Category Archives: Weapons Books

Parker Otto Ackley Hated his Christian Name

That’s why he went by P.O. all his life. Anybody claiming to be his friend and talking about, “Parker and I…” immediately made an ass of himself to Ackley’s real friends, who were many, and influential in the small world of American firearms.

This is just one of the fascinating details we’ve learned from P.O. Ackley: America’s Gunsmith by Fred Zeglin.

In a time when college graduates and even high school graduates were rare, Ackley was a magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University (in New York, his native state). His degree was in Agriculture, and he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Why did he become a gunsmith? “During the Depression, there was nothing else to do anyway.” His college studies had made him a remarkably good potato farmer, but his potatoes found no buyers.

In 1936, he bought the Roseburg, Oregon shop of Ross King, who had in turn bought the business from the widow of his former employer in Los Angeles, Ludwig Wundhammer, arguably the first great American sporterizer of military rifles. King moved back to LA and kept gunsmithing for some years.

Ackley bought the shop sight unseen, sold the family farm, and drove to Roseburg to meet King — whose work he respected greatly — and see his new shop. He paid King $1,000 down and $1,000 over time, on a handshake. But he didn’t know barrel making, so he accepted the offer of a friend to teach him. Leaving the family in Roseburg, he spent most of 1936-37 in Cincinnati learning the trade from Fritz, last name unknown, an employee of the friend, Ben Hawkins.

Ackley built much of his own tooling. He could afford only one gun-drill, so his early barrels were all bored .22 and reamed to final size with reamers he made himself. His own rifling machine was one of the earliest button-rifling mechanisms — he claimed to have co-invented the process, although he never filed a patent on it — and an entire chapter of the book is Ackley’s own detailed technical description of this tool. Ackley wrote it for a book that was never published, and the rifling-tool chapter may be the only surviving fragment.

In that chapter, as in many other places in the book, Ackley’s wit shines through.

“P.O. said that Elmer Keith was the biggest bullshit artist in the United States, but if he said he hit something with a .44 Magnum at 1000 yards, you better believe it, ’cause he could shoot.”

“The best way to get an answer to the problem is to ask someone who has never made a barrel. They can always tell you.”

Ackley’s foundation of the school of gunsmithing at the Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado was a surprising story. Ackley left the Ogden, Utah arsenal during the war — some say, after a falling out with co-worker Elmer Keith, the story of which Zeglin was not able to establish, and unconfirmed stories about which Zeglin was unwilling to publish. He ultimately wound up in Trinidad, and, after the war, was buried in a mountain of correspondence from GIs seeking gunsmithing training under their GI Bill benefits. The college, meanwhile, was getting similar letters — thousands of them.

The gunsmithing school was a success from the start, and early students remember an unusual instructional technique: Ackley would disassemble a gun and reassemble it where students could not see it, talking them through the process. Then, in the lab, they’d have to do it themselves, forcing them to learn by doing, not monkey-see-monkey-do.

Lee Womack, one of his former students, wrote:

In spite of his 16-hour days, he was always available…. He gave freely of any information he might have. He used to say that anybody in the gun business who thought he had a trade secret was just kidding himself.

This year will be the 70th anniversary of the program, a living memorial to an interesting American craftsman.

We’ll close with a few more Ackley quotes. On bullpup actions:

My opinion of the Bull-pup idea in general would not be very complimentary, and like the man once said, “If you can’t say anything good about it, then don’t say anything at all.” Therefore, I am silent as HELL on this subject.

On relative and absolute strengths of rifle actions, something which he experimented on extensively:

[A]ny action can be blown up if you try hard enough.

On the strength of the Italian Carcano, proven in his blow-up tests:

In spite of the fact that the locking lugs looked as though you could knock them off with a tack hammer, we were unable to damage any one of the four bolts appreciably. When the actions finally let go the receiver ring flew off, but this didn’t come until we had reached loads whitch had previously blown up P-17 Enfields. I wish to point out. however, that none of this should be used to conclude that the rifle could ever be made into a desirable hunting arm because that is a fairly good definition of the word impossibility.

