Most of today’s gun owners and shooting enthusiasts understand the intrinsic as well as the monetary value of modern firearms. However, in recent years, the value of collectible, famous (and infamous) historic firearms has seen steady growth as auction houses regularly offer old and unusual guns to a growing, worldwide legion of anxious investors.
This week, Rock Island Auction, a northwestern Illinois company with a history of offering investment-grade firearms to the highest bidder, is once again hosting the sale of guns that once belonged to historic American figures.
The April 29-May 1 sale will feature the Colt Model 1849 revolver owned by Brigham Young, patriarch of the Mormon Church who led his followers across the country, founded Salt Lake City, served as the first governor of the Utah Territory, and established what would eventually become Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
The revolver is personally inscribed to Young and was presented to him by what was then the largest firearms dealer west of the Mississippi, H. E. Dimick & Co. It is being offered to auction by Young’s direct descendants and is accompanied by an unimpeachable letter of provenance from Young's great-grandson. It is estimated to fetch somewhere between $550,000 and $850,000, according to the auction company.
Also appearing at next week’s auction will be a Winchester Model 1886 rifle, serial number 1, presented to 4th U.S. Calvary Captain Henry Ware Lawton in recognition of his 1886 capture in Mexico of the Indian leader Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches.
On June 14, 2014, an 1873 Colt .45 revolver belonging to frontier scout and showman “Buffalo Bill” Cody sold at auction in Dallas for more than $40,000. In 2012, another pistol belonging to Cody when he was a scout for the U.S. Army during the American Indian Wars sold for $240,000.
Also in 2014, the Colt .45 revolver that Tombstone, Ariz. lawman Wyatt Earp reportedly carried during the O.K. Corral shootout fetched $225,000 during an auction at J. Levine Auction and Appraisal in Scottsdale.
In June 2012, a rare 12-gauge Parker Brothers shotgun that Annie Oakley once used to dazzle Queen Victoria fetched the hefty sum of $143,400 at auction. Made by Parker Brothers, the gun accompanied the sharpshooting celebrity when she traveled to England with Cody’s famed Wild West show in 1887. In addition, Oakley’s Marlin .22 caliber rifle went for $83,650 and her iconic Stetson hat brought $17,925.
On the more notorious side, two guns carried by gangsters Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow when they were ambushed and killed by law enforcement officers in 1934 went for a cool half-million at auction in 2012. Parker’s .38 cal. Colt Detective Special found taped to her thigh sold for $264,000, while Barrow’s Colt 1911 .45 sold for $240,000 to the same bidder, whose name was not revealed by the auction company.