FAIRFIELD — After 50 years at the gavel and an estimated $700 million in auction sales, the last call at James D. Julia Auctioneers Inc. came Friday afternoon with bidding on a modest .22-caliber pellet rifle.

It was lot No. 3454 — the final one — but boy, did they have fun.

“This is the lot you’ve been waiting for,” Julia said as the item, valued at $100 to $200, went up on the display screen.

Competitive bidding opened at $400 under Julia’s barking commands. It rose fast, passing $650, $850.

“Oh, it does my heart good,” Julia joked, making the most of his thick Maine accent. It stopped at $925 — last call, he said.

“Sold to Fred Olsen,” Julia shouted, pointing toward the back of the room as he slapped the gavel hard on the podium at the front of the room.


And just like that, it was over.

Jim Julia, 71, who took over the auction business from his late father, Arthur Julia, in 1974, had barked his last bid. The auction house on U.S. Route 201, north of downtown Fairfield, is closing and the property will be sold.

In December, Dan Morphy, of Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania, acquired the company founded in the late 1960s by Arthur Julia, who died last year.

“I bought it more for the fun than anything else,” Fred Olsen, of Albion, said of the race to acquire the final item to be auctioned as Julia’s. “It was a .22 pellet gun rifle, but it didn’t matter. It was the last lot, so I was going to buy it.”

Olsen said he was the general manager at Julia’s for 15 years and served as an auctioneer as well for close to 10 years.

“It’s been a great business; it’s been great for the community,” he said. “Jim has just been an incredible benefit to our local community, and the paychecks and the payroll and growth of this company and what he’s done for this community has been just amazing.”


From the rifle that first shot Bonnie and Clyde before police riddled their car with bullets, to artifacts from Custer’s Last Stand, sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s gun collection and George Washington’s 1781 map of the Battle of Yorktown, Julia’s appraisal and auction house has opened a window onto history for generations. Other rare items included a pair of Winchester M21 shotguns ordered by Ernest Hemingway — one for his wife, one for himself — and a Colt pistol used by baseball great Lou Gehrig in his only movie, “Rawhide.”

Last year, Julia’s wife of 18 years, Sandy, 71, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Julia took time off during the months since the diagnosis to look after his wife and turned daily operations over to the company’s CEO, Mark Ford.

Julia said before the closing session Friday that the three-day “extraordinary firearms” and sporting and collector firearms auction brought in around $15 million over the course of the three days.

“In the last 15 years, we’ve sold three of the four most important Winchester collections in the world, and this is probably the most important collection,” he said of the Ray Bentley collection. “One of the guns in the Ray Bentley collection brought almost $600,000. A lot of them brought $50,000 and above. It was an 1866 Winchester rifle, deeply engraved and gold plated and one of the finest ones of its type in existence.”

As for the business of leaving Friday, Julia, whose personality was always part of the success of the business, was not shy about his emotions.

“This is the final gavel for me, in regard for me doing an auction,” he said from his office desk off the main auction room. “It’s a sad thing. It’s a great relief because of my circumstances, so that’s good, that’s positive, but it’s sad. The guns were not only a prosperous business for me, but they were an exciting event every time I had an auction.”


The excitement hadn’t diminished Friday, as employees, sellers and buyers set the place spinning with activity. A bank of proxy bidders sat at computers as others with yellow cards threw up their hands to bid on an item. All the while Gabe Wiegand, the operations manager, scanned the audience, yelling “Yes!” and “Yep” as cards went up in the air.

Julia paused a couple of times Friday during the afternoon, stepping down from the podium to tell a couple of jokes, stories, in some of his concocted accents.

One of Julia’s longtime friends, auction buyer Josh Weiner, of New Preston, Connecticut, said he has been coming to the auction house for 10 years.

“It’s kind of sad,” he said. “The family of auctioneers, it’s like this is the end of an era.”

Following a champagne toast offered by CEO Mark Ford, Julia took to the podium for the last time.

“It was just so interesting finding those things in attics in these old homes,” he said of his career collecting antiques. “To me, in retrospect, it was like being in the Yukon in 1896 — there was money everywhere. You just had to be smart enough, work hard enough, to get it.


“Every day was an exciting day, and it just got better and better over the years. We moved from being one of the larger New England auction houses to one of the leaders in the country, then a leader in the world. It was just such a hoot.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367



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