By Mike “Duke” Venturino, GUNS Magazine
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
A few years back I wrote a column saying buying guns for investments was basically a fallacy. My attitude was to buy them for shooting and if they increased in value then that was a bonus. I’ve had to change my mind.
Let me put it this way, Yvonne and I together had a bit of money in IRA’s invested in the stock market. In 2015 about 50 percent of it disappeared. Gone! Someday those IRA’s might grow again if they don’t disappear totally in the meantime. If they do come back, I’m yanking those funds out so fast it will make the broker’s head spin for a week!
I may not be very smart about investments, but I am darn sure one smart gun buyer! Consider this, none of the guns I’ve bought, say in the last 40 years, have decreased in value a single cent. Some might not have appreciated substantially but they still exist; they still reside in my vault. They did not disappear. I can wrap my mitts about them anytime I wish. And get this: I can make money with them by writing articles showing their history, intricacies and just plain shooting potential. Article done, I can put them back in the vault and they’re still worth what they were before the article.
There’s even a corollary to that concept. Several times I’ve bought a gun solely because I wanted to write about them but without any desire to keep them. Is that smart? Without a doubt it is. A most recent example of that would be the Winchester Model 1907 .351 WSL recently shown in these pages. After writing about it, I sold it for exactly the same amount I paid for it, but it helped me make money while in my possession. And if I can find a decently priced Winchester Model 1910 .401 WSL someday, I’ll do the same with it.
Is there a danger my guns could be lost or destroyed? Yes. House fires are always a danger and so are thieves. That’s why Yvonne and I decided to build an underground vault during a remodeling project. Gun safes are good but vaults are better. Is my gun collection completely protected? No, it is not. My greatest fear is professional crooks coming with gun in hand saying, “Give us the combination or else!” Dealing with that possibility is another story.
Provenance also plays a big role in smart gun buying. This Colt .32 ACP Pocket Pistol would normally sell for hundreds. With proof it belonged to a General it is worth thousands.
Duke bought this Colt 1911 made in 1918 at a gun show. With it were a magazine and holster marked with the name “Winkler”, the year “1931” and the US Army’s Signal Corps emblem. Duke intends someday to try to learn its provenance.
Duke says this old Colt Detective Special .38 (above) is a smart buy because it was a quality revolver to begin with, and there won’t be any more of them made. Duke has been building a collection of guns, (below) hoping that his buying is mostly “smart.”
But back to the monetary aspects. The key is to buy smart. Of course it helps to be smart, too. For instance, think back on the run on AR’s a couple years back, spurred by government threats to ban them. Their asking prices at gun stores skyrocketed almost overnight. It would have made a mighty poor investment to in lay in a couple of AR rifles at those prices and then watch as their prices dropped back as peoples’ fear cooled. Recently at a gun show a fellow said to me, “The AR model I bought for $1,200 three years ago is selling here today for $800.”
As a general rule, I would not consider any currently made firearm as an investment, unless it was a special type in one way or the other. For example, a Colt SAA in any caliber bought at full retail is still going to be worth full retail a few years down the road and possibly much more if its caliber or barrel length happens to have been discontinued by then.
Here’s another Colt example. At SHOT Show 2015, I viewed a .32 ACP Pocket Pistol at the Colt booth. Word there was it would be made in a special run. I don’t know if those have indeed appeared yet, but if I come across one I’ll nab it because as soon as the run is sold out their values will jump.
On the other hand, a type of special run I’d avoid like a virus are commemoratives. Some maintain their value, a few even increase in value, but many are not worth their retail prices, even years down the road. My theory for this may sound strange to some. I think commemorative values depend on the dignity of the gun. If it looks like the gun is supposed to, with only a slight logo, describing what it commemorates, it has more value than those gussied up with gold plating, cheap engraving and big flowery stamping about what it commemorates. Gaudy is not a big seller in regards to firearms. I have heard several times guys complaining about their investment commemorative guns not being worth much. Usually those people are not true “gun folk” and don’t understand what we like.
