A Big Bang Year The year 2016 saw earth-shattering records for frontier weapons that included the most expensive gun and knife.

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Most Expensive American Knife: Given to Theodore Roosevelt, by his friend James W. Gerard, for a 1909 African safari outfitted by the Smithsonian, this hunting knife featuring a gold-sculpted eagle head handle sold for a $360,000 bid at Rock Island Auction. Gerard also served in the Spanish-American War, a war in which Roosevelt’s leadership of the Rough Riders gained him national fame that propelled him into the White House; Roosevelt is shown in the center of the photo, surrounded by his Rough Riders.

Oliver Winchester introduced a legendary brand to the world in 1866, and in 2016, the 150th anniversary year of Winchester Repeating Arms, his brand blew away world records—it became the créme de la créme in the auction world when it earned recognition as the most expensive gun ever sold.

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Most Expensive Single Firearm: This Model 1886 Winchester rifle, presented to Henry W. Lawton, the U.S. Army captain who helped hunt down and capture famed Apache chief Geronimo, hammered down for $1.1 million at Rock Island Auction. Other guns have sold higher as a pair, but this Winchester surpasses the single firearm record previously held by Sotheby’s New York, for an 1849 Colt pocket revolver that sold for a $950,000 bid.

The first Winchester rifle was the Model 1866, the Yellow Boy. But a rifle made 20 years later, the Model 1886, Serial No. 1, set the record for the highest price ever paid for a single firearm when it hammered down for $1.1 million at Rock Island Auction in Rock Island, Illinois. This American treasure had been presented to Henry W. Lawton, who led troops on a ferocious campaign that resulted in the capture of Apache leader Geronimo.

As if that, among other notable Winchester records, was not enough to make 2016 a top year for weapon collectors, the year also saw the most expensive American knife sold at auction.

At the end of his reign as U.S. President in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt set off for a 15-month African safari. While he brought with him 15 crates of Winchester rifles, ammunition and spare parts, a hunting knife presented to him for the trip became the big winner in the auction arena. His J. Russell & Co. hunting knife, featuring a gold-sculpted eagle head handle by Dreicer & Co., hammered down for $360,000 at Rock Island Auction.

1883 Gatling Gun World Record A collector successfully bid $280,000 at James D. Julia for this Colt Model 1883 U.S. Navy Gatling Gun on tripod. It saw service on the Miantonomoh warship in 1885.
1883 Gatling Gun World Record
A collector successfully bid $280,000 at James D. Julia for this Colt Model 1883 U.S. Navy Gatling Gun on tripod. It saw service on the Miantonomoh warship in 1885.

Another leader in the firearms auction arena is James D. Julia in Fairfield, Maine, which brought collectors a non-Winchester gun that ended up earning notoriety as the most expensive Confederate firearm ever sold. The .44 caliber dragoon revolver, purchased for a $220,000 bid, was made on or near Dr. Ernst Kapp’s farm in Sisterdale, Texas, under the direction of Confederate soldier Alfred Kapp, a former worker at the Colt factory. With a critical shortage of arms for Southern units at the beginning of the Civil War, the men of the Sisterdale Company made six of these revolvers to arm themselves. This is the only one known to survive.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

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Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.