Posts Tagged ‘gun shows’

Airgun selling strategies

by B.B.Pelletier

I attended a gun show this past weekend; and on the first day, I noticed something that I’ve seen for many years but never appreciated. Most of the people who attend gun shows don’t know what airguns are worth. You can benefit from that.

Nobody knows what airguns are worth!
Across the aisle from me, a dealer had a Daisy model 21 double-barreled gun laid out. When I examined it, I noticed that it was really beat-up. It was a 20 percent gun, at best.

The dealer said he wanted a thousand dollars for this gun, because he’d seen one new in the box selling for $3,500 on the internet. He knew his was a junker, but he figured it must be worth that much at least.

He probably saw the asking price for the new-in-the-box gun. There are lots of outrageous prices like that online, and they usually never get a nibbler. But some people use those bogus prices as their starting point, and this dealer was one of them.

I’ll be attending the Roanoke Airgun Expo in a couple weeks, and I expect to see half a dozen to twenty model 21 Daisys, ranging from $300 for beaters, like the one I described, up to perhaps $1,400 for one like-new in the box. Yes, the price spectrum is really that broad, but it doesn’t continue on up into the stratosphere like many people hope and dream.

So, here’s an idea. Get a real cheap model 21 and bring it to a gun show! While you’re at it, there are many more airguns you can dispose of in this manner.

Airguns that firearms people like
You can’t go wrong with any of the Winchester-marked Diana breakbarrels. At the gun show, they think the name adds value. So your $200 Winchester 427 is now worth $250 or even more.

Older Benjamins and Crosmans always seem to go well. Since I am old myself, let me explain that by old I mean pre-1960. Pre-war is even better. And by pre-war, I mean before World War II.

Older and classic Daisys sell well. Older Daisys command attention wherever they are. But there are classic guns that don’t have to be old. The No. 25 is the poster child of all classic BB guns, and guns made in Rogers in the 1970s are very attractive to non-airgun buyers. You can pick them up cheap everywhere and make a nice profit when you sell them to someone who doesn’t know how common they are.

Another certain seller is an older, well-made gun like a Webley Senior or a Tell III. However, you have to buy them right, because gun show guys just don’t understand $300 pellet guns. Guns like the Weihrauch HW 45 (Beeman P1) are not so good, because you’ll usually have to pay too much to get them; or if you do get one right, it’ll be too hard to explain it to a non-airgunner.

But whatever you bring has to function, because these guys don’t want to collect them. They’ll be reliving their childhood with the treasures they buy from you. Spend the money to get them sealed and working before you lay them out, and you’ll be surprised at the response you get.

Older, vintage-looking guns
There’s a small market for wall-hangers at gun shows. I recently sold several cheap shotguns to guys who just wanted them as accent pieces for the wall. Well, what about older Daisys and Kings that reek of the 1920s? What about a real old Benjamin model D that isn’t worth fixing, but has great lines? Just be sure to pay pennies for guns like this, because you’ll sell them for pennies, as well.

Safety first
One thing you absolutely cannot do at a gun show is dry-fire an airgun. People do it at airgun shows, and I think some folks believe it’s okay. If you do it even one time at a gun show, you’ll be ejected from the show and banned from returning.

Become “the airgun guy”
Pick a gun show and attend it regularly. Soon, the dealers and veteran attendees will know you as the airgun guy. Whenever someone brings an airgun to the show, they’ll be directed to your table. Whenever someone asks about where the airguns are, they’ll be sent to you. You won’t have much competition at most of the smaller gun shows, from what I’ve seen.

The more regularly you attend a show, the more traffic you’ll build. These are people who will come to the show just because they know you’ll be there. They may have a gun that needs to be fixed or they may have just bought a collection that included airguns. Whatever the connection, if you’re the airgun guy, all the business will come to you.

Buying airguns at a gun show

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Pyramyd Air recently got in three new Sam Yang PCP air rifles. One is the Recluse, which is a 9mm (also shoots larger .357 bullets). The other two are Dragon Claws, and both are .50 caliber. One has a single reservoir, and the other has two air tanks. Now, on to today’s blog.

Last weekend, Mac and I had tables at the Dallas Arms Collectors Gun Show. I didn’t think I would get a blog out of that experience because they prohibit the use of cameras at the show, which is common at gun shows. But as things turned out, I saw so many airguns and related things that I just have to tell you about it.

More money
Right off the bat, I noticed that gun buyers are freer with their cash. While they bargain just as hard as airgunners, they pull out their wallets when it comes to the end. At airgun shows you see a lot more tire-kicking, and sometimes over ridiculous things like a $15 accessory. Firearm buyers don’t seem to clench up much before the $200 mark. So, by the end of the show, I had a real bundle of cash for the items I’d sold.

More tables
While some gun shows are still as small as airgun shows (75-125 tables), this one had over 800 tables. And the weekend before there had been a 4,000+ table show up in Tulsa, which is a four-hour drive from Dallas. More tables mean more people. Yet, that’s a very sad thing, because at an airgun show you will see more collectible and new airguns than at 20 gun shows — this big one included. To my way of thinking, it’s worth a thousand-mile drive with $4 gas to go to one airgun show. At least it is if you want to see some interesting airguns. But, I discovered that gun shows can also have their unique finds.

More thievery
The last gun show I was at where I sold firearms was over 30 years ago, and I was completely unprepared for the level of thievery that goes on today. Losing something off a table back in 1980 was so uncommon that the whole show talked about it when it happened. At this Dallas show, I was advised to watch my table like a hawk. And, sure enough, I did have a revolver cylinder stolen on the first day. It was priced at just $50 and the guy who got it will be surprised to discover that it doesn’t fit any cartridge, yet, because it was in the middle of conversion to .44 Special from .357 Magnum. But there you are. We had to lock all the guns to the table with cables — rifles and pistols alike! At an airgun show you can go out for lunch for an hour and just ask your tablemate or even the guy at the next table to watch your table in case someone wants to buy something while you’re gone. When something is stolen at an airgun show, the whole show still talks about it, so in that respect an airgun show is like a gun show of 30 years ago.

