Historic California sword sparks bidding at Bonhams & Butterfields auction

Collectors vied for a rare memento related to a California pioneer during a recent antique arms and armor auction at international fine arts auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco. The $1.7-million auction on Nov. 17, 2008, included important and rare antique firearms and edged weapons, many related to political and military figures and legendary individuals.

One lot of the more than 450 sold was of great interest to San Franciscans. Described by the auctioneers as rare and important, an elaborately decorated presentation sword was inscribed: Presented to Major John A Sutter by Captain A. Andrews, Sacramento City, 1853. The 31 1/2-inch long double-edged blade remains in excellent condition, despite its 150-year history. The sword and its scabbard, produced by noted makers The Ames Sword Company, were estimated at $30,000 to $50,000; the lot sold after competitive bidding for $172,000.

The Swiss-born Sutter had moved to California in 1839, soon after becoming one of Northern California’s most important landowners. By 1848, records indicate that Sutter employed a roster of several thousand employees. But after the discovery of gold, his staff dwindled and his sprawling properties were invaded by tens of thousands of prospectors, settlers and others. After lawsuits and adverse court decisions, he lost most of his land and died in 1880 in greatly reduced circumstances. Sutter was made Major-General of the California militia in February of 1853 and the sword was presented to him by Andrews, a jeweler by trade, who served on Sutter’s staff.

Top lot of the daylong auction was a fine cased Colt No. 5 holster model Texas Paterson percussion revolver. The firearm has a wonderful provenance, having been within the famed collection of William M. Locke and illustrated in a book documenting Locke’s important guns. The cylinder of the revolver is decorated with a scene of a stagecoach hold-up, its grips are of varnished walnut. Offered with its brass accessories and tools, all within a velvet-lined case, the pistol sold within estimate, bringing $419,500.

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