by B.B. Pelletier

I apologize to the hundreds of readers who don’t live in the U.S. for what I’m about to do. Today’s blog is very strictly limited to the U.S., though I imagine a creative person could adapt it to almost any country easily enough.

I’m going to show you how to collect airguns that either always appreciate or at the very least never lose their value. That’s what I try to do, and it has worked well enough that I know what I’m talking about.

I’ve recently applied this same strategy for collecting firearms, and it works just as well for them. I supposed it would work for almost any commodity, and the proof I offer is in the form of a popular U.S. cable TV show called American Pickers. This show started out as an internet broadcast and gained enough popularity that it was picked up by real advertisers. It’s now among the top cable TV shows in the U.S.

The pickers are two guys — Mike Wolff, who owns the company Antique Archaeology, in Le Claire, Iowa, and his lifelong buddy, Frank Fritz. The two of them ramble, Laurel-and-Hardy-style, across the country in a Mercedes van buying rusty old junk that they know their customer base will buy. Often the purchase is just $10, but it has been as much as $20,000 on the show. They deal in green cash money, which means the tax man isn’t as able to snoop into their private business. That’s not to imply they they cheat on their taxes, but rather that their losses are much easier to incorporate into the business. I’m getting off the track here, but my point is that these two guys do this for a full-time job, and they employ at least one other person, a saucy lady named Danielle, who minds the store and does the research for them to find their next place to pick.

Okay, back to airguns. You can do the same things that the American Pickers do, and you can even make some money at it if you want to. You don’t need a lifelong buddy, nor a Mercedes van. I don’t care if you haven’t got two cents to rub together, because the truth of it is, in the U.S., there are very few people who don’t have at least two cents. I’m saying this is a fun enterprise that can be initiated at a very small level and can grow at your own pace. Believe me, if you apply what I am about to tell you, the day will come when you have several thousand discretionary dollars in your pocket and can make the larger purchases that you see being discussed on this blog.

Now, I have been down and out many times myself, and I know when the wolf comes to the door you often have to eat your seed money, to mix a metaphor or two. So, this process does not guarantee freedom from life’s challenges. But the principles always apply, so you can always put them into practice again, once you have recovered from whatever bad news has beset you.

The secret of the American Pickers is that they buy only what they know sells. And a second secret is that they always buy at a price they know will guarantee them at least a small profit. Here’s their philosophy put into action for airgunners. An air rifle that will always sell is a Feinwerkbau 124. If you’ve been reading this blog, you should know that by now. But there are all sorts of prices on these rifles. One person I recently read online valued his excellent condition FWB 124 with scope at $800. Well, sorry folks, but not only is that pure fiction for those wanting to make a buck, it’s grossly over-inflated for the retail market.

However, an FWB 124 deluxe model in excellent condition being offered for $350 is a gun that will probably never lose money. And the same gun selling for $275 is a no-brainer. And, if you’re as lucky as I once was to find a worn 124 standard model in need of a rebuild for $35, you’ve just made at least $100 — and probably closer to $150. You may think such finds could never happen to you, but they can if you know where to look and if you start looking. I’ll admit that in my position, the good buys find me a lot of the time, but I’ll give you a hint of what can happen.

An FWB 124 rifle is a classic that always holds its value.

Just yesterday, one of my gun buddies was out and about and called me on my cell with a possible find for me. Did I know what a Crosman I-350 was? Well, I was confused for a long time before puzzling out that he had found a V-350 BB gun. The fellow wanted $50 for a dog-ugly gun in working condition. I told my friend that it was a $10 to $15 purchase in that condition, because I would put $25 on it at a show (Roanoke is coming) and probably take $20. Yes, my profit would be negligible, but that’s the kind of stuff that happens more often than not. The seller was firm at $50, so I advised my friend to walk away.

One key to this process is to walk away more often than you buy. You buy only when it makes no sense not to buy. The rest of the time you walk away. That’s how the American Pickers do it, and that’s how you must do it if this plan is to succeed.

I was in a pawn shop in Radcliff, Kentucky, and found a Hy Score model 807, which we all know is really a Diana model 27. It was in .22 caliber and was rusty but complete and functioning. I bought it for $18 with no attempt at negotiation. I took it home and just oiled the leather piston seal and shot that gun for many years. Then, I gave it to a friend who admired it and would never buy one for himself. And that’s another secret to this process. The secular world calls it Karma, but everyone understands the principle. You sometimes just give things away when it feels right to do so. And the other side of giving things away is that they come back to you in numbers greater than you can imagine! You give, you get, but only when that is not your intent. I think it takes wisdom to understand this principle, so pray for wisdom and forget about working the system.

