by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Scarcity Part 1
Condition Part 2

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Collect anything
  • Old airguns
  • Constant upgrade
  • New collectible airguns
  • A long story
  • Collecting as an investment
  • The eclectic collector
  • The accidental collector
  • Desirability
  • Finally — an attempt to define collecting

Part 2 of this report got over 125 comments on the first day it was posted. I would say this is perhaps the most popular series I have ever written.

Reader [email protected], who goes by the name of Dan, inspired this report. He wondered what makes a collectible. And a lot of other readers asked the same thing. Many readers want this definition before they read anything further about collecting. I think they believe that once we all agree on the definition, then the rest of it will make more sense. But that’s just it — we will never agree on a definition! I hope to illustrate a little of the reason why today.

I’m not going to define collecting right now. I think that is too short-sighted. Instead, I’m going to attempt to show some of the directions a collector (and the collection) can take.

Collect anything

Nearly everything is collectible. With perfect certainty there will be disagreement as to whether a thing is interesting enough to be collected, but that’s only our personal opinion. In this report I am primarily focusing on airguns, but I will mention other things to illustrate some points.

Old airguns

When I was new to airguns I imagined collectors were primarily interested in older airguns. We know that there are about four solid centuries from which to choose, and I know a few collectors that span all of them (1600-1999).

Some collectors specialize in a certain era, like the first half of the 20th century, while others concentrate on specific types of airguns (military trainers) or makers (Daisy). And some collectors get really specific, in an attempt to narrow their field (19th century cast iron BB guns).

Collectors that fall into this category usually collect things associated with the guns they collect — like paper (ads, catalogs, promotional materials), ammunition, store displays, related items like holsters, gun racks and so on. A collection like this soon begins to resemble a museum, and I find it fascinating to see what they have. If and when they sell a gun, they have bigger decisions to make — do I sell that Daisy Model 40 military model with its bayonet and sling, or do I keep them all separate?

Constant upgrade

Collectors like this are always on the lookout for a model they don’t have. But, after they have a good start on things, they just as frequently watch for a model they already have, but one that’s in better condition. You and I may think they are finished when they get all the models in their sphere of interest, but for them the game is only half over.

New collectible airguns

Can there be such a thing as a collectible that’s new? This is where a lot of discussions get heated, but yes, there can be new collectibles. Ask any coin collector or collector of Hummel figurines, for that matter. But when it comes to airguns you need to know a few more things.

A long story

Winchester made several “collectible” lever action rifles, starting with the Centennial model 66 Rifle and Carbine. Made in 1966 to commemorate 100 years in business, these rifles are Winchester model 94 lever action rifles whose metal parts have been plated with gold. They have been given upgraded walnut stocks and forearms. I bought both the rifle and carbine in 1971 from a guy who bought them new in ’66. I paid exactly what he paid. I later sold both of them for exactly what I had paid. As long as you have them in the box with all the paperwork and the guns are never fired, they hold their value well. Today, 51 years after they were produced, you can still buy both rifles for about twice what they originally sold for in 1966. As investments go, these are the kind the government makes — staying at the same value and loosing all the time through inflation.

Winchester then went on to create many “collectible” lever action models. Each of the celebrated some historical fact or group. And they sold pretty well for many years. But if you understood collecting you knew they were a poor investment, because they were manufactured, rather than desirable on their own merit. They exist as a semi-stagnant pool of Winchesters today that have a book value, as long as they are complete and in pristine condition. The value does go up, but far more slowly than the value of what I would describe as a natural collectible.

So, buying something that is “collectible” is a risky move. It better be regarded as collectible by a lot of other people with money, or you may have lost your investment. If, on the other hand, it’s something you really like, what does it matter, what it’s worth?

Collecting as an investment

Investment is a poor reason to collect, but that doesn’t stop a lot of folks from doing it. I say it’s a poor reason because when it comes down to acquiring something they like versus something they believe has greater potential to increase in value, they make their decision from the spreadsheet. They wind up collecting money instead of airguns, and that is a sad thing.

