Martin: Hi everyone, welcome to the Antique Auction Forum. This is Martin Willis. Today is Podcast 122 with Gregg Elliott. His website is dogsanddoubles.com. We’re going to be speaking today about collecting high-grade, mostly antique, shotguns. You can like us on our Facebook page, or you can follow us on twitter. Those icons are on our website. If you would like to contact me, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy today’s show.
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I’m with Gregg Elliott. How are you doing, Gregg?
Gregg: I’m doing well, thanks. How are you doing?
Martin: Great, and we’re going to talk about shotguns, which I never thought I was going to talk about on this blog, but it’s pretty interesting. Right off the bat I’m going to ask you what makes a good shotgun a good shotgun?
Gregg: I think, from my perspective, one is original condition; I like to find one that hasn’t been refinished or restored in any way. I really value old finishes because those were put there by the original craftsmen, and they are part of the history of the item and if something has had that wiped away I feel like part of the history of the item is gone.
Martin: Now, are we talking about the stock and barrel?
Gregg: Yes, so the metal work and the wood; both of those can be refinished,
Martin: re-glued and…
Gregg: Yes you can re-glue them, you can basically sand away the original finish and you can apply a new finish. Depending on how much you do that, you can either be refinishing a gun or be what they call restoring a gun. In my mind I like old guns, and I like them because they have the history and I also like to think about these people a hundred, a hundred fifty years ago making them, actually sitting down and you know they sweated and put their effort into these things, and when I pick it up; it’s the only way you can travel back in time. And I want that preserved. I think part of the experience of antique items is that ability to sort of time travel. So if you wipe all that away, it’s all gone. So a lot of people will get an old gun, and they’ll say well, it will be a… if it’s been used, it will have dings and scratches and marks and stuff on it, and a lot of people, initially what they’ll think is “I want to restore it and make it look like it’s new”. I try to dissuade them from doing that by saying “this is the gun’s history; it’s life. It’s like an old face, you know?” If you wipe that away, you wipe away its history. So that’s why I don’t like it when people do that, and I’ve found the market doesn’t like it either. The stuff that the market wants is, original condition always brings the best money. That’s what the collectors want.
Martin: You know, it’s across the board with most antiques, I would say. I can’t really think of any segment of antiques that would be any different. You know what I mean? It’s basically the same.
A lot of the shotguns, we’ll go into the names, and the rarities – this is going to be interesting, because we talked a little bit beforehand – a lot of the shotguns, like I’m looking at a picture of Hemingway’s shotgun on the wall over there, nicely engraved. A lot of times people really took good care in making a beautiful object. Can you talk about that? Is it still done today?
Gregg: It’s absolutely still done today. The guns back then, the engraving was done to have something cover up the metal. I’ve also been told it was added because bare metal would have a flash to it in the light and the flash could spook game; I don’t know if that’s true, but there was a tradition in gun making to engrave the metalwork on it, which came out of engraving of all metal items; they used to engrave watches, they used to engrave metal boxes; it was just an adornment that they added, and then as gun makers became more competitive and were looking for ways to set themselves apart, they added different patterns of engraving on it, and there was eventually a level of guns called “best guns”, which were the best guns that a manufacturer could make, and they would typically adorn that gun.
Martin: You mean a particular manufacturer?
Gregg: Right, so there would be, for instance, a manufacturer like Purdey in London; they would have a gun called their “best” gun. And that’s just what it was. This was the finest gun that they could turn out. It would have engraving all over it. The engraving would be designed to adorn the gun and embellish it, but it wasn’t something to really steal the show. So the gun as a whole would be really beautiful, but you didn’t really want someone to pick it up and be like “look at the engraving”. You’d want them to look at the whole thing, and think “Wow this whole thing is really beautiful”. So a lot of the British stuff the engraving tends to be a little bit more conservative, a little more refined, but extremely well done. And they all kind of did that because once the market kind of established itself, you know, everybody has got to do it. If somebody has got really nice engraving you want your best gun… some people would actually order them without engraving; they thought the engraving was a little ostentatious.