As you might imagine, we’re loving the book.

Writing: How Details Made Monday into Mañana.

manana_anejo_tequilaFor two weeks now, a post about some early Czech and Czechoslovak double action pistols has been hanging fire. The weather hasn’t cooperated, when we’ve wanted natural light for photos. The Firearms Library and Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Library haven’t cooperated, with key books that are supposed to be at our fingertips going Lord alone knows where. And our understanding of the guns has been challenged, over and over again, by new (and often contradictory) information.

That post was going to go up today at 0600… then it was going in the 0600 slot. Finally, we face the facts that it’s not going up today… like our Andean Ridge counterparts, we can only promise you mañana, and while the conventional meaning of mañana is held to be tomorrow, anyone with experience in the region can tell you that it really means, not exactly tomorrow, but definitely not today. 

Instead, we’ll tell you a few more general things that working with these early pistols has taught us.

  1. There is no substitute for physically examining specimens, including disassembling them and comparing variations. Yes, it’s tough to pull that off when you don’t own the item in question. But two of the best books about Czechoslovak pistols (Berger’s unfortunately out-of-print Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols and Brown’s fortunately still available Cold War Pistols of Czechoslovakia) are silent on the differences between the CZ 36 and CZ 45, for example. And no English-language source we’re aware of accurately describes the lockwork of the Czech/Austrian Little Tom pistols.
  2. That said, a single specimen is just that — it’s a snapshot of one day’s production (and the firearm’s subsequent travels and service). This is especially true on things like hunting weapons and pistols, where some degree of personalization or customization is hardly rare. (Some day, collectors and reenactors will try to figure out what was “the camouflage pattern” early 2000s SF guys used on their carbines. Know what? We just rattle-canned ’em at random — and some guys didn’t).
  3. Manufacturers never cared a whit about things like serial number sequences into which collectors read great significance. No more than the chicken cared about the entrails the augur would examine, in ancient times. Collectors tend to be far more anal-retentive or OCD about things like “when the slide serrations changed” than the manufacturer ever was. If 100 slides were out for bluing or some other operation, you might have 100 “old” slides on “newer” serial numbered frames.
  4. Manufacturers’ statements must be taken with a grain of salt, whether they appear in press releases, catalogs, or listings like Gun Digest that get their information from the manufacturer or importer. One (unlicensed) copy of a Czech pistol appeared in the United States with the tagline, “Genuinely American” on the box. Well… in a manner of speaking, it was: a genuinely American act of banditry.
  5. It’s probably impossible to write a book without errors, although we writers sure do try. In some cases, we rely on generally trustworthy information from others, only to propagate a mistake. In others, we read too much into unrepresentative samples.
  6. If the specimen conflicts with the authoritative source, in a way that does not tend to inflate the collector value of the specimen, believe the specimen. (If the conflict would raise the collector value of the specimen, give more credence to the book).

Them’s the generalities. Maybe we’ll get down to specifics… mañana. 

The Revolt of the Majors

USAF Major's LeavesIn the 1970s, the military was still led, at the top levels, by men that had led, and on any strategic level, failed, in Vietnam. New ideas and new ways of thinking boiled up from the young warriors who had been, as it were, mining at the coal face while the guys back in the Pentagon were adjusting their sets with a 10,000 mile screwdriver. Army academics like Gabriel and Savage took the officer corps to task in books; Army leaders like Ed “Shy” Meyer and Norman “Bear” Schwarzkopf, very different men with different leadership styles and, even, different views of what had gone wrong in Southeast Asia, were advancing into important leadership positions.

These men had counterparts in the US Air Force, too. The USAF had gone into Vietnam invincible and convinced of its superiority, only to have a bad experience and come out of the war and the cuts that followed as a smaller, less respected, and at the junior levels, much wiser service. The Vietnam combat veterans, the “iron majors,” reshaped the Air Force. They did it by changing the equipment, the tactics, the training, and most of all, the culture.

"So Long, Mom, I'm off to drop the bomb, so don't wait up for me." (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks. USAF photo).

