Collectible Spotlight: Selling Inherited Guns

Here are a few things to consider when selling inherited guns (both modern or antique firearms).

Saturday, I got back from an early morning auction in the country exhausted yet intrigued by my experience.  I have gone to Pete’s Auction in Madison, Virginia several times before for their Saturday Antique and Collectibles Auction which generally occurs every other weekend, but this outing was to a special Guns, Knives, and Tools auction.

The collection itself was impressive for its breadth if not for its overall quality.  The sheer range of weapons from 10 guage shotguns to revolvers to semi-automatic rifles like the Daniel Defense custom AR-15 was the result of the first in a series of auctions selling the collection of an area resident.  They expect between 4 and 5 more auctions with 100 gun lots each until the collection is completely disperesed.

The most interesting aspect of the sale though was the prices.  For 100 lots, there were over 300 registered bidders.  Since mid-December 2012, the gun market has been a flurry of activity.  Prices are incredibly high because of the incredibly high demand.  The demand is a result of buyers wanting to grab guns, magazines, and ammunition because of worries that they may soon be banned.  Specifically, prices on semi-automatic rifles like AR-15 and AK-47 variants have increased by 30 to 50 percent.

As they say, “rising tides lift all boats” so whether you have a semi-automatic rifle or an older firearm, now may be a good time to sell.  Here are a few things to consider when selling your inherited guns (both modern or antique firearms):

First, if you don’t know how to clean a gun, don’t try.  Guns are complex pieces of equipment which require specialty cleaners and equipment.  Household cleaners can contain harmful corrosive solvents which may ruin the finish of the gun.  For antique firearms, a lot of the value is in the original finish. Like any valuable collectible, there are reproductions as well as outright fakes which look like the original.  One way that potential buyers determine the authenticity of the weapons is by matching the finish to the weapons supposed age.  Gun collectors want an old gun to look old.

That being said, condition matters.  For buyers of antique and modern firearms, ideally the gun should be function.  This means that all parts are present and in working order.  It also means that they prefer it to not have scratches, dents, or rust.  If the weapon has an original finish like nickel plating or bluing, this should be the original and not restored.

Glock 21 .45 Auto

Next, know what you have.  This one is easier for modern firearms than antique.  Because of the huge online presence of gun owners and collectors, it can be relatively easy to find out what you have.  Modern guns are mass produced and often say what they are right on the gun.  For example, the gun pictured here is a Glock 21 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol made in Austria which it says right along the side.  If one were to google “Glock 21 Austria .45 Auto” just as pictured, you would immediately find what it is and it’s retail price.  Antique firearms aren’t as easy and become more difficult the older they are.  For these firearms, you may have to do a bit more digging.  There are many knowledgeable firearms forums where they welcome people trying to find out what they have.  All you need is to post the pictures of what you have!

What do think is a “must know” for selling your inherited firearms?

Collectible Spotlight is a series that features a variety of items that you may own, inherit, or collect with some easy tips to help you determine their value.  Want to see an item featured?  Feel free to message us with ideas!

About Rebecca McCormick
Rebecca H. McCormick is working on her MA in History of Decorative Arts. She is a Collector’s Series Auction cataloger at Quinn’s Auction Galleries. She has worked at the Texas Historical Commission and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. She received her BA in History and Art History from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She lives in Vienna, Virginia with her husband and their two cats.

2 thoughts on “Collectible Spotlight: Selling Inherited Guns

  1. Here is one fore you – a must know for right now! Auctioneers to date do not need an FFL (Federal Firearms License) to sell guns. It’s one of those “loopholes” and they don’t need to give their buyers background checks. All the auctioneer needs to do is sell them as a part of an estate and tell you who and who may not buy. I was speaking to an auctioneer just tonight who said that talk in the business is that every auctioneer is going to need an FFL soon. If that happens, it will be a little more difficult to find a licensed auctioneer to sell your guns whether or not they were inherited! Now is the time to sell, especially with the elevated prices!

    • Good point, Anson! The little-known auction house loophole is present because private sales do not require a background check at this time. When selling an item from an estate, an auctioneer (or auction house) is not the legal owner of the firearm at any point. The auctioneer is acting as an agent of the estate executor and assisting the executor in finding buyers for the firearms. In order to fall under the estate rules, the executor must keep possession of the firearms at all times. They do not meet the criteria for “dealers” under this context and do not have to have an FFL.