Some semi-random thoughts on gun collecting today

Posted by Bruce Canfield

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed the current situation regarding gun collecting and related issues. Arms collecting in general, and collecting U.S. military weapons specifically, continue to attract many individuals from all walks of life. Even in today’s uncertain political and economic times, interest in the hobby remains strong. While many collectibles have plunged in value, I have seen no discernable retrenchment in prices for quality U.S. martial arms. It does appear that some items remain on the market longer than may have been the case in the past, but the good stuff continues to fetch decent prices. Even second-tier quality items are moving and prices seem to be stable, if not increasing slightly. All types of arms continue to attract buyers and among the most notable are:

M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, military shotguns, M1911/M1911A1 pistols, M1903 rifles (all variants), Johnson rifles as well as bayonets and many other types of accessories and accouterments. Prices for the Class III (full auto) stuff are amazingly high and are still climbing. I wish I had bought a lot more machine guns back in the 1980s as they have increased in value much better than almost any other commodity I can think of. I think the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the First World War (2014) will result in additional interest in the relics from this conflict. World War I M1903 and M1917 rifles, M1911 pistols, M1917 Colt and S&W revolvers and trench shotguns are already highly sought-after items and the desirability will almost certainly accelerate in the next couple of years. Those waiting for the prices to come down before they buy are going to miss the boat. It might be wise to bite the bullet (no pun intended) and acquire some of these weapons now. However, as I always caution, be extremely wary of fakes as the high prices these things are bringing make fakery a very profitable enterprise.

The WWII weapons remain among the most popular collectibles and the prices have remained strong and show signs of going even higher. M1 Garands and M1 Carbines continue to dominate the collectible market. The availability of Garands from the CMP is more than sufficient to satisfy the market for those interested in shooting or simply want to own a “representative example” of a M1 rifle. Very few truly collector-grade Garand emanate from the CMP any more although they do appear on the open market from time to time, typically with hefty price tags attached. The problem with fake stuff on Garands, especially stock inspection stamps, is still a huge problem and collectors who are seeking original items must tread warily. The same is true with M1 Carbines although, possibly, to a slightly lesser extent.

This high demand (with matching prices) naturally narrows the field of potential buyers. This has resulted in the growing practice of turning more common variants into rarer and more valuable variants. Among the most common practice of this sort today is mounting a Redfield mount and Weaver-type telescope on a M1903A3 rifle to create something that looks like a M1903A4 sniper rifle. Such converted rifles are often referred to as “clones.” Most of the guys who do this are doing it for their own satisfaction with no nefarious intentions involved. While opinions regarding such practices vary, it can be argued that anybody should be able to do whatever they wish with their personal property. No argument here. I would only add a caveat that it would be unfortunate to take an original ‘A3 and drill and tap it to create a “look-alike” ‘A4. On the other hand, if someone runs across a rifle that has previously been drilled and tapped, then all bets are off and such rifles are fair game. I have a friend who recently brought by my office a very nice late 1930s Springfield M1903 with Type C stock that he wanted to drill and tap to create a “replica” M1903A1 USMC/Unertl Sniper rifle. I convinced him (I think) to keep the original rifle intact and look for a receiver that has previously been drilled and tapped by a prior owner (they’re not hard to find). By the way, I’ve written on this site before my thoughts regarding the various euphemisms for put-together guns including the afore-mentioned “clone.” I recently heard another one that I want to add to the list. Somebody had turned a M1903A3 into a M1903A4 “clone” and called it an “A-Forgery.” It took me just a moment to get the humor but it is one of the better ones I’ve heard in a while. In closing, good luck in your collecting endeavors and I humbly give the following advice:

Buy the gun, not the story.

Buy a book before you buy a gun.

Buy the best quality you can afford.

Don’t ruin a perfectly good gun by trying to turn it into something it’s not.

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