Rock Island Highlights: Hickok, Walker and US Grant

Colt collectors can be divided into two groups: those who have a Walker in their collection and — the vast majority — those who don’t. For the latter, an opportunity to fill the gap is approaching and may be upon you by the time you read this.

Rock Island’s first premier auction of the year on May 13-15 includes a Walker Colt. It is certified genuine in all respects. But it’s typical of Walkers in that it has seen a lot of hard use over the course of 180 years. And it looks it. I was advised by a Colt expert a year ago that a typically beat-up Walker should command at least $250,000, which is the bottom end of Rock Island’s estimate. Opportunity beckons. It’s lot No. 1102.

The Walker is not the only plum in the pudding, nor even the most expensive one. On Day 1, Rock Island will sell a pair of Remington revolvers that were presented to General Ulysses S. Grant. They are in a case, in wonderful condition, with enough provenance to satisfy the most finicky of “investment grade” buyers. The estimated selling price is $1-3 million.

The pair only left the Grant family in 1976, and what they sold for at that time is not being divulged — at least not to anyone who is not a potential bidder. It’s a safe bet however, that it was a lot less than $1 million; it is also a safe bet that whatever the amount was, had it been parked in a savings account to collect interest for the intervening 46 years, it would still be nowhere near $3 million.

This is an interesting timeline because, in 1976, the notorious inflation of the ’70s and ’80s was just getting into full swing. For years before that, I had been reading that the great age of buying vintage guns and watching them gain in value was long-since over. The subsequent decades put that belief to rest, as guns have generally proven to be excellent investments, whether you bought in 1965, 1975 or 1995. Some classes have had their ups and downs — Lugers, for example, and English side-by-sides — but Colts, Winchesters and one or two others seem to just go up, and up and up.

Since we are on the cusp of a period of the kind of inflation not seen since the 1980s, those worrying about where to park their pile of about-to-depreciate cash might consider a gun or two. This inflation might be brief — a year or two — or it could go on for a while, depending on things like Russian oil supplies and the price of fertilizer.

The Rock Island auction will have almost 2,000 lots for sale over three days. As you can imagine, there is a wide variety of fascinating stuff. Two other highlights are a Colt 1851 Navy that belonged to James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock, and a muzzle-loading rifle presented to Kit Carson.

Two other lots, late in the auction, will hold an attraction of a different sort: two watercolor paintings — one of flowers, the other a landscape — by Adolf Hitler, bearing his signature. They were painted during his vagrant days in Vienna before the Great War and come from a famous European collection. These will repel some and fascinate others, but they provide an opportunity to see some important historical artifacts that does not come along every day.


Terry Wieland is a writer specializing in fine firearms. He has hunted on four continents, including 14 trips to Africa, and has written for Safari Times for 25 years. His latest book is Great Hunting Rifles — Victorian to the Present. Wieland’s biography of Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill, has just been reprinted in paperback by Skyhorse.

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