What's my gun worth?
How to research firearms values
by Jim Supica
Copyright, Jim Supica - used by permission. Opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of NRA or the National Firearms Museum.
One of the most frequent questions we receive is someone asking what their gun is, or what it's worth. This page will give you some ideas on how to identify your gun and find out what it might be worth.
HOW TO ASK
You need to provide enough info to identify & estimate the value of the gun you're asking about. Be sure your GUN IS UNLOADED first. Here is a basic list of what to include:
- TYPE: Long gun or hand gun? Is it a muzzleloader, or does it take shells? If it's a handgun, is it a revolver (with a rotating cylinder holding the rounds) or an autopistol (with a removable magazine)? If a long gun, is it a shotgun or rifle?
- ACTION: What type of action does it have - single shot, break-open, double barrel, bolt action, pump action, lever action, revolver, semi-auto, other? Double or single action? Exposed hammer or hammerless? If revolver, solid frame, tip-up, top-break, or swingout cylinder?
- CALIBER: Sometimes this is marked. Otherwise, give an approximate measurement of bore diameter.
- MEASUREMENTS: Barrel length, overall length.
- MARKINGS: If you know the make & model, say so. Either way, list ALL markings on the gun.
After you know WHAT it is, the biggest factor in value is the CONDITION of the gun. Differences in condition can EASILY halve or double the value of a gun. This is a somewhat technical evaluation, and if you're not familiar with guns, you probably won't be able to do it, and should ask help. There are two systems commonly used.
- The NRA CONDITION STANDARDS rate modern guns as New, Excellent, Very Good, Good or Fair, and antique guns as Excellent, Fine, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. Each condition rating has a specific definition.
- The PERCENTAGE SYSTEM rates the percent of original finish remaining on the gun, 100% to 0%.
For more information on condition evaluation and standards, see Evaluating Firearms Condition.
Refinishing a collectible gun or modifying it or customizing it or over-cleaning it nearly always lowers the value. NEVER take it upon yourself to clean up an old gun unless you know what you're doing. I've seen folks buff a $2,000 gun into a $200 junker!
Most value questions can be answered by the major price guides.
- Blue Book of Gun Values by Fjestad, uses the percentage system, good for modern guns, no pictures. Probably the most widely used price guide. Published annually.
- Other Blue Book publications - Blue Book of Black Powder Values, Blue Book of Air Guns, etc. All are sound specialty price guides.
- Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Arms - absolutely the best for antique American arms. This is only published every few years, so check the date of the latest edition. Values may have risen since the last edition.
- Standard Catalog of Firearms, uses "Excellent" through "Fair" rating system, lots of photos, good all around guide, but BEWARE that their "condition definitions" for antique guns are radically different from the widely accepted NRA antique condition definitions! Published annually.
- Standard Catalog of Military Firearms - Value info on military arms can be hard to find, and this is an excellent resource. They don't necessarily use the standard NRA condition definitions.
- Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson - by Jim Supica & Richard Nahas. With no false modesty, the best price guide for S&W's. Again, check the date of the edition you're using. If several years old, prices may have risen. Compare to a current Blue Book.
- Other Standard Catalog publications - Standard Catalog of Winchester, Standard Catalog of Colt, Standard Catalog of Remington, Standard Catalog of Lugers. Collector opinion on these volumes seems to vary with each particular title. Check out online reviews before you rely on them.
Remember that these list RETAIL prices. Expect a dealer to offer you 40% to 70% of these if he's buying for resale.
Most of these are around $30 each, and available at major bookstores or most libraries. If you can't find these locally, you can order them by phone from the National Firearms Museum Store at 703-267-1614.
OTHER SOURCES OF HELP
It's a good idea to check online listings of guns for sale to see what's being asked for similar guns in similar conditions. Popular sites include GunBroker.com, GunsAmerica.com and AuctionArms.com.
The newstand publications Shotgun News and Gun Digest (formerly "Gun List") also list guns for sale for comparison pricing.
Many collectible guns sell through national-level specialty firearms auction houses. Most of these list their catalogs online with estimates, and some include prices realized from past sales. You can search through these for a similar gun in similar condition. Such auctioneers include Julia, Little John's, Heritage, Rock Island Auction, Amoskeag Auction, and Armsbid.com.
SOME SPECIFIC GUN VALUES
There are some types of older guns that tend not to bring much money (as guns go). While there are always exceptions, here are some of the types that tend to bring less than folks often hope.
- Most single barrel exposed hammer break-open shotguns (except for fine trap guns), most bring $50 to $100.
- Most top-break or solid frame .32 & .38 DA revolvers by firms like H&R, Iver Johnson, US Revolver, Secret Service Special, Hopkins & Allen, Forehand etc. Most bring $50 to $200. A truly "as new" gun in the original box can bring more. Top-breaks by S&W can bring more, and large frame .44 & .45 caliber S&W top-breaks can be very valuable. Foreign copies of S&W's do not bring nearly as much as original S&W's.