“So Long, Mom, I’m off to drop the bomb, so don’t wait up for me.” (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks. USAF photo).

The Revolt of the Majors is that rarity, a fun, readable PhD dissertation. It would need some editing to be published as a book, but it’s a great cultural history of the USAF from the 1950s primacy of the Strategic Air Command;  through the dislocations of the Macnamara years; the disastrous performance in Vietnam (caused, in part, by an abandonment of air-to-air training by then-Tactical Air Command head General Walter Sweeney, on the grounds of, no training meant no training accidents); and through a cast of commanders that sound like a taxonomy of leadership toxicity; to post-Vietnam recovery to something like an even keel.

You think we’re kidding about toxic leaders?

General William Momyer…had acquired his nickname “Spike” because “he could pick a fight with anybody.” … “while in Saigon Momyer banned smoking in staff meetings and “expected clean uniforms and flower beds [around the headquarters]” (p.107).

rbic” is a charitable way to describe Dixon (p. 183).

One Air Force officer who later became a four-star general noted, “[Dixon] was famous for his indiscriminate hatred.” (p. 183).

One of Dixon’s favorite threats was. “If you screw this up I’m going to burn your house down, kill your wife and family, and rape your dog.” (p.272).

Creech knew one general whose aide kept ten spare sets of eyeglasses to replace the ones he broke throwing them across the room when he was displeased. (p.273).

Many of the junior officers felt the accident rate was high because of inferior training but USAFE’s focus was “‘fly safe,’ not train realistically, while Creech was there.” (p. 275).

Despite this, the Air Force managed to pull out of both its post-Vietnam funk and the loosely-related funk that resulted from the then-latest Soviet missiles nearly triumphing over American equipment and Israeli American-influenced tactics in the Yom Kippur War.

How they did this depended on both those toxic leaders — the nasty Dixon was instrumental — and the informal “iron major network.” The ideas percolated up in an institution which is, today, all but moribund: the officers’ club.

Management experts also realize that for effective innovation the innovators need “free space for conversation” where ideas can be “bounced off” a large number of people with no stigma. There must then be open lines of communication throughout the organization so the ideas can flow freely. However, such ìfree spaces for conversationî have to fit into the work patterns of the organization, and a fighter pilot in an operational unit had his workday filled with flying, as well as briefings and debriefings, which generally took longer than the flight itself. Line pilots also had a variety of what were euphemistically called ìadditional duties,î from running the snack bar to writing effectiveness reports. The workday left no time for discussing larger issues.

Unintentionally, the Air Force had a facility and customs that allowed young officers to communicate with each other and exchange ideas in an informal way. In the afternoons after flying ended many, if not most, of the aircrews adjourned to the bar at the Officers’ Club for low priced drinks and snacks at “Happy Hour.”Here they exchanged stories, compared experiences, and engaged in discussions about what was wrong with the Air Force and how to fix it. Many of the pilots had flown in Linebacker, so the Vietnam War was one of the main topics, as was the 1973 Middle East War and the possibility of a war in Europe. One of the characteristics of this “bar talk” was that rank had no place. Anyone could have an idea, and anyone could say, “That’s BS, and hereís why.”.Senior officers who wanted to push, as opposed to discuss, their ideas or the Air Force party line simply were not included in the conversations. The Officers’ Club at Nellis, as the home of the Fighter Weapons School, was a special hotbed of new ideas, since it had not only the instructors but also students who were considered the best fighter crews in the TAF. (pp. 189-190).

It’s quite a remarkable story, and probably needs Tom Wolfe to be told any better, but it’s at its core a story of how toxic leaders and insubordinate fighter pilots combined with informal and unofficial “industry peer networks” and “free spaces for conversation” to yield a transformative experience that has influenced all subsequent generations of the Air Force, and had some interservice impact as well.

We’re still reading it, but so far, the book is highly recommended. And it’s a freebie at this link. Don’t say we never gave you nothin’.

