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Historic Firearms and Early Militaria

Don Johnson | October 22nd, 2013

This German FG 42 paratrooper’s rifle from World War II was the top lot of the sale at $143,750. It was described in the catalog as a Heinrich Krieghoff Waffenfabrik, 8 mm, with bipod, magazine, sling, scope and mount, and excellent bore and wood.

Stoner 63A machine gun by Knight’s Armament Company, .223 caliber, with a spare barrel, tripod, tripod adapter, and belt boxes and links, excellent condition, $66,125.

Waffenfabrik Bern prototype Stgw 51, 7.5 mm, short caliber, 22" barrel with flash suppressor, used in a Swiss Army troop trial in 1952, with bipod, telescope in can, and a box of 50 rounds of original factory ammunition, excellent condition, $43,125.

This Argentine brass Maxim machine gun, 7.65 mm, with a tripod mounted on a wheeled carriage and with scope, carrying case, and shoulder stock, with early 1894 mechanism, in very good to excellent condition, sold for $46,000.

MG 34 ground-type light machine gun, 8 mm, made by Waffenwerke Brunn, dated 1944, with a BSW Trommelhalter for the 75-round saddle drum, original top cover and feed tray, and anti-aircraft sight and tripod, excellent to new condition, cataloged as “hard to upgrade,” $43,125.

Swedish Browning dual M37 machine guns, .308 caliber, with anti-aircraft mount and multiple accessories, made by Group Industries, excellent condition, $40,250.

Springfield model 1873 trapdoor carbine, Custer period, .45-70 caliber, 22" round barrel, walnut stock with brass tacks outlining the buttplate (indicative of Native American usage at some point), $35,650.

Framed U.M.C. (Union Metallic Cartridge Co.) cartridge board, 41½" x 54½", with all the original cartridges, outer frame cleaned, lithograph is light, cartridges removed and retied, $14,950.

Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Cowan’s

It was another strong day for machine guns, but that wasn’t the only trigger pulled during the sale of historic firearms and early militaria held by Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati on October 22 and 23, 2013. In April 2013 the auction house proved the demand for Class III weapons with a $2 million sale that featured remnants of the collection of Richard Wray of Cincinnati, who had died in July 2012 and had collected firearms for 50 years. That 191-lot auction immediately resulted in consignments of similar material.

Led by Class III weapons, the October auction also included a varied mix of militaria from powder horns to advertising items. As always, there were plenty of guns. About 1500 catalog lots were offered, and the sale grossed nearly $3 million.

Jack Lewis, director of historic firearms and militaria at Cowan’s, was pleased, not just with the fall auction but with 2013 as a whole. “We have done very well,” he said. “We have doubled our goal in sales this year.”

Great material in prime condition continued to lead the way. Topping the October sale was a World War II German FG 42 paratrooper’s rifle by Heinrich Krieghoff Waffenfabrik that sold for $143,750 (includes buyer’s premium). With automatic capabilities allowing it to fire like a machine gun, the weapon was developed specifically for use by Fallschirmjäger airborne infantry in 1942 and remained in service, albeit in limited numbers, until the end of the war.

“It’s a very rare Class Three weapon,” said Lewis. “They very seldom come up for sale. There are probably six known in the U.S.”

Also bringing considerable interest was a Swiss gun, a Waffenfabrik Bern prototype Stgw 51, developed after World War II, that sold for $43,125. The 7.5 mm-caliber assault rifle had a 22" barrel with flash suppressor and was used in a Swiss Army troop trial in 1952. “There are few of those known in the United States,” said Lewis.

Of even later production was a Knight’s Armament Company Stoner 63A machine gun that realized $66,125. Developed in the 1960’s and first battle-tested during the Vietnam War, where it was used by U.S. Navy SEALs, the weapon system had a common receiver and a variety of interchangeable parts, so it could be converted from an assault rifle to a light machine gun.

Other Class III weapons ranged from a Colt Vickers model 1915 machine gun, the type of weapon that saw service in World War I, at $31,625 to an Auto Ordnance M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, a popular gun with American troops in World War II, at $29,900. Prices for the M1A1 have improved, Lewis noted. “Those for a while were dead in the water at ten to fifteen grand,” he said.

Historical items of another nature included a Revolutionary War engraved powder horn that sold for $35,650. Lettered “Thomas Barber 1780,” the map horn had a representation of an unadopted Great Seal, showing a hand clutching 13 arrows under crossed American flags. While the patriotic flair and the geographic carving helped drive the bidding, it was condition that accelerated interest. “The horn remains in the absolute untouched state,” the catalog noted.

This example was clearly on the plus side of the market at a time when the value of a powder horn can swing widely in either direction. “It’s either great or it’s weak,” said Lewis. “You have to excite the collectors of those. Because they have so many of them, it’s got to be something that looks at them and says, ‘Buy me.’ Then they step up.”

Buyers were also eager to get a shot at a Springfield model 1873 trapdoor carbine from the Custer era. Selling for $35,650, the rifle was the same as those used at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The catalog noted, “We believe that this carbine was issued to Company H, 7th Cavalry and is a ‘Custer gun.’” The gun was captured at some point and used by a Native American, as indicated by brass tacks outlining the buttplate, further adding to the rifle’s intrigue. The untouched condition didn’t hurt any, either. “As far as the serial number is concerned, that’s a very hot serial number. It was used by H Troop of the Seventh Cav.,” said Lewis. “I think that’s as close to that battlefield as you will ever get,” he added. “The person who bought that carbine bought the real deal.”

Other firepower included a Colt single-action .45-caliber Army revolver that sold for $18,400. Typically a military weapon, the pistol came from a production overrun sold to civilians. This example was one of six revolvers shipped to Colt’s London agency on June 8, 1874, according to the auction catalog. Intriguingly, the gun bore no British proofs.

American history came into play with a General Officer’s model .45-caliber pistol made by Rock Island Arsenal. Selling for $7475, the gun had been acquired circa 1973 by Lieutenant General James B. Vaught (1926-2013), who had a long, distinguished career that included service during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Vaught is most noted for his role in the operational planning and tactical execution of Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted attempt to rescue Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in April 1980. Vaught died a month before the auction.

Other weapons of note included a Borchardt DWM C-93 semiautomatic pistol that sold for $19,550 and a Confederate bowie knife by Burger & Brothers, Richmond, Virginia, marked, that realized $12,075.

Advertising-related items included several cartridge boards, led by a U.M.C. example at $14,950 and a Winchester single-W cartridge board at $11,500. “Cartridge boards are always a unique thing,” said Lewis. “You can hang them, and you have a unique collection.”

For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit (

Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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