Shop talk
Just like airgunners, firearm buyers often shop the entire show before making a decision to buy, and therefore they often miss the better deals. One man brought only checks and credit cards to the show, so after he bargained for a price of $450 on a gun he was surprised to learn that I only accept green cash money. He had to go out to an ATM, during which time another buyer slipped in a bought his hard-negotiated treasure. And, no, I don’t hold guns for anyone. A long time ago I would hold a gun, but so often I was often left holding the bag at the end of the show. These days it’s the first cash that buys it. That’s pretty much the norm at airgun shows as well. Forget your credit cards; take cash. And, pull the trigger on those great deals when and where you find them!

Incredible prices!
The prices for airguns are all over the place at gun shows, which is something I was prepared for. Although I haven’t sold at a show in a long time, I’ve attended them often enough to know about how airguns are priced. Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate.

Diana model 35
There was a very nice-looking Diana model 35 breakbarrel on one of the tables. A nice 35 should bring $150-175, but this one was priced at $650. Oddly enough, the fellow who had the table was a semi-airgunner! He loved to shoot his vintage Sheridan Blue Streak, but he didn’t know that pellets were still being made for it. I told him about Pyramyd Air and how accurate the Benjamin domes are (they look like Premiers, but are less expensive) but he was convinced that vintage Sheridan pellets from the 1960s red tins were the most accurate pellets in his rifle. I bought an H&R Topper with a 20-gauge barrel an a .30-30 barrel from this guy for $105, so he wasn’t pricing his firearms out of sight, but he was way over on the one airgun.

Benjamin 112
On another table, a fellow had a 95 percent model 112 Benjamin transitional pump pistol for sale in the box for $165. That one was right on the money for a nice gun in non-working condition. Spend $40 for a reseal, and you have a fine collectible airgun from before WWII. That guy was also an airgunner who knew what things should go for. I could have bought it for $150, which would have been a pretty good buy.

Elsewhere I saw a zimmerstutzen that came out of an estate recently. It was missing the spoon that serves as the breech, but the man sold it for $350. It was a beautiful rifle, with flawless bluing, silver furniture and carved animal faces in the stock surrounded by acorns. The octagon barrel was swamped (tapered larger at the muzzle). There was silver or platinum lettering set into the barrel. So it was a quality gun. Fix it up to shoot and resell it for $800.

The really nice thing about this zimmer is that it takes a No. 9 ball. Neal Stepp, the 10-meter supplier from Ft. Worth, happens to stock them. I steered an airgunner to this table, and he was fortunate enough to buy this rifle. It should be back in action soon.

Also at the zimmerstutzen table, I mentioned what I did for a living and the guy pulled out an air rifle with a broken stock from under the table. It was a BSA Supersport Mk II (think Falke 90). I got it for $75, and it’s worth $100-125 right now. With another stock, it’ll be worth $275-300. This is a very collectible airgun, plus it’s a really nice shooter. I’ll blog it for you some day. My point is that the airgun was priced right.

10-meter rifle
Mac bought an FWB 150 that turned out to be very nice and just had a Beeman reseal a year ago. I’ll tell you in a few weeks why that’s so important for a 150, but for now take my word that it is. He’ll take it to the Arkansas show this weekend and put it on the table alongside the other two 150s he brought from home, so the guy who comes looking for a bargain 10-meter rifle should be able to score this coming weekend.

The interesting thing about this rifle is that once Mac saw it the first time, the guy kept after him to buy it. At the end of their tarantula dance (where two negotiators dance back and forth over a deal, and the first one to blink gets bitten), I had to flip a coin to see what final price the gun would bring. The other guy called it and won, so I cost Mac $25 extra on the deal. What fun!

Sheridan CO2 rifle
At another table I saw a vintage Sheridan CO2 pellet rifle that is somewhat collectible and goes for $125-150 in working condition. I wanted to pay $50 for this one of unknown operational readiness, but they thought it was worth $350, so we never reached an accord. At an airgun show, that person would soon discover that they were out of line and either change their price or leave. But at a gun show, these are all BB guns and who cares?

Then, I was offered a Marksman 1010 in the box, but it was no more than 20 years old and all I offered was $10. They just aren’t collectible when they’re that new. Somewhere else I saw an original Marksman made in Los Angeles in the ’50s. That one was marked $10, but I didn’t know if it worked. If it had been in the box, it would have been a $75 value. By itself, it can take a long time to sell. Because this was a gun show, there was no possibility of checking the operation without getting kicked out of the show.

The ones that got away
The real deals of the show were the ones I didn’t see. On the drive home after we packed up, my other tablemate asked me what I thought of the two tables of collectible airguns that were at the show. Well, of course, I had never seen them (this was a huge show and most of the time I was at my table), and he neglected to mention them to me while the show was still going. “I thought you would have seen them!” he said. The widow of an airgunner had two tables of Daisys that included some cast iron guns, but I never saw them.

That sort of thing happens at large gun shows, and I’ve even had it happen at a couple airgun shows. I’ll be walking out to my car with the last load of stuff and someone will ask me if I found everything I was looking for at the show. I’ll answer yes, except for that Sheridan Model B. And he’ll say, “You mean you didn’t see the gorgeous one Bill Breechclot had on his table? He wanted only $800, and it was worth twice that, if it was worth a dime! It sat on his table for the whole show, and he took it home half an hour ago!” That kind of stuff does happen to me, I will admit.

