The history of firearms is filled with some genuinely game-changer weapons. But what gun was the most expensive to ever sell? What about collections of guns or pairs that made firearms history? We asked a top firearms expert for his analysis of this issue:
The average cost of an AR-15 today is around $800, while those on the higher end of the spectrum are now fetching prices nearing $2,000. For most shooters, that is a lot of money to spend on a firearm, even a high-quality one – yet those prices are small change compared to the prices of some of the most expensive guns ever to go to auction.
It should be noted, however, that for any collectible all it takes is to have two interested parties with deep pockets to drive up prices well beyond what mere mortals could ever pay.
A heavily embellished cap-and-ball Colt revolver was sold in 2012 at Sotheby’s for a cool $1.14 million, which set records for the highest price ever paid for a single firearm to date. It was one of six model 1849 revolvers produced by Samuel Colt that featured deep-relief engraving and gold inlay. These weren’t originally sold on the market but were given by Colt as gifts to significant figures.
One was gifted to Russia’s Czar Nicholas I, while two others were given to the kings of Sweden and Denmark. Four of the revolvers are held in museum collections, including one that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
A “pair” of pistols had fetched an even higher price a decade earlier – selling for more than $1.9 million (not counting fees). These were even rarer than the Colt revolvers. Made by Jacob Walster in France, the pair of saddle pistols was presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to General George Washington during the American Revolution.
Washington actually carried the pistols and is believed to have had them with him at Valley Forge, Monmouth, and most notably the Battle of Yorktown. As the nation’s first president, he had reportedly carried them during the Whiskey Rebellion. After his death, the pistols were sold off as he had no direct heirs, and later were owned by Andrew Jackson. The pair of pistols was sold by Christie’s in 2002 for $1.98 million, and are now in the collection of Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania.
Gun Prices Rising
For nearly a decade, the Colt revolver was the record to beat – but in August 2021, another Colt firearm came up for auction. It was actually a rather unremarkable Single Action Army that would typically be worth a few thousand dollars at most, yet, it was no ordinary revolver. It wasn’t engraved and didn’t have ivory handles but the value was in the provenance, as it was the gun owned by Pat Garrett and used to kill William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid) on July 14, 1881, at Pete Maxwell’s Ranch.
What makes the gun a bit more special is that Garrett had reportedly taken the Single Action Army revolver from Billy Wilson, one of Bonney’s gang members, and began carrying it as his own.
It has passed through various collections, but the chain of custody has been well-researched and verified.
The gun was sold by Bonham’s Auction House last year for an astonishing $6.03 million, becoming the most expensive single firearm ever sold.
“Pat Garrett’s gun that killed Billy the Kid attracted attention from all around the world and led to a world auction record for a firearm,” said Catherine Williamson, Bonham’s director of Books & Manuscripts. “This momentum continued and we saw determined bidding from clients that drove the sale as one of the most valuable private collections of Western memorabilia offered at auction.”
Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.