The investor can just as easily collect those things that thrill him and are also good investments. I think that is the better way to go, because the collection then means something beyond its resale value.

The eclectic collector

We have a reader who can be described as an eclectic collector. Our own RidgeRunner started out by buying a tired-looking first model BSA underlever. The seller was honest about the condition, which was NRA horrible and fooled-with on top of it, but RR took a chance. He did because this old workhorse air rifle thrilled him more than the beautiful FWB 601 (as I recall) that he brought to the show to sell. I will let him finish that tale.

I am an eclectic collector. If it’s weird, I want it. That’s why I collected Wamo cap-firing BB guns at one time. All 6 (or are there even more?) together aren’t worth $300 in the boxes, but I had to have them all. As a result, I was able to write a feature article for Shotgun News about Wamo and its BB guns. I even included the three .22 rimfire firearms they also made. You can’t even get the Wham-O company to admit they ever made airguns or firearms! Hula Hoops and Superballs, yes, but never guns! But I was able, through patent research, to prove beyond a doubt that they did. Let me link you to several past reports on the subject.

/blog/2012/07/airgun-bloopers/

/blog/2012/02/what-is-an-airgun/

/blog/2008/03/why-do-we-collect-airguns/

/blog/2008/03/the-western-haig-the-stuff-of-little-boys-dreams/

/blog/2006/11/nothing-new-under-the-sun-whats-the-problem-with-primer-powered-pellets/

The accidental collector

Some collectors start out by simply accumulating things. My mother liked turtles, so she saved them. She even liked the chocolate candy called turtles, and she saved the boxes after they were eaten.

When she became a receptionist for a doctor in the late 1950s, she put her turtles on her desk. Patients saw them and they brought her more turtle figurines as gifts. Her desk filled up to overflowing, so the turtles spilled out into the doctor’s waiting room. The “collection” grew. It was about 10 years before she finally admitted that she collected turtles, but once she did the collection really took off. When she passed away in 1989 she had over 3,000 turtles! My mother was an accidental collector.

The strangest turtle in her collection was a brass Chinese candlestick that resembled a menorah. She had owned and  loved it all her life, but it wasn’t until she was in her 60s that she finally noticed there were engraved turtles holding up each candlestick.

Edith and I even called her “the turtle!” The day she passed away, I was at a restaurant eating a fortune cookie and my fortune read, “The turtle has gone home.” Sometimes your collection defines you.

Desirability

The eclectic collector likes strange airguns. There is another kind of attraction that is similar, but not quite the same — desirability. We read about certain airguns, and the things that are said invoke a desire to at least try them, if not actually own them all. Take the FWB 124. So many nice things have been written about this air rifle that people find themselves drawn to it, eventually breaking down and getting one. They then start saying more good things about the item and the process continues.

Airguns in this category include:

Crosman Mark I and II pistols

S&W 78G and 79G pistols

FWB 300 rifle

Crosman 600 pistol

Crosman M1 Carbine BB gun

Daisy Avanti Champion 499 BB gun

Finally — an attempt to define collecting

I have thought about this for several weeks, and there is no guarantee that I won’t change my mind as more time passes. But I think I have a start at defining a collector. If we can do that, the collection is whatever he has.

A collector likes something a lot. We’ll call that something airguns. Some airguns slip through his ownership grasp rather fast, while others stick and don’t seem to go away. Sometimes they do and he has to go out and get another one to fill the void. Those things he likes are what he collects. He may not fit into a well-defined niche and his collection may not resemble a museum, but these are the things he wants around him.

There is an anal type of person who cannot let anything go. That’s not a collector — that’s a mental condition called hoarding. You can see it on television shows like American Pickers.

But what about the person who isn’t a hoarder, because you can walk through his house without turning sideways to fit through the pathways? But when it comes to airguns, he just can’t seem to let go. We can talk about this kind of guy all day long and never agree about what he is — collector or madman. But he is more the collector than anything you can fit into a neat definition.