Gun show tips, tricks and mistakes
by B.B. Pelletier
I have to write this report while it’s still fresh in my mind! I had a table at the Dallas Arms Collector’s Show this past weekend and had another chance to study human nature and salesmanship firsthand. Some of the things I learned were priceless if you want to either buy or sell airguns, firearms and related things.
Know what you have
This seems obvious. Why would anyone put something up for sale if they didn’t have a clue what it was? And, to compound the error, they then demand top dollar for it! Oh, they could find out what the value was — they just didn’t bother learning anything else! Here are two examples.
I saw a zimmerstutzen on a table at this show. A zimmersutzen is a small-caliber target rifle used for indoor competition at 15 meters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Until 10-meter air rifles came out in the 1950s, zimmerstutzens were the most accurate close-range rifles. I wrote a large article about them if you want to know more about the type.
So, here’s a zimmerstutzen. It’s a low- to medium-quality example, but it has the rear sight that’s often missing and the price is $1,200. If I really bargained, I think I could have bought it for $1,000, which it’s certainly worth. But, when I asked the dealer what caliber it was, he said it was a 4mm! All zimmerstutzens are 4mm, but that’s just a generic caliber. There are more that 20 different actual calibers of these guns, and it really matters that you get it right! It’s the same as asking the caliber of a Beeman R1 and being told that it’s a pellet rifle.
So, here’s a guy selling something for $1,200, and he hasn’t got a clue what caliber it is! Why isn’t this a $500 gun? What makes it worth $1,200? If I asked him that question, he might have responded that he found that was what people were asking for them when he looked them up online. Why didn’t he go the extra mile and find out what caliber it was? Oh, and he had two tins of ammunition for the rifle — both of which were in the wrong caliber, because we finally figured out that this was a No. 5 new-number gun, which is 4.2mm.
Well, he wasn’t really interested in that gun — he simply wanted to sell it. If you think that way, too, it’s time to adjust your attitude. When you have something valuable to sell, it’s your responsibility to know as much about it as you can. I know there are people who disagree with me about that, but they should expect super low-ball offers from me if they have anything I want.
Second example was a vintage Winchester model ’73 on a table behind us at the show. It was in .32/20 caliber — a caliber my gun buddy loves. The rifle had a $1,200 price tag on it, which is low but in line with the outer condition of this particular gun. My buddy asked what the bore looked like, and the seller said he had no idea! I believe him, because his bore light was buried in a box and took a long time to locate.
When he finally did look down the bore, the rifling was completely gone. Now, this always raises suspicion in the mind of the buyer. Why didn’t the guy just tell him the condition, and they could go from there? Well, believe it or not, this guy doesn’t care about the condition his guns are in! He cares about what he pays for them and what he sells them for, and nothing beyond that. What he didn’t know was that my buddy was loaded with cash and was ready to make a lot more deals if this one hadn’t gone sour!
Leave me alone!
I hate it when I’m looking at something on someone’s table and they jump on me like they have a quota and I’m just the one to fill it! If I want to see something closer, I’ll ask to see it. I don’t need to be dragged into a conversation about the weather, local politics, sport or how cute your grandkid/dog is. I avoid those tables that operate like a fraternity pledge rush.
Don’t get me wrong on this. I’ll carry on a short conversation with just about anybody on any topic. What I’m referring to goes way beyond that. At a show about a year ago, there was a knife dealer with beautiful Damascus knives for sale at unbelievable prices. But the guy had a motor-mouth on him that drove the customers away like a cattle prod. Every time he went to the men’s room and asked Edith and I to watch his table, we lined up five or six sales for when he returned. But after they were done, his mouth got started and the force-field around his table formed again. At the end of the show, he confided that this had been the worst show he’d ever attended. But I think they’re all the worst shows, because I have seen him in action.
