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An Eclectic Auction Market Is Setting Records

What does a ruby, a vintage soda sign, an ancient bible, and a motorcycle from 1908 have in common? Each set a new auction record in 2023.

Generated by Gabrielle Doré via Midjourney

The momentum has been building in auction items of all sorts since 2022. Consider the vintage and antique firearms market and the “prop” firearms market. “Our record sale to date was a stunning engraved pair of Remington revolvers presented to Ulysses S. Grant,” says Kevin Hogan, president of the Rock Island Auction Company. The Remington revolvers, which were auctioned off in May of last year, sold for $5.17 million, a record for the auction house. 

Ulysses S. Grant’s Remington revolvers, Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company

But RIAC achieved another record last year, this time in a very different “gun” market: The BlasTech DL-44 Heavy Blaster, which was used by actor Harrison Ford, playing Han Solo in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. It is the most expensive prop gun sold at auction, selling last year at a Rock Island Auction Company event for $1,057,500. “The sale of Han Solo’s blaster is now officially in the Guinness Book of World Records,” says Hogan.

BlasTech DL-44 Heavy Blaster, Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company

Since record-setting prices occur in distinct auction markets, spotting trends causing price increases is challenging, but technology has played a role. It certainly was a crucial factor in driving up the price at auction for at least one sale. In the spring of this year, Hunt Auctions sold a bat used by Babe Ruth, one of the sport’s iconic figures, for a record price $1.85 million. According to a story on ESPN, the bat sold in 2018 for $400,800. However, when the bat was verified using photos of Babe Ruth from 1921 by a DNA photo expert named Henry Yee, the bat was auctioned off for more than four times the previous auction price.

Babe Ruth’s Bat, Courtesy of Hunt Auctions

In most auction markets, technology is essential but only one of the factors. “Technology has been a fantastic facilitator in fine arms and many collecting fields,” says Hogan. “It makes these objects available on a wider scale than ever before, and with larger audiences comes more competition, so it’s also helping drive prices.” 

But Hogan says he’s seeing new and exciting records in “fine arms” annually. “This is similar to other collectibles markets,” says Hogan, “where more and more people are investing in alternative assets, but it also has to do with a growing acceptance of fine arms as one of those asset classes.” 

Here are some details on some record-setting items sold this year:


Courtesy of Richmond Auctions


In February, Richmond Auctions sold an Orange Crush neon sign (circa 1950s), breaking the previously held record of $46,000 on a Satanet Soda sign. 


A Harley Davidson, from 1908, fetched $935,000 in January at Mecum Auctions.

$2.2 million

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

In April, a pair of the basketball hall-of-famer’s Air Jordan sneakers sold at Sotheby’sa record for sneakers sold at auction. 

$34.8 million

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

This past June, Sotheby’s sold a 55.22-carat ruby called “Estrela De FURA” making it the highest price paid at auction for such a large stone.

$38.1 million

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

In mid-May, Sotheby’s auctioned off the Codex Sassoon, a nearly complete edition of the Hebrew Bible. It was one of the rarest books to ever appear at auction.

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