How Do I Know If My Gun Will Appreciate In Value?

Singer M1911A1 .45ACP

There’s been some discussion lately as to whether guns make good investments, as well as some examples of guns that are valuable and those that aren’t. How can you tell if YOUR gun will make a decent investment? That it will appreciate over time?

Well, there’s a rule that applies to other durable goods such as cars that’s works with firearms, too. The more rare and desirable a car is, the more it’s valued over time. Right now, a DMC-12 will run you about $40,000 and up, according to a brief search on AutoTrader. A Chevrolet Celebrity on the other hand is basically worthless. The former is both rare and desirable.

The same is true with guns. The rarer and/or the more desirable a gun is, the more it may be worth one day.

For instance, a run-of-the-mill vintage .38 Special revolver may not be worth much…but the .38 Special revolver that Phil Spector reportedly threatened Dee Dee Ramone with? Now that would be quite the find. George Zimmerman was offered almost $140,000 for his Kel-Tec, which is certainly far, far more than anyone would ever think about paying for a Kel-Tec pistol.

However, you may find that 16-gauge shotguns sell for less than the 12-gauge versions of some scatterguns. How come? Because the Sweet 16 has fallen out of favor. Shooters found the 20-gauge got close enough to 12-gauge performance with less recoil than the 16-gauge to make the 16 gauge a touch redundant.

What makes a particular gun desirable?

There are a few things that can do it. One is that it’s already desirable to begin with.

For instance, Colt Pythons have remained valuable because they were hand-fitted, they were made with a certain finery, a trigger as smooth as buttah, and were relatively expensive to begin with. Boss, Purdey, Fox or Holland & Holland shotguns (to name a few) remain expensive because they are bespoke, handmade works of great finery.

An Aguirre y Aranzabal isn’t worth as much, despite a similar level of detail and craftsmanship. Why? Because it wasn’t made in England and lacks the other brands’ reputations.

Other guns are rare despite being otherwise not terribly noteworthy. Singer 1911s, for instance, aren’t necessarily the best that the platform has ever been. It was just a very small production run of M1911A1 pistols by a sewing machine company. You can get basically the same gun from Springfield Armory, Auto Ordnance and a few other companies right now for as little as a few hundred dollars. However, because they’re exceedingly rare, they are valuable.

Another reason for a gun’s value may be related to who owned it. A run-of-the-mill gun may not be worth much, but a run-of-the-mill gun owned by a famous person?

Robert Ford's Smith & Wesson Model 3 Pistol Jesse James

courtesy True West Magazine

Robert Ford’s Smith & Wesson Model 3 – the one he used to kill Jesse James – sold for $350,000 to a private collector, according to True West Magazine. Granted, even the reproduction Model 3s aren’t cheap, but that’s a princely sum.

In 2016, a Winchester 1886 rifle owned by Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Henry W. Lawton fetched $1.2 million, according to The Atlantic. Lawton pursued and brought back Geronimo, the Apache war chief, but didn’t get the gun until later; it was presented to him as a gift by a friend who worked at Winchester, though it was the first production gun. Winchester still makes them and they are still expensive but certainly not that expensive. Sadly, the gun didn’t do Lawton much good; he perished during the Philippine-American war a few years later.

And so on and so forth.

So, is your gun going to worth something someday?

Sadly, your plastic fantastic probably isn’t going to be worth very much. They’re just too common, unless you have an ultra-rare special edition. Your tactical shotgun? You probably shouldn’t bank on it. Well, if you have a SPAS-12…then okay.

Basically, your gun has to have something going for it in order to become valuable.

Do you have a gun you think will probably be worth something someday? Let us know in the comments!

comments

  1. avatar Mike says:

    Enfield Rifle prices have gone crazy.
    I paid $59 for a SMLE in the mid 90s, now they are close to $400, but I don’t want to part with mine.

    1. avatar Zhang says:

      All milsurp (or at least the really famous models) have skyrocketed in price over the past 5 years. SKSs used to be $99 in the mid-90s. They’re hitting the $6-700 price range now.

      1. avatar Forward Assist says:

        I got a DPMS AR15 in good condition with the box. Had a gunsmith professionally install a Magpul polymer rear sight to compliment the highly desirable triangular shaped front sight. Spared no expense with two 30 round pmags. Over $650 invested in this amazing build. First $675 that walks through the door gets it. Comes with box.

