by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Dan Wesson
  • Guns as investments
  • FWB 124
  • Condition matters
  • It’s worth what someone will pay
  • Guns as safe investments
  • Non-pristine, yet solid investments
  • Sheridan Supergrade
  • BSA Airsporter Mark I
  • Bottom line

Of all the reports I have written, this one might just get me in trouble with some of you readers. I’m going to talk about money today. Politics and religion are two topics that are guaranteed to start a conversation, but when the topic is money the talk gets very personal for some people. What I am about to say may hit people the wrong way. But it is what I believe and I am going to defend my position.

Dan Wesson

When I researched material for the first report on the Dan Wesson 4-inch pellet revolver last week, I happened to look up Dan Wesson pistol pacs on the Gun Broker website. There was a very complete one that was selling for around $1,585, the time I first saw it. I checked the expired auctions and discovered that pristine examples had brought over $2,100 in the recent past, so this one seemed undervalued. Of course the auction was still live, so it could still go up.

Dan Wesson pistol pacs don’t usually have the belt buckle or the cloth patch with them, but this one did. They may have all the other tools and parts and even all the literature, but those two items are often missing. When they are present, I know I’m looking at a complete set. Complete pistol pacs are rare.

I thought this might be a good investment — a $2,100+ item that maybe will sell for $1,800. Three years ago the same complete pistol pac would only bring $1,500 or so, so they are on the rise and a solid investment. And that is what I want to discuss today. Before I do, though, let me tell you the problem with this particular gun. The cylinder has a small scratch and the finish on the 8-inch barrel is slightly worn at the muzzle edge. It’s probably in 99 percent condition. With those two issues, this is not a good investment. For a Dan Wesson pistol pac to sell well it must be complete and 100 percent.

Guns as investments

I was talking with John McCaslin, the owner of AirForce Airguns, several weeks ago and he mentioned that his gun collection is earning him money faster and more steadily than any other investment he can think of. Those two words — faster and more steadily — are both important. Because there are investments that make money faster than guns or airguns. But those investments can also lose money faster, and that is called risk.

“More steadily” is the other thing about gun investments. Guns do rise in value over time. But not all of them are good risks. A few years back when the administration was attacking firearms ownership by limiting AR-15 magazine sales, the price for AR-15s shot up out of sight. But the increase wasn’t real — it was driven by panic. As a result, when things relaxed, some guns lost a thousand dollars in value in just a few months! That’s similar to the value given to office buildings in Tokyo in the 1980s. They were each valued at billions of dollars, and loans had been made based on those values. Reality set in and everyone realized the buildings were grossly over-valued, and the result was a collapse of the Japanese stock market. A close relative of mine lost 8 million dollars in a couple months because she had invested in the Japanese stock market on the advice of someone she trusted, just before this happened.

So — guns can be good investments, but not always. You have to know what you are doing. Let’s now get specific.

FWB 124

An FWB 124 can be a good investment, but it can also be a loss from the start, if you buy wrong. Look for guns in original condition with all their original parts. A custom stock may look good and fit the shooter better than the factory stock, but it does nothing but devalue the worth of the rifle, unless the original factory stock is also with it. That’s because people don’t all have the same tastes, nor are they all the same size.

FWB 124
FWB 124 Deluxe is an all-time classic that retains its value when unfooled with.

If the gun’s powerplant has been refreshed with a new piston seal and even a new factory mainspring it is still a good value collectible. If it has been worked on extensively by a top tuner, it looses most of its value to collectors. It may still be a great shooter and worth a lot for that reason, but the collector value goes away when the gun is modified. People don’t care what that custom stock or tuneup cost you — it only detracts from the collector value of the gun.

Condition matters

This is a lesson a wannabe investor needs to learn quickly. A Winchester model 61 slide-action .22 rimfire rifle is perhaps worth $600-800 when it is in very good condition. I mean NRA Very Good condition — not what the owner happens to think very good means! A gun like that is a good shooter, but it’s not collectible.

 

Winchester 61
Winchester model 61 slide-action .22 repeater is a desirable firearm.

