, modern guns and other firearm-related items since 2003,” said Joel Kolander, of Rock Island Auction.
Each auction usually includes the main genres for gun collecting, from antique to modern Winchesters, Colts, Remingtons, Walthers, military items from the United States and Europe, collector shotguns and sporting arms, along with swords, bayonets and other military artifacts.
A Nov. 21 auction will be strictly online – there will be no live bidding audience in the facility. The bids will be made by phone and via the internet. Usually, the items in the online auctions are placed there because, even though they are valuable, they don’t meet the criteria to be part of a premier or regional sale.
Customers sell firearms to the auction house, sometimes as individual pieces and/or from estates.
Behind the front of the operation, the facility has the appearance of a museum, warehouse and publishing company rolled into one.
Catalogs are a huge part of the business, so it’s normal to see camera flashes going off behind the scenes in one of three photo-studio settings where the firearms are carefully photographed under the best light and angles so potential buyers can see authentic color and detail. A graphics team compiles images and text for catalogs and the company’s website.
Just a few feet away, row after row of firearms is stored vertically – a kind of historic orchard of wood and metal in a climate-controlled environment.
The company’s online presence is vital, so many of the 80-plus employees also are involved in information technology (IT.)
As the firearms are processed, they are checked every step of the way to ensure safety, Kolander said. After check-in, items are photographed and described with the help of the knowledgeable researchers in “describers row," a team of near a library of books collectible in themselves.
“Not all art is framed,” Kolander said. He referred to the design, engraving, and materials used in the firearms that “are not just being displayed, they’re being exhibited."
Not only do collectors buy firearms to use and to display, but also “We’re branching out for collecting to people who view this as an alternative hard-asset investment,” he said. Collectors appreciate firearms history, design, and artistry, or anyone of those facets, Kolander said.
Firearms aficionados can begin a collection with relatively low investment on just about any budget, said Kolander, 37, who, like many other collectors, developed an interest in guns because of the military history of American firearms.
Military collectors buy everything from military medals to tanks, which are purchased by “people who have a lot of space,” Kolander said.
Historical connections can increase the value of a gun. The premier December sale will include:
- A gold-mounted Ames Congressional presentation dress sword and scabbard presented by President Andrew Jackson to Lt. Benjamin Johnson for the defense of Fort Stephenson during the War of 1812.
- A Gustave Young factory deluxe-engraved and presentation-inscribed Colt Model 1860 Army percussion revolver, presented to Civil War Union Major Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac.
- A Tiffany & Co. Smith & Wesson .38 double-action third model revolver with a Sterling silver grip
- A Gustave Young factory-presentation engraved and inscribed first-year Colt Model 1855 sidehammer pocket revolver, presented by Samuel Colt to former Secretary of State Edward Everett, the orator who preceded President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
- A collection of personal effects belonging to World War II Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey.
“We’re the best gun show you’ll go to. We sell about 35,000 guns per year,” Kolander said. “We’re always preparing for the next auction.”
The auction hall holds 350 people. It will be filled all three days of the December auction, he said.
Guns like the one presented to Annie Oakley get the “heartbeat test,” Kolander said.
“All I can think is ‘Annie Oakley was here,'" he said. "She was an American legend.”
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