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Thursday, February 27, 2014

1911s of the First World War

U.S. military arms are popular with all levels of collectors.  Whether you want a M1 Garand to take out and shoot, a pristine M1 Thompson submachine gun for display only, or even a military rarity such as a Pedersen Device, the appeal is abundant.  Rock Island Auction Company has long offered military arms from many different nations, but our May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction has provided us with a special opportunity: every military manufacturer of the M1911 and the M1911A1 will be represented.  This is in addition to the Von Norden Collection of German WWII Arms and Artifacts as well as hundreds of other U.S. military pieces such as Garands, Johnson rifles, trapdoors, trench shotguns, swords, M1903s, and even some Tommy guns.

In our previous article, "1911s of the Second World War," we saw examples and heard stories surrounding the five WWII manufacturers of the famed American sidearm.  This article will take a look at the companies that made pistols for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I and does so as the world prepares to remember the Centennial of this unfathomable event.  The first World War began on July 28,1914 and lasted until the armistice on November 11, 1918.  After all the trench fighting, chemical warfare, aerial dogfights, and naval battles were over, 16 million were dead and over 21 million were wounded, making it one of the deadliest wars in human history.

Men of the 23rd Infantry on the Western Front in 1918.

Much of this death was courtesy of the numerous innovations taking place:  machine guns were developing rapidly past Maxim's original design and becoming much more reliable, airplanes fitted with these new machine guns and a synchronization gear (a.k.a. "interrupter") brought the battle to a new front, submarines had advanced well past their military infancy since the U.S. Civil War, chemical warfare was abundant despite the Hague Treaty of 1899, and the British invented the tank, which in turn resulted in many new anti-tank inventions by the Central Powers to destroy them.

Another new invention, in development for a least a decade before WWI, was the M1911 pistol.  John Moses Browning had been developing an "automatic pistol" for the military after they felt that their .38 caliber revolvers were under powered and could not fire nor reload quickly enough in combat.  The problem had been recognized over a decade prior because in 1900 the government placed an order for 1,000 Luger pistols from DWM for testing and evaluation.  Enter JMB and his M-1900.  It was not a perfect design, nor were several subsequent designs such as the M-1902, M-1903, or M-1905 (model designations are Browning's, not to be confused with the military designations).  However, as we all know the M-1911 performed best in the Army field trials, firing 6,000 rounds without a single malfunction, and became adopted as the M1911 by the Army in March 1911 and by the Navy & Marine Corps in 1913.

Upon our entry into the Great War the United States had slightly less than 75,000 of these pistols on-hand for just under 80,000 enlisted servicemen.  It's a rather dismal amount of pistols, but seems downright "prepared" in comparison to the amount of other tools of war that the U.S. possessed.  We had little artillery, barely anyone knowledgeable on how to effectively utilize it in modern warfare, and under 200 machineguns.  Read that again - under 200 machine guns of any type, brand, or manufacturer and most of those had only been purchased for testing of some sort.

Unlike many European nations who are quoted as saying that the war would be over quickly (6 months in some statements), by the time the United States was entering the battle in April 1917, the war had already been going on for almost three years.  We had no such illusions of a short conflict and began ordering enormous quantities of arms to arm a military force that was expected to approach one million men for an offensive that would have taken place in the Fall of 1919.


Highly Desirable Pre-World War I Colt U.S. Army Contract Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Obviously, all of this meant a boon of production for Colt.  Not only were a huge number of sidearms going to be required, but also a staggering number of machineguns.  Even for an experienced producer such as Colt, the demand was simply too great.  The War Department then stepped in and tried to fill the void.  In the government report on wartime manufacturing, "Arms of Industry," the Army was sending contracts out to numerous parties.  One passage regarding the M1911 reads as follows:

"In order to fill the enormously increased pistol requirements of the American Expeditionary Forces contracts for the Colt automatic were given to National Cash Register Company, at Dayton, Ohio; the North American Arms Company, Quebec; the Savage Arms Corporation, Utica, New York; Caron Brothers, Montreal; the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, Detroit, Michigan; the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, New Haven, Connecticut; the Lanston Monotype Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Savage Munitions Corporation, San Diego, California."

