Gun collecting as we know it today is a relatively new field. Sure, people have been amassing a wide selection of guns for their personal use and enjoyment for quite some time, but many of those people wouldn’t have called themselves collectors or their guns a collection. I’m talking about people who purposely seek out and acquire guns for the sole purpose of collecting them. It could be a certain caliber, make, or manufacturer that tickles their acquisitive fancy; or perhaps it’s a specific time period, like the Civil War. Sometimes it’s a type collection, like assembling one of every variation of the Luger ever made. Whatever it is, this isn’t an age-old practice.
A lot of what makes the modern world of gun collecting different from past collecting is price. Look no further than the Colt Python: since its introduction in 1955, the value of a new, in-box example has gone up over 14,000% – most of which has occurred in the past five years. That increase beats the performance of silver, gold, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Instead of a 401(k), some collectors are banking on a 401(gun).
What’s driving the prices of these and other guns through the roof? Age. Not of the gun, but of the collector. Do a search online for gun collector groups and look at the photos of their members. Most of them are Baby Boomers or older. I belong to a few gun collector groups myself and, in my day job, help oversee all of the NRA Gun Collectors Programs. I’m always the youngest person in the room by decades. They’re all old enough to be my parents – most of them could be my grandparents.
They have the disposable income available to them to spend on exorbitantly-priced minty examples of whatever guns they collect. The funny thing about it, though, is that while many of them bemoan how expensive even the most basic collectible guns are becoming, they fail to realize that they’re the reason for the price increases.
They can afford to bid against one another on GunBroker for a sample in 99% condition to replace the one they have at home that’s in 99% condition. They’re also willing to spend hundreds of dollars on the correct cardboard box to complete the ensemble.
Now, before you go thinking I’m a Boomer-hater, let me stop you right now. I owe a lot to these collectors – aside from the legacy of $500 Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolvers in 70% condition. The decades of knowledge they possess and their willingness to share it with the younger generation of budding collectors is amazing. Moreover, the truth of the matter is that the older collectors want younger guys to get into the game.
Unfortunately, this generation is hamstrung with an unprecedented amount of student loan debt (among other things) that has quite the trickle-down effect. Not only are we delaying getting married, buying houses, and having kids, but it also affects the world of gun collecting. Guys who can’t pay their monthly student loan bill sure can’t afford a Colt Python – or even an S&W Model 10. And don’t even get me started on the anti-gun slant many people in my generation seem to have.
Which brings me back to the title of this article: the future of gun collecting. What’s it going to look like? There are lots of people in my generation who are proud gun owners, but they’re distinctly different from the generations before. They aren’t as attracted to the richly-blued, hand-fitted revolvers of yesteryear. Instead, what they own is predominantly modern and mostly plastic – and churned out by the thousands.
There’s nothing wrong with modern guns. I own some “plastic fantastic” stuff myself and love it, but I don’t think that stuff is going to lend itself to collecting.
That said, I think the days of gun collecting as we know it today are numbered. They’ve probably got a few decades left at best. Once the older guys pass on and their collections come up for sale, the free market will take over. What was once rare and expensive will be a lot more readily available as their collections (often numbering in the hundreds of pieces) are liquidated. Prices will fall and guys will be able to pick up a 99% Colt Python for less than $1,000 again.
I’ve got a fair amount of money tied up in my guns; most of them are older revolvers that people my age don’t normally collect. So, do I want to see the collecting world take the path I just mentioned? Not necessarily, but like the dot-com and housing bubbles, I think it’s going to pop.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Only time will tell.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.