Reviewed:

Michel, Marshall L. The Revolt of the Majors: How the Air Force Changed after Vietnam. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Auburn, AL: Auburn University, 2006. Retrieved from: https://etd.auburn.edu/bitstream/handle/10415/595/MICHEL_III_55.pdf

Please Note New Page: Gun Design Books

Please note the new page, Gun Design Books and Resources. It went live at 0600 this morning, but because it’s a permanent Page rather than an ephemeral Post, it doesn’t post to the main page. (We’re probably missing some obvious way to make it do this).

You can access it from the margin of the site, above, or by simply clicking the link in this sentence.

It is our intent to provide a comprehensive listing of books for the would-be gun designer or design engineer. We’re aware that we’re a long way from comprehensive as it stands, and we even have some sections that are unpopulated, apart from headings. But we believe that we have listed the key resources available, both online and in hard copy, with a bias towards currently in-print or available sources.

We’re also very, very interested in your suggestions for additions.

We hope you find the page enjoyable and informative.

Empties back in pocket in gunfight? Urban Legend?

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

This is one of those stories that will never die, because every instructor (us, too, they said sheepishly) has found it useful as a way to hammer home the importance of training as you will fight. (We’ll quibble with some parts of that on another day: for instance, nobody should do 100% of range fires with hemmet and bodammoor, and any military unit that requires that is commanded by Simple Jack). Here’s the story, as recounted by one of our mo’ entertaining commenters:

But at a certain point, too much bad practice will get you killed.
There were always field reports of cops back in the day trained to shoot on square ranges, found dead after a gunfight as they were trying to put their ejected brass in their pockets, just like the penny-pinching departments had drilled into them at the range year after year.

It’s such a great story, that everybody who doesn’t know where it came from thinks it’s an urban legend. Massad Ayoob thought it came from cop talk about the Newhall Incident (multiple CHP killed in the 1970s). In this link Caleb mentions self-promoting assclown Dave Grossman, who is an Old Faithful of bad information, and Caleb, being a smart guy, discounts Grossman’s typically unsourced bullshit. Then, though, he paraphrases Mas citing Bill Jordan as a possible source of what he calls “anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties”.

In his Handgunner article, Ayoob mentions that former Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of officers finding spent brass in their pockets after a gunfight with no recollection of picking it up. Unfortunately, that information is anecdotal at best, and as we’ve seen with the Newhall incident, anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties isn’t reliable.

Apparently Caleb hasn’t checked the reference, which is easy enough to do. Jordan does indeed include the story in his book, No Second Place Winner, but it’s not, as Caleb seems to think, an apocryphal story. Jordan names a name and refers to a single, specific incident. So for Urban Legend hunters everywhere, here’s your chance to bag that trophy. I give you, Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965. We have added some paragraph breaks to introduce some desperately needed white space:

A question often asked of themselves by young officers is, “How will I comport myself in the face of fire? Will I stand up or will I break?” On the surface this would appear to be a question which can be answered only if it becomes an actuality. As a matter of fact the answer can be given with very little chance of error. Almost invariably a man, provided he does not have too much time to think, will automatically do what he has been trained to do. Again provided that his training has been thorough and intensive.

An example in support of this statement comes to my mind: A few years back a Border Patrol team became involved in a discussion with some contrabandistas in which they were considerably embarrassed by one of the smugglers holed up in some brush about 200 yards away. His presence unduly complicated the proceedings in that he was armed with a .30-30 rifle with which he was enthusiastically underscoring points in the argument made by the main group of his compatriots. The Border Patrolmen were armed only with .38 Special revolvers which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage under the circumstances. However, two of the three men applied themselves to the task of routing the nearby enemy while the senior officer, Sam McKone, took up the question of the rifleman in the brush.

They tell of a western epitaph which reads, “Here lies Tom Jones. Committed suicide by betting his pistol against a rifle at 200 yards.” This could be a normal result of such a contest, but Sam McKone is not one of the Jones boys. Among his other marksmanship awards is a gold medal declaring him to be a Distinguished Pistol Shot.

Additionally, being shot at was not a matter to distress Sam unduly, since it was not exactly a novel occurrence in his life. To make a long story short, by applying a little Kentucky windage and an educated trigger squeeze, Sam scored three hits which made the rifle shooter lose all interest in the fate of his companions and start thinking solely of his own welfare, here and hereafter.

