By: Peter Suciu
Anyone who has been to a gun show or even visited their local firearms retailer in recent months likely noticed that prices have been going up. Where the prices really have hit new records, though, is with guns offered at auction. Antique firearms have largely surpassed expectations in recent month.
At last Friday's Rock Island Auction in Illinois, a pair of antique pistols sold at auction for $1 million – and when the 15% buyer's premium was tacked on, it drove up the price to a cool $1.15 million.
Yet, the final gavel price was actually on the low end of the estimates – and it was originally speculated that the provenance might have been enough for the pistols to reach $3.5 million or more. That is because these were certainly more than just a nice set of 18th century .50 flintlock pistols.
The pair of weapons was once owned by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton – the one on the $10 bill – and while they're not the guns that were used in his infamous duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, the pistols were quite similar in design. Each is inscribed with Hamilton's initials "AH," and the pair is believed to have been carried by Hamilton while he served with General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
Rock Island Auctions said there was good reason to believe that General Hamilton carried the pistols at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia in 1781 – the decisive victory that ensured America's independence from Great Britain. The pistols had reportedly been given to Hamilton by his father-in-law Philip Schuyler, who had used them in the French and Indian War. The pistols had been passed down to Hamilton's son, and remained in the family until 1942 when they were sold to private collector Robert Abels.
At the recent auction, the pair of pistols was also accompanied with Hamilton's Field Service Epaulettes.
Such pistols were commonly owned in the American colonies before the Revolution and proved a key to ensuring victory and independence from Great Britain. Some opponents of the Second Amendment often like to suggest that weapons such as these were what the Founding Fathers had in mind when drafting the amendment; however, it should be noted that the weapons owned by civilians were often of higher quality and reliability than those issued to the actual military.
Rock Island Auctions regularly has sold some high-ticket items, and last December sold a Colt revolver that had been owned by President Theodore Roosevelt, and it reached a price of $1.46 million, a record for the esteemed firearms auction house. In 2016, Rock Island Auctions had sold a Winchester lever action rifle that had been given to U.S. Army Capt. Henry Ware Lawton in 1886 as a reward for accepting the surrender of the legendary Apache warrior Geronimo. The rifle sold for a then-record setting $1.26 million.
Prices for many collectible firearms have been steadily rising, and the pandemic has been at least partially to blame.
"It's not a surprise because since COVID began, people are buying like crazy online," said Billy Leroy, who formerly owned Billy's Antiques and Props in New York City and currently appears on the Discovery reality series Billy Buys Brooklyn.
As the pair of Hamilton pistols have an unbroken and documented chain of ownership – the most important consideration in this particular case – it isn't clear why the price didn't go higher. Perhaps the mania over all things Hamilton has reached its zenith, but it could also be that the pistols, while nice, are still rather basic. And because they're not the actual pistols used in the duel interest may not reach the expectations.
"I wish I could say I was surprised by the $1,150,000 price realized for the Alexander Hamilton's Flintlock Holster Pistols and Epaulettes at auction, but I was not, in fact, I think the buyer got a deal," said Alex Cranmer, CEO of New Jersey-based International Military Antiques.
"While the pistol themselves are pretty standard fare for the time period, the inscription and supporting documentation with strong provenance and a clear chain of custody directly from the Hamilton family, is what justifies the value of these pistols," Cranmer told GPM. "When one considers that not only was Alexander Hamilton a Revolutionary War Officer under General Washington, Founding Father, Architect of the Constitution, and first Secretary of the Treasury, but the recent pop-culture fascination with his life driven by the Theatrical production and subsequent film, the price realized for these pistols was justified."
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.