James D Julia antique firearms interview: How to net $10m per auction...
James D Julia's sale of antique firearms have averaged around $10m per sale over the past eight years
Paul Fraser Collectibles, Wednesday 12 October 2011
Last month in Dallas, US, a rare and fine ivory-gripped Texas, or Holster Model No. 5, Paterson Revolver from the Al Cali Collection realised $977,500 - in doing so setting a new World Record price for a single auctioned firearm.
The gun was sold to a Silicon Valley mogul. Proof, if any were needed, of the collectible, and alternative investment appeal of antique firearms among wealthy buyers.
However, Greg Martin and Heritage aren't the first firm to enjoy a near-$1m with a single antique firearm. Also the forefront of the antique firearms markets is James D Julia, whose auctions have averages around $10m per sale over the past eight years.
Mr Julia recently took time out to chat to Paul Fraser Collectibles about his years in the business. In this excerpt of the full interview, Mr Julia shares with us some stories from the antique firearms markets.
Paul Fraser Collectibles: In your opinion, why would an auction buyer pay nearly $1 million for a single handgun?
James D Julia: Firearms collectors - like collectors of paintings, Tiffany ramps or rare books - have something in common: they have a passionate interest in what it is that they collect.
The history of the manufacture, the history of the gun itself, the condition, the rarity. All of these factors are of ultimate importance to the buyer. To date, no better martial Walker has come to light and thus it represents the best of the best.
The Walker itself, when talking about Colts, is considered the "crème de la crème". The most coveted of all Colt firearms is the Walker.
The history of Sam Colt was that he had invented the first successful repeating handgun but his sales were sluggish and he was on the verge of bankruptcy.
He was about to fold his tent when the Mexican War broke out and Captain Walker of the Texas Rangers rushed back by train and met with Colt and encouraged him to re-design his handgun into a far more lethal arm.
The resulting huge sex-shot Colt Walker at the time that it was finished was the most powerful handgun in the world and until the early 1950s, remained the most powerful handgun in the world.
At the time of its production, it was more accurate and more lethal than the common rifle in use by the military. Originally Walker had intended to arm his rangers, each with a brace of Walkers (allowing them 12 shots against and enemy who used single-shot).
Muzzle loading pistols and long arms. Walker reasoned that a company of Rangers armed with these incredible lethal handguns could ride into almost any formation and overpower them.
Any Walker that survived the battle, because of its effectiveness, was used for many years. Some were carried in the Civil War.
In fact, Mr. McBride's great, great, great uncle was a general in the Civil War and is believed to have used the gun during that war as well. In any case, very few of them exist, many of the ones that do exist are fakes or fabrications or alterations and so to own just any Walker at all is a considerable rarity.
In fact, comparatively speaking, because of its condition, because of its great rarity and desirability within this specific collecting niche, a million dollars when compared to a comparable painting or many other collectible objects is actually essentially a bargain!
PFC: You also sold a Colt Walker hand gun for nearly a million dollars in October 2008. What is it like to be involved, and in the auction room, for a sale like that?
JDJ: We've had a couple of items bring in the general range of a million dollars and of course it is a truly, truly exciting experience. But the money is only part of it. The rest of the story is sometimes very special as well.
In the case of the Walker, the elderly gentleman who owned it called up one day and announced he had a Walker with 15-25% finish on it. A Walker with any finish at all is a remarkable thing and I was part excited but part cynical - many Walker's are fakes.
After talking with the gentleman a little bit on the phone, I discovered the Walker had descended down from his great, great, great uncle who had been an officer in the Mexican War and the Walker began to sound more real all the time.
During the course of the conversation he mentioned Maine and we discovered that we both had the same Alma Mater, the University of Maine. He mentioned that he studied forestry and became a forester, I shared with him that I had started at the University of Maine as a forester but changed my major.
He indicated he lived in Montana and I told him that I had briefly lived in Montana in the late 60s and to my surprise I learned that he actually lived in the same village that I lived in, in Libby, Montana.
He later sent me some pictures and in looking at the pictures, the gun was not 15-25% finish, it was it was more like 50-60% finish which was absolutely extraordinary.
I flew to Libby, Montana with my consultant, we examined the gun in person, presented the owner with the proposal and told him we felt that it would bring somewhere in the range of $500,000 to a million dollars.
He loved the gun, he loved the history, but he and his wife had to consider other things. In the future, when it was necessary to divide their estate, there was no way to divide the gun, the gun was worth too much.
They had met with their children and decided that despite its history and family association that they should convert it into money that would be easier to divide when the time came.
Mr. McBride and his wife are terrific people and he was a terrific fount of knowledge, an avid gun collector and shooter and had terrific stories. We closed the deal, brought the gun back home and the day of the auction, Mr. McBride and his wife showed up for the auction.
As you would expect from a cowboy, he was dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots a fringed buckskin jacket and had a genuine Stetson cowboy hat. He and his wife sat quietly through the auction until the moment that his gun came up, and they listened intently as the bidding climbed.
You may recall that the date of my auction was virtually in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in history. Literally a few nights before the auction, media had been implying that the world banking order was possible on the verge of collapse and I had been exceedingly concerned up to the day of the auction, but the Walker and many other things in the auction allayed my fears.
The Walker eventually sold for $920,000. Mr. McBride jumped up, took off his cowboy hat, threw it in the air and shouted "Yee Haw!" The sale was a great success and despite all the dismal economic news, we generated another $12 million dollar sale.
PFC: Your company specialises in a variety of things - militaria, weaponry, clocks, rugs. Is there any particular niche that you predict will be big in 2012?
JDJ: I expect that 2012 will be a good year for those dealing in truly great, rare and wonderful things. Over the long haul, however, firearms have been one of the strongest collectibles to hold their value.
Since 2008, almost anything on the planet has been devalued to some extent and the same is true with firearms. All firearms don't bring what they did in 2007, however some things bring a lot more.
I was most fortunate in 2009 at the virtual depths of the economic disaster, to have received on consignment, Phase I of Dr. Joseph Murphy's collection of rare Colts.
Gun for gun, based on condition, rarity and value; it was the finest collection to ever have come to auction at that time. There was great trepidation in the gun world as well as the entire world of collectibles.
Collectors were driven by passion but cautioned by fear of the economy and weren't sure what to do. We however were confident that because of the rarity and the importance of Dr. Murphy's guns, it would stimulate a very strong response and that is exactly what happened.
The very first lot up was a cased #2 Paterson carrying a presale estimate of $275,000-$500,000; it sold for $517,500! A few lots later, a gold inlaid and engraved Colt single action revolver, at one time owned by the Sears & Roebuck Company, which was estimated at $450,000-$800,000, sold for $747,000.
Two lots later, an engraved single action Colt that had been exhibited in 1876 centennial exhibition carried a $350,000-$600,000 estimate and sold for $701,500!
Guns, unquestionably, over the long haul have been one of the strongest collectibles. The collectors are very passionate, they're dedicated and there are a number of affluent people within the gun collecting world and this continues to be true today.
Watch this space for the upcoming full James D Julia interview.
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Images: Photos courtesy of James D. Julia Auctioneers, Fairfield, Maine