This close up of a gold inlaid Smith & Wesson .44 revolver shows exquisite detailing by master engraver Gustave Young.
This close-up of a gold inlaid Smith & Wesson .44 revolver available at September’s event put on by the Rock Island Auction Company shows exquisite work by master engraver Gustave Young.

The Rock Island Auction Company (RIAC) is internationally recognized as one of the leading auction houses when it comes to historical or exemplary weapons and military artifacts. As such, RIAC is no stranger to one-of-a-kind firearms that once belonged to notable figures famous or notorious. This September’s auction drew interest with the announcement that Saddam Hussein’s personal Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle would be on the block, the very same rifle that the Iraqi dictator used to punctuate his appearances on television. Also available was an ivory-gripped Walther from yet another dictator, Adolf Hitler. Add to that notable pair the finest iron-frame Henry lever rifle in existence, Gustave Young’s 1893 Exposition Engraved Smith & Wesson .44, and an Indian Wars-period jacket once belonging to General Armstrong Custer, and you have an event that was likely to command millions of dollars. According to the latest tally from RIAC, it has commanded just that—-upwards of $13 million, to be precise.

“If our September sale proves anything, it’s that firearms remain an attractive hard asset investment and the demand for the historically significant, the rare, and the high condition continues to grow,” said Patrick Hogan, president and CEO of RIAC. “It has been my belief for years that firearms have been underrated both as a collectible and as an alternative hard asset investment. This past auction we saw an inflow of not only new collectors, but also individuals who identify these treasures in world history as a financially sound investment.”

The auction took place from September 13 through 15, during which nearly a thousand live bidders crowded RIAC’s preview hall for a first-hand look at the 2,700 items offered. Nearly 13,000 absentee bids from 25 countries placed by phone or online means flooded auctioneers. Without a doubt, the event was one of the most highly anticipated of its kind this year.

Below are some of most fascinating items to go up on the auction block at this month’s auction.

Saddam Hussein’s Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle


This iconic rifle has a sordid history in the hands of one of the most brutal dictators in recent memory. Often seen alongside the former Iraqi head of state on national television, one of the most-recognized images of Saddam depicts him shooting this rifle into the air during a military parade.

Saddam Hussein carries his Ruger M77 in one of the most well-known images of the Iraqi dictator.
Saddam Hussein carries his Ruger M77 in one of the most well-known images of the Iraqi dictator.

The weapon itself is a comparatively plain M77 chambered in .243 Winchester, except with an engraving near the top of the barrel in Arabic. RIAC experts suspect that the firearm was given to Saddam by the Saudi Royal Family and from then on lived in the Presidential Palace. Sufi militants recovered the rifle from the demolished ruins of the structure and it eventually ended up in the hands of the CIA in 2004. Operatives transported the gun back to the United States where it was kept in the agency’s Langley, Virginia headquarters. After a short stay there, it was given to the current seller, or consignor, as a gift to honor his 29 years of service with the agency. The rifle was sold with affidavits confirming its acquisition by the CIA and other documentation providing provenance.

RIAC initially placed a low expected price on the M77 but widespread interest online and elsewhere saw bidding end well past the predicted $7,000-15,000 mark.

Final price: $48,875

In an email, RIAC’s Lance Dillie told OutdoorHub that the unexpected attention was more than welcome.

“As always, anytime one of RIAC’s consigned firearms surpasses our estimate we are more than pleased. That just means more money in the pocket of the consignor.”

Adolf Hitler’s Walther Model 9 semiautomatic pistol with ivory grips


Few names conjure as much enmity as that of Adolf Hitler. The leader of Nazi Germany left behind a plethora of artifacts and firearms, many of them at his home in Obersalzberg. This Walther Model 9 was found there and is believed to have been engraved by the same artist that worked on other guns owned by the German dictator. The .25 ACP pistol sports gold plating over a nickel finish and is adorned with ivory grips. The presentation of the piece can only be described as having once been exquisite, with blue enamel medallions standing boldly against the backdrop of ivory. However, the weapon’s journey through the decades has seen most of the gold worn away. An unsigned letter included with the pistol explained that a US State Department official appropriated the gun and many other treasures following the fall of the Third Reich. It was eventually shipped to America and had been in storage since 1946. Included was the original case as well as an extra magazine.

Final price: $18,400

New Haven Arms iron-framed Henry-action rifle


Before the U.S. Repeating Arms Company became known as Winchester Repeating Arms, it was called New Haven Arms. In the mid-1800s, the company manufactured between 200 to 400 iron-framed Henry rifles. The run was cut short just months after production began and the few left in existence are considered the rarest examples of their kind. These Henry rifles boast a 24-inch octagonal barrel and integral magazine, while the iron receiver and butt plate are adorned with a flawless blued finish. You can view the receiver of the rifle in great detail below:

henry 3

This rifle, chambered in .44 Henry and marked number 39, is in near-pristine condition. Originally expected by many to break into the top five most expensive production firearms ever sold, it came as no surprise that when the hammer fell that the iron-frame rifle took a world record. According to RIAC, the rifle is now the most expensive standard nineteenth century American rifle ever sold.

Final price: $603,750

Gustave Young 1893 Chicago World’s Fair engraved Smith & Wesson Frontier Revolver


If a picture could say a thousand words, then the image above will explain why RIAC experts estimated the price on this revolver to be $125,000-175,000. This storied .44 Russian firearm was renowned engraver Gustave Young’s centerpiece at the Colombian Exposition in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Young, who worked for Colt in the mid to late 1800s, is often recognized as one of the most skilled artists in the history of gun engraving. This revolver is a fine example of the master craftsman’s work, featuring gold inlaid scroll work and walnut grips wrapped in reptile skin, along with an elk hide holster. Beyond the artwork, however, the revolver had a history of its own. The firearm once belonged to lawman Claude Inman, who was the local police chief of Goldfield, Nevada. Inman had a dangerous job in a dangerous town; the mining frontier settlement sorely tempted crime with a promise of gold. During his tenure Inman faced off with gangs, outlaws, and drug traffickers as he sought to bring order to the mining settlement. For his service, gold mine owners reportedly paid Inman the outrageous sum of $10,000 per month. With those kind of resources, Inman quickly squashed crime in Goldfield.

After Inman’s death the revolver passed down to his son. It is in extremely fine condition.

Final price: $155,250

Conrad Ulrich gold-washed, engraved, and signed Winchester Model 1866 lever-action rifle


This rifle is considered by many to be one of master engraver Conrad Ulrich’s finest works. Ulrich apprenticed under Gustave Young and eventually left to pursue his own future with Winchester, producing one of the best-known engraved Winchester rifles in the world. This .44 Henry rifle has appeared on and between the covers of numerous books on engraving, so its history is well-documented. Covered in scenes of the hunt and featuring images of deer and hounds at rest, the rifle makes for a handsome piece. Also included are nude figures, which are RIAC experts say are rarely found on engravings of this period. A gold wash finish and walnut stock complete the presentation and cement the rifle as the finest Model 1866 RIAC has ever seen on the block.

rifle 2

Final price: $437,000

“Rarely can you tout something as being the very best of the best in any field of collectible, but in this sale we can say it more than once,” Hogan said before the auction.

In the below video you can hear Hogan and his son Kevin describe some of these firearms and others sold in the September auction.

Images courtesy Rock Island Auction Company

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