These are not original, not any of them. But they are wisdom passed down from generations of collectors before us. And almost every collector has a story to go with each one. These are specifically aimed at gun collectors, but they’re general enough that they’ll work for whatever you collect, whether it’s Spiderman comics, barbed wire, or cats.
Wait, not cats.
1: Some Day Your Item Will Be Sold Again
Perhaps you will sell it to deal with a financial calamity, like your daughter being accepted to college. Or a sixteen-count Federal indictment. You never know what the future holds. Moreover, if you keep eating red meat (or anything else) and breathing oxygen, one of these days you’re going to up and die. (Sorry to break it to you). What then?
You should probably think, before you buy, about the potential circumstances in which you will sell, and plan accordingly. The default option, “Let my heirs sort it out, it won’t be my problem,” does not do those heirs any favors. Most of them will cut some deal with a dealer and your collection will be dispersed for 30¢ on the dollar, if that. Set it up so the heirs get as much of the whole dollar as possible, and they can spend it on whatever silly $#!+ they collect! Or donate it to a museum, but if you do that, you’d better know that the museum might want a piece or two but will just auction your stuff to get cash to buy whatever the curator’s priority is.
Collection entropy. It happens. You can’t prevent it.
2: Buy the Book Before You Buy the Item
This is old, old, old advice, and almost everyone has a story. “I thought this was incredibly rare, and then I got Roger Kaputnik’s book where I learned that all 600,000 produced, minus the one in the Royal Museum of Ruritania, were imported to the USA by Val Forgett in 1966. After that, I started seeing them in every shop in Podunk for half what I paid.”
That’s why gun collectors say, “Buy the book before you buy the gun.” It’s not just gun collectors. Every serious car collector looking for a Shelby Cobra has the SAAC book that documents, to the extent possible, the provenance and disposition of every chassis by CSX Number. This protects you against fakes, misrepresentations, and (most common problem) your own errors. Buy the book. It armors you with knowledge. Books aren’t perfect, but there’s stuff in that book you’ll never learn without it. Learn from the other guy’s mistakes!
3: Rarity has no Direct Effect on Price
Something could be the only one made, or the only one surviving, and yet nobody cares, or almost nobody. We watched one of the rarest and most historic rifles in existence expire, and get re-listed, for over a year on GunBroker — before we finally up and bought it. And as far as we know, nobody else was even following it. The gun was a survivor of only a few thousand made, ages and ages ago. We didn’t snap it up right away because, like the French knights’ master, we already had one. Finally we gave in to the impulse to corner the market, kind of like the Hunt Brothers but in a much smaller pond. That doesn’t mean our two ultra-rare rifles just got more valuable. It just meant we have two examples right here to write about, and whoever liquidates our collection has double the rare-Brno-rifle headaches.
Meanwhile, have you seen prices on GI 1911A1s lately, or M1 Carbines? A beater GI M1 Carbine, which was produced in a quantity of over 6 million, is worth over double the value of the above-mentioned extremely rare rifle, of which around 1000 times fewer were made, and which seems to have had a much lower survival rate than the common Carbine. And the Carbine will almost certainly appreciate (although that appreciation will have its limits).
Rarity does affect supply, but that’s only one side of the equation. The rarity of Colt Walker revolvers only adds up to headlining auction numbers because of the firearm’s historical importance and high collector demand. For all we know, Italian Rigarmi .25s may be nearly as rare as Walkers, but as a crummy, derivative gun from a forgotten company in a secondary gun-manufacturing country, they’re functionally orphans. We’ll give you a Rigarmi for a case of beer — and you can owe us the beer.
Here’s a very direct example of how rarity does not impact price. If you were to machine, yourself, a steel copy of an M1 Carbine receiver, engrave your own name and “Serial Nº 1” on it, and build it up with available parts, you would have the only one of its kind. But people want an Inland, ideally one that is documented to have hit the beach on D-Day, but remains in new condition (yes, those are contradictory objectives. That’s collectors for you). They will pay much more for the Inland than they will for your copy, even if you spent 10,000 hours making it, and even if it is machined and finished far better than anything produced during the war.
(Incidentally, this example also proves the untruth of Karl Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, the principle on which the whole monstrous lie that is Marxian economics stands).
