Gun Collecting: For Fun and Profit

Investing vs. the True Collector

It was a myth, perhaps one that fans of Old West stories want to believe, but dime novelist Ned Buntline never had these guns built for the Earps…or what was left of the Earps after the fallout from the OK Corral incident. Legend has it that Buntline presented special order Colt revolvers with 12-inch barrels and detachable shoulder stocks to Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and other noted Old West celebrities. Based on this story, the long-barreled Peacemakers came to be called “Buntline Specials.” Uberti makes them now, with incredible 18-inch barrels, but are they really “reproductions?” Buntline wrote the sort of turn-of-the-century Dime Novel that popularized the gun as a method for settling arguments and made heroes – famous and infamous – out of many of the cutthroats, neer-do-wells and rascals who flooded west toward America’s frontier. (Courtesy Autry National Center)
It was a myth, perhaps one that fans of Old West stories want to believe, but dime novelist Ned Buntline never had these guns built for the Earps…or what was left of the Earps after the fallout from the OK Corral incident. Legend has it that Buntline presented special order Colt revolvers with 12-inch barrels and detachable shoulder stocks to Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and other noted Old West celebrities. Based on this story, the long-barreled Peacemakers came to be called “Buntline Specials.” Uberti makes them now, with incredible 18-inch barrels, but are they really “reproductions?” Buntline wrote the sort of turn-of-the-century Dime Novel that popularized the gun as a method for settling arguments and made heroes – famous and infamous – out of many of the cutthroats, neer-do-wells and rascals who flooded west toward America’s frontier. (Courtesy Autry National Center)

According to Gabby Talkington of AntiqueLures.com, “The person who gets into collecting because he or she enjoys it is going to come out ahead, no matter what happens to the market. If they have fun studying old lures or whatever, then when a barrel of oil reaches $200 and the bottom drops out of the stock and collectible markets, they won’t be hitting their head against the wall like they would if collecting was just some investment. If they’re collecting because its fun to fi nd and have this old stuff around and the prices go up…then that’s kind of a double bonus.

“There is the risk that the bottom [of the collector market] will fall out tomorrow. The collectible decoy prices fell. Gold coins fell. Baseball cards fell. Think about it again. You didn’t sell that lure for $1,000 last week…and the very next week the market crashes and we are back to the $5 lure! Don’t laugh, it could happen. It has happened before.

“In 1988-89 the prices went through the ceiling and crashed the next year as the rolling recession of the 1990- 93 period started. With the Asian and Russian economies crashing in 1998 [and ultimately rebounding] we may see the same results sooner than later.

“Collecting is a mind game. Without the perception, in your mind, that something has value then there is none. What is the intrinsic value of a wood fi shing lure? Well, we’re back to the $5 lure.” – Michael Echols, writing for Gabby Talkington’s www.antiquelures.com With permission.)

Perhaps it is the same in every collecting field. A group gets together for a beer and talk turns to “what Dad did in the war.” The next time they have a neighborhood Bar-B-Q someone brings an old Nazi battle pennant and soon, someone else brings the Luger that his father smuggled home from Germany. Then someone buys a book such as the annual Standard Catalog of Firearms or does an Internet search for “gun collecting” and a whole new pod of collectors springs to life.

The men and women in this hypothetical neighborhood group illustrate an excellent way to get started in collecting – start or become part of a group. One person’s interest feeds that of another and enthusiasm, stories, good purchases and even screw-ups become a commonly shared experience. A quiet competitiveness is naturally awakened within the group.

While joining a club or hanging out with other collectors is a great way to get started, there is really no “wrong” way to begin (unless it is to rush out and buy something impulsively). Nevertheless, most collectors, writers and gun experts suggest that to get involved in collecting with the objective to make money buying and selling guns as investments is close to the wrong way.

Becoming a “gun trader” involves an entirely different motivation and methodology, one that is strictly mercantile, commodity oriented. While collecting values tend to be stable to gradually increasing – after all, as Mark Twain is supposed to have quipped about land, they are not making any more Model 1, First Type Smith & Wes- son .22s, for example (Or are they? Does one count a reproduction?) – those same values can be volatile and swings in the marketplace are as notorious as swings in the stock market. (Former Hoyt-USA president Joe Johnston recalls that the archery company got a terrific, although temporary boost when Sylvester Stallone used their product in his first Rambo movie in 1882.)

On the one hand, Nevada Colt collector Ed Cox warns, nothing is assured in the world of collecting. The generation of kids who grew up playing cowboys and Indians, the ones who are especially in love with cowboy action shooting and collecting antique Colt SAAs, are getting “along in years” now and whether the next generation wants these old guns is anyone’s guess. (When members of the next generation arrive at their 50s, they may collect vintage iPods!)

But on the other hand Cox notes that, “If I had put my dollar in a savings account in the bank, it would never be worth $1,300. By buying the antique gun, though, it would surely go up in value. If I’d bought an antique gun when I was a kid the value would be $1,800- $2,500 now.”

Florida’s Norm Flayderman believes that gun collecting has so far been isolated from dramatic market swings because it has not attracted hordes of “investors,” people hoping literally to get rich quick, the Warren Buffets trying to corner the market on silver, for instance. What has given the antique or collectible gun market its continuing viability is that collectors know the guns and have an interest in them other than strictly their monetary value.

Thus, as the economy swings, the gun market tends to remain steady to increasing – again, because the field is saturated with true collectors rather than investors who, Flayderman notes, “purchase only for the sake of financial gain with no appreciation for the arms themselves.” Previous Page Next Page

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