By Dennis Gaffney
A man at the Seattle
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW came to the event to learn more about a gun he had
purchased a dozen years earlier because it "appeared to be an Indian
rifle." The guest handed the gun to Bill Guthman, an Americana expert
based in Westport, Connecticut. With just a quick once-over, however, Bill
knew that the gun had originated with unscrupulous owners, rather than
collector, you've been collecting a long time, and we all like to buy
wonderful things," Bill told the man. "But sometimes we don't
buy wonderful things." The metal butt plate, there to protect the
wooden butt of the gun, was added after the gun's construction and fit
crudely. The brass tacks were hammered in to the gun's butt to approximate
a lightning bolt, a Plains Indian motif.
Those who venture
into the antique firearms market have to watch out for fakes. Here's how
to avoid an ambush
were aged to look old," Bill said, "but you don't see any
oxidation around them. The whole rifle has been made to deceive."
A faked antique
firearm is not a rare occurrence, according to Bill and to Chris Mitchell,
a militaria expert based in Point Clear, Alabama. At the militaria table
at ROADSHOW events, both men have exposed enough fakes to arm a small
company of soldiers. They say that beginner gun collectors should go into
the field armed with knowledge. And to help collectors avoid shooting
themselves in the foot by purchasing a phony gun, the two sharp-shooting
experts offered the following advice.
Gun forgers only bother making fakes when their product can earn them a
sizeable sum. That's why gun forgers usually copy only the most expensive
guns in the marketplace, such as Colts, Winchesters and Kentucky rifles,
or rare guns that have survived from the Revolutionary War or from the
Civil War's Confederate Army. That's not to say that the forged guns all
mimic ones that sell for tens of thousands of dollars or even more. Many
fake guns sell for under $10,000 (the one that Bill saw in Seattle was
bought for $250), prices that are large enough to make a profit yet small
enough to avoid the scrutiny that might uncover deception.
In almost all cases,
forgers tend to copy older guns, which are generally worth more. Authentic
old guns corrode over time and show natural signs of aging. "After
looking at a lot of guns you can tell what man has done and what nature
has done," Bill says. "Nature applies the right patination. You
can tell when it's artificially applied." Less-than-honest handlers
stain wood to mimic age and rub new metal with acidic chemicals to make it
appear old. "You can often smell the strong acidic odor," Chris
From Old to
Instead of manufacturing a new gun and making it look oldóusually an
expensive propositionómost forgers make their job easier by modifying an
ordinary old gun to make it seem more valuable. Deceitful sellers often
mess with a gun's markings. A practice in vogue today is to take
contemporary Italian reproductions of Confederate handguns or Colts and
remove the Italian markings. The resellers then artificially age them to
pass them off as originals. It's easy for counterfeiters to file off an
original marking and even to add a new false markó"spurious
markings" as they're called in the businessóto make it seem like a
more expensive model.
"You can often
see a dishing in the metal where it's been filed," Chris says.
"Although sometimes they'll try to weld them back in to shape."
Another trick is to
improve a gun's cachet by adding an engraving. "They might put the
name 'Wells Fargo' on a gun to imply it was owned by that company,"
Bill says. Chris says that the unscrupulous might also connect an
anonymous gun to a historical person to bolster its value. "They'll
find a beat-up Colt and they'll find some Captain John Doe who was killed
during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and engrave the gun,
'Presented to Captain John Doe as a token of esteem from the members of
his company.' Now you don't have a beat-up Colt anymore. You have a Colt
with history." The sharp edges of these inscriptions often reveal
them as forgeries.
As Always, Do Your
Bill and Chris say the best protection against being duped is the guidance
of a reputable and knowledgeable dealer who can verify a potential
purchase. For those who want to stay in the antique gun-collecting field,
the two experts recommend a solid education in old guns. "People
should look at as many guns as they can at museums and dealer shops and
familiarize themselves with what's real and what isn't," Bill says.
