December is a gun auction month. Many of the largest American firearm auction houses hold premier auctions in December where they sell the most unique, rare and expensive firearms. When the companies publish the catalogs of their premier auctions, we thoroughly browse them to find and tell you about the most interesting guns consigned to these auctions. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most obscure firearms seen in the catalog of the December 2020 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction.
The list presented below goes in no particular order. The model names are linked to the corresponding Rock Island Auction pages where you can find more and higher resolution images as well as more detailed descriptions of the lots.
1. French Needle-Fire Bolt Action Knife Pistol
This knife pistol was made in France circa 1870. Normally, the gun part in such knife/firearm combination gadgets is a rather simple single-barrel break action or muzzleloading firearm. As you can see, this particular knife pistol is quite a bit different and extremely unusual as its gun is a miniature bolt action rifle, particularly, a 5.5mm caliber single-shot needle-fire gun with a 2-3/4″ barrel. It is basically a scaled-down French Chassepot action. The 4-1/4″ knife blade has a locking mechanism and folds to the left side of the gun. The folding trigger doubles as a corkscrew. The grip is made of horn and has an internal compartment with a hinged door which was probably intended for storing spare needle-fire paper cartridges.
Estimated price: $22,500 – $32,500
2. William Marston Three Barrel Pocket Pistol with Sliding Bowie Knife
Another unique 19th-century knife/firearm combination weapon. This one is designed and made in the United States by William Marston. It is a .22 caliber rimfire gun with three superposed barrels and a 3″ clip-point Bowie type retractable blade sliding along the left side of the barrels. Another interesting feature of this gun is the dial located on the right side of the frame that rotates every time the single-action hammer is cocked and shows which barrel will fire when the trigger is pulled. The position “0” allowed carrying the gun safely. After firing all three barrels and reloading the gun with new cartridges, the dial had to be manually reset to zero. According to different sources, anywhere from 1,500 to 2,200 Marston three-barrel derringers were made from which only about 800 were equipped with a sliding knife.
Estimated price: $5,500 – $7,500
3. LeMat Centerfire Carbine
As you probably know, what sets LeMat revolvers apart from other wheelguns is the smoothbore single shot shotgun barrel located under the revolver barrel and extending back to the hammer through the cylinder axis. Most LeMat revolvers are percussion or pinfire guns. There are rare samples of centerfire cartridge LeMat revolvers and even more rare is a centerfire cartridge LeMat carbine like this one. This gun has a 9-round .44 caliber cylinder and a 20 gauge single-shot breech-loading shotgun barrel that has a hinged breech block located behind the cylinder. The cylinder is loaded through the loading gate on the right side of the gun. As in the case of other LeMat revolvers, there is a pivoting part built into the hammer that allows selecting between firing the revolver or the shotgun barrel.
Estimated price: $12,000 – $18,000
4. Henry Harrington Patent Seven-Shot Volley Pistol
The design of this firearm was patented in 1837 by Henry Harrington of Southbridge, Massachusetts. Externally, it may look like a single barrel percussion pistol, however, what looks like one large barrel is actually a block of seven .12 caliber barrels. Despite having seven barrels, this is still a single-shot gun as it has a volley fire action where all the barrels are fired simultaneously when the trigger is pulled. The gun is fed by pre-loaded breechblocks (see the top image of this article) that have separate channels for each of the seven bullets but a shared powder chamber – that’s how the single percussion cap fires all the seven bullets. The lever in front of the trigger guard allows unlocking the inserted breechblock and reloading the gun with a new one.
Estimated price: $27,500 – $42,500
5. Giovanni Merolla Eight Barreled Duckfoot Pistol
Yet another obscure 19th-century handgun. This one is made in Italy by Giovanni Merolla. Duckfoot pistols normally have a single row of barrels that are fired simultaneously upon the trigger pull. This pistol can be probably described as an Over & Under duckfoot pistol as it has two rows of four barrels. This is a break-action .22 caliber rimfire firearm loaded with a brass clip that holds all 8 cartridges. Each of the two hammers fires four barrels. Interestingly, the trigger simultaneously drops both hammers. I assume this would allow to fire all eight barrels at once or four barrels at a time by cocking each hammer separately. It is believed that this is the only surviving sample of an 8-shot Merolla pistol.
Estimated price: $12,000 – $18,000
The hardest part of putting together an article like this is the actual selection of the guns to include in it, because catalogs of premier gun auctions always contain dozens of lots deserving to be included in such a list. Although I ended up with a list exclusively consisting of 19th-century guns, the RIAC catalog, of course, includes firearms representing a wide time frame – from wheellocks to modern machine guns and everything inbetween. I am sure, no matter what type of firearm is more interesting to you, if you browse the catalog of December 2020 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction, you’ll be able to find unique specimens of that particular gun category.
The December 2020 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction will take place from December 4 to 6.
Images courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company, www.rockislandauction.com