The catalog for the Rock Island Auctions regional auction came yesterday, and it made us think about catalogs.
Over the years, they have changed; in boyhood, there were always some kind of gun catalogs or wishbooks around. Heck, Ruger used to advertise on the back pages of comic books. Even then, there were several kinds of catalogs:
- The glossy, whole-line catalogs put out by manufacturers, from the prosaic (Harrington and Richardson, Marlin) to the sublime (Weatherby, Interarms);
- The multi-line catalogs from large dealers and wholesalers, that, if you were a kid fascinated by guns, you might get an outdated version from a friendly salesman;
- The sort of “catalogs” maintained by third parties that tried to catalog all available guns, which also had articles, like Gun Digest;
- Magazine-like “catalogs” published by magazine publishers that tried to have a photo, the basic facts, and the list price of a some thematically-organized subset of guns, like .22s. These, too, were often sweetened (or, perhaps, fattened) by articles. We remember one that showed the whole process of making .22 long rifle ammunition at the CCI plant. Even in childhood, manufacturing was fascinating.
The problems with each of those kinds of catalogs were many. We wanted to keep them forever; more practical parents figured they had an expiration date. They also tended to encourage a deep-seated addiction that we still have today: we wanted one of each. And, the catalogs cost manufacturers a lot of money; their stockholders were not going to see any return this quarter from a 12-year-old who was pedaling home from The Gun Room with their expensive four-color glossy advertisements in the basket of his three-speed.
It was during high school that we wrote and sent off for a catalog that everyone of a certain age remembers, or at least remembers the ads for: J. Curtis Earl’s machine gun catalog. In those days, you had to write for things; nobody made long distance phone calls that he or she could avoid (they were expensive!).
The Sale Your Catalog Makes Might Not Be This Year
Memo to marketing VPs everywhere: sometimes you just have to pay it forward. And you have to have faith your company’s survival. We would totally have bought an H&R Officers’ Model trapdoor carbine, if the replica of the Indian Wars classic (and the company that made it, which went bankrupt->auction->Cerberus->Remington Outdoor and lost 95% of its product line and all its character in the process) was still around. Because of the two-page spread about it in the catalog, circa 1972. Most of the oddball .22s we wanted are long off the market, but the Ruger 10/22 we asked for for Christmas is still going strong with millions built. (We didn’t get it, by the way. The Gun Room sold Dad a Winchester 190 instead: less money. We come by being frugal New Englanders the old fashioned way, we’re born to it. The 190 was fine, for a kid).
But we’re pretty sure that Walthers and Berettas that have graced our collection have come to be there, at least in part, thank to catalog photos and copy.
FN, which has been making guns (and presumably catalogs of them) since the century before last, gets it. A few months ago they held an event at one of our local ranges, and while we missed the event they left behind plenty of cool FN rental hardware to try, and a lush supply of glossy catalogs. Naturally one followed us home in the basket of whatever we were driving. And we looked at it at great length.
In our opinion, catalogs are better than most gun mags or gun videos. (Well, especially, most gun videos). The catalog tells you two things: what the manufacturer thinks are the selling points of his guns, their natural advantages. These are the things he emphasizes in his catalog copt. And, the second thing? What he thinks are his disadvantages. Those are the things he doesn’t mention — their absence may only be obvious when you compare catalogs and see what competitors are not boasting about. Glock will never tell you (do they even print a catalog?) that you must pull the trigger to dismantle their pistols, but every striker-fired pistol that doesn’t copy that Glock feature makes sure to mention that you don’t need to pull the trigger to strip the gun. (For someone who came up in the 1911 era, the idea that you would is strange, and smells of bad design).
Today, some manufacturers or importers have turned their catalogs into profit centers by having them published by magazines and sold for $10 or so on the newsstand. We’ve got Beretta and CZ-USA catalogs like that; the 12-year-old version couldn’t have afforded them.
As the FN glossy shows, there are still catalogs aplenty. And then there’s the internet. One of the best catalogs online is Maxim Popenker’s world.guns.ru, although its focus is primarily military arms.
And then there’s those Rock Island catalogs. We weren’t going to bid on anything, but you know, if we’re going to do that video we’ve been thinking about on Czech pistols, we really ought to have Models 24, 27 and 38 on hand.