My observations
I’m going to start doing the larger gun shows again, because there were enough airguns at this one show to interest several airgunners. A real airgun show would have as many airguns on three tables as were at this entire show, but there are precious few airgun shows happening. Besides, at a gun show there’s always the chance of scoring big, because, as I’ve tried to point out, firearms dealers simply do not know what airguns are worth.

The art of collecting airguns – Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

In case you haven’t had a chance to view Pyramyd Air’s 2010 Xmas video, here it is!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Before I start today’s blog, please note that I’m undergoing another outpatient procedure this morning and will be out of the loop much of the day. Edith will monitor the blog and answer comments as she’s able. I would appreciate it if the blog readers could help out by answering the comments from new people and others who might usually get an answer from me.

The covert deal
I call this report the covert deal because that’s what it’s about. I’ll explain a few of the uncommon deals I’ve made as an airgun collector/buyer and seller. I’m doing this to encourage those among you who want to get out and try this for themselves but haven’t gotten up the courage to try it, yet. Hopefully, you’ll see from what I am about to tell you that there are plenty of great airgun deals still to be made. Okay, here we go.

While you’re standing at your airgun table at an airgun show, someone comes up and offers you a firearm. He tells you that he knows nothing about firearms and he recently inherited one that he wants to get rid of right away. Without saying so, you gather that he is uncomfortable around firearms, and he sees you as his chance to get rid of this one.

Think it can’t happen? I’ve had it happen many times at different shows; so much so, in fact, that I am now prepared to talk to this person, because I know exactly what he wants and where he’s coming from. I won’t bore you with all the details; but the quick and dirty is that he somehow feels owning a firearm makes him a marked man, and he wants to keep this transaction as quiet and private as possible. That’s what you need to know — keep things quiet and private and let this fellow go his way, unencumbered by any firearms.

He says he has in his car what looks like a Civil War musket, and the plate on the right side just says Springfield with an eagle and the date 1873. There appear to be additional words on the gun, but they’re impossible for him to read. You can relax, because what he has is not considered to be a firearm by the ATF. It was made before 1898 and is classified as an antique. This is no M4 that was used to rob a liquor store last week, then thrown into the bushes during the getaway.

Also, if you know that the American Civil War lasted from 1860 until early 1865, you know that this isn’t a Civil War gun. With that date of 1873, it’s most likely a Trapdoor Springfield.

Now, this could either be the real deal from the late-19th century, or it could just as easily be a modern reproduction. You won’t know until you see it. The genuine rifle in overall good condition should be worth about $700. A modern replica in excellent condition is worth about $800-900.

You wander out to his car which you notice he’s parked far from the show entrance. He asks you to get in the back seat, where you find the rifle wrapped in a dirty beach towel. It turns out t0 be the real deal, so you ask him what he wants. “I saw something on your table that I’d like to trade for, if that’s okay. He describes it and you know he’s interested in an IZH 61 that you have priced at $75.

This is a real Trapdoor Springfield.

The nickname “Trapdoor” comes from the way the breech bolt operates. This one is in just good condition, because all original finish is gone. But, the barrel is clean and shiny with sharp rifling. That means that if the rest of the rifle is in good condition, it’s safe to shoot with vintage-powered ammunition.

You answer, “Sure, I’ll do that, plus I’ll throw in some pellets and targets to get you started. Let’s go back inside, and I’ll show you how it works.” You take the Trapdoor over to your own car and lock it in the trunk. Then the two of you head inside to finish the deal.

Have you just taken this guy to the cleaners? I used to think so, until I came to realize that he has absolutely no interest in guns, and you’ve just done him a big favor. That Trapdoor Springfield is worthless to him, and every time he has to venture out in public with it is a big risk, as far as he is concerned. Besides, you may not get a fair market price for it if you decide to sell it, because the market is severely depressed these days. Yes, you’re going to make money on the deal, but since you didn’t define the terms of the deal and, indeed, didn’t look for the deal to begin with, accept what has happened as a little windfall.

Now, had the gun been a prime German Jaeger hunting rifle with engraving, gold inlay, fluted barrel and bas-relief carving on the wood, it would have been worth four times as much, and then I think you should have given him some money to boot. But the point is, you didn’t seek this deal out. He came to you, and if you have satisfied his needs, then you have done him a kindness.

Here’s the big question. Why did he come to an airgun show? The surprising answer is that people who don’t like firearms also can’t discriminate between them and airguns. Everything at your show looked like a firearm to him. He doesn’t know exactly why airguns are not regulated the same as firearm, but he does know that they aren’t, and he just felt under less pressure at your low-profile airgun show. Bottom line, he had a gun to get rid of and he knew that you were the right guy to turn to.

The desperate seller
It’s getting on toward the end of the airgun show and a man you don’t know walks briskly up to your table. He’s holding several boxes, plus a nickel-plated Daisy Targeteer. “I want to sell you all of this stuff and I’m going to price it right. How about $100 for everything?”

“That’s all the money I have at the moment. I’m flying home in three hours and I’ll need some money in my pocket for that,” you respond.

“Aww, you can probably resell this for three times a hundred dollars in the remaining time the show is open. Come on!”

What he is offering you is a nickel-plated Daisy Targeteer in 98 percent condition, a blued gun that’s in 80 percent condition and a very early 100-percent blued gun in the box with everything. On top of that there are seven red-white-blue metal tubes of Daisy .118 copper-plated steel shot. Each of the shot tubes is worth at least $10 , the boxed gun is worth $150, the nickel-plated gun is worth $90 and the other blued gun is worth at least $50. This whole package is worth $360, or just a little more than he estimates.

You pull out all your money and buy it. He is happy because he needed gas money to get home. And you now have a quick sales job to do. Just because something is worth a certain amount doesn’t mean that anyone at this show wants to buy it. Mr. Desperate knew that when he came to you.

