6 Common Mistakes Collectors Make

Posted by Bruce Canfield

One saying I’m fond of is, “make new mistakes” which is another way of saying “learn from your mistakes.” None of us are immune to making mistakes and I certainly have made more than my fair share along the way. Below are several common mistakes made by some fledging (and sometimes not so fledgling) collectors:

  1. Acquiring a group of guns with no discernable theme.

    There is a difference between a collection and a bunch of guns. Of course, there is nothing wrong with owning a number of unrelated guns but I believe that in order to be fairly categorized as a “collection,” there must a discernable theme to the accumulated guns. For example, I think one would be hard-pressed to describe a grouping of a Browning A-5 shotgun, a Luger pistol, a Ruger .22 rifle, a S&W Model 10 revolver, a replica Colt M1860 percussion revolver and a Glock semiautomatic pistol as a “collection.” Other than the fact they are all obviously guns, there is no common thread or theme tying them together.

    The scope of a collection can range from very broad to quite specific. As an example, one might want to assemble a collection of U.S. military firearms ranging from the Revolutionary War through World War II. Such guns as a M1795 Springfield flintlock musket, a Model 1842 percussion musket, a M1861 rifle-musket, a .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield, a .30-40 Krag, a M1903 Springfield, a M1917 Enfield, a M1 Garand and M1 Carbine would give an interesting and appropriate glimpse of the progression of U.S. military weapons over almost 200 years. I don’t think anybody could argue that such an assemblage of weapons can properly be called a collection.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I know guys who want to own an example of every single variant of a particular weapon. One gentleman is really into U.S. Krags and has almost 100 examples reflecting the minutest variants possible and can talk ad infinitum about the intricacies of each one. Is this a collection? Obviously so. Most collections fall somewhere between the two extremes but the point is that a collection can be as broad or narrow as the collector wishes, but there should be a common theme to the grouping.

  2. Focusing on quantity rather than quality.

    Certainly all of us, regardless of the size of our disposable income bank account, want to get the best deal possible whenever we buy a gun. However, there are many times when cheaper is not better. In the collecting world, other than originality, the most important attribute of a gun is condition. As one old-time collector sagely advised me years ago, “junk will always be junk.” It behooves a collector to buy a gun in the best possible condition that he can afford. Sure, he may be able to buy three mediocre guns for what one pristine original may cost but which will give the greatest satisfaction of ownership and which will appreciate more in the future? There is no question but that a one really quality gun will always be worth more than a few more guns in much lesser condition. Even in these uncertain economic times, the really high-quality collectible firearms are selling at ever-increasing prices while the run-of-the-mill examples continue to fetch ho-hum prices, if they sell at all. Quality will always be King.

  3. Not doing their homework

    Another bit of valuable advice is to “buy a book before you buy a gun.” I have heard some beginning collectors say they would like to buy a book on a particular gun before they make a purchase but don’t want to spend the money that could otherwise be used to buy firearms. This is a perfect example of “pennywise and pound foolish.” I have never understood why someone would spend several hundred to several thousand dollars on a gun without really knowing what he was buying. Regardless of the type of gun, there are probably a number of collector-oriented books on the subject that could be consulted before parting with one’s hard-earned money. It must be said, however, that some books are better than others and none should be taken as absolute infallible gospel. I think I own almost all books that have been published on U.S. military firearms. While all contain errors, most give valuable information. Even the bad ones usually have some redeeming features. In fact, I can only think of one such book (on the M1 Garand) that I found to be absolutely worthless and regret buying. Someone contemplating the purchase of a collectible weapon should consult as many books as possible on the subject and cross-reference the information to see where the authors agree and disagree. While there is always a risk of getting screwed when you buy a gun, there is no excuse for not obtaining as much information as possible before one opens their wallet or checkbook.

  4. Believing everything they read or hear

    This mistake is somewhat related to the one above. Just because something is in a book, does not mean it is correct. Likewise, just because someone decides to disseminate their knowledge at a gun show or other venue does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that their bloviating is accurate. The sheer amount of “BS” often spread around at gun shows is nothing short of amazing. The same is true, perhaps even more so, on internet firearms discussion forums. When I have a bit of spare time, I sometimes log in to see what is being discussed. It is always amusing when a particular topic results in a flurry of postings. Some of the opinions given are right on target while others are hilariously wrong. The problem is that some neophyte collectors can’t wade through such discussions without becoming perplexed as to what is valid information and what is bovine excrement. As stated above, it is vitally important for one to acquire as much correct information as possible in order to keep from getting hosed by those wishing to take advantage of ignorance or naiveté.

  5. Using stocks or other parts with fake markings when restoring a gun

    I know from first-hand experience how frustrating it can be when trying to find genuine parts of the appropriate type and condition with which to restore a gun. This doubly true when it comes to finding the right stock with right inspection markings. It is inarguable that a gun having the proper stock with genuine markings is much more desirable (and valuable) than a gun with an unmarked or incorrectly marked stock. This fact has resulted in the widespread practice of having bogus markings stamped on stocks in order to replicate the correct markings. Several collecting themes, especially M1 rifles and carbines, have been adversely affected by this insidious practice and any stock with a visible inspection stamp is often looked upon today with the utmost suspicion, often with good reason.

    As tempting as it may be to “enhance” a stock by having bogus markings applied, it is a much wiser course of action to wait until a stock with the proper markings can be obtained. I’ve seen some very nice original stocks ruined by the application of fake markings in order to turn them into something they never were. As I’ve said here before, a rifle with an unmarked genuine stock is infinitely preferable to a rifle having a stock with bogus markings. Even if every other part is genuine, the presence of even one fake component casts doubts on the entire gun.

  6. Buying the story and not the gun

    Those of you who have been reading this site for some time probably knew this one was coming! Without question my one of my favorite sayings is “Buy the Gun, Not the Story.” There are numerous examples where this saying is apropos. These can range from tales that a particular gun was owned by a famous or infamous person without a shred of proof to a WWI or WWII U.S. military weapon that is touted as being a “vet bring-back.” As we have discussed here before, in the vast majority of cases, this isn’t true or, at best, can’t be verified. Without proof of provenance, one should buy a gun based solely on its merits (originality, condition, etc.) and not pay a penny extra for the fanciful story that may accompany the weapon. If, by some miracle, the story is later confirmed as being true, well and good. If not, then the collector bought a good gun at a fair price and didn’t pay a premium for a fairy tale.

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