by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts on buying rare and hard-to-get airguns. In the past, I’ve written several times about trolling for good buys and how to turn them up in a variety of circumstances. Some of you have shared your own experiences on this topic — from trolling in pawn shops to placing ads in novel locations to ferreting out those unexpected great deals.

I want to take a different direction on the same topic. What do you do when you want something specific? You’re going after just one thing — not accepting any good thing that snags in your net. How do you go about getting that thing you want very much?

Make haste slowly
Ben Franklin gave this advice in Poor Richard’s Almanac. It means you should be focused on your goal at all times — but don’t jump at the first, second or even third opportunity to get what you want. Many years ago, an old friend of mine went about buying used cars this way. He told me he was always looking for a “creampuff,” which he described as a very old car (at least 10 years old) that had low mileage and excellent maintenance records. This was back in the 1950s and ’60s, when cars had to be maintained a lot more than they do today.

My friend, Harry, even had a method of looking for cars. He cultivated older people, talking to them and helping them out in small ways by watching their houses while they were on vacation, helping with their yard work if they were older and couldn’t do it, and just keeping his eyes open as he drove around the neighborhood. He told me once that when he wanted a new (to him) car, he planned on spending 6 months to a year to find just the right deal.

The right deal was a car with less than half the expected mileage for its age, one that had regular oil changes and tuneups and preferably one that was kept inside a garage. We lived in San Jose, California, so the weather was usually quite nice; but Harry reasoned that if the car was garage-kept, it was also loved like a member of the family instead of being treated like a broken down old horse tied up to the hitching post out in the rain.

In 10 years, I watched him buy 4 cars this way, and each one was a winner. He never paid that much, though I also noticed that he didn’t have to haggle about the price, either. His sellers were always motivated to sell him their cars at very reasonable prices.

So, making haste slowly means having a plan that has minimum acceptable criteria — price, condition, accessories and so on. Once you determine these criteria, you don’t sway from them. You pass up deal after deal until the right deal comes along. When it does, you’ll have looked at so many other deals that were almost what you wanted, but not quite, that the right deal will shine like the noonday sun.

Why is it worth that much?
When you’re searching for a specific airgun, you have to know what the market is paying for them at the current time. That doesn’t mean that you have to pay that much for the same gun, but you at least have to know what they’re going for. This helps you in several ways.

The first way knowing what things really cost helps you is by aligning your own thought processes. If you think that Sheridan Supergrades should cost $600 in excellent condition, you’re probably never going to find one. The reality is that Supergrades in original excellent condition are now bringing $1,400 to $1,800. If you can’t acknowledge that, nothing you do is going to make you happy.

The second thing you need to know is that ANY restoration or fiddling with a potentially collectible Supergrade destroys 90 percent of its collector value. A gun that looks like a new gun but has just been refinished is worth $1,200. The seller may have twice that much into it — that’s not your problem. That gun has no real collector value. In fact, the same gun was worth more before it was refinished than it is right now. I get into arguments over this fact repeatedly with people who think that an item’s appearance is worth more than its history. To them that may be true; but to the rest of the world that spends real money on things, it isn’t.

The truth may be that you’re not a collector. If that’s the case, the good-looking restored Supergrade may be worth more to you because of its appearance. Just know that when you try to sell it, this fact is going to come back to haunt you.

The condition of airguns drops off very fast as they accumulate the nicks and dings of ownership. When someone tells me a gun is like new, I expect it to have 100 percent of its finish and no dings or marks on the wood. Don’t ever tell me that something is like-new except for a small bit of finish wear at the muzzle! You just described a gun in excellent condition — not like-new.

I’m not lecturing you. What I’m doing is giving you the tools to turn around situations in which people misrepresent the condition of their airguns to you — often without knowing it. A like-new FWB 300S is probably worth $800. An excellent FWB 300S is worth $550. Big money difference for just a few words, but that’s how it works.

I own a Falke 90. That model is widely acknowledged to be rarer than a Colt Walker revolver, which brings from $200,000 to over one million dollars when they sell. Of course, the Walker is tied to the Mexican War and the Falke 90 is just a post-WWII airgun without any significant history, but the point is that they’re very rare.

Mine, however, has been extensively restored. Where a Falke 90 in original condition with 90 percent of its original finish is probably worth over a thousand dollars, mine is worth whatever someone will pay for it. My rifle looks quite nice, but it’s obviously been worked on. Even if you didn’t know the whole story of the gun, you’d be foolish to pay even half what an unrestored gun is worth to get something like my gun.

