One question most of us gun collectors have undoubtedly pondered is “What’s the best way to sell one or more of my guns?” The first thought for many is “I never plan to sell any of my guns.” Just a few years ago, that would have been my immediate response to that question as well. I was much more focused on finding new additions to my collection than to worry about selling anything. When I acquired a new specimen, I would sometimes remark to my lovely wife how much the gun is worth. Her response was invariably, “It’s not worth anything because you’ll never sell it.” However, as is always the case with life, things change.
I did, at times, have some concern about what would happen to my collection if I should get hit by a truck or have some unexpected fatal health issue. My wife has always been understanding of my collecting endeavors but has absolutely no interest in the guns and wouldn’t know a weapon that is worth $500 from one that is worth $50,000. In the event of my untimely demise, my fear was that somebody would come in and “cherry-pick” the most valuable items and pay a small fraction of the market value and my wife would have the onerous task of trying to get rid of the rest of the smelly old guns. This begs the question of what to do in order to eliminate this quandary. For those still in the “I’ll never sell a gun camp,” it should be remembered that someday your guns will change hands and there’s nothing you can do about it. We really don’t own anything but are merely caretakers for the brief time God grants us on this earth. When you’re no longer “on the right side of the dirt,” the guns will eventually belong to someone else. Perhaps there is a son, daughter or someone else to whom you want to bequeath the guns and that’s fine. Of course, that just postpones the issue for a number of years or decades before the subsequent recipient of your guns is faced with the same dilemma.
Let’s take a look at the various options and variables involved that have a big bearing on making the best decision for your personal situation. One of the biggest factors is the size of your collection. Do you only have a handful of guns or is your collection measured in the dozens, scores or hundreds? I have been asked by collectors with collections of all these sizes how they should go about selling some, or all, of their guns. Another factor is how much hassle do you want to go through to liquidate the guns. Of course, any seller wants to maximize the selling price of their guns and any buyer wants to minimize the same. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that a collection in question consists of at least a dozen guns or more and/or guns of greater than normal value.
Option #1: Internet websites.
In years past, it was not uncommon to place an ad in the local newspaper, Shotgun News or similar publication but that course of action is much less often employed today. It has been largely replaced by listing guns on one of the internet firearm sales sites. The major advantage is that many of these internet sites reach a rather large number of potential buyers. There is, of course, an associated fee. Listing a gun on such websites will require a detailed description of the item and determining an appropriate listing price. It would also require you to have the gun properly packaged and make arrangements to ship to an FFL holder (for a post-1898 gun) or to the buyer (for a pre-1898 firearm). In almost all cases, a 3-day (or more) inspection period is required which means the gun can be returned and you have to start all over again. This might work for one or two guns but would obviously be a major undertaking for a dozen or more guns.
Option #2 – Gun Shows
Another way to “sell it yourself” is to market the firearms at a gun show. This could either be done by getting a table or tables or bringing the guns into the show with hopes of attracting buyers. You would, of course, have to figure out what price you want for the guns which could be harder than it sounds. If you ask too much, you’ll be lugging them back home. If you ask too little, they will probably sell but you certainly won’t maximize your profit. Even if you don’t have an FFL, there may be some federal regulatory issues involved with selling at a gun show, maybe not so much now but quite likely in the future. A small local gun show will not normally have a lot of motivated buyers for esoteric or valuable guns. This drawback could be mitigated to some extent by going to larger gun shows but still the number of potential buyers would be dwarfed in comparison to one of the major internet sites. Again, this may not be a problem when only one or two guns are involved but selling a significant quantity of guns in this manner would be rather cumbersome and would likely require multiple trips to multiple gun shows. This would obviously create logistical problems when taking into consideration the time and expense involved into going to a bunch of gun shows. It could take many months or longer to dispose of a significant number of guns in the manner.
Option #3 – Selling to a dealer
The major, if not sole, advantage of this option is the ease of selling a gun but there are a number of quite noteworthy drawbacks. To begin with, a dealer obviously has to make a profit if he wishes to stay in business so you’d would only receive, in most cases, somewhere between 50% and 75% (+ or -) of the market price. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table. Also, many dealers may not have deep enough pockets to shell out the tens of thousands of dollars it would take to buy a sizeable collection. A dealer might offer to take the guns on consignment but there would be no way to determine how long it would take to market all the guns and receive the sales proceeds less, of course, the sometimes-hefty dealer fee involved.
Option #4 – Have the guns auctioned
This option would logically require the services of a professional auctioneer or auction firm. A local auction enterprise that deals in everything from construction equipment to antique furniture would hardly be an optimum venue to sell collectible firearms. Also, a typical local auction would only expose your guns to a relatively small number of potential purchasers. The most feasible course of action would be to engage the services of a reputable and nationally-recognized firm that specializes in firearms and reaches a large and broad-based market of potential buyers. There is, of course, a percentage of the “hammer price” charged, typically in the 15% to 18% range although there may be exceptions to the exact percentage. Unlike an internet site, there is no worry that you will have to give any sort of inspection period as the weapons are sold “as is.” Most reputable firearms auction firms of this type will assist in helping you ship the guns to them and, in some cases, will even make arrangements to have them picked up at little or no charge.
As I mentioned previously, until a couple of years ago, I never had any intention of selling any guns although I did have some concerns about what would happen to my collection in the event of my untimely demise. However, as I also mentioned, “things change.” My wife and I decided to move from Louisiana to Colorado a couple of years ago. We had been talking for a number of years about “downsizing” and realized this would be a good time to accomplish this. Among other things, the downsizing process would involve liquidating a significant portion of my collection although I chose to retain quite a few of the guns. The hardest part for me was deciding which ones to let go and which ones to keep! After pondering all of the above options, I decided to go the auction route (actually it was a pretty easy decision). There are a handful of noted auction companies that specialize in collectible firearms. After doing a great deal of investigation and talking to some individuals who utilized the various firms’ services, I decided to contact Rock Island Auction Company. They are the best known and most widely utilized of these firms and regularly auction an impressive array of firearms including many historical and rare guns. Rock Island Auction Co. reaches an extremely large number of potential buyers They publish gorgeous and quite extensive full-color catalogs of their upcoming auctions which always attract a tremendous amount of interest. I contacted the company and gave them a list of the guns that I wanted them to auction. They were very professional and helpful. Arrangements were made by the company to send a truck with two experienced guys to my home who inventoried and carefully packed the guns and took them back to Illinois to be auctioned. Before the auction, I received a description of each gun along with the estimated auction price and could request any changes in the descriptions I thought might be necessary. After the auction was concluded, I received a list of the “hammer prices” realized for each gun. As is the norm for auctions, some of the guns brought a bit less than I had hoped for, some sold for about what I expected, and some sold for more (in several cases a LOT more!). All in all, I have no doubt this was the best course of action to maximize the sales prices for my guns along with the big advantage of being almost hassle-free. While l have no intention (at least for now) of selling any more guns, I have a detailed inventory of the remaining guns in my collection. When the time eventually arrives for me to leave this earthly realm, my wife knows to contact Rock Island Auction Co. to make arrangements to get the guns and send her a check when they’re auctioned. Given my previous good experience with Rock Island Auction Company, I have no doubt that she (or heirs) will be treated fairly and have one less thing to worry about when I’m gone.
Of course, you don’t have to wait to “kick the bucket” so if you decide to dispose of some of your guns for whatever various or sundry reasons now or in the future, I highly recommend Rock Island Auction Company.