- Many (but not all) heavily-used,
plain field grade double barrel shotguns with damascus
barrels have relatively low values. Damascus barrels have
a "twist" or "laminated" pattern in the steel, and are generally
unsafe to shoot with modern ammunition. They are primarily "wall
hangers" or "decorators." About 95% of these will retail in the
$100 to $300 range. This range includes most
well-worn, plain grade double barrel muzzle-loading shotguns, as
well as those which break open to take shotshells.
Those double damascus shotguns which will bring more have one or more of the following factors -
- Famous maker doubles can be worth large sums of money if ornate and in excellent conditions. These would include LC Smith, Parker, Purdy, Boss, Westley Richards, Holland & Holland, Greener, W&C Scott, etc.)
- High grade of gun. Nearly all the best makers offered several "grades" of guns. The better grades included fine engraving, select fancy wood, special features, etc.
- Excellent original condition (never refinished or over cleaned, barrels never cut, no rubber recoil pad installed)
- Most mass-produced reproduction blackpowder (muzzle-loader) guns do not bring a great deal. It's not uncommon to mistake a modern reproduction of an antique pattern gun for an original. If a gun is marked "For Black Powder Only," it is reproduction. Usually, if it's marked "Made in (name of country)," it's a reproduction. Many Italian-made reproduction cap and ball firearms retail used in the $50 to $250 range. Some of the better reproductions, such as those by Ruger or Thompson Center, might tend to retail more in the $150 to $350 range. Colt made "2nd Generation" blackpowder reproductions can bring even more. Some rare hand made reproduction Kentucky rifles by famous individual gunsmiths can bring much more, but can be slow to sell.
- Recently imported military surplus rifles. Again, there are numerous exceptions, but many "import marked" bolt action type non-US military rifles in well-used condition (esp. w/ "mismatched" serial numbers) will retail in the $100 to $300 range. Ones that seem to be especially cheap right now include most English, Turkish, Chinese, and Spanish bolt actions (some of these are caliber conversions which are unsafe to fire.)
- Trade name guns - These are guns which were made by various manufacturers for large distributors or mail order or hardware stores. The manufacturers would put any name the wholesaler wanted on these. This started back in the 1800's (see damascus doubles above) and continued through the 1960's for Sears & Wards. Folks are sometimes disappointed, since they find a gun with an odd name on it, and assume the it must be rare, and if rare, must be valuable. Not so. Trade name guns have little collector interest, and are valued primarily as shooters. Many of these were made by good manufacturers and make fine shooters - they just don't usually have collector value. Most trade name .22 rifles will retail between $40 to $150. Trade name pump shotguns will retail in the $75 to $200 range. See above for trade name single barrel & double barrel shotguns.
- Commemoratives - Most guns increase in value over the years (after an initial depreciation when the first few years). One group of guns that have not performed as well as others are commemoratives. To get top value, a commemorative must be absolutely unfired w/ the original box & all papers; and must have been produced by the firearms manufacturer such as Colt, Winchester, Smith & Wesson, Remington, Ruger, Sig, etc., (as opposed to an after-market company that decorates guns made by others and resells them). Even so, they can be very tough to sell, and some are worth less now than when purchased years ago. Most better price guides list retail values for commemoratives which were offered by the actual manufacturer (most notably, Colt & Winchester.) They can be slow to sell if you're trying to get "book value" or close to it.
- Custom guns - Also, it is very hard to get your money back out of custom guns where the modifications have been done by an unknown gunsmith or, worse yet, a hobby gunsmith. Often, customization reduces collector interest, and most shooters will not pay full cost of someone else's personal mods. This is especially true of sporterized military rifles. Usually, a military rifle will be worth more in its original configuration than if someone has extensively modified it for sporting use. Exception - There are some prestigious well known custom gunsmiths whose guns are collectible in their own right, and bring premium values.
There are some types of guns which are worth watching for, as they nearly always have good collector value. A listing here will be woefully incomplete, but some of the many major collecting fields include Colt percussion revolvers, Colt Single Action Armys, pre-1964 Winchesters, Lugers & other early auto pistols in nice original condition, large frame S&W top-breaks, US military arms, original percussion & flintlock rifles, fine double shotguns, etc, etc., etc. There are generally collectors for specific rare guns by any of the better quality manufacturers. Among those, often WWII or earlier guns bring a premium, and pre-1898 "antique" guns may bring an even larger premium.
These are gross generalizations, of course, but they may give you a starting place to research your gun.
From The Blue Book of Gun Values
- Serialization/ Date of Manufacture
- Store Brand Crossover List
- Proof Marks
- Gun Collector Organizations
Articles by Jim Supica
- A Brief History of Firearms
- Evaluating Firearms Condition
- Hard to identify or value firearms
- Pieces of History: A system for evaluating historically attributed firearms
- How to be a Gun Collector
- Collectors Federal Firearms License
- How to ship guns and ammo
- Gun Auction Buying Tips