Use a crowd-pleaser
At this show, I put a small educational display on my table. It was two Remington replica revolvers that had been “aged” to look vintage. I put a small sign with them titled “Made to Deceive.” That display stopped hundreds of people at my table! I can’t say that it brought me one more sale, but it certainly stopped people from rushing past my table altogether.
I told my gun buddy who had two tables next to mine what I was going to do, and he brought a kid’s ping-pong shooter from the 1950s for the top of his gun rack. It did the same thing as my display, and he did get a lot more sales as a result. I guess he’s better with people than I am.
The point is to have something unusual on your table to get the conversation started. I had about 20 offers to buy my display; but when I told them what I’d invested in the two guns, they knew the display wasn’t really for sale. Nobody got mad, and a couple guys even asked me how to age replica guns like mine had been aged. I wonder what was on their minds?
If you need it — bring it
The guys who know what I’m about to address don’t have to be told; and those who don’t, never seem to get it. Let’s say you’re going to an airgun show. What do you suppose you’ll find there? Airguns, perhaps? And what do airguns shoot? Pellets and BBs? So, why would anyone having a table at an airgun show, where it’s customary to be able to step outside and shoot guns safely, not know to carry ammunition for the airguns he intends selling?
Know what I’ve heard them say? “I thought there would be dealers here with pellets to sell.” Well, there are, but does the person who might be interested in your Diana model 25 for $100 really want to spend $8 to buy a fresh tin of pellets just to pop off three shots on the test range? Are you willing to pony up the $8 so he can try your gun? Duh!
You know what these people do? They go mooch pellets off the dealers who do have them. I’ve seen Scott Pilkington open a bulk pack of 5,000 Vogel target pellets, because Johnny Cheapskate couldn’t be bothered to bring 10 pellets for that $40 Crosman 130 pistol on his table.
Or, what about the guy who’s trying to sell a .50-caliber Dragon Claw and didn’t bring any means of charging it? You’ll see him floating around the room, trying to befriend everyone who has a scuba tank under their table.
Avoid the dogs
I saw something really sad at this gun show. A guy came up with a Winchester model 1894 rifle that had been made in 1896 in .25-35 caliber. The bore was perfect (it had been rebarreled by Winchester), and the outside of the octagonal barrel had 30 percent of the original blue remaining! But the gun had a broken tang that had been brazed back in place, and the saddle ring stud had been cut off flush with the receiver. The stock was also loose. So, now a $1,500 rifle wasn’t worth $500 to me. The guy said he really needed the money and had turned down $1,000 for it only two weeks before. I knew he needed the money, but just because he did, that did not mean I had to pay what I considered to be way too much for a wreck I could never turn around.
The lesson is that once a dog, always a dog. No amount of rarity or other features can overcome major detractors like this gun had. That guy will hear the same thing from person after person as he tries to sell that gun. And he wasn’t the only guy with something that was ruined. Another guy had a Colt Bisley revolver with what he said was the original factory nickel. Well, not only was it not original — it also wasn’t nickel. It was chrome! And no Colt Bisley was ever plated with chrome. In fact, only a very few firearms have ever been chrome-plated, but a lot of new collectors don’t know that. They hear about chrome-plated guns all the time, and they assume that it’s correct. What’s really happening is that people are calling nickel-plated guns the wrong thing. Does it matter? You betcha! A Bisley with factory nickel could bring $2,500, if it’s a good one. A chromed Bisley is worth about $400 as a shooter or a wall-hanger.
I’ll never forget the guy who brought to my table a Winchester model 92 in .25-20 caliber. It had maybe 30-40 percent finish and looked to be worth $800-1,200 — until the guy told me he had it rebored to .357 Magnum, because .25-20 ammo was just too hard to find. I told him no thanks right away. He had just turned his collectible rifle into a Uberti replica!
In other words, just because an FWB 300 is usually money in the bank, the one whose barrel has been cut off and whose stock has been shortened for kids is a dog that’s worth very little. Most buyers will cruise right on past it, looking for a better gun. There’s a reason you’re able to buy it for $250, and that’s about all it will ever be worth.
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