        1. avatar frank speak says:

          wonder what my original SP-1 is worth?….does the serial # matter?….

      2. avatar Mike says:

        The first SKS I looked at in a Gun Store was $59, should have bought a crate of them.
        Glocks have always been around $500

        1. avatar Stereodude says:

          The ATF might not take kindly to you selling off the crate of SKS’s as a non-dealer.

          Also, have you plugged that $59 price into an inflation calculator to see what that $59 is in today’s dollars?

          Considering inflation Glocks are getting cheaper each year.

  2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    AyA’s aren’t worth as much because when you open them up, you find that their insides aren’t finished as the “best guns” of the UK are.

    When someone opens up a Cogswell & Harrison, H&H, Purdey, etc, you see that they cared almost as much about the internal finish as the external finish.

    General rules I give for “what will be worth money?”

    1. A limited supply.
    2. High quality.
    3. Provenance.
    4. All original finish, parts and accessories.

    Follow that formula and you can almost always realize an appreciation in the value.

    1. avatar Bloving says:

      There is one other minor snag… one that applies to all collectibles – not just guns:
      Are you willing to sell it?
      To say that something is “priceless” is just a polite way to say it is “worthless”. Meaning that it wouldn’t matter what someone offers you for Granddad’ s war trophy Luger pistol, unless you’re willing to sell it has no monetary value. So before any of y’all out there get too proud of what your pieces are worth on the current or future market, consider that you probably own one or two things you have no intention of ever letting go for any amount.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Yes, you’re absolutely correct. You have to be willing to sell it when a credible buyer with an offer you find acceptable appears.

        NB that in guns, as in some other low-liquidity collectible assets (art, stamps, particular pieces of real estate, collectible cars, etc), this might mean waiting for the right buyer to come along…. or, going to auction.

      2. avatar frank speak says:

        a few…the rest are “negotiable”….

    2. avatar 16V says:

      DG, The only thing I would add to your list is the one question I ask myself first and foremost:

      Is it weird/novel/interesting?

      There’s a gent on YT who goes by LifeSizePotato. He perfectly encapsulates my theory, and has the readies to make it happen.

  3. avatar Matt says:

    What about my custom Glock with RMR and professional stipple job? Was gonna list it on GB for $2400 or so.

    1. avatar anonymoose says:

      Less than what you got the original basic Glock for. HUEHEUEHUEHEHUE

  4. avatar GS650G says:

    Political winds may affect the value right up until they are banned, then the black market takes over.

  5. avatar Justin Case says:

    My carry piece or nightstand gun will be priceless to me if it saves my life or the lives of my family. I can appreciate quality workmanship, fit & finish, and some in my collection are favored over others but the are all shooters, not safe queens. Any ony one of them may be pressed into service at any time without a second thought.

  6. avatar 36IDRedleg says:

    Mr. Hoober: A minor correction. The Congressional Medal of Honor is “received” not “won”, as in the holder of the honor is a recipient rather than a winner. The term denotes greater respect and reverence for the award.

  7. avatar VF1777 says:

    S&W 686 -4 pre lock with 4’’ barrel. They’ll never make it again and it’s a gem. But it will be passed down, not sold. All the rest of them are depreciating by the day….

  8. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    FWIW, one doesn’t “win” the CMOH. It is awarded.

  9. avatar Charlie says:

    An article in Road and Track once disputed the rare = valuable theory. Their argument was that cars that didn’t sell in high numbers were insufficiently recognizable to attract a high price, whereas cars such as the original Mustang and XK-E sold in the tens or hundreds of thousands and maintained high value because everyone was familiar with them.

    Other brands such as Ferrari, though sold in relatively small numbers, command high prices because of Ferrari’s name and reputation. (It certainly isn’t because of their reliability. lol)

    Charlie

    1. avatar ORCON says:

      I think the point here was that the item in question has to first be desirable and the rarity of said desirable item increases its value.

      If I listed a Savage 110 with an oblate factory cut chamber and custom krylon penis camo paint job, I could certainly call it rare but nobody would consider it desirable.

      1. avatar PeteB says:

        As an acquaintance in the car collecting/racing hobby once opined, “It’s rare that I shit my pants, but it’s never desirable.”