They were calling on everyone they could think of to manufacture arms for a war they clearly thought was going to be much longer.  In fact, in January of 1918 the War Department released a study stating that the military would need 2.5 MILLION pistols toward the end of 1919.  Needless to say, Colt was swamped.  They had already expanded once to ship pistols to England, but even with Springfield's help both manufacturers were way behind on the initial order of 142,000 pistols.  Two months into the war, June 1917, Colt received yet another contract for another 500,000 pistols!  Using Colt's production rate in 1900, that order would be the equivilant of six years' work.  They even increased production, along with Smith & Wesson, of the .45-caliber Model 1917 revolvers to satisfy a supplemental government contract for 100,000!  At this point they were just pumping out handguns as quickly as possible, and while the government would have obviously preferred the more advanced semi-autos they had to take what they could get.

All in all Colt produced 487,714 of these pistols during WWI, which includes 412,114 of the final contract for 500,000 before the war ended.


U.S. Springfield Armory Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol
While Colt was drowning in contracts for pistols and machine guns, Springfield was struggling to keep up with the demand for M1903 bolt action rifles.  They would produce 265,620 M1903 rifles during the war in addition to M1917 Enfield rifles and M1911 pistols.

What did not help Springfield in the manufacturing process of the M1911 was Colt's "build-by-sample" process.  The idea from the Ordnance Department was a good one: ensure that M1911 pistols would have interchangeable parts regardless of what company manufactured them.  To do that, one must have specific measurements plus or minus a certain amount; these measurements are referred to as "tolerances."  These ensure that even a gun assembled with some parts that meet the maximum variances and some that meet the minimum variances will still function as designed.  The problem arose when Colt went to share their "measurements" with other companies - they didn't have accurate measurements.  Sure, there were some base-level numbers written down somewhere, but ultimately those numbers had been refined by the people making the guns and that's exactly who had that knowledge.  So when Colt sent sample guns to Springfield, Remington-UMC, and Winchester so they could copy them for war time manufacturing, all three companies experienced great difficulty in replicating the weapon and its specifics.  In fact, William Goddard states in his book, The Government Models: The Development of the Colt 1911 that, "Winchester's superintendent, whose production methods were the very model of documented and methodical organization, became practically apoplectic when his company tried to set up its contract production of the Model of 1911.  It took Winchester so long to figure out how to specify and build the 1911 that the war ended before they were able to complete any pistols."  Though Winchester should be given some leeway since they were cranking out M1917 rifles as fast as possible due to a government emphasized priority.  Thankfully, the other manufacturers did not suffer similar fates.  Springfield would manufacture 25,767 pistols and only discontinued production to focus on M1903 rifles.


U.S. Army Contract Remington-UMC Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol
In 1914 Remington was producing guns for several countries and went through several expansions to do so.  Czar Nicholas II had ordered one million M1891 Russian rifles and bayonets and also needed cartridges for them.  The French also needed ammo, but when the U.S. went to war all other contracts were put to rest.  Remington would manufacture M1911 pistols, Pedersen Devices, Browning machine guns, and Mark III flair pistols and despite the previously mentioned issues between manufacturers crafting interchangeable parts, Remington-UMC would have pistols rolling off the assembly line a mere 8 months after receiving their contract.  With a government contract for 500,000 pistols, Remington would only begin production in August of 1918 giving them almost 3 solid months of run time.  They would complete 13,000 pistols in that time, but were allowed to finish up with what parts they had remaining for a total of 21,676.  After WWI, the equipment used by Remington-UMC was shipped to Springfield for storage and later saw use again through various contractors during WWII.

Original Remington-UMC pistols are already rare, but a cutaway model for demonstrator purposes is truly a scarce find!  The contrast of "in the white" parts and the blued ones helps draw the eye  to it.

Other Contractors
Some of you may look at that list of only three manufacturers and wonder about that large list of companies and cities that received contracts from the U.S. Government to make M1911 pistols.  That's true, many companies did receive contracts to produce pistols since we were so radically behind in making them.  However, many of those contacts were rescinded upon the sudden armistice, leaving a lot of companies who were tooling up for production, or had already started, in the lurch.  Here's a short list of them.

North American Arms Co:  North American Arms had the same troubles that many other M1911 contractors did: they started late in the war, it took a while to receive the proper manufacturing machinery, they lacked individuals skilled in producing the M1911, and needed adequate drawings and specs.  To add to this, North American didn't have adequate facilities.  They had planned to produce the sidearms by leasing the factory of the bygone Ross Rifle Company, since in 1916 Ross rifles were withdrawn from service by Canadian troops (who would switch to the Lee-Enfield).  After all was said and done North American managed to produce approximately 104 uninspected, unissued, "toolroom" pistols.  That number makes them even more rare than the vaunted Singer M1911A1 pistols of World War II!  After the contract of 500,000 was cancelled, many of the remaining parts made by North American were used to complete commercial pistols.  North American is the only manufacturer in this section to have produced complete firearms even if none of them were actually delivered.

