WILLOUGHBY, Ohio – An 1859 Berdan Sharps rifle, Sammy Davis Jr’s .357 Magnum, and a Walther pistol from Hitler’s mountaintop retreat were among the highlights in Milestone’s record-setting January 30 auction, but it was an artful and unusual shooting gallery target that unexpectedly rose to the top of prices realized. The 33-inch-high painted metal and wood target figure of a medieval drummer had attracted a flurry of enquiries in the run-up to the $1.5 million sale. Collectors of firearms, folk art, and carnival arcade memorabilia all stepped up to “take a shot” at the coveted antique, which had been estimated at $4,000-$6,000 but sold for $27,000, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
“The target had everything going for it,” said Milestone Auctions co-owner Miles King. “It was artistically beautiful, in great condition, and had an unusual mechanical action. If a shooter hit the small round target on the drummer’s shoulder, it would ‘play’ the drum to signal a bull’s-eye.” Dating to around 1880, the target was once in the collection of the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. “The winning bidder was a first-time Milestone buyer who wanted it for its decorative value. He thought it was very cool, as did many people,” King said.
The $1,524,000 event – the highest-grossing Milestone auction to date – featured several long-held, highly refined collections, including military guns of the late Gary Thomas.
“The military category did very, very well and achieved more than we had expected. Some of the guns brought crazy numbers. A bidder who had served in Desert Storm was after one particular gun and wanted it no matter what. Interest in this sale was very strong,” King said.
A captured Japanese Type 99 Ariska rifle with bayonet that had been manufactured during World War II came with its shipping crate and a grouping of ephemera that included a small Japanese flag. It sold for $4,200, more than four times the high estimate. Another gun with Gary Thomas provenance was an East German Karabiner-S SKS rifle, 7.62 x 39 caliber, manufactured in 1959. It was one of only an estimated 35 examples known in the United States. The rifle surpassed pre-sale expectations, reaching $10,500.
An outstanding World War II German Walther K-43 rifle manufactured in 1945 displayed fine laminated wood stock and a Bakelite handguard. It sold for $7,200 against an estimate of $3,000-$4,000. Another Walther production was an actual “witness” to the dark history of Adolf Hitler’s Bavarian mountaintop retreat Kehlsteinhaus – aka the “Eagle’s Nest.” The 7.65-caliber AC PPK pistol with carved bone grips and a Nazi eagle on its barrel was accompanied by a family letter attesting that the gun had been brought to the United States from the Eagle’s Nest by an American soldier and had remained in the family’s possession ever since. It was bid to $16,800 against an estimate of $3,500-$4,500.
Antique guns were in demand as well. A Berdan Sharps Model 1859 rifle, one of the finest rifles known of the approximately 2,000 shipped to Hiram Berdan’s sharpshooter units in 1862, was described by Milestone’s firearms team as being in “extraordinary condition.” All original in its Civil War-era rifle case, the rifle was ID’d to James Baker of Ohio, who enlisted with the legendary Berdan Sharpshooters, 1st Regiment, Company K, at age 20. It sold at the midpoint of its estimate for $25,800.
Another highlight in the antique firearms category, a US Springfield Presidents Match Trophy rifle, 30-06 caliber, was awarded in 1903 to USMC Gunnery Sgt. John Thomas, the first Marine to win the prestigious award. Of the five examples of its type that were made, the gun offered by Milestone is one of only three whose whereabouts are known. The rifle was offered to bidders together with an archive of 16 shooting medals and ribbons earned by Thomas, plus various ephemera. The lot sold within estimate for $21,000.
Competition ran hot for a 1913 L.C. Smith crown-grade 20-gauge ejector gun with 26-inch and 32-inch barrels. An early American double-gun made to order by Hunter Arms Co., Fulton, New York, it sold for $24,000 against an estimate of $3,000-$4,000.
Possibly the rarest of all pre-1964 Winchester Model 70s, a 1949 special one-off custom order of the super grade .35 Remington carbine is not even found in [Roger] Rule’s book. Considered by many to be the ultimate Model 70, it sold with its original labeled box with hang tag, numbered bolt hang tag, instructions and inserts, it sold above estimate for $20,100. “The price surprised us,” Miles King said. “There hadn’t been a lot of action on it before auction day, although the underbidder did come to view it in person. It’s now headed to a buyer out west.”
A celebrity gun, Sammy Davis Jr’s 1965 .357 Magnum, was engraved and inlaid in gold with images of a Buffalo Head nickel, coyote, mountain lion, rattlesnake and more. The work was performed by master engraver Joseph Condon of Las Vegas, known as the “engraver to the stars.” Offered together with a holster and belt carved and stamped with the name “SAMMY DAVIS JR,” it sold within estimate for $16,800.
“We were very happy with the results of this sale,” Miles King remarked. “We had a packed house. There wasn’t a single empty chair. We had a very busy week of people coming in to preview, and some came from out of state to bid in person. I’d say about one-third of the lots went to bidders in the gallery and on the phones, and two-thirds sold online.”
Milestone will host its next Firearms sale on March 27 and its next Premier Firearms sale on June 19. To discuss consigning to a future Milestone auction, call 440-527-8060 or email email@example.com. Online: www.milestoneauctions.com
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