Martin: There were some inlaid metal as well. Sometimes with silver, and sometimes even with gold; is that right?
Gregg: Yes. There are some different grades; sometimes they would have exhibition guns, and they would use inlays and stuff like that as a way to make something look like a presentation grade just to raise it above even the level of best, to make it extra special, so if it was going to a head of state or someone like that. The Indian market used to really like gold for some reason; there were a lot of guns that were made for Indian princes that got exported from England to over that market. A lot of the American manufacturers would add gold, and I think they did it as a way of… in the business they always wanted to come up with another grade so they could sell something for more money. And so once you have your Best, what do you do with it? You can’t go any further, so what they would do is they would come up with what they would call an “Extra Finish”, or a “Model Deluxe”, or a “Presentation” and they’d put gold on it and they’d embellish it even further. A customer might come in and say “I want something extra special” or “something to wow my friends more than anything else”. There’s a company called Charles Daly that used to import guns, and they used to have a model called “The Diamond”; it had engraving (with emphasis) all over it, and then they said they needed something even better, so they came out with a Regent Diamond and they put all sorts of gold on it. And then there were Extra Regent Diamonds that had even more gold on them.
Martin: Ha. It’s a wonder they didn’t put actual diamonds on them.
Gregg: I’ve seen guns with diamonds on them.
Gregg: I’ve seen diamond sights on them. There were guns, again made for Indian princes, who seemed to be into really extravagant items, that would have diamond sights put on them.
Martin: Now, your passion is in shotguns; what is the Holy Grail of all shotguns?
Gregg: I think for me the Holy Grail is anything nineteenth century, in its original case, all original untouched, with a lot of finish. That’s what I love. When people used to buy shotguns, they would come in a leather case, and the case would have accessories in it that would go with the shotgun.
Martin: Like a suitcase type of…
Gregg: Yes it would look like a suitcase, and they were made out of oak, and they would be covered with leather, and there would be tools in them for assembling and taking apart the gun, so you could maintain it, and clean it and you could oil it; if it got wet you’d want to take things apart so they would come with a whole set of tools. If you can get an original makers case with all the tools and the gun, that’s sort of the apex of what I like. The oils they used to use have a real distinct smell so when you get one of these and you open it up, you get a big whiff.
Martin: (Laughing) Like a new car smell.
Gregg: Yeah if you hang around these guns, that smell is very… when you open up a case for the first time and you get that whiff, you know it’s something old. The cases were lined with wool, and the case has this creak, so it’s like you’re opening up an old treasure chest.
Martin: It’s pretty exciting, I bet, when you see that.
Gregg: Yes. And that’s what I love to find. There’s labels in there; the makers would put their label in there, and the labels are typically pretty extravagant, because this was how, back then, a maker would promote themselves. You would have a gun and you would bring it to a shoot, or bring it hunting, and you’d open it up and your friends would see it, and they would see the big label. A lot of the British companies would have warrants from royals or aristocrats, and they would have those things noted in there.
Martin: I want to talk about what the average price would be for someone to get started collecting this type of nice grade shotgun, but what would you consider a world record price for what you’re involved in?
Gregg: I think the stuff involved in, and you can get really nice examples for maybe $15,000. And then the stuff goes up from there; the sky is the limit. There was a shotgun recently, a Boss (& Co.) over-and-under that was sold, I think it went for $175,000. There was the Hemingway Double Rifle, the rifle that’s on that picture right there, I think that went for a quarter million?
Martin: $339,250. And I’m saying that because of the poster in my office.
Gregg: That’s what’s called a Westley Richards Drop Lock Double Rifle. Those are out there, obviously the Hemingway connection adds a lot of value to it. Something like that without the Hemingway connection is probably a $35,000-$40,000 gun.
Martin: I never really promote myself in these podcasts, but I’m just going to say that I work with James Julia Auctions, and it is the leading firearms auction company in the world. And so the posters here in my office, that’s why I’ve just mentioned it, so that is the world record price.
