Posts Tagged ‘trading’

Making your first deal

by B.B. Pelletier

I’m going to Leapers today through the end of the week to research an article for Shotgun News and also for this blog. I’ll ask the veteran readers to help those new readers who have questions, because I won’t be able to read my mail except for a brief time in the morning. On to today’s report.

I always enjoy hearing from new airgunners, because their questions remind me that we haven’t covered every subject yet. And we probably never will. Some subjects we have covered several times and still people are asking questions.

But it’s extremely difficult to write about a subject that nobody will ever bring up. Hence, today’s report.

I had a table at a gun show last weekend with a friend whom I happen to know goes ga-ga over all lever-action rifles. Another gunsmith acquaintance of mine stopped by my table and dropped off his Winchester 94 angle eject that he had refinished with fire-blued screws and had re-casehardened the lever, hammer and trigger. It was a strikingly beautiful gun; and because it’s an angle-eject model, you can mount a scope directly on top of the action. Most Winchester 94s have to have their scopes offset to the left because they eject the empties straight up and back, but this rifle comes from the factory pre-drilled for scope rings directly on top of the receiver.

Now, Lever Man’s wife is sitting in the booth with him, and she also likes the look of the pretty Winchester. In fact, she asks him to buy it — first for himself; and when he refused, for her! Then she recounted the litany of reasons why he should buy the gun. First, they both hunt hogs, and he’s missed several with his open-sighted 94. This one can take a scope mounted in the right place. Second, this rifle is beautiful! Doesn’t he want it on that basis, alone? Third, once he acquires this rifle, he can sell his other 94 or give it to her. She really wants a 94 of her own. I mean, come on, boys — short of a wifely directive, that’s about as good an offer as you’re likely to get!

But he says no. You can look in his eyes and see a big old, “Yes,” but he has programmed himself to say, “No” so many times that the programming overrides rationality. I know this scene must make our UK cousins tear their hair out in anguish!

Okay, so you guys are probably guessing that cash is the problem, but it isn’t. Lever Man has just put a Benjamin, a Grant and several Jeffersons in his pocket (for our friends outside the U.S. that’s about $200). And he knows where he can get the rest. The pretty rifle has an asking price of $450, which is reasonable. Money isn’t holding him back. What holds him back is plain old inertia. The resistance of a body at rest that won’t move unless acted upon by an overwhelming outside force. To put it plainly, he doesn’t like to make deals because he isn’t exactly sure of himself.

I’m a casual observer to this drama, which is to say, a first-class facilitator. Veteran readers of this blog know I’m being honest about this. I’m trying to get the deal done, simply because I know that all parties want to do it. I comment to my other gun buddy that this really needs to happen and he agrees, but he also knows that Lever Man moves like a glacier. The odd thing is that Lever Man is here at this gun show to watch me and my gun buddy wheel and deal! He wants to get involved in gun trading like us.

How bad can it be?
Let me tell you exactly how bad. At another gun show two weeks earlier, the three of us were cruising the aisles and Lever Man picks up a Weaver K10-T, which is a vintage steel El Paso-made Weaver target scope in perfect working condition. It has a price of $25 on the tag, which is about $100 less than what it is worth. Lever Man is standing in the aisle like a chained elephant, rocking back and forth and lamenting over the fact that he isn’t going to buy this scope! Not that he can’t buy it, mind you — that he ISN’T going to buy it. That’s a big difference. He knows he should and he knows the deal is good; he just won’t pull the trigger. This is IN SPITE of the fact that he just sold two other vintage scopes of far less value two weeks earlier at another gun show, and he knows very well what this one is worth.

He puts it down and says to me, “I’m not going to buy that, but I probably should — huh?”

YA THINK?

Well, I couldn’t let it pass, so I bought it — not out from under him, but because he wasn’t going to act on a great buy, and I wasn’t going to let it get away. Sometimes, I do find good deals on my own; but when they walk up and jump in my lap like this, I’m embarrassed by how easy it is. Lever Man should have made the deal. Then he could have sold the scope for $100 (still a great price) at the next show and been that much closer to the pretty Winchester lever-action we both know he’ll eventually own.

It just so happens that Edith was also present when all this happened and she was witness to everything, so you can ask her how it went. I bought that scope simply because it was too good a deal to pass up.

