My thanks to several readers who sent me the link to this Washington Times article. Click the images for a larger view.
It has a fine walnut stock, a blue finish and a very simple inscription that reads “Albee to Lawton.” But this 19th-century rifle has become the most expensive single firearm ever sold at auction according to the Rock Island Auction Company, which recently sent the historic piece to a new destiny with an undisclosed buyer. The price: $1,265,000.
“Other guns have sold higher as a pair, but no other single firearm surpasses this new world record. It was an honor to be entrusted with an American treasure,” said Kevin Hogan, president of the Illinois-based company.
The rifle itself was a gift from one Congressional Medal of Honor winner to another. U.S. Army Captain Henry Ware Lawton and Lieutenant George E. Albee had been brothers-in-arms during the Civil War. The former continued his military career and saw combat in the Indian Wars, the Spanish American War and the Philippine American War. The latter went to work as a designer for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
After Lawton led a grueling but successful expedition which resulted in the capture and surrender of Apache leader Geronimo in 1886, his old friend was inspired to find a suitable recognition for the deed. His choice? The “Winchester Model 1886 Sporting Rifle (serial number 1)” which he obtained by virtue of his standing in the company. The gun survived in excellent condition.
There's more at the link.
You'll find more images on the auction Web page. Here's a video clip from the Rock Island Auction Company giving some background information about the rifle, and about then-Captain Lawton's achievements in the Apache wars.
You'll find a more detailed account of Lawton's chase and capture of Geronimo here. Lawton went on to become a Major-General, and was the only general officer to be killed during the Philippine-American War.
Now that's a rifle worthy of pride of place in any collection of American firearms. I'd love to see and handle it someday, not because I want to own it, but purely for the history involved. Its condition suggests that Lawton valued it highly, because he obviously didn't take it into the field where it could be beaten up and weathered. It's about as pristine as a 130-year-old rifle can possibly be.