Gregg: Yes, well, that’s a double rifle. So those are a little different. I think there was a shotgun that Julia’s sold, that there was a famous American writer duck-hunter that owned a Fox shotgun. The guy’s name was Nash Buckingham. And this was a gun that he had written about extensively, and he had lost it, and it resurface, and it was sold through Julia’s and it went for, I think that’s the record for a shotgun, and I want to say it went for three quarters of a million. It was an incredible price, and I think it’s now sitting at the Ducks Unlimited.
Martin: You said it was lost. What do you mean it was lost?
Gregg: He lost it. He went hunting with it one day, and I think the story is that he left it on the car, and they may have driven off? And when they went back, they couldn’t find it.
Martin: Oh my goodness.
Gregg: This was, I think, in the twenties, or in the thirties. It was called Bowhoop; that was its name. It was called that because that was the sound it made when it was fired. Anyway the gun was lost to history. Nash Buckingham wrote about it extensively, loved the gun, and then there was another one made for him which was called Bowhoop 2. The gun resurfaced within the last 20 years in some gunsmith’s shop who recognized what it was. And that gun, because of its historical connection and sentimental value, it went for such a high price.
Martin: Something that we had talked about a little earlier, and I like to always bring up, is the dark side; and that is when you’re talking this kind of money you know, if you get involved in these type of shot guns, let’s say the names are Purdey, Bonds,
Gregg: Purdey, Boss, Holland and Holland; those are the big three, and then there’s lots of other ones.
Martin: and is that mostly England?
Gregg: Yes, those are all English makers. The biggest money for vintage stuff typically goes for British makers.
Martin: Which are your best American makers?
Gregg: The ones that are going to bring the biggest money are ones like, Parker, and Fox, L. C. Smith. Usually Parkers bring the most money. So that’s where the largest… Parker and Fox probably have the largest collecting communities. And those are sort of your classics American guns. Most guys, if you mention fancy old side-by-side shotguns, most people who know that stuff, Parker is what comes to mind.
Martin: Side-by-side, and then there’s over-and-under.
Gregg: Yes, over-and-unders weren’t really an American thing; they were more the British, and then the Europeans picked up the over-and-unders, but the British over-and-unders are the most desirable, most valuable, most collectable.
Martin: Oh really. Why?
Gregg: They just didn’t make that many of them. And at least today if you can find them in nice shape, they’re extremely valuable. That was the one, that 20 gauge Boss that sold at Julia’s a little while ago; that was an over-and-under.
Martin: So, the dark side that I was starting to talk about; which anything that seems to sell for a lot of money, there always seems to be a dark side. Can you talk about that?
Gregg: Yes, I think the dark side is there’s a lot of money in refinishing stuff and representing it… selling it as something it’s not. A lot of what I do is I help them understand what they have, the market value of it, and its real condition. Because I have this passion for original condition and original finishes, I’ve developed an eye for it, and I can help people understand if something is original or if it has been refinished. And the problem is that over time there are people who have refinished things and passed them off as original, and they’ve sold for a lot of money. And there’s a lot of stuff out there like that. There’s less today; it’s harder to deduce today because of the internet, but there’s still a lot of that out there, so you have to be very careful about what you’re buying. You have to know what questions to ask and you also have to know what to look for. There’s certain things that, if you see an old gun, there’s certain types of wear that they should have if they’ve been used at all, and those are the kind of things that, when I see something, bells will go off in my head because I’ll be “well, if anyone ever used this, there should be some wear right there”.
Martin: Now I know people, and I’ve dealt with this a lot; anytime that I’ve come up against something like this, it starts quite an argument. Do you have to deal with that, where people just say “oh no no, that’s not…”?
Gregg: Yes, well I had a gentleman reach out to me through my blog, probably a couple months ago, he had a shotgun by a maker called…
Martin: and your blog is?
Gregg: my blog is dogsanddoubles.com
Martin: A guy who likes dogs.