The same rifle in NRA Excellent condition is worth $1,200-1,400, and is collectible. The difference between NRA Very Good and NRA Excellent is perhaps 10 percent more finish or just one buggered screw slot. The same rifle in Like New condition and still with the original box — serial-numbered to the rifle — is a $2,600-3,000 gun! And there are a few that exist in boxes that have never been opened. No one has ever seen them since they were packaged at Winchester over a half-century ago. Prices for such guns start around $4,000, for rifles that nobody will every see. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But that’s the way the Winchester model 61 market goes. If you intend buying Winchester model 61 rifles as investments, you have to learn what drives their value.

Now, let’s go back to that FWB 124 for a moment. A very good one with all the factory parts (sights, black plastic trigger blade and sling swivels if it is the deluxe model) is worth $375-450. An excellent one goes for $425-500. Excellent in the original box might add $75.

But what about one that has an FWB peep sight on the rear and a globe front sight that accepts interchangeable inserts? Neither of these is original to the rifle. Well, if the original sights are missing, subtract $150. Then add back about $100 for the sights that are with it. So those fancy sights represent about a $50 decrease in value, compared to a complete gun in the same condition.

What if I have one of the Air Rifle Headquarters 124s (called the F12) that has the custom stock ARH used to put on them? The forearm on that one is super deep, so the cocking slot can be filled-in for less vibration. That rifle falls into a separate category, being both a 124 and a vintage ARH collectible. It is actually worth a lot more than a standard 124 because of that ARH custom stock — maybe $550 in very good condition. In this case the original box from ARH adds a little extra value — perhaps $50 — but the rifle is the thing that carries most of the worth. The box isn’t actually original to the rifle. It had to be repackaged, because the overly large stock wouldn’t fit into the factory box. I have only seen one of these in all my years in this game.

It’s worth what someone will pay

Be very careful with this category! I once owned a 124 that was custom made for Mrs. Beeman. A customer talked her out of the rifle and I then bought it directly from her. I checked with Mrs. Beeman and indeed, the story was true. So the provenance was established. I called that rifle the “Queen B.”

When I needed cash a couple years later I sold it back to the lady I bought it from for the same price I paid ($600) — having given her first right of refusal. She promptly resold it for nearly twice that much. The current owner has put a price of more than $3,000 on the rifle. Is it really worth that much? Probably not, but who can say? If I were you I would avoid guns like this one, as their “value” is often tied to stories rather than to solid facts.

Guns as safe investments

Back to the discussion I had with John McCaslin — are guns and airguns good investments? Yes, if you stick to what you know and if you avoid market anomalies like politically-driven or personality-driven values, guns and airguns can be excellent investments. However, they are not liquid assents. Gold can be sold instantly for its fair market value. With property like guns you have to wait for a buyer to come along. That’s true for anything that isn’t actual liquid cash.

Non-pristine, yet solid investments

Okay — this is what you came to read today. Most of us don’t have any use for a gun that is so perfect we dare not shoot it or even handle it much. What about the guns we can shoot? Are there still solid investment opportunities there? Yes!

Sheridan Supergrade

I’ll start with the Sheridan Model A or Supergrade. That is one of the all-time solidest investments that exist in airguns. Avoid those that have obvious modifications like extra holes drilled in the receiver or additions/modifications to the stock, but a Supergrade is almost like cash. So many airgunners want them that they are very close to liquid. If you don’t pay too much you’ll never loose money. If you do pay a little too much, just wait a few years and things will take care of themselves.

Sheridan Supergrade right
A Sheridan Supergrade is money in the bank.

Having said that. let me tell you a small secret. The Supergrade I just bought has a flaw. It has an extra hole drilled and tapped into the right side of the receiver. Am I worried? Not really. The hole doesn’t detract and I doubt it takes much away from the value of the airgun.

Sheridan Supergrade receiver
That threaded hole wasn’t put there by the factory. It detracts, but on a nice Supergrade, not that much.

BSA Airsporter Mark I

I will use a BSA Airsporter Mark I (only the Mark I for this) for my next example. You could just as easily substitute a Webley Mark III, a Mark II Service, a Crosman 600 pistol or a Diana 27. What I’m saying is any real classic airgun will have good value, despite not being pristine. These are airguns whose values lie in what they are more than how nice they are. As long as they are very good or better these are guns you can even overpay for and be safe, because the market will always catch up.

Bottom line

If you are looking for some solid long-term investments, airguns can be a great way to go. They are smaller and more portable than real estate and a lot safer than most hard goods. Shop carefully and you will have something you can enjoy as it earns money for you!