“I discovered an old shotgun when we cleaned out my deceased grandfather’s closet. It looks like something from the Wild West. We’re thinking it could be an antique worth a lot of money. How to we determine how much?”
Hopeful letters like this are usually rewarded with depressing answers. Not every old gun is a valuable old gun. In fact, most are today what they were when grandpa or even great, great grandpa, bought them way back when: cheap, basic firearms.
But every once in a while someone stumbles upon what looks like just another old cowboy rifle and it turns out to be a rare Winchester chambered for an even rarer cartridge and it ends up fetching tens of thousands of dollars on the collectors’ market.
How do you determine which is which?
Research, I’m afraid. Lots and lots of research. Unless you happen to be a gun nut/ collector steeped in the arcane field of firearms values. Sometimes features as small the kind of sight, magazine tube length, hammer shape, etc., can change values by thousands of dollars.
Sometimes a famous personality like Annie Oakley or Theodore Roosevelt or Billy the Kid owned the gun. Ