Buying exceptional airguns

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts on buying rare and hard-to-get airguns. In the past, I’ve written several times about trolling for good buys and how to turn them up in a variety of circumstances. Some of you have shared your own experiences on this topic — from trolling in pawn shops to placing ads in novel locations to ferreting out those unexpected great deals.

I want to take a different direction on the same topic. What do you do when you want something specific? You’re going after just one thing — not accepting any good thing that snags in your net. How do you go about getting that thing you want very much?

Make haste slowly
Ben Franklin gave this advice in Poor Richard’s Almanac. It means you should be focused on your goal at all times — but don’t jump at the first, second or even third opportunity to get what you want. Many years ago, an old friend of mine went about buying used cars this way. He told me he was always looking for a “creampuff,” which he described as a very old car (at least 10 years old) that had low mileage and excellent maintenance records. This was back in the 1950s and ’60s, when cars had to be maintained a lot more than they do today.

My friend, Harry, even had a method of looking for cars. He cultivated older people, talking to them and helping them out in small ways by watching their houses while they were on vacation, helping with their yard work if they were older and couldn’t do it, and just keeping his eyes open as he drove around the neighborhood. He told me once that when he wanted a new (to him) car, he planned on spending 6 months to a year to find just the right deal.

The right deal was a car with less than half the expected mileage for its age, one that had regular oil changes and tuneups and preferably one that was kept inside a garage. We lived in San Jose, California, so the weather was usually quite nice; but Harry reasoned that if the car was garage-kept, it was also loved like a member of the family instead of being treated like a broken down old horse tied up to the hitching post out in the rain.

In 10 years, I watched him buy 4 cars this way, and each one was a winner. He never paid that much, though I also noticed that he didn’t have to haggle about the price, either. His sellers were always motivated to sell him their cars at very reasonable prices.

So, making haste slowly means having a plan that has minimum acceptable criteria — price, condition, accessories and so on. Once you determine these criteria, you don’t sway from them. You pass up deal after deal until the right deal comes along. When it does, you’ll have looked at so many other deals that were almost what you wanted, but not quite, that the right deal will shine like the noonday sun.

Why is it worth that much?
When you’re searching for a specific airgun, you have to know what the market is paying for them at the current time. That doesn’t mean that you have to pay that much for the same gun, but you at least have to know what they’re going for. This helps you in several ways.

The first way knowing what things really cost helps you is by aligning your own thought processes. If you think that Sheridan Supergrades should cost $600 in excellent condition, you’re probably never going to find one. The reality is that Supergrades in original excellent condition are now bringing $1,400 to $1,800. If you can’t acknowledge that, nothing you do is going to make you happy.

The second thing you need to know is that ANY restoration or fiddling with a potentially collectible Supergrade destroys 90 percent of its collector value. A gun that looks like a new gun but has just been refinished is worth $1,200. The seller may have twice that much into it — that’s not your problem. That gun has no real collector value. In fact, the same gun was worth more before it was refinished than it is right now. I get into arguments over this fact repeatedly with people who think that an item’s appearance is worth more than its history. To them that may be true; but to the rest of the world that spends real money on things, it isn’t.

The truth may be that you’re not a collector. If that’s the case, the good-looking restored Supergrade may be worth more to you because of its appearance. Just know that when you try to sell it, this fact is going to come back to haunt you.

Condition
The condition of airguns drops off very fast as they accumulate the nicks and dings of ownership. When someone tells me a gun is like new, I expect it to have 100 percent of its finish and no dings or marks on the wood. Don’t ever tell me that something is like-new except for a small bit of finish wear at the muzzle! You just described a gun in excellent condition — not like-new.

I’m not lecturing you. What I’m doing is giving you the tools to turn around situations in which people misrepresent the condition of their airguns to you — often without knowing it. A like-new FWB 300S is probably worth $800. An excellent FWB 300S is worth $550. Big money difference for just a few words, but that’s how it works.