Extremely Rare North American Arms Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol

A.J. Savage Munitions Co:  Savage started producing parts before the war had ended especially slides and recoil springs.  Any pistol found with a Savage marked slide will likely have markings known to other pistol makers and is a "parts gun" or gun assembled from spare parts.  Savage never assembled a complete gun.  Some of these may even be "lunch box specials" by factory workers who would take single parts at a time to assemble a full gun at home.

No serial number or government markings appear on pistol, but it bears the "H" inspection mark, 3 line patent info, and the "S in flaming bomb" markings attributed to A.J. Savage Munitions Co.

The "S in flaming bomb" can be difficult to see, but appears immediately to the right of the patent information.

National Cash Register, Lanston Monotype, Caron Brothers, Savage Arms Corp, Burroughs Adding Machine Co, Winchester Repeating Arms Co:  These companies combined had contracts totaling 1,550,000 units, but not one would complete a pistol.  Although with Winchester's experienced firearms manufacturing capabilities it is reasonable to assume that all the necessary parts may have been ready upon contract termination, but subsequently shipped to Springfield for assembly.

It may be hard to believe, but this is a very abbreviated history of the manufacturers of the M1911.  Had American production been ramped up sooner, Colt had accurate documents on-hand, and America not been so late to enter World War I, there might be a much greater quanitiy of this revered pistol and from several different manufacturers.  Thankfully, the Great War ended when it did.  The French had lost 1.4 million men (+4% of population), the British has lost 900,000 men (+2%), the Russian Empire lost around 2 million men (2%), and the Germans lost over two million men (+3.5%).  Those figures only include military deaths and not civilian deaths caused by military action, disease, famine, etc.

We're all grateful to the M1911 and the M1897 trench shotgun (another Browning invention) for their military provenance and proven ability to help clear the trenches in WWI.  The history of these manufacturers is also one that needs to be told - those companies that were willing to help a nation in its time of crisis.  But the time to remember these weapons and companies can wait.  In this Centennial Anniversary of the Great War, let us again remember the millions of young men around the world who left behind their families and fought for their country.  Over 110,000 Americans lost their lives in those short years.  Let us each find some way to honor their memory during this terrible anniversary.  We leave you with the words of Wilfred Owen.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Clawson, Charles W. Colt .45 Service Pistols: Models of 1911 and 1911A1: Complete Military History, Development, and Production 1900 through 1945. Fort Wayne, IN: C.W. Clawson, 1991. Print. of 1911 Production,-1914-1918/us-remington-umc-model-1911-semi-automatic-pistol.aspx

Goddard, William H. D. The Government Models: The Development of the Colt Model of 1911. Lincoln, RI, U.S.A.: A. Mowbray, 1988. Print.

Sweeney, Patrick. 1911: The First 100 Years. Iola, WI: Krause Pubns, 2010. Print.

Friday, February 14, 2014

1911s of the Second World War

As we all know, when American decided to enter World War II after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor it was "all hands on deck."  Everyone in the nation was contributing through whatever means necessary: rationing of goods, rubber drives, saving fats, Victory gardens, nylon drives, tin can collection, carpooling, blackouts, women joining the workforce en masse, and hundreds of thousands of War Bonds were sold.  However, John and Jane Q. Public were not the only ones to contribute to the war effort.  Corporations across America were tooling up to help meet war needs and to beat back the Axis powers.  The Kaiser Corporation, which had seen great growth in the 1930s building dams under federal contracts, began building ships, planes, and other vehicles.  Ford Motor Company has been producing airplane engines for the British before America entered the war, but soon switched over to full-time military production making B-24 Liberators, superchargers, generators, military gliders, tanks, armored cars, jeeps, grenades, bombs, landing crafts and more.  Chrysler was making tanks, anti-aircraft guns, the Martin B-26 bomber and B-29 Superfortress, fuses, shells and more!  Countless companies dropped what they were doing before the war, refocused, and turned the full industrial might of a nation on toward the war effort.