So the safest thing to do is lowball the whole deal away. You sell the Nickel Targeteer, the 80-percent Blue Targeteer and six tubes of steel shot to a Daisy collector for $100. You keep the boxed pistol and one tube of shot for yourself. Mr. Desperate hasn’t left the building before you have your money back and people are wondering why you are selling so cheap.

The boxed Targeteer is worth more than the asking price for the whole package.

The buyer with specific tastes
Here’s another one that I don’t have a picture for. A guy comes up to your table and offers you a Weihrauch HW 55 target rifle for your Diana model 24 youth rifle. You tell him that his gun is worth five times what yours is and he responds that it’s okay, because he still has three more 55s and he has been searching for a 24 like yours all year. You do the trade and everyone is happy.

Sound impossible? I can assure you it isn’t. Sometimes having a surplus of certain models can devaluate them in the owner’s mind. Familiarity breeds contempt.

In fact, all of these stories are true ones and the guns shown are the very ones that came from the deals described. I have changed the description of the deals to disguise the other party, but these exact things have all happened to me.

Things like this can happen to you at an airgun show, so always be ready to step into prosperity.

Now for a small homework assignment. I’m going to show you several bad images that were recently used in auction sales. I want you to discuss them amongst yourselves, and be ready to critique them so we will be ready for the next part of this report.

I see three things wrong with this picture. It’s so insulting that it might stop me from doing a deal with this seller.

The photographer was so close on this one. He just missed one thing.

This photographer has made the classic mistake. Can you tell what it is?

Another classic gun photo mistake. What is it?

Alright, that’s a wrap for today. In the next report, I’ll get into the fundamentals of taking good pictures to sell airguns.

The art of collecting airguns – Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we begin, take a look at Pyramyd Air’s holiday video. Let it download completely before you play it.

Part 2
Part 1

This report was recently suggested by Kevin and other readers as an adjunct to my┬áreport on The art of collecting airguns. And, with Fred from the People’s Republik of New Jersey telling us the tale of his recent acquisition, I see the time as ripe for this.

I know some of you claim to have no interest in vintage or collectible airguns, but every so often I see where one of you has been exposed to a fine vintage gun, and your attitude changes dramatically. When that happens, this report series will be waiting for you.

Pick a trusted dealer or become one yourself
The biggest obstacle to buying and selling used items is trust. Those who haven’t ventured forth feel they’re stepping into a minefield to start trading long distance over the internet. And, let’s be honest, there are unscrupulous dealers who lay in wait for the hapless, so let me give you some pointers to reduce your risk in this area as much as possible.

To begin with, deal only with people whose reputations you can either check or that you already know. For example, I bet there isn’t one of our thousands of readers who would have much misgiving if they found themselves in a deal with Kevin Lentz. If you’ve read this blog for longer than two weeks, you must know that Kevin is a saint. He’s the kind of guy who will bend over backwards to give the other guy a fair deal because he values his reputation above almost everything.

There was a Pawn Stars TV episode in which the owner, Rick Harrison, told a woman that her Faberge pin that she thought was worth $2,000 was really worth $15,000 to him. He could have remained silent and given her what she asked, but he said he had to sleep at night, so he told her what it was really worth. You can explain that away by saying Rick couldn’t afford to let the public see him take advantage of the woman on television, but I got the impression that he’s really like that all the time. He’s always out for a profit, but he’s also inherently honest.

In a recent American Pickers episode, the guys shared a $10,000 windfall with the person who had sold them the two items that netted that amount. They split the sales price with the seller 50-50 well after the fact. That is a pretty good assessment of how Kevin or many other guys on this blog will treat you.

In my position, I get to know hundreds of Kevins that I meet at airgun shows and read about online. If one of them is selling something, I know I can trust both the description and the price. Well, really, the price is what drives my buy decision, but only if I know the seller in some way.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a Primary New York City dart gun made in the 1870s. The seller asked me what it was worth, so I told him. Then he asked if I was interested. I answered yes, but at a price lower than the top of the range I had mentioned. I don’t collect these guns, but if there’s an opportunity to acquire one at a good price, I’m interested. He responded that he would sell it for my offer and we did the deal. Some time after Christmas, I’ll show the gun to you, because Edith and I agreed that it would be my big Christmas present this year.

The point I’m making is this. If I tell you something is worth as much as $800 to the right buyer but that I would offer $500, you know I’m not about to scam you. And if the seller had said he was hoping to get a little more than I offered, I would have been glad to help him find the places to sell it successfully for more money. After all, I’m going to own this gun for maybe the next several decades and then it’ll be someone else’s turn. Like Rick Harrison, I have to sleep at night.

So, point No. 1 is to buy from dealers with good reputations. And point No. 1A is to become such a dealer yourself. I don’t mean that you have to feel sorry for anybody, or help them out of a prior bad deal by overpaying; but as a deal comes together, you should know without conscious thought that you’re doing the right thing. If everybody wins, the deal is good.

Watch your descriptions!
Language is important, and too many people treat it as though it’s paint that can be slathered on the job and you’re done.

One of the most difficult things is to get an idea out of your own head and into the head of someone else so they understand what you’re trying to say. This is not the time to write conversationally, because writing lacks the tonal inflection of speech. Writing is too complex to discuss it meaningfully in a blog report, so instead I’ll give you some things to think about.

The following sentence makes me think the writer is dishonest: “This gun is in exceptional shape for an 80-year-old airgun.” The writer is asking the reader to agree to a standard that’s in the writer’s mind and impossible to convey. Here’s the honest way to describe the same gun: “The blued finish is worn until only 30 percent remains. Some old rust has left a pitted surface on the receiver, but the pits are small and smooth and look like patina. The wooden stock has small scratches and a couple dents from handling over the years. I’ve photographed the worst of these so you can evaluate them.”

