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Last Dance at Julia’s Auction

James D. Julia was in full-throated auctioneer mode when I hung up the phone earlier today, his voice rising high above all the other competing voices.

With a standing-room-only crowd at Julia’s Auction in Fairfield, Maine, the background noise was overwhelming, even on the phone. Today being Julia’s last-ever auction, the place is packed to the gills with people who just want to experience it and be able to say “I was there.”

“Please yell at me, like you are mad at me, OK?,” instructed Debbie, the Julia’s Auction employee assigned to handle my phone-in bid. She could hardly hear herself, much less her client on the other end of the line. I, too, could only hear a roar, a cacophony of voices, with the auctioneer’s voice occasionally rising above it.

I have been to Julia’s several times, and it has never been anything like this chaos.

Yes, it is a long drive from central Pennsylvania, but if you are into the stuff I am into, then the drive is worth it. If for no other reason than to inspect in person the various antiques (my wife calls it all ‘rusty junk’) of interest.

Julia’s firearms catalogues are phenomenal, presently approached in quality and accuracy only by Amoskeag Auctions, but there is no substitute for being there and seeing the items in person.

Please understand that Julia’s catalogues are more than just sales listings. They are historic repositories of hard-won information, useful to researchers of all sorts, as well as helping set some parameters on overall market prices.

Julia’s catalogue photographs set the industry standard. Nor have I ever seen an example where Julia’s mislead or provided an inaccurate description of some item. No doubt it has happened, but compared to the other auction houses, Julia’s descriptions are perfection. Gospel, really.

The Lancaster double rifle I was interested in came up quickly, and before I could indicate a number, it was already at double what I was prepared to bid. On quick second thought, I was ready to bid higher, but by then the auction price was already beyond double my highest bid, which was still forming in my mouth.

“Do you want to bid?,” asked Debbie.

“Nope. I’m out, it is already way beyond my highest” said I.

“But it was nice just to be able to bid one last time at Julia’s, a place I have come to love and fear,” I said.

Debbie laughed at my joke, and then after a few brief pleasantries she said goodbye, moving on to help the next phone bidder in what will probably go down in the history books as the most expensive, frenetic, chaotic firearms auction ever.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Julia’s has been purchased by Morphy Auctions here in central Pennsylvania.

I say unfortunately, because no one likes to see a good thing change, and Julia’s is not only a good thing, it has been the best thing in antique firearms auctions, bar none. So now that it is becoming part of Morphy Auctions, it is disappearing.

I say fortunately, because the merger will bring all the highest-end antique firearms to Morphy, which is much, much closer to my home. No more long, long drives to south-central Maine. But this may be too close.

And that is why I say unfortunately, because now that all these guns will be on display so close to my home, like less than an hour away, I will end up acting like a kid in a candy shop: Out. Of. Control.

Oh, my suffering wife. Yet more rusty junk, honey!

Which brings me to a much more poignant point: Don’t assume things will always be so, because in truth things are always changing. When you see something good, and it looks right, and it is going to bring you pleasure, or happiness, or a good investment, then strike while that iron is hot.

Just five months ago, Julia’s previous firearms auction had barely anyone in attendance. Hardly any bidding occurred on most of the firearms there. Maybe one or two bids per item, except for the especially rare or collectible, with most going for just one low bid, filed by absentee bidders. No one knew then that Julia’s was going to be merged with Morphy, and so no one showed much interest.

Had people known then what they know today…that October 2017 auction would have been a mad house, like today is, and the assemblage of fine, one-of-a-kind firearms would have been much more competitive.

For those of us who did participate, we reaped the benefits of low competition.

Goodbye, Julia’s! You will be missed. We welcome to central Pennsylvania the many outstanding firearms experts who have made Maine their home in the past decades. They will be happy here, surrounded by lots of natural beauty and an all-American culture that does not punish or stigmatize gun ownership.

My only hope is that Morphy carries on the same high quality catalogues that Julia’s produced, in style, substance, photography, and descriptive accuracy. That is one thing the industry cannot afford to lose.