One of the most significant collections of eastern antique weaponry in the world is to be auctioned at Bonhams
Knightsbridge on 29 April. The collection, which was assembled by Rick Wagner over the course of his lifetime, includes edged weapons, antique firearms and armour in great variety.
Wagner was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1935 and was raised in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He later wrote that he inherited the collecting gene from his mother, Clare, a dedicated collector of antiques who encouraged her children to study and gather stamps, coins and, eventually, weapons. It was she who taught Wagner to handle guns, in preparation for hunting alongside his father.
The initial spark for the celebrated collection offered at Bonhams arrived by accident. The 14-year-old Wagner had been forced into a lengthy and frustrating convalescence after a near-fatal fall while climbing, and his mother, in a desperate bid to occupy her exasperated son, bought him four American spur trigger revolvers in need of restoration. They provided Wagner with the impetus to assemble one of the finest privately held collections of .22 calibre Smith & Wesson pistols in the U.S.
Wagner recalled that his eye turned to Eastern weaponry after watching the British epic film, Lawrence of Arabia, and in 1978 he purchased his first Arab dagger. He was so struck by the beauty and technical skill apparent in Eastern weapons that researching and acquiring them became his new passion, and the remarkable collection of western handguns was sold off piece by piece to finance what Wagners daughter called the hunt for exotic treasure.
A particular highlight of the collection is an extremely rare and fine Indian dagger, probably Deccani, dating to the late 16th or early 17th century. The double-edged blade is fashioned of finely watered wootz steel, and each of the downturned quillons are formed in the round as the head of a guardian lion. The octagonal grip is engraved with overlapping scales along each flat, and the pommel is formed as a lions head with gold-set gemstone eyes and a bird in its jaws. The lions forehead and the knuckle-guard are set with cabochon rubies and emeralds. For an estimate, please refer to the department.
Among the firearms is a fine and very rare Algerian toe-lock gun, dated 1190 A.H., which corresponds to 1776 A.D. A particular feature of this type of firearm is the distinctive inlays of red corals, and the gun is estimated to fetch £20,000-30,000. An Algerian flintlock holster pistol from the same era and decorated in a similar fashion will also feature in the auction, and is estimated at £6,000-9,000.
Also offered is a very rare Mamluk helmet from the period of Al-Ashrof Sayt Ad-Din Qait Bay, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt from 1468-1496 A.D. The skull is incised with the Ottoman arsenal mark of St. Irene and the finial of the nasal is engraved The most honourable ruler Qaytbay, may his victory be glorious. It is estimated at £20,000-30,000.
As Rick Wagner was often heard to say: If you buy an antique so beautiful that you couldnt have made it today for the same money, its a sound investment.