World auction records shattered at Morphy’s $7M Firearms auction
DENVER, Pa. – Intense interest in weapons of war from the Revolutionary War period through the modern era was the driving force behind Morphy’s barnburner of a firearms sale, May 17 and 18. With expectations of reaching $1.5 million, the two sessions – one titled Early Arms and Militaria, and the other, Extraordinary Firearms – combined to total more than $7 million. Spectacular prices were paid for Class III guns, which are strictly controlled and require NFA registration. Three of the 100+ Class III lots offered in the sale reached individual prices in excess of $100,000. Absentee and Internet live bidding was facilitated by LiveAuctioneers.
Hot investor-driven market for Class 3, other rare military weapons surpassed total pre-sale expectations by $1.3M
In the opening session, Morphy’s revisited the earliest days of America’s history as an independent nation. An important, identified Revolutionary War New England fusil (musket)(shown at top of this page) attributed to Massachusetts gunsmith Deacon Barrett bore an inscription on its metal tag reading “Made By DB For B. Bacon 1776.” The latter name refers to Benjamin Bacon Sr (1726-1807), who served throughout the war as a captain in the 21st Connecticut Militia and was one of the respondents to the Lexington alarm. The musket sold for $50,400.
From the opposing side of the American Revolution came a rare and desirable Ferguson breechloading flintlock rifle with bayonet. It was made in the last quarter of the 18th century by Durs Egg (London) for private purchase, most likely by an officer. It locked down a winning bid of $33,600.
Steeped in American military history, an extremely rare 17-star, 17-stripe U.S. flag came with impeccable provenance from descendants of naval hero Stephen Decatur Jr (1779-1820), who famously risked his life to avenge the death of his brother, Lt James Decatur, following an 1804 U.S. attack on Barbary pirates’ ships in Tripoli harbor. The flag’s pattern dates it to 1804-1812, a timeframe consistent with the period during which Stephen Decatur Jr was active in the US Navy. It settled near the high end of its estimate at $46,740.
A Charles Hall (Lancaster, Pa.) Silver Eagle pommel cuttoe (a short sword or long knife) was carried to war by Captain Michael Whitely of the Pennsylvania Militia. Whitely, who came from distinguished military lineage, was mortally wounded at the Battle of White Marsh, which took place in 1777 at the same time British forces were attacking George Washington’s encampment outside Philadelphia. The cuttoe closed at $30,750.
A British belt plate identified to the 4th Battalion, Royal Artillery, bore the inscription “GR III,” and was decorated with wonderful images of the Royal Crown of King George III, a cannon, and stacked cannonballs above the words “ROYAL ARTILLERY.” The belt plate, which is documented in the Kochan and Troiani book Insignia of Independence, settled just a hair below its high estimate, at $23,370.
Existing world-record prices toppled during the second session of the two-day event, which featured many Class III weapons with provenance from the revered J.R. Moody collection. Some lots doubled and even tripled pre-sale expectations. Dan Morphy, president of Morphy Auctions, said he attributes the success of the May 18 session in no small way to the company’s NFA expert, John Keene.
“John is a force in the firearms industry,” Morphy said. “He retired as a master sergeant after 28 years in the US Army and is without question the most trusted, knowledgeable person in the field of collectible machine guns. He’s been learning since he was a boy. The first of his many mentors was his father, who started acquiring automatic weapons in the 1950s and ’60s.”
“In 2008, John entered the auction industry and developed a large network of friends and fellow collectors who share his passion and place ultimate faith in his assessments and catalog descriptions,” Morphy continued. “John’s connections, and the respect that others have for him, have been instrumental in building Morphy’s bidder base for Class III weapons.”
Leading the list of Class III arms from the Moody collection was an original, mint-condition German Rheinmettal MG42 machine gun. It was manufactured as a commercial gun in 1964 and is one of only five known original examples still available for private ownership in the United States. It was received prior to 1968 by Emerson, an American firm that was developing an electric mounting apparatus. The top lot of the sale, it set a new world-record price at $196,800.
John Keene remarked: “Until two weeks prior to our sale, Morphy’s held three of the last four record prices for that particular model. Now we’ve totally buried them. We knew the collectors who wanted certain gun models and reached out to them. We publicized it and wrote a catalog description that covered every possible detail. Collectors didn’t hesitate to bid because they know we have a reputation for backing what we sell.”
Continuing the winning streak, a Knights Armament Co., Stoner Model 63A belt-fed machine gun, originally designed in 1963, claimed a world-record price of $172,200. “A few of the original Stoner guns saw service with the US Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam. Most of those which returned were purposely destroyed, while some others went to police departments,” Keene said. “Knight’s Armament, working with Eugene Stoner, finished off the unfinished guns and got them into the NFA registry for private ownership by individuals in the United States. It’s one of the most sought-after of all modern machine guns.”
Yet another stellar lot with Moody provenance was a World War II AC Spark Plug Division Browning US M2 .50-caliber heavy barreled machine gun with a serial number pinpointing its date of manufacture to 1944. Against an estimate of $40,000-$60,000, it sold for a world-record $135,300.
It was followed by an iconic and highly desirable Israeli Military Industries Uzi 9mm para Model “A” submachine gun. Approximately 20 examples of this highly sought-after firearm are known to exist. It set a new world record with a winning bid of $73,800.
Guns of the Old West put in a strong performance, most notably two particular lots with provenance from the legendary Mel Guy collection. A rare pre-July 1873 Colt “pinch frame” single-action Army Revolver, Serial Number 58, was confirmed as one of nine included in the first commercial shipment of Colt Single-Action Army Revolvers dispatched from the Connecticut-based manufacturer to Schuyler, Hartley & Graham on Sept. 2, 1873. It sold within its estimate range for $116,850.
A set of four near-mint Colt single-action Army “Frontier Six Shooter” .44-40-WCF Revolvers, all from same 1923 shipment of four, came to be known by collectors as the “Family Reunion” guns. The name refers to the title of a 1976 Arms Gazette article that was co-authored by Ron Graham and Mel Guy. It landed near its high estimate at $98,400.
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