Gregg: Yes, dogs and doubles. So, he reached out to me about a shotgun called a W&C Scott, and he had a grade called the Premier grade, which was one of their finest shotguns; one of the finest English shotguns ever made. And he went on great length to tell me it was all original. He had bought it in England, and it had never been refinished or restored in any way, and he also told me it was in its original case, so I was very excited about it. This was a nineteenth century gun; my favorite stuff. I pressed him for pictures. He sent me photos, I opened them up, and the gun had been completely restored.
Martin: You could tell by a photo.
Gregg: Yes it was a really… it hadn’t even really been restored as much as it had been poorly refinished. It probably had been done… whoever did the work probably wasn’t trying to mislead anyone, but then whoever ended up selling it was trying to mislead someone. When he sent me the pictures and I tried to explain to him very clearly what showed me that it had been redone, he was really upset. I sent him pictures of ones that were original, and I said you know, “This is what original looks like; if you compare it to yours it’s obvious that this has had work done on it. He was really upset, but that’s what I do; I have to be honest and tell people.
Martin: Things are what they are.
Gregg: Yes. There’s nothing I can do about it, and that’s what it is. And you know I think everybody thinks they’re going to be worth a fortune too.
Gregg: And once they… once stuff is messed with in any way
Martin: it drastically changes the value.
Gregg: Yes, it’s a totally… collectors that I know, the people that pay the real top dollar, if stuff has been touched in any way,
Martin: They don’t want it.
Gregg: Not interested.
Martin: Not even at any level.
Gregg: Yep, they don’t even bother with it.
Martin: All collectors, I’ve said this many times on this podcast; all collectors, true collectors, refine, and refining is part of what they do, and they’ll sell their lesser stuff and just pyramid better and better and better.
Gregg: Right. And these people keep moving up. Now I know some gentlemen who only want the absolute best of the best; money is not an object, but the only object is finding this stuff. This stuff is extremely hard to find.
Martin: Are there fakes?
Gregg: Yes there are fakes. There’s absolutely fakes out there. So there’s fakes, (and) there’s fake upgrades; you see this in a lot of the American stuff. American makers would take a gun and they would offer it in different grades. So there would be sort of an entry level grade, and then there would be sort of the deluxe grade. The deluxe would obviously be the most expensive and it would be finished at a higher level. But the base gun would be the same. So the guts of it and the exterior of it would basically be the same but they would embellish it more as you went further up. So if you wanted to, you could get one of these base ones, and if you knew what you were doing, you could embellish it yourself. And there used to be people that used to sort of be their little business it that they would embellish these things, and they were passed off into the market as much higher grade guns. There’s Winchester Model 21; I forget the name of their highest grade guns but I’ve been told that there are more of those on the market today, or in circulation today than the maker ever produced themselves.
Martin: (Laughing) That’s kind of a tell-tale.
Gregg: Yes, the Winchester Model 21, certain makers, the makers original records are available.
Martin: I was going to say, there are serial numbers involved.
Gregg: Yes there are serial numbers, so you can research these things, and that’s why, it’s only been in the last, say 15 years, that a lot of this knowledge has been widely available. So pre-internet, it was hard to see these things, and see enough of them to develop the knowledge that it takes to understand what’s refinished, what’s not refinished. Unless you were a dealer or someone who was going to shows across the country all the time, you just didn’t see enough of this stuff. But nowadays there’s so much more; I can go look at pictures online, and so it’s easier to find out about these things. But before, stuff was so rare in the first place, and then the knowledge was so hard to come by, that it was much easier to fake stuff, create phonies and then pass them off into the market. And there were people who had long careers selling the stuff, that’s what they did and pretty much what did that side of their business in, was the internet, because information travels too easily nowadays. So these people, some of them got out, some of them are still in, but they’ve shifted themselves.
Martin: Some of these businesses… do you have any wild story, anything that has to do with lots and lots of money? Like I could tell you a ton of art stories where someone did something really (laughing) bad.
