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At one time or another, we have all saved our pennies to buy a new gun. But this world of high-end gun buying is different. The firearms sold by Rock Island Auction in Illinois are some of the most expensive rifles and pistols in the world. RIA specializes in obtaining historic guns and auctioning them off to the highest bidder. A few of the pistols and rifles they have sold date back to the American Civil War, Revolutionary War against the British, and even the French Revolution, which took place during the 18th and 19th centuries.
All the firearms included in this list eclipsed the $1 million mark at auction—except for one that was simply too rare to leave out. Several of the guns belonged to U.S. military men and former presidents. And though all these pistols and lever-action rifles are beautiful firearms, it’s the historical significance, story behind each one of them, and how they came to auction that you will find most intriguing.
10. L.D. Nimschke Engraved Silver Winchester Model 1866: $977,500
This Winchester 1866 just missed the $1 million mark, but it’s one of the most unique lever guns in existence because the receiver is made of Peruvian silver, so it had to round out this list of million-dollar firearms. The lever gun, chambered in .44 Henry RF, was a gift from President Jose Balta (1814-1872) of Peru to President Mariano Melgarejo (1820-1871) of Bolivia. The silver was believed to have been supplied to Winchester by Peru and engraver L.D. Nimschke is credited with the scrollwork. The German-American engraver was so proud of this Winchester that he signed it in seven different places.
The Winchester was discovered in the 1980s by a staff member of French president François Mitterrand on a trip to South America. It’s unclear if the gun was gifted or bought by the French. Restorations have been made to the stock and barrel of the 1866, likely in France, but that cannot be confirmed.
9. Colt Walker Model 1847 E Company No. 120: $1.035 Million
Samuel Colt and Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker teamed up to engineer the Model 1847, which is considered the most influential and historically important Colt pistol because it rode on the hip of so many cowboys and settlers of the American West. The Colt Walker was also a favorite military wheel gun. Colt entered governmental contracts to supply soldiers and Texas Rangers with the Model 1847. No. 120 holds a particularly high value because it was the last of the Colt Walkers to ever be produced for the military. One thousand pistols were sent to Whitneyville Armory to fulfill a contract between Colt and the U.S. government in January 1847. The guns were dispersed between five companies, A through E. The first four companies each received 220 pistols, with E company taking possession of 120. This Colt Walker is labeled “E Company No. 120” on the butt of the revolver, making it the final Walker of the contract.
Unlike the rest of the guns on this list, the .44 percussion Colt Walker has no fancy inlays or ornate engravings. It was built for military use, so the revolver only has a blued barrel finish, a color case-hardened frame, brass trigger guard, and walnut grip. The McClure family of Wyoming owned this gun for over 100 years until it was bought from them by a collector, Robert Funk, in the 1970s. The original owner of the 120 is thought to be George Charles McClure who had the gun during the American Civil War and brought it with him when he moved West from Illinois in 1873.
8. Alexander Hamilton Flintlock Holster Pistols: $1.15 Million
Very few of the personal firearms owned by America’s founding fathers are still in existence, which is what makes this pair of .58-caliber flintlocks so rare. Gen. Philip Schuyler gave this set to Alexander Hamilton, who became the first U.S. Secretary of Treasury under George Washington, for his heroism during the Revolutionary War. Hamilton and Washington were the only two founding fathers to serve in the Continental Army with distinction.
The two pistols are adorned with light scrollwork and engraved with an A.H. at the top of the pistol grip just to the rear of the hammer. For 150 years, the flintlocks remained in the Hamilton family until Hamilton’s great-grandson Schuyler Hamilton III sold them in the 1940s. The matched pair of pistols are still functional. The 9-inch multi-stage smoothbore barrels and sideplates are engraved with floral patterns and the buttplate of the pistol grips, as well as the trigger guard, are brass.
7. The Finest Winchester 1886 Known: $1.2 Million
When you combine beauty, build, and the history of the Winchester 1886, this John Urlich engraved and signed rifle is one of the most coveted lever guns among collectors across the globe. This 1886 takedown from the Mac McCroskie Collection is chambered in .50 Express with a full magazine that runs parallel underneath the 26-inch octagon barrel. The Grade No. 1 model has gold and platinum inlays with detailed animal engravings that include a cougar and grazing deer on the right side of the receiver, bear and two dogs on the left side, plus a moose head on the underside of the receiver. Most of the metalwork on this 1886 is engraved or inlaid with gold or platinum. The wooden forearm and a portion of the stock also have flowered engravings.
6. Winchester Model 1886 Serial No. 1: $1.26 Million
After Captain Henry Lawton, a congressional medal of honor winner, accepted the surrender of Apache leader Geronimo, he was presented this Winchester 1886 lever gun by a group of New Mexico cattle barons. On the top of the barrel between the receiver and rear sight of the .45/70 is an inscription that reads “Albee to Lawton.” Lieut. George E. Albee was the man who gave the gun to Lawton, but the gift was from the cattlemen as a token of appreciation for capturing Geronimo and ending a quarter-century of fighting and bloodshed.