Why aren’t they pulling the trigger?
I understand having trepidation about making a deal because…what if you’re wrong? Speaking as someone who has been really wrong at times, I can tell you that it doesn’t hurt you permanently and even makes you a little wiser in the end. Someday, maybe I’ll share several of my own bonehead deals, so you can see just how screwed up someone can be. For now, you’ll have to trust me: We all make mistakes. But not acting when there’s a great deal to be made is a very big mistake, and it’s potentially preventing some people from ever enjoying this hobby as much as they could.

Begin with experience
It costs noting to get smart on your hobby. You do that right here on the internet, doing the things you’re already doing, only in a more calculated way. As an example, what if you were to go to a garage sale this weekend and see a Crosman 160 that looks like the one I’ve been reviewing for you? You would know that it’s potentially a very nice air rifle — no? But there is also a lot that you wouldn’t know.

You wouldn’t know if it still holds CO2 by just looking at it. You wouldn’t know if the barrel is a good one, though a bore light would reveal the condition of the rifling. And there could always be a problem somewhere down deep in the mechanism that might slip past a cursory examination. BUT — what if the asking price was only $20? That would leave enough money in the budget for a rebuild and some repairs and you could still sell the gun for — ??? Well, how much is it worth, anyway? You probably don’t know, because I didn’t tell you.

Believe it or not, you already have enough information to buy a gun like that and make money, three times out of four. And the fourth time? Well, that’s where experience comes in. You spent $20 for a lesson on the Crosman 160. If you keep at it and buy the next 160 you see, you’ll soon be very proficient in not only Crosman 160s, but also 180s, as well. And you’ll own some classic airguns in the process.

What NOT to do
Whatever you do, don’t stuff money in your pocket and go out looking for bargains like this. That is a sure way to lose! Instead, tuck that money into a hidden compartment in your wallet; and when you stumble across a real bargain, it’ll jump out and grab you by the collar! That’s the bargain to act upon!

Don’t be picky
Some of you are thinking, “I don’t like guns like the Crosman 160. I would never buy one, no matter how cheap it was.” If that’s you, sir, you’re missing out on how this thing works.

I personally dislike shotguns with prejudice. I own a few, but they leave me cold. And I’m the world’s worst shotgunner, so there’s a reason to feel as I do. But if a Belgian-made Browning Auto-5 in perfect condition walked up to me at a gun show and the guy told me he really needed $400 for it, I would hand the gun to a shotgunning buddy for his opinion. If it was good, I would buy that gun, then resell it (probably at the same gun show) at a $200-300 profit. How much I made would be determined by how long I cared to own the Browning.

I use this example because this exact thing happened to me at a gun show a couple years ago. I didn’t have the cash to act, but I certainly would have if I could have.

The final example
A week ago, I met a fellow at the local Cabela’s parking lot to look at an original plains rifle he wanted to sell. I really wanted the gun and agreed to a price as long as it was consistent with the photos he’d sent me. Well, it wasn’t. He failed to show me some severe eroding around the nipple that made the gun unsafe to shoot, in my opinion. When we disassembled the gun for a better look at the breech, we both discovered that the hammer and trigger were connected by a field repair of what looked like a crushed brass cartridge case. I don’t think he was trying to scam me — he honestly didn’t know that much about black powder guns. So, I had to pass on the gun.

Since I was at Cabela’s anyway, I went inside. They had just acquired several dozen fine vintage firearms from an estate, and these were on display. I looked at scores of fine vintage rifles like a pair of Remington 14-1/2 slide-action repeaters in 44-40 caliber that are as scarce as hen’s teeth. There were four Farquharson rifles, including one that was priced at only $299. In all, I must have looked at 50 fine vintage rifles — all of them desirable and priced well. Yet, in the end, I walked out of the store with no purchase.

I was with a buddy who did want one of the estate guns, though, so we went back inside and took it into their salon to examine it more closely. The salon is where the guns that are usually priced at $1,000 and up are kept behind glass. That was where I noticed that the barrel on the rifle he was interested in had been relined, which killed the deal. But while he was chatting with the salesman, I wandered around the room looking at the guns I could never afford. That was when I spotted a beautiful Winchester High Wall with a scope in .218 Mashburn Bee caliber. I knew my buddy liked that caliber, so I dragged him over for a look because the price was $800, which is not a small amount, but considering what it is, it was a wonderful price.

