James D Julia auction interview: 'The greater the offering, the greater the response'

James D Julia auctioneers of Fairfield, Maine, US, has described itself as being the world's leading auctioneer for rare and expensive firearms. Its auctions have generated an average gross of approximately $10m per sale over the past seven years.

This is something no other auctioneer has ever achieved. So Paul Fraser Collectibles was very excited when Mr Julia agreed to speak with us, and reveal some of the stories behind his ongoing success. Below is the third part of our interview.

Or you can read the previous parts by following these links:

Exclusive interview: James D Julia shares his antique firearm stories

Exclusive Interview: 'My auction house is one of the Top 10 in North America'

PFC: In March 2008, you held a firearms sale which netted $12.7 million - the largest in history. How did you achieve this? 

JDJ: In 2004, I had the honour of handling the collection and estate of Mr. Eldon Owens of New Hampshire. Mr. Owens was a truly wonderful man. I called him the ambassador of the gun trade.

He also had extremely discerning taste and over the years, had amassed an extraordinary collection that was the envy of many collectors - significant in value, quality and condition. By that time, I had conducted a great many important firearms auctions.

Colt Walker A Co

When this Colt Weston sold for
$920,000, the seller took off
his cowboy hat, threw it in the
air and shouted "Yee Haw!"

His collection consisted primarily of Winchesters. I explained to them that what I had learned over the years, was that the greater the offering, the greater the response and thus the greater the rate of return.

They had given me full right to conduct the auction in any way I wanted. One of the things that I'd learned over the years was that the firearms fraternity was a vast, vast fraternity and that some of the collectors were extremely affluent and very, very passionate. 

We had estimated Mr. Owens' collection to bring $2.3 million; in actuality we hoped that it might bring as much as $3 million, we purposely tried to be realistically conservative with our estimates, knowing that it would drive more players to the auction and create greater competition.

We had no idea of how successful it would be.  The Owens' Collection alone grossed $4.4 million - that was incredible!

Collectors who had been dealing with us for years were amazed at the prices things were bringing.  Some of them finally gave up on bidding and simply said, "Look, I obviously can't buy anything but please continue to call me up when my lots come up, I want to hear what they bring. I just can't believe this!" 

As I said, the sale overall did not include just Eldon's things, it also included items from various other collections and the total at the end of the sale - including Mr Owens' things - was just under $9 million!

Nothing like this had ever happened in the firearms world before. But it also proved to me and those that worked with me that the whole concept of "more is more." From that point on, that became our business model.

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: 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 [Mr McBride] 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. 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 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. They had met with their children and decided that, despite its history and family association, that they should convert [the Colt Walker] into money that would be easier to divide when the time came. 

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 possibly on the verge of collapse.


Auctioneer James D Julia, pictured
with his wife Sandy

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: James D Julia seems to have majorly embraced online bidding. How do you see emerging markets like China, Russia and India affecting the future markets?

JDJ: The internet, new technology and specifically on line bidding has allowed us in recent years to compete with literally any auction house in the world. 

A few years ago, Russia began producing a plethora of millionaires and billionaires, some of which decided to repatriate some of their heritage - and an incredible explosion of interest in all things Russian happened. 

There were a vast array of buyers and they were buying almost anything Russian.  The Russian market is still strong and healthy but the Russian buyer has become far more astute and selective in their taste and a number of very knowledgeable, passionate and moneyed Russian collectors now drive the market. 

Within the last couple of years, the exact same thing has happened with the Chinese people. China has spawned a great number of millionaires and billionaires, again, some of these newly wealthy people are looking to repatriate their heritage and the great Chinese objects - regardless of what they are.

Some of these things are exceedingly difficult to evaluate. The wealth of some of the Chinese collectors, as well as their very competitive spirit, sometimes creates extraordinary bidding battles which generate extraordinary returns. 

In August, we had our annual end of summer auction. A small tea bowl and saucer in a yellow glaze was estimated at a few hundred dollars. Originally thought to be simply something nice, worth multiple hundreds of dollars, [it] ended up selling for just under $400,000. 


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