John Browning designed the Winchester 1886—which is still in production—and it became the rifle of choice among early settlers heading West. Teddy Roosevelt used this model, recognizable by its octagon barrel, during his cattle ranching days in the Dakotas before becoming president. The 1886 was built to handle larger cartridges. Its original chamberings included .45/70 Govt., .45/90 WCF, and .40/82 WCF, and it was later offered in the .50/110 Express as well.
5. Teddy Roosevelt’s Colt Single Action Army: $1.47 Million
The 26th president of the United States was given this Colt .38 Long revolver as a gift for his 54th birthday just days before a failed assassination attempt on his life during a 1912 campaign stop in Milwaukee. John Flammang Schrank’s bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest after passing through his steel eyeglasses case and a paper copy of the speech he was scheduled to give, which he made with the bullet still lodged in his chest before going to the hospital. After the incident, it was said that Roosevelt never went out in public again without a gun, and this revolver may very well have been one of the firearms he carried.
Due to a mistake in the serial number documentation with another revolver at the factory, Roosevelt’s Single Action Army had been “hiding in plain sight,” according to RIA, for the better part of a century. A historian with the original Colt ledger confirmed that this gun was indeed built for Roosevelt. The pistol has an ivory grip with a steer head carving that leads into the silver-finished frame and a 4¾-inch round barrel. Colt master engraver Cuno Helfricht is credited with the gun’s scrollwork. Roosevelt, an avid hunter and shooter, famously went on safari in Africa in 1909. The expedition was later chronicled in his book, “African Game Trails.” Many of the former president’s guns, including an 1883 Colt Single Action Army, 1876 Winchester, and Holland & Holland double rifle are on display at museums around the country.
4. Gustave Young Engraved Colt Third Model Millikin Dragoon: $1.67 Million
A .44 percussion revolver with an ivory handle, the Millikin Dragoon series of Colts were presentation pistols (three were gifted to Russian Czar Alexander II and his two brothers). This model was assembled in 1857 and features the floral scrollwork of Gustave Young, one of the most well-known engravers of 19th century American firearms. Young also included an eagle head, dog head, and wolf head on the barrel lug, frame, and hammer.
The Colt originally belonged to Union Army Col. John Minor Millikin Jr., who was killed in action at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Millikin’s son Paul inherited the gun after his father’s untimely death when he was just 4 years old. Paul Minor Millikin served in the Spanish-American War, became Cincinnati’s chief of police, and fought in WWI. His name is engraved, but misspelled “P.M. Milliken,” across the silver-plated backstrap of the pistol.
3. The Danish Sea Captain Civilian Colt Walker: $1.84 Million
Samuel Colt’s U.S. 1847 Walker Model was engineered by the famed gunmaker with influence from former Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker and inventor Eli Whitney Jr., who manufactured the pistols for Colt in Connecticut. In 1846, President James K. Polk purchased 1,000 of the .44-caliber black powder pistols for the U.S. Army. After filling the order, Colt had just 100 Civilian Walker’s made—this being one of them.
Niels Hanson, a Danish sea captain, is said to have bought the six-shot wheel gun from Colt himself on a trip to New York City. He returned to Denmark with the pistol and the gun was passed down from one generation to the next until a Danish gun collector bought it from the family. That collector supposedly buried the gun inside its case in a garden so it would not be found by the Nazis during their occupation of Denmark in the 1940s. The Colt resurfaced in the U.S. in the 1950s where it was sold for $10,000, a record at the time for antique American firearms.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte Firearms and Sword: $2.875 Million
These five rifles and pistols, plus the sword Napoleon carried when he drove the Council of Five Hundred from St. Cloud (and later became emperor of France), were sold as a lot in December 2021. The engraved and relief-carved guns were presented to Napoleon by the Directory of the French Republic in 1797. The firearms were engineered by Nicolas-Noel Boutet, a French gunsmith who worked as the director of state arms during the French Revolution. The guns included were a Boutet rifled flintlock carbine, a set of Boutet flintlock carriage pistols, and a pair of Boutet boxlock flintlock pocket pistols.
Napoleon gifted the firearms and sword to Marshall Junot, the Duke of Abrantes. Upon the Duke’s death, the Duchess of Abrantes sold off many of her husband’s possessions (Napoleon would not authorize a pension for the widow), including these weapons to a soldier who served under Napoleon. After Napoleon’s loss at the Battle of Waterloo, the set was put on display in 1816 in London.
Read Next: Top 10 Guns in American History
1. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Remington New Model Army Revolvers: $5.17 Million
Chambered in .44-caliber with 8-inch octagon barrels, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Remington revolvers were likely gifted to him after his troops captured Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. The historical significance of these two Civil War revolvers is on par with Abraham Lincoln’s Henry rifle and George Washington’s flintlock pistols. L.D. Nimschke is credited with the engravings, including the portrait of Grant—the 18th U.S. president—on each of the handles. Production of the Remington revolvers began in 1863 and were widely uses by Union soldiers throughout the Civil War.
The set of Remington revolvers remained hidden for more than 150 years until they surfaced at a Las Vegas antique show in 2018. Serial numbers 1 and 2 are marked on the bottom of the barrels, inside the grips, and on the grip frames. It’s unknown if these two revolvers were the first ever off the Remington production line. It’s possible they could have been a special order.