Chris sends serious beginners to books. "The truth is that books are
the backbone of everything," Chris says. "Whether you want to be
a mathematician or a gun collector, you're better off spending your first
$2,000 on doing research and building a library than buying $2,000 worth
by Jim Supica,
Old Town Station
originally published in Blue Book of Gun Values
The "faking" of firearms
is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1800ís the practice of peddling
shoddy merchandise marked so as to fool the unwary into thinking he was
purchasing a quality gun was not unusual. Witness the many 19th century
single shot percussion pocket pistols marked "Derringer" or
"Deringe" or some other variation of the famous Deringer name,
or the European copies of S&W Model 3 Topbreak revolvers that even
went so far as to duplicate the S&W barrel address markings.
Faking of collectable firearms with
the specific intention to defraud collectors probably first became a
significant problem in the early post WWII years, beginning most notably
in the Colt field. As the dollar premium paid for high condition specimens
and rare variations increased, the monetary incentive to make and deal in
faked merchandise has increased, and spread into many fields.
In this article, weíll look at
what constitutes "faking", the extent of the problem, what steps
a collector can take to prevent being swindled, and the impact on gun
collecting and the market in collectible firearms. Weíve sought the
opinions of collectors, dealers, auctioneers, attorneys, restorers,
curators, and law enforcement to try to get a handle on this "dark
side" of gun collecting.
Restoration or fake?
The question of what constitutes a
faked firearm is not as simple as it might seem. Refinishing and repairing
guns to restore their appearance and improve their function has always
been an accepted part of gun ownership, as has modifying guns to suit the
tastes and needs of their owners. With the increase in the appreciation of
firearms as "collectibles", beyond their utilitarian nature, the
practice of "restoring" guns has become widespread. Itís hard
to argue that someone who wants to return a family heirloom or prized
possession to itís original luster should not do so. After all, itís
their gun to enjoy as they choose.
However, you have to throw into the
mix the unquestionable fact that there is a sector of the collector
fraternity that will pay a premium for original "mint" or
"100%" or "New In Box" specimens. And that premium can
be substantial. In some models a discriminating collector may be willing
to pay double or better the market value of a 98% gun to get a perfect,
pristine example -- "the way it left the factory". These guys
are not just paying for 100 percent of any nice-looking
finish. They are buying, or at least trying to buy, original,
Obviously, the question arises of
what will happen to a restored piece after it leaves the original ownerís
possession. After all, none of us can "take it with us" when we
go to that big gun show in the sky, much as we might like to. Plus, tastes
and circumstances change -- todayís treasured heirloom may be tomorrowís
trading fodder or college fund.
Beyond legitimate restoration
efforts, itís easy to see the incentive to fraud when the cost of buying
a fairly clean example and restoring it to "as new" is far less
than the amount a "condition collector" will pay for an original
The majority opinion seems to be
that so long as the restoration or alteration is disclosed at the time of
sale, it is an acceptable practice. Itís easy to project, though, that
the "disclosure" may well not accompany the piece the 3rd or 4th
time it changes hands. Also there seems to be, perhaps unfortunately, a
Clinton military-policy ethic among certain gun swappers -- "Donít
ask, donít tell". I.e., if the buyer doesnít specifically ask,
"Oh, by the way, is this gun refinished or restored or does it
contain replaced parts?", there is no obligation to mention it.
Equally common, and equally regrettable, are the well worn evasions
"Looks old to me", or "Thatís the way I got it".
Now THATís fraud . . .
More blatant, and universally
condemned, is the practice of modifying a gun to make it something it is
not. There are a number of forms this can take, some common ones being --
- * Aging and modifying a modern
reproduction or replica firearm to pass it as an original.
- * Altering a common model to make
it appear to be a rare model.
- * Adding modern engraving to an
older gun, and passing it as original period engraving.
- * Creating false historical
documentation or attribution of historical usage.
- * Altering a firearm to a more
valuable configuration - for example, rare barrel length, uncommon
finish, special grips or fancy stock, rare caliber. CONT. NEXT PAGE
- * "Upgrading" a low
grade gun to resemble a higher grade by the same maker.
