By: Peter Suciu
If you’re a collector of antique firearms, chances are you’ve run across some critics. It’s not uncommon for ignorant, anti-gun folks to sneer at such a hobby, but there are some aspects of collecting old guns even many people who support gun ownership may not be aware of.
Myth #1: Antique Guns Are ‘Dangerous’
Shooting some guns (of course not all) can lower their value. There are, of course, many vintage firearms that are extremely fun to shoot, and these pose no more risk to the shooter than a modern firearm.
An example of a highly shootable, collectible weapon is an original Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant, which can be as reliable today as it was 100-plus years ago. The Mosin-Nagant fires the Russian 7.62x54mmR cartridge, which is still used today by the Russian military for some of its heavy machine guns. That same cartridge was used in the World War II-era SVT-40 Tokarev semi-automatic rifle, and then the SVD Dragonov Sniper Rifle during the Cold War. The popular Romanian-made PSL, which closely resembles the SVD, is likewise chambered in this round. Thus, you can go to the range with guns from a 100-year period and shoot the same bullet with all of them. Such an experience to collectors of Russian/Soviet weapons is more fun that driving a Porsche supercar – and less dangerous.
It’s interesting that, sometimes, people who are the most vocal about why guns shouldn’t be valid items to collect themselves have very deep pockets and collect such things as expensive cars. Comedian David Letterman, for instance, has been an outspoken critic of guns, yet owns a small fleet of expensive cars. Can we trust that Letterman has always driven responsibly and has not ever put others in danger?
In fact, many older cars can be dangerous to passengers because they often lack airbags and seatbelts. Moreover, the heavy steel frames of these old cars can do serious damage to today’s much lighter vehicles, but rarely, if ever, does anyone object to the collection of classic cars. It irks me that people don’t mind their own businesses when it comes to what other people collect. In my mind, people should collect whatever they want, at their own risk.
As a firearms collector myself, however, I can attest that my antique rifles and other long guns spend most of their time on my wall, where they aren’t much of a danger to anyone. Rarely do I even ever take these firearms down to hold, and since many of them are much older than I am, they aren’t exactly “shooters.” I really can’t say for sure, for example, when my 1797 Brown Bess (used by the Honourable East India Company) was last fired. Given its historic value, I have no interest in shooting it – and despite what some TV shows may suggest, a really old gun isn’t worth more just because it shoots. In many cases, collectible guns in excellent shape are still considered “wall hangers.”
Myth #2: Guns Don’t Make Good Art Pieces
Speaking of wall hangers … Antique firearms have significant character, are beautifully crafted with real artistic merit, and are great conversation pieces, so don’t be afraid to decorate with them!
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has an entire gallery devoted to Arms & Armor, and its collection includes vintage armor and swords from Japan. The same quality workmanship that went into making a beautiful katana sword can be seen in the Japanese matchlock muskets that were used for centuries. These guns are a representation of the skills of the nation’s craftsmen during the Shogun era.
The same type of local influence can be seen in the jezails, the long, muzzle-loading “camel gun” carried by tribesmen in the Middle East. These weapons often featured unique brass work and beautifully intricate inlay quite worthy – and deserving – of display.
Myth #3 Guns Don’t Increase in Value
Properly cared-for guns can fetch a pretty penny over time, if you can bear to part with them, that is.
Some rare firearms have sold for not-very-small fortunes. The Model 1886 Winchester rifle that once belonged to U.S. Army Captain Henry Ware Lawton, the man who captured Apache leader Geronimo, sold for $1.2 million at a Rock Island Auction in 2016. Provenance has a lot to do with Lawton’s gun appreciating so much, of course, but collectors with more modest means can still buy an original 19th century Model 1886 Winchester ranging in price from $4,000 to $12,000 and hold onto their treasures as they increase in value.
‘Collectors Be Damned!’
There are plenty of reasons to collect guns: they’re valuable, fascinating, aesthetically interesting works of art that connect us to the past – all self-evident points to people who love these alluring antiques. In the past decade, though, anti-gun lawmakers in New York City have attempted to eliminate all exemptions of antique firearms from regulations and licensing. “Collectors be damned!” in other words, even if their guns were expensive antiques that in all likelihood couldn’t be fired.
There’s also a side issue to the gun collecting debate involving ivory. While this reporter is all in favor of efforts to save elephants from poachers, recent laws in a handful of states have brought about a total ban of all ivory, including on pistol grips and inlay. Guns that have any ivory on them can be seized and destroyed – even if the ivory was placed decades ago. Other items, including small statues and letter openers made of ivory, are also banned, but many antique musical instruments are exempt from this rule, even in New York.
These attempts to thwart gun collectors are nothing more than political ploys to attack guns and those who own them. Don’t let the gun-grabbers intimidate you. Gun collecting is a perfectly valid, rewarding pastime.
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at [email protected].