Earlier this year, a pair of antique pistols sold at auction for $1 million – and when the 15 percent buyer’s premium was tacked on, it drove up the price to a cool $1.15 million. The particular pistols weren’t made of gold nor were they encased with diamonds. It was all about who owned the pistols that drove up the price, and in that cast the pistols had been a gift to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
The provenance was enough that Rock Island Auction house in Illinois had even speculated that the pair of pistols, which may have been carried by General Hamilton at the Battle of Yorktown yet not in the famous duel that ended his life, could have reached $3.5 million or more. In the end perhaps the new buyer scored quite the deal.
Now another somewhat infamous handgun is coming up for auction this Friday. As part of “The Early West: The Collection of Jim and Theresa Earle” auction, which is being held by Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles is a Colt Single Action Army Revolver that has an opening bid of $2 million and is expected to reach $3 million or more.
Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett
Again it is all about the provenance, and in this case, the Single Action Army is purported to be the one used by Sheriff Pat Garrett to kill William H. Bonney, more famously known as Billy the Kid. Since the famous “shootout” – which really involved Garrett hiding in a dark room and then shooting the unsuspecting Bonney – few artifacts have actually been attributed to either man. In fact, the known photograph of Bonney had sold at auction in 2011 for more than $2 million.
In this case, the chain of custody of the gun is pretty rock solid, and according to Bonhams: “Billy Wilson (alias of David L. Anderson); taken by Pat Garrett when he arrested Wilson and the rest of the Billy the Kid gang at Stinking Springs; used by Garrett to kill Billy the Kid at Pete Maxwell’s, July 14, 1881 (notarized copy of a 1906 letter signed from Garrett); loaned to Tom Powers for exhibition at his Coney Island Saloon (appears in Tom Powers inventory and probate); recovered by Garrett’s widow, Apolinaria (Pauline) Garrett, from Powers estate, 1933 (signed and notarized letter from Jarvis P. Garrett, April 20, 1983; contemporary newspaper documentation, including pictures of her with the gun); sold to Calvin Moerbe of Round Rock, Texas, 1976; sold to Jim and Theresa Earle, July 14, 1983.”
Other Notable Guns
Bonhams is handling the auction of the Earle estate, which had been amassed over more than 50 years. For those who might not have quite $3 million to spare, there are several other notable – and as notorious – firearms also being offered in Friday’s auction.
These include a Colt Single Action Army revolver that was owned by outlaw “cowboy” Johnny Ringo, a Smith & Wesson Schofield revolver attributed to Jesse James, and Bat Masterson’s Colt Single Action Army. There are museums that would be envious to have some fine firearms in their collections!
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: Colt Bisley Model .38-40 WCF, shipped 1904 to Copper Queen Cons. Mining Co in Bisbee, Arizona