If a country is saving its pan drippings to beat you, that's a bad sign.

The 1911A1 was not immune to this boost in production from multiple sources.  Part of this precipitated thanks to the War Department not allowing many contractors to finish their World War I contracts.  By cancelling those productions, the United States found itself short of sidearms, much like it did at the beginning of World War I.  This lack of produced firearms was exacerbated by the slashed military funding after WWI.  Since soldiers were not needed in their WWI quantities, the government limited the Army 144,000 officers and men!  If that's the limit they placed on personnel, you can imagine the financial restrictions placed on munitions, arms, parts, repairs, and other military essentials.

With multiple manufacturers required to build the United States' arsenals to appropriate levels for war, it would give collectors of the legendary pistol quite a bit to focus on in future decades.  1911 production models during World War II were manufactured by five different companies - ALL of which will be appearing in Rock Island Auction Company's May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction.  1911s will be generously represented as will many of the U.S. military arms, Class III firearms, and an extraordinary collection of German WWII military items known simply as The Von Norden Collection.

We will also be auctioning M1911 pistols from every manufacturer during the first World War, but that's an article for another week.  Back to the topic at hand.  It was the aforementioned shortage of military funding that led to the most desirable of all 1911A1s: the Singer.

The Army's cash shortage was notable.  Then Captain George S. Patton is said to have used his own funds to pay for parts to keep his successful tank brigade up and running.  The M1 Garand, while still adopted, had to compromise and be made in the existing .30-06 cartridge instead of the superior .276 Pedersen round.  The new round would have taken massive funds to be developed and produced as well as required the conversions of vast amounts of the Army's machine guns.  To help its financial burden the Army had to get creative as is best described in Patrick Sweeney's book 1911: The First 100 Years.

"Despite this situation, the Army was able to make some progress in the late 1930s and early 1940s before Pearl Harbor.  They were able to issue "educational contracts" to manufacturers, contracts that paid for the costs of setting up to make small arms, and to produce a small run as proof of performance.  One such contract went to the Singer Sewing Machine Company in April of 1940.  Singer was able to produce the 500 test pistols required.  but with delivery of the 500 right at Pearl Harbor time, the government's contract offering of 15,000 more pistols was turned down, Singer's board of directors feeling that their company's skills, knowledge, and factory were better put to use manufacturing ship and artillery fire control directors.  So the 1911A1 tolling was boxed off to Remington Rand.  Those 500 Singer 1911A1s are the perhaps the Holy Grail of 1911 collecting." 

Those original 500 pistols were distributed to Army Air Corps personnel.

Rare World War II U.S. Singer Manufacturing Company Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Remington Rand
Remington was so busy making rifles, that they really didn't have a lot of time to dedicate to side arms.  This despite the fact that they had already made about 22,000 pistols during WWI before the government shut down its production line, due to interchangibility issues with the pistols made by Colt and Springfield (however, it was this issue that led to Colt producing a new set of production specs in 1936 which would greatly aid production in WWII).  Perhaps it was a still a sour taste in their mouth from that previous wrist-slapping that led Remington-UMC to send their government contract to their subsidiary formed in 1886, Remington Typewriter.  The spin-off's merger with Rand Kardex and Powers Accounting in 1927 left it renamed Remington Rand, but they soon began manufacturing 1911A1s in addition to the glut of typewriters that were also needed for the war.  After some brief production issues that required the attention of President James Rand, Jr. to fix, Remington Rand manufactured slightly less than 878,000 1911A1 pistols between the years 1942 and 1945, making them the leading wartime manufacturer of the pistol.

Side note:  Remington Rand received part of their tooling from Singer, who declined their government contract, but they also received tooling from Harrison & Richardson.  H&R at that time was going through a bankruptcy was only able to produce 20 pistols, not even enough for a successful "test batch" as Singer had produced.  None of H&R's 20 pistols were accepted and the government rescinded their contract in June 1942.  Some of the 1911 tooling at H&R went to Remington Rand, but most of it went to our next 1911 manufacturer.

