Rare Colt revolver sells for $747,500

Lot 2030.
THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS ENGRAVED & GOLD INLAID COLT
SINGLE ACTION ARMY REVOLVER, THE SEARS & ROEBUCK
“COW BOY” SPECIAL. (Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection)
Est: $450,000.00 -$800,000.00   SOLD: $747,500.00

A legendary Colt revolver, ordered by the world-famous Sears & Roebuck catalog company around the turn of the 20th century, sold for $747,500 at the James Julia Spring Firearms Auction.  Julia’s offered the Colt, from the Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection, with a pre-sale estimate of $450,000-$800,000.

For a matter of months, many in the firearms fraternity had awaited the auction with bated breath and with very good reason; the March sale was one of the most significant auctions to take place in decades.  Its success would be a strong indicator and would help to reinvigorate confidence in the collecting of antique firearms.  Or if it were to fail, it would have the exact opposite effect. 

Lot 2032. EXTRAORDINARILY RARE PANEL SCENE ENGRAVED COLT
SINGLE ACTION ARMY REVOLVER, THE EARLIEST KNOWN
ENGRAVED SINGLE ACTION “THE 1876 CENTENNIAL EXHIBITION
COLT”. (Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection) Est: $350,000.00 -$600,000.00   
SOLD: $701,500.00

At stake was not only a fabulous offering of various high-quality firearms from numerous estates and collections, but more importantly Session I of the world famous Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection of antique Colts.  Gun for gun, based on rarity, quality and value, this was the most significant grouping of firearms to ever be offered at auction.  Indeed, there have been larger collections and perhaps collections whose total gross may have even exceeded that of the Murphy Collection, but never in history has there been as select a grouping as the Murphy items.

Dr. Joseph A. Murphy, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a highly successful businessman from Pennsylvania, began his quest for quality Colts approximately 20 years ago.  At the outset he immediately established himself as a serious and passionate collector with a focused goal of assembling some of the finest Colts available.  Not only was he willing to “step up to the plate” for a truly spectacular Colt but to ensure that each addition to his collection was as important and in as great condition as it appeared to be, he employed the expertise and services of some of the foremost Colt experts in the world.  The extremely thorough vetting of each item added to the Murphy Collection resulted in an assemblage of Colts with an extraordinary pedigree.  For many years, Doc enjoyed his collection, shared it with friends and other passionate collectors and a little over 10 years ago, a lavish, full-color coffee table book was produced depicting his extraordinary collection. 

In recent years, it has continued to become more and more difficult for Doc to find items of comparable quality and pedigree to add to his collection.  After the success of the Julia October 2008 sale, despite the traumatic economic times, Doc made a decision to dispose of his collection and refocus his interest on his original love: early martial single-shot pistols. 

Doc’s legacy in the Colt world has had a significantly positive impact, not only as a result of his original formation of this extraordinary collection and the manner by which he did so, but also in the very choice of time in history he elected to divest himself of the collection. 

At the time that Doc seriously entered the Colt collecting fraternity and developed his passion for truly extraordinary Colts, his bold and purposeful interest backed by a willingness to pay for quality Colts resulted in a significant amount of positive interest in the Colt world.  Each time Doc “stepped up to the plate” and purchased another great rarity for his collection, the sales tended to have a positive impact and bolstered both the values and the appreciation of rare Colts.  Probably his most dramatic effect upon the fraternity was his decision to sell his collection at this point in time. 

For years, in fact for generations, we have been taught in the antique collecting field that whatever you collect, try to buy truly great examples.  In doing so, as the old adage suggests, the likelihood is great items will retain their value, and there is a strong likelihood they’ll appreciate in value.  Certainly Doc’s decision to sell the guns at this point in time would be one of the boldest tests of the Colt market and of the adage “buy the best”. 

Since October of 2008 the economy of our country and the world has been the worst most of us have seen in a lifetime.  Many sellers have become apprehensive about selling in these times.  When this happens, it is almost a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If only marginal or average things come to auction there will likely be marginal or average interest, which results in lackluster sales.  This appears to verify potential sellers’ fears and thus the self-fulfilling prophesy. 

Doc’s decision to offer his collection was indeed a bold move.  At 10 am Tuesday morning on March 17th, Jim Julia began his sale with the first session of the Murphy Collection.  This offering, numbered 40 lots.  The very first lot up was an extraordinary cased engraved #3 Colt Paterson revolver.  This spectacular example with a pre-sale estimate of $275,000-$500,000 went out at $517,500.  You could almost hear the collective sigh in the room as gun after gun brought strong, and in some cases extraordinary, prices. 

The second lot up, another cased Paterson, a #3 belt model, was estimated at $225,000-$375,000.  It brought $402,500.  Gun after gun saw significant competition and strong results. 

Lot 2017, a spectacular engraved Civil War era 1860 Colt Army, believed to have been given to Ulysses S. Grant was estimated at $350,000-$650,000; it went out at $402,000. 

