Cowan's Auctions is preparing to hawk what its staff says would be the highest-priced firearm to be sold at auction in Ohio history.The antique gun is an 1886 model Winchester rifle that was the favorite of many turn-of-the century sportsmen, including President Theodore Roosevelt. The .33-caliber weapon, designed by famed firearms pioneer John Browning, was known for its "buttery" smooth firing action. It was commissioned by American auto magnate John F. Dodge and delivered in 1913 but never fired. Dodge wanted it as a piece of art.
The rifle features inlay wood carvings of a buck, doe and fawn on one side of the receiver (the base of the barrel) and a bull-moose and cow on the other. The animal recesses are filled with some of the 195 grams (6.8 ounces) of gold that are on the rifle. The 1886 is one of two high-profile pieces commissioned by Dodge that will be auctioned at 10 a.m. April 29 at Cowan's in Winton Place. The event is open to the public.
Firearms expert Jack Lewis at Cowan's said the Winchester, consigned from a family in a Southern state, will fetch a minimum sale price of $400,000. Bids could go as high as $600,000.
That, Lewis said, would make the Winchester the highest-priced firearm sold at auction in Ohio (and that doesn't include a 15 percent buyer's premium, which is added to the high bid). The previous high is thought to be Sitting Bull's Whitney Revolver, sold for $120,750 at auction Nov. 17, 2005, at Cowan's.
The other firearm - property of the same family - expected to get a lot of attention at the sale is a Savage Model 1899 Takedown Rifle. Featuring its own gold inlay of carved tigers, bull elk and cow and stock carved in deep relief with leaves and vines, the 1899 piece is considered one of the finest ever produced by Savage.
The family wished to remain anonymous and declined to be interviewed about why it was selling the Dodge pieces.
James D. Julia holds the record for the highest sale ever for a firearm at auction internationally. In October, it received a bid of $920,000 for one of 1,000 Colt Walker pistols manufactured for the Texas Rangers to use in the Mexican War.
The auction business appears to be faring well despite the international economic downtown. Nationwide, about 20,000 auction businesses generated $268.4 billion in 2008, just slightly down from $270.7 billion in 2007, said Chris Longly, spokesman for the National Auctioneers Association.
If the Winchester and Savage rifles get the bids that Cowan's expects, they will become the two highest-selling firearms sold at auction in its house.
Lewis said another feature that makes the Winchester so valuable was that it displays the work of both of two master artisans, brothers John Ulrich (who did the extensive engraving and gold inlay) and Conrad Ulrich (who hand-carved the English walnut stock). Rarely did the brothers lend their talents to the same project.
The Winchester was discovered in 2007 in a Dodge family closet.
The 1886 Winchester is not a rare gun. The New Haven, Conn., company made 159,441, of which the Dodge was No. 151,483.
"They made a lot of guns, but this one is very special," Lewis said.