Mar. 16, 2007
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
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
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,”
“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,”
“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.”