I own a Falke 90. That model is widely acknowledged to be rarer than a Colt Walker revolver, which brings from $200,000 to over one million dollars when they sell. Of course, the Walker is tied to the Mexican War and the Falke 90 is just a post-WWII airgun without any significant history, but the point is that they’re very rare.

Mine, however, has been extensively restored. Where a Falke 90 in original condition with 90 percent of its original finish is probably worth over a thousand dollars, mine is worth whatever someone will pay for it. My rifle looks quite nice, but it’s obviously been worked on. Even if you didn’t know the whole story of the gun, you’d be foolish to pay even half what an unrestored gun is worth to get something like my gun.

Here is another thought. Back at the end of World War II, it was popular for American soldiers to obtain a Luger pistol. Many of them then had their guns nickel-plated before bringing them back from the war. Today, these guns are popping up everywhere and the stories that accompany them are fantastic! “It was a presentation piece from Hitler to very special people on his staff. This one belonged to Heinrich Himmler!”

Yeah — right! If Heinrich Himmler had owned all the guns attributed to him he could have opened a gun store! And nickel Lugers? Yes, a few of them do exist with legitimate provenance, but the bulk of them were made after the war by Happy Hans the Plating Mann. It was anything for a buck in those days, and many soldiers wanted shiny trinkets to remember their overseas experience.

Here’s another one. A factory-engraved Colt Python is worth a premium. But a Colt Python that was engraved outside the Colt factory is only worth what people will pay for it. If the non-factory engraving is well done, it can add value to the gun. If it’s poor, it can quickly take away value.

It’s all in the details
You want an FWB 127 — the .22-caliber version of the famous FWB 124 (.177 caliber) sporting air rifle. You know that 127s bring almost double what 124s bring because they’re so scarce. A nice 124 may sell for $450, while a nice 127 will fetch $700 all day long. But hey — a guy you know has pressed out the barrel of his 124 and replaced it with a .22-caliber barrel from an HW 80. He would have used an FWB barrel; but since the .22-caliber 127s are rare, so are the barrels. Does that make his rifle a 127? No, it makes it a 124 that’s been fooled with. It may be exactly what you want from the standpoint of its function, but all the collector value of the gun is now out the window. I’m not saying the gun has no value — just that it no longer has any collector value.

But, it’s over 100 years old!
I hear this all the time on the “reality” TV shows that deal with the value of things. Whether it is found inside a storage locker or an old barn, the age of something is not the sole driver of its value. It’s just one component. Older firearms are potentially worth more than modern ones (depending on what they are and their condition) — older footwear, maybe not so much. Age is just one thing that drives the price, so don’t overrate it.

In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19)
When I was a consultant for an engineering firm, we had a saying about the software we developed: “You want it bad? It’s bad right now!” This applies to acquiring those special airguns you want, as well. Don’t be stampeded into a deal just because you have found almost what you want. It has to satisfy all of your criteria or it’s not the right deal for you. You don’t want to have to talk yourself into the deal after the fact, trying to convince yourself that you did okay. If the quality is there and the specifications are right but the money isn’t, walk away. If the money is good but the specs are off (the TX200 Mark III instead of the Hunter Carbine you really want or a .177 instead of a .22), walk away.

Act!
This is the big one that separates the men from the boys, but it also separates the men from their money. When you do find the gun you want and everything else is right, act on it. I’ve witnessed the following: A man lowballing the seller of a military Girardoni in fine condition and allowing another buyer to whisk it away. Ten years later, the gun was worth no less than 15 times what it sold for that day. I personally put together the deal that got me my Ballard rifle for about half the asking price. Even then, it was still the biggest single gun transaction I’ve ever been part of. I had to trade 3 high-value guns to get it, but the deal was right and I knew it.

I recently was involved in a transaction in which I offered far less than the seller was asking for his very valuable gun. But I knew he’d been trying to sell it for over a year and there hadn’t been much action on it, if any. While my offer was embarrassingly low, it was also a substantial cash offer. True, you could go on the auction websites and see similar guns whose owners were asking twice what I offered, but you could also see they weren’t getting any takers. It’s one thing to say such-and-such a gun is worth a certain price; but when you want to sell it and someone is standing in front of you with a lot of real money in his hand — even though it is less than the experts believe your gun is worth, there’s a strong motivation to take the offer. You see this happening on TV shows like Pawn Stars all the time, but I’m also telling you that it can happen just that way.