A rare cased Colt Root revolver known as a Charter Oak Colt was estimated at $135,000-$235,000 and went out at $253,000.  The grips were made from oak retrieved from the historic Charter Oak, hence the name. 

A cased presentation 1851 Navy revolver presented to Franklin Pierce, later President of the United States, carried a pre-sale estimate of $150,000-$275,000.  It went out at $207,000. 

The star of this collection was the Sears & Roebuck engraved and gold inlaid Colt revolver.  This legendary Colt was ordered by the world-famous Sears & Roebuck catalog company around the turn of the century.  The idea was to have Colt produce an extraordinary revolver that Sears & Roebuck would offer for sale in their upcoming catalog.  Sears & Roebuck ordered and purchased the gun and proceeded to offer it in various upcoming catalogs, along with their general line.  The ploy was more of a marketing gimmick than it was an attempt to make money on the sale of the gun itself.  While it attracted extraordinary interest amongst hundreds of thousands of the catalog recipients, the pistol never sold.  In fact, it was put away in a safe and forgotten about until the mid-1950s when it was rediscovered and offered for sale to then well-known Colt collector and famous singer, Mel Tormé.  Purportedly Tormé anguished for a few weeks about paying the extravagant sum of $750 for this old Colt but finally he succumbed.  At the auction, Julia’s offered it with a presale estimate of $450,000-$800,000 and the gun finally went out at $747,500!  At least four very serious clients had travelled to the auction from various parts of North America, but the winning bidder was Marty Lane, a renowned Colt collector and dealer from New York City. 

Shortly thereafter, another spectacular engraved Colt single action was offered and touted as being “the first factory engraved Colt ever made”.  It had been exhibited in the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and carried a presale estimate of $350,000-$600,000 but went out at $701,500, again to Mr. Lane.    

As spectacular as the Murphy Collection was and as impressive as the sales results were, these were not the only exciting things in the auction.  In fact, of the approximate 900 lots offered, the Murphy portion represented only 40 lots.  There were a number of strong prices registered throughout both days of the auction.  A rare factory-engraved, silver-plated Bisley Colt, estimated at $35,000-$55,000, sold for just under $55,000.  A  Colt Frontier six shooter, estimated at $22,500-$27,500 brought $43,125 and an incredible Nettleton Colt SA estimated at $90,000-$110,000 sold for $97,750.

Day 2 also included a lavish offering of rare Winchesters and volcanic arms.  A superb New Haven Arms volcanic carbine estimated at $40,000-$50,000 went out at $57,500.  An exceptional Navy size volcanic pistol, estimated at $35,000-$55,000 sold for just over $43,000.  Winchesters included a rare 1876 (1 of 1000) which had been professionally refinished and thus estimated at $80,000-$120,000.  This beautiful gun went out at $86,250.  A Civil War engraved Henry rifle, which once belonged to Medal of Honor winner Captain Samuel Hymer was estimated at $45,000-$65,000 and realized $57,500.  An exceptional Winchester 73 deluxe with British proof marks, estimated at $35,000-$40,000 brought a strong $55,775. 

The second day’s offering also included a select grouping of Civil War objects such as a fabulous, recently discovered Tiffany presentation sword, ordered, paid for and presented by recently freed slaves of South Carolina to General Rufus Saxton.  Saxton was a Medal of Honor winner and also a strong believer in the cause of emancipation.  The sword was acquired and presented to Saxton on the first anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  It carried a presale estimate of $85,000-$125,000 and it sold for $86,250.  A very attractive 26-star American flag with a “great star” field, was estimated at $4,000-$8,000 but saw much serious bidding and went out at $13,225. 

Many with an interest in the West and cowboy lore have in recent years probably seen the movie, “Quigley Down Under” starring Tom Selleck.  In this role, Selleck carried a Sharps buffalo rifle with him to Australia for this adventure.  As per Tom, there were actually three of these rifles made to be used by him in the movie, this being one of them.  Tom had donated this very rifle to the NRA for a special fundraising raffle.  Tickets were sold for a good part of the year for a chance at the famous Selleck rifle.  As a result, the NRA generated approximately $3.5 Million worth of earnings from the sale of the tickets.  The lucky young winners were elated to learn of their great fortune and originally accepted the rifle with much pride and admiration until the tax man knocked on their door and demanded it’s just due for the tax (which was a significant sum).  The rifle’s value had been pegged at around $100,000 by the IRS and the lucky/unfortunate winners had the tax obligation to pay immediately.  It was later consigned to Julia’s with an estimate of $55,000-$100,000 and the final sale price was $69,000.

Also sold on Day 2 were a number of early weapons including a Henry Noll relief carved Kentucky rifle estimated at $20,000-$25,000 which realized just over $20,000.  A pair of cased John Manton percussion dueling pistols, estimated at $7,000-$9,000 went out at $20,700 and a Tathum single flint rifle, estimated at $2,500-$4,000 went for over four times the high estimate at $18,400.