He looked at the rifle, and it was gorgeous…but he hesitated at the last minute, so I delivered the classic enabling line, “If you don’t buy this gun, I will. It’s too nice to pass up.” Well, he called me on it and said he thought that was exactly what I should do. So I did.

Very long story short: When we got home, I discovered that this rifle has a single-set trigger. A couple days later, we discovered the caliber is not .218 Mashburn Bee; it’s .219 Zipper Improved. And it was made by the Mashburn Arms Co., so Mashburn, himself, or his son, made this rifle.


This custom Winchester High Wall literally jumped into my truck and followed me home! It was a no-brainer good investment. That’s my new $25 Weaver K10-T scope on top, by the way.

The first five rounds we shot last week went into a 0.392-inch group at 50 yards! We don’t even know what loads the gun likes, and it’s already shooting this well!


The first five-shot group at 50 yards tells me this rifle wants to shoot! It measures 0.392 inches between centers. I don’t even know the load for this rifle yet.

Anytime I care to (and I definitely don’t — believe me), I can double my money on this gun. It literally jumped into my lap, and there was absolutely zero risk to me because of what it is.

That is today’s lesson. Learn about the things you intend to deal on. Then, when a deal comes your way, act on it. If this has helped even one of you get off the dime and start dealing in airguns, I’ve succeeded.

The tarantula dance

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Rodney T. Hytonen is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card. Congratulations!

BSOTW winner Rodney T. Hytonen and his Beeman P17.

Some call it negotiating or the art of the deal or something else, but it means the same thing. It describes what happens whenever two or more enthusiasts get together and try to trade.

Imagine two hairy tarantulas meeting on a trail in the woods somewhere. When they meet, they instantly go on the defensive, each knowing the other could either kill him or make a very satisfying meal. Unless something overpowering happens nearby to break their concentration, these two competitors are certain to follow through on their intentions! They’ll dance backwards and forwards, maneuvering for an advantageous position.

And so it is whenever two or more airgunners get together. If one has something the other wants, or worse — if they each want something from the other guy, you’re in for the human equivalent of the tarantula dance.

I see it at all the airgun shows, but not so much in the main show area as in the shadowy places around the fringes of the room or out in the parking lot or perhaps at a restaurant before or after the show. Being both an airgunner and an alpha competitor myself, I’ve danced many times myself and, of course, I’ve watched others. Today, I’d like to describe some of the more common steps in the dance.

The straight two-way deal
Two guys each want something from the other. Or in some cases, one of them wants something the other guy has, so he postures and maneuvers until he convinces the other guy that he also has something worth wanting. Once that’s established, they begin the straight two-way deal.

The steps are pretty straightforward, though there are almost infinite variations and regional modifications to add interest. Neither guy will admit how much he wants what the other guy has. If one of them does indicate an interest, he also says that it isn’t worth what he has to offer.

As the dance unfolds, each person is allowed time to present his case, free from comment by the other party. Making a comment when the deal is being explained is the equivalent of a baboon displaying his red buttocks. You might as well sock your opponent in the kisser with brass knuckles!

After both parties have presented their case, the negotiations can begin. While they talk, it’s best for each person to hold the object they’re trying to acquire. They can then nervously putter with it, trying all the levers and buttons, or they can scrutinize it in close detail, looking for flaws.

When you find what you believe to be a flaw, it’s best not to blurt it out. Instead, slip it into the conversation subtly by saying something like, “Did you know this gun is refinished?” or the even more insidious, “Do you think this finish is original?” A good counter for that is to answer quickly, “Yes, I’m pretty sure it has been refinished.” Then stop talking. Do not defend your item any more, because you only lose ground if you do.

Then come numerous other moves, ranging from the ever-popular, “I’m cash-poor at the moment, so I really need to trade,” to the equally scintillating, “I’ve got another guy who’s serious about this, so I don’t really have to trade today.” You can say whatever you like in a negotiation — nobody expects you to stick to the script, much less make sense. Tell jokes, swap lies; you can even discuss politics during this emotion-charged period — everything will be either forgotten or forgiven when the deal is done.

