Sunday 13 December 2020

The Invaluable Guide to Antique and Collector Firearms


The Invaluable Guide to Antique and Collector Firearms

3 antique handguns: Gueury Brevete underhammer percussion pepperbox, a Moore's patent front loading teat-fire revolver, and a Smith & Wesson model no. 1 second issue tip-up revolver, 19th-century, 18th-century, 1860s, Rock Island Auction Company

Following World War II, collecting firearms became a popular trend, especially antique cartridge firearms. This field of collecting, and collecting American arms in particular, has become one of the fastest growing since the 1950s.

Overall, prices for antique guns have risen over time due to the lack of supply. Prices also vary depending on what is in popular demand. For instance, certain manufacturers, like Colt and Winchester Repeating Arms Company, are highly sought after, which causes their values to rise. As the amounts of interested collectors, values, and market research and publications grow, so too will this branch of collecting.

“It’s a growing industry and a hobby that is appealing to more and more shooters,” says Daniel Thorngren of Rock Island Auction Company. “Not only is interest in collector firearms on the rise, antique firearms as an industry is on the rise.”

Collector firearms are also increasingly being viewed as a form of tangible assets, adds Thorngren. “The U.S. economy is exiting a large recession period where anyone who had anything invested in the market lost money in one way or another. Collector firearms are alternative investments to the market, and unlike a stock, you can take it out and admire it.”

Types of Antique Guns

Both modern and antique arms are popular with collectors. Antique firearms are usually divided into two basic types:

  • Muzzleloader: This kind of firearm has a projectile or propellant charge that is loaded from the muzzle (the open end of the barrel) of the gun. Collectors do not purchase muzzleloaders to fire them; instead, they are often more interested in their historic value or in putting them on display.
  • Cartridge-Firing: Also referred to as a round or shell gun, cartridge-firing guns have ammunition packaging and cased primer made to fit within the firing chamber. These pieces are more commonly collected with the intent of shooting.

Generally speaking, firearms are divided into the following two very broad classes based on their size:


  • Pistols: These are smaller firearms, which makers designed to be used in one hand, and the most common actions are the single shot and semi-automatic.
  • Revolvers: Revolvers are repeating firearms that have a revolving cylinder with more than one chamber and one or more barrels for firing.

Long Guns

  • Rifles: These are crafted to be shot from the shoulder, and have a barrel with grooves or “rifling” cut into the barrel walls.
  • Shotguns: Shotguns are also called scatterguns and pepper guns due to the fact that shot pellets spread upon leaving the barrel.


  • Steel: High carbon, heat-treated steel is the traditional material for firearms thanks to its durability, strength, and ability to be molded.
  • Aluminum: Firearms framed in aluminum are thought to be less durable than steel because this metal is not as strong, but it is still a popular alternative for some designs.
  • Polymer: Plastic use in firearm construction was restricted to non-structural items, including grips and recoil spring guides, until the 1970s, but since has been used more extensively because of the material’s lightweight quality, manufacturing economy, and resistance to damage.

Guns & Firearms Terminology


The action of a gun is how it is loaded and fired. Examples include:

  • Single action: The firearm must be manually cocked before each shot. In other words, the trigger performs a single function.
  • Double Action: The gun can be cocked and fired with one pull of the trigger, and most often refers to pistols and revolvers.
  • Break-open: The gun’s barrel is set on a hinge, where a latch keeps the barrel closed against the receiver.
  • Bolt: One of the simplest action types for a rifle, the bolt has an operating handle with which the gunman can operate the rifle’s mechanism.
  • Pump: Also known as slide action, pump action firearms are repeating guns that require manual operation of opening and closing the action and feeding the ammunition from the magazine to the chamber.
  • Lever: Guns with lever actions are operated by a lever located underneath the firearm, near the end of the receiver. The lever opens and closes the action.
  • Semi-automatic: Semi-automatic guns fire, extract, and eject a round in the chamber and load a new round whenever the trigger is pulled.


The cartridge is the metal case that holds the primer, gunpowder, and bullet. The term “Magnum” denotes a very powerful cartridge.


This denotes the diameter of the bullet in inches, although bullets are commonly measured width by length in millimeters.

Building Your Collection

When looking to buy or collect an antique firearm, there are a number of factors that you need to consider in order to make sure your purchase is worthwhile. The top factors that influence the value of an antique gun are listed below.