If you want that hard-to-find airgun, there are some things you need to do.

1. Educate yourself on the real value of the gun. What are people actually paying for them?

2. Be a stickler for originality and condition. You can buy modified guns and guns that have been refinished if you want to, but make sure the deal reflects that.

3. Know as many of the technical details as possible of the gun you want. Know why it’s worth what it’s worth, instead of a warm feeling just to be in the presence of one. Never forget that some warm feelings are not pleasant!

4. Be patient to wait for the right deal.

5. Most importantly, act when the deal is right. Don’t look back after the deal is done.

49 thoughts on “Buying exceptional airguns

  1. I like these kind of articles. A lot.

    I know that B.B. has a passion for airguns and trading guns. Not sure those passions are in that order. LOL! Doesn’t matter since the passion and wisdom from both exudes from his writing.

    I’ll add one minor thing.

    If you spend your time doing research on the value of the gun you’re after make copies of this relevant research (blue book values, completed auctions including pictures, etc.) preferably in PDF or other Internet usable format.

    Many sellers live in a fantasy world and have arrived at their belief in the value of their prized possession based on asking prices that will never be achieved and praise from their friends that without knowledge affirm the value that the owner wants to believe is real.

    When confronted with FACTS many MOTIVATED sellers will concede that they were living in a dream land and only needed facts to allow them to part with their rare gun. With facts come justification for motivated sellers.

    Kevin


  2. BB
    Dead on. Same experiences with the Muscle Cars I was buying, trading and selling. As well as some guns. And RC air planes too. But mostly cars.

    Its actually kind of fun to talk to the people and see what kind of stories are told about the object. Some of them are kind of out there, some funny, and some for real with some amazing facts or documents to back the object they have.

    And like you said BB. You got to know what you want. Not maybe want. Guns and Muscle Cars are similar. If I trade such and such object with somebody. I got to know in my mind that I may never get a chance to own it again. Gone. So yep you got to be on the ball or it may not end up like thought.


    • GF1,

      A possible explanation of why the only place to buy the Rogue is that it was a marketeering disaster. I mean look at it. What were they thinking? It is not even black.

      They built a plastic pop gun and then priced it with the top shelf shooters. The big bore guys could buy better quality for less money. Do you think you can hit a soda can at six hundred yards with a Rogue? So what if you can “program” the power level. It is inaccurate at all power levels. That may not be all the fault of the Rogue. It may need to be fed better slugs. But keep in mind, when the marketeers rolled this puppy out with much fanfare, they also rolled out “special” slugs made just for it by Nosler. It still won’t shoot worth doodlely.

      Speaking of programming, they seemed to have had issues with the first go round and they supposedly made it more user friendly on the next revision, but the damage was already done.

      Very likely what Crosman has for sale is what was left over from the last run and no dealer bought. If you are one of those rich collectors who just have to have all the air gun oddities, this just might be your last chance.


      • RR

        While I would not have one as a gift, I do have to give Crosman credit for giving it a try. They took the idea and put it together into something that might have been sellable. But they left it up to the consumer to find out how it worked under real world conditions. We got to find the glitches for them, and they know what the weak spots are now . They may or may not use the information to give it another try . They would have to prove to me that they can get it working right before I would consider another model.

        twotalon


        • Maybe the next go round they will give it a 24″ or longer barrel and a longer tank to match. that MIGHT help with an increase in velocity and just maybe accuracy. As far as programming, having not diddled with one, I have no idea what they need to do there except to K.I.S.S.


          • The only thing I liked about the gun was the idea of the electronics controlling the shot. But I don’t like the idea of having to charge a gun up to shoot it. So I guess I ain’t to crazy about that idea.