Here is another thought. Back at the end of World War II, it was popular for American soldiers to obtain a Luger pistol. Many of them then had their guns nickel-plated before bringing them back from the war. Today, these guns are popping up everywhere and the stories that accompany them are fantastic! “It was a presentation piece from Hitler to very special people on his staff. This one belonged to Heinrich Himmler!”

Yeah — right! If Heinrich Himmler had owned all the guns attributed to him he could have opened a gun store! And nickel Lugers? Yes, a few of them do exist with legitimate provenance, but the bulk of them were made after the war by Happy Hans the Plating Mann. It was anything for a buck in those days, and many soldiers wanted shiny trinkets to remember their overseas experience.

Here’s another one. A factory-engraved Colt Python is worth a premium. But a Colt Python that was engraved outside the Colt factory is only worth what people will pay for it. If the non-factory engraving is well done, it can add value to the gun. If it’s poor, it can quickly take away value.

It’s all in the details
You want an FWB 127 — the .22-caliber version of the famous FWB 124 (.177 caliber) sporting air rifle. You know that 127s bring almost double what 124s bring because they’re so scarce. A nice 124 may sell for $450, while a nice 127 will fetch $700 all day long. But hey — a guy you know has pressed out the barrel of his 124 and replaced it with a .22-caliber barrel from an HW 80. He would have used an FWB barrel; but since the .22-caliber 127s are rare, so are the barrels. Does that make his rifle a 127? No, it makes it a 124 that’s been fooled with. It may be exactly what you want from the standpoint of its function, but all the collector value of the gun is now out the window. I’m not saying the gun has no value — just that it no longer has any collector value.

But, it’s over 100 years old!
I hear this all the time on the “reality” TV shows that deal with the value of things. Whether it is found inside a storage locker or an old barn, the age of something is not the sole driver of its value. It’s just one component. Older firearms are potentially worth more than modern ones (depending on what they are and their condition) — older footwear, maybe not so much. Age is just one thing that drives the price, so don’t overrate it.

In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19)
When I was a consultant for an engineering firm, we had a saying about the software we developed: “You want it bad? It’s bad right now!” This applies to acquiring those special airguns you want, as well. Don’t be stampeded into a deal just because you have found almost what you want. It has to satisfy all of your criteria or it’s not the right deal for you. You don’t want to have to talk yourself into the deal after the fact, trying to convince yourself that you did okay. If the quality is there and the specifications are right but the money isn’t, walk away. If the money is good but the specs are off (the TX200 Mark III instead of the Hunter Carbine you really want or a .177 instead of a .22), walk away.

This is the big one that separates the men from the boys, but it also separates the men from their money. When you do find the gun you want and everything else is right, act on it. I’ve witnessed the following: A man lowballing the seller of a military Girardoni in fine condition and allowing another buyer to whisk it away. Ten years later, the gun was worth no less than 15 times what it sold for that day. I personally put together the deal that got me my Ballard rifle for about half the asking price. Even then, it was still the biggest single gun transaction I’ve ever been part of. I had to trade 3 high-value guns to get it, but the deal was right and I knew it.

I recently was involved in a transaction in which I offered far less than the seller was asking for his very valuable gun. But I knew he’d been trying to sell it for over a year and there hadn’t been much action on it, if any. While my offer was embarrassingly low, it was also a substantial cash offer. True, you could go on the auction websites and see similar guns whose owners were asking twice what I offered, but you could also see they weren’t getting any takers. It’s one thing to say such-and-such a gun is worth a certain price; but when you want to sell it and someone is standing in front of you with a lot of real money in his hand — even though it is less than the experts believe your gun is worth, there’s a strong motivation to take the offer. You see this happening on TV shows like Pawn Stars all the time, but I’m also telling you that it can happen just that way.

If you want that hard-to-find airgun, there are some things you need to do.

1. Educate yourself on the real value of the gun. What are people actually paying for them?

2. Be a stickler for originality and condition. You can buy modified guns and guns that have been refinished if you want to, but make sure the deal reflects that.

3. Know as many of the technical details as possible of the gun you want. Know why it’s worth what it’s worth, instead of a warm feeling just to be in the presence of one. Never forget that some warm feelings are not pleasant!

4. Be patient to wait for the right deal.

5. Most importantly, act when the deal is right. Don’t look back after the deal is done.