Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Boomsticks: Condition Is Everything.

A phrase you'll hear often in the world of firearms collecting is "Condition is everything." This is handily illustrated by the two Colt Pocket Hammerlesses shown in the above photo. Both are extremely early specimens: The top gun was made in 1904 (second year of production) and the lower pistol was produced in 1905.

Despite the upper sidearm being a year older, its value is roughly half that of its newer sibling. Both handguns originally had the bright, almost purple, blued finish displayed on the newer piece, with small parts such as the safety and trigger showing the almost rainbow hues of case hardening. This type of bluing tended to fade, however, when exposed to acids such as those found in sweat, and could even be faded by extended exposure to bright sunlight. The result was the dull gray found on the upper gun.

Note also how extended carry has blunted the corners on the older piece, leaving it with a "bar of soap" look. The newer gun (and photos don't do it justice, at least 'til I can get it to Oleg) shows very little evidence of having ever been carried. Many experienced collectors who have seen it have pronounced it the nicest one of its vintage they've seen for years.

The result? The pistol on top is one that I have no qualms about shooting or stuffing into a hip pocket as I wander the back forty, while the lower one I am nervous about touching too much without an oily rag handy with which to wipe it down. This is because the upper pistol is, in today's market (which is crazy about anything that has a Prancing Pony on it), worth maybe $400, while the lower pistol is worth at least twice that figure.

Because condition is everything...


Paul Simer said...

Regardless of monetary value, there's just something about a gun that has been carried and relied upon that makes it that much more attractive to me.

Oleg Volk said...

In the meantime, a pretty nice photo of just such a gun is available from me :-)

http://volkstudio.com -- clock on "small arms" link.

Details: http://volkstudio.com/zoom_frag.aspx?image=4

T said...

Colt was selling the Pocket Hammerless .380 in 1917 for $17. Assuming buying it new in 1905 was the same price and it's worth $800 now, that's a 3.8% rate of return.

Hmm. I don't think you're going to get rich collecting guns at that rate. But you knew that already, didn't you?

Tam said...

Get rich? No. On the other hand, they do tend to appreciate (if you know the market and buy the right ones) and are extremely liquid.

The nicer of those two pistols would have cost ~$100 in the '80s and as recently as seven years ago would have been a $400-$500 gun. Colts and Smiths are two of the most volatile markets right now, along with American military arms. A M1917 rifle that was $200-$250 in '00 is a $550-$600 rifle these days. That ain't .com stock, but it ain't shabby, either.

Tam said...

...and, of course, you can't do anything at the range with a stock certificate except shoot holes in it.

T said...

I always wanted to ask GE if my stock entitled me to help do a little testing on a minigun. I think I need a lot more stock first.