            Don’t really care for the looks of the gun either. And I just verily like synthetic stocks on a gun. Although they do take more abuse than wood. So yep I prefer a wood stock on a gun. To me it makes a visually more appealing gun.

            Maybe if they would of put a nice wood stock on the Rogue and made the gun in the .25 cal. and smaller calibers it may of sold better I guess.

            And then they might of gotten away with selling the gun for 1200 dollars or what ever it sells for. To me Crosman has always tryed to make quality guns and sell them at a competitive price. But I don’t think they got it on the Rogue.



  3. “Act when the deal is right”. That’s the one that sometimes gets me. I have trouble turning over a whole lot of cash, even when the deal is right. This applies to anything you are looking for, not only highly collectable guns.

    Refinished or rebuilt classics are often a great deal if you are looking for a shooter. It is a classic for a reason, and to get a tuned and refinished airgun at a price only slightly higher than the modern equivalent can be a great deal.

    David Enoch


  4. acting when deal is right…
    This week I spent $250 in a tx200 mk1. Bluing intact some minor nicks in wood. Scoped.
    Was the deal right? I still feel remorse for the expenditure…

    TE


    • TE,

      Maybe this will help with your remorse…. I usually don’t feel buyers remorse. Money really doesn’t mean much to me other than being a tool to get what I want. That’s not to say that I’m wealthy, just that the only time money is in my focus is when I’m running a bit tight… So, I guess that’s why I’m not wealthy and probably will never be when compared to my fellow Americans. Compared to the world, yes I am very wealthy, since I have money to spend on non-essentials and to help others with. I’m lucky and blessed and I know it. My toys are purchased with thankfulness and no regrets.

      /Dave


      • /Dave,

        When I proofed the blog yesterday, I told Tom that the most important tip was not looking back after you did the deal. I have a relative who recently revisited a handgun purchase that he made about a year ago.

        I don’t understand the need to determine if you paid enough, too much or got a bargain. Do you like it? Then be happy.

        We’ve all gotten bargains, & we’ve all paid too much. It evens out. Buy what you like and don’t steal your own pleasure by rethinking the purchase after the fact. You can’t do anything about it, so leave it alone.

        Edith


    • TE,

      If you wanted a TX 200 then the deal was right. You certainly got the cheapest one I ever heard of!

      My point about having no regrets is that when you are focused on one thing and have let many deals slip by, you will know when the deal is right. I don’t see how your deal could get much righter than it was!

      B.B.


    • TE

      You scored a good deal, unless it’s really broke. The only way you should feel any remorse is if you only bought it because it was a good deal , and did not really want it otherwise.

      twotalon



        • Another way to tame buyer’s remorse is to remind yourself that because you did not pay too much for this used item, you will someday be able to sell it for something in the neighborhood of what you paid for it. In the meantime you have the benefit — enjoyment — that comes with possessing it.

          Lets say you keep it for five years and use it a dozen times a year until the last nine months, when you use it not once. Then, you sell it, a well-maintined classic air rifle, for $275. You are out roughly two percent compounded of interest of roughly 625 dollars minus $25. Your owning this classic airgun will have cost you about $1.00 to “rent” for five years.

          So, using the above model (yes, based on a lot of educated supposition for data) you will have paid in the neighborhood of 2 cents per time you used it.

          Do you feel remorse NOW?

          Michael


          • Michael and TE,

            There is one other “fact” that I haven’t comment upon yet. But here it is. The first TX 200 does not have the ratcheting compression chamber catch. So, it slides open completely silent. Many airgunners consider that a big plus.

            So, this is a premium TX 200 — not just a used one. But one that is most desirable.

            TE, I can’t state emphatically enough how good you did on this deal!

            B.B.


        • Don’t you believe him! You were taken! You don’t want that piece of junk!

          I tell you what, since I am such a nice guy I will take it off of your hands for a hundred dollars, you pay shipping.



