by Terry Wieland
In the midst of global economic uncertainty and a conventional land war raging in Europe, with inflation nearing heights last seen in the 1980s, it’s psychologically soothing to peruse gun-auction catalogues. It might also be profitable.
Take a look back to the early 1970s, at what collectible, or even merely old, guns were selling for, and then look at what the same gun might bring today. You’ll get a revealing picture of how firearms can be a really good investment and hold value while inflation ravages the dollar.
As I write, I am keeping an eye on a one-day auction occurring, right now, at Rock Island. Not a “premier” auction, with exotic items going for a million dollars plus, just their monthly dispersal of average, but interesting, guns. At random: A Weatherby Mark V that retailed for $315 in 1970 just brought $2,000.
Let’s see now: In 1970, $315 was a really good weekly wage, and in 2022, $2,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Had you stuck your $315 in a bank account and waited for interest payments to make you rich, according to one calculator using average rates of both interest and compounding, you would now have $2,002. Could you have kept from spending the money during that time? I couldn’t.
Seriously collectible firearms — what they now like to call “investment” grade — are a whole different matter. Just in pure dollar terms, these have appreciated by many times more than our $315-to-$2,000 example.
Coming up in Rock Island’s May, 2022, Premier auction are two items that would provide a fair comparison. One, for those whose Colt collection has a glaring hole waiting to be filled, is a run-of-the-mill Walker — genuine and certified as such, with a confirmed provenance, but not sporting any famous names. They estimate it will go for $250,000 to $375,000.
Last year, I wrote an article about Walkers for Gun Digest. I was informed by a Walker expert that, today, even the most beat-up, hard-worn Walker will bring a quarter of a million dollars, minimum, provided it’s genuine and all there.
If you want to look, it’s lot #1102 (www.rockislandauction.com).
Another, bigger-ticket, item is a cased pair of Remington revolvers that were presented to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Naturally, they have all the provenance a boy could want, are in stunning condition, and have every connection: political, military, big name, Civil War. The estimate on those is one to three million dollars. One thing the catalogue description does not include is the price the pair sold for in 1976, when they finally left the Grant family. Anyone thinking of writing a cheque for three million bucks would be entitled to ask ahead of time. They are lot #106.
Many gun collectors today bemoan the fact that all the old guys are dying off, and that young moneyed gun collectors are not coming along to take their place. Hence, the argument goes, you have no guarantee of getting your money back and, in fact, it’s highly unlikely. Well, ever since I picked up my first Gun Digest in 1964, I’ve been reading how prices have peaked, the days of making money collecting guns are over, and it’s all downhill from here.
Never once has this come to pass. Granted, some types of guns have enjoyed high points and then receded — Lugers and English double rifles spring to mind — but it’s a lot like investing in the stock market. You guard against such losses by staying diversified and hoping it averages out to a net gain.
And I will make one final point: Attending a three-day premier auction at Rock Island, browsing the showrooms and handling the guns, is one heck of a lot more fun than watching the Dow Jones go up and down.
Given the economic situation in which we find ourselves today, would I argue that this is a good time to pick up half a dozen collectible guns and hope they beat inflation for you? Well, I just glanced at the auction-in-progress. A Franchi SPAS-12 just sold for $6,000; in 1984, a SPAS-12 retailed for $599.95. What does that tell you?
Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland does not claim to know all the ins and outs of investing in guns (or anything else) but over the years he has made a bit here, lost a bit over there, and expects to be in Rock Island in May, bidding card in hand. If nothing else, it will be educational.