Many fine reference books on Lugers (or other small arms for that matter) will spend an inordinate amount of time emphasizing type collections, or quintessential models that “are required to round out an admirable collection.”
Certainly there is nothing wrong with collecting by some category (military, commercial, Imperial, Weimar, Nazi, Swiss). This author’s advice on collecting is five simple points which have served me extremely well over my gun-collecting life.
Collect What You Enjoy
Just because you don’t own (or particularly want) a landmark piece like one of the first 9mm Parabellum 1902 models, or you don’t like the quirky looking Swiss Bern pistols, or a police proofed pistol would be just on the periphery of your military combat pistol interests, WHO CARES! It is YOUR collection. Collect what you enjoy, and by all means, enjoy what you collect.
Read, Study, Observe, Absorb
Whatever flavor(s) of the Luger trip your trigger, learn as much as you can about those models, their markings, and the history around that era. Knowledge is power in Luger collecting. The more you know about the Luger models you are pursuing, the more confidence, success and fun you will have in your collecting. Unfortunately, there are many scoundrels out there making and selling fake, redone, bogus guns. Every serious collector out there has been burned at least once. These unfortunate and painfully expensive lessons can be minimized by homework in books like this one.
In addition to time in the books (which I liken to my time as a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalogs), spend time looking at the real thing. Look at color, machining marks, wear patterns, typefaces. Look for inconsistent condition from outside to inside as a sign of a likely rework. Look at the grips. Wood does not lie.
Find someone whom you can trust and learn from and absorb as much material as your brain can hold.
Get multiple opinions. The loud masses don’t always outweigh the wise words of one in the know. However, getting a consistent story on whether a piece is right or not is important.
Admittedly this may contradict some of what was written earlier about collecting what you enjoy, and telling the rest of the world to stick it in their snail drum. However, rarity and original unaltered condition drives Luger values.
Think about this. You have found a model of Luger you’ve been looking for. In fact you found two of them. One is well within your budget. It is an all-matching, 85 percent gun. Nothing wrong with it, no rust, no rash. Just honest wear. Now there is the exact same model.
Same variation. In fact it is within 1,000 serial numbers of the first one. This one is about a 95 percent condition, all matching gun. This one is about $150 more than the top dollar you predetermined to buy. All else being equal, will you be going home with the lesser pistol and an extra $100, or will you be going home with the better condition piece and a withdrawal slip for $150 from the ATM?
Now think about all the other buyers out there that might be shopping for your Luger. Which do you think would be easier to sell? I rest my case.
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Watch Out for Fakes
Lugers might be the most faked, redone, and tinkered with group of guns out there. I don’t know too many collectors that have not been taken at least once. I can attest that there is nothing more sickening then having someone later point out an obvious indication of tinkering on what you thought was a 98 percent pistol.
The “magic shops” are getting better and better and bringing life back to well worn pistols. The honest ones will only do work for those that are willing to collect a quality restoration. In fact, some restoration artisans’ work is starting to become collectible in its own right.
However, you deserve to know if something is a restoration before you buy it. A good quality restoration, passed off as original by a dishonest seller might leave you with a good-looking piece, but it is still dishonest.
The next level of fakes includes pieces that have a mark or two added to an otherwise authentic pistol, in order to increase their value. Nazi SS, SA, Kriegsmarine and K marks are classic examples of value-enhancing marks which get faked. If you collect on the rarity fringes where a mark or two makes a big price difference, look closely. These are the dangerous ones in my estimation. These are fakes which still color inside the lines, easily catching many collectors.
However, the most dishonest ones have gone so far as to create new Luger variations out of thin air. I won’t go so far as to say that this book is exhaustive. However, it does cover the vast, vast majority of the variations that are known out there. If you find something that is outside the descriptions in this book, I would recommend caution. There are almost certainly Luger variations that have not come to the surface for documentation. However, your research, fellow collectors and the instincts you’ll develop over time should guide you. If Hitler’s barber’s neighbor’s Luger is out there for an outrageous amount of money, you better be sure before you bet the farm on it.
The advent of the Internet has both changed things quite a bit for collectors, and turned up the heat on this subject. One can now buy a holster from Russia, a lanyard from Australia, and Luger manual from Jamaica.
The bad news is that what you can find up for auction, others can find up for auction. When you win an online auction, congratulations! You’ve just paid more for that item any anyone else on the planet. It is not likely that one of the online gun show sites will lead you to a multi-thousand dollar piece for $300. Not unless everyone else out there (including the seller) has fallen asleep.
Consider the Source
If someone has a reputation for selling fakes, avoid them. If everything on their table is the same color and hue, be suspicious. If they dither on a matter of fact description, assume the worst (i.e., “Well, I’ve been told its been redone, but it looks like it could be good to me.”).
If you see them buying mid-condition pieces, but only selling top-condition pieces, wake up and smell the salt blue. A reputable seller will stand behind a gun to stand up under inspection.
This is a sample chapter from the Standard Catalog of Luger.