It can still be argued that if you
disclose the nature of the alteration itís not really faking. However,
the excuse of "I couldnít find (or afford) an original, so I had
this one made up, just for my personal collection," begins to wear a
bit thin when dealing with these types of alterations.
But the big boys do it . . .
Maybe I tread on thin ice here, but
there is a recurrent theme which perhaps should be aired. It has been said
that there are practices which when done by an individual constitute
fraud, but if engaged in by a major manufacturer, distributor, or importer
are Smart Marketing.
The battle over reproduction arms
has been generally fought and settled decades ago. What some once
considered blasphemy is now generally seen as a desirable means of meeting
the demand for shootable historic pattern guns, with the dual benefits of
preserving original weapons from the rigors of shooting wear, and
encouraging the enjoyment of historical arms for individuals who would
otherwise be priced out of the market. And I agree, and enjoy shooting the
repops. That said, I must somewhat wistfully note that one of the reasons
I gravitated to collecting early S&Wís was that there were no
reproductions around to muddy the waters. A new collector was not so
concerned about the Velveteen Rabbit question -- "What is real?"
With Schofield reproductions on the market and other models supposedly in
the works, that is no longer the case.
However, there are some other trends
that raise interesting questions, and some eyebrows. Some military
collectors are distressed by the marketing of put-together weapons
originating not in an army but in a marketing department.
"Tanker" Garands and "Jungle type" Enfields have been
specifically mentioned. The quest for ever more authentic reproductions,
along with wide marketing of authentic modern made reproduction parts,
has, some argue, made fakery an even easier proposition. Restoration
businesses and firms offering professionally restored firearms are "goiní
jessies" right now -- successful, widely advertised, professional
firms offering highly sought after services and products. Finally, while Iím
not sure WHAT it means, Iíve noticed that one maker of quality
reproduction cowboy arms is working on a sort of Bizarro World
anti-restoration -- modern new-out-of-the-box repros that come from the
factory pre-aged, looking beaten & gray, as if theyíd ridden in an
open holster for 50 years already. Sorta makes sense in a world of
stone-washed jeans and pre-distressed leather coats. Harrumph.
Which guns are most subject to
fakery? The easy answer is, any gun whose value in itís altered state is
substantially more than the same gun in itís unaltered state plus the
cost of alteration. Perhaps the areas that were first subject to the most
fakery were Colts, Winchesters, and Lugers, simply because thatís where
the dollars were. As collecting interests spread to other fields, so did
the scam artists. Today, it seems that if a gun is valued as a collectible
beyond its value as a shooter, thereís a possibility of fraud.
One authority offered the theory
that guns in the $2,000 to $10,000 value range were those most likely to
be faked. The idea was that this was enough to tempt the greedy to go to
some extra effort, but that when you get into five figures, the likelihood
of eventual expert evaluation and discovery increases dramatically, along
with the possibility of being hunted down by an enraged collector who can
afford the legal talent to adequately pursue proper redress.
That said there are certain types of
guns in various collecting fields that seem to have the reputation of
being susceptible to fraud attempts. This is by no means a comprehensive
list -- itís merely some of the examples that have come up in
conversation researching this article.
Percussion Colts - One
of the most common frauds perpetrated on novice collectors is the passing
of reworked, artificially aged & restamped reproductions as originals.
In addition, some specific models of particular concern include Walkers
and so-called "Wells Fargo" (a misnomer) type Model 1849ís.
Colt Single Action Armies - Colt
authority John Kopec estimates that 90% of the Cavalry and Artillery
martial models he inspects have been altered in some way. Some have been
made from civilian models. Another particularly destructive trend has been
the "reconversion" of short barreled artillery models, many of
which have significant history in their own right, to 7-1/2" cavalry
models. As with the percussion guns, 2nd and 3rd generation Colts and the
better grade reproductions such as the Hartford model have been altered to
give the appearance of first generation guns. Short barreled ejectorless
"Sheriffís Models" have been made from the standard model SAAís.
Winchesters -- The
old joke is "Youíve got a rare Henry -- yours isnít engraved."
