October 29, 2021
By Joe Engesser
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With firearm purchases at a fifty-year high and a record number of first-time gun buyers choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights, it might feel natural to assume that any increase in gun prices is just another bubble in the market that will eventually taper off. When it comes to firearms, however, particularly antique guns and rare vintage military arms, there are far more factors to consider when looking at values and trends.
Most gun genres have indeed seen price increases over the years, but so has almost everything else. From food, cars, and energy costs, inflation has skyrocketed to a thirty-year record and pushed up prices across the board. While there’s certainly some overlap between firearm values and consumer prices as a whole, inflation alone can’t explain the rapid upsurge observed in numerous popular gun genres.
So why are gun prices climbing? Reaction to political rhetoric and fear of economic and civil unrest were certainly contributing factors in 2020. Perhaps we’re also seeing the natural ebb and flow of shooting and gun collecting as a hobby. Then we have the influence of the internet and social media to consider. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these possibilities and explore whether soaring gun costs are sustainable and which firearm classes are seeing the greatest value spike.
Talk of firearm regulations drives gun sales like no other. The mere mention of gun control by a sitting president or even a presidential candidate spurs citizens to buy guns while they're still available. For instance, the ATF brought more attention to the pistol brace genre when they considered a restrictive pistol brace point system.
While the anxiety that politicians and bureaucrats create with the buying public has a disproportional impact on modern gun sales, it also expands the pool of gun owners and potentially creates a larger market for used and vintage guns as well. The unique circumstances brought on by the 2020 pandemic also influenced these trends.
Beyond gun-grabbing politicians and new firearm regulations, a storm of civil disruptions in 2020 added further fuel to the fire. Riots, pandemic fears, and double-digit spikes in violent crime erupted across the United States. When push came to shove, people realized the cavalry wasn’t guaranteed to show up on time to defend their homes and businesses.
With supply down and demand through the roof, it’s no surprise that vintage firearm genres began getting more attention when new gun production lagged. Used guns have always been an option for local gun stores looking to fill their shelves, and many classic pistols, revolvers, and shotguns are just as capable for personal and home security as their modern counterparts. Extended lockdowns and a shift toward working from home also provided more time for hobbyists to engage in their pursuits. For many, this meant getting out to shoot.
With food chains disrupted and meat prices climbing, the hunting industry has also experienced a dramatic resurgence. All types of hunting guns have seen higher demand, including muzzleloaders. And with many states offering an early and late muzzleloader hunting season, these classic guns are viewed as a way to gain added days in the field, as well as an affordable alternative to shooting when conventional ammo remains expensive and scarce.
While uncertainty in the world and a strained supply chain are some recent reasons for elevated gun prices, the value of antique firearms and curio & relics has been rising for years prior and making gains in modern arm prices look slight by comparison. Classic guns are in higher demand than ever right now, and the reasons are as varied as the firearms genre itself.
Have older guns always been undervalued, and prices are only now being revived? A whole new generation of shooters and arms enthusiasts are coming of age and willing to pay to enter the market, all the while setting new price points and creating the perception that certain gun genres are growing more scarce. One thing is certain. When a class of collector firearms experiences a surge in popularity, they rarely revert to former lows.
It’s hard to argue that any genre of gun collecting has experienced faster growth than classic military arms. M1 Garands, 1911 pistols, K98 rifles, and combat shotguns have all seen their values rise dramatically. Long gone are the days when vintage military guns were so abundant they were modified for hunting or target shooting without a second thought. Many of today's collectors would find such a thing unthinkable.
In the current collecting environment, vintage military arms are still widely available, but their prices reflect the market’s collective desire to own these weapons. Some of that astronomical growth might be due to the genre’s frequent depiction in film, television, and video games over the last few decades, leading to a greater Interest in WW1, WW2, and classic military arms as a whole.
Millennials and Gen Xers who grew up with media featuring these classic weapons have more disposable income now and could be looking to participate in antique gun collecting and own a tangible piece of history for themselves. Sword and armor collecting have increased in popularity for the same reasons, and the interest in military arms of every era only appears to be climbing.
Availability of high-end rarities is also a factor to consider. In recent years, top-tier firearms collectors are finally starting to sell to the broader public, providing an opportunity for the average arms enthusiast to participate at the highest level of the pursuit.
With some of the scarcest and sought-after guns finally hitting the auction block, fine arms have been increasingly viewed like classic art. Even the chance to own an iconic firearm seems to have spurred growth in the market that shows no sign of letting up, the prestige of obtaining a gun with a story to tell and a history to share. And like the markets for historic art, rare timepieces, and classic cars, legacy guns are being considered as a hard asset class with investment potential.
In unstable times, investors seek stability. Guns are tangible and can be enjoyed beyond their investment potential. Fine arms can be displayed on the mantle, exhibited at a gun show, or fired at the range. There’s a pride in gun collecting that you’re unlikely to hear from an investment broker, and you won’t lose your shirt if the stock market collapses.
A well-cared-for gun retains its value and then some, and through research and careful selection, an arms collector can make a handsome profit in the process. Indeed, many antique and vintage gun genres seem significantly undervalued, so there's a great opportunity right now to buy low. With a constant stream of new collectors entering the marketplace, and the finest and scarcest arms in higher demand than ever, the investment potential of firearms looks all the more appealing.
The internet has impacted almost every aspect of modern life, especially communication. Online networking has allowed hobbyists across the globe to connect and organize events more efficiently than ever. Greater awareness increases the mainstream appeal of a shared interest that might once have seemed niche. In the case of fine arms collecting, the results are higher turnouts at auctions and local gun shows, and an ever growing community.
The internet also makes for easier research, where someone seeking to learn the value of their used or inherited guns can turn to a dedicated arms collecting forum for information instead of relying on their local pawn shop. The experience and advice offered by a community of gun enthusiasts helps buyers as well when it comes to researching the history, condition, and provenance of a firearm.
With countless articles, videos, and online communities devoted to vintage firearms, the entry barrier seems far less imposing for a new collector looking to get started. Another source of both reference information and a key driver of growth in the world of vintage firearms is the social media influencer.
Words like Guntuber didn’t exist only a few short years ago. Now, it’s not uncommon for firearms-focused YouTube personalities like Kentucky Ballistics or Forgotten Weapons to garner millions of views per video.
From the early years of FPS Russia to today’s Youtube stars like Brandon Herrera and C&Rsenal, the influence of popular firearm personalities cannot be overstated. Viewers tune in to watch these guys running drills with everything from Winchester 1897 trench guns to modern ARs and realize that they too can get involved with the community if they invest a few dollars.
Social Media isn’t just a way for collectors and classic arms enthusiasts to share their love for the hobby with a vast audience. It’s a call to action, an invitation to participate where possible and try out some of these guns firsthand. They say seeing is believing, and it’s likely no coincidence that the rise of the Guntuber and the growth of the vintage gun market seem so closely paralleled.
In the firearms market, value can vary considerably based on factors such as model, condition, finish, grips, engravings, serial number range, original casing, supporting documentation, and so on. In decades past, the only way for collectors to properly assess a vintage gun was to examine it firsthand. High-quality online images, like the extensive photography in Rock Island Auction Company’s online catalogs, allow potential collectors to examine an antique firearm remotely and feel more confident in its value.
Online bidding, livestreamed auctions, and email options for sealed bidding allow almost anyone in the world the opportunity to safely and confidentially bid on rare guns. The pool of potential buyers has risen substantially as a result, and so have the prices of many collector-grade firearms. Sellers have taken note and are more willing than ever to offer elite pieces that were previously unobtainable to the average collector, feeding an enthusiastic demand which continues to trend ever higher.
As the number one firearms auction house in the world since 2003, Rock Island Auction Company has brought more people into the field of fine arms collecting than anyone else. The proof is in the numbers.
At Rock Island Auction Company, fine and historical arms are an absolute passion, so it comes as little surprise that RIAC’s annual sales double the sum total of their top 5 competitors combined. Only eight years after taking the title of world’s number one firearms auction, RIAC’s sales quadrupled, and that momentum has never let up.
One of RIAC's competitors was once quoted as saying their dream would be to hit $20 million in a single auction. Rock Island Auction Company did it twice this year alone, hosting the two largest firearms auctions in history back to back in May and September. To say that gun collecting is hot right now would be a wild understatement. If trends continue, it’s quite possible that Rock Island Auction could exceed 100 million in sales for the year, an unfathomable total that only speaks to the continuing strength of the fine firearms market as a whole.
No prediction is certain, but the demand for classic firearms shows no sign of slowing anytime soon, nor do their rising value. The world record for a single American firearm at auction, set in 2018 by RIAC for the Danish Sea Captain Colt Walker, was shattered in August when Pat Garret’s SAA revolver used to kill Billy the Kid sold for an astronomical $6,000,000. Once again, the proof is in the numbers.
Nearly all genres of antique and vintage guns are climbing, a strong indicator for both collectors and consigners alike. It’s been a banner year for Rock Island Auction Company and the fine arms community in every respect. The little auction house on the banks of the Mississippi River that started in a garage will be here for years to come to fill that demand, and the future looks brighter than ever.
As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, or future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today. Our auction schedule is updated frequently on our website, so be sure to go through the listing and start making your plans to visit. All our events adhere to the latest COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions.
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