A good area to look at in regards to investment guns are those with special “auras,” for lack of a better word. The Colt Python .357 Magnum is a fine example here, and one I missed out on. A few years back, Pythons sold for a few hundred. I saw many here at Montana gun shows. Now they sell for a few thousand and you see virtually zero of them at those same gun shows. Why did I miss out on Pythons? It was because I was never a big Python fan; never even owned one in the hundreds of handguns that have passed through my hands since buying my first in 1966.
Movies can have great influence on gun values. The 1990 movie Quigley Down Under turned Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company’s Model 1874 Sharps rifles into very valuable guns.
An aid in smart gun buying is being smart. The top M1A1 .30 Carbine is an original Paratrooper Model made by Inland, the only manufacturer of M1A1 .30 Carbines. It is worth thousands. Below is a counterfeit one with Saginaw manufactured barreled action dropped into a replica stock. It is worth hundreds.
Sometimes Duke buys a gun just to use for articles, never intending to keep it forever. This .351 WSL Model 1907 was sold after being used in a few articles in 2015.
Movies often cause certain guns to have auras. If you are as old as I, you will remember how hard it was to find Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnums after the movie Dirty Harry appeared. In fact, one of the sequels helped make Colt Pythons so popular. It was called Magnum Force. Then there was Quigley Down Under and Sharps Model 1874 rifles. (I actually got in on the preparatory work for the movie to a very small degree.) If any movies have made stars out of specific “black guns,” I’ve not seen it.
In regards to a rifle’s special “aura,” the M1 Garand of World War II and Korean War fame is a fine example. Almost no one has a bad word to say about Garands (designed by John C. Garand) and good ones are getting plenty pricey now. Here is where a buyer must be smart. Garands were built by three commercial manufacturers. Winchester made them only during World War II and International Harvester and Harrington & Richardson only made them in the 1950’s. And the government owned Springfield Armory made them during both time frames. They were also built for total parts interchangeability so ones with mixed parts abound nowadays.
There is a sort of stair step to Garand values in considering equal condition. An all World War II Winchester brings more than an all World War II Springfield Armory, both bring more compared to all H&R or IH. And those with lots of mixed parts bring the least of all. I have both Winchester and Springfield Armory World War II M1’s, and those babies are already worth far more than what I paid for them just a few years back.
Condition can be a factor. A nice condition early Colt Government Model .45 (1911) sells for thousands. In a fit of gun show fever, I bought one last year that was in good mechanical condition but all brown with a near century’s worth of dings on it. It even lettered to a hardware store in Kansas in 1921. I decided to go ahead and sell it. No one was interested in it for months, although it finally moved.
History counts in regards to buying guns for investments. A Winchester Model 1873 may have been only used by a farmer to keep foxes out of his henhouse, yet it is still a famous ’73 Winchester. A Colt Detective Special .38 Special with 2-inch barrel may have resided on someone’s nightstand for 50 years without being fired, but it’s still a finely made little revolver, the likes of which we probably will never see again. I’ve bought both types with the feeling they will be worth far more than they cost someday.
Of course, history with provenance for proof will send values sky high. One time at an antique gun show, I bought two Colt Lightning pump action .44-40 carbines. One was just an ordinary sample, but one had SFPD (San Francisco Police Department) stamped on it. I sold it for so much my other one was free. That’s why it pays to get factory letters of authentication for vintage guns if and when possible.
I’ll close with one such letter. In my vault is a full-blued Colt SAA .45 made in the 1990’s with Mike Venturino engraved on its backstrap. It was a gift from country/western singer Hank Williams Jr. I lettered it even though it’s a “new” gun. Its letter confirms the Colt was ordered by Hank to have my name on it. With that provenance, someday Yvonne might get a handsome price for it.
Thanks to GUNS Magazine for this post. Click here to visit GUNSMagazine.com.