Selling Antique Guns

British-made Webley, “Long-Spur” single-action percussion revolver made for the American trade; imported, embellished and inscribed by noted American arms dealers during the Civil War on the order of U.S. Navy Admiral David G. Farragut for presentation to an equally famous Civil War Navy officer Admiral David D. Porter.  44-caliber percussion.  Gold inlaid on right side of barrel “CAPT’N D. D. PORTER, FROM CAPT’N D. G. FARRAGUT 1862”; left side similarly gold inlaid in old English style letters:  “EVANS & HASSALL.  418 ARCH STREET, PHILADELPHIA” well-known military goods dealers from whom the set was acquired and commissioned to ornately embellish.  The cylinder is similarly gold inlaid with figures of Union Army and Navy officers in combat positions.  The custom wooden case also bears a silver plaque inscribed with the monogram initials of both officers. The outfit is believed presented to commemorate the Union’s capture of New Orleans in March of 1862. (As illustrated in Steel Canvas; The Art of American Arms, with permission of the author)

British-made Webley, “Long-Spur” single-action percussion revolver made for the American trade; imported, embellished and inscribed by noted American arms dealers during the Civil War on the order of U.S. Navy Admiral David G. Farragut for presentation to an equally famous Civil War Navy officer Admiral David D. Porter. 44-caliber percussion. Gold inlaid on right side of barrel “CAPT’N D. D. PORTER, FROM CAPT’N D. G. FARRAGUT 1862”; left side similarly gold inlaid in old English style letters: “EVANS & HASSALL. 418 ARCH STREET, PHILADELPHIA” well-known military goods dealers from whom the set was acquired and commissioned to ornately embellish. The cylinder is similarly gold inlaid with figures of Union Army and Navy officers in combat positions. The custom wooden case also bears a silver plaque inscribed with the monogram initials of both officers. The outfit is believed presented to commemorate the Union’s capture of New Orleans in March of 1862. (As illustrated in Steel Canvas; The Art of American Arms, with permission of the author)

There comes a time in every collector’s life when he has to sell a gun or guns, or just try his hand at turning a profit. No matter how great the protestation, “… I never sell a gun … I will never sell a gun … I never sold a gun,” everybody meets the situation face to face at one time or another. It is difficult to understand why a certain few collectors make a fetish of the claim that they never sold a piece, as if to do so were beneath one’s dignity.

You will meet these types often, but only rarely are their protestations credible. Some collectors are really more dealers than collectors; at least their buying, selling and trading activities run at a fever pitch, and they never seem to settle into any collecting pattern. A great majority of collector sales are due to a wide range of reasons, e.g., up-grading of specimens, disposing of items that no longer hold an interest, or a pressing and immediate need for cash. A number of for-sale methods are available depending on the time and effort one wishes to take. First to note is that the “book” or advertised or listed price for a specific piece is not always the one that can be realized for it.

In some cases there may be no takers for the piece at any price. At this point the collector may acquire a quick education — and a most lasting impression — of one more detail of the fine art of gun trading!

Setting forth a listing in this book and neatly assigning a value to each piece tends very much to be misleading, especially to the neophyte or only casually interested owner of a gun or two. This is not unique to antique arms, but holds true for any collecting field. The mere fact that a gun is listed with a price in no way precludes that the owner must achieve that figure or even a predetermined percentage thereof. No central market place or bourse exists where all gun dealers and collectors conduct their transactions as on the stock or commodity exchanges; the arrangement is much looser with a great many variables; hit-or miss is a more apt description.

To avoid disappointment it is well to understand and be aware of the peculiarities and complexities involved in evaluating collectors’ firearms. Owning a rare gun with a healthy dollar value and realizing that value is at times analogous to “… being a horse of another color!” The collector should be aware that one gun is not as easily sold as another and that the demand factor greatly influences price and marketability.

True, a great many very rare American guns are worth in the many hundreds or thousands of dollars; many will be seen listed in this work. Those pieces quite definitely fetch those prices when sold to a retail customer. The number of collectors for some of those particular type guns, however, may be extremely limited; as such, it is possible to occasionally experience not only sales resistance to a gun, but considerable lethargy as well. Possibly the only way that that particular piece might be sold would be to lower the price to a figure so attractive that it would be tantamount to forcing a sale.

The same can hold true of a quite rare and valuable gun that is in great demand, but is in a very low grade of condition. On the assumption that the collector has bought wisely and ably, he might well find that a dealer will pay him as high a price or more than any collector in the area. The dealer’s own specialized clientele and access to a national market allows him to know exactly where to place that gun quickly, and in such instances he is usually willing to pay a premium price. The dealer normally pays cash on the spot for the item, whereas in many cases of private sales, the collector has to accept trade items in lieu of money.

There is no general guide as to what gun dealers pay for their merchandise. To flatly state that they pay 50 percent of market value or to assign any fixed percentage would be absolutely erroneous. The only accurate statement is — a dealer expects to make a profit! With very fine conditioned pieces, numerous rare models and certain types for which he has a special demand (and for any number of other reasons), the dealer is often in the position to pay the highest price for a piece and work on an extremely small profit margin to get it. This has been especially true in recent years. The dealer might even pay the so-called “book” value for a piece as he has been commissioned by a client to specifically acquire that model for a premium price. On the other hand, if that dealer has no demand or clientele for certain types of arms, then regardless of price, he might not want to invest money at all as it would represent completely dead merchandise for him.

Many dealers are specialists themselves and handle only certain types for which they have an immediate following and will completely pass by pieces that are not of interest to them regardless of price. There are no generalizations that will apply to the subject of all arms dealers. A quite interesting observation is the fact that a tremendous amount of business is generated between dealers themselves, since most have their own followings and customers. If the dealer operates on a large scale and in mail order or makes all the major gun shows throughout the country, thus having access to a national market, it is obvious that he will have a wider range of interest and broader coverage of antique arms than the dealer who is conducting his business strictly on a local basis. In the latter case, the dealer will normally pay highest prices only for those pieces for which he has a walk-in local trade, whereas other items would be attractive to him only if they could be acquired well under “book” value allowing for wholesaling to other dealers.

As a general statement, the larger the dealer and the broader his scope and sales coverage, the higher the prices he is willing to pay for merchandise. If the collector does not realize the price he expected from a dealer or fellow collector, five other options are open to him for selling that arm at the greatest possible figure. Each requires time and effort on his part, but the results may prove worthwhile. The easiest method is to take space at a regularly scheduled gun show and display the arms to be sold as attractively as possible.

A good opportunity is afforded to sell or trade there providing the price is realistic. Through actual show experience, where feverish trading often occurs, the collector will come across and very likely take for his own use much of the banter heard about the floor. Eavesdrop on any large gun show and chances are one will hear a chorus or two of the following elucidations during the course of the day, “… That’s less than I paid for it! … I don’t care if I sell it or not! … That’s less than I got in it! … I got more than that in it! … If it doesn’t move, you can bring it back!”

This article is an excerpt from Flayderman’s Guide to Antique Firearms. To get your copy, Click Here.

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