“Once in a lifetime” opportunities happen with increasing frequency when you start looking this way in earnest. I’ve heard that they come along about every 18 months, but in my experience, it’s more often than that. Of course, there’s also the old salesman’s adage, “If you want to make the sales, you have to make the calls.” So, don’t expect to find anything if you’re just sitting on your TV muscle.

I daily peruse certain websites looking for deals. I stop at pawn shops, yard sales and consignment stores. I once found a copy of my R1 book for $10 at a local Half-Price Books store. I resold it at Roanoke last year for $80 to a shocked buyer who had no idea it was normally going for over $100 on eBay, and that I was giving him a heck of a deal at $80. That was a bookstore find, folks! A bookstore. So, don’t tell me there are no gun stores in your neighborhood. You don’t need gun stores. You need to keep your eyes and ears open and be receptive to what comes along.

Here you sit astride the internet, which is the largest rolling garage sale in history. Stop whining and start searching. And buy the kind of guns that you KNOW you can sell. Don’t look for modified guns. Buy solid desirable models in excellent condition, or know how to fix them if they aren’t in excellent condition. And know what the market will bear.

You can even make money by shopping here at Pyramyd Air, if you know what to look for. For example, several years back when Weihrauch would not sell to anyone other than Beeman, Weihrauchs were coming into the U.S. through other channels. A gray market, because Weihrauch was aware of it, only they turned a blind eye. They did so because Beeman wasn’t buying all Weihrauch models. For example — and this is my point — the HW 55 was still being made and Beeman was ignoring it. But Pyramyd Air was selling them. That was a rifle that could be purchased at full retail and never risk losing a cent! Look for opportunities like that.

English-made Webleys, are another example. Buy them when you see them for a great price. What’s a great price? You must spend the time and energy to find out for yourself. Don’t ask anyone’s opinion on this, because it’s your money and not theirs on the line.

I was in a local pawn shop several years ago that I checked every six months to a year. I hate this place because the owner is a gun nut and he cherry-picks the incoming stuff, then displays it on the walls of his store as not for sale. Well, this time he had a Daisy Texas Rangers model 1894 BB gun that was new in the box with the owners manual. He wanted $100, but I talked him down to $80. I later discovered that this is the most desirable of all the 1894 Daisys, and it’s worth more than the $500 cash I got for it at the next airgun show. When I bought it I didn’t know all that, but I had a strong hunch that it was worth well over $80.

But I do make mistakes and some huge ones, indeed. Last year I swapped two guns worth $1,200 for one worn-out Winchester lever action that I finally let go of for $650, just to get it out of my sight. Can’t get rich doing business like that. But I don’t obsess over it, either. That loss is the cost of my education, and I’m still paying tuition after all these years. Even the American Pickers sometimes have a bad day.

So, let’s say you own just one airgun and it’s a $50 gun at that. You’d like to own some of the wonderful guns you read about, but the finances just aren’t there. Instead of sitting and cursing the darkness, you decide to do something about your situation. So you start watching the Yellow Forum classified ads regularly. You go there five times a day looking for that hot bargain. One time you see a Marksman model 61 that’s missing its front sight. The guy wants $175, but he agrees to sell it to you for $150 shipped.

A Marksman model 61 is simply another name for an HW 77. It’s the same gun made the same way and every bit as good. But you often find them for less money because of the Marksman name.

You know that a Marksman model 61 is really a Weihrauch HW 77 carbine under another name. You buy the gun and then give it a simple lube tune and discover that it’s one of the finest air rifles you’ve ever shot. It will be, because you haven’t shot anything nice yet. You adjust the Rekord trigger and decide that as nice as this rifle is, it’s worth at least $200. So you invest $30 more and scope it and now you figure it’s worth $250. You advertise it as an HW 77K, marked as the Marksman model 61. You’re telling the truth and simply doing more than the previous owner did to move the gun. You end up accepting $225 for the rifle, which puts a $45 profit into your pocket. That’s enough to pull the trigger on the Marksman model 70 the same guy told you about, and you’re now on the road to making money from your hobby.

The reality of the thing could unfold a thousand different ways, but there are some huge pitfalls. I’ll cover them tomorrow.