Vintage sporting and collectible arms offer a fascinating blend of history, technology and art
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01
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"It's hard to overstate the historical element of these items," he explains. "I'd say that's what enthralls most collectors. It's history you can hold. Here's the gun that won the Wild West. Here's a rifle owned by Annie Oakley. Here's something from the American Revolution, and so forth. It's a combination of history, mechanics and aesthetics -- in three dimensions.
"People have been collecting for a long time," Martin adds. "Louis XIII was the first gun collector. All European royalty were big gun collectors. The founders of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art were arms and armor collectors."
What's worth pursuing in today's market? According to Martin, "Among American guns, Colt and Winchester are the blue chips. The Colt revolver, for example, is the most popular gun to collect -- despite the fact that more than 1 million were made."
You'd think that guns never disappear, but it's not so. "A good rule of thumb," says Martin, "is that among antique guns, only 10 percent remain. The rest are lost, destroyed, rusted out or just plain worn out. That's why even the mass-produced, nineteenth-century Colt revolver is so collectible. Colt had its own engravers. One Colt sold for over $4 million."
Even twentieth-century guns are highly collectible, especially sporting arms such as the custom-made shotguns of British makers Purdey and Holland & Holland. Such shotguns (which are still being made today) are a British specialty, although there was one highly collectible American shotgun manufacturer named Parker. "The Parker shotgun was comparable in quality to Purdey," notes Martin, "but they were last made in the 1930s."
What does it take to get into the game? "Price wise, we're ready to go sideways on the gun-collecting stairstep," Martin predicts. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for a nice historical piece to millions. Some of the most expensive transactions never see the auction floor at all.
"Like anything else, you can't buy willy-nilly," advises Martin. "But the record is clear. Overall, the antique and sporting arms market rises 10 percent to 20 percent a year. Some years less, other years more. But that's the demonstrable, provable average. And it has yet to go down."
Matt Kramer is a columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.