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The pair of Alexander Hamilton flintlock pistols which sold for $1m (£710,000) at Rock Island.

Few items at auction are announced with as much enthusiasm as the top lot in a record-breaking firearms sale held by Rock Island Auctions (15% buyer’s premium) in Rock Island, Illinois.

The auctioneers got straight to the point: “These pistols are universally recognised as being among the most historically significant weapons known to exist. Few firearms owned and used by founding fathers during the American Revolutionary War survive, and none that we know of (other than this pair) remain in private hands.”

The pistols in question were a pair of London-made 58-bore flintlocks by Ed Nicholson, mounted in brass including an escutcheon bearing the all-important initials AH.

Solid backstory

AH was none other than Alexander Hamilton, one the USA’s founding fathers and one of the few who actually served in the war that led to independence. Initials alone would count for little, but these guns came with a provenance which was as long as it was solid.

Hamilton’s name has leapt to prominence in the 21st century with the international success of the Broadway hit musical, but he has always been revered at home and these historic pistols were preserved at his family home, Hamilton Grange, New York, until the 1940s, when they were sold by his great-great-grandson to New York dealer Robert Abels.

At that time the doyen of English gun collectors, W Keith Neal, examined the pair and pronounced them as authentic, having been restocked in American walnut, c.1770.

Accompanied by a mass of supporting paperwork, including several affidavits (and incidentally a pair of epaulettes worn by Hamilton when serving as a colonel under Washington), the pistols sold right on their lower estimate for $1m (£710,000).

The Hamilton flintlocks made the biggest contribution to a three-day sale on May 14-16 which totalled $32m, eclipsing the $22m total achieved by the same auctioneers last December.

Straight to the Marine Corps

At fellow American saleroom Milestone Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) of Cleveland, Ohio, on June 19 a rare Colt automatic took $15,000 (£10,800).

This was a.45-calibre Model 1911, one of 1250 shipped to the US Marine Corps’ Philadelphia depot on July 9, 1913. Smooth, clean and unrestored, it was stamped UNITED STATES PROPERTY and MODEL OF 1911 U.S. ARMY.

An accompanying document from Colt’s archival records confirmed that the gun went directly from the Colt factory to the USMC Depot Quartermaster in Philadelphia.

“It is rare for a Colt to be identified as having been issued directly to the USMC,” said Milestone’s owner Chris Sammet. “Typically, documentation will say that a gun of this type was shipped to the US Government.”