Is it okay to pay more?

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Dan Wesson
  • Guns as investments
  • FWB 124
  • Condition matters
  • It’s worth what someone will pay
  • Guns as safe investments
  • Non-pristine, yet solid investments
  • Sheridan Supergrade
  • BSA Airsporter Mark I
  • Bottom line

Of all the reports I have written, this one might just get me in trouble with some of you readers. I’m going to talk about money today. Politics and religion are two topics that are guaranteed to start a conversation, but when the topic is money the talk gets very personal for some people. What I am about to say may hit people the wrong way. But it is what I believe and I am going to defend my position.

Dan Wesson

When I researched material for the first report on the Dan Wesson 4-inch pellet revolver last week, I happened to look up Dan Wesson pistol pacs on the Gun Broker website. There was a very complete one that was selling for around $1,585, the time I first saw it. I checked the expired auctions and discovered that pristine examples had brought over $2,100 in the recent past, so this one seemed undervalued. Of course the auction was still live, so it could still go up.

Dan Wesson pistol pacs don’t usually have the belt buckle or the cloth patch with them, but this one did. They may have all the other tools and parts and even all the literature, but those two items are often missing. When they are present, I know I’m looking at a complete set. Complete pistol pacs are rare.

I thought this might be a good investment — a $2,100+ item that maybe will sell for $1,800. Three years ago the same complete pistol pac would only bring $1,500 or so, so they are on the rise and a solid investment. And that is what I want to discuss today. Before I do, though, let me tell you the problem with this particular gun. The cylinder has a small scratch and the finish on the 8-inch barrel is slightly worn at the muzzle edge. It’s probably in 99 percent condition. With those two issues, this is not a good investment. For a Dan Wesson pistol pac to sell well it must be complete and 100 percent.

Guns as investments

I was talking with John McCaslin, the owner of AirForce Airguns, several weeks ago and he mentioned that his gun collection is earning him money faster and more steadily than any other investment he can think of. Those two words — faster and more steadily — are both important. Because there are investments that make money faster than guns or airguns. But those investments can also lose money faster, and that is called risk.

“More steadily” is the other thing about gun investments. Guns do rise in value over time. But not all of them are good risks. A few years back when the administration was attacking firearms ownership by limiting AR-15 magazine sales, the price for AR-15s shot up out of sight. But the increase wasn’t real — it was driven by panic. As a result, when things relaxed, some guns lost a thousand dollars in value in just a few months! That’s similar to the value given to office buildings in Tokyo in the 1980s. They were each valued at billions of dollars, and loans had been made based on those values. Reality set in and everyone realized the buildings were grossly over-valued, and the result was a collapse of the Japanese stock market. A close relative of mine lost 8 million dollars in a couple months because she had invested in the Japanese stock market on the advice of someone she trusted, just before this happened.

So — guns can be good investments, but not always. You have to know what you are doing. Let’s now get specific.

FWB 124

An FWB 124 can be a good investment, but it can also be a loss from the start, if you buy wrong. Look for guns in original condition with all their original parts. A custom stock may look good and fit the shooter better than the factory stock, but it does nothing but devalue the worth of the rifle, unless the original factory stock is also with it. That’s because people don’t all have the same tastes, nor are they all the same size.

FWB 124
FWB 124 Deluxe is an all-time classic that retains its value when unfooled with.

If the gun’s powerplant has been refreshed with a new piston seal and even a new factory mainspring it is still a good value collectible. If it has been worked on extensively by a top tuner, it looses most of its value to collectors. It may still be a great shooter and worth a lot for that reason, but the collector value goes away when the gun is modified. People don’t care what that custom stock or tuneup cost you — it only detracts from the collector value of the gun.

Condition matters

This is a lesson a wannabe investor needs to learn quickly. A Winchester model 61 slide-action .22 rimfire rifle is perhaps worth $600-800 when it is in very good condition. I mean NRA Very Good condition — not what the owner happens to think very good means! A gun like that is a good shooter, but it’s not collectible.

 

Winchester 61
Winchester model 61 slide-action .22 repeater is a desirable firearm.