The way to describe a gun to someone else is to act as their agent while describing the gun. Look for all the flaws and bring them to the attention of the reader. Your goal should be for the buyer to say something like this after he has seen the airgun, “You described it as much worse than it really is. I was pleasantly surprised when I finally saw it.”

Learn to punctuate! Failing to use the correct punctuation will confuse most readers. “The gun has been used very little after rebuilding which was done last year by a top airgunsmith who only works on this model when he has the time which is not that often unless you want one thats brand new get it.”


Avoid jargon
“The DRD is fitted tight to the muzzle and the de-pinger has increased the shot count by a lot. I’ve installed a 90-gram hammer that works really well with CPH.”

Instead, say that the silencer is fitted tight to the muzzle and a custom hammer de-bouncer has increased the shot count per fill. The gun likes 10.5-grain Crosman Premiers.

Use accepted terminology
Don’t call it a single-pump rifle when it’s really a breakbarrel spring-piston rifle. If it holds more than one round that can be fired without reloading the gun — it’s a repeater. Many newer shooters are calling these guns single shots because they have to do something beyond just pulling the trigger. In their world, only a semiautomatic can be a repeater.

Guns and airguns are never “mint,” so don’t use that term to describe the condition. That’s a phrase associated with coins, though it’s not precise there, either. Guns are poor, fair, good, very good and excellent. If they’ve never been shot and have everything they originally came with, they can also be classified as new in the box. The NRA determines what each of the conditions entails, and the Blue Book of Airguns goes the extra mile for those things in which airguns depart from firearms.

And, speaking of the Blue Book, if you plan to buy and sell airguns, you really need to own one. That way, it won’t take you three pages of description to describe that Red Ryder. You’ll know the difference between a No. 111, Model 40, and a Model 1938 Red Ryder. And, you can add informative things into your description from the Blue Book to help buyers understand what you’re selling.

I plan to have a separate report on photos, alone, because that topic is too large to be stuffed in anywhere else. It won’t be a repeat of my 5-part series on photographing airguns. I also plan to discuss how and where to sell your airguns. I’ve bought and sold guns while thousands of miles from home on business trips, so unless you’re on an oil platform or in a submarine, there isn’t much excuse not to participate.

The art of collecting airguns – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Today, I’ll fulfill my promise to tell you about the greatest gun deal I’ve ever made. Although the title says airguns, today’s article is about firearms. But the process by which I did what seemed to me to be impossible is the same one I described in Part 1 of this report series.

I’m going to have to give you some background information, which involves other gun deals, because without them I would never have been able to swing this deal. But first, let me tell you what I was up against. You are about to read the longest and most detailed single blog report I have ever made, so you’d better put on a whole pot of coffee and get comfy.

There’s a gun store in Ft. Worth called the Winchester Gallery, and it’s right out of the 1950s. Besides modern guns, they have a wide selection of fine vintage guns for sale. You all liked the looks of my Winder Musket when I showed it to you. The Winchester Gallery has two of them available!

The Winder Musket is a target rifle chambered for .22 Short and was sanctioned for NRA matches in the early part of the 20th century.

They also have a great number of other fine collectible antique firearms. About five years ago, my buddy Mac was telling me how interested he was in a single-shot rifle in caliber .38-55 Winchester. Well, imagine my surprise to find such a rifle on the wall at the Winchester Gallery. It was a Marlin Ballard Union Hill No. 9 rifle with tang sight and spirit level front sight with wind gauge (that means the front sight adjusts to either side for windage corrections). Don’t worry about all that terminology. I’ll show you everything and explain it today.

The only problem with this fine rifle was its price. They wanted $3,500 for it! I don’t look seriously at guns in that price range because, frankly, I don’t have that kind of money to spend. Life went on, I returned home and the beautiful Ballard remained on the wall at the Winchester gallery, where it had already been for many years.

I would return to the Winchester Gallery several times each year that followed and every time I would visit that rifle. I was drawn to it, even though I would never have considered it had Mac not been interested in the caliber. The wood was so beautiful that it looked edible and the color case-hardened receiver looked new! But at $3,500, it was all looky and no touchy!

Fast-forward to two years ago, when I acquired an unbelievable Winchester M1 Carbine in a deal that was the best firearms deal I ever made to that point. What I thought I was buying was a clean M1 Carbine that I could shoot. What I actually got was a highly collectible and rare first model spring-tube Winchester sitting in a presentation walnut stock.

This 100 percent spring-tube Winchester carbine was made in 1943, during the third month of production. It saw no service and was as new as the day it was proofed.

This Winchester was all that I wanted and more. Unfortunately, it was the “more” that broke my heart. You see, this was a rare collectible gun that was also prone to break early in its life. The spring tube that Winchester had used because they didn’t have the tooling to drill deep holes straight in the receivers was prone to crack the receiver at several weak points. I wanted something to shoot, but shooting is the last thing you should do with this particular model. What I really had was the famed Biblical pearl of great price — something so valuable that it could not serve its intended purpose.

After getting out of the hospital in June of this year, I engaged in a complex trade with a local M1 Carbine collector who took my Winchester and left me with a very shootable S’G’ carbine plus a rare 1862 Peabody rifle. The Peabody I have written about already. It’s a fine rifle but it had one fatal flaw, from my perspective. It was too valuable to modify in any way! Once again, I had a gun I could shoot, but not one I could put a scope on without destroying about a thousand dollars of collector value.

The Peabody rifle was a single-shot cartridge rifle that was purchased by three state militias and several foreign governments. This one is from Connecticut, the only state to rebarrel their rifles in .45-70 caliber with Henry rifling.

The Peabody has an outside hammer. When Martini of Switzerland modified it, he lost the hammer and went to an internal striker. The Peabody-Martini rifle design is known much better than the Peabody that preceded it.

Very few Peabody rifles are marked this clearly.

