by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

I’m actually at the Roanoke Airgun Expo today, and writing this report has really started my juices flowing! I wanted to tell you about strategies to use on airgun dealers in this part, but while I was driving here I got inspired to write something else for today.

I got a question from a new reader that went like this,”I’m going to a gun show, and I’m a novice collector. What should I look for?” I wrote him some half-hearted reply, because how can I really help that guy? I have no idea what will be at that gun show. And then it hit me–the subject of today’s report.

I never know what’s going to turn up at ANY show!
And that’s the real answer. Since no one can predict what will show up, don’t plan on anything. Just be there and have cash or trade goods or both.

When the show opens at about 6:30 a.m. for the dealers to start bringing in all their guns, the buying and selling starts. Advanced collectors will pay for the price for a table just to get in the door at this time. They won’t actually have a table, but many of they’re ready to spend.

Some deals will have been made before the show and all that’s taking place is inspection, payment and delivery. It breaks your heart when this happens in front of you, and a gun you really wanted is sold under your nose without a word being spoken.The solution is to get to know the dealers of the kind of guns you want; next time, you’ll be the lucky guy.

But what I like to do is peruse all the tables in search of great bargains. That sounds so simple and straightforward that you probably think everybody is doing the same thing, and maybe they are–but when one guy wants a Nightforce scope and another wants a Crosman 120 multi-pump, there’s a lot of latitude! As an airgun writer, I try to keep my mind open to the good deals in all categories, even those that I personally am not interested in. For example, I don’t care much for action pistols, but when I see someone willing to sell a Colt 1911A1 for $80, I know it’s a good deal.

But something like that is just run-of-the-mill. A GREAT deal is when a local doctor backs his car up to the front door and starts offloading the like-new spring guns he has been buying since the 1980s. He has all the paper and the boxes for each gun (I love anal people when I’m buying something from them, don’t you?), and he wants exactly what he paid for each gun. So, someone goes home with a 1983 Beeman R1 for less than $300. THAT is a great deal, in my book. That scenario actually happened at the an airgun show and I mentioned it in my report on the2007 Airgun Expo in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Another thing that always happens is several people will walk the floor searching for someone to give them cash for their airguns. Again at Little Rock, this happened to me about 12 years back. A guy brought me three Daisy .118 Targeteers and six tin containers of the steel shot for them. The containers were commonly selling for $10 each at that time, but the guy asked for $100 for the whole bunch. There was at least $300 worth in that bunch. I knew he really needed the money, so I bought it. I spent my trip food money to get it, so I turned around and sold two guns and four tins of shot for $100–giving someone else a chance to get a good deal, too.

At one Winston-Salem show, the forerunner of Roanoke, a man walked in with a genuine Girandoni Austrian military repeater. A well-known American collector low-balled him with an $1,800 offer, so he stormed away and sold it to a British collector five minutes later for $3,500 cash! I know because the sale took place in front of my table! That rifle is worth over $50,000 today, and even back then it was worth about $15,000. The collector who low-balled the guy kicked himself, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. It’s assumed that everybody is a big boy at these shows.

I remember a show at which a husband and wife in the business had a pile of Johnson Target Guns in their original boxes with all the parts and paperwork. They were asking $100 for each of the approximately 20 boxes they had. Now, when something like that happens, it’s just wrong to be so focused on finding an R9 in .20 caliber that you miss the opportunity of a lifetime. I remember another show where a guy had well over 50 new-in-the-box S&W 78G and 79G pistols. He was also asking $100 each. That is not the time to try to complete your Diana model 27 collection. If the deal presents itself and you’re at all interested or if you’re just smart enough to know that you can triple your money in a couple years–TAKE THE DEAL.

I once located a second-model Crosman pump rifle left over from the Crosman morgue. The rifle didn’t work. I tried to be as honest as I could, since I was buying it from the wife of an airgun dealer close by. I offered her $150 cash money and she accepted readily. Inside one month I resold it for $600, because I knew who really wanted it. Had I wanted to, I could have dragged my feet and gotten $1,500, by talking it up and pitting one collector against another, but that’s not my style.

My wife bought an 1800s BB pistol for $5 at a local flea market. At the Damascus airgun show about a year later she sold it to a collector for $400. He restored it (refinished with paint) and sold it for $1,100 to another collector who knew it was restored. An original with the same finish is worth about $7,500.

One more dynamic that I see at almost every show is the guy with that one gun you really want. He has priced it at the high end of what’s acceptable, and it sat on his table throughout the show. Lots of lookers and failed trades, but at the end, it’s still there. Now, he would much rather go home with cash in his pocket than drag that gun back and store it for another year. So, a good offer right as he is starting to pack up often wins the day. To do this one, you have to be there for the whole show, and this is one of the benefits of doing that.

Speaking of packing, know that airgun shows keep strange hours. The dealers all wait for the show and dream about it all year long, yet when they get there they immediately start making plans to leave. Airgun shows always break up before they’re supposed to. And by always, I mean 100 percent–no exceptions. So, don’t arrive late on the last day!

I got a million stories like these, but this will do for now. I’m at the Roanoke show today, along with a few hundred other avid airgunners. Let’s see what treasures I find this year! The point of this report is that no amount of searching at a show can help you do what I have just reported. You have to go, look around and listen, too, and the deals will make themselves known.

I’ll finish with an anecdote I use to illustrate the new airgunner with the attention deficit problem. Years ago, I took my young sons to see the Harlem Globetrotters play a game at a local high school gym. Some of the players were standing at the entrance to greet the audience. My two sons were about 8 and 4 at the time, so they weren’t very tall. As we were walking past the Globetrotter center, who stood 7’1″, my oldest boy asked me in a loud voice, “Dad, do you think we will get to see any of the players close up?” When he asked that question, his head was nearly touching the knee of the Globetrotter center. I looked up at the player and we both smiled, because the crowd was pushing us past one another. Ships that pass in the night! Don’t be like that when you look for airguns.