The same rifle in NRA Excellent condition is worth $1,200-1,400, and is collectible. The difference between NRA Very Good and NRA Excellent is perhaps 10 percent more finish or just one buggered screw slot. The same rifle in Like New condition and still with the original box — serial-numbered to the rifle — is a $2,600-3,000 gun! And there are a few that exist in boxes that have never been opened. No one has ever seen them since they were packaged at Winchester over a half-century ago. Prices for such guns start around $4,000, for rifles that nobody will every see. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But that’s the way the Winchester model 61 market goes. If you intend buying Winchester model 61 rifles as investments, you have to learn what drives their value.

Now, let’s go back to that FWB 124 for a moment. A very good one with all the factory parts (sights, black plastic trigger blade and sling swivels if it is the deluxe model) is worth $375-450. An excellent one goes for $425-500. Excellent in the original box might add $75.

But what about one that has an FWB peep sight on the rear and a globe front sight that accepts interchangeable inserts? Neither of these is original to the rifle. Well, if the original sights are missing, subtract $150. Then add back about $100 for the sights that are with it. So those fancy sights represent about a $50 decrease in value, compared to a complete gun in the same condition.

What if I have one of the Air Rifle Headquarters 124s (called the F12) that has the custom stock ARH used to put on them? The forearm on that one is super deep, so the cocking slot can be filled-in for less vibration. That rifle falls into a separate category, being both a 124 and a vintage ARH collectible. It is actually worth a lot more than a standard 124 because of that ARH custom stock — maybe $550 in very good condition. In this case the original box from ARH adds a little extra value — perhaps $50 — but the rifle is the thing that carries most of the worth. The box isn’t actually original to the rifle. It had to be repackaged, because the overly large stock wouldn’t fit into the factory box. I have only seen one of these in all my years in this game.

It’s worth what someone will pay

Be very careful with this category! I once owned a 124 that was custom made for Mrs. Beeman. A customer talked her out of the rifle and I then bought it directly from her. I checked with Mrs. Beeman and indeed, the story was true. So the provenance was established. I called that rifle the “Queen B.”

When I needed cash a couple years later I sold it back to the lady I bought it from for the same price I paid ($600) — having given her first right of refusal. She promptly resold it for nearly twice that much. The current owner has put a price of more than $3,000 on the rifle. Is it really worth that much? Probably not, but who can say? If I were you I would avoid guns like this one, as their “value” is often tied to stories rather than to solid facts.

Guns as safe investments

Back to the discussion I had with John McCaslin — are guns and airguns good investments? Yes, if you stick to what you know and if you avoid market anomalies like politically-driven or personality-driven values, guns and airguns can be excellent investments. However, they are not liquid assents. Gold can be sold instantly for its fair market value. With property like guns you have to wait for a buyer to come along. That’s true for anything that isn’t actual liquid cash.

Non-pristine, yet solid investments

Okay — this is what you came to read today. Most of us don’t have any use for a gun that is so perfect we dare not shoot it or even handle it much. What about the guns we can shoot? Are there still solid investment opportunities there? Yes!

Sheridan Supergrade

I’ll start with the Sheridan Model A or Supergrade. That is one of the all-time solidest investments that exist in airguns. Avoid those that have obvious modifications like extra holes drilled in the receiver or additions/modifications to the stock, but a Supergrade is almost like cash. So many airgunners want them that they are very close to liquid. If you don’t pay too much you’ll never loose money. If you do pay a little too much, just wait a few years and things will take care of themselves.

Sheridan Supergrade right
A Sheridan Supergrade is money in the bank.

Having said that. let me tell you a small secret. The Supergrade I just bought has a flaw. It has an extra hole drilled and tapped into the right side of the receiver. Am I worried? Not really. The hole doesn’t detract and I doubt it takes much away from the value of the airgun.

Sheridan Supergrade receiver
That threaded hole wasn’t put there by the factory. It detracts, but on a nice Supergrade, not that much.

BSA Airsporter Mark I

I will use a BSA Airsporter Mark I (only the Mark I for this) for my next example. You could just as easily substitute a Webley Mark III, a Mark II Service, a Crosman 600 pistol or a Diana 27. What I’m saying is any real classic airgun will have good value, despite not being pristine. These are airguns whose values lie in what they are more than how nice they are. As long as they are very good or better these are guns you can even overpay for and be safe, because the market will always catch up.