The Henry rifling in this rifle bore is close to pristine, despite use with black powder and corrosive primers.

You guys know that I ended up putting a scope on my Remington Rolling Block in .43 Spanish. And that rifle has met all my hopes for what it could be and do. Mac got to shoot it about a month ago and his first three bullets at 50 yards could be covered by a quarter!

This Remington Rolling Block in .43 Spanish caliber (the same as .44-77 Sharps) is now a real tackdriver.

So, I owned this nice Peabody in .45-70 caliber, but I already own a vintage Trapdoor Springfield rifle in the same caliber that serves me very well. I don’t need two rifles in the same caliber. Plus, I had to modify the sights on the Trapdoor to be able to see the front blade and also to be on target at 50 yards. The Peabody has sights that hit 14 inches high at 50 yards, and I can’t see its front sight blade anyway. Despite being a way-cool historical firearm, it wasn’t giving me a warm fuzzy as a shooter.

A second blue-chip trade
Now you need to know something else. A few weeks ago, I had a brief opportunity to purchase a Winchester model 55 takedown rifle for about half what it’s actually worth. The rifle is in very good condition, but I was able to acquire it for just $600, because the seller needed the cash to make his own incredible buy. I had about an hour to decide, but I knew I could always sell the rifle for a handsome profit. Even though it tapped me out of cash at the time, I bought it.

The Winchester 55 is a little-known cousin of the famed model 1894. Where about ten million 94s were made, Winchester made only about 35,000 model 55s. It’s three times rarer than the model 64, which is also considered to be a scarce cousin to the 94. This one is in caliber .32 Winchester Special.

The bluing has flaked off the receiver because Winchester used nickel steel for the receiver, which did not hold the blue. They even lose blue when left untouched. Later, they changed the alloy and the bluing stuck better. Oddly, the barrel retains about 98 percent of the blue, even though it’s also made of nickel steel. Apparently, the barrel alloy is different.

This rifle is a take-down design that worked flawlessly. They seldom, if ever, become loose.

This 55 is a takedown rifle, which is usually rare, but in a 55 it is the most common form. The solid frame rifle is the one you don’t see that often. This rifle is in .32 Winchester Special, which is ballistically slightly better than the .30-30.

The plot thickens!
Now, all the pieces of the puzzle have come together. I have two prime collectible firearms that I don’t really want, and I acquired them in either great trades or buys after June of this year. Together they’re worth — wait for it — between $3,000 and $3,800, though I didn’t pay anywhere near that much. Still, I didn’t put everything together until I wrote that airgun collectible piece for this blog. Then it dawned on me that I could take my own advice and get the gun I really wanted by trading the two I didn’t care about.

Or at least that is how the story would have gone in a well-written novel or movie.

In my case, the idea of trading had to be suggested to me by a gun buddy, because I was too obtuse to envision it. However, once he mentioned it, I saw the possibilities. Mac, this other guy and I had just visited the Winchester Gallery, and I finally got to show both of them the Ballard rifle I’d been drooling over for the past five years. And that was when my other gun buddy suggested the trade. Only he told me to offer my Peabody and my Winder Musket. But I didn’t want to get rid of the Winder. I really like it. Then Mac said I should substitute the Winchester 55 for the Winder and suddenly the clouds cleared and the sun shown strong and warm!

They already had two Winder Muskets on their walls, but no model 55s. In fact, the guy who handled the trade for the gun store said it had been many years since he had seen a 55. So, from a desirability standpoint, this was the rifle they wanted and needed more than a third Winder.

Long story short, I made the trade and came home with a drop-dead gorgeous Marlin Ballard Union Hill No. 9 target rifle. Ballard began making their rifles in 1861, and Marlin bought them out in 1875. Ballard rifling was considered to be among the best in its day — the Lothar Walther of the 19th century — and custom barrelmakers like Harry Pope liked the actions above all others.

Marlin made the Ballard single-shot rifle from 1875 until 1890, and they made just less than 36,000 of all models. The Union Hill No. 9 was introduced in 1884. From the serial number of this rifle, it seems it was made around 1886, but it looks almost brand new. It has walnut that would be called grade four today. The bore is bright, smooth and fresh despite may decades of black powder cartridges. Whoever owned this rifle, in fact all of the former owners, took painstaking care of it.

Marlin Ballard Union Hill No. 9 offhand target rifle in .38-55 caliber. This single-shot rifle was probably made around 1886. Distinctive features are the pistol-grip stock, the cheekpiece and the half-round/half-octagon 30-inch barrel. The rifle weighs about 9.5 lbs.

Although the lever makes the rifle look like a repeater, it’s actually a single-shot. Just look at those bright case colors on the receiver!

When the lever goes forward, the breechblock and hammer drop down for loading.

When the breechblock drops down, the breech can be accessed for loading.

The rifle is in .caliber .38-55. Today, with smokeless power dominating all our loads, we think of that caliber as a good deer and black bear round, but in the black-powder days of the late 19th century when bullets flew at much slower velocities, this same cartridge was viewed as a good offhand round for 200-yard target work.

Not familiar with the .38-55 cartridge? In the middle, flanked by the .30-30 Winchester (left) and the .30-06 (right). The .38-55 is a blackpowder cartridge that spawned the .30-30, but also continues to live its own life today. It’s a little more powerful than the .30-30, but in the 19th century was considered to be a great offhand target cartridge.

After some internet research, I’m 95 percent convinced that what I have is a Ballard Union Hill No. 9 rifle. All the specifications, save one, fit perfectly. What doesn’t line up is that my rifle has a black flat gutta-percha buttplate, where the No. 9 usually had a nickel-plated butt hook. But customers could make changes to the base models, and in all other ways, my rifle aligns with the No. 9 Union Hill.

