"Yet Another Look at Prices. (2008)

Posted by Bruce Canfield

We recently discussed how the upper-end of the value market for M1941 Johnson rifles was affected by the three examples that sold at auction for sums over, or almost, $9,000 each. In previous columns here, I stated that among the hottest martial collectibles today are Johnson rifles and M1A1 carbines. This recent auction validated my prediction about Johnson rifles. Recent listings on a dealer’s on-line catalog have echoed the same regarding M1A1 carbines.

Scott Duff recently advertised four original M1A1 carbines. All were genuine weapons in nice condition but none were anything exceptionally special (i.e., with an identified provenance or factory-new condition). One was a “first contract” example that sold for $4,295, two were “second contract” guns that sold for $3495 (each) and one was a post-WWII rebuild that sold for $2395. All four sold almost immediately upon being posted on his site. I have no doubt that the guns would have sold at auction for even more. Obviously, the fact that all the guns sold immediately indicates that there is a lot of pent-up demand for these weapons and the number of willing buyers greatly exceeds the number of available specimens.

What conclusions can we take from these recent sales regarding the current values of M1A1 carbines? As I said about the recent auction sales of three M1941 Johnson rifles, auction results do not necessarily mean that every comparable Johnson rifle is now worth in excess of $9000. I’m not so sure about the M1A1 carbines. I think a strong case can be made that comparable M1A1 carbines can be sold, without a great deal of trouble, for the sums realized on Scott’s website. It is entirely possible that such guns may bring even more. In the absence of an auction, how much more is speculative. I have seen a handful of M1A1 carbines offered on auction sites in recent days but all have had some “problems”, including one obvious fake stock. On the other hand, the M1A1 carbines recently sold on Duff’s website were genuine weapons and were priced accordingly. The fact that a number of potential buyers were a bit late calling and missed out on purchasing the weapons indicates that there are more people out there willing to pay such prices (and probably somewhat more) for M1A1 carbines.

When I predicted the continued rise in value for Johnson rifles and M1A1 carbines less than two years ago, I didn’t quite envision prices rising so much in so short a period. As I asked in a previous column here, “where is the top of the market”? Again, I can only speculate.

I do think that a genuine M1941 Johnson rifle in very nice condition will sell immediately at $5,000 today (in a proper sales venue) and, based on the Rock Island Auction results, an exceptionally nice specimen could possibly bring something close to $10,000 (even as I’m typing this amount, I find myself wincing)! An original “first contract” M1A1 carbine could, likewise, fetch $5,000 (and possibly a bit more), while a genuine “second contract” might bring close to that amount (perhaps a $1,000 or so less). A nice post-war rebuilt M1A1 could easily sell for $2,500 today and a bit more wouldn’t shock me. While such prices might seem incredible today, I predict they’ll be routine in another year or so. Who would have predicted two years ago that a standard M1941 Johnson rifle would sell for over $9,000 or a M1A1 carbine for over $4,000? I do not think that either the Rock Island Auction or Scott Duff’s website sales are extreme anomalies. I believe they are harbingers of not-too-distant prices for these weapons. I’m not talking about refinished, beat-up or “humped up” specimens but, rather, totally original weapons in premium collectible condition. Junk will always be junk and will be priced accordingly.

At the risk of repeating myself, all of this reminds me of one of my favorite sayings regarding quality U.S. military collectibles: “You can never pay too much, but you might pay too soon”! Today’s outrageous sum could well be tomorrow’s bargain."

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