Bottom line

If you are looking for some solid long-term investments, airguns can be a great way to go. They are smaller and more portable than real estate and a lot safer than most hard goods. Shop carefully and you will have something you can enjoy as it earns money for you!

55 thoughts on “Is it okay to pay more?

  1. If they are making him money, then he has to be selling them.
    If they are just sitting in his safe, they are just theoretical money.
    If the bottom drops out of the market, he is screwed.

    As you mention, you have to find a buyer.
    And have to sell it when it’s at it’s peak.

    I don’t remember what coin it was, but they used to be fairly rare.
    Then a large stash was found and the market value of them dropped.
    That would be my luck.

    A lot of people (with liquid assets) since 1986 have been buying transferable machine guns as an investment.

    If the Hughes act somehow ever gets repealed, the price of full auto guns will drop dramatically.
    An ar-15 drop in auto sear (a small piece of metal that weighs just a couple of ounces) drops into your rifle, the sear is the registered NFA item, not your rifle, and therefore be moved from rifle to rifle.
    One of these currently sell for $15,000-$30,000, for a small metal contraption you put into your existing semi auto rifle.

    Before 1986, they were $100 or less.


    • I don’t wish ill to the investors but that would be wonderful!! I worked in a large gun shop over 70’s-90’s and remember being appalled when the act was passed. As far as I ever know, no one ever used a registered MG to commit a crime. What’s hurts even more is that I believe this was passed during the Regan era.

      Kevin in CT


      • There is some traction going on 2 fronts, one is the Hearing Protection Act.
        Trying to get suppressors removed from the NFA.

        And another, “white paper” actually suggested by the ATF to have several things removed from the NFA, as per their own research, the amount of time and man power being used for some things, would be better allocated in other areas.

        Some shooters could give less than a care about NFA items.

        Personally, I think if you can pass the background check, and have the money to purchase and FEED the beast.
        You should be able to own one.



  2. Nice article. I do not have much to add except that,.. like with anything,…. do your homework. The Blue Book is good too. You will be exposed to a (massive) amount of air guns, past and present, with pictures and values. It also shows what makes something 100% and down.

    I am curious as to just what the extra hole in the Sheridan was for. It looks to be well done.

    Good Day all,….. Chris


  3. BB,

    I could never be an investment collector. I am not going to let that air rifle sit in it’s box while I hope it’s value climbs. I see many “collector” airguns at shows. This past Hickory show I saw a NIB Barnett air rifle for sale. I saw the exact same air rifle for sale at the 2005 Roanoke show and every airgun show I have been to since. On more than one occasion I almost bought it. It is a beautiful, well made air rifle and the price on it is comparable to such. If I bought it, the value would likely go down as I would open that package and start playing with it.

    Now my 1906 BSA is a collector’s item and is probably worth double what I paid for it, even though I shoot it on a regular basis. Good thing, because I did not buy it to collect it. If I can’t shoot it, I don’t want it.


    • Hey RR, I bought the Barnett that wasn’t in the box at the Roanoke show (last one at the Elks club). Neat rifle with a terrible trigger. I wanted a tap loader rifle. Maybe I’ll look for a Diana 46.

      Fred


      • Hey Fred,

        If you think you want one of those, I have a Diana 46E that is looking for a new home. It is a real nice shooter. There is one dude who is interested, but he hasn’t committed yet.



          • Fred
            The 46e RidgeRunner has is nice. I owned it at one point in time.

            It is a pretty good shooter. But not at the extreme distances I’m use to. And it’s kind of one of those guns that ain’t made like that now days. The flip up breech is what I’m talking about.

            I’m kind of more a PCP type of guy. I like springers. But the PCP’s kind of got their unique personality’s also. More forgiving. Easier to shoot and be accurate.

            So the 46e is cool. But just not quite my cup of tea. If that makes any sense.


  4. B.B,
    I’m not trying to be funny. If no one has seen that Winchester for over half a century how do I, as buyer, know that there is actually a gun in the box and not a weighted 2 x 4???
    Seems like a good way to scam a collector with a forgery.

