October 09, 2012
By S.P. Fjestad
Every gun's value is directly determined by how desirable it is. Based on over four decades of experience in both the new and used firearms marketplace, I have determined there are eight main factors that contribute to each gun's unique "desirability mix." Each one needs to be carefully evaluated before an accurate value can be determined.
Think of this desirability mix as a slot machine with eight tumblers, each representing one of the key factors listed below. Each tumbler has a number 0-10 on it, representing each factor's "score" — the higher, the better. When the handle is pulled, the tumblers start spinning, and after each ones stops indicating the individual score, the total score will determine every gun's overall desirability factor. Using this scoring system, very few guns will ever get a total of over 60 points out of a perfect score of 80, since factors seven and eight will typically have no influence on these "whales." Those extremely high point total guns are out there, and when they come up for sale, large seven digit jackpots are usually the result. An extremely low score indicates the gun's value might be the sum of its worn out parts, and has little or no collector or shooting value.
Having a common Winchester
, Holland & Holland
, etc. in average condition will always be more desirable than having a similar common Iver Johnson, Stevens, or J.C. Higgins for most collectors, dealers, shooters, and investors. A score of 10 represents a trademark/manufacturer like Colt or Winchester, and 0 represents a Falls Arms Co., Rempt & Son, or the thousands of other brand names no one has heard of (or cares about).
The more, the better — especially with older guns. This also takes into consideration any alterations and/or repairs. The value of a gun will be wrong if the correct condition factor isn't right. The Blue Book of Gun Values
uses the Photo Percentage Grading System (PPGS)
exclusively to accurately determine condition. A 10 represents 100-percent condition and 0 represents no original condition remaining.
Special Orders, Embellishments and Accessories
These include engraving, optional metal finishes like gold, silver or nickel, and special order features such as double set triggers, ejectors, special sights, deluxe wood, etc. The more special order features a gun has (more prevalent on rifles and shotguns), the greater its rarity factor and value. Original accessories and acoutrements are also very important and add value, including boxes, paperwork, cleaning tools, hanging tags, etc. A 10 represents a gun with many special order features, and perhaps the original box and paperwork, while 0 designates a plain Jane standard model.
Having a gun documented as belonging to the late Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable or other famous personality will always command a premium, depending on how famous/well known this person is in all 50 states. Factory information, usually in the form of a factory letter, can authenticate a gun's original configuration, and help raise its potential value considerably. A 10 represents a gun that can be proven to have previously been owned by a famous personality or celebrity, 0 means there is no important or significant historical provenance.
This factor refers to a previous manufacturer/trademark which had little production (not necessarily desirable), a rare model or configuration from a major well-known maker (desirable) and/or a superior condition factor that can make a specific make/model more desirable. Many firearms enthusiasts tend to overcompensate or misunderstand this component of desirability, thinking it only has to do with a limited quantity manufactured and automatically overrides the other seven components of desirability. Rarity is only one component of each gun's overall desirability factor, and in some cases, it's the least important factor. Sometimes, the only thing rarer than a relatively unknown make/model is a person who is willing to spend money to own it, regardless of condition! A plain Jane Winchester Model 12 in 80-percent condition with a 30 in. full choke barrel w/o rib in 12 ga. is not rare — both from a production standpoint (high) and its condition factor (relatively low). A 28-ga. Model 12 with a 26-inch vent rib barrel choked improved cylinder in mint condition is rare, both from a quantity manufactured standpoint (low) and superior condition factor (high). Scoring rarity is trickier than the other seven factors. A 10 indicates a make/model that is ultra-rare (possibly almost unknown), 3-8 designates a make/model that isn't rare, but its superior original condition may make it rare, while 0 is for well-known makes/models with little or no original condition left.
This key factor sometimes gets overlooked, especially when evaluating older firearms and antiques. An early Colt Single Action Army
with 60-percent nickel plating and quite a bit of rust on the remaining metal surfaces is not going to have as much eye appeal as a 20-percent blue gun with smooth gray patina finish and no pitting. If a gun doesn't have eye appeal, the value will not be as great as it could be. A 10 is for a gun with an abundance of eye appeal, 0 represents 'it's ugly! '
Any gun will become a lot more desirable if the asking price is considerably lower than its value, regardless of how it rates in the other seven categories. There is no other single factor when determining a gun's overall 'desirability mix ' that will trump a cheap asking price. It can make a buyer out of someone who doesn't even like the gun! Keep in mind when the rich and famous buy guns in the six- or seven-digit level, price has less to do with their decisions than the value in the future as an investment. When performing appraisals, we typically do not take into consideration (or ask) what the original purchase price was — our job is to figure out what its value is in today's marketplace. (take image of cased black powder set with changing pricing) A 10 indicates the gun is priced considerably under its value (i.e. a steal), a 0 is reserved for guns that are substantially overpriced.
Fear and Greed
This toxic twosome comes into play whenever firearms consumers perceive their gun rights might be encroached by local, state or federal anti-gun legislation, or if a popular make/model is suddenly discontinued. Look at the unprecedented additional demand for tactical high capacity semi-auto pistols, rifles (especially AR-15s and AK-47s) and shotguns, and don't forget about ammunition created right before and during the first two years of the Obama presidency. This also included parts such as high capacity magazines. Fear makes people buy a specific gun configuration that may have never been on their shopping list. Greed makes some of these paranoid buyers buy two or three, even if prices are considerably higher than when the fear factor began. Nothing can change a firearms marketplace faster than fear and greed, and the consumer perception of reality becomes more important than the reality itself. In this category, a 10 typically represents a tactical configuration in short supply with unpredictable high pricing, and a 0 indicates neither potential anti-gun legislation or recent discontinuance have anything to do with the gun's current value. Once a gun's individual desirability mix has been accurately determined, the up-to-date and correct value can be ascertained.
For more from S.P. Fjestad, check out his blog at BlueBookOfGunValues.com.
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