Firearm Make, Model, Rarity, Condition, History and Art Part 1
Introduction To The Finer Points Of Gun Collecting
When it comes to the elements that typically factor into a collectible gun's value and appeal to aficionados, a weapon's make, model, rarity, condition, history and art tend to be paramount. Among these categories, however, not everyone agrees as to their order of importance.
Many collectors begin their assessment process by considering the make and model of a particular gun. This is because these factors are essential to those who collect only certain types of specimens.
In this realm, a manufacturer's reputation for quality will be key, historical instances in which the gun made was used and the brand's cache. The last of these can be difficult to measure, but it is certainly true that particular guns have the unique ability to capture the imagination of collectors in a way that others cannot, due to past lore associated with them. Colt Single Action Army revolvers were long such a weapon.
It is not as well known that a larger number of large frame revolvers were made by Smith & Wesson than by Colt between the years of 1879 and 1900. Furthermore, the Smith & Wesson top-break style was rather more advanced and more frequently copied than the Colt's solid frame of the same era. Thus, the Smith version of the revolver was, in fact, the more dominant weapon of the day. Some collectors are of the opinion that the relatively unusual Merwin Hulbert revolvers with the twist-open styling made in the Hopkins & Allen facility were the finest larger revolvers of the period. They saw substantial popularity at the time, without question.
It is difficult to dispute, though, that Colt's Single Action Army model is an American classic, as it is considered to be utterly evocative of Old West adventures. This is largely attributable to film and television depictions of its use.
Gun collectors in recent times have moved toward an interest in a wider variety of guns than just the Winchester, Colt and Luger models. Western-disposed gun mavens have become more curious about Merwin Hulberts and Smith & Wesson's, while Colt fans are taking a closer look at cartridge conversions.
The stock of P-38s and other types of auto-pistols has risen tremendously, reaching Luger-level status among many. Collectors of military rifles who previously stuck with American made guns or Mausers are now giving due respect to Japanese Arisakas, British Enfields, SKS's, Russian Mosin Nagants and more.
A gun's condition is clearly a key determinant of collectibility and value. Newcomers to the collecting world are advised to look for guns for sale that are in top condition and to be willing to pay for the privilege. The importance of condition in collecting really began to take hold in the 70s and 80s. The immediate years after World War II saw collectors focused more on rare models and historical background, with far fewer expressing worry about minute distinctions in the finish and other elements of the condition.
Surely, guns in the very best condition will bring the highest prices. However, it does seem as though things are moving back in the opposite direction, something I welcome. I have never really understood the lure of guns in so-called perfect condition, as such a descriptor always seemed far more relevant to stamp or coin collections. The history of the gun as to do with how and where it was actually used, and so an emphasis on perfection of condition makes little sense.
It should be noted that there are collectors who do not care as much about the condition, provided the model in question is in original shape and has not been altered in an effort to boost its marketability. Restoration and refinishing of guns are topics that naturally flow from here, and there has been a sea change in this realm also.
Considering that prices for original, top-condition guns skyrocketing out of reach for the lion's share of collectors, a market has emerged for period-of-use guns that have been refinished as well as factory-refinished models of a certain age.
Accessibility of sound restoration professionals may soon begin to impact collector tastes. The very best restoration experts can make guns look and feel like new, making it hard for even the most season collectors to tell the difference between a restored gun and a mint model in original condition.
If the fact of restoration is disclosed prior to sale (which it really needs to be), the price the gun is able to fetch will drop beneath that of a similar model sporting an original finish. It may even bring less than what the gun would have brought before being restored together with the price of the work done to it. The result is that seller deceptions are incentivized, whether committed by outright fraud or more subtle omission of the truth.
I have long anticipated that access to highly skilled restoration services would throw a wrench into the way collectors feel about mint models, given the element of doubt and ambiguity it can cause. While the shift has not occurred in dramatic fashion thus far, I still expect it to happen.
Prior to moving forward, it makes sense to quickly discuss the trend toward a "make them match" philosophy in which 20th-century American military guns are broken apart to rebuild weapons in configurations seen in their original production. There is a certain segment of military gun collectors that does not seem to have a problem with this practice. The concept does not sit quite right with me, as it reminds me of when Colt Single Action Army guns were disassembled in an attempt to recreate revolvers in the configuration of original Cavalry models. The end result was a regrettable destruction of important history. I really believe in allowing guns to remain they way they were when found, taking the time to appreciate the uniqueness of each one's past. This is a much better course of action than just trying to make a substandard copy of something that cannot truly be recreated.