Gregg: Well I know there was a Parker shotgun, that was called the Czar Parker that was sold, so someone had done just this; they had upgraded it. There was a story that’s been in circulation; there was a gentleman, his name was Peter Johnson. He wrote a book about Parker shotguns. Somehow there was this story about this gun that had been made for the Czar of Russia, and then the Russian Revolution broke out and the gun was never delivered, so there was this story circulating about it, but no one knew what this gun looked like. They sort of speculated on what it may have looked like.
Martin: So someone created one.
Gregg: So someone created one. Yes. This gentleman created it, then he sold it, and then somehow the buyer figured out that he had been lied to. The whole thing ended up in court, I think that eventually, no one went to prison, but basically the person who had bought it was then trying to pass it off I think to a third party.
Martin: When in doubt get a partner?
Gregg: No I think what happened with a lot of this stuff is when you realize you’ve been ripped off you turn around and try to rip someone else off and get out of your mistake as quickly as possible. That’s what people do. And that’s why it’s so valuable to have somebody who can help you with these things, because you’ve got to be very careful. But this Czar Parker; that’s what happened with it. It’s still around today. It’s what they would call an upgrade, and it’s recognized as that, and it’s been written about extensively as being that. Now there is another gun that was actually called the Czar Parker that actually was the gun that was described by this gentleman in his book. That gun actually exists, and it was sold at auction a couple of years ago.
Martin: So you mean this gun did turn up?
Gregg: This gun did turn up.
Martin: The real one.
Gregg: But, the story about whether or not it was ever made for the Russian Czar, or had any connection like that is so full of holes, that I don’t think it’s true. I think it’s a real clever story that the maker came up with. I think basically what happened is the maker… someone came in and ordered a gun, the gentleman may have been Russian who ordered it, and for whatever reason he never paid for it; he didn’t come through on it. So the maker ends up with this gun, and so the maker was clever and came up with this story. But whether or not it’s… they’ve tried to prove it. There’s no connection.
Martin: You know, so many times in this business… someone will come up to me and say “George Washington owned this” … “I’m not making this up” …“This came through George Washington’s family”. I was in a house in Maine, New York where he (supposedly) played cards with her Queen Anne card table. You know there’s all these stories, but how are you going to document something like that? When it’s a generation away, possibly things can be documented a little better, affidavits can be written; stuff like that. But really, family traditions…
Gregg: People like to believe that.
Martin: People love to believe it (laughing)… when it’s theirs.
Gregg: Yes. I have contacts that I can find records on stuff, I can also find out a lot of stuff, a lot of really high end guns were sold through retailers in New York. So Abercrombie and Fitch, there used to be a company called Vaughn, Leck, Merck and Detmold, so these were early retailers, very high-end retailers of these items, and they kept pretty extensive records, and I have access to people who can research these records. So if people say, you know, this gun was made for x, y, or z, or sold, I can go back and find out in the records. And sometimes, you find out that it’s true, a lot of times you find out it’s a misunderstood story, but you know if you can find that stuff out it can add tremendous value to these things. And it’s also just fun to find these things out. There was a guy I was dealing with that, it was just fascinating to find out who ordered these things. A lot of these guns were extremely expensive in their day. They’re expensive today to have new, and back then they were just as expensive.
Martin: Sure. Relative…
Gregg: Yes. Like a brand new Boss over-and-under shotgun back in 1920 probably cost more than what an average person’s home would have cost. And that same is very true today; they are very expensive. So the people that bought them were very affluent. There was one gun I was dealing with where the gentleman was involved in the automobile industry and he had invented a way to make automobile frames or something like that, and that’s… he was part of the industrial boom in Detroit. It’s just interesting to find out these family connections.
Martin: Yes and you have an advantage over most other segments of the business, and that’s serial numbers. Things can be traced through serial numbers.
What makes a shotgun, besides the maker, what makes one good compared to one that isn’t?
