WILLOUGHBY, Ohio – As the old Dire Straits song goes, “Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger … Sometimes you’re the ball.” Milestone Auction’s January 30 Premier Firearms Auction boasted three guns that sold in excess of $20,000, however, the lot that shot to the top of prices realized in the $1.5 million sale wasn’t a gun but a rare shooting gallery target that sold for $27,000, inclusive of the buyer’s premium. The backup bid was placed through LiveAuctioneers.
At first sight, what made the 33-inch-tall target so unusual was the finely painted image of a drummer dressed in medieval garb, with carved-wood hands. Just as fascinating was the mechanical device on the back of the target. The bull’s-eye is on the target’s left shoulder. If a shooter hit the small round target on the figure’s shoulder, the drummer would “play” to signify a bull’s-eye.
Chris Sammet, co-owner of Milestone Auctions, said the target, estimated at $4,500-$6,500, sparked a flurry of bids at the start. “At around $7,000 two bidders remained and kept going.” A phone bidder finally prevailed at the hammer price of $22,500. “He wanted it for its decorative value; not as a gun collector,” said Sammet, adding the target was once in the collection of the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
Sammet recalled a similar shooting gallery target, a pair of dancing bears, that Milestone sold in recent years, but the drummer is the best he has ever seen. “The hand-painting was incredible,” he said,
Shooting galleries were popular attractions at amusement parks and traveling carnivals in the early 1900s. Shooters aimed low-power rifles at iron targets in hopes of winning a prize.
The few metal targets that survived the elements, not to mention innumerable strikes, have become increasingly valuable in recent years. As time passed, fewer arcade targets were created with mechanical action, and very few were as finely painted as the early ones, like the drummer.
The sale of the drummer shooting gallery target is not an anomaly. Last September a 33-by-13½-inch crocodile shooting gallery target sold for $23,600 at Soulis Auctions in Lone Jack, Mo., outside Kansas City.
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