Auctions: What Sells & What Auction Houses Look For

How to make the most of gun auctions.

How to make the most of gun auctions.

In other words, while Glock continues to enjoy a banner year—the company is trying to handle backorders of 70,000 units—firearm auctions tend to feature entirely different categories of firearms sales.

At Findlay, Ohio-based Old Barn Auctions, firearms consultant Larry Wells says they recently auctioned off a Winchester 94 Deluxe Sporting Rifle sold for $3,800, a Henry First Model for $20,000; and an engraved Gustav Young 1862 Colt Pocket Navy with ivory grips for $13,500.

Gunrunner Online Firearm Auctions recently offered at auction 30 unopened boxes of Model 12 trap guns from the 1960’s and 1970’s, including Super Pigeons, Pigeon, Skeet and Trap Grades. ”These beautiful and rare pieces created a nationwide sensation!” says owner Scott Weber, explaining that the company seems to do best with fine double shotguns and rare military firearms. “We have also done well with ‘famous guns,’ selling some of Elvis Presley’s personal firearms and the firearms of Winchester exhibition shooter Herb Parsons,” Weber says.

According to James D. Julia, his auction company’s recent sales included a Napolean-era pair of cased pistols by Boutet Arms (Versailles, France)—”the finest gunsmiths in history,” he says—that went for $438,000. In March 2009 Julia auctioned off the firearms collection of Dr. Joseph Murphy of Philadelphia, a collector of Colt pistols. “In terms of average quality, rarity, and number of firearms, Dr. Murphy’s collection arguably was one of the finest collections in history, if not the best,” says Julia. With this auction, he says, “the eyes of the gun fraternity were on me.”

Overall Julia says it was a fantastic sale: The first lot included engraved and cased #2 Paterson pistols with an expected sale range of $275,000 to $500,000. The final price was $517,500. Thirty lots later, says Julia, an engraved Colt Single Action estimated at $450,000 to $800,000 went for $747,500.

Finally, Curt Kramer of Kramer Auctions reports that Winchester rifles “are always a hit—those old lever actions really appeal to a wide range of buyers.” The most memorable and significant sale for Kramer, however, was a Sharps Berdan Rifle. “Aside from being a fantastic firearm,” says Kramer, “the family selling it had no idea what they had. So they were in shock when this ‘Civil War gun’ as they had described it topped the sale at over $12,000.”
Not all the auctions, however, were marked by sales of rare or antique firearms. Kramer says he also noticed a big increase in the sale of quality new or used modern handguns. “I am sure the political environment had something to do with that,” he says.

What Auctioneers Look for in a Consignor

Across the board, firearms auctioneers state that selling firearms at auction requires consignors who are motivated and realistic. For example, Weber says that he first looks for someone who listens to our appraisals/auction projections. ”All we do all day and night is sell guns, so if we have sold their guns hundreds of times, we know the value,” he says. ”If the consignor disagrees with our assessment, that can spell problems down the line.” So the best consignor, says Weber, is “the one who believes without qualification that we are going to give their firearm the same attention and promotion we would give our own firearm.”

Larry Wells states that it’s very helpful for consignors to “look at the bottom line” and not at the final auction prices of individual items. “I want a consignor to tell me something to the effect of, ‘I’d like to see about $50,000 for the lot,’” says Wells.

The best consignor, says Kramer, is someone who is ready to sell. “Some sellers will sell if they get a certain price for every item; that is a seller who is not ready to sell,” says Kramer, “and that is not a good auction client.” He says about 90% of the auctions are “unreserved,” meaning the items will sell regardless of price. “We spend a lot of time and money advertising these auctions and most items will bring what they are worth.”

When there is a reserve price, Kramer says he makes sure that the reserve is reasonable, “one that I think is fair, not some crazy price that this one guy who never saw the gun said it should be worth.” He adds that if his sellers are not happy with what he feels is a reasonable price, he simply won’t offer the item at auction. “No sense wasting my time and my buyers’ time on lots that have unreasonable reserves,” he says. With auctions, he says, sales and profits always seem to even out—some guns sell for a little less than they should and other guns seem to bring more that they should. Of course, says Kramer, “Everyone always seems to have a good story of some gun at an auction that brought way more than they expected. I like those stories especially when they are talking about my sales.”

James Julia prefers consignors who meet two key criteria: First, they must have quality goods to sell. Second, they are motivated, realistic, and conservative in estimating value. With that kind of consignor, he says, his auction company can then create a great marketing plan and establish a selling price or “put it at auction and let the market decide.” Consignors need to know that estimating low, says Julia, will sometimes cause a good to overperform in an auction.

Both auctioneers and sellers desire goods to sell well. “The more a seller makes, the more we make,” says Weber. “Once the seller understands that, the auction process is a beautiful thing!”

This article appeared in the August 2, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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