|By Robert Kyle
FAIRFIELD, Maine — The annual springtime five-day gun auction extravaganza in Fairfield finished with an estimated $16 million spent between the two family-run auction houses.
Poulin’s March 8-10 sale earned $2.4 million, while James Julia’s sale next door totaled $13.6 million. Collectors and investors at Julia’s sought high-conditioned Winchesters, Colts, Marlins, Savages in the five- and six-figure range, while Poulin’s offered guns in three- to five-figures. Nick Poulin said they finished with a 98 percent sell-through rate. His father, Steve, is Jim Julia’s brother-in-law.
The majority of Julia bidders – about 75 percent – used online bidding, telephone or left absentee bids while Poulin’s people preferred to be present. Poulin said in-house bidders accounted for “65 percent to 75 percent.”
The top lot was a cased pair of consecutive numbered Model 1851 Colt revolvers that sold above estimate for $11,700. The forerunner to the Henry rifle, a Volcanic carbine, brought $8,775. A cased and engraved Walther PPK once owned by a German officer in World War II sold for $8,190. Another German Walther, a P38 model lacking the usual date code, sold with holster for $7,605.
Of special interest at Julia’s was a pair of deluxe rifles once the property by John Dodge (1864-1920). With his brother Horace, they formed Dodge automobile company after making engines as subcontractors for Henry Ford. During World War I, the brothers formed the Dodge Motor Co. and made trucks for the U.S. military and later cars for the civilian market. John Dodge became one of 675,000 Americans to succumb to the influenza pandemic of 1918-20.
His engraved and gold inlaid Model 1886 Winchester found its way into the collection of Wes Adams (1949-2011), a Utah businessman, sportsman and conservationist whose deluxe guns were sold over three sessions by Julia. The Winchester brought $333,500. The Adams collection also had another John Dodge rifle, a deluxe Model 1899 Savage that brought $143,750. The pair sold back to back, one to a Winchester collector, the other to a Savage man.
A rare Briggs Patent Winchester rifle bearing Serial No. 1 sold for $103,500. Also from the Adams collection, it had a side plate inscribed to W.C. Dodge and dated 1865. Any relation to the above Dodge family was not indicated.
An example of the global interest in American antique arms was found in the Dr. John and Margaret Pickup collection of Colts. They live in the West but well beyond California. Sail across the Pacific until Australia appears, then hang a left and proceed 150 miles off the coast to the island of Tasmania. It’s an unlikely locale to find a superior collection of antique Colt revolvers that were made in New England.
“Their collection illustrates the global aspect of antique arms collecting,” reported Wes Dillon of Julia’s firearms department. “It is not a phenomenon purely rooted in the United States, especially with an iconic collectible like a Colt revolver.”
He said some of the international buyers for this sale live in Germany, Australia and Switzerland. Foreign-made guns, he said, are often “repatriated” back to their places of origin by collectors in those countries.
Dillon said about 200 bidders attended the sale and accounted for about 25 percent of successful bids. The remaining buyers used the phone, Internet and left-bids to score their prizes. Dillon said the company “significantly increased our Internet capability and exposure” by using the online bidding platforms of Artfact, Proxibid and iCollector. The auction house is located about 130 miles north of Portsmouth, N.H. and the Maine state line.
Location is not a factor with the availability of online and phone bidding.
Poulin had buyers from New Zealand, Spain, France, Britain, Italy, South Africa and China. A man from the Middle East was outbid. “We have clients all over the world,” he said.
Dillon emphasized antique guns as investments. “CDs right now are paying basically zero percent. Where do you park cash to gain value? Tangible assets are certainly a very good place to do that. There’s a lot of demand generated into the collectible firearms market; and honestly, the political climate has something to do with it.”
Months of gun control headlines have resulted in increased sales.
“The perception of not being able to buy firearms, not being able to transfer firearms, perhaps even the discontinuation of ownership rights – which is crazy and not going to happen – makes folks uncertain, and uncertainty sometimes breeds a knee-jerk or emotional reaction of, ’If I’m ever going to buy a gun, I’d better do it now. And I’d better buy two.’
“You don’t have that reaction at the collector level. They’re more mature buyers who are buying in more of a focused, rational response as opposed to an irrational reaction. But it’s all real. It is stimulative to the legal commerce in firearms, and that’s what we do.”
He said sales began an upward trend last year. “2012 was a very good year for the mom-and-pop firearms store and very good for auction companies, as well. I expect to see that in 2013 and beyond.”
His advice to beginning collectors, “Find something you really like and are passionate about, narrow your focus, and buy the best you possibly can. Rather than buy 10 Winchesters, buy one great one. Five great pieces are better than 150 average guns when it’s time to sell. There are people who accumulate; but for the collector/investor, you really want to focus on high quality, blue-chip guns from a reputable source like Julia’s.”
For more on these auctions, go to www.jamesdjulia.com or www.poulinsantiques.com.