Gregg: Well, I think it’s… that’s a really good question because I try to spend a lot of time personally trying to understand what quality is. There’s a lot of sentimental attachment to items, and then there’s a real quality. So something may sell for a lot of money but it may not be actual high quality but there’s a lot of sentimental attachment.
Martin: You mean across the board?
Gregg: Yes, there’s a lot of shotguns that may sell for lots and lots of money but no one’s buying them for their actual intrinsic quality.
Gregg: Yes they’re buying them for the romance of them, they’re buying them for the American myth that’s associated with them, and they’re buying them because the market’s been doing a really good job of creating a story around them. And what I mean is there are books about them, there are collecting communities, so the stuff is known, and basically what happening is there’s a brand that’s been created, and that brand has associations that people like. So it’s like, if I say Mercedes Benz to you, you think of a certain thing, and whether or not that’s true is beside the point. And that’s very much the case with shotguns. So I try to find out, you know, part of what I really try to do is understand, well, what is good. What’s quality. There’s definitely higher levels of quality, there’s things you look for, and I’ve been able to acquire that knowledge just because I pester a lot of people with questions. I’m very fortunate that I know people that make these guns, and I work on them for a living, and they take the time to answer my questions. So there’s definitely… in my mind the best of the best is the British stuff; what’s called the side-lock British shotgun, and I like the stuff that was made before WWII. I think that’s your highest quality. Even before WWI, people were cheap back then, and they could afford to put a lot of time into making the stuff. And they made a lot of them too, so people that made them had a tremendous amount of experience doing them. They were working with a lot of hand tools.
Martin: So each one was separately…?
Gregg: Well to a degree they were made by hand. There was still mechanization, there was still equipment involved, but the equipment wasn’t sophisticated enough to take over the process back then; they didn’t have CNC machines and stuff like that, so when they made barrels, they had to start with a block of metal. When they made the little actions, they had to start with a chunk of metal.
Martin: Now what’s a Damascus barrel?
Gregg: So Damascus, there’s two types of barrels for shotguns, or basically for any types; side-by-sides and over-and-unders. There was Damascus steel and there was fluid steel. Damascus steel is older, and it was made through a different process. And the way they made Damascus steel was they basically had a rod and they would form strips of steel sort of like spaghetti and then they would wrap these spaghetti around this rod and they would wrap it in sort of a perpendicular pattern to the rod. So they would wrap it up the rod like it was, you know, like wrapping rope around a stick. As they were doing this, they would hit these with hammers and this would, the steel that they were wrapping would be hot and it would form welds and this would then harden, cool and it would form a tube. And this process was called Damascus steel. They would do some other things to this steel before they wrapped it but basically your barrel was composed of sort of wrapped items and that’s Damascus steel. Fluid steel was basically, they poured it into a mold and this block of steel was created, and I think they drilled it out to form a tube, and then they would rough the form out as best they could using machines with lathes and the machines they had back then. So the fluid steel sort of revolution is about 1880 and that’s when at least in the UK, that’s when you see these guns start to coming on to the market.
Martin: Do you mean everything before that time was Damascus steel?
Gregg: Yes everything was a type of Damascus; there were different types of Damascus and if you go back even further they were using slightly different techniques, so sort of most of the, I want to say from about 1750 on, to about 1880, most of that stuff is all Damascus steel. You start seeing fluid steel come on the market, originally it was a little slow to gain acceptance, and then it sort of took over. I think it took over because it was a cheaper process of manufacturing, and so because it was a less expensive, makers could make a little more money on it. There’s a perception today that Damascus steel is dangerous, which isn’t really true.
Martin: Like it would blow apart or something?
Gregg: Yes that it would blow apart, or that is was prone to ruptures, and there were a lot of tests when fluid steel came out; they tested fluid against Damascus in the UK, and it was actually found that in some cases the Damascus was actually stronger. The problem you have is that a lot of the Damascus steel guns are old, and over time people messed with them; they’d go inside the barrel and do things that would thin the barrels out, they caused damage to the barrels, and this creates weak spots. That’s why you have problems. Or people put shells, cartridges in them that are wrong, and so it’s not necessarily the steel’s fault; it’s sort of what people have done to it since it was created.