    2. avatar Stereodude says:

      There’s some validity to that, some error in that. Some things that are very valuable now were so undesirable while they were readily available that they only sold a few. Later long after they’re no longer available they become desirable (for whatever reason) and the price skyrockets. Some old cars are like that. Like some of the Corvette or Camaros sold with super expensive (at the time) very high power engine options. Only a handful were sold because they were so expensive and not generally desirable or deemed to be worth the money (at the time). Now those true factory numbers matching cars with those engines are super expensive because there are so few and they’re very rare.

      Other items are valuable because their brand has a reputation and they are made only in limited quantities. As they age, they may depreciate for a while but they start appreciating at some point. Or they may never have a depreciating stage and only appreciate.

      IHMO, guns are not a financial investment. Buy them because you like collecting them, or because they have a utilitarian use for you, but as an investment? I don’t see it.

  10. avatar MDB says:

    My K-31’s have risen astronomically from the $100 i paid for them at a gun show a little over a decade ago

  11. avatar Mike says:

    Here in SoCal older Colts are bringing top dollar, especially pythons

  12. avatar Ghettoblaster extreme says:

    I’ve been offered 800 usd for a new in the box tec dc9 that I paid 400 for at a gun show about 10 years ago. Its rare because so many have been confiscated and destroyed. They also have a cult following. That’s why I had to hop on it when I saw it. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid.

  13. avatar Shawn says:

    Look at SKS’s right now. Every year the average cost keeps going up. Junky Norinco’s are near $400 and up. Russian ones as well as some others even more. But this is the case for pretty much all milsurps. But there are two kinds of collectors. The one that collect as an investment or buy guns they like and accumulators; people that have quantity but only a small amount or none of what could be considered collectors pieces.

  14. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    For all the talk Colts get if you can find em at good deal S&W K-frames are not a bad way to go either. Be patient, get good pricing and go from there. Especially early recessed cylinder variants and pinned barrel ones.

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      K or N frame, if you’re trying to dump any of the old 5 screw models give me a shout… Could buy an old early K-22 with gold box for $200 when I started out in early 70s, not now. And in defference to the modern mag-fed semis, the old S & Ws are holding up well- certainly not going down.

  15. avatar BDH says:

    Nothing beats registered transferable machine guns. Pure economics: limited supply and huge demand. Before 1986 a MAC was $150 new with a $200 tax. Now the same gun is 5k with the $200 tax. $500 M16’s are now 25-30k. You don’t even want to know what a $2000 M60 or WWII C&R MG42 sells for today.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      well I know what i’ve been offered…crazy!….then again,..what good is cash when the nursing home takes it all……

  16. avatar GunnyGene says:

    Before you go nuts over appreciation, figure in inflation since it was first acquired. For example a rifle bought new for $200 in 1972 would cost $1,205.69 in 2018. That’s approx 502% inflation. I have one such rifle – a Winchester 9422m in excellent condition. But other than inflation it has not appreciated at all.

    1. avatar Gralnok says:

      Too true! A relative of mine has plenty of unique and beautiful looking guns. He says they’ve appreciated in value, but you’ve got me wondering if it’s really just inflation.

      1. avatar GunnyGene says:

        Serious collectors (those with deep pockets) don’t buy hoping to make a profit due to appreciation. They buy truly collectible firearms for bragging rights. It’s really a very poor, and risky, investment if money is your only goal.

        That said, sometimes you can find a treasure at a yard sale or estate auction that you can pick up for a few bucks, and resell it 24 hrs later for 10 or 100 times what you paid for it. But you really have to know what you’re looking at, and hope there’s no one else there that will outbid you. 🙂

  17. avatar Chip in NW FL says:

    About 20 years ago I purchased a Colt model 1903, 32 cal. US Property marked. I purchased it from a survivor of the Battan Death March and he had purchased it after the war at a pawn shop. When I paid him the then pricely sum of $600 I knew it could be worth about that but also knew over time it would increase in value. The condition is original and excellent and since I did not have one in my collection it was a no brainer to purchase it. What I didn’t know and would not know until some years later, and only after a book had come out showing serial number ranges, was that this particular gun was the VERY last WWII Colt 1903 ever made for the US Govt. I ordered up a Colt letter and this gun was issued to a special agent (Davis I believe) CIC, Holabrand NJ. I don’t know what the gun is worth but pretty cool to me that I own the very last one ever made. I think it is safe to say that the gun is worth more than $600.

