Collecting historic guns as an investment can be a rewarding hobby in that the collector owns a piece of history that is a beautiful hand-tooled artifact, as well as an object that appreciates in value over time.
“People use historic guns as investments,” said Stuart Mowbray, noted firearms investment expert and publisher of Man at Arms Magazine. The magazine and its newsstand edition provide information for the gun and sword collector.
Mowbray said people collect old firearms in much the same spirit other collectors acquire rare coins or art.
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“You can use historic guns toward your retirement, because like rare art, they can go up in price,” he said.
The market for collectable guns can fluctuate from year to year.
“The market for Civil War guns was red hot 15 years ago,” Mowbray said. “Then the asking prices went up and the market went flat. They got ahead of themselves in price.”
Another example was Wild West guns.
“My father’s generation watched a lot of cowboy movies and TV shows,” Mowbray noted. “The whole Wild West thing was huge back then. This produced a demand for the Colt Peacemaker (pistol) and the Winchester rifle, which drove the market up for these weapons for a long time. There’s still a lot of interest today in cowboy guns.”
Demand produces increased prices when the supply of weapons are purchased and become scarcer. One tip is to try to get in on the ground floor so to speak, purchase a weapon at a reasonable price that will likely go up in value in the future.
Mowbray said an increase in a weapon’s value of 10 percent per year is the top end, with a figure of 6 percent average. Compare that to the purchase of Mutual Funds, which in the past have generated an increase of about 4 percent per year.
“You wouldn’t stare at a historic gun waiting for it to go up in value,” Mowbray said. “The important thing is a gun can be an attractive and historical addition to your home. But you would take it serious as an investment for yourself and your family.”
Currently the market for World War I and II weapons are hot for collectors as they are in demand.
“The Krag rifle, a Spanish American War gun, and the M 1 Garand, a World War II weapon, are sought after,” Mowbray explained. “There’s even a Garand Collector’s Society that publishes current values. A Garand can be purchased anywhere from $1,000 on up to $7,000.”
A Krag (circa 1899) can be had for about $1,000.
The key to collecting is the more original the condition of the firearm, the more valuable it is.
“If you’re attempting to collect historic weapons not through a professional dealer, if you’re trying to do it over the internet, you should be careful,” Mowbray said. “Do lots of research. For example, a gun can be worth twenty times more if it has matching serial numbers on its parts. Lots of guns have serial numbers on all the parts.”
Parts on a gun that have different (mismatching) serial numbers tells you the gun was disassembled and probably reconditioned with newer parts, decreasing its value.
“Military weapons have often undergone some kind of repair or refurbishment during their life,” Mowbray said.
For a historic gun to be desirable, it should be as close as possible to the condition it was in when it first left the factory.
Another popular seller is the German Mauser rifle, although Mowbray said aficionados of this model are often finicky.
“The condition of the finish for a Mauser is all important and the condition of the wood stock,” he said.
The World War I Springfield (M1903) rifle has gone up in value due to its recent popularity and an average asking price today is about $3,500.
Mowbray advised anyone serious about collecting antique firearms to join a gun collector club in their area.
“There are gun collector clubs, for example, for the Marlin (produced a lever action rifle in 1895),” he said. “At gun club meetings they often have antique firearms for sale. It’s also good to get a mentor, someone you trust who is knowledgeable in the field.”
Mowbray repeated that research is everything.
“Read up on the subject,” he said. “Read, read, read.”