Some knowledgeable experts believe that the vast majority of engraved
Henryís and 1866ís have been engraved in the last 40 years. Other
collectors report standard Model 97 and Model 12 shotguns converted to
Another area of concern is with
pre-94 Model 70ís in rare calibers. It is reported that some are being
made from old factory made barrels, and some with barrels made from
scratch. As with Colts, the availability of authentic reproductions of the
lever action models raises the possibility of reworked and artificially
aged replicas being passed as originals, especially with novice
Lugers - Some
collectors insist that Lugers are the collectible guns most subject to
fakery. As in other areas, this can be especially true for models where a
relatively simple variation in markings or addition of a stamping can
significantly affect value. The National Auto Pistol Collectors
Association has been productively active in discussing authenticity and
exposing fakes, making membership especially worthwhile for those
interested in Lugers or other auto-pistols. With the special emphasis on
condition in this field, unattributed restoration seems to be a recurring
concern. In addition the creation of "matching" serial number
guns from mismatched guns and piles of variously numbered or renumbered
parts sometimes seems to be a significant cottage industry.
Smith & Wesson
- Rare "Mexican Model" .38 SA 3rd Model variations have been
made up from the more common related Model of 1891 -- a process made
easier by the fact that some conversion kits were originally offered by
the factory, and still surface from time to time. Recently, forged
certificates for Registered Magnums have been exposed. Faked Wells Fargo
markings on cut barrel Schofields are not uncommon.
Remington - For
years, the classic warning has been to watch out for 1890 Single Actions
made by cutting the web of the more common 1875 Model. In an interesting
reversal, in recent years it has come to light that many of the
"suspect" Model 1890ís may have actually been totally
legitimate examples of the even more rare Model of 1888. Sorta makes you
wonder how many 1888ís have been ruined by "restoring" them to
Military - Generally
speaking, whenever a martial variation of a civilian model will bring a
significant premium, you will find some commercial versions that have been
fraudulently reworked into the military pattern. In addition, some recent
areas of abuse include -- faked Enfield No. 5 Jungle Carbines (one
collector reports an 80% fake rate); early 1911 pistols made to match by
stamping numbers on later manufactured parts; Winchester M-1 carbines;
Korean re-import M-1 carbines reworked and passed as original WWII guns;
and German small arms with WWII waffenampt markings added. Spurious sniper
rifles made from more common issue arms also are not uncommon.
Interestingly, many military collectors argue that adding a military scope
to an issue rifle is a legitimate practice so long as no machining is
required to mount the scope.
Double shotguns --
reportedly a fairly rampant abuse by the more skilled fakers is
"upgrading" -- taking a field grade or modestly embellished
piece and adding engraving, fancier wood, and other special features to
pass it as a much more valuable higher grade gun. Yo, Bubba, I gotcher
Dianer Grade ratcheer!
Early firearms - Remember
that prior to the industrial revolution, firearms were often individual
handmade pieces rather than mass produced items. Then consider that the
same tools, processes, and skills still exist today, and the potential for
abuse becomes apparent. Reconversion of guns which had once been converted
from flint to caplock back to "original" flintlock conversion
has long been practiced by some, and, like other restoration processes,
may be considered acceptable when disclosed. The reconversion process has
varying impacts on value -- less harmful on a Kentucky rifle which may be
evaluated on its aesthetic qualities as a piece of individual artisanship,
than on a military piece valued for itís historical authenticity. Of
course, Mid-Eastern firearms with early ignition systems have been
continuously produced for the tourist trade for centuries. It can be hard
for any but an expert to tell if a matchlock or miquelet is 300, 100, or
10 years old.
Engraved guns --
Several noted authorities cited this as a special area of concern --
particularly where period attributed engraving is found on an antique gun
and doubly especially where the engraving is attributed to a particular
famous artist. My personal impression is that the most skillful modern
engravers can duplicate the style and quality of any of the great master
engravers of the 19th century. Given the high prices original period
engraved pieces command, this can be an especially risky field.