What thrills me to no end is the presence of both a tang-mounted diopter rear sight and a rare wind-gauge front sight with spirit level. Marlin made both of these sights, so there’s no maker’s name on them. The rear sight is graduated to 900 yards, but careful examination shows that only 800 yards of adjustment is possible, and that was what defined the No. 9 rifle. The wind-gauge front sight is unusual because it adjusts for windage. While we have plenty of these sights today, they were not that common in the 19th century, but a target rifle like this one needed to have one. The spirit level refers to a bubble level in front of the front sight, so when you take aim you are careful to also center the bubble before firing. That way, all tendency to cant is eliminated.

This Marlin flip-up rear aperture sight mounts on the tang and adjusts out to 800 yards. Actual sight settings should be found through shooting at the ranges you want and recording the actual Vernier readings from the sight post in a shooter’s notebook for the rifle.

The rear of the front sight (top) is facing the shooter, so he levels the bubble before shooting. The front (bottom) has a Vernier scale for recording windage changes. Notice the complete absence of any crowning at the muzzle. This was common in the 19th century and was considered the most accurate way to finish a muzzle. Just keep it safe from bumps!

This set of marks was applied to Marlin Ballards made in 1881 and later. The patent date is Nov. 5, 1861.

What attracted me to this rifle the first time I saw it on the wall at the Winchester Galley was the beautiful wood buttstock and forearm. The figure in the wood is so gorgeous that it appears to be chocolate! Both the pistol grip and forearm are checkered well, but not with fine lines. This checkering is meant to grip sweaty palms in the heat of competition.

This is what I mean by “edible” wood!

A fine gutta-percha buttplate is held to the butt with two engraved screws. Notice the screw slots are aligned with the bore — a sign of quality gun-making!

If you just have to know how much I am into this rifle, the total is $1,850, or a little more than half the asking price. But wait a moment — I said this rifle had been on the wall at the Winchester Gallery for many, many years. In all that time, the price tag had remained the same as the day it was put on. So, the gun’s price never appreciated through the years as it should have.

You can go on Gun Broker and find Marlin Ballard Union Hill No. 9 rifles for $3,500 from time to time. But look at them closely, because none of them will have this grade of wood and their case colors will not be as bright and vibrant as those on this gun. Some may even have double-set triggers or Swiss butt hooks, but they’ll lack the spirit level wind gauge front sight. Get all the attributes the same as my gun and the starting price will be closer to $5,000.

The moral
This story has a point. Besides my sharing the tremendous find with you, I also hope to encourage you to think bigger than you have been. If you want a certain airgun, make up your mind to get it. A year ago, I would have said there was no way I could have ever acquired this rifle. But by putting into practice several of the tips I have shared with you in this blog regarding acquiring fine airguns, I was able to swing the impossible deal through a series of other deals within the past five months of this year.

Not only have I told you a great story about a fantastic deal. I now find that my vision of what is possible has been expanded to larger than its former size. It will never again snap back to where it was before. Having done this, I know I can do other things equally large, so now I want to do more. Not spend more money, but take some of the things I don’t care about and turn them into things I can treasure. This means I have to be open to great buys when they pass my way, even if I don’t want them. Someone wise once said the deal of a lifetime comes by about every 18 months — more often if you are actively looking.

The art of collecting airguns – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

So, you’ve finally come to terms with the fact that you’ve been bitten by the airgun bug and now you want to do something about it. You have been reading everything you can find and you find that you’ve developed a taste for some of the vintage airguns of the past. They could be common guns such as Benjamins and Crosmans, or maybe you’re more eclectic and fancy a cased Webley Mark II Service rifle with three different barrels.

Finding a Webley Mark II Service rifle would be great. Finding a cased set with all three calibers would be fantastic!

Go where the fish are biting
Whatever the attraction, there are some things to consider before you charge blindly into the breech — pun intended. The first is obvious, except that most people seem to miss it: You can’t catch Marlin in the Mississippi River, and you can’t find rare and exotic airguns at most gun shows, either. You have to go to where the action is, and even then you may not find what you’re looking for.

Gun show finds can be anything, but the likelihood of them being rare and exotic airguns is slim. It does happen if you attend enough shows and talk to enough dealers, but gun shows are not the No. 1 place to find desirable airguns. Airgun shows, on the other hand, are great for it! So, instead of attending nine gun shows at a cost of $200, why not spend even more to attend just one good airgun show and increase your chances for success? In two days at one good airgun show, you can probably find hundreds of times more of what you want than in 10 years of attending local gun shows.

Buy what’s for sale
An old salesman’s adage is, “If you want to make the sales, you have to make the calls.” I’m going to modify it just a bit to this: “If you want to buy vintage airguns, the time to buy is when they’re for sale.” What I mean is that you should try to be open and flexible to the buys when they come your way. Instead of digging in your heels looking for a third variation of the Crosman 140 multi-pump air rifle, be open to a great buy on a Benjamin model 107 pistol in the box when you come across it.

Just recently, I saw a Benjamin model 107 pistol with 96 percent of the original black nickel finish. It was the most perfectly finished Benjamin pistol from the 1930s that I’ve ever seen. It was purchased at the airgun show in the original box with all the papers for $60! Why so cheap? Well, the trigger was broken. And the buyer guessed that the trigger had broken way back 80 years ago when the gun was new, because there was no finish wear on the pump rod. The gun had barely been used.

Benjamin’s earliest model air pistol was a front-pumper like this. It was finished with silver nickel over the brass body and black nickel over the silver. This pistol has about 80 percent of its black nickel, a high number for such a fragile finish.

A replacement trigger for this gun might cost $20 and the riskiest part of the entire transaction is scratching the finish when you install the new trigger in the gun. So, for $80 you’ve purchased a museum-grade vintage airgun in the box with all the paperwork. It just isn’t the Crosman third variation 140 you wanted. By digging in your heels and only settling for exactly what you’re seeking, you’re letting the treasures of the world pass you by.