What has all this to do with the statement that a man will do unconsciously as he was trained, provided the training was thorough and extensive? Well, after the fight someone noted that McKone’s pocket was bulging and politely inquired as to what might be spoiling the drape of his trousers. Puzzled, Sam thrust in an exploring hand. The pocket was full of fired cases. During the fight, without realizing he was doing so, McKone, an old reloader, had saved every empty!

And there you have it — the probable ur-instance of the story of the guy who saved his brass in a gunfight. And no, he didn’t wind up dead. Jordan’s book was a huge success for a shooting book, and generations of shooters have read it, and, as you can see by the excerpt, it’s entertaining to read. A lot of his ideas on revolvers and leather have fallen obsolete in the last 50 years, but a great deal of good info is in there, and it’s one of the classic books of pistol shooting.

You can find it online here, and download it in .epub (iBooks), .mobi (Kindle), or scanned, OCR’d .pdf file and a handful of other formats. The scan is of the 1977 printing of the 1965 original. It’s a very worthwhile book, even back in the seventies when we bought it for the first time.

Incidentally, in the Massad Ayoob article referenced by Caleb in the quote above, he references a “forthcoming book” on the Newhall murders by Mike Wood, which did indeed come forth, in 2013. The book is called Newhall Shooting – A Tactical Analysis: Survival Lessons from One of Law Enforcement’s Deadliest Shootings, and despite the cringe-inducing “tactical” in the title, it’s a fantastic book — and germane to this discussion.

On pages 56 and 57 of that book there is an extensive footnote about the facts of Officer Pence’s brass (which he ejected onto the ground, it was not in his pocket) and some informed speculation about how the brass-in-pocket story got started: at the same time as many Newhall-driven changes in training, CHP also changed training to eject empties onto the ground, not to save them. Here’s a tiny excerpt of a very long footnote:

In the wake of Newhall, the CHP made an intensive study of training practices and made many corrections to ensure that bad habits that would jeopardize officer safety on the street were not taught during training. One of these corrections was a requirement to eject brass onto the ground during training and to clean it up later, rather than eject it neatly into the hand and drop it into a can or a bucket, as has been the practice before. It is believed that instructors and cadets of the era may have mistakenly believed that this change in policy was due to a specific error made by Officer Pence during the fight. The myth began, and it was innocently perpetuated throughout generations of officers in the CHP and allied agencies.

Wood’s book, like Jordan’s, is outstanding, but we can’t give you a link to a free one — you’ll have to buy it like we did.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Luger LP08.com

artillery_luger_siteMauro Baudino, an Italian who lives in Belgium nowadays, is an expert on the very beast we’re currently wrangling; he’s written a book on the Artillery Luger, although his book is aimed more at collectors and historians than on our current role, poor beggars trying to make the thing run like Kaiser Bill intended it to. So Mauro’s website on the Artillery, LugerLP08.com, is of great interest.

At the very beginning, it has a graphic in which a commemorative Artillery photo fades into a cut-away four-color drawing, which then cycles, and you can see the intricacies of the action — which all appear correct.

Baudino also co-wrote (with Gerben Van Vlimmeren) a book on postwar Parabellums, The Parabellum is Back: 1945-2000.  There is a website with information on this book including errata, like drawings of the magazines developed by Haenel for the French. Here’s a review of the book by Ian from Forgotten Weapons:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hztgmjJU7f4

Unfortunately, his Artillery Luger book, which is available direct from the author, is primarily in the Italian language, albeit with bilingual (Italian/English) photo captions. But the website is all in English, and quite entertaining to explore.

200 Rounds?

We’re reading the excellent Sua Sponte by the excellent Dick Couch, one of the most accurate and honest chroniclers of the training and operations of our Special Operations Forces. In case you didn’t know already, Sua Sponte, a repurposed legal term, is the motto of the Ranger Regiment. In this book, Couch documents the selection and training of Rangers as has never been done.