Martin: Now, you mentioned earlier, I think you said it was the Fox shotgun that was lost in the 20s and it resurfaced, that’s quite an amazing story; I wonder how it resurfaced. Do you have any stories of someone getting a really good find?
Gregg: Yes, I find stuff quite often. I find stuff in the sense of, people reach out to me; they’ll reach out to me through my blog, with items. They’re trying to understand what they have and what it’s worth. There was a gentleman who reached out to me and he asked me a few questions about a certain gun, and asked me if I knew anything about it. I know some stuff about it and was able to help him out, and he told me that I was the only person that he had come across who knew enough about this item to give him a valuation and really explain it to him. And then he said “I also have some other things; would you be able to help me out with them?” and I said, you know, absolutely, and he named off a few items and I frankly did not believe he had them. I thought he was just…
Martin: They were that rare?
Gregg: Yes they were that rare; some people just like to talk, and I assumed that’s who he was. I said “Well, those things sound wonderful; why don’t you send me some pictures and then we’ll go from there. He sent me the pictures, I opened them up and I was absolutely blown away; he was telling the truth.
Martin: Did you go see him?
Gregg: Yes, I traveled out to see him. I saw the pictures, and I had to go see the stuff. Just because, even people who have been collecting this stuff for a very long time didn’t really know this stuff existed. It was sort of things that had been written about in books but people didn’t really know if it was around anymore or even if the books were accurate. So I went out and saw the stuff and this was one of those cases where he had it in a leather case and I opened it up and I got that whiff of history, and there it was sitting there, and not only was it what he said it was, it was in fantastic original condition. Some of these things had never been used.
Martin: Never been used.
Gregg: Yes never been used. His grandfather had just collected them, put them aside, and the family was good enough to just preserve them and take care of them properly. They knew they were something that was valuable and they respected them; they didn’t try to restore them ever, or any nonsense like that.
Martin: Here’s the thing, that when someone has something really great, they do, in my opinion, this is my opinion only, have a responsibility to let whoever is caring for them in the future, to let them know what they are. Because there are so many great finds in estate sales, that people have absolutely no idea because the family didn’t let them know “You have to take care of this. You have to preserve this; this is something really important”
Gregg: Yes absolutely. Some of the people I work with too there’s a lot of people who, there’ll be older gentlemen that have collections that they know are valuable, but they want them to be documented. And it’s for the purpose of when they’re gone, so that people understand what it is, and also so that their widow or whatever doesn’t get taken advantage of. There’s tons of unscrupulous dealers and buyers out there, and if things aren’t properly documented, it’s very easy for someone to get taken advantage of.
Martin: A lot of people make a living that way.
Gregg: Well yes, no one thinks that some old shotgun their grandfather has in some case in his closet could be worth $50,000.
Gregg: But it’s pretty easy. There’s something else. What I actually find, is that people who have nice stuff, know that it’s nice. They may not know how valuable it is, but they know it’s valuable. Stuff like the Antique Roadshow and all these things is giving people the impression now that anything old is worth a fortune.
In firearms, I don’t come across stuff where the people are completely ignorant of it. I think that’s because the internet; people can look up a lot of this stuff. Most of it isn’t that rare. So I usually find that people have a general sense, they may not understand what its actual condition is; they’ll reach out to me for that. And the other thing that people don’t know, is the best way to monetize things. They don’t know the smartest ways to sell stuff, they don’t know which dealers can help them get the most money for their stuff, so that’s what I help a lot of people do. You know, with a shotgun, there’s certain shotguns you don’t take down to Al’s Gun Shop on the corner and let him deal with it, because he doesn’t have the knowledge or the contacts in the industry to get top money for things.
Martin: Right. An auction, getting back to Julia’s, the last two auctions were amazing. Eighteen million ($) and sixteen million. Those numbers are just unheard of in this… so a lot of things, going to auction is not a bad idea.