Unique Very Early Production Second Contract U.S. Remington-Rand Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol without FJA and Ordnance Proof

Despite their financial troubles in the late 1960s, Ithaca Gun Company was a prominent firearms manufacturer when America became involved in WWII.  The government didn't require many of their popular shotguns (yet did ask them to make several thousand 12-gauge riot shotguns with M1917 bayonet attachments), but did offer them a contract to produce 60,000 1911A1s in 1942.  After receiving some of the necessary tooling from Harrington & Richardson, Ithaca began rapidly producing the desperately-needed pistols - even going as far as to assemble pistols from parts shipped to them by other manufacturers.  Some of these parts were from surplus WWI production, including about 6,000 Colt receivers!  Soon Ithaca would have all the manufacturing equipment in-house and would ramp up production to total 335,000 - 340,000 pistols between late 1943 until the end of the war.  Ithaca could have produced many more of these pistols had the government not cancelled the contract in its post-war fund cutting.

Fun Fact:  Ithaca was invited to produce a "test batch" of pistols in the Army's fund raising efforts, but the Army discontinued the program before they could submit a batch.

Excellent U.S. Ithaca Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Colt's story of WWII production 1911A1 pistols is a little different than every other manufacturer here for the simple fact that they were assembling them readily before WWII.  In fact, once the government contracts increased due to war, Colt discontinued making their Government Model 1911 pistols (which is what Colt called the 1911 made for the civilian market) in 1942 so that they could focus all of their pistol manufacturing efforts toward military sidearms.  They even took 6,575 existing, unsold Government Model guns, re-stamped, and Parkerized them for the Army.  The parts for these civilian guns were also used to satisfy military contracts.

In the story of 1911A1 pistols, Colt is more often mentioned as a reference for all the other companies that were contracted to also make the pistols.  Colt was often helping provide technical assistance (as was Springfield), to these newly contracted manufacturers.  One would think that between providing all this help and its status as one the government's primary machine gun producers, Colt could have used the same excuse as Remington and said it had "no time" to make the 1911 pistols that it already knew so well how to produce.  However, it still turned out around 629,000 1911A1 pistols, making it the second leading producer of the beloved sidearm in addition to having a mandated priority of producing the United States' machine guns (M1919, M1919A6, & M2HB).

World War II U.S. Army Colt Model 1911A1 Pistol

Union Switch & Signal
Union Switch and Signal, referred to more commonly as just "Switch & Signal" was the last company to be offered a M1911A1 contract.  As one can infer from the name, this subsidiary of Westinghouse Air Brake Company was accustomed to making railroad equipment.  In 1942 they received their first contract and began producing, but just after they had begun, the government realized they had ordered too many pistols and asked US&S to make M1 carbine parts instead.  The next month their contract for pistols was officially cut from 200,000 to 30,000.  US&S agreed to make the M1 parts and just when they almost finished with the initial slashed order of pistols and were to begin manufacturing the carbine parts, the government reneged again and instead increased their original M911A1 order by 25,000.  US&S ended up producing 55,000 pistols for their indecisive client.

U.S. Union Switch & Signal Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

The 1911, despite being firmly entrenched in the hearts of American collectors, suffered after World War II.  Colt was actually losing money toward the end of the war and with thousands of veterans returning home with guns, they didn't have as many people looking to buy.  In fact, no M1911 or M1911A1 pistols have been produced after 1945.  Even with the Korean War providing a new source of income, Colt had to sell in 1955 to the Penn-Texas Corporation, setting in motion a long string of mismanagement and apathy.  In 1985, the the Beretta 92F was officially adopted and replaced the M1911A1 as the sidearm of the Army.  1911 pistols are not without their detractors, but they have served the United States longer than any other military arm, thus cementing themselves and their inventor into the history and lore of this country.


Clawson, Charles W. Colt .45 Service Pistols: Models of 1911 and 1911A1: Complete Military History, Development, and Production 1900 through 1945. Fort Wayne, IN: C.W. Clawson, 1991. Print.

Sweeney, Patrick. 1911: The First 100 Years. Iola, WI: Krause Pubns, 2010. Print.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Life of A Gun Collector, Part III

If you progress to the third and final stage of firearms collecting, you, and your collection, likely have more than a few admirers.  People probably mention to you on a regular basis, “Wow!  That is some collection!”  Or maybe you overhear them calling to a nearby gun buddy to show them one of your guns.  These are all appropriate responses.  The final stage of collecting should come as an immense source of pride.  By this time, a collector or investor has logged countless hours researching, studying, seeking, haggling, bargaining, buying, and selling to achieve something they feel is as close to complete as they can reasonably make it, incorporating the most fascinating elements of their chosen genre.  They've achieved the respect of their peers and of those with similar interests.  Hopefully, they have also acquired a great deal of knowledge not only of the firearms and their prices, but of the history, context, mechanics, key players, and uses of their chosen subject.  

