Antiques & Collectibles: Firearms collectors setting their sights

Cased brace of Colt Model 1860 fluted Army percussion revolvers that belonged to Spanish General Don Carlos Garcia Tassara.
Cased brace of Colt Model 1860 fluted Army percussion revolvers that belonged to Spanish General Don Carlos Garcia Tassara.

Until a decade ago major firearms auctions were held in large population centers.

Today the international leader in the sale of rare and investment-quality firearms is located in Fairfield, Maine, a rural town nearly 200 miles from Boston and with a population under 3,000.

That leader is James D. Julia Inc., whose firearms auction last fall grossed more than $18 million, the highest-grossing firearms auction in history. But the event that propelled the rural auction house into global prominence was the 2004 auction of the renowned collection of the late Eldon J. Owens of Claremont, N.H., a former president of the American Society of Arms Collectors.


The collection, which had been estimated to bring $2.3 million, sold for $4.4 million and “put James D. Julia on the map,” said Wes Dillon, head of Julia’s firearms department.

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Today the firm attracts so many consignments from throughout the United States and abroad that this week’s three-day auction, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 10 a.m., features more than 10 historic and important collections.

Among them is the personal collection of the late Norm Flayderman, one “Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values” (Gun Digest Books), now in its ninth edition and considered the bible of firearms collecting. Flayderman, who was born in Boston, died last July at 84 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

One of the highlights of his collection is a Leech & Rigdon Confederate revolver captured by a Union naval officer during the August 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay in Alabama, the last major naval engagement of the Civil War. It has a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.

The auction’s expected top seller is an extraordinary cased brace of Colt Model 1860 fluted Army percussion revolvers that once belonged to Spanish General Don Carlos Garcia Tassara (1823-89) and is from the William Gerber Collection. The revolvers have a $250,000-$350,000 estimate.


Another important offering is a Colt single-action Army revolver that was retrieved from the battlefield at Little Big Horn in Montana. The revolver, which has a $100,000-$200,000 estimate, was issued to Lieutenant William Van Wyck Reily, of the US 7th Cavalry, who was killed in the 1876 battle led by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer. It was later given to Cheyenne Chief Two Moons by two Arapaho whose lives he had saved. The grip has two quarter-inch round dots, the mark of Two Moons, who was one of the models for the buffalo nickel.

Other highlights include an iron frame model 1860 Henry lever-action rifle ($100,000-$200,000), a rare cased engraved pair of Hartford London 3d Model dragoon percussion revolvers ($75,000-$100,0000) and a relief carved John Armstrong flintlock Kentucky rifle ($90,000-$150,000).

. . .

“Paris Theatre,” a 1940 oil depicting a ballerina on stage by Everett Shinn (1876-1953), the New Jersey-born realist painter, was the top seller at Skinner’s Fine Paintings & Sculpture Auction last month. It brought $231,000, more than tripling the high of its $50,000-$70,000 estimate.

It was followed by Norman Rockwell’s “Young Love: Walking to School,” the watercolor he painted in 1949 as an autumn scene for The Four Seasons Calendar published by Brown and Bigelow. Depicting a young girl holding a bunch of flowers and a young boy walking beside her and toting two armfuls of books, the painting sold for $183,000 against a $50,000-$70,000 estimate.


Rockwell’s charcoal study for his painting “The Fireman,” which was the cover for the May 27, 1944 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, brought the auction’s fourth-highest price of $104,550 ($30,000-$50,000 estimate).

The third-highest price was for “Red Circus Horse,” a gouache by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) that sold for $135,000 ($40,000-$60,000 estimate).

The maquette or small scale model for the screenlike sculpture at MIT’s Kresge Chapel by the Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia (1915-78) brought $86,100 ($70,000-$90,000 estimate).

Topping the Prints and Photography Auction that preceded the paintings sale was a 1971 lithograph in red and black of Mao Zedong by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97) that went for $14,760. The top-selling photograph was “Madrid,” a gelatin silver print of a 1933 image made by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) of children playing in a Madrid plaza. It sold for $6,765.

. . .

Have you wondered if those comic books and superhero stamps you collected in your youth have any value?

You have the opportunity to find out next Sunday when John Cimino of Saturday Morning Collectibles in Waltham will evaluate these and other Pop culture items from 1-2:30 p.m. at Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History, 235 Wellesley St., on the campus of Regis College in Weston.

Appraisals are free with the $5 museum admission and will be given also for early Sesame Street dolls and coloring books, classic toys, old board games, and collection cards.

Cimino will give a talk on his collection with tips on what makes certain items valuable to a collector.

The museum, which will display stamps featuring various comic book characters, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote knowledge and understanding of worldwide history and geography through the story of stamps, letters, and other artifacts of people’s communication through the mail.

Founded in 1960, the museum brings together the collections of the late Francis Cardinal Spellman, archbishop of New York, and the National Philatelic Museum in Philadelphia. Its more than 2 million items include items from President Eisenhower, violinist Jascha Heifetz, and Army General Matthew Ridgway.

It is one of two public museums in the United States devoted to stamps and postal history. The other is the Smithsonian Institutions’ National Postal Museum in Washington. For more information about next Sunday’s evaluation day, call 781-768-8367, e-mail, or visit

Virginia Bohlin can be reached at