4: Highest Price, Highest Appreciation
A rising tide lifts all boats, perhaps, but if you want to appreciate faster than average, you need pieces that are higher quality than average — which means, they are already higher priced than average.
This also means that the value of these high-flyers will take the greatest hit in a market downturn; but that’s temporary. Over time, the most in-demand pieces (Winchesters, Colts, Lugers, that original FG-42 that went for nearly $300k) will outpace the general market consistently.
5: Junk Just Becomes Old Junk
And popularity gets magnified. While some things are so rare and historic that even beater-condition examples are valuable, that’s not the house bet. If it was el cheapo crap when it was new, it may be an interesting way to have a collection of cheap crap culture of the period, but there’s just never going to be that much interest in no-name spur-hammer .22 short revolvers of the 1870s, or crummy Spanish, Italian and Belgian.25s of the 1945-68 era. You can call your junk “vintage” if it amuses you to do so, but when you go to sell it, it will bring junk prices. Unless you sell it on a street corner in the Engelwood section of Chicago, which we don’t recommend for health reasons.
6: Buy the Piece, Not the Patter
Every gun comes with a story. But absent proof of provenance, it’s just a story. Some dealers are extremely skilled at selling you the sizzle, but all that you will have when you open the package is the steak… and if you aren’t a similarly skilled purveyor of sizzle, you won’t be able to pull off the same stunt. (Even be careful of provenance documents. We’ve observed computer-faked Colt and S&W letters, and there’s some jerk out there that’s used one CMP document to “authenticate” dozens of inauthentic M1 Rifles with the help of some digital Wite-Out. See Rule #9).
7: “Instant Collectibles” — Usually Aren’t
Things that are manufactured and sold, new, in large quantities, as collectibles? Like Franklin Mint, American Historical Foundation, various gaudy el cheapo commemoratives, those kinds of collectibles? Well, they aren’t, much. There are a few exceptions in commemorative or limited-run guns by makers that make proportionately few limited-run guns. If an outfit’s business is commemorative-heavy, it’s selling sizzle and not steak.
8: Don’t Let Yourself be Rushed
There are a very few items that exist in single digits, and a very, very few deals that will never be equalled. Don’t let yourself be rushed into something prematurely. Remember that the “higher price later” will probably just reflect general inflation, and may even be short of that. It will almost certainly be short of what your money will make in an index fund in the same period. Being able and willing to walk away from a piece puts you in charge. Make Je ne regrette rien your motto, when the Deal Of The Century scoots away from you. There are other days and other deals.
9: Not Everyone is as Honest as You Are
This is a painful lesson to learn, but we’ve found that there are two reasons a piece might be misrepresented: the seller doesn’t know his representation is incorrect (a real possibility; maybe he didn’t buy the book); or, the seller does know his representation is incorrect. A seller misrepresenting one gun may be making a mistake; a seller misrepresenting many guns, whether he does so in series or in parallel, is a different thing entirely. Most sales take place on an as-is basis, and the buyer has no recourse. The seller will always deny any intent to deceive, and he may be telling the truth, or think he is. (Some of these guys are so bent, they deceive themselves). If you suspect someone is this kind of guy, look over his return policy (3 days if the firearm is unfired and unmolested, no other questions asked, buyer pays shipping back, is fairly standard; deviations from this against the seller’s interest should be a caution signal). But as a buyer, you have the right not to do business with anyone (as a seller, likewise). It’s a right well exercised.
10: It’s Not an Investment
We can’t hammer this enough. While this is a great fiction to tell yourself (or your wife, or in one case we know about, husband), as an investment collector anything is speculative, risky, and almost certain to lag the stock indices.
That said, it does have a purpose for some people. Just as equity in a home is some people’s only savings — savings because it has been forced upon them — for some people, the only store of wealth they have is in their firearms. Firearms are always convertible to cash, unlike most other collectible items.
Bonus: In the End, You Do this for Entertainment
Don’t take it too seriously, don’t expect too much of it, don’t be freaked when others in your life don’t understand. You’re doing this for your own entertainment and education, and the only one you have to please, as long as you keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, is yourself.
You do keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, don’t you?