Couch, a decorated Vietnam SEAL officer, has written extensively about the SEALS and SF, and what he’s written has been excellent. The SOF units like him because he tells the truth and observes OPSEC when he writes about him. The JSOC guys like Dick because he’s willing not to write about them, which is how they like it.

This immediate post comes about because of something one of the young privates in RASP (an important phase of Ranger selection) told Couch: of his OSUT (basic and advanced infantry training) class, at least a half dozen guys were already in Afghanistan, with no more prep than the rounds they’d fired on the flat and pop-up ranges in OSUT.

Per the private: under 200 rounds. “That’s scary,” he told Couch.

Yeah, it is.

When you load up for patrol, you carry more ammo than that.

The Rangers have always been, especially since the Battalions stood up in 1974, Light Infantry Done Right. Going to combat with only a couple hundreds of rounds, shot on flat ranges against unrealistic stationary pop-up targets, is infantry done all wrong. But before someone suggests we simply raise all infantry to the Ranger standard, all we can say is, not that simple. Read Dick’s book.

Ranger only works with a voluntary troop base, and most of them fall by the wayside. Doing it right is incredibly costly by any measure of cost, and we can’t do it for many thousands. But we can surely give an infantryman more trigger time on his primary weapon, and thorough familiarity — not just a few familiarization rounds, and no mechanical training, the current standard —  with the several other weapons in the infantry platoon and company arms room.

And to those who say women are ready for infantry and ranger training (we’re lookin’ at you, GEN Odierno and your combat-shy simulacrum of a SMA), Read Dick’s book.

 

Determining Gun Values: Three Resources, Eight Lessons

If you’re a gun guy (or gal), sooner or later someone will ask you, “what is my XYZ worth?” or the ever-popular variant, “This was my relative’s… what is it, and what’s it worth?”

In our experience, the non-gun person who comes into a gun either (1) asks whoever he or she knows in the gun culture, or (2) takes it to a dealer, who delivers the wholesale value of the gun, or a screwing, depending on the dealer’s character.

If somebody comes to you with a gun and a question like that, how can you answer?

We’re experts in some guns and their values, mostly 20th and 21st-Century military arms. But from time to time someone does ask us the value of a gun that makes us puzzled. Civil War revolvers (turned out to be worth quite a lot). An snaphaunce with a broken mainspring (which meant, first, answering the question “what is a snaphaunce?” The owner thought it a flintlock). A collection of Spanish .25s (which turned out to be worth a lot less than the 19th-century wheelguns, but there are collectors specializing in them). A Browning Superposed shotgun with heavy engraving. A Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special. A German drilling (a three-barrel sporting gun with two shotgun barrels side-by-side and a rifle barrel below.

Expertise is by definition deep but somewhat narrow, and anybody who fired off appraisals on that array of guns simply on he strength of his memory is going to get one or more drastically wrong.

Lesson 1: Beware the snap, single-source appraisal, especially for an idiosyncratic collection of guns.

There’s a danger in asking a dealer for an appraisal of guns you plan to sell. That danger is obvious: the dealer has a conflict of interest. On the other hand, many “certified firearms appraisers” are essentially in the business of providing inflated appraisals that are used to protect gun owners vis-a-vis insurance companies.

Lesson 2: Beware the “agency problem.” Make sure the appraiser’s interests are aligned with yours.

There are a number of ways to get DIY pricing information of various levels of depth and accuracy. Here’s a quick table:

Blue Book of Gun Values Find it here: http://bluebookofgunvalues.com/Pro: pretty accurate. Fairly comprehensive. Easy and fast to use. Book is portable but 2500 pp. Website is The Gold Standard.Con: Costs money.(Book, about $31 at WalMart or Amazon. Website, $35-50/year).
Gun Trader’s Guide Find it here:Pro: Widely available (Amazon, WalMart, etc). Portable (600 pp).Con: Costs money ($23-30). Falls behind rapidly moving values. Weak on surplus and semi-auto weapons. Less comprehensive than Blue Book.
GunBroker Price Comparison Find it here: go to http://gunbroker.com/  and select “advanced search” then search for completed auctions.Pro: these are real clearing prices, not estimates like the books. Even extremely rare guns are covered here.Cons: a bit fiddly to do. Depends on you matching guns accurately. Vulnerable to variability in prices in the rarest guns.
Others? The three above are the valuation aids we use. We’d be interested to hear of any others you are using.