    Pete


  5. Speaking of the new selection of air rifles to be offered this year, Hard Air Magazine has just published their review of the new Crosman/Benjamin Wildfire. It sounds as if you are thinking of this air rifle, you might want to think a little bit more to make sure you are getting what you want. It does not sound like a good first time PCP.


    • RidgeRunner, I read that report on the Wildfire last night. I was let down. They C02 version they tested was weak, but accurate. This one isn’t powerful and it isn’t accurate (compared to the C02 one they tested). I also liked what they said about all the newbies will get one, only to discover fill one can be expensive or a bother for them. The low price point will bring in “big box store” type buyers with no idea what they are getting with PCP. Other than guys (and gals) on here and the likes, most don’t have a clue about PCP. I agree with what they said at the end, consider a Benjamin Maximus. It was powerful and accurate.

      Doc


  6. Interesting read.

    People will invest in all kinds of things speculating that they can sell the item for a profit. Guess that airguns are no different.

    Thanks for the different perspective B.B.

    Hank

    P.S.
    IMHO, a rifle that has spent years/decades in its original box has been neglected in the worst way. Rifles need to be taken for walks in the bush and shot frequently – even if they suffer little marks and dings – they are much happier for the love and attention. 🙂


    • As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Since the 1970’s, I was into antique car restoration as a hobby. I used to keep a running spreadsheet tabulating all the parts I purchased and the price paid. As a hobby, my time and skinned knuckles were “free”. I was meticulous in my work and always tried to restore or fix the item back to factory stock rather than use aftermarket or custom parts. The pleasure I received from these old vehicles was driving them with a clutch and standard transmission to local shows or just crusin’ around the neighborhood. When I tired of the constant repairs, breakdowns, or wanting a better ride, I would sell them. I can state categorically that I never covered the original purchase price plus the cost of parts I installed over the time of ownership, however, the hours of pure pleasure I enjoyed was priceless. I saw these old cars as items to drive and enjoy, not as investments. You would think all the TV shows lead you to believe you can make a fortune buying and selling old cars, but I think it is a very narrow market for these dealers. If you are in the business of buying and selling old cars, airguns, jewelry, antiques, or whatever, you better know what you are doing and purchasing. The bottom line to all investments: BUY LOW, SELL HIGH. It is that simple. Since I am not trained or good at it, all my retirement accounts are managed by experts who have done well for me over the long term.

      So, I wish you luck in your airgun investments. Me? I prefer to enjoy my cars, airguns, firearms, etc.
      .


      • B-I-L,

        I’m not into investing (never had spare case to speculate with) so I buy as best I can afford for a specific application.

        My interests are outdoors orientated, mostly fishing, air rifles, wood working, archery and photography in about that order.

        There is a lot of interest in antique cars locally with some really fine examples driving around. It looks to be an very rewarding hobby but I have done enough car maintenance, repairs and engine replacements to know that working under cars with the grease, rust and seized bolts that it is not my thing. Each to their own eh?

        Cheers,

        Hank


        • Since I will turn 73 in a month, my car repair days are way in the past. I even stopped changing my own oil as I got tired of laying on cold concrete with all sorts of trash falling into my eyes. My last purchase was a 1958 Thunderbird that I bought on eBay, and what a mistake that was. After working on it for almost a year, I was backing out of the garage when smoke started coming from under the dash and around the hood. OMG, an electrical fire. Luckily I had a quick battery disconnect before it advanced too far.

          Right then I decided that a hobby is not supposed to burn down your house. I called a charity and they sent a wrecker to remove it from my driveway. About 6 months later I received a letter in the mail from the charity. Someone took pity on the car and restored it back to running order, and they sold it for $10K. The letter told me that I now had a tax write-off for that amount. However the end of the story is not good, as I had several thousand dollar more than that in my “restoration”.

          Now my hobby is shooting and reloading on the weekends, thanks to Tom’s instruction and prodding.



          • B-l-L
            I did the muscle car thing for years. Loved every minute of it. Loved fix’n em up, loved cruz’n em and loved taking em to the dragstrip.

            Yep alot of money spent and alot lost. But had very much fun exsperiancing it all. Wouldn’t trade it for noth’n.