Historically attributed guns -- Remember,
paper is generally easier to forge than steel. Beware of faked documents.
It can be a very good idea to confirm factory letters -- forgeries are
known to exist. Pay attention to what the documents actually say (see also
"Pieces of History" chapter in the 16th & 17th editions of
the "Blue Book of Gun Values"). Another approach has been the
restamping of serial numbers on guns to match those of known historical
Casings, holsters and accessories - Wood
casings & matching accessories can substantially enhance values,
especially with percussion era hand guns, and many authentic guns are
found in reproduction casings. When you consider that an authentic capper
for a Patterson Colt may break into the five figure value range, the
profit motive in fabricating relatively simple accessories is apparent.
The boom in Old West holsters seems to have abated just a bit, but the
premium that the major "name" makers brought reportedly resulted
in phony stamped markings. Finally, there are reports of fake 19th century
cardboard pistol boxes being recently manufactured - perhaps not
surprising in a market where some rare boxes can bring $1,000 or more.
What can a collector do?
You could give up gun collecting and
watch more TV. Well, ok, me neither.
With that out of the way, there are
a number of tactics to minimize the chance of getting hung with the Old
Maid. None are fool proof. Most have some merit.
* Self educate. There is
universal agreement that this is the single best approach. Study the
reference books. Join collector clubs, attend meetings, talk to other
collectors. Use every opportunity to study the type of gun that interests
you, taking notes and making side by side comparisons between various
examples. Learn to identify correct markings, quality of finish, and even
the grit of sandpaper and the direction of the polish lines used by the
factory for the original final polish. Yes, the expert restorers will
duplicate all of this, but cruder modifications can be identified.
* Shun greed. Shun speed. Over
and over the experts have said -- If itís significantly underpriced....
if itís too good to be true.... if itís a one-time, go-fast,
bottom-dollar, good deal.... the warning flag should go up. Several
mentioned that the faked items nearly always have a good "just came
out of the attic" or "personally know the guy who brought it
back from the war" story to go with them. Take your time in examining
* Re-do clues.
The truly professional fakes and restorations will get past you. However
there are some clues which may reveal less than perfect modifications. On
a gun that looks too crisp, study for tiny pits and flaws under the
surface of the finish. Look for blurring drag marks on the lettering and
dishing of screw holes. Feel the edges that should be sharp for dullness.
Learn if the factory had special "refinish" marks, and look for
them. Check to see if the various parts have the correct type of finish
for that gun (should the screws be fire-blued? the hammer and triggerguard
case colored?). Look for polishing waves in the surface of the metal.
* Let there be light - Light
and magnification are usually your best tools. Sunlight is often best, but
not always practical. One of the very powerful "Sure Fire"
flashlights can easily fit in a pocket and give you a deep look into a
blued finish that would be impossible in most "gun show"
lighting. Under strong light, century old bluing will usually show some
amount of reddish "plum" color coming up underneath the blue.
* Do the cuffs & collars match? Is
the condition of the gun consistent throughout? A perfect bore on a
battered gray gun can be a warning of an artificially aged reproduction.
Even on guns with excellent bores, if they have been fired at all there
will generally be some sign in the forcing cone area on revolvers for
example, and usually tiny dings at the muzzle visible under magnification.
On the other hand, if buying a gun as an original mint unfired specimen, a
look through a magnifying bore scope may reveal small pits and wear in the
mid-barrel rifling that might suggest a lightly used gun which has had the
exterior professionally restored. Likewise, the internal mechanics should
usually be consistent with the exterior wear.
* Buy from a reputable dealer. This,
again, was a consistent recommendation. Buying from an established dealer
or auctioneer with a reputation for integrity has obvious advantages.
* Get it in writing.
When possible, get a receipt, description, and guarantee of authenticity
from that reputable dealer.
* READ the writing you just got it
in. Be sure you read the
terms of purchase, and understand what, if anything, is guaranteed. Read
what the words say, and not what youíd like them to say. Watch for
phrases like "type" or "probably" or "most
likely" or "in the style of". Study what, if anything, is
guaranteed, and to what extent. Be aware that in auctions or elsewhere
"as is, where is" means no guarantee, no recourse.