This is often where the evaluation process of guns begins and is most important to individuals who collect based on specialization. Buyers gravitate toward the quality of a maker’s products, the role a make or model has played in history, or the “aura of romance” surrounding a particular manufacturer.

Examples of makes and models that are popular among collectors include post-Civil War Colt Single Action Armies, Winchester, Luger, Smith & Wesson, Merwin Hulbert, non-U.S. firearms like British maker Enfield, and Japanese maker Arisaka. The desirability of makes and models is very trend-reliant and is easily influenced by movies and the media.


First, it’s essential to note that different rating systems are used for antique firearms and modern firearms. In other words, a modern firearm with a nearly impeccable finish may be labeled as being in “very good” condition, whereas an antique firearm with 10 percent less of its finish intact may also be in “very good” condition.

That aside, condition is one of the most important factors when evaluating a gun’s value — a difference in condition can mean halving or doubling the value. There are two main evaluation systems most widely used:

  1. NRA Condition Standards: Modern guns are classified as new, excellent, very good, good, or fair. Antique guns are classified as excellent, fine, very good, good, fair, or poor.
    • New: All original parts, 100 percent original finish and in perfect condition.
    • Excellent: All original parts, over 80 percent of its original finish with sharp lettering, numerals, and design on metal and unmarred wood.
    • Fine: All original parts, over 30 percent of the original finish in tact.
    • Very Good: All original parts, 30 percent or less of the original finish in tact.
    • Good: Some minor replacement parts are present. There may be rust or light pits and it’s in good working order.
    • Fair: Some of the major parts are replaced and may need additional replacements on minor parts. Metal is rusted and there may be light pitting all over. It’s in fair working order or can be easily repaired to be in working order.
    • Poor: Both major and minor parts are replaced and it still needs major replacement parts and extensive restoration. The metal is deeply pitted and it’s generally undesired as a collector’s item.
  1. Percentage System: This system rates the percent of original finish that remains on the gun with a range of 0 – 100 percent.

“Buy the highest condition item you can afford. Condition is such a large determiner of value, so doing so ensures the best possible return. A collection of five high condition guns is more impressive than a hundred of mediocre quality,” says Thorngren.

If you refinish, over-clean, or modify a collectible gun in any way, you will likely negatively impact its value. At the same time, some collectors put less emphasis on condition than on a piece being in its original state.

History or Provenance

If a gun or firearm has been owned by a specific person or used in a historical event, it will be very appealing to certain collectors. For example, Wyatt Earp, an icon of the American West, had a Colt .45-caliber revolver that sold for $225,000 at an Arizona auction in 2014. It fetched such a high price given that it’s likely the one he used in the most legendary gunfight in Wild West history, the O.K. Corral shootout.

To accompany this trend, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of making and maintaining documentation to prove the authenticity of the gun as historically valuable.


Collectors’ opinions differ on the importance of rarity. There is a classic warning that indicates that just because a gun is rare, that doesn’t mean it’s valuable. But the value of a given type of gun also depends on personal preference, and there is a lot of interest in and competition around rare versions of firearms within both emerging and established specializations.

Artistic Appeal

Some firearms are prized more as art pieces for their fine engravings. There is a strong market for pieces engraved by famous 19th- and early 20th-century craftsmen during the “Golden Age” of firearms engraving. The style used flowing scrollwork and is associated with Nimschke, or New York-style engraving.

Tips for New Collectors

When starting a gun collection, it can be helpful to focus on a specialization, since the field is so broad. This will also help you become an advanced collector more quickly.

At the same time, taking a more general approach and growing an eclectic collection can also be very rewarding. This approach can also lead to better investments.

“Buy the book before you buy the gun. Educate yourself on the subject matter so you’ll know what you’re buying, if you’re paying a reasonable price for it, and it’s being represented accurately,” says Thorngren. “‘Flayderman’s Guide’ is a popular and readily available publication that covers most collector firearms.”

To help you find a direction and to make sure you will get the most enjoyment out of the collecting experience, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to do with your firearms? Perhaps you’re building a shooting battery. You will likely enjoy owning a variety of guns intended to be fired for different reasons, such as hunting.
  • Are you interested in history? Many collectors have a passion for guns with historical significance. Some collect firearms along a timeline, while others are interested in a specific era or event.
  • Do you enjoy learning how things work? Other collectors just love how guns tick and their evolution as machines.
  • Are you looking to make a financial investment? While some experts advise against collecting for the financial benefits, there are top-quality firearms that can certainly appreciate in value over time. Collecting guns for this reason requires great caution and expertise.

For those who only want to purchase firearms for their own collection, there is a special license called the Collector’s Federal Firearms License, or “C&R” FFL. This permits collectors to purchase older, collectible guns without requiring them to buy from a licensed dealer. These guns must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 50 years old
  • Certified by a government museum curator as having museum interest
  • Derived value from its novelty, rarity, or history

Buying Guns & Firearms from Auction Houses & Dealers

In order to make the most educated, rewarding decision, keep in mind the following when starting or continuing a gun collection:

  1. Set a budget. Know what you can afford and collect the best condition guns and firearms that budget can buy you.
  2. Understand the terms. Read and understand any terms of sale and guarantee of descriptions. This will ensure that you know how protected you are if your purchase ends up not aligning with what was explicitly described. Like in most markets, fakes exist, so it’s important to take the proper precautions.
  3. Compare prices. Do your homework and look into the market value of the firearms that interest you. Look at gun shops, read websites, and browse credible publications like Gun List.
  4. Be patient. Don’t rush into a purchase or convince yourself it’s the right choice. If it doesn’t feel right, just wait. You will find something that suits your needs and tastes.
  5. Know the laws: It’s essential that you are aware of your rights and the laws regarding buying and selling firearms, at auction or otherwise. The laws vary depending on country, and some countries make exceptions for antiques. Use online resources such as to learn more and collect intelligently.
  6. Buy what you like. In the end, it’s your collection. Try not to pay attention to others who are competitive or have different opinions. The most important thing is that you find your purchase personally rewarding.


With your new collection comes the responsibility of caring for it. Here are a number of conservation best practices for antique firearms.


Store your firearm collection in a room safely kept at a consistent 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, the wood stocks may expand and cause permanent cracks. Also try to keep the room at around 50 percent humidity to avoid metal corrosion or cracking.


Depending on the type of collectible firearms you have, it’s best to avoid handling your guns with bare hands too much, as the oils in your skin can cause damage. You can buy cotton gloves for handling your objects so you can still enjoy your collection. In addition, you can invest in a quality microcrystalline wax to protect your guns from the elements.


You should dust regularly with a clean, dry cloth. Don’t use spray products and remember to use gloves. If you’ve just purchased an antique rifle or pistol that has residue of its box or holster, you can make a wood or metal cleaning solution.

  • Wood: Mix water with a few drops of a mild detergent and wipe the wood surfaces with a dampened cloth. Rinse the cleaned surfaces in plain water.
  • Metal: Use a soft scraper, such as a pre-1980 penny or fine grade of bronze wool, to remove corrosion products.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Guide to Collecting Chinese Jade


Guide to Collecting Chinese Jade

In 551-479 BCE Confucius wrote that jade was ‘soft, smooth and glossy, it appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact and strong – like intelligence’. On the eve of Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on November 11, we asked Chinese and Asian Art specialist Dr. Yingwen Tao to share her expertise on why it’s so highly prized in China, its cultural role and how to start your collection

What is Jade?

To better understand jade objects, it is best to look at the origin of the stone itself. Since the Neolithic period, the Chinese had used their native nephrite and other translucent minerals such as agate in important carvings. In fact, the Chinese word yu [玉], which is translated as jade, actually refers to a number of minerals including nephrite, jadeite, serpentine and bowenite. But above all other minerals, nephrite was revered for its special qualities: its toughness and durability, smooth polish and alluring purity.

A Chinese pale celadon and russet jade carving of the ‘Heavenly Horse’, Tian Ma, Qing Dynasty, 18th century
A Chinese pale celadon and russet jade carving of the ‘Heavenly Horse’, Tian Ma, Qing Dynasty, 18th century. Estimated at £6,000-£8,000 in Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on November 11

Mineralogically nephrite is a calcium magnesium silicate and is white in colour. However, the presence of copper, chromium and iron gives colours ranging from subtle grey-greens to brilliant yellows and reds. From the Han period (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.), Hetian jade, which was most highly prized for its creamy white tone, was obtained from the oasis region of Hetian on the Silk Route. It was found within metamorphic rocks in mountains. As the rocks weathered, the boulders of nephrite broke off and were washed down to the foot of the mountain, from where they were retrieved.

