For those of you who read this site, you know that I often discuss the on-going problem with fake U.S. martial collectibles. Bogus inspection stamps, cobbled-together sniper rifles and refinished guns passed off as originals are rampant and many collectors are, understandably, wary about buying a collectible U.S. military weapon these days.
As I’ve noted before, one of the genres of collecting that is particularly affected is U.S. military shotguns. I’ve been collecting these arms for a number of decades and fakes have been around from the beginning. Many years ago, however, there was often no intent to defraud when an owner of, for example, a civilian Winchester Model 97 shotgun wanted to cut down the barrel and add a surplus handguard/bayonet adapter assembly because he wanted to “create” a trench gun. The guy just wanted a cool gun and either couldn’t find, or couldn’t afford, the genuine article. He wasn’t trying to rip off a sucker at the local gun show. This was back in the day when a real Model 97 trench gun would generally cost only a couple hundred bucks. However, when such a gun changes hands today and the buyer is told it came from "someone who owned it for over thirty years so it has to be real," the gun acquired a totally undeserved patina of originality along with a price tag to match.
While genuine U.S. military shotguns have always been relatively scarce, the demand wasn’t overwhelming until some ten or fifteen years ago when these guns began to attract the attention of collectors who finally realized their scarcity and historical significance. Today, a military riot gun or trench gun is a highly sought-after collectible and prices have reached levels that I never envisioned. Unfortunately, the same is true with fake military shotguns. To be perfectly candid, the overwhelming majority of military shotguns I’ve seen for sale over the past couple of years have been bogus. Some are laughably bad renderings and others are frighteningly good but truly original examples are extremely rare these days. The days of the $200-$300 genuine trench guns are long gone and have been replaced by $3,000 to $5,000+ trench guns. If somebody bought a trench gun in 1975 for $200 and later found out it was fake, there usually wasn’t too much heartburn because the bogus gun could still serve as a perfectly acceptable sporting or self-defense gun. Besides, back in those days, a convention of U.S. military shotguns collectors could be held in a phone booth. As an aside, I wonder if kids today even know what a phone booth is…but I digress.
I recently had an article on the military Ithaca Model 37 shotgun published in The American Rifleman which was followed by a flurry of inquiries from readers who wanted to know if their Model 37 was “the real deal.” As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m not in the business of appraising or evaluating guns but I might make some general observations if the inquirer asks politely. After viewing photos of some thirteen or fourteen guns sent in by readers of the magazine, I was appalled to realize that only one was a totally original military Model 37. The rest were either outright fakes or had some “problems.” Anyone contemplating the purchase of a purported original U.S. military shotgun would be well-advised to be extremely wary and consult a good reference book on the subject. As another aside, not all reference books on the subject around today are accurate.
This problem is not going to go away and there are going to be a lot more unhappy people around when they find out the shotgun they paid a lot of money for, and which is a centerpiece of their U.S. martial collection, is bogus. Unless someone is very, very, very careful and has lots and lots of money, I couldn’t, in good conscience, heartily recommend that they begin collecting U.S. military shotguns today. There are too many pitfalls and the handful of genuine articles floating around in the sea of fraudulent guns have price tags that would dissuade all but the most motivated buyer. While paying a lofty sum for a truly original U.S. military shotgun may still prove to be a sound investment someday, paying the same amount for a fake is a mistake that will still sting decades later. Caveat emptor.