Unrepentant Accumulator

One of my favorite on-line gun groups had a good discussion going on the nature of gun collecting, and the conversation turned to the difference between a “collector” and an “accumulator”.

There was ‘tsking’ about guns in less than pristine condition, and heartfelt sighs about the quality and common-ness of current production firearms. I pretty much sat in the corner & let the big boys have at it.

However, after some deep soul searching, I felt compelled to “come out of the closet” and publicly confess what many who know me personally have doubtless long suspected:

ME: “My name is Jim, and I’m an Accumulator”.
YOU: “Hi, Jim”.

I do remember that at various times in the course of my disorder, I have been the beneficiary of Wise Counsel from various Advanced Collectors. While the advice has varied a bit, the most universal Nuggets of Wisdom have probably been these:

  1. The three most important things in collecting are Condition, Condition, and Condition.
  2. Specialize. Focus your collection on a particular make & model.
  3. Stay in the main recognized fields.

There have been many variations on these (a recurring one being “I can’t believe you bought that”), but these basic rules have seemed to be fairly universal. I have truly appreciated every bit of advice I have received and have proceeded to consistently and usually, happily ignore all of these.  Let’s take a look at each of them.

Condition is Everything
As to the Condition rule, time and experience has mellowed my perspective a bit. I have finally come to appreciate the rarity and beauty of a gun that has survived decades in “as new” condition. I am also willing to accept on faith that there may in fact be a difference between a 99.9% and a 99.8% gun (although, personally, I sometimes find the difference between 95% & 99% to be a bit subtle for my perceptive powers). It’s just that I can’t bring myself to care a whole lot.

Condition Fetishism just sort of seems to turn gun collecting into stamp or coin collecting. To me, the most interesting part of gun collecting is the history involved. The well-used gun is the one that has the romance and the smell of history to it. A gun that’s obviously lain in a box in a cupboard for 70 years is just, well… a bit boring to me. That, plus a mint gun usually tends to cost more. (And I’m cheap).

Now as to the advice to Specialize — I have no quarrel whatsoever with specialized collectors. However, it sometimes seems to me that specialization can be a bit restrictive when it comes to two of the important benefits of gun collecting — sharing your appreciation of guns with others and gun collecting as an investment.

It has just always seemed to me that an unfocused accumulation of guns that someone bought just because he wanted them or thought they were cool will usually be more interesting than a specialized collection that appears to the non-specialist to be “30 individual examples of the exact same thing”. This is especially true if the person you’re sharing your collection with is not a fellow die-hard collector in the same or a closely related field of specialization.

Before discussing specialization and investment value, let us first say together:

“May a Pox of Pernicious Oxidation be visited upon the gun safe of anyone who collects guns only as an investment, for, yea, verily, they ruinith the hobby and driveth prices unto the heavens, all unknowing”.

That said, one of the nice things about gun collecting is that it’s a hobby where the money spent usually retains and increases in value over the years. It’s a bit subjective, I know, but it seems to me that when the final tally is done, and your grandkids are anxious to sell off the guns so they can invest in entertainment-industry grade recreational pharmaceuticals, a generalized accumulation of guns will sell better than a highly specialized collection that can tend to over-saturate the market for that particular make / model / subvariation / screwcount.

STAY IN MAJOR FIELDS – Buy the Blue Chips.
As to staying in the Main Fields of gun collecting, if we’d been consistently following that advice, we’d all be Colt, Winchester, & Kentucky collectors, wouldn’t we? As specialized collections go, the ones that seem coolest to me are the ones where someone has focused on a field that has not been previously done to death. Plus, the fields that are not yet highly popular can be the ones where you build a significant specialized collection without first winning the Lottery.

A couple of my all-time favorite displays at gun shows have included an outstanding Iver Johnson collection, and a great J.C. Higgins display. I, myself, have a soft spot for velo-dog revolvers. I’ll wind down this particular rant with some specific confessions, indicative of the depths of my depravity:

  • The first handgun I owned was a Charter Undercover. I wish I still had it.
  • I read, and believe, newsstand gun magazines. I seriously WANT whatever they’re pushing this month.
  • I have in my personal never-for-sale collection,no-finish, modified, and re-finished guns.
  • I own, and cherish, guns I cannot even identify as to make and model.
  • Before I took this gig at the NRA Museum, my main incentive to become a full-time dealer in collectable guns was my tearful realization that I could not possibly obtain and keep one of everything. I figured this way, I’d get to at least have one of most for at least a little while.
  • For our first Christmas together as husband and wife, I gave Eve an RG-10 for a personal defense revolver. I still think it was a really neat gift. (I’m not sure how she felt, but we are still married). I still have an RG in my personal collection, and am proud of it.
  • Every gun I’ve ever bought is one that I’ve been glad to have (flip through one of my old mail order catalogs, the Old Town Station Dispatch, to realize the true horror of that statement).

Anyway, I thought this slice of life from the trailer-trash, blue-light-special, dark basement corner of the gun-collecting world might be of interest, if only as a cautionary example of a diseased mind. My mother had a saying: ” ‘Each to their own taste’, said the milkmaid as she licked the cow.” I was never sure exactly what it meant, but it somehow seemed to apply here. ANY gun collection is a Good Collection.