Those of you that follow the official TFB YouTube channel, TFBTV (thank you for watching) know that I am very interested in old firearms that are by today’s standards obsolete.
To me this is no different than a man who cherishes automobiles that can’t hold a candle to today’s vehicles, but either nostalgia or a deep running appreciation for the history or engineering techniques of the era from which they hail motivates the individual to preserve and revere them. There is something endearing about driving a Model A from the 1920s as you double-clutch while shifting (and manually advance the spark with the lever on the wheel) just like there is something oddly satisfying about trying to replicate period correct ammunition for a vintage bolt-action rifle.
Today a fighting force armed with 19th century bolt-action rifles would be thoroughly outgunned by an opposing force equipped with even the most poorly regarded modern infantry rifles, but they certainly have a place in any collection. I once explained why I personally like older firearms in perhaps my most cheesy (albeit well received) video to date:
That said, I think I got my point across pretty well.
So that leads us to the question. Where does one find this stuff? This is a question I get all the time, and it is a tricky one to answer. Unfortunately there are few shops these days that specialize in antiquities, but all hope is not lost if you wish to pick up a vintage rifle for yourself. So let’s have a look at a few things that have worked for me:
- Check out gun shows. I know, being packed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people in an event center, gradually slithering around trying to spot a diamond among lumps of coal priced like diamonds is awful, but that is the price you pay for the prospect of snatching up an old rifle for a great price. You never know what you might come across: A little over a year ago I grabbed a pristine, all matching M96 Swedish Mauser with ideal markings on the armory disc (learn to read these, by the way) for $250 that came with all the accessories and the bayonet. I have gotten other great deals at guns shows, and they are almost always worth the price of admission in my area.
- Try online auction websites. Some people are either frightened or confused at the prospect of buying a firearm from an online source, but it really is not a tedious process. I have lucked into some great deals this way, but it can be a little unnerving: Obviously you can’t check out the finer details of the firearm as you would in person. You never know if the photos might be a little more generous than they should be, but if the seller has a high feedback rating and plenty of sales under their belt then you are generally good to go. Also, check out the seller’s return policy, as they may allow a few days for an inspection period.
- Check local shops as often as you can. If pawn shops in you area sell firearms, you never know what old military rifles they might have in stock. I have a friend who got a Winchester 1897 trench gun on the cheap because they priced it like a regular 1897! Luckily for me, there is also a local shop that does in fact specialize in rare, hard to find firearms in my area that I stop by often. While they are priced at market value, sometimes to get exactly what you want, you might have to pay retail.
- Try auction houses. While big names like the Rock Island Auction can be intimidating to many (especially when they post prices realized and you see items selling for $300,000 and up), keep in mind that they also sell affordable stuff. While the premiere auctions are packed with mostly big money stuff, you never know if your low bid might seize the day. Also there are smaller regional auctions put on by Rock Island that sell normal firearms without as much provenance as the big ticket stuff. Patrick R. and I have both gotten some items pretty cheap from these, because it doesn’t seem like many people pay much attention to them.
- Try local forums and classifieds. In Texas, we have a site we use called Texas Gun Trader, and the Texas Hunting Forum also has a flourishing classified section. While it is uncommon to find vintage military rifles on these sites, when you do there might be a good deal to be had. I know other states have large forums as well, like the PAFOA in Pennsylvania and INGunOwners in Indiana.
- Some sites sell surplus arms. These include J&G Sales, AIM Surplus, Simpson LTD, and many more. However the people who run these outfits know what their stuff is worth and price it accordingly, so don’t expect to get a smoking deal.
So for those interested, I hope this helps you on your journey to collecting classic firearms. While most of my generation seems fixated on modern sporting rifles like the AR15, there are a few of us (mostly nerds like myself) who remain stuck in the past. Who knows, maybe this whole aluminum and polymer firearm construction thing is just a fad.