Off the Porch: What's it worth?

Feb. 14, 2014 @ 05:03 PM

About 1998, we were in Oregon, Beaverton, and Cherie and I went into a gun shop. I love old pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters and it seemed this shop had more of them than normal. They were priced about 30% lower than a similar gun on the East Coast and I was tempted to buy several to take home. I couldn’t figure out why they were so cheap until I had a conversation with a guy who was also browsing the gun shop. He explained that Model 70s were common in the West because the nature of hunting is different from the East. More bolt action rifles, meant pre-64 model 70s just weren’t such a big deal. After that time, I began to look at prices of collectable firearms in different regions, and I noticed that field grade, quality double barrel shotguns were common and low priced in pawn shops in the coal mining areas. A pawn shop owner explained that in the old days, coal miners made good money and bought good, but no nonsense, guns. Now, the areas are economically depressed, and the children and grandchildren of those guys are now pawning those guns. It’s simple economics.
This week, I got an email from a friend in Florida asking if the price he’d been quoted on a shotgun was a good price. I typed a description on a search engine and instantly came up with a new, in the box shotgun for less than the used one he was looking at. It set me to thinking about how you determine just what a vintage firearm is worth. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t come up to me and tell me about a gun they, or someone they know, owns and they’re wondering what it’s worth. The fact is, the correct answer to the question only applies to the individual. We all set values for objects and the value of an old gun to one person is different to another. What something is worth is what you can sell it for.
Having said this, there is a reasonable, broad appeal, market value for vintage firearms, though it’s hard to determine without a little homework. It’s a lot easier now that we have the internet. As I discovered in my travels to Oregon and the coal mining regions, values of guns can be depressed by geography. I also noticed certain guns seem to have more value in our area than others. For some reason, Browning Sweet 16 shotguns will bring more around here than any place I’ve observed. Probably it has something to do with the amount of bird hunting that once took place in our area combined with some nostalgia, but I’ve been amazed at what people have paid for a nice Sweet 16.
Those regional preferences are fading fast as a result of the internet. In the last fifteen years, there have been multiple gun auction and sales sites springing up on the web and this allows you to browse through more Sweet 16s in an evening at home than you could see in a dozen local gun shows. All those guns have prices, some reasonable, some crazy high, but you can determine just what a Sweet 16 should bring, provided you’re willing to do the homework. 
Gunbroker is the biggest site by far for internet gun sales. Gunbroker is the EBay of firearm sales and they’re the third largest auction site on the internet, but there are other sites like Gunrunner and Auction Arms. Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of listings on these sites. For instance, there are currently 46 Sweet 16 Browning shotguns on Gunbroker. Of those guns, 16 of them have a bid placed on them. The rest are apparently overpriced or just showed up on the site. Of the guns that have a bid, only seven have bids that don’t have a reserve. This means all these guns will eventually sell at the end of the auction term. By saving these auctions as favorites on your computer, you can go back and find out what they eventually brought in an auction where they were available across the entire internet. As a matter of information, most guns with no reserve receive a thousand looks in a two week period, so a lot of people interested in a Sweet 16 have looked and decided just how much they’re willing to pay. The sites have photos and details about condition, so it’s normally easy to find a gun similar to yours.
So, if you’ve been sitting around wondering what Grandpa’s old LC Smith is worth, while we’re snowed in with ice on the roads, now might be a great time to spend some time looking up guns you’re interested in and learning a little bit about their value.

Can you really buy a gun on the internet? While a recent news program was dedicated to ending the practice of buying guns on the internet, the fact is that you can’t truly buy a gun on the internet in the sense that you can buy a car, a boat, or a toaster. Federal law prohibits sales of firearms across state lines by individuals. It’s also illegal to mail or ship a firearm to another person within state laws. In any firearm shipment, there must be a federally licensed entity on one end of the shipment.

The way internet gun sales work in most cases is that the seller advertises the firearm. The buyer can then ask questions, look at photos, and bid or purchase the gun via mail or email. Normally, the transaction involves a certified check sent by mail or credit card phone transaction. The buyer then provides the seller with the address of a federally licensed dealer. The seller then ships the firearm to the dealer and the dealer completes the Federal Form 4473 to legally transfer the firearm. Internet gun sales require this form and a background check just like over the counter sales. If the seller and buyer both live in the same state, the transaction can be made face to face, provided all local laws are observed. The TV show was either the product of ignorance or a desire to inflame the public over a non-issue. 
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at or