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?
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.
16 thoughts on “Ten Rules for Collecting”
> Shelby Cobra … fakes, misrepresentations
Yeah… kindasorta. But you have to make your own stand on what a “Shelby Cobra” is. There were AC 428s and Frua Cobras, which were made by AC Cars, who made the original rolling chassis for Shelby. There were the several “continuation” Cobras by various manufacturers. And there were some fiberglass kit cars that Shelby sold CSX VIN numbers to and asserted they were the Real Thing. And the “lost Cobras,” by golly a bunch of chassis out in a field, forgotten and rediscovered, or at least that was what Shelby claimed when the CA DOT started talking about fraud. And then there were the 289 Cobras that were updated to 428 spec by the factory, and…
I haven’t followed Cobras in a long time, so there are probably ones I missed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some “Ferrari Effect” Cobras out there. It’s an old exotic-car joke – you wreck a valuable-enough car badly enough, you have someone make all the new parts from scratch. And then someone will take all the bent parts, hammer them back into shape, and build the missing bits. And then you have *two* Ferraris with the same VIN number, reproduced by something like fission.
– TRX (former Shelby aficionado)
There are definitely two GT40s and two Shelby Cobras with the same serial number, also Porsche 904s.
Did you,just reference gas station pizza in comparison to your collection of Chezch firearms?
collectors are fundamentally insecure people. The more of anything they collect, the more intense the root insecurities. No one needs more guns than they can fire at the same time.
Who said anything about “need”? Collecting is all about the wantz.
I’d like to see you compete in trap, skeet, rimfire bullseye, centerfire pistol, high power rifle and F-class, all with the same gun. That’d be a neat trick.
i could do that…
i might not be competitive, and the various range masters, et al might have a “Crazy Kat Lady” stater kit of kittens over me doing so, but hey, i was in the CA ARNG for over 20 years: doing the impossible with the wrong equipment WAS my j*b description.
it’s also just one of the many reasons i retired as a SP4/SPC with 19 years, 11 months TIG.
Don’t forget the battery of rifles for hunting. That can easily be a dozen only covering the bases. If you plan on making hunting trips around the world, that number easily doubles to adjust for local conditions of laws, geography, climate and game available.
OTOH in Europe you are mostly fine in most hunting situations with a Mauser98 in 6,5; 7 or 8 mm and a shotgun. 😉
But those purdy combination guns…
Are you referring to actual hunting?
You see, I tend to use hunting as an excuse to acquire more rifles. I have several fantastic “deer” rifles yet they haven’t really been in the woods to hunt. Yet, at the same time I find myself still looking for another fantastic “deer” rifle.
The Army has no problem writing specifications like that. On paper, the M14 Rifle replaced the M1 Rifle, M1 Carbine, M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle, .45 M3A1 Submachine Gun, and some M1919A6 Light Machine Guns. It was a decent replacement for only one of those, the M1 Rifle, and a poor to appallingly bad replacement for the rest. (The Grease Guns survived into this century).
Sounds like something Soros would say . . .
There was a scientific, peer reviewed, study to determine exactly how many firearms any one person should own.
after all the data was collected, all the interviews completed and all the numbers crunched, the definitive, scientifically irrefutable answer was published.
you’re welcome. 😉
I have a dozen guns, which is a pretty substantial collection in Australian terms, but I see myself as a shooter, not a collector. I have seven long guns, all but one of which have taken game in the last year or so.
I just checked my reloading and shooting logs, and I directed a little over 5500 rounds at paper targets and game last year, mostly .38 Special and 9mm on paper. I guess I’d have more guns if I could (a FAL would be nice, and an AR and an M-14), but our laws really don’t allow it.
I seem to acquire guns, but they’re all shooters, not collectibles.
Despite my packrat tendencies I seem to have missed the collector gene. I love 1911s, but having someone go on and on about the different rollmarks of their collection makes my eyes cross. The information that one is an incredibly rare variant with the serial number 1/16″ forward of normal and Ed’s inspector stamp instead of Bob’s just doesn’t thrill me a bit…
1) It’s not a collection, it’s an armory.
I buy to shoot, or need/want to shoot, not fondle and polish and wax.
If I wanted something that needed endless attention with minimal payout and a high probability of someone else taking it over, I’d just get married again.
2) Five seconds after I’m room temperature, it’s someone else’s problem.
If you’re worried about that for more than two seconds, put it in the will.
3) Auctioneers are about as bright as Uber drivers, on average.
You want the best, go with the best. Pay Bozo commissions, get clown shoes on auction day.
Oh, and gravity works too.
4) A good neighborhood brick-and-mortar gun store is more a lending library than a commercial establishment, as anyone in the business will tell you. Classic example was a really nice Parker/Hale boltie in .30-06, that started with a company 1st’s personal arms rack in Mainz, came home with SP4 Baby Brother, then has rotated through, at last count, three or four local hunters, in their turn, and garnered a number of deer to each of them, in various seasons. It’ll be back on the rack again for the next trip through the own-to-rent cycle, any day now.
There’s no need to collect, when it’s more a pile of matchsticks or pennies at the neighborhood poker game, which just get traded, never counted and cashed in.
I work part time at a Cabela’s gun library. These rules should be posted on the wall in there. Rules 2 and 5 are a daily issue with customers. Rule 10 goes something like this, customer: “Which guns are affordable now but will definitely go up in value?” Me: “If I knew the answer to that question I wouldn’t be working here.”
Rules 2 and 9 really go together. I had a nice couple come in with a Luger they wanted appraised. The had bought it a year before from a dealer in another state who specialized in Luger’s and advised them it was a “good investment”. I had the unpleasant job of informing them that not only was the gun not even close to what the dealer had purported it to be, but even if it was exactly what he said it was they still would have overpaid by a couple thousand dollars. The took the news rather well and began asking me the questions they should have been asking before the purchase. While I couldn’t make up for what had already happened, I did my best to make sure it wouldn’t happen to them again.
Also, many auctioneers have no business trying to deal in guns, all the other used gun dealers out there a scam artists, and the other Cabela’s stores way overpay for used guns ; ) (that last one is true BTW)