You're fired

18 February 2004
By Judy Adamson

It's not quite what you'd expect to be a money-spinner, but if you're looking to invest in something with a proven track record, you might want to think about antique weapons.

"Antique weapons hold their price and they appreciate well," says Ken Burton, an antique dealer in Sydney's Balmain who specialises in weapons. In the past decade, he says, the value of antique firearms, swords and other weapons has increased in value annually by 8 to 10 per cent.

On the whole, he says, the quality and condition of the weapon are the most important things to look for when you want to buy.

"We like to see them with all their original finish...and weapons like that are worth a lot more than knocked-about weapons."

Unless, of course, they're very rare or connected to someone special. Gordon Morgan, one of the directors of Australian Antique Arms Auctions in Melbourne, says that if an owner has a first-rate provenance on a weapon, "the quality of the product basically goes out the door. If you're got Lord Mountbatten's personal revolver and it's engraved with his name on it, that makes it a very valuable piece.

"It can be very hard to put a price on something...it depends on how famous the person is. [There's] a Colt percussion revolver model called the 1851 Navy. The standard model is worth about $2000, but the one that Ned Kelly used at Glenrowan is worth a quarter of a million dollars."

"For instance, if you owned Lord Louis Mountbatten's personal revolver and it was engraved with his name, that would make it very valuable," Morgan said.

"Take for instance, the Colt percussion revolver called the 1851 Navy. The standard model is worth about $2,000, but the one that Ned Kelly used at Glenrowan is worth a quarter of a million dollars."

Those in the know will be able to source the best antique weapons because they understand what they're looking for, so people interested in starting a collection should join a collectors' society, read the books and browse online, ask experts for their opinion and visit the heritage arms shows held in Sydney [and Melbourne] every three months.

Here is some basic information to start you off: the first type of ignition gun used was the matchlock in the late 1400s, replaced by the wheelock gun a century later. The flintlock system was developed in the mid-17th century and this was used officially until the mid 1800s, although the short-lived percussion system (or cap and ball) appeared in the 1830s. The cartridge style of firearms - with which we would be more familiar - were invented in the 1850s. There's an enormous array of styles within these periods, from stylish duelling pistols to first fleet flintlock muskets, or the big blunderbesses to the tiny "muff" pistols, which women concealed in their muff for safety when travelling by stagecoach.

Most of the antique firearms used in Australia, says Burton, were British- or American-made. Navy Colts and Winchesters from the 19th century are popular collectors items - and if your Colt has extra letters or numbers stamped on it, you've got a much more valuable weapon.

"Police here in the mid-1800s were using navy Colts and stamped them with a number, and that told you which police station they came from," says Burton. "Colts with Australian markings are more valuable than the average. A Navy Colt in reasonable condition is worth $2500, but if it's got something on it that shows it's a police gun, it's worth $5000 to $6000.

And then there are the edged weapons, which cover the broad sweep of history and style from European gentlemen's rapiers to samurai swords and Indonesian kris daggers. These range in price from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

"There's a very big group of people that collect antique swords," says Morgan. "We had a sword recently called a Lloyds presentation sword and that sold for nearly $80,000." Items to be auctioned soon include a selection of Victorian era Bowie knives, an 18th century elephant gun and some "wonderful American Civil War pieces."

This story can be found in The Age - Money - Wednesday, February 18 2004.

© Copyright 2005 The Antique and Historical Arms Collectors Guild of Victoria. All rights reserved.