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Factory letters for used guns mean more profits for dealers.

Factory Letters For Used Guns Mean More Profits For Dealers

If you deal in used guns long enough, you are bound to encounter some firearms that are out of the ordinary and of potentially substantial value. One of the ways to realize the highest profits on such guns is to acquire a factory letter that verifies the original specifications of the piece that literally make it special, rare, or otherwise desirable and valuable.

Few firearms dealers, other than those that specialize in collectibles, take advantage of the factory letter services that are available to them. Because of this they will often loose profits that can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

What Is A Factory Letter?

Basically, a factory letter is nothing more than a letter from a firearms company representative (or someone else) who has access to original factory records. The typical factory letter will give the key specifications of the firearm such as caliber, barrel length, and finish, as well as the presence of special markings, special order features, engraving and the like. Usually, they will also give the name of the person or firm the gun was shipped to.

The way a factory letter can be of importance applies in two ways. First, it can verify that a specific firearm left the factory with certain specifications or features that make it more valuable than a standard specimen. A typical example would be a pre-WWII Colt Single Action Army (SAA) chambered in .44 S&W Special and so marked. Original factory specimens are quite rare and bring significantly higher prices than a pre-war Colt SAA in a common caliber. However, far more Colt SAA's were rebarreled to .44 Special with original Colt parts than ever left the factory that way. Thus, a factory letter that verified a certain Colt SAA was a factory original .44 Special would make that piece worth considerably more than an otherwise identical firearm that had been rebarreled and to have been refitted with a new cylinder to that configuration.

Another example would be collectible guns with odd factory barrel lengths. A pre-'64 Winchester M70 with a 20-inch barrel, a Colt "New Service" with a 3-inch barrel, an S&W M29 with a 5-inch barrel, or a Marlin M93 with a 16-inch barrel would all be worth far more than equivalent guns in common barrel lengths if they are factory original. A factory letter can help prove that. The difference in value can be substantial.

Engraved Firearms

The classic example where a factory letter can mean a huge difference is on an engraved firearm. A Colt handgun, for example, that can be verified as factory engraved can easily be worth thousands of dollars more than the identical gun engraved after it left the factory. The same is true for engraved examples of most highly collected arms like the S&Ws, Winchesters, Marlins, et cetera.

The other way a factory letter can make a huge difference in the value of a piece is if the letter verifies an historical connection to a famous person, organization, or event. An excellent example occurred recently to a correspondent of mine. He purchased a pre-WWII S&W .357 Magnum in the early registered series from a prominent dealer for a typical price for such a firearm. He wrote to the S&W historian for a factory letter and was pleasantly surprised to find the gun had been originally shipped to Ed McGivern, the famous trick shot, holder of several speed shooting records with revolvers, and author of the classic book "Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting." When he sold that same .357 he made a profit of over $1,000 thanks to the factory letter.

In general, the odds of a factory letter showing a gun was sent to a famous person are so small that it would be unwise to gamble the cost of a factory letter on just any gun. However, when such an historical association is purported by the seller, it might be worth the gamble. More commonly such historical associations will show up when a gun with special features is researched.

Such a situation occurred to me when I purchased a Colt New Service Target with a silver finish, 6-inch barrel, chambered in .44-40. It had no less than three special features that justified the expense of a factory letter. Not only did the letter verify the desirable features but it also established that the gun had been ordered by Gus Peret, the famous Pacific Northwest exhibition shooter for Remington.

In most cases the factory letter will only show that a certain firearm was shipped to a particular dealer or distributor with the original owner going unknown and unnamed. An exception to this are the S&W pre-WWII .357s in the registered series. These were all special order guns with a certificate made out to the person or to the organization that ordered them. These early S&W .357s were shipped to a large number of celebrities and famous people including the likes of Elmer Keith, Ed McGivern, General Hatcher, General Patton, J. Edgar Hoover, and others. I estimate that the odds of a pre-war S&W .357 in the registered series showing up with an historical association to a famous name may be as high as 1 in 50. Consequently, I recommend getting a factory letter on all S&W .357s of that type.