As you see, we like the idea of using GunBroker sold values. This also lets you plot short-term trends. The values books don’t have trend information, but are very handy for common, mass-produced guns. Even Gunbroker won’t let you properly appraise a unique gun, or a gun with a unique selling proposition, such as celebrity provenance or documented use or capture by a specific person. To keep an eye on those kinds of values, you need to watch the more rarefied collectors’ auctions that tend to draw the finest (and most valuable) pieces.

A single-source information supply is better than nothing.

Lesson 3: Ceteris paribus, information corroborated by multiple sources and methods is more trustworthy than information from a single source.

Lesson 4: It’s a lot easier, and more resources are available to help you, to appraise common, mass-produced, modern firearms.

Lesson 5: Before you go appraising guns have all these sources on hand. You can actually develop a statistical measure of confidence that takes into account your number of data points.

Many things influence gun prices over time, but the ultimate rigidity of the supply and demand equation holds. A popular World War II film increases the demand for World War II guns, for instance. The rise of cowboy action shooting increased the values of both original and new reproduction single-action revolvers, by increasing people’s interest in those particular firearms. Weapons from uninteresting places and time, or perhaps we should say unpopular places and times, because nothing is uninteresting if you examine it in the right frame of mind, are underpriced — and likely to stay that way. Things that have been produced in the hundreds of thousands and are still being produced are likely to have little collector appeal.

As a rule of thumb, original guns appreciate and reproductions or modified guns don’t, at least, not at a rate above inflation. Also as a rule of thumb, the highest-value weapons will appreciate the most, even percentage-wise, in a rising market (“them that has, gets”) and will also fall the hardest in a falling market. In MBA terms their prices show more variability.

A highly customized gun is like a highly customized car: it suits the taste of the man for whom it was made, and unless he was a trend-setter of impeccable taste, a seller has to find a buyer who has the exact same preferences. The gun is worth more than a box-stock gun to the right buyer: to everyone else, it is worth less. An example that made us smile a couple of years back was a semi-auto M16A1 clone that had been powder-coated from flash hider to buttplate. An exotic finish is one of those customization things: the next guy may be less impressed with your rattle-can “urban camouflage” than you. In this case, the powder-coat job, professionally applied at great expense and with some kind of matching paint on the nonconductive parts, was shocking pink. The market for girly-girls (and, presumably, girly-men) who want a pink M16 is rather constrained. The ultimate buyer got it at a steep discount over a standard gun (so the seller did not recover the sunk cost of the fancy refinish job). That’s something to think about before you have your M4gery decorated with currently trendy zombie graphics. In 20 years when you (or your heirs) go to sell it,  will it still be cutting-edge cool or will it be as much of a period piece as a 1960s paisley-print psychedelic poster?

But, wait! Before we go congratulating the guy who bought the pink rifle for less than the cost of a black one, we need to follow his story to its sad end. And what happened was this: it cost him more to remove the pink finish and reapply an original one than he had imagined, and in the end he would have been better off with buying a black one for a few dollars more in the first place.

Lesson 6: Don’t customize your gun beyond the point of no return, unless you don’t expect or need to recover the money you put into it.

Lesson 7: Buy the exact gun you want. In most cases buying something close and customizing to suit will cost more, and take longer, than patiently waiting for the right one to come along.

Things made with the idea that they would be sold to collectors, though, such as limited editions of common pistols and “War Commemorative Edition” guns with gaudy machine etching and inlay, often disappoint people expecting them to appreciate. The initial editions are usually large, the initial prices high relative to quality (obviously some firms’ custom-shop commemoratives are quite good guns), and the entire edition, or nearly all of it, will be retained in perpetuity in an unfired state. “Collecting” these things is a chump’s game.

Lesson 8 : Collect real rarities, not manufactured artificial ones.