Gregg: No, auctions are a great place; especially if it’s in really good shape and really high-end collectors want it. It’s a great place to go because what you’ll find is guys will get passionate about things and they’ll pay more at an auction than they would in a retail store. So it’s a great place. I think that for a lot of stuff, that’s where you can get top dollar. I know that some items have gotten top dollar at an auction, and then they’ve sold again for even more money; but that’s typically by people who have very good contacts. Those are dealers who have people lined up for stuff. But I think for the most part, for a seller, the great thing about auctions is that there’s a date when your item will most likely be sold. There’s no… there are some dealers that have things on consignment and they’ve had them for five years. So as an owner you’re sitting there waiting for your check and
Martin: it never comes…
Gregg: yes and the consignment world is sort of fraught with ways to be taken advantage of too. Auction, you can watch what the prices are, it’s a much safer world. You get your check hopefully in 30 days, you’re all done.
Martin: Yes. We’re just about ready to wrap this up. I was at a house yesterday and the gentleman had sold a Colt through auction, through our company, and he said that guns are an extremely good investment. He said he made 750% on his gun from when he bought it. He did very well on his particular situation. A lot of times in this whole market we don’t tell people it’s a great idea to invest, but how do you feel about guns as for as investing?
Gregg: I think, so, if you buy the right stuff, I don’t think you’re going to lose money, and if you get lucky, you’re going to make money.
Martin: That’s well put.
Gregg: So there’s definitely been bubbles. There’s recently been a bubble in Italian shotguns, there’s been bubbles in some American stuff…
Martin: You mean bubbles that have burst.
Gregg: Yes. There was a big run on Italian stuff for a while, that bubble has kind of burst. There was a bubble on some English stuff that’s kind a burst, but the stuff that always holds its value in my mind, is again, going back to original condition, and hard to find items. That stuff, there’s always going to be a market for it; people are going to want it. And the stuff, I don’t know why, but the stuff that always seems to go up in value are small gauge, American shotguns. So your Parkers, your Foxes, those types of items, the upper grades, in original condition, there seems to be more and more people out there who want them. The American makers have the American mystique; they have Americana behind them, and people collect that. No one is paying, I see a Colt over there, and it says “sold for $63,000”. That gun, mechanically isn’t worth $63,000. They’re buying the American mystique; the American West. That’s what they’re buying. And that’s very powerful with the American stuff and that’s what pushes it. And that’s not going away. And people are rediscovering that more and more every day; becoming more interested in it. So that’s, if someone said to me, where would I buy, because they want to invest, I would buy small bore, American guns. I’d buy Parkers or Fox’s and I’d buy it all original condition; I wouldn’t accept anything else. But the problem is that: you might find one of those all year. You know, you’re going to spend, and most guys, when people say they want to invest, they’re looking for a way to (laughing) rationalize their desire to buy. They’re trying to make it seem like they’re not just buying stuff. So you have to have discipline. If you want to be a good investor you have to sit, and you have to analyze everything, and you have to be kind of cold and ruthless.
Martin: Well, you know there was just a report on public radio today that people who can wait are the one who become more successful. So someone that’s patient that wants to buy something really good is probably going to be a lot better off than someone who is just going to race out and try to find something.
Gregg: Yes, I think if you want to be a good collector in anything, then I think you have to define your parameters, have focus, and then you have to be very disciplined. I collect stuff for myself, and I’ve gone from (being) an accumulator to a collector, and I continue to refine. So I used to be at a point where I just liked all of this stuff, and I would get it, and now there’s stuff that, I’m looking for certain things, and I’m trying to focus more on that, and I think that’s a normal path for a lot of collectors. And if you want to build something that’s going to be worth more in the future, that’s what you have to do. I might see personally one or two things a year that fit my criterion… and if I can afford them is another matter.
Martin: Yes, that’s always the key. Well thanks so much.
This is Martin Willis with Gregg Elliott from dogsanddoubles.com and we’re signing off.