Increasing numbers of older gun collectors are becoming aware of a huge problem their heirs will face in the future: the (usually) ever-rising value of their collectible firearms. And as we all know, there are many unscrupulous folks out there ready and willing to “assist” your family in disposing of these valuable items.
So how can you protect your loved ones from falling victim to these predators? Using the following record-keeping method, you can make sure your heirs get full value from your collection after your demise.
Collectible guns have become much more than just a relaxing hobby. They’re now considered by most collectors and their families as a valuable part of their estates. Because your collection is a major asset that you might plan to pass on, it should be fully described and recorded in a manner in which you and your family members can find it quickly. Also, In case of loss due to burglary, fire or flood, this information can help you establish ownership and value of each item in your collection.
With a reasonable amount of luck, you’ll never experience a loss of your collection through theft or mishap. However, it’s a sure bet that some day, hopefully well in the future, the gaunt hooded gentleman carrying the scythe will come a-knocking at your door. In the unhappy event of your passing, your knowledge of each piece in your collection is suddenly lost. However, the procedure I’m outlining here will help those loved ones who will inherit your collection to obtain the highest possible value when they have to liquidate your collection. Your knowledge and help today can prevent a financial disaster tomorrow.
I began documenting my collection in earnest about five years ago. After a lot of thought and experimentation I came up with a solution for my personal concerns. Yours may differ. If this method does not fit you completely, you can easily tailor it to accomplish the same results. Use what is best for you and yours.
Before you begin, it’s a good idea to keep handy the latest edition available of Standard Catalog of Firearms (www.gundigeststore.com) or other reputable firearms value guides to give you, and your heirs, an up-to-date, current evaluation of most firearms. I might also point out that the approach I describe below works not only for gun collections but for those of virtually any type: ammunition boxes, fishing lures, you name it.
At a minimum, your records should consist of the following data:
1) Complete, detailed descriptions of each piece, including photographic proof of ownership and relevant information. This also greatly simplifies the chore of an heir having to identify each piece. NOTE: Should your collection be placed into the hands of an auction house for disposal, it is a great help to them if you have already composed a history of each piece which explains why it may be of more than ordinary interest to their bidders. This may also help boost the price that particular piece may bring.
Most auction houses appeciate it when a seller can furnish good, clear, detailed photos of the guns being offered. When photographing your guns, make sure to take close-ups of smaller details such as scratches, dents, cracks, repairs and other small flaws which might aid in identifying a piece which may not have serial numbers stamped on it. Federal law did not mandate serial numbers until after 1968, so a lot of very valuable older pieces are NOT numbered; thus detailed photos would be even more important in identifying them in case of theft.
2) Details of WHEN obtained; FROM WHOM obtained; WHERE obtained; and at WHAT COST. I also record how much I believe the piece should sell for when it is offered for sale. What may appear as a beat-up old junker to others could be one of the most valuable pieces in your collection due to its provenance – which only you know and can furnish.
3) EVERY receipt, invoice, bill of sale, ad, owner’s manual, or any other items connected to your acquisition of EVERY piece. Photocopies of various historical magazine articles can be slipped into a sheet protector, to add credence to your claims about any particular piece. Exploded views of guns with parts lists, are some of the items you may wish to include in those pockets. I preserve as much info as possible on each piece, info which will come in handy whether your heirs decide to keep the piece or sell it.
How To File Your Data
I use a loose-leaf, three-ring binder containing clear plastic page protectors. Each individual piece is filed in the binder in alphabetical order according to maker name or description (if no maker name is known).
I have separate binders for each category in my collection: HANDGUNS, LONG GUNS, AMMO BOXES, and ACCESSORIES.
All of this information is then copied onto an inexpensive 4GB Flash Drive that is well labeled and kept in a bank safety deposit box with other important items I wish to protect.
Depending upon how often you add to your collection, you can add the new piece to your computer files and at-home three-ring binders, then do a new, updated Flash Drive and take it to the deposit box, regain your previously recorded flash drive, and erase it for use at a later time when updating your files.
You must be sure to fully instruct your heirs as to where this valuable information is located, and especially to instruct them on how to use it.
Remember that in some states, your heirs might not have immediate access to the contents of your safety deposit box, so it behooves you to leave your hard-copy bound records where they can be found quickly.
This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2012.