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A handgun treasure at half the price

The 'million dollar Luger' fetches significantly less at a public auction in Anaheim.

March 15, 2010|By Ching-Ching Ni
  • An Indonesian billionaire purchased this .45-caliber Luger, one of only three made for the U.S. market in 1907, for $1 million in the late 1980s.
An Indonesian billionaire purchased this .45-caliber Luger, one of only… (Bret Hartman / For The Times )

The corporate-takeover shark played by Michael Douglas in the movie "Wall Street" brandished a replica and bragged about it as "the rarest gun in the world." An Indonesian billionaire paid $1 million for the real thing, and it became known as "the million-dollar Luger."

That was in the late 1980s, when the Douglas line "greed is good" captured the spirit of the times.

On Sunday, under very different economic circumstances, the coveted .45-caliber Luger found a new owner for half that price at a public auction in Anaheim.

The gavel came down at $430,000 from an anonymous bidder. With the 15% buyer's premium, the 103-year-old weapon fetched $494,500.

"It's a great bargain; he'll be very happy," said Greg Martin, whose company, Greg Martin Auctions, ran the sale. "The mystery of the million-dollar Luger has been solved by the market. But it will always be known as the million-dollar Luger."

Proxy bidder Paul Cole, president of Gun World in Burbank, said he represented a celebrity who chose to remain anonymous.

"The buyer has a huge firearms collection," Cole said. "He wanted to make this the crowning jewel of his collection. He's really excited; he's in tears. And it's really hard to get him excited."

Martin had hoped for a higher price, noting that last year his firm auctioned the Colt Single-Action Army revolver, Serial No. 1, for $862,500, one of the highest prices ever paid at auction for a firearm.

"Greed may be a bad word now, but the gun market is reliably strong," he said.

At the Anaheim auction, a few hundred gun enthusiasts showed up or stood by online and via telephone, seduced by the assortment of antique pistols, rifles, daggers and other military paraphernalia, including a samurai armor ensemble from the 1800s.

Douglas Smith, 70, flew from Portsmouth, Ohio, just to see the Luger handgun, which has a special place in his heart because he held it when he was 19, at a gun show where he met one of its original owners.

"This is the holy grail of the collection," said Smith, who has collected Lugers for 55 years. "If you were to have one gun, that's the one to own."

Smith, who runs bowling alleys, said he would have to be content with a glimpse of the rare Luger. Preliminary Internet bidding had already driven the price to $300,000.

"I'd love to have it, but at my age it's just beyond my reach," he said. "I'd have to sell a lot of guns to come up with the money."

Even for those who don't collect Lugers, just being in the same room as this one was a thrill.

"It's kind of like being a custodian of American history," said Walt Hallstein, 73, a collector from Los Alamitos who covets Winchester firearms.

The 9-millimeter Luger was the standard firearm used by the Germans during World Wars I and II, according to the auctioneer. The Germans made the .45-caliber for the American market and tried unsuccessfully to sell it to the U.S. military in 1907.

Only three were made and two survived. The other is in a Louisiana museum.

In 1949, collector Sidney Aberman bought the Luger for $150 from a friend who paid the same price for it five years earlier. After Aberman died, the gun was acquired by a California dealer who sold it to the Indonesian billionaire, Yani Haryanto, for $1 million. The Luger was since sold privately several times. Sunday was the first time it had been available for public bidding, Martin said.

ching-ching.ni@

latimes.com

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