            • $120 + I’ll pay shipping and an extra $15 for your effort to pack it up and a solemn vow not to try to pawn off that piece of junk on some other unsuspecting unfortunate victim…

              /Dave



  5. I don’t normally go for old guns. It may be a spectacular looking gun but I do not know how it was used, how much it was actually shot, if there are ant fatigued parts ready to break and most importantly, no warranty. So when it breaks I have nobody I can send it to to get the thing fixed. Also with older guns you sometimes need to re-invent the broken parts. I have a basic set of hand tools, a few other tools not designed for airgun work. So if something inside breaks I now have a very large wall decoration.


  6. Off Topic Alert.
    Hi all,I would like to get the blogs opinions on Airsoft for accurate plinking.
    I was recently given an HK 45 by a friend and until then had no idea how nice
    an AS gun could be.I also didn’t know that they could use such an inexpensive
    gas for power.The green gas AKA propane can be had locally in bulk for cheap.
    I know that round ball are not as accurate as pellets can be but are these
    AS guns as accurate as a pellet rifle using round lead balls? Or are they on par
    with the average BB gun? I’ve just in the past few days learned that AS BB’s can
    be as heavy as steel BB’s.Does that make them just as prone to break things
    especially if shooting indoors?(Sounds like a silly question but I don’t know what the
    AS BB’s are made of and it seems like some of the AS guns can shoot faster than most
    BB gun’s do.)
    I like the looks of some of these bolt action style AS guns but I don’t want to spend
    a lot of extra cash if I’d be just as well off accuracy wise with a MSP Crosman or Daisy.
    What say you all? All thoughts,ideas and opinions welcome!


    • JTinAL.

      Airsoft metal BBs are made of a metal lighter than steel. I think some are aluminum but others might be made of different metal.

      They are heavier than most airsoft metal BBs and as a result do retain more energy on target.

      Ironically, metal BBs were created when California attempted to legislate airsoft guns out of existence by making guns that shot plastic ammunition illegal. The Asian manufacturers came up with the metal BBs in response. The laws were never passed and yet the metal BBs did go into production and now they exist. They are in opposition of the intent of airsoft technology, but it’s too late to close the barn door now.

      B,.B.


  7. The second thing you need to know is that ANY restoration or fiddling with a potentially collectible Supergrade destroys 90 percent of its collector value. A gun that looks like a new gun but has just been refinished is worth $1,200

    Uhm… Did you mean $120… You previously stated something like $1600 for pure, so 90% off for restoration would drop it to $160 (10% remaining).


  8. One of the best short how to buy/sell anything I’ve read. I follow a lot of these principals when i buy anything. I waited three years to buy a flat screen tv using the wait for the right deal mind set. Same goes with the truck i recently purchased. I’m not much of a collector of things though…..I like to use what i pay for :)


  9. Thanks for the most clear and incisive “How to…” on buying and selling and “getting what you want” piece that I can remember ever reading.
    I happen deal in photographic equipment but the chase and acquisition (or not) is largely identical whether dealing in cameras, guns, cars, or, as it turns out, real estate. Only the details and the forms you have to fill out change.
    I once spent 30 days seeing if selling used cars was something that would work for me. It turned out to be the second-worst job I ever had, largely because the newbie owner of the dealership was convinced that selling cars was somehow “different” than buying and selling other things. It isn’t. It took him less than six months to be out of business.
    (Since everyone always wants to know what the first-worst job was, I always say, “Basic Training.” The hours were pretty obnoxious, the food not that great, the human resources department not very accommodating, people kept yelling at me, and there was more personal contact with mud and barbed wire than I was accustomed to. But I was paid, thusly it qualifies as a “job” and tracers are very pretty.)
    The only thing I might add to your treatise is “diplomacy.” Often a great “deal” may come to you based on seller need or duress. Sometimes bone-headed sellers with unrealistic expectations can be very annoying, but it costs nothing to be gentle and can make the interaction far more pleasant (and even more profitable) for ALL concerned.


