Gun Values: What Makes Some Old Guns Princes And Other Paupers?

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This is a Browning Superposed Diana Grade 20-gauge shotgun.

Gun values can sometimes seem esoteric. What makes one firearm worth $100,000 while a similar one can be bought for a measly few hundred dollars? Why is one a collectible antique and another just a used gun?

What Are The Factors That Go Into Gun Values:

  • Condition
  • Origin
  • Historical Significance
  • Provenance (Individual Gun's Ownership/History)

As with virtually any item, whether antique or merely used, condition is of prime importance. But more than that, origin and history are important, too. Provenance is a convenient word often used to describe an object’s origin, ownership chronology and overall history. It’s a term used to authenticate the true background of a piece of artwork such as a painting, piece of sculpture, book or some other work of art. And who can argue that a firearm cannot be a work of art? I’m not referring necessarily to finely engraved and gold-inlayed guns, although they can be quite valuable. But take a look at a minty Colt Paterson revolver or high-grade Browning Superposed. Are they not works of art?

An item’s provenance (from the French word provenir, meaning “to originate”) can provide such things as the identity of the original owner, date of manufacture, shipping location and price. Several gun manufacturers will provide, for a price, this kind of information on their letterhead: among them, Colt and Winchester.

Learn What Your Guns Are Worth Now!

Another key factor in establishing the value of a firearm is determined by its rarity. I’ve heard gun owners say, “It’s worth that because they only made [fill in the blank].” Or simply, “They aren’t making them anymore.” These comments can be true, but rarity by itself might not be enough to establish a value. A particular model might’ve had a short production history because it wasn’t received well by the gun-buying public and, for whatever reason, never caught on with the masses.

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A Colt 1836 Paterson, which was the first production revolver manufactured by the Colt company.

Who owned the gun and how was it used? This provenance can make the difference between a firearm that’s merely expensive and one that’s worth a fortune. Guns that belonged to famous lawmen and outlaws, military figures or movie stars can demand a significant premium when offered for sale.

When the infamous bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, were killed by a posse of lawmen in 1934, Bonnie had a Colt Detective Special .38 taped to her thigh, and Clyde was carrying a Colt 1911 .45 Auto. These guns were sold at auction a few years ago for a little over a half-million dollars — $264,000 for Bonnie’s revolver and $240,000 for Clyde’s 1911.1
Other celebrity-owned guns have been sold for staggering figures: President Theodore Roosevelt’s F-grade Fox shotgun for $875,000,2 Gen. George Patton’s Colt SAA .45 revolver for $75,000,3 Elvis Presley’s engraved Walther PPK/S .380 for $62,500,4 Wyatt Earp’s Colt SAA .45 for $225,000,5 and Adolf Hitler’s gold-plated Walther PP .32 for $114,000,6 which was reportedly the gun he used to commit suicide.

So, what’s that old gun worth? The real answer: Whatever someone is willing to pay for it. But the record for a single firearm sold at auction, at least for now, belongs to a very special Winchester. See the sidebar at right about The Geronimo Rifle.


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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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