* The dissent -
I feel compelled to present a contrarian view at this point. One collector
vigorously suggested staying away from major dealers. He felt those with
the most exposure and self promotion and expertise were among those most
able to perpetrate effective frauds. Another felt that auction houses had
a tendency to turn an intentionally blind eye to questionable merchandise.
Perhaps it all comes back to the adjective "reputable".
* Get a second opinion - Ask
the opinion of fellow collectors. They may catch something you missed, and
most are very willing to help so long as you donít make them the
"bad guy" if the piece is bad, and are not the type to hold a
grudge if they guess wrong.
* Get a third opinion. This time
from an expert. - Get a
dealer or consultant who specializes in that particular field to examine
the piece and "vet" it for you, or maybe pay them a bit more for
a formal written appraisal. Many of the better auction houses and major
dealers will offer free informal verbal evaluations, in hopes of getting
to participate in the sale of the item if it comes on the market. Yes, be
aware of potential conflicts of interest here. However, balance this with
the knowledge that youíre gonna be playing by yourself if you decide not
to trust anyone.
* Trust, but verify - Get
a factory letter, with the written agreement that the gun can be returned
for refund if it wonít letter. If it comes with a factory letter, spend
the few extra bucks to have the factory verify the letter.
* Come up to the lab and see whatís
on the slab. There are
laboratory tests that can be done that may expose some types of
restoration or fakery. Practices such as spark tests, x-ray, thermo
fluorescent, magnetic resonance, microscopic study of tool and die marks,
and others can be revealing. There are three problems with this approach.
1) Some sources say fakers are learning to dodge lab tests as fast as the
technology advances. 2) Some tests require taking a sample of metal from
the gun -- not desirable on high dollar items. 3) Finding someone to do it
- state forensics labs are generally swamped. However, this may be an
option worth considering when a once sweet high dollar deal is threatening
to explode into litigation, which brings us to --
* Treatment for snakebite. What
do you do if you think youíve been had? This comes back to that
"reputable dealer / in writing" concept. If you know the guy you
got it from, and have some sort of written guarantee from him, you go back
to him and politely express your concern. IF the item actually IS faked (a
major question in & of itself), there is a good chance that the
dealer, if he is ethical, was fooled on it too. If heís not ethical,
odds are he still will say he was fooled on it. Either way, he may prefer
a quiet settlement to a public pissing contest. If you donít have a
guarantee, or your dealer disappeared when he packed his gun show
tablecloth, congratulations, you have just purchased an education.
The thoughtful may reader may well
ask, "Hey, what happens to that phony piece after this quiet
settlement?" Good question. Perhaps the noblest dealers would destroy
it or hang it on their own wall as an object lesson. IF they could afford
to do so. A more common disposition, but still arguably ethical, is that
the piece is resold to another buyer for what it is -- an altered
specimen. Other times it may be channeled into an "as is / where is,
caveat emptor" forum such as an absolute auction or gun show, and
begin the process all over again.
Finally, civil fraud or criminal
theft by fraud charges are always a possibility. The problem is finding
the guy who originally created the fake with the intention to defraud, or
sold the item with the knowledge that it was faked and misrepresenting it
with the intention to defraud. The "intention" element of this
approach is often very hard to prove in court. In cases where a serial
number has been altered on a modern firearm, the BATF may be willing to
take an active interest in the matter, as illustrated in the Rorabaugh
* New deck of cards - Reconsider
the field you choose to collect. If the prevalence of fakes in your field
worries you, switch to another area where you are more comfortable.
* Commit heresy - The
first three rules of collecting are "condition, condition, and
condition". Ignore them. Learn to love 50% guns, NRA Fair, and bobbed
barrels. Wonít work for you compulsives, I know, but works fine for me.
The synergy of fraud
To figure out how fraud may affect
gun collecting, lets first consider several trends that may be interacting
to create a combined impact.
* Increasing gun values - providing
greater monetary incentive to fakery.
