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Collector’s Firearms vs. Hunting Guns: 3 Distinct Differences

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collector's firearms hunting guns

To the average person, there may not be many differences between a regular hunting gun and collector’s firearms. They may generally look similar to one another, originate in the same time period, and may even come off the same assembly line. To a gun enthusiast, however, the differences are significant and may take many forms.

Collector’s firearms have been around almost as long as firearms themselves. Sometimes called “the hobby of kings,” exchanging of presentation arms, presenting them as gifts, or commissioning elaborate weapons dates back centuries. Gun collecting as we know it today in the United States truly arose in the 1950s, following World War II. As certain firearms from previous conflicts, such as the Revolutionary War and Civil War, became rarer, collectors took an interest. Over time, specific models and features became highly sought after based on a number of factors such as rarity, finish, or simply being unusual.

While those factors can be quite important to avid firearms collector, others are not necessarily required. For example, a fully functioning firearm is not as critical to a collector as it is to a hunter because collector’s firearms are not expected to see frequent use from hunting or target practice. They are typically kept in a display to better preserve their condition for future generations.

What Qualities Make Collector’s Firearms So Special?

There are several qualities that make a firearm unique and worthy of being considered a collectible item.

First, the company that manufactured the gun may be grounds enough to become a collectible arm. Often a manufacturer can become synonymous with an era, have a reputation for excellence, or simply enjoys an increase in value – any of which could endear that particular manufacturer to collectors. Even different manufacturers of the same firearm, such as the Model 1911, can vary drastically in desirability.

1911 collector firearm

Collector’s firearms like this Singer M1911A1 pistol is attractive for its manufacturer, its rarity, and its ties to World War II.

Next, the time period the gun was created helps distinguish it from modern day guns. Certain time periods may carry with them significant events in history, an aesthetic, or be a period of technological evolution. A collector who appreciates a particular era can hold a tangible piece of it in their hands.

In the same vein, many collectible guns have some sort of sentimental value to the collector.  Whether they were inherited from a great-grandparent or bought at a firearms auction, collectible guns are often cherished by their owners for more than their simple monetary value. This is not always the case with the modern hunting guns for sale at the local gun shop.

3 Differences Between Collector’s Firearms vs. Hunting Guns

Although there are numerous major differences between collector’s firearms and hunting guns, we’ve outlined three of the largest indicators.

1. Condition of the firearm

While collector’s firearms in pristine condition will always demand an extra premium, such perfection is not required. Plenty of military surplus arms have seen use, and for some firearms, such as the Colt Walker, it is expected. However, generally speaking, the higher the condition, the greater the value with each scratch and ding potentially affecting the value.

Regarding hunting arms, the condition is not nearly as important. The gun must, of course, be unquestionably reliable and accurate, but little other requirements remain for a rifle or shotgun to ethically harvest an animal. Yes, everyone likes their hunting rifle to look nice, but a few scratches from branches or brush won’t dramatically affect the value.

To gauge the condition of collector’s firearms before an auction, there is a commonly used rating system our experts use. Many things can affect the condition rating of a firearm: the condition of the finish, is the finish original, have parts been replaced, how legible are the markings, etc. Collectible guns that have been modified may see their value diminish significantly, as the value of the gun depends heavily on it being in as original condition as possible.

cased Baby Paterson revolver

Pristine examples, such as this Colt “Baby” Paterson, command top prices at auction and show us how the gun looked when it originally left the factory

2. Historical Appeal

Next, the historical appeal of the gun often makes it special. Similar to other collector’s items, if a firearm has been owned by a famous person, or a person with significant historical appeal, it is generally worth more than other guns of the same type. For example, collector’s firearms used in major wars are typically priced higher than commercial examples of the same model.

Similarly, guns that were formerly owned by celebrities, presidents, or war heroes have auctioned for incredibly high prices.  Collectors of such firearms should always require documentation to confirm the authenticity of such desirable provenance.

In contrast, when filling your annual buck tag, the significance of who owned it before you is likely not important, with notably few exceptions.

3. Unique Features

For some collectors, the value of the gun is simply in its appearance or a distinguishing feature. A collector may appreciate the elegance of a cased pair of flintlocks, the simple lines of a Kentucky rifle, the distinct profile of a Borchardt, or the dangerous design of a Japanese Type 94. The beauty of being a collector is that deciding which unique features are desirable is completely subjective, though there are certainly choices more popular than others.

In contrast, most hunting guns are often valued for their efficiency and reliability as tools.

weird military rifles

Unusual military rifles such as these, possess highly unusual design features that increase their desirability among collectors.

Important Factors to Consider for New Firearms Collectors

For new firearms collectors, it’s important to understand a few key factors before you begin investing in the hobby. By having a clear understanding of what you’re looking for and why, you’ll be far more successful at collecting firearms. Explore some of our helpful tips below to get started.

  • Always do your research before you purchase. There’s a saying in gun collecting, “Always read the $50 book, before you buy the $5,000 gun.”
  • Seek out a reputable source for authentic firearms. Don’t purchase from anyone who can’t provide proper documentation, or that has an overwhelming number of poor customer reviews.
  • Have a clear understanding of why you’re investing in the firearm. Is it for personal significance? Are you looking to make an investment? This key difference will certainly make a difference in the price you’re willing to pay.
  • Know your gun laws. Don’t unwittingly become a felon. Know what you can own and what you can’t. If you have questions on an item you’re interested in bidding on, please contact us and it would be our pleasure to assist you.

At the end of the day, collecting firearms should be a rewarding and exciting hobby. Get started by doing your research and buy from a trusted source like Rock Island Auction Company. Then, begin exploring which collector’s firearms speak to you most! That’s when the real fun begins.

Understanding the Key Differences Between Collector’s Firearms and Hunting Guns

Rock Island Auction Company is the trusted source of firearms for an ever-increasing number of collectors, hunters, sportsmen, and investors. From world-class collectible firearms to your first hunting gun, our in-person and online auctions cater to enthusiasts at every level. If you’re looking for a special firearm, we can help.

Learn more about our rare collector’s firearms and upcoming auctions today. We can’t wait to help you find the next addition to your gun safe.