            Think I been doing the same with airguns for a few years now. No regrets yet. 🙂


  7. Great topic today BB. A friend once said that a gun is worth what you can get for it in 24 hours. I have an original FWB 124 that was my dad’s. The Sights are off but I have them. this one is not for sale. I tend to buy more than I sell. That is how you run out of room! My last purchase for investment was the Remington Black Diamond .22 I got a deal on at a gun show last year. BTY, there is a local gun show near home this coming weekend. 🙂

    Mike


    • Mike,

      A Black Diamond in excellent condition can sell for up to $550 if it is original and hasn’t been messed with. And it’s a gun you can shoot while it appreciates.

      However, condition is important. Degrade the condition from Like New to Excellent and the value drops to $400. Still, it stays ahead of a Nylon 66 at all times.

      I was unaware of the Black Diamond a couple years ago and was offered one in a trade for something I valued at $350. I lost money for not making that deal. The seller really wanted the gun I had and tried to school me on the Black Diamond, but as far as I was concerned, it was a Nylon 66 with a funny finish!

      Oh, well — live and learn.

      B.B.


      • You are 100 percent right about condition. This one has had QD sling studs added so it’s not all original. But the condition is about 98 or 99 percent. I gave $317.00 so I didn’t get hurt. The asking price was $400.00 but I pointed out the studs and we came to that price. It’s a good shooter too! I have always been a fan of those Nylon 66 rifles. I have two others in Mohawk Brown.

        Mike



  8. B.B.,

    An excellent report. I found myself nodding my head up and down a lot as I read it. :^) As we drank our morning coffee, my wife said that it must be a really good report because I made many grunts of approval as I read it.

    As is the case with many subjects, there is always an awful lot of other observations that can be made. For example I have some based mostly on my being a vintage guitar and vintage guitar amplifier collector for over thirty years.

    1. Only collect what you also personally enjoy owning and learning about. If it is something you are not emotionally drawn to and enjoy, then there is no sense collecting it. Life is too short to collect fine china creamers if they do not make you light up when you find one you have been coveting for years.

    2. Rare does not necessarily equal valuable. I hear sellers say stuff like “Only 300 were ever made.” Rarity is a factor in value but only one factor among many. AMC Eagles were made in small numbers, but few car collectors want one. There is sometimes a good reason something was made in very small numbers.

    3. Condition is important, but as B.B. argues above, completeness and originality trump condition. A completely un-messed with 1950s Fender Telecaster might be worth $15 thousand or more, even in beat-to-heck, “dragged behind a pickup on a gravel road” condition. But one just like it that was professionally refinished to look like new will be worth only $3. Why? Because it is valuable only as a player, to players. No collector will give it a second look. If it is signed on the front by Johnny Cash with Polaroid of the signing, a $15K Telecaster is worth only $3000 again, perhaps more if the autograph can be effectively and professionally removed.

    4. Proven collectibles can and often do outpace more conventional investments, but no collection, no matter how carefully the items have been chosen, is a sure bet. Bets are never 100 percent risk free, which is why they are called bets. Vintage guitars had probably an 8 – 10 percent a year growth, compounded, from the early 1970s through the early aughts — 30 straight years! Then, a “correction,” or bubble quickly made values drop perhaps 25 percent or more. With muscle cars a decade earlier the bubble burst was even worse. Gradually vintage guitar cvalues have crept back up to where they were at their peak, but they could suffer another correction.

    5. Certain specific items such as a Supergrade, are immune to number 4, above. A new Gibson Les Paul Standard sold new for $350 in 1959. By 1969, they were $6000. In 1989, $25,000. In 2009, they were $350,000. Today a 100 percent, excellent condition one might fetch $500,000 or perhaps even more.

    BUT, if that otherwise $500,000 1959 Les Paul Standard was signed by Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, it drops to perhaps $20,000 (number 4 again).

    Michael





      • B.B.,

        Authenticated signatures on guitars increase the value only of very inexpensive (and not vintage/collectible) guitars.

        A “newish” Korean made $200 acoustic with Johnny Cash’s signature along with a photo of The Man in Black signing it will be worth $700 or so. The same with a $200 “newish” Korean made electric guitar with Clapton’s or Page’s signature (with photo authentication) — that autograph makes it a $700 guitar. They’re great for hanging on the wall, especially if you own a bar or restaurant.

        Guitar collectors are looking for the following, in order: 1. Desirable guitar, 2. Vintage, 3. COMPLETELY (“No excuses/stories”) original, 4. Rarity, and 5. Condition. To a collector numbers 1, 2, and 3 are a must. Without those three, it is not a collectible guitar and never will be. It might have excellent utility value, however. A high-end (Historic Collection) 2012 Gibson Les Paul is worth around $3000.

        There are sometimes other factors that run parallel to air gun collectors. For example Martins, Gibsons, and Fenders from the 1970s are worth a bit less than if they were from other decades because for those makers that decade was like the Dark Ages. The 1970s were a period of lesser workmanship, materials and design for those three. Same with Harley-Davidson, In the 1980s quality improved for all three makers.

        To a collector pre-war Martins are the thing, with Fender and Gibson it is the 1950s, with the 1960s being pretty good, too.

        Michael



  9. I saw one of those Dan Wesson pistol packs in Cabela’s used listings. Their asking price is $2400. I only noticed it because of your report on the air pistol. About collector items, I cannot purchase something just to sit there. I would have to try it if only to be sure it works.



  10. Hi BB, how is your eye? By the way these blogs are coming out, it’s doing fine! Thanks for this bit of insight! I’m starting to take an interest in military surplus rifles. I recall you own a hex receiver Mosin Nagant. Is that an investment for you? Are surplus rifles a good start? They’re relatively inexpensive. What do you watch for in military surplus firearms? Will they aways go up in value? I would be classified as a wannabe collector/investor….not really serious though…I’m much more interested in the workings and history of the firearm, but if I can make some money, why not right? 🙂

    Regards,
    Peter


  11. B.B.,
    Interesting blog post and interesting responses.
    For me, value is always contextual, both for acquisition and for relinquishing. At base are survival issues; beyond that it’s “whatever the market will bare”, something that tends to change depending on other changes in context.
    I know I am oversimplifying this.

    I was going to ask you a question about the alloy barrels on the Sheridan rifles compared with the steel barrels on PCPs. I now understand better why the PCPs need air that is clean and dry.

    I do agree with you that, if I could have only one air rifle for survival situations, a good multi-pump is the most reasonable. I do believe being my own gun smith for that one rifle would help; “take care of it and it will take care of you”.

    ~ken


  12. Great blog today BB. One point I will make about tuned guns, as you eluded to, is the value among the target shooting community. While it may not hold any value to a collector, a gun worked on by a match wining tuner, who’s guns have won further matches can add value to a rifle bought at the right price. Though many airgun tuners prices take most of the value out of the cost some are fair and the gun can gain value.

    On a side note while we chatted at the PA Cup a few times this past fall I never got to introduce myself. I’m the tall younger guy who shared top spot in the Pay Day challenge.


  13. That’s the thing with all this collecting and owning stuff.

    Someone will pay for documented history. Be it guns or muscle cars. Heck even radio controlled airplanes and so on.

    Some things that get worked on and have proven good results with a reputation behind them brings money.

    Some want original. Had this discussion many times throughout time. What would be worth more. A fully original 57 Chevy or one that’s been hot rodded. It’s all in the eye of the beholder I believe as the saying goes. Just when you think something will bring money it won’t. Then in a blink of a eye everybody wants it.

    What I have learned is get what you want and keep it if it makes you happy. And don’t get over serious about what you do with what is suppose to be your fun relaxation time. That’s a quick way to kill a good thing if you get to serious.


  14. Reading your article brought to mind that I have a .22 Brno Model 581 rifle that I have not looked at in twenty years or so.
    I bought it when I was a young guy in Canada back in the fifties, but never shot it much after moving to the states in 64. Since then it has sat in it’s gun bag in my bedroom closet. Have you any idear B.B. what it’s value would be? I just pulled it out to take a look and it is in very good shape, but does have a indented line on the butt. My interest in fire arms has changed as I now hunger for PCP’s and enjoy the shooting without the noise.


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