I cannot tell you how many people make this mistake. They’re so fixated on just one airgun that they cannot see the cornucopia of values spilling out in front of them. They just want a red M&M, darn it, and that’s the only thing that will satisfy them. A year later I meet up with them again, and they’re off the red M&Ms. Now, they want the green ones that were being given away in bags the year before.

Buy what’s available to you if it’s a good deal and save it for later. If you buy right, you’ll soon have some very desirable items to trade for what you really want, or to trade when that unexpected great deal comes along. This year, I stocked up on vintage 10-meter rifles, not because I really need or even want them, but because each one represented a great deal, plus I know they’re so desirable to other collectors that I can use them as premier trade goods in the future.

Know something about airguns
When I started out in this business, there were way fewer than 100 airgun books in the English language. We clung to our Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring guns of the World like it was a Bible; and if the guns we saw weren’t in there, it was just tough luck. Today, you have marvelous resources like the Blue Book of Airguns to tell you minute and trivial details of guns we knew nothing about just 30 years ago. And, yet, some airgunners would rather argue about all the mistakes there are in the Blue Book, just as some people argue about supposed inconsistencies in the Bible. You’ll do a lot better by just reading the book and committing it to memory, and that holds for both of them.

Learn to spot a fake
This is a difficult task, but it’s not impossible. Step one is to use some common sense. Nobody is going to fake a Crosman Mark I when there are tens of thousands of them still around. But a Daisy first model worth $3,000-$4,000 is fair game for the fakers. Last week, I was offered an 1858 Old Model Remington .44 caliber percussion revolver with about 90 percent of its finish. Had it been right, it would have been worth at least $2,000 to $2,500. The asking price was $300. That sent my antennae up fast. The marking on the gun looked wrong to me, and the Remington markings were far too faint, because other markings on the same surfaces of the gun were much deeper. Under a jeweler’s loupe, I could see that the letters were much larger than they should be. They were also uneven and looked nothing like the ones Remington used on these guns. I knew what to look for in this case, but even if I didn’t, the asking price was a pretty good signal that the gun was a fake.

A genuine Remington New Model 1858 Army like this one is worth at least $2,000 in this condition. A fake is worth nothing.

Don’t be afraid to ask the seller all about the item you’re interested in. Most people will not offer compromising information about a gun they’re selling when a deal is in the works, but the same people will also tell the truth when asked. So, learn to ask those penetrating questions. Is this the original finish? Does it hold air? Is it shooting as it should? Have any of the parts been replaced? The higher the asking price, the longer your list of questions should be.

Learn the particular weaknesses of the models you want
Here’s what I mean. If you want to buy a Schimel pistol in good condition, check to see if the barrel has welded itself to the frame over the years. Look for shrinkage of the hard rubber grips. Look for cracks in the backstrap. Check to see if the seals are modern, or if they’re the type that swell in the presence of CO2 gas. The Schimel was ahead of its time in design, but the materials of the early 1950s from which it was built were not up to the tasks to which they were put.

A beautiful Schimel gas pistol from the 1950s, but this old design had problems with dissimilar metals welding themselves over the decades, plus gross shrinkage of the plastic grip panels. Not many airgunsmiths can reseal one today, either.

If you want a Sheridan Supergrade, know that it has to be cocked before you pump it, otherwise the valve will leak air. Know that the end of the shot tube on a Daisy No. 25 pump-action BB gun has to align with the air tube on the end of the piston. You can break a Daisy No. 25 just by incorrectly inserting the shot tube.

The Sheridan model A, called the Supergrade by collectors, is the same size and power as the Blue Streak, but it’s worth considerably more. It must be cocked before it will accept a fill.

Learn to look!
How many times have I bought guns that I didn’t examine closely enough to spot obvious faults? On breakbarrels, it’s often a bent barrel. Many people want to see how fast the barrel will close if they fire the gun with the barrel broken open, and you’ll always find these barrels bent upward at the point where they enter the baseblock. Don’t believe these people for a second when they tell you they weren’t aware of this fault in their gun, or that the barrel slammed shut on its own. This was a deliberate act, and nobody shoots a gun that hits 10 inches high at 10 yards without knowing it!

Then, there are the guns without sights! Unless you look for them, the sights are easy to miss. Maybe that beautiful compact scope has distracted you from noticing that this target rifle is missing $500 worth of target sights! A $50 scope can distract you from this critical cost accessory, and you’ll never recoup your losses. And on some guns, the loss can be considerable, because the sights are next to impossible to find.

Late-breaking news!
I’m adding this last part to encourage you guys who are just getting started or want to start collecting soon. Today, I heard from a close gun-trading buddy about two guns he just bought for $1,250. One of them is a very desirable collectible Winchester that I immediately told him is worth $1,400 by itself. But he told me he was seeing the same gun in the same condition on Gun Broker going for $2,200 with four bids and five days of bidding remaining! The other gun was also a collectible handgun worth at least $500. But the seller never looks on the internet, so he doesn’t know this. He goes by the values listed in the Blue Book of Gun Values, which are sometimes deeply undervalued.

I’m not saying that you should try to hurt someone in a deal, but in this case, the seller set the price! When that happens, don’t argue, just act. Be ready when the bluebird of happiness lands on you or when you get beaten senseless with the lucky stick!

Tomorrow, I’m going to a local gun store to try to trade two valuable firearms for an extremely desirable collectible rifle that I believe to be severely undervalued. I’ve been watching this rifle for the past five years, and now I’m in a position to do something about it. The store may reject my offer or they may want more than I’m offering, but if the deal goes through I will share all the juicy details with you.

I labeled this report Part 1 so I could return to the subject with additional information. There’s certainly more to be added, but I’ll see what sort of response this one creates before writing anything further.

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