When newspapers get involved, a "gun collection" gets re-named as “arsenal.” Whatever it's called, maybe, like most of us quiet neighbor types, you want yourself one.
Guest author Robert "Doc" Adelman
Back in 1963, I can remember pretty vividly that Springfield 1922 rifle, a .22 trainer, which my Boy Scout merit badge counselor brought out for me to fondle and drool over. What struck me was how glass-like smooth the operation of the bolt felt and how all the parts certainly had come together to create this perfected form and function. It took me 30 years or so to find my own Springfield 1922, but it wasn't for lack of desire. It was more a matter of getting organized.
What drives us as we pick certain objects to collect? I mean, everybody collects something- at least they have at one time or another in their lives. Show me a kid who didn't bring home a pocket full of pebbles, maybe a series of pennies. If you aren't selecting specific items (in this case, firearms) for a reason, whether it be date of manufacture, material, size, or some historical relevance... if you have no pattern, you might just be an "accumulator.” Gun "collectors" elevate themselves above this status (if nothing more than by a self-appraisal, possibly part of a reverse 12-Step Program?) by seeing their accumulation as more of "a patterned coalescing of specific related objects that when combined, confirm a historical significance.” Or maybe that's the horse-hockey they use on their spouses.
If you step beyond the "one rifle, one pistol, one shotgun" mantra, it means you're buying a second (or 12th) firearm. Besides wondering if that safe you've been eyeing at Sears will fit down the basement stairs, you're likely going to find issue with the old saw, "Beware the man with one gun.” Press on, then. In the old days, gun collectors had a glass-cased pine cabinet in the living room. Now we lock things up in safes, if nothing less to eliminate the liability from the neighbor's free-range kid misappropriating your gear. Late at night, I often wonder if a Colt Python still emits that deep glow, even as it endures an exile life as a "safe queen?”
I am not talking now about buying guns that are still being sold as new production, still "in catalog,” as it is said. I'm talking more about iron that has suffered a ceased production for whatever reason.
The most important feature of your collection? It should be stuff that interests you. As in any such endeavor, don't think of it as an investment; approach it as entertainment- a representation of something you enjoy and like. That way, if you overpaid for something (as in when you go to sell it, the common whine of "I got more than that in it"), you can at least have the enjoyment over having it in your collection.
I got the bug at nine years old from those "LUGERS $19.99" ads in the back of National Rifleman magazine, that and the ads for the $30 Italian rifles from Kleins. I got in too late for that or the $50 Jeeps (although that specific aberrant Jeep-philia Syndrome reared its ugly head later in my life). So, if Lugers were no longer to be had for twenty bucks, where does one look?
I took some very sage advice from the pages of a book that I later went on to contribute to: the Blue Book of Gun Values. I bought one of those editions, back then about the size of a Reader’s Digest (as compared to the cinder block version of today) and in its pages, the first Editor wrote about collecting in a very different way: look for hidden upcoming trends (this is, after all, a price guide). I was really fascinated by Colt 1911s, so I also got every available book on them, as well, and like many such publications, the books themselves have attained collector status.
I then went to our Gunbroker.com of that era, Gun List magazine (which was the go-to place for collectors, versus Shotgun News, a more commercial vendor publication). Every two weeks I pored over the ads, pen in hand. Even though I had ready access to an FFL, my first big venture down the road to a collection was at a CADA Show. I had discovered a relatively un-popular niche in my general lust for Colt Pistols that was ripe for the picking. I started off by buying a Colt Service Model Ace (a legit Colt 1911 in .22LR). This specific gun further slotted into my perception of collectibility, as even though it was only 60% of blue remaining (just gentle hand rubbing and wear, no rust, nothing- just something referred to as "honest wear" in the trade), and something I perceived as uber-cool: it bore serial number SM57. It was very cool.
I digress to relate that I did some really dumb things in this, my first collectible gun. I saw it and then went home only to come back on Day Two. (He who hesitates...) But I did need to go home and pore over all of my accumulated clippings and pre-iPhone data. Secondly, I also just threw down the $600 and didn't offer him $500 to see what that might do. Live and learn.
This first purchase hit several additional notes in the Blue Book's advice, and set the tone for my future. I concentrated on Service Models and older ACEs for sure, but I expanded into any Colt .22 that had not yet reached sky-high pricing. Now, understand, that this was back in the early 1980s, so my next target was the Colt .22 Diamondbacks. They were the low-end Colts; then what's a Huntsman, a Targetsman, or a Woodsman? For the time at the moment, these were bargains. I went nuts for .22 caliber and such a caliber-specific focus was also a Blue Book suggestion.
After a while, I developed a similar gluttony, possibly even a clinical mania, for the .410 bore shotgun. But consistent throughout was something that lingered from that "first kiss,” and that was unusual serial numbers, whether they were single digit, even numbers, goofy numerology. Again, I didn't ever say that the basis for a collection had to make sense to anybody but you. I used to collect red-heads, but I'm obviously a slow learner.
I veered down the Collecting Highway and bounced off the guard rails, finding a niche that I call, "guns you're too scared to shoot.” You can have pure fun buying bad engineering, absolute junk for cheap, "top-breaks" are still reasonable... or maybe read-up on some very high-end collectibles, i.e. the Air Force .38 suicide pistols from Colt and S&W. Get your wallet out, but don't buy any ammo- bad idea. It's a "niche" gun. From arguably normal Whitneys to the absurd Gyrojet. The list goes on.
Collect what you like, what fascinates you, what you'll always enjoy looking at, and what you might like to share with other similarly afflicted souls. Get out, know your stuff, understand current pricing, seek out advice to avoid "fakes"- they're out there. Get to the gun shows, be ready to commit, but also know what you don't know.
I once had a pole barn that was filled with British cars. We all have issues, but at least it wasn't Jeeps. More than three of them, anyway.