Garry James' Rules for Buying Collectible Guns
January 04, 2016
Perhaps a better title for this piece would be "Thoughts on Buying Collectible Guns." Personally, I hate most rules and go out of my way to skirt or break them whenever the fancy takes me. Buying any kind of collectible, be it firearms, comic books or bottle caps is subject to so many variables that it is often difficult to establish a bunch of hard and fast rules that apply to all cases. In any event, here are some of the things I take into account when laying out my hard earned shekels for that pearl of rare price.
What to Buy?
I can't tell you how many times people ask me, "What should I collect?" My answer is (given politely, though — I'm a big believer in good manners), "If you have to ask, perhaps its better go into bird watching or macramé." Actually, it's pretty simple. Collect what you like — whether it is high-grade Purdeys, surplus rifles or Saturday night specials. In my own case, I like 18th and 19th century military arms from Britain, the U.S. and France, in that order. Now this doesn't mean that from time-to-time I won't go astray and buy WWII Japanese rifle or Colt Woodsman — I like those, too — it's just that I try and stick to the main theme as much as possible for both economic and storage reasons.
Which Are the Most Valuable?
Guns have generally proven to be good investments, but not always. My second most asked question is, "What should I buy that will increase in value?" If I knew that for sure, I'd buy them all myself! Gun prices, like everything else, are subject to economic conditions, fads and the general vagaries of the market. A new gun, unless it's purchased really right, generally will take a while to reach its full potential, collector-wise. There are some pieces like Colts, Lugers and Winchester that just seem to go from strength to strength, but they can be pricey starting out, so it's imperative to follow my next admonition.
Learn everything you can about the guns and field you are planning on going into. Check tariffs on the internet, auction sales and gun show offerings. Buy books and read them. I have a rule of thumb that for every gun I buy, I normally get at least one book about it. Study as many bona fide examples of guns in your area of interest as possible. Talk to collectors and join clubs. There is simply no substitute for knowledge and experience. I've known serious collectors that have been in the hobby for decades that still get taken — so caveat emptor!
What constitutes a desirable piece? Just because something is rare doesn't always mean it's a high-ticket item. There are lots of one-offs that have low value simply because nobody cares about them, and other types of guns that were made in the hundreds of thousands that bring phenomenal prices. Desirability trumps rarity any day. Condition is also of top priority. It's always better to pay a premium for a gun in good shape. It will hold its value better and be easier to trade or sell in the long run.
Of course we all run into those garage-sale or grieving-widow deals, but it is generally a good idea to know who you are purchasing an item from. That way, if there are any problems down the line it is possible to get clarification or redress.
Always do things legally. Make sure that whatever you are purchasing is done so according to state and federal laws and that proper paperwork, fees and waiting periods are adhered to, whether you agree to them philosophically or not. If there is ever a question, err on the side of caution. I don't care how good a deal may seem; it's not worth going to jail.
These are my basics, and they have stood me in good stead over the years. Hope they give you a leg-up on your collecting. Good shopping!