* Increasing information on details
of collectible arms. This is
a double edged sword. On the one hand, increased availability of detailed
information provides the collector with knowledge to detect incorrectly
altered pieces. On the other hand, it provides the forger with the
information to make it look right.
* Decreased availability of
top-drawer collectibles; increased demand. Noted
authority R. L. Wilson, in his latest book makes a strong argument that
the finest firearms are disappearing from the collector market into
museums and permanent collections. Meanwhile, new collectors continue to
enter the field, and the hot new sport of Cowboy Action Shooting increases
public interest in and demand for old guns. As they say about real estate
"They ainít makin any more." Hmm. Well, maybe with collectible
guns, they are.
* Increased authenticity of
reproductions. Like it or
not, altered and artificially aged reproductions continue to be the basis
of fakes -- both crude and surprisingly sophisticated. The more the
reproduction market demands authenticity, the less the faker has to do to
create a plausible fake.
* Increased sophistication of both
legitimate restoration and faking technology. To
me, the most intriguing response has been to the question "Are there
restorations and fakes out there that are undetectable?" There was a
strong split in opinion among some of the top authorities in the country.
One camp held that a faked item can always be identified if a
knowledgeable enough expert has the time to examine it. The other reports
that techniques of fabrication, recreating and then authentically aging
correct finish, and duplicating markings have been perfected to the extent
that "perfect fakes" can be and are being made.
Itís a puzzler. It would seem that
if undetectable fakes ARE being made, no one would know about it because
they would be fooling the experts. On the other hand, just because one
expert may not be able to identify a fake, doesnít mean that another
might not catch it. One interesting comment, heard more than once, was
"the faker always slips up". Again, the counterpoint --
"Yes, but like the rest of us, they learn from their mistakes, and
improve their future efforts."
Impact on collecting
Hereís my guess as to how this all
adds up for the future of gun collecting. Of course, you gotta realize
this prognostication is from a guy who was sure Colt & Winchester
values had topped out a decade ago, and just knew that Bush would
have a second term.
* "Mint" gun no longer the
holy grail. This is probably
my most controversial prediction, but I believe that the "Condition
is Everything" concept holds less sway than it did a few years ago. I
also think that as more perfectly restored guns are created using
essentially undetectable restoration techniques, collectors who will pay
highest premiums for 100% mint factory new guns will continue to decline.
There are certainly collectors today who are less inclined to
pursue a 100% gun, believing that it is more likely to have been dinked
with than a gun that shows honest wear.
* Provable pedigree more important. Among
the rarefied, highest dollar market, it would seem that the provenance of
a high dollar gun will become more essential for a gun to realize top
value. If sophisticated engraving, restoration, and aging techniques can
fool the top experts in a field, it only makes sense that a gun that has
been known and can be proven to have been in a particular state in a known
collection for a number of years will bring a substantial premium over one
that has just "come in out of the brush".
* Discourage new collectors? Nope.
Refocus market? Yep. -
Common wisdom holds that the collector who gets burned early, or is
frightened by tales of fakes, will soon be an ex-collector. There is also
consensus that the hobby needs new blood, and cannot afford to lose a
generation of collectors. I suspect we may be underestimating the allure
of guns, and the innate smarts of new collectors. Yes, perhaps some will
be scared off in certain fields. However, I think the market has itís
own intelligence, and will shift to
fields where fakery is less
common and has less impact on values. Perhaps we can foresee a somewhat
broader based collector market, with the heavily faked areas left to
linger while areas that have been less glamorous, less pricey with less
incentive to fraud continue to grow.
You know what? That might mean that
"gun collecting" becomes less the province of an elite few
chasing on the finest known examples for prestige, ego and
"investment" purposes, and returns to the realm of being a fun,
fascinating, and interesting hobby shared by many who love guns and
history. And, in my book, that ainít a bad thang.
This article is in response to
several members that asked about buying antiques, mainly firearms. Dennis
Gaffney, Jim Supica and a few others mentioned here have seen it all,
their articles have explained the pit falls better than me.