  10. A good example of me passing something up. Something I found on the yellow that I’ve wanted since BB blogged it. An HS81. It’s an old springer fixed barrel in .177. It’s missing its rear sight and not a .22. That’s 2 from my list of desired qualities that would make the gun right for me, so even though you don’t see these often, I’ll pass. I might have been able to accept the wrong caliber, but the missing rear sight is a no go so I’ll keep looking. I’ll eventually find what I’m after…

    /Dave



      • Sure! I still owe you the one on the LG55. Sorry that’s taking so long. I’ve been pretty tired from the training schedule at work. The article is mostly written, but I didn’t like how the pictures turned out, so I’m trying to find time in between all of the other chores this weekend to take better ones.

        /Dave


  11. How can you tell if an old (possibly vintage) air rifle has a leather pistonseal or a replacement synthetic seal? My Italian springer is a good example. It is marked made in Italy, the caliber (in Italian) and an importers mark on the stock( Sile). Can you give me any info re Italian air rifles? It appears to be well made, but has crude , non adjustable sights ( I replaced them). I got it in a flea market and the seller knew nothing about this rifle. thanks, Ed


    • Ed,

      There are a couple ways of knowing if a rifle has leather or synthetic seals. The best is to know the brand and how they sealed their guns at what times in the3 past. For e3xample, Diana guns of the 1960s are mostly leather except for those with the3 Giss system. Most spring guns of the 70s and after would be synthetic.

      Next is to know the age of the gun. Synthetic piston seals didn’t appear until after WW II.

      When in doubt, oil the seals as if they are leather. But that has a drawback, because the Walther, FWB and early Diana synthetic seals will degenerate in the presence of too much oil or the wrong kind of oil.

      B.B.


  12. The plan here sounds like the John Boyd plan for universal strategic success, the Observation Orientation Decision Action (OODA) loop. The part about patience is an exception but note well that the Latin root of the word patience means the ability to suffer….

    Michael, I have fond memories of my airsoft sniper rifle which was my very first airgun. I have no real desire to take it out again, but it served its purpose. If I were taking it out in public, I would paint the whole barrel fluorescent orange.

    I had an insight into shooting from a rather remote source. My brother has challenged me to a swimming race the next time I see him at a family gathering. This has raised a few eyebrows as it should at the sight of two middle-aged men thrashing down the pool. Well, nothing like old times. In my usual fashion, I have cast about for a resource to help me out and came across Janet Evans’s book on swimming. What’s in there is sort of like a Ph.D. for swimming. In her workouts, she has everything covered–distance, effort, time, technique. Nothing escapes these charts, and she’s got me convinced that they will inexorably lead to improvement, provided one is ready to put in the effort. At her peak in the late 80s, she was swimming 12 miles a day and doing dry land training of which 2,000 sit-ups was just one part!? Anyway, what I got to wondering is if there is anything comparable for a shooter, and my provisional answer is no. I’ve read a number of good books on shooting with valuable advice, but there’s nothing detailed about a training program. I suspect that is because shooting is so internalized and individual. Perhaps the dry-firing is comparable to the various drills that Janet Evans describes or maybe what Victor spent hours doing during his practices. And perhaps there are more things to train for action pistol-shooting. Some of Jerry Miculek’s comments make me think that he has a vast number of explicit training ideas of his own.

    Matt61


  13. dad got a luger that is a rare 1. it has never been shot either. he told me the story about the young officer pointing the luger at him and he froze up. dad said his garand didn’t. the luger has a long barrel and a few different things. it was appraised by a reputable gun dealer years ago. my brother and I made a walnut case for it with a glass front and we sealed it up. its bot for sale. but its just priceless and when in gone my daughter has to share it with my brother, he also put her as sole heir when he is gone unless I outlive him. either way we worked our wills to insure it stays in the family . we have it insured for $15000



  14. Why I keep coming back again and again…the best shooting forum, no matter what the calibre, propellant or whether rifle or pistol on the web.


  15. Interesting … I have a fwb 124 .177 that’s been in the closet since the piston seal expired. I would venture to say maybe from the mid 70′s (?). One of these days, I’ll fix it. Sure was sweet and is in very good condition. Thank you.


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