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Dealing with antique black powder firearms can be very lucrative.

Dealing In Antique Black Powder Firearms Can Be Very Lucrative

The vast majority of the used gun business that most of you dealers do business in is with used cartridge guns of modern or at least semi-modern vintage. However, the area of black powder cartridge and muzzle loading guns is a used gun field that can also prove to be lucrative as well. Sooner or later someone will offer to sell or trade you some such guns and it would behoove you to be prepared to acquire and market them, because the profits can be substantial.

Knowledge Is Money

The first problem the average dealer will be confronted with when offered such guns is that because of lack of experience he/she really has very little idea what they are going to be worth. As a result, it is all to easy to pay too much for such a firearm or to sell it for too little.

I can recall several occasions where I have stumbled on antique guns in gun shops that were so badly under priced that I was able to purchase them and then turn around and immediately sell them for a substantial profit. In one case I made over $1,000 on one such purchase and sale. This field is a classic example where knowledge is money. Typically, dealers (including myself) gain most of their knowledge on the value of used guns through experience. However, with antique black powder firearms the typical gun shop does not handle enough of these guns to gain that experience.

How To Make Up For Experience

There are two basic ways to make up for these short comings. The first is to have a good reference library. And, as a bare minimum, the dealer who intends to handle antique guns should have on hand the latest edition of Flayderman's Guide To Antique American Firearms, available from DBI Books, Inc.

In many cases, in this book, the prices are well under the current market value and in a few odd cases--a bit over market value, but, in general, it is a great starting place. Besides the prices, this book has a world of information that can aid in identification and authenticating.

A good example of how this book can pay off, in the long run, occurred a number of years back when a customer brought in what he thought to be an original Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver with the hope that I would purchase it. While the gun appeared to be a crisp original specimen with all the right markings (and even some case color showing the lack of wear and tear on the grips) it did not match the lack of original finish on parts that are normally blued. A quick turn to Flayderman's showed the highest original serial number for the Colt Navy. Since the firearm in question had a number that was higher yet, it was obvious that what this person has was one of the recent reproduction Colt black powder series guns that had been aged to pass it off as an antique original. Naturally, its real value was a fraction of what the customer thought it was worth--and even a fraction of what he had into the piece. Regardless, having a handy reference save me from making an expensive mistake.

Even better than references though, is to build a rapport with a collector authority; and even better than that, another dealer that is knowledgeable with antique firearms, in general, or at least in certain areas. There are more than a few dealers that buy and sell nothing but antique firearms and these are just the people to build a rapport with. Not only can they be helpful in identification, evaluation, and pricing the firearm purchase, but they can also often have the contacts to get the best sale price for a firearm.

For myself, I am fortunate to have a friend who is just such an antique gun dealer, with a tremendous amount of expertise. He helps me with his expert knowledge and I pass along to him guns I can't or do not want to purchase or guns that I am having trouble selling. He, in turn, gives me finder fees on guns I find for him and I give him commissions on guns he sells for me. We both make more profits than we would if we did not cooperate with each other. The key to such relationships is to be fair, not to be greedy. and to develop a mutual trust.

It also pays to find collectors in the various antique gun fields that can supply you with expert knowledge in exchange for you supplying them with good deal prices on guns in their field. Very often you can just about pre-sell a gun that comes in by having such a collector lined up. The major problem with such an approach is that the collector is often in a conflict of interest situation. Unlike the previously described relationship with an antique arms dealer where you can develop a mutually beneficial business and personal relationship where you can share profits, the collector gains only the opportunity to purchase the piece and possibly at a good price. It is a bit too much to have him price a gun that he also wants to buy. In general, it is never a good idea to put potential customers in such a position.

How To Sell Those Antiques

Once you acquire one or more antique firearms and have determined the fair market value, the problem becomes how to sell them. Displaying the guns prominently will eventually get the word out to antique collectors to check out your store. However, if your normal trade is predominantly modern hunting and target shooting guns, antique guns may be slow movers. This is where consigning the guns to an antique gun dealer specialist can pay off. Other approaches that work well are gun shows and advertising in one of the national firearms trade papers.

Beware Of Reconversions

Antique black powder guns have a few peculiarities that should be known. For example, flintlock guns that have been converted to percussion are invariably worth considerably less than in original flintlock form. Consequently, it was once common to do what is known as a reconversion of such converted guns back to flintlock. Such a reconversion, if done properly with appropriate parts, is worth slightly more (in most cases) than the percussion version; however, it is still worth considerably less than an original flintlock. In some cases, such as when the original conversion from flint to percussion was done by a military arsenal and was accompanied with other modifications (such as the addition of sights or rifling the barrel), the reconverted piece is actually worth less than the percussion converted firearm. Reconversions can be tough to spot so it pays to be careful on flintlock guns.

Watch For Shootability

Another area of concern is shootability. Unless you are personally extremely knowledgeable in evaluating the safety of antique muzzleloaders, it is best to sell them all as--COLLECTIBLES: NOT FOR SHOOTING! The reason for this is that a proper safety evaluation requires complete disassembly of the piece including the breech plugs. I have seen otherwise excellent condition pieces that were so badly rusted internally (in the breech area) to be extremely dangerous if shot.

Old double-barreled muzzle loading shotguns offer a particularly dangerous area. The barrels are invariably made from Damascus steel that is a combination of iron and steel welded together. Quite often these can rust to a dangerous level between the barrels where it cannot be observed, even with the breech plugs removed. Consequently, a gun with near perfect bores and exterior can still be dangerous to fire. As a result, I recommend that no black powder double-barreled shotgun (whether muzzleloader or breech loader) be sold as a shooter--even with black powder loads.

Many black powder cartridge guns can be shootable--but, again, it pays to be careful. None should be shot with anything but black powder loads or pressure equivalent smokeless powder loads --and never with jacketed bullets.

In general, it is best to annotate the "bill of sale" to state: "Not sold as a shooter!" and to have the purchaser sign his copy and your copies.

Original Parts Worth Something

Quite often you will encounter antique firearms that are virtually destroyed from neglect and by modification. However, it is important to realize that certain original parts can still be worth something.

Recently a potential customer brought me an original M1803 Harper's Ferry rifle that fit the category just mentioned. The barrel had been cut off the bore had been reamed to smoothbore, the stock had been shortened, broken and patched, and the lock had been crudely converted to percussion. It was worth little as a firearm: however, it still had its original butt plate, trigger guard, trigger, lock plate, and some lock parts and screws. Those original parts are worth far more separately than the gun was as a whole. Keep such situations in mind.

All pre-1888 guns are classified as "antiques" by our federal gun laws. Consequently, dealing in them offers a number of advantages over modern guns.

First, they do not require entry into your bound book nor do they require completion of a form #4473 to sell them. In addition, they can be sold directly at gun shows outside your state of residence and they can be sold through the mails. All of these factors make selling antique guns almost a pleasure compared to the hassles that accompany modern gun sales. (This is probably the reason why some dealers only sell antique guns).

For the average gun dealer, antique firearms make up only a small part of your business. However, do not automatically turn such guns away when they are offered to you--just because you don't know much about them nor do you have a market for them. With a little effort and research on your part, such antique firearms can mean more profits and a whole new cliental for your business. Once you get used to the idea of handling such guns, your major problem will be to find enough of them so that you can have some in stock at all times. It can develop into being a major part of your business activity .

PHOTO : If this unmarked under hammer percussion target rifle was offered to you at your shop,

PHOTO : would you know that it was worth from between $2,000 to $3,000? Well, it is, so it may pay

PHOTO : for you to consider handling black powder antique
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Author:Karwan, Chuck
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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