FAIRFIELD — For the past half century, auctioneer Jim Julia has been a purveyor of memories.

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 on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield has opened a window onto history, generating an estimated $600 million to $700 million in auction sales over the years.

Now it’s Julia’s turn to remember.

James D. Julia Auctioneers Inc. has been sold and will hold its final two auctions in February and March.

In December, Dan Morphy, of Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania, acquired the company founded in the late 1960s by Julia’s father, Arthur.

“There’s two feelings,” said Julia, 71. “First of all is a sense of sadness; this is something I built. I thought I was going to do this until the day I died. The excitement was extraordinary.

“Being in this business was like being in the Klondike in 1896. Every day I come upon some more gold nugget. But also, in addition to all that, it’s an extraordinary relief. When I had two burdens – the business and my wife – there wasn’t any question what was more important.”

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.

“My company last year grossed about $45 million, and the Morphy company grossed around $34 million,” Julia said. “The combination of the two companies put them in a position to generate perhaps as much as $80 million a year. If they do, they will become the fourth- or fifth-largest antique auction house in the world.”

Julia’s, with a satellite office in the Boston area, was one of the top 10 antique auction houses in North America, with Jim Julia himself hammering the gavel and barking out bids from his station at the front of the auction hall. Items auctioned at Julia’s included high-end collectibles, firearms and decorative arts, lamps, glass, fine jewelry and fine art.

“We’ve handled some of the greatest gun collections sold in this country in the last 20 years,” he said from his desk at the auction house, buzzing with 20 or 30 employees preparing for the 2018 Las Vegas Antique Arms Show, scheduled for Jan. 19-21.

Julia said he took over his father’s business after college and layered operations into a structured business, unlike most single-owner auction houses.

“In the 1980s I hired a business consultant who now is the governor of Maine. Paul LePage came in, and he helped me set my business up as a corporation and to develop a business model with various department heads. I created an entity that could survive without me, or continue on after I’m gone,” he said.

In a statement after the merger, Morphy, founder and president of Morphy Auction Co., said he has spent his whole professional life “watching and learning from Jim.”

“With nearly 50 years in the industry, Jim has an undisputed reputation, and I admire and will emulate his business approach toward his clients and employees,” he said in a statement.

Morphy’s has been in business since 2004 and has grown from two employees to more than 65 in the span of a decade. The auction company is headquartered in Denver, Pennsylvania, and has a satellite office in Las Vegas, Nevada. A full-service auction house, Morphy’s presents over 35 premiere auctions annually, according to the company.

Julia said he would not disclose the sale price, but he insisted that he get enough to pay his staff a year’s wages if they didn’t find a job when the auction house is shuttered.

Among other auction items that have been called out on Julia’s booming voice over the years was a flag from Napoleon Bonaparte’s launch at Elba, an island to which he had been exiled; a set of binoculars allegedly lost by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at Little Bighorn; and a powder horn that might have been used at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

“I just sold the only Colt pistol positively identified to have come from the Custer battlefield and used by one of Custer’s troops that brought close to a half-million dollars. Just sold it last year,” Julia said. “I’ve sold more guns from the Battle of Little Big Horn than any auction house in the world.”

He also had a handgun owned by Eleanor Roosevelt, a “splendid” flintlock repeating rifle made for France’s King Louis XV in the early 1700s, a Trafalgar trophy awarded to U.S. Navy Commodore Stephen Decatur for defeating the Barbary Coast pirates, Al Capone’s pocket watch, and goggles and a silk handkerchief worn by German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron – who was credited with shooting down 80 enemy aircraft during World War I.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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