Last thought on these lessons: if someone has “less on,” how does that make him a “more on”? And if you give enough “less ons” to a “more on,” so that he ceases to be a moron, what is he? Or is the English language just a profoundly strange amalgam of Nordic, Germanic, Latin and French that continues to steal shamelessly from the other languages of the world, thus increasing its growth and success? Nothing to do with guns, just food for thought.

Chicks with Guns (it’s a book!)

We like chicks. We like guns. We’re looking forward to having a look at Chicks with Guns, a different kind of photo book.

In Chicks with Guns, Lindsay McCrum has created a cultural portrait of women gun owners in America through photographs that are both beautiful and in a sense unexpected.

Sounds promising. What else does Amazon say about it?

The book examines issues of self-image and gender through the visual conventions of portraiture and fashion, but the guns are presented here not as superimposed props but as the very personal lifestyle accessories of the subjects portrayed.

Or maybe not. Anyone who writes “gender” because they’re too PC to use the right word (“sex”) is probably, shall we say, post-literate and ill-equipped to say anything that isn’t a regurgitation of some marxbot professor’s predigested tropes.

And the photographs… they had us at the elegant woman posing with the perfectly dressed stag and the collection of antique arms — matchlock, flintlock. But is the negative reversed or are the muskets unheard-of left-handed versions? Or is that just an artifact of the low-res online image? Let’s see what else Amazon has to say about this book.

And it defies stereotypes often associated with aspects of the popular culture of both guns and women.

“Defies stereotypes” is usually academic-speak for “pushes every button for ivory-tower refugees from Woodstock.” Not a good omen.

Like the 15-20 million women gun owners in this country, the women we meet in Chicks with Guns ( their portraits are accompanied by their own words), reside in all regions of the country, come from all levels of society, and participate seriously in diverse shooting activities.

OK, that is interesting, and something novel, isn’t it? We’ve had the sense for some time that women are participating more and more in the shooting sports, and seeking to arm themselves for self-defense much more frequently than hitherto. So we’re warming up to the book again.

The women … may not all be classically beautiful, but in these photographs they all look beautiful, exuding honesty, confidence, poise, power and pride.

OK, that’s got the red flags waving again. I wonder if Lindsay McCrum is one of those folks who say “beauty is a social construct without intrinsic meaning” and similar academic claptrap. I have seen a lot of people who say these things. The one thing they had in common is that they look like five guys from LAPD spent a long night-shift, mercilessly beating them with the Ugly Baton.

So what say ye? Do we buy the book and review it, or not?

H/T Glenn Reynolds, and if you use this link instead of the top one to go to Amazon, whether it’s to buy this book or something else, he gets a couple of coins. Consider supporting him in case the law prof thing doesn’t work out.

The best gun magazine you never heard of

Gun magazines come and go. In the 1960s, I learned a lot from my uncle’s copies of American Rifleman, then the only NRA magazine. In the 1980s, we read titles like Combat Weapons and often learned of new small arms developments in the mag we called Soldier of Fiction — but read every month regardless.

But if you’re interested in the mechanics of guns, or their history, the best magazine ever published had a short run, from 1974 to 2001, in 123 quarterly issues. Waffen Revue magazine was small, and in the German language. Each had 164 or so pages of editorial content — the only ads were a couple of pages promoting the publisher, Journal-Verlag Schwend, of Schwäbisch Hall’s, other books and magazines.

Waffen Revue was what it was because of the excellent archive that its founder, Karl L. Pawlas of Nuremburg, had amassed. There was no question about the magazine’s accuracy on, say, the development of the MP44, because the article would reprint the original source documents. Weapons functions are clearly explained, with crisp — usually factory-original  — cutaway drawings and disassembled photos, or sometimes with pictures from original manuals. 

The magazine did not only cover small arms but also artillery, mines (getting into 18C territory there), combat and prime-mover vehicles, and much more. The Pawlas archive, we believe, passed into the hands of the publisher when Herr Pawlas passed away. Of course, it is all in German, and the subject matter is German-centric. But that’s not a bad thing.