  18. avatar Arc says:

    If your gun ever gets ban hammered, expect the price to 3-5X.

  19. avatar Gralnok says:

    Do I own a gun that will increase in value?

    Answer: Nope. Not at all. Even if the dollar goes into the toilet, my guns will forever be cheap. They work well, but nobody will ever want them. Well, most of them work.

  20. avatar DrDKW says:

    Sometimes, there’s just the satisfaction of acquiring something nice for a decent price, then if it eventually skyrockets, that’s just a bonus.
    Last year, I picked up a commercial, polish-blued Browning Hi-Power, in very good, but not perfect condition, for $400. I found a twin to it’s factory 13-round magazine on Gunbroker for $15, then a pretty $15 set of repro wood grips to replace the deteriorated, ugly rubber Pachmyrs it came with.
    I do take it to the range occasionally. FWIW, I’m hanging on to the Pachmyrs.

    Since the official announcement that Hi-Power production has ended, prices have spiked.
    I haven’t seen anything as nice as mine for under $800 – which I guess really doesn’t matter as I didn’t buy it to flip it anyway!

    DrDKW

  21. avatar LarryinTX says:

    I fell in love with Pythons in 1960, when I was 14. Between 1968 and 1973, I bought every one I could find which was 3 new and one used. I did not buy them because I thought the value would increase, but because they were incredible guns. 2 were the same price, the most I paid, $160 each. One was stolen, one was 6″ (which it turned out I disliked) so I sold it for what I paid, and one I shot to death, then instead of rebarreling I sold it for $600, and the last is in my safe in like new condition.
    Buy what you like, leave collecting to collectors.

  22. avatar Daniel says:

    If you want to sell your handguns for more than you paid then sell them in California. Off roster handguns can sell for hundreds sometimes thousands more than they cost retail. HK VP9 is one that sells for $900-$1000 all the time. Gen 5 Glocks going for just as much.

  23. avatar Craig in IA says:

    Well, for starters, a lot will depend on what you initially had to give for the gun… I have quite a number of fairly rare, or highly engraved/inlayed firearms and I know that in proportion to what I paid for them, I’ll always make out well if I ever would part with one, which I likely won’t. (Cold. dead hands and all that…)

    Then again, years back one could buy a decent 20 ga Fox Sterlingworth for $400 when everyone wanted the latest Benelli auto. And in 1980 I purchased an International Harvester M-1rifle, all parts marked IHC from a retired FBI agent for $200. I have a similar H&R M-1 with all parts stamped HRA and appears to never have been issued for $300. And one of the original run M-1Ds during the Clinton debacle when DCM (now CMP) was running their lottery for $600 if I remember correctly, all accessories still in foil and with orignial paperwork. (No Chinese scope then, either…)

    Like everything else, buy low, sell high, if you sell. I’ve made surprising deals at the gun show door just because the old timer didn’t want to spend the $7 to get in…

  24. avatar Drake_Burrwood says:

    When does ones firearm appreciate in value the most.
    . . . When you find yourself on need of shooting back.

  25. avatar Lightfoot says:

    Jack Ruby used a Colt Cobra .38 to kill Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963 . The infamous gun was purchased for $220,000 at an auction in 1991.

    There’s been 2 of these models on Gun Broker for several months, with a starting bid of $750. NO Bids at all. (one of these actually has “Jack Ruby Special” in the item’s description title).

    I own one of these guns, that I inherited from my dad. He was a Detroit PD Lieutenant, and it was his off duty carry gun.

    Could I get $500 ? Maybe, only because its a “Colt”. AND, at 60 yrs old, it’s got better “Lock Up” than the S&W J-Frame Performance Center model I got new for $400.

    But, It’s “Priceless” to me. Probably because it belonged to my dad. So, other’s may come go, but I’ll never sell this Cobra.

  26. avatar Edwin says:

    How about a Remington 1911A1 from WWII and a Belgium manufactured FN/FAL metric in 7.62×51 NATO. I think both which are in excellent condition should appreciate over time.

  27. avatar JOHNNY DALE CRAWLEY says:

    It is worth as much as you can find someone to pay your price.

  28. avatar Mikial says:

    Great article.

    I have a couple of old guns my father owned as a youngster. One of them has never been shot in my lifetime, but when I looked it up it wasn’t worth a lot. Still, to me it’s priceless.

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