All 250+ padded chairs on the Rock Island Auction floor were filled by 9 a.m. on April 13, 2018, and most of the people in them held bidding cards. Normally, the first morning of a three-day firearms auction gets underway sluggishly, with major trademark makes/models hammering in the low four digits at the 100-per-hour rate. The auction “heavyweights” then start appearing during the late morning/early afternoon. This Friday the 13th was intentionally set up to have a different edge, and everyone in the room could sense it given the pre-auction exuberant chatter—not the normal coffee-induced idle chit chat.
The reason? Lot #60—the finest known, well-documented, and historic-cased Colt Civilian Walker revolver, known as “The Danish Sea Captain Walker,” Serial No. 1022, with original bill of sale “From the Inventor” Samuel Colt. With a pre-auction estimate of $800,000 to $1.3 million, and four auction pages dedicated to the description and provenance, this item went on the auction block at 10:30. Many of the people on the floor were convinced they might witness a world record being set for a single gun sold at auction.
Thankfully, auctioneer Kevin Hogan didn’t overhype this lot before the spirited bidding got underway at $650,000, and quickly went up to more than $900,000. There was some hesitation after $900,000, but once it surpassed $1 million, it got down to two bidders on the floor who were increasing their bids in $25,000 increments. Time seems to slow down, and things get very quiet on the floor when a seven-digit firearm is auctioned off. Once the paddles for the two remaining bidders went over $1.5 million, things started winding down. Inching up to $1.55 million, another slow bid at $1.575 million was tendered, followed by the hammer falling after several last calls at $1.6 million. The entire floor immediately erupted into thunderous applause, the auctioneer seemed pleasantly shocked, and all of us realized we had just witnessed history. And how long did this record-breaking auction sale take from start to finish? Less than seven and a half minutes.
At the $1.6 million hammer price, this pistol now qualifies as No. 7 in the “World’s Top 25 Most Expensive Antique Firearms,” as compiled by S.P. Fjestad. Currently, the most expensive item is a $4.5 million for a five-gun set with accessories crafted by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, and presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to Federico Carlos Gravina y Napoli, former Ambassador to France. No. 25 is a Colt SAA, Serial No. 1, which sold by Greg Martin Auctions for $862,500 in 2009, and is a previous record holder for most expensive firearm ($375,000 in 1987).
The author is the publisher of the Blue Book of Gun Values.