What is My Gun Worth?
Guns, in general, have historically been poor investments. To be sure, there are worse investments, like automobiles, personal computers and electric razors, but guns often don't fare very well. You might see a gun for sale touted “less than 100 were made!” Often, the reason a gun is rare or only a hundred were made is because the manufacturer just couldn't find sucker number 101 to buy one.
A gun purchased new for $400 in 1980 would cost $1098.20 in 2011 dollars. That's just breaking even, adjusting for inflation. If you had bought $10,000 of Wal-Mart stock in 1980, today you'd own upwards of 74,472 shares worth $3.9 million with an annual dividend check of $108,729. Certainly, there are exceptions and guns are better to collect than leisure suits, eight-track tapes and pet rocks. In general, however, they are questionable investments.
There are several resources available to at least get a rough idea of what a gun might be worth. They include the Fjestad's Blue Book of Gun Values, now in its 32nd edition, which you can find at most major booksellers. Another particularly good resource is the Standard Catalog of Firearms: The Collector's Price & Reference Guide, now in its 22nd edition. For older firearms, Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values has always been a good resource. If you are serious about gun values, one or all of these reference works is mandatory. It sure beats irritating innocent fellow shooters with the hoary “what's it worth” nagging.
The problem with reference books is they are unavoidably outdated before they are actually sold, documenting the past rather than foretelling the future. Still, anyone can check online auction sites like Gunbroker.com to get a handle on what a specific model actually has recently sold for (not what it is listed at). Firearms in 99% condition listed at attractive prices sell quickly. Those listed at full “book” value often never sell.
Gun buyers are notoriously fickle. Often, very few folks want something until it is discontinued or government regulations say they can't have it. As soon as folks think they can't have it, then they want it badly. It was that way with ten dollar “pre-ban” full capacity magazines that sold for $150, just because there was a ban. Some junk-level guns, like the Chinese SKS rifles spit out by the millions, used to sell for a couple hundred dollars per case of ten and few could stand owning them. Now, a used Norinco SKS in “very good plus” condition will bring $300. Still junk, but we often buy for reasons that make no sense.
The vast majority of firearms sold today are utilitarian, working class models, the same as it has always been. Mass-produced guns have “shooting value,” of course, but little beyond that. A couple of the more interesting shotguns, at least to me, are Browning Double Autos and the Winchester Super-X Model One. According to the 2006 Standard Catalog of Firearm Values, an excellent Double Auto Twelvette is $675; an excellent Super-X Model One is $500. They haven't kept up with inflation for the last six years, much less increased in value. A Browning Citori 525 Sporting is called out as $2320 for “New in Box” in the same 2006 book. Now, six years later, the just released Browning 725 Sporting, a far superior gun in my estimation, can be had for $2600 and the field model for quite a bit less. If you just bought a 525 thinking that that it was worth $2300 six years ago, now it isn't. Lightly used 525 Sportings sell for $1400, not what the “book” of six years ago said, which was $1725 in excellent condition.
Shotguns and slug guns have been particularly hard hit in value. If a shotgun isn't rated for steel shot it isn't useable in many areas, so even its shooting value takes a hit. The notion of buying guns to pass down to the next generation is often ill-advised. If we aren't hunting and shooting with our families right now, what makes us think anyone would want our old guns? Time and time again, I see widows and heirs that just want to get rid of the things. Since they received no enjoyment from them in the past, there is no expectation for the future. It is no heirloom when the heirs don't want the loom.
Nevertheless, there are solid firearm values. As certain models of firearms jump in price, the older models do tend to follow a bit. That is assuming they are of good quality, reputation and aren't known to have issues. If a new plastic autoloading shotgun goes for $1500, that old 303 or B-80 for $400 starts looking better. If the new plastic stocked rifle offends your delicate sensibilities, an older model with a good piece of walnut and obvious handwork also starts looking good.
Educating yourself with the standard reference texts and a little independent research is going to make you a far savvier gun buyer. Whether you are buying or selling, it will at least get you in the ballpark. Condition is one of the most important properties of a used firearm. Something like 95% or better wood and blue is desirable for modern guns, anything below that really diminishes value. Just like an automobile with dents, dings and corrosion, a beat-up old gun does not instill pride of ownership or speak well of its previous owner's care. There isn't much motivation to wax an Earl Scheib paint job, nor is there great motivation to maintain a pitted old gun. Metal is hard to sand back on.
One common question concerns insurance value. Normally, it isn't that tough. Armed with a digital camera, it is easy to accurately document your gun collection. Blue Book values are sufficient for insurance purposes. You'll typically pay a percentage of the rider coverage on your gun collection annually, just like insuring any other personal property. What an individual gun is worth can never be known unless you actually sell it, but that isn't the notion of insurance. It is simply what it costs you to replace it.
Copyright 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.