Denfeld News

Mar. 16, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Duluthian buys ‘Czar’s Gun’
By Brandon Stahl

To firearm collectors, it’s known as the Holy Grail of guns, an almost mythical weapon. It was manufactured in 1914 and was meant for Czar Nicholas II of Russia. But the “Czar’s Gun” was long thought to be lost or destroyed, while some believed it never existed in the first place.

It did exist and now is owned by Duluth gun trader Jack Puglisi Sr., who bought it at an auction for $250,000 on Tuesday, thought to be a world record for a shotgun at auction.

“I’ve been doing this for nearly 40 years,” said Puglisi, who paid a 15 percent auction fee, bringing the price to $287,500. “This is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced, to buy something that I never thought I’d own.”

Puglisi, 65, began buying and trading guns in 1961 when he was at Denfeld High School and went into the business full time in 1970. He owns Puglisi Gun Emporium on 1336 Commonwealth Ave. in Gary-New Duluth and is considered one of the most well-known gun traders and historians in the country. He said his business has blossomed over the past 10 years and is visited by traders from all over the globe.

“Over the years, we’ve developed the reputation that if you want to find something really good as an investment gun, we’re a place to visit,” Puglisi said.

Puglisi knew all about the lore of the Czar’s Gun, also known as the Czar’s Parker, because it was handmade by Parker Bros., one of the top firearm manufacturers at the time. It was to be shipped to Czar Nicholas II, but David Trevallion, a firearms manufacturer and historian, said World War I broke out and the gun sat in a New York dock.

It was shipped back to Parker Bros. and resold to a New York man, who owned it and later gave it to his son. From there it remained in obscurity for more than 90 years.

Trevallion said the gun, the first gun thought to be built for European royalty, grew into legend because it disappeared so quickly. A few fakes even surfaced, Trevallion said, including one that sold for thousands of dollars.

“It’s mythical,” Trevallion said. “It became: Where’s the Czar’s gun?”

Eventually, an auction company located the gun in New York. Trevallion said he certified it using original documentation from Parker Bros.

Puglisi knew if he wanted the gun he’d have to take an unusual strategy.

“I knew there were people prepared to pay as much or more than I was,” he said. “My competition was stout.”

He wanted to avoid the stair-stepping that can happen at an auction — people bidding in small increments and building to higher and higher amounts, sometimes over what an item is valued.

So Puglisi told the person bidding for him (he was in another state at the time) to do something dramatic. When the gun’s description was about to be read, Puglisi wanted the bidder to scream, “a quarter of a million dollars!”

“I wanted to shock the room into silence,” he said.

It worked.

“It was expected to start at $100,000 and just creep up,” said James Julia, who owns Julia’s Auctions, which sold the gun. “All of a sudden some fool just bid a quarter of a million dollars. It was great.”

Julia asked for $275,000, then $265,000, then $255,000. Though Julia estimated there were at least six others who were after the gun, no one else bid.

“They just didn’t regroup in time,” Julia said.

“A guy called me up 10 minutes later,” Puglisi said, “and said ‘before I knew it the gun was sold. I would have paid more. I’ll pay more for it right now.’ ”

But Puglisi plans to hold on to the gun. When he gets back from a gun show in Florida, he said he’ll go out and fire it and keep it in his collection at his store. But eventually, he said, he will sell it.

“If somebody wanted to buy it today, it would take a half a million dollars to pry it out of my hands,” he said. “But I’m very interested in owning it for a while. It’s perhaps the best investment I’ve ever made … if it were a piece of artwork, it would be a Renoir.”

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