Sometimes the historical association brought to light by a factory letter can involve an association instead of an individual. Certainly, a gun that lettered to the FBI, for example, would be worth a premium over a normal specimen. I once purchased a Colt Shooting Master .38 that had RPD 2T stamped onto its butt. The marking was enough to get my curiosity up enough to write for a factory letter. It turned out that the special marking was factory original with RPD standing for Richmond (Virginia) Police Department. Colt Shooting Masters with police associations and markings are almost unheard of, and I easily doubled my investment.

Some Drawbacks With Factory Letters

There are several catches to writing for a factory letter. The first is that it can cost up to $25 or so, though some companies do send letters out for free (or nearly so). If the letter comes back with no information that would add to the value of the firearm, the extra cost would just lower your profits. Also, the time involved between the writing for and receiving the letter can be as much as three or four months. This keeps the gun out of circulation and ties up your investment. However, in some cases you can get a response in as little as two weeks.

Some dealers will go ahead and sell a firearm for which they have written for a factory letter, with the stipulation to the buyer, that if the factory letter does not verify the specifications of the gun, the buyer can receive a full refund. This might be a viable approach for a gun that has some feature like engraving that you are relatively certain is a factory original.

Another catch is that the letter may come back with inconclusive information or the original record may have not been found. In the latter case, the cost of the letter is normally refunded. In some cases, the factory letter will be a disappointment as it was when I wrote to verify a rare Bisley Colt in .44 S&W Special and Russian. It had left the factory as a .38-40 and had been rebarreled at a later date. It was also worth much less than if it had turned out to be a factory original.

When the response is that the record could not be found, it can be worthwhile to try again at a later date. On no less than two occasions, of my own experience, the original shipping records were found on the second try. In one of these cases it made nearly a $2,000 difference in the selling value of the firearm.

Often, the reason the original shipping record is not found is because the gun is out of the usual shipping sequence, due to the delays caused by the time that was taken to execute the very special order features that caused you to write for a letter. This can make it difficult for the researcher to locate the shipping record. Sometimes the researcher just overlooks the record. If the factory record can mean a big difference in the selling price of a firearm, try more than once before giving up. The companies that have historians that can supply factory documentation on specific guns include Colt, Smith & Wesson, Marlin, and Ruger. Documentation on many Winchesters can be obtained from the Winchester Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Remington has no system for retrieving information on specific guns though the Remington Museum in Ilion, New York can sometimes be helpful. Savage maintains no historian but has in the past referred such inquiries to a former employee, who could conduct the necessary research.

A firm called Springfield Research Service (POB 4181, Dept. SI, Silver Spring, MD 20904) has researched U.S. government archives and has shipping data on most of the guns sold by the Director of Civilian Marksmanship between 1922 and 1942, along with a great deal more data. SRS data can be extremely helpful in identifying the originality of National Match M1903 Springfields, NRA Sporters, and such. They also have serial number data on a great many more guns, including some of the Krag carbines issued to the Rough Riders and other historically important units.

On the average, I have only requested a factory letter on about one gun per year. I restrict such requests to just guns with such features that if verified by the factory would make the firearm more valuable. Not every letter has been helpful but enough were that it has added literally thousands of dollars to my profits over the years. It could do the same for you.

PHOTO : The author considers pre-war S&W .357s in the registered series to be top candidates for a

PHOTO : factory letter. They can be identified by the "REG. XXXX" found inside the crane area.

PHOTO : Any Colt Shooting Master is desirable and valuable but special markings can mean extra

PHOTO : profits if verified by a factory letter. In this case, the author had just such a letter

PHOTO : with a police marked Colt .38 SPL Shooting Master.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:used firearms trade
Author:Karwan, Chuck
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:Ammo roundup '89.
Next Article:Importance in primer selection in handloading can help sales.

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