But now what?  You've got this amazing collection of guns that has taken decades to find and assemble, but now what do you do with it?  As luck would have it, experienced collectors have had plenty of time to think about those questions and have some great answers

Most experienced gun collectors, whether it has dawned on them or not, believe that the collections that they have assembled be used for education.  Even those who have yet to make the realization will often talk at length about their given topic, sharing their knowledge with others, and relaying specifics about given firearms and why they are special or desirable.  One could argue that it is simply an ego-boosting activity to tout one’s interests and have it validated by others as interesting or worthwhile, but even if that were the case, they are still educating people about their guns and that is what most collectors believe should happen.

Much like the director of a zoo or the head curator of a museum, the priority of many a collector resides in two places: conservation and education.  A collector cares deeply about preserving the guns that have been collected so that future generations may see them. Collectors, are also concerned about preserving the hobby of gun collecting.   A collector, like a zoo director, also knows that one of the best ways to make sure that guns (and the hobby) are preserved is to educate people about them.  Tell people why something should be conserved and they are much more likely to understand and take up that cause themselves.  All of this is well and good, but almost no gun collectors own their own museums, so how are they to educate people about a subject they appreciate so deeply?  After all, there aren't a whole lot of places one can openly display their firearms.

Gun Shows:  These gatherings are a fantastic way to get the word out on your passion to people who are likely to openly receive it.  The displays made by experienced collectors runs the gamut from guns laying on a table to elaborate and informative displays.  Not only is there often a charge to put a display at a gun show, but there is also the time, money, and effort involved in constructing it, setting it up, and tearing it down again once the show is over.  A person must truly care about their collection and interest to go through all this hassle for little, if any, reward.  Luckily for the rest of us, their decades of dedication have usually established a healthy amount of both passion and a willingness to share it.  Throughout this article will be photos of collectors’ booths that we’ve seen over the last year.

History-Based Groups:  These groups are always interested in the firearms of the period, whether it be military re-enactment groups or a local SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) chapter.  Most participants buy lesser condition models that they can use in re-enactments without worrying about damage.  However, they will ALL appreciate premiere specimens of the arms that fascinate them enough to participate in re-enactments.  Some participants are likely to keep some primo examples at home, ALWAYS appreciate the sharing and learning aspects, and may even consider buying/selling/trading.

It’s work!  It’s a pain in the ass!  You do a display, it costs you a little money.  Guns get handled, they get touched, they get scratched, but you've got to build the display…It’s not a money maker..I don’t do it for money.  You can’t do it for money. “
Dave C.

Common Questions from Experienced Collectors
Q:  Is my collection complete?
A:  Does it feel complete?  Unless you’re one of a very few of extremely fortunate collectors, you’ll always know that something is missing from your collection.  It could be the most expensive gun in the world, of which only 2 exist, one of which is in a museum, and the other’s whereabouts is unknown, but you know that it’s still missing from your collection.  However, such impossibilities are often easy to brush off as just that:  impossibilities.  The likelihood of obtaining such a rare and expensive gun is so far removed for many collectors than one can often consider their collection complete, or at least as complete as they can reasonably make it.  Reasonable is a funny term to use here because often, over the decades, collectors go to very unreasonable lengths to obtain the guns they need for their collections.  Many collectors will say that, “no collection is ever complete,” but will also recognize that with all the work they have put in it is complete to a point where it can still be a source of pride and enjoyment to the collector and a seemingly impossible dream to the many who behold it.

Q:  Do I sell them?
A:  Eventually someone will.  It could be you and it could be your significant other.  It could also be two generations from now with some member of your progeny who has no interest in firearms and very little sentimental attachment to the collection.  Some collectors never sell and never want the guns to leave the family.  That’s fine.  It took a lot of work to make that collection and some would like to see it maintained even after their death.  It may not always be a realistic request, but it is not an uncommon one.  Some collectors don’t care what happens to it after their death.  They often expect their spouse or other family members to sell it after their death for the best amount of money they can.  These collectors have been known to cite the collector’s adage that, “no one ever really owns a gun.”  Some believe that collectors are merely stewards of the guns while they are alive and it’s their job to maintain and protect them while they can.  Sometimes this protection often involves making sure the gun goes to a good home after they have passed by leaving them to close friends for a discounted price or even at no cost at all.