Session I featured another outstanding offering of Class III weapons.  For the last three auctions, the Julia company has offered some of the largest and best offerings of Class III weapons of anyone in North America and this sale was no exception with between 40-50 Class III weapons.  A German WWII MP44 automatic assault rifle, estimated at $15,000-$20,000 went out at $24,150 and a Colt Thompson 1921AC submachine gun, estimated at $20,000-$27,500 went out at $28,750.  Other military arms of the late 19th and 20th century included a fine cased Borschardt pistol, estimated at $20,000-$30,000 which went out at $33,350.  A Webley-Fosbery 1902 semi-auto revolver, estimated at $5,000-$8,000 realized $25,300.  A rare Mauser long barrel broomhandle Bolo with matching shoulder stock and harness estimated at $6,000-$10,000 sold for $17,250.  There was a large collection of military rifles from the well-known Clinton Collection of Illinois.  Included in the offering of long arms was a rare Pedersen rifle by Vickers-Armstrong of England estimated at $6,000-$9,000 which went out at $10,925.

Day 1 also included a spectacular offering of high-grade shotguns and sporting rifles.  In recent years, Julia’s has also distinguished itself in this field, offering and selling some of the finest shotguns currently on the market.  Their sales, for a matter of years now, have consistently included some of the largest offerings of high-quality shotguns and this auction was no exception.  A spectacular Fabbri over/under shotgun, estimated at $75,000-$100,000 realized $89,125.  A stunning John Rigby rising bite cased double rifle estimated at $70,000-$100,000 sold for $79,350.  A small highly select grouping of quality Parkers included an AAHE side-by-side estimated at $60,000-$90,000 that sold for $63,250 while a unique Parker CHE grade 28 gauge side-by-side estimated at $30,000-$60,000 brought a strong $55,000.  Another very rare Parker small bore DHE skeet gun with ventilated rib estimated at $40,000-$60,000 realized $51,750.

All in all, the Julia sale grossed $11.5 Million, but at the time of this article, there were a number of sales pending, so the total gross is likely to jump from this figure.  The $11.5 Million gross was earned on $8.7 Million worth of low estimate and therefore, a total of $2.8 Million over the low estimate.  The average sale value per lot was the highest ever in the industry at approximately $15,000 per lot. 

These are definitely different times and despite the great strength that the Murphy guns and many of the other quality and rare items in this auction showed, the impact of the current economy was obvious.  For the first time in years, there were a number of bargains, whether it was Colts, Class III, high-grade shotguns, Winchesters, or literally any category.  Just as there were strong, exciting and vibrant prices attained there were also a number of bargains.  For the first time in about ten years, auctions once again represented an opportunity to attain truly strong prices for quality items but at the same time are also an emporium where one could find some very good bargains.  At the time of this printing there were a number of clients negotiating on some outstanding lots which had not sold in the auction, but overall the auction was a stunning success.  This success was not only another extremely positive experience for the Julia firm which indeed distinguished itself, but also once again, a testament to the confidence, conviction and passion of collectors of antique firearms.

The Julia auction was not the only gun event in Fairfield, Maine during this time period.  Jim’s sister and her husband, Jeannine & Steve Poulin in recent years have entered the catalog firearms auction market.  Their auction house tends to specialize in the under $5,000 firearms while Julia’s tends to specialize in the more expensive guns.  The Poulin auction, located literally 50 yards from the Julia auction facilities, conducted a sale on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday prior to the large Julia auction and with tremendous success.  The total pre-sale estimate was approximately $820,000 with a final sale price of $1 Million!  One item, a 2nd Model Brown Bess estimated at $3,500-$5,000 realized $23,000.  In total, between both auction companies on this weekend, a gross of nearly $13 Million was attained.  More details concerning the Poulin auction can be had by phone at (207) 453-2114, or via e-mail at info@poulinantiques.com. 

Julia’s next firearms auction is schedule for October 2009.  In addition to Session II of the Murphy Collection, it already includes a number of superb offerings and should be once again, another extraordinary sale.  More details for this sale can be had by contacting Julia’s by mail at PO Box 830, Fairfield, Maine 04357, by phone at (207) 453-7125, by fax at (207) 453-2502 or via e-mail at info@jamesdjulia.com.  Visit their Web site at www.jamesdjulia.com.

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More Images:

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Lot 2000. EXTRAORDINARY CASED ENGRAVED NO.3 COLT PATERSON BELT MODEL PERCUSSION REVOLVER. (Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection) Est: $275,000.00 -$500,000.00 SOLD: $517,500.00
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Lot 2001. EXTREMELY RARE CASED ENGRAVED SILVER PLATED & INLAID COLT NO. 5 BELT MODEL TEXAS PATERSON PERCUSSION REVOLVER. (Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection) Est: $350,000.00 -$650,000.00 SOLD: $402,500.00
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Lot 2017. EXTRAORDINARY & LEGENDARY UNION/LIBERTY CASED ENGRAVED COLT MODEL 1860 ARMY WITH EBONY GRIP ASSOCIATED WITH ULYSSES S. GRANT. (Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection) Est: $350,000.00 -$650,000.00 SOLD: $402,500.00

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