A Chinese pale celadon jade archaistic vase and cover, Qing Dynasty
A Chinese pale celadon jade archaistic vase and cover, Qing Dynasty. Estimated at £4,000-£6,000 in Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on November 11

Importance of Jade in Chinese culture

Regarded as the ‘fairest of stones’, jade has been endowed with the five virtues – charity, rectitude, wisdom, courage and equity – from ancient times in China.


Charity is typified by its lustre, bright yet warm; rectitude by its translucency, revealing the colour and markings within; wisdom by the purity and penetrating quality of its note, when the stone is struck; courage, in that it may be broken but cannot be bent; equity, in that it has sharp angles which yet injure none.’

— Xu Shen (circa 58 – c. 148 C.E.), Shuowen Jiezi, Eastern Han dynasty

Unlike other precious stones, jade is considered to be ‘warm’ and most valued for its metaphysical properties. This extremely tough translucent stone has been worked into ornaments, ceremonial weapons and ritual objects. Jade was also worn by kings and nobles and after death placed with them in the tomb. As a result, the material became associated with royalty and high status.

An unusual Chinese pale celadon jade ‘horse and squirrel’ belt buckle, Qing Dynasty, 18th century
An unusual Chinese pale celadon jade ‘horse and squirrel’ belt buckle, Qing Dynasty, 18th century. Estimated at £4,000-£6,000 in Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on November 11

It was also the aesthetic quality of jade and an increasing association with moral ideas of purity and goodness ascribed to it by Confucian thought that ensured the precious stone continued for centuries as the most desired decorative material in China.

A Chinese carved jade bowl, Qing Dynasty
A Chinese carved jade bowl, Qing Dynasty. Estimated at £1,000-£1,500 in Dreweatts’ Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on November 11

What to consider when buying jade

You can first decide which types of jade carvings you would like to collect. While Neolithic jades are usually ritual objects, since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) jades have been tightly associated with the lifestyle of literati and carved into various scholar’s writing accessories such as brush washers, paper weights and seals.

Different historic periods also feature different colours of jades. For instance, Ming dynasty jades were often carved from different coloured stones, whilst during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) when the craftsmanship reached its peak, jades were often found in white, translucent stones, and emerald green coloured jadeite became popular in the Qing court.

A Chinese white and green jadeite bowl and cover
A Chinese white and green jadeite bowl and cover, sold for £4,000 hammer price at Dreweatts on May 23, 2019

Second, pay attention to the quality of the stone especially you are a keen collector of Qing-dynasty white jades. Whether a white jade has inclusions or not can greatly influence its price. It is always the purer the better. White jades of premium quality are regarded to be akin to ‘mutton fat’ [羊脂白玉]. However, if the inclusions of the jade, or in many cases, its russet marks, are cleverly sculptured to be part of the design, it would be a different story.

It is not always the larger the better when it comes to collecting jade. If you are a new collector with limited budget, we would suggest going for smaller items. Although you might see some chunky Qing carvings achieve half a million on the market, it does not necessarily mean that many smaller examples are of poorer quality. In fact, many of them can also reach a very high standard.

For instance, the imperial Qing workshop produced a series of zodiac animal carvings during the 18th century, each of no higher than three inches and still perfectly exemplifying the excellent techniques of the craftsmen and the emperor’s personal taste.

A Chinese pale celadon carving from the Chinese Zodiac
A Chinese pale celadon carving from the Chinese Zodiac, sold for £18,000 hammer price on November 15, 2017 at Dreweatts

Provenance and condition are also important considerations when buying a jade carving. In many cases, the condition issues of jade carvings are not always immediately obvious. Many may contain internal cracks which are not easy to notice unless you hold a flashlight up to the work.

Selecting works that were once part of a carefully selected collection can also offer you a reassurance of quality, authenticity and value.

How to look after jade

Comparing to some organic materials such as bamboo, silk and amber which are very sensitive to the temperature and humidity of the room in which they are displayed, jade is more hassle free. However, as highly valued examples of Asian Art you might consider keeping your jades in individual pouches or cases because they can easily get scratched.

From time to time, you can also give the jade a very gentle wash in warm water and mild detergent to remove grease and other build ups that your jade picks up from the environment.

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