“I've got people who want some of my guns, I've been listed in wills, and I have people listed in my will.  ‘If I tip over, you call this guy and sell it to this guy for half of the appraised value because I want him to have it.’  People have done it for me.”

There is also a group of collectors who use their gun collection as their retirement fund.  This type of collector fully expects to see their guns sell during their lifetime, enjoys having some say in the process, likes to see where their guns go, and also gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  They plan on selling these guns as necessary to fund various trips, purchases, and other late life experiences.

“I have always told my wife, “This is our retirement fund… I don’t know if she bought it or not, but she tolerated it.  For years and years when I first started I’d come draggin’ somethin’ in and she’d say, “God, you wasted our money for that?!” …Then all of a sudden, after I sold a few things  and made some money on them, then she realized it was not maybe all crazy.”

The final type of collector will often bequeath their collection to a museum.  This type of gesture is thought of as charitable to the museum and a great way to preserve their collection.  After all, who better to preserve historical items than an organization whose business it is to do so?  However, this type of giving has fallen in ill favor with many in the collecting circles.  Unfortunately, museums often lack adequate space to exhibit all the wondrous pieces that they are so generously given.  This results in many of the items being locked away in vaults and various storage areas, away from admiring eyes of collectors, history buffs, and people who would like to own them for a collection.  It also offends the majority of experienced collectors, both those who would like to own the guns and those who feel the guns should be displayed, seen, and used for educational purposes.  They are far and few between who will take some small solace in the knowing that the guns will at least enjoy long, protected lives even if it is in a dark, climate-controlled drawer somewhere.

Q: If I do sell them, when is the right time?
A: Well, collectors don’t hold their guns for all those years to wait and pray on some market bubble that will increase your investment should it appear.  Collectors hold on to their investments for years and maybe even decades to sell them when they want to, if they want to at all!  You sell them when YOU are ready.  Don’t wait for a market boom that probably won’t come.

Once you’re dead, it won’t matter.  If the family loses money, I’m not gonna know it.  They don’t know what I paid so they won’t know they lost money so they won’t be unhappy.”
-Tom L.

“I've done well, but it doesn't do me any good because I don’t sell very much.  The kids and grandkids are all gonna be well off when I die.  But I’m not planning on selling very much before I die and I’m not planning on dying.”

“I tried to buy it and didn't have enough money and it just didn't work out.  I never forgot it.  It’s not one that got away, I just didn't have the money and that’s always the problem.  There’s always one more gun than you can afford.”
Dave C.

As a collector’s life and that of their collection progress together down a briefly shared path they share a lot with one another: shows, friends, and time.  The familiarity that a person might have with their collection is juxtaposed strangely at times with a feeling of being a foreigner in their own time - fleeting instants where one feels as a stranger in the present.   There can be strong feelings that one would be more at home in the original time frame of their collection.  Some may yearn to fight Indians on the great plains on the frontier, others may long to know the experience of the World Wars while remaining ever thankful that they never will, a few dream of that age of enlightenment and discovery before our country was born, and there are those who may just wish they had lived in those simpler times of quiet ranch life as America expanded her borders westward toward the shimmering Pacific expanse.  There are flashes when one knows they have been callously misplaced into an age they could never appreciate as much as the one they have spent their life trying to recapture.  Perhaps that is why so many are drawn to collecting.  It is a tangible way to live, if only for a moment, like those we admire so much; one can share a single experience even though decades or even centuries may have passed in the interim.

Often this dream of recapturing another time and place can become clouded with questions, many of which we've tried to answer in this series of articles.  Many questions will arise in collecting, and some will be much more specific than the ones listed here.  “Should I hand load my .45-70 with 300 grain or 350 grain?” “What year did the rear sight change on this model of rifle?”  and so on.  These questions may be part of a universal experience of collectors everywhere, but they are only the details that often cloud something much grander.  All collectors will have questions arise, but their true universal experience lies in feeling something for another time and place that is not their own.  By inspiring that feeling in another, you've single-handedly ensured the temporary preservation of the hobby and also earned the appreciation of another person who may feel just as misplaced as you do.

I operate on the theory that we’re only custodians of this.  It’s like real estate.  You don’t own land.  You may tell people, “It’s my land and I can do with it what I want.”  What happens when you die?  What happens to the 8-10,000 people before you that occupied that land and also died?  So I think you oughta leave everything in better shape than when you got it.”