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What's it Worth?

by CDR Roy Gunther

The most frequently asked question about guns is "what's it worth." An item is worth what a knowledgeable buyer and a knowledgeable seller, neither under any pressure to buy or sell, agree upon. "What's it worth" is not the question people should be asking. They should be asking "What can I get for it". There is a difference which will become obvious as you read on. There are a number of "price guides" that give the retail price for better known used guns. This, however is not the price a seller can usually obtain. First of all these are not prices, compiled in some computer, of prior sales. For the most part the publishers of these guides rely upon knowledgeable dealers and collectors for these figures. Both the dealer and the collector benefit by rising prices, so when they submit to the publisher the latest revision of prices, they tend to err on the high side. I have had one individual admit to me that he raises the prices "somewhat" to make his collection more valuable. So, as a general rule the average sale will be below that figure shown in the price guide, and in some cases, quite a bit below.

Remember the price in the guide is retail. If you take your gun to a gun show, you won't get that price from the person behind the table. These dealers generally will not enter into a deal wherein they can't be assured at least a 20% profit on what they pay you for the gun. They will only work with this small a margin if they believe they can turn the gun over at that show or the next couple of shows. If they are not sure of this rapid a turnover, they will only pay you enough to guarantee themselves a 40% profit. This much markup is generally considered necessary for most older foreign guns. Your local gunshop has considerable overhead and may even need more of a markup before he will agree to buy your gun. For a gun that is listed in the price guides at say $800, you may only realize somewhere between $480 and $640 for the gun.

What about guns that are not listed in the guides? These are the guns that bring the most questions. If the gun is not in the price guide it is because the contributors to these guides have never seen that gun, or they know of no sales of that gun. The bulk of these guns are foreign made guns that were assembled between 1898 and the start of WWII and which were brought here by our returning GI's as wartime souvenirs. These guns include, but are not limited to:

  1. Guns made by well known makers who are still in business today,
  2. Guns by known makers who are no longer in business
  3. Guns by makers who are unknown
  4. Gguns that have the sellers name on them and not the makers,
  5. Unmarked guns, probably guild made.

How do you go about valuing these guns? Well, you start by finding a gun of about the same grade and quality as yours in the price guide. Let's say you have a high quality field grade double, box lock action, blued, checkered walnut stock, double triggers and extractors. A gun that was made between the close of WWI and the Start of WWII. These are guns that are generally safe to shoot with modern ammunition. We find such a gun in the price guides in the form of the J.P. Sauer & Son Model 60. This gun lists for $600 in very good condition. My experience at gun shows confirms that price. Using this as a base, or the 100% value, I use the following table, compiled from experience, to discount the base price for those categories listed in the previous paragraph:

CATEGORY PERCENT OF BASE

It is always best to find a similar gun made in the same country as your gun, to use for your comparison base as some countries do not have the same reputation for quality as do others.

Guns made prior to WWI can not be lumped into one category. I consider 80% of these guns to be suitable for decoration only. The other 20% have to be evaluated on a gun by gun basis. Any complete gun, regardless of condition is worth at least $50 for parts. Any complete gun with external hammers is worth at least $100 as a decorator. Most field grade pre-WWI guns will fall into the $100 to $300 price range. High grade fancy guns, even if not safe to shoot, will bring considerably more. These need to be evaluated on a gun by gun basis.

Combination guns and drillings are also the subject of many price inquiries. Unfortunately the price guides only give prices for post WWII guns from some of the most prestigious makers. This information is difficult to roll back to the guns made prior to WWII. As I did above, I would lump these guns into Pre WWI and Post WWI. Most combination/drilling guns made prior to WWI are not safe to shoot with modern ammunition. The value of these guns depends on how ornate they are since they are essentially decorators. The bulk of these guns in field grade would sell for $400 to $500. These guns are difficult to sell even at these prices. Most post WWI guns are safe to shoot. However, the shotgun chambers are usually only 2 inches and rifle shells are difficult to obtain and/or very expensive. For instance most guns of this period used the 8x57 or 7x57 cartridge. These are currently being imported, but will cost you in excess of $3 per round. At these prices, you don't do too much shooting. The preceding percentage breakdown also applies to combination/drilling guns. For a base gun I would use the J.P. Sauer model 3000 Drilling at $2500 in very good and the model 54 Combo at $2000 in very good. I would further reduce the derived prices for categories #1-5 for the rifle shell used by applying the following multipliers For shells currently loaded in the U.S. - 100%; for shells currently loaded only in Europe, 80%; all other shells 40%. For example you have a drilling, field grade (little or no engraving) made by a known maker, who is no longer in business. Take the base of $2500 and multiply by 85% - 90% (category #4) equaling $2125-$2250. Let's say the shell is 9.3x57 a round no longer loaded. Take 40% of $2125-2250 giving you a value of $850-900

The foregoing paragraphs are intended as a guide only and are not to be considered as absolute. If you feel you have a very valuable gun then you should spend the money to get it professionally appraised. For those who inherited a war time souvenir from their father or grandfather, the preceding is a good way to estimate its approximate worth.

If the foregoing doesn't meet your needs and you want an opinion, post to the Double Gun BBS at this site. If you do, be sure to describe your gun in detail, unless it is a common one that everyone is familiar with. Be sure to include a detailed description of all proof marks. The people that answer questions don't get paid for their time, so don't make them play "twenty questions" with you. Please give all details in the first posting.

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