The straight two-way deal is the most rudimentary type of negotiation, but don’t think that it isn’t complex or fascinating. If, for instance, one of the competitors knows that he has something the other guy wants, he can play him like a sport fish for quite a long time. This happened to me just this week.

A more complex deal
I went to a trading “party” last week, knowing beforehand that I had something one of the other guys wanted. This guy is a very sharp trader, so having this knowledge gave me a rare and valuable advantage over him.

My trading parties are informal events, set up at a range so we can try the guns we like; and we set up our wares on picnic tables. In the beginning, I could get only three people together at one of these parties; but now that we’ve held several with good success, it’s usually no trouble to get 7-10 guys together at once. If each person brings 15-20 things to trade, you have a mini airgun show.

No emotions!
Let’s say the sharp trader wanted the FWB 150 I’d laid on my table. When he asked what I wanted for it, I said I really didn’t want to trade it at all. It’s one of my favorite airguns. That was entirely true, but it really set him off! Why did I bring it if I didn’t want to trade it…he wanted to know. So, from just this one maneuver, I knew I had him. Whenever you’re trading, try not to show your emotions.

To keep the fish on the line, I encouraged him to take my 150 to the firing line and shoot it. I even provided the ammo! When he returned from the line, the look on his face told me that he really wanted the gun. He then asked if there was anything I would take for it. I told him I might consider selling it, which was true, and then quoted a price that was the top retail. Since he likes to buy things with a profit margin, he was stumped. He wasn’t going to pay my high price, but he still wanted the gun. If this guy had been a swordfish, I had just set the hook and let him start his first run!

At this point, I walked away and let the guy stew over the situation. I pretended to be interested in shooting some of my own guns and left him alone for 20-30 minutes. This is a dangerous maneuver, because he could have made a bunch of deals with the other guys at the party and walked away satisfied. But he didn’t.

Then Mac told me privately that he liked a particular gun on the sharp trader’s table. And Mac also had an airgun that I had been interested in for several days prior to this trading party, so he told me that if I could get the gun he wanted, he would give me the gun I wanted. Gentlemen, welcome to the three-way deal!

The three-way deal
The sharp trader’s gun Mac was interested in was worth much more than my rifle, so Mac said he would pay the difference if I managed to make the deal. In other words, I would trade my rifle, plus possibly some money to boot for the gun Mac wanted, and Mac would then give me the airgun I wanted, as well as paying the extra money I had to put up to make the deal. Are you following this?

So, at a time when he was otherwise occupied, I mentioned to the sharp trader that I might trade my 150 for one of his guns (the one Mac had privately indicated to me). I wish you could have seen what happened then. My interest took the guy by complete surprise! The swordfish now realized there was a boat on the other end of the fishing line that was stuck in his mouth!

He instantly turned all of his attention to me; and from his reaction, I knew the deal was done before it started. His gun was worth more than mine, and when he mentioned that, I immediately agreed. That was another surprise for him. The gaff was now in the water and the big fish was tiring fast.

He said, “Make me an offer for the difference between our two guns,” and he smiled. Big mistake! The fish had one more thrash left in him, but he was already alongside my boat…and I was moving the gaff toward his gills. So, I turned away from him and then said over my shoulder, “No. I said I didn’t care if I got rid of my rifle or not. You make me an offer!” The point of the gaff slid into the gills and the big fish was caught.

A minute later he said to me privately, “Give me $50 and we have a deal.” The fish was now in the boat, and I was getting ready for photography!

His gun was brand new and worth at least $100 more than mine. I expected to have to negotiate to get him down to the $100 difference in our guns, so I had signaled Mac to see if he was okay with paying that amount. He nodded yes. He later admitted that he felt the other guy’s gun was worth a minimum of $100 more than mine, but he wanted it enough to pay the difference.

When the guy said $50, I quickly shook on it and the deal was made. And that, I thought, would be the big story to tell today, but I was wrong. It was only the preamble to the main event.

The four-way deal
One of the guys at the trading party, let’s call him the old man, still owed Mac a gun for a deal they had made a year earlier. They had agreed on a certain airgun as payment, but the old man had been unable to find one in the interim. However, Mac spotted something on the sharp trader’s table that he really wanted, and it was close to the same value.

However, the old man didn’t have anything the sharp trader wanted. But then I made a deal with another trader I’ll call the big guy and gave him something the sharp trader wanted. So the old man took the big guy aside and they held held a private pow-wow. It was at this moment that I elbowed Mac in the ribs and said, “This is going to be my Friday blog! We are about the see a huge tarantula dance!”

After these two conferred for about five minutes, the old man came over to me and said, “The deal is done. Watch this!” The big guy he had been talking to went over to the sharp trader and made his offer of the gun we all knew the sharp trader really wanted. We knew that because he had openly denigrated it to everyone just minutes before.

When their deal was made, the gun the sharp trader gave up was passed (behind his back) from the big guy to the old man. The old man then gave Mac the gun he owed him. A four-way deal had been made! The sharp trader got the gun of his desires, the big guy got whatever it was that he wanted from the old man (sorry, I couldn’t keep up with everything) and the old man who owed Mac was absolved of his debt as he handed Mac the gun he wanted. The gun in play was “owned” by two of its three new owners for just two or three seconds each — the time it took to pass it from hand to hand — like a water bucket in a fire brigade.

Everybody wins!
When all the deals were done and everyone had packed up, each person was certain they had done the best they possibly could. No one would admit to letting someone else get the best of them. Everyone feels they’ve triumphed after making deals like this. Remorse doesn’t set in for at least an hour after all trading is over. Then, the second thoughts begin. This is not a good time to have an indecisive personality.

How to prosper in a trade
Despite my candid descriptions of events, I’ve always found it best to be completely honest during these deals. And that includes not feigning ignorance of the faults of my guns. I figure the finish of the gun speaks for itself; but if there are other faults that I know of, I’m sure to tell them, just as I’m certain to point out the positives of anything I bring to trade. I expect others to do the same, but I’ll also watch for those who are less candid in their dealings.

And here is my biggest tip of the day. You know how art appraisers are always telling us to buy the art we like? Well, the same thing holds true for airgun trades. I pity the person who uses the Blue Book of Airguns to find out whether he should feel bad or good about a deal.

We’re trading cats and dogs. I’m offering my pair of $2,500 cats for your $5,000 dog. If you have a gun I want and I have something you want, we really shouldn’t care if we come out absolutely even on what the price guide says. If you’re happy and I’m happy, the deal was a good one.

The art of collecting airgun – Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Okay, there has been a lot of interest in this series, and many of you have been champing at the bit to see what I think is wrong with the three photos I gave you as homework last time. So why don’t we begin there?


The three things I see wrong with the above photo are:

1. It’s too small. You can’t see any detail on the gun, which leaves any potential buyer to imagine what the condition might possibly be. It seems dishonest to me.

2. The gun is too dark. The seller made no attempt to clarify the photo to show wood grain, etc. This was so obviously wrong that several readers re-did the photo in software to show us what could be done.

3. The seller used flash, which usually ruins the image. It produces a bright flare on the central metal parts and allows the darker wooden parts to go black.


This is a better shot, but it’s still not good for selling. The perspective is off because we’re looking up on an angle from the butt. Because of that, a 50-inch rifle will look the same as a 32-inch carbine. You have to learn to show the gun from the side, on a 90-deg. angle.


What? Is this a girl at a dance and you’re afraid to walk up to her? GET CLOSER! Fill the frame with your subject. Learn how to use the macro function on your camera. Don’t you hate those old family photos of you at the beach where you stand a quarter-inch high in the middle of all the scenery? Can’t even see that it’s you.


The classic mistake of putting a dark blue gun on a white background, to make certain that no detail from the gun shows through. If the gun is dark, make the background medium dark, and then learn how to set your camera to over-expose the image, so the details pop out.

Okay, all of those mistakes plus the out-of-focus pictures that come from not knowing how to use the macro function or from being too cheap to buy a tripod are what I will concentrate on today.

Think about what you’re doing
When you want to sell an airgun, you have to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What about your gun is unique and good, and how do you show that to a buyer? The photos should make the buyer salivate when he sees them. And, they should match the words you write.

As far as the photos go, show both sides of the gun and use the largest size image you can. On this blog, we’re limited to pictures 560 pixels wide, but there’s no height limitation. That’s why I often rotate a long gun so it’s standing on an angle. That way, I can show you much closer detail while still showing the entire gun. A few people will balk at this approach because it makes them scroll…and they don’t like to scroll. The majority of people want the photos to be as big as possible, and they’ll handle the scrolling.

Show me the details. If you’re selling a revolver, show me the gun with the cylinder opened. If you have nice wood on the stock, please show me a closeup so I can appreciate it. Don’t use flash that leaves bright spots right where you don’t want them. In short, SHOW ME THE GUN!

A way to cut bright shiny spots that come from overhead lighting and even from sunlight is to stand in the way, so you cast a shadow over the shiny area. With digital cameras, you get such fine preview images that you can do this as you shoot, but only if you have a tripod.

Use the countdown function on your camera. I usually set mine to 2 seconds, which gives me time to stand in the right place before the image is taken.

Honesty
I know this subject means different things to different people, and I also know that no one can impose their own standards on anyone else. When selling an airgun, one thing you want to avoid at all costs is after-sales issues that have to be resolved. Some of these come from damage in shipment, which cannot be avoided but can be offset with insurance. Having a customer regard the gun you sent as less than described can cause problems that go on seemingly forever.

Let’s face it — some people are pickier than others. A year ago, I was selling a S&W Model 37 snubnosed revolver to a man who lived in Texas, but four hours away. He was a collector, so the last thing I wanted was to have him drive all that way only to reject the gun because of its condition. The gun was in 99 percent finish, but it had a tiny bump on the sideplate, where someone had disassembled it. There was a drag mark in the blued finish of the cylinder, from a dragging cylinder bolt.

Both of these things are common on fine revolvers, but I didn’t want this man to be surprised. I took macro shots of both situations and sent them to him. I sent them as 12-inch wide photos, optimized for the internet, which is a trick I advise all prospective sellers to learn how to do. Doing that makes the file size much smaller, while still showing all the detail you want to show. Instead of photos that are 250K in size, mine are 36K, so they’re much easier on the server on both ends.

The images you see here are a little over half the size of the ones I sent him.


The bump is along the curved gap of the sideplate, right where the light and dark meet. It’s on the right of the photo, about two-thirds of the way down from the top.


This photo shows the drag mark on the cylinder of the S&W model 37 revolver. It actually looked a lot less conspicuous than this in real life.

He saw the images and decided the gun was still in good enough condition to make the trip worth it. When he finally saw the gun for the first time, he remarked that the marks were far less conspicuous than he thought they’d be. The drag mark didn’t even penetrate the bluing. That made him very happy, and we completed the deal.

The lesson here is to learn to use the macro function on your camera and to describe any damage in detail so the buyer is prepared for it. For gosh sakes, get a tripod and learn to use it, because sharp shots like these are impossible without one. You should be able to pick up a good workable tripod for under $20 at a pawn shop. Consider that to be one of your tools for selling and trading airguns.

Show the whole gun
Let me illustrate why showing the entire gun at a large size is so essential. Note that instead of a beige carpet background, I used a darker red background. That was to lighten the gun in the foreground.


I know there’s a flare (specular highlight) on the comb of the stock. I had to use direct light because the dark finish ate up too much light to show wood grain detail. You can see that one of the two stock screws in the forearm is missing — something I would have mentioned in my description.


Look at the “folk art” initials carved into the checkering on the forearm! A real condition-killer. Notice the varnish scrape above the triggerguard.

Here’s the Falke 90 I acquired at Roanoke this year. When I bought it, I was aware of the horrible condition of the stock, but not the fact that the gun won’t cock or shoot. I also didn’t know that fewer than 200 of this model were ever made. Mine is number 39. This rifle is far rarer than the fabulous Colt Walker revolver that sells for $150,000 up to a million dollars.

The stock finish is so dark that I had to over-expose these two images by two F-stops and to use direct lighting, which I almost never do. Most digital cameras allow you to over- or under-expose images somewhere in the menu.

Well, that’s the lesson for today. Please let me know what you would like me to discuss in this series. I want to help anyone who wants to start buying and selling airguns to get off on the right foot.

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 report 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.”

Huh?

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.

Condition
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.

Photos
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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