The value of collectible firearms

24 August 2004
Coma-Monaro Express

Readers would be aware of the activities of the Antique Arms Collectors Society and the significant role it is playing to preserve valuable Australian heritage in the face of increasing hysteria around gun controls.

Less well known is the potential value of these heritage pieces as investment collectibles.

Their monetary value combined with the perception of bureaucratic indifference or insensitivity to the intrinsic historical worth of antique firearms further fuels the sense of outrage felt by many who have an abiding interest in the subject.

In a recent interview with a Sydney journalists, antique arms dealer, Ken Burton, said the value of antique arms, swords and weaponry had increased annually by eight to 10 per cent.

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

However, if the piece has a special provenance, its condition is less of an issue.

Melbourne dealer, Gordon Morgan, also told the same interviewer it was often hard to put a price on a particular piece.

"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."

Advice for novices is to join a collector's society, read books and browse online, ask experts for their opinion and visit the heritage arms shows held in Sydney every three months.

The history of firearms dates back to the late 1400s, with the development of the first ignition type of firearm, called a matchlock.

Over the ensuing two centuries, various mechanisms were devised including the wheelock before the flintlock mechanism enjoyed widespread used around the middle of the 17th century.

This type of firearm really dominated for the next 100 years with the exception of a brief appearance in the 1830s of a percussion or cap and ball system.

The cartridge style of firearm with which most people are familiar today, made their debut in the 1850s, and were first widely used during the American Civil War in the early 1860s.

Within each of these time periods there is a broad array of styles from small intricately patterned duelling pistol sets favoured by the European aristocracy to crudely mass produced flintlock muskets and tiny "muff" pistols which women carried to protect their personal safety when travelling by coach.

Most antique arms collected in Australia were made in the UK or the US. Navy Colt pistols and Winchester rifles are popular collectors' items.

"Police in colonial Australia used navy Colts and stamped them with a number which indicated which police station they came from," said Ken Burton.

"Pieces with the Australian markings added, are more valuable with a standard Colt worth around $2,500 and one showing it was a police firearm worth $5,000 to $6,000.

Sydney solicitor Paul Duffy has been interested in antique firearms ever since growing up in the central western NSW town of Bathurst, where, like most boys, he learned to use firearms responsibly and to feel comfortable having them around.

Paul explained he had been collecting heritage arms for 30 years with an initial interest in how they worked and later developing a passion for learning how each of the pieces was actually made.

"It all worked on an apprentice-master system," Duffy said.

"There were stock makers, barrel makers and lock makers, people specialising in the manufacture of each component.

"Also you have to distinguish between military arms, mass produced for infantrymen and higher quality pieces, often intricately hand crafted, for the nobility to use for sporting occasions," Duffy added.

Paul Duffy's advice to budding collectors: call the Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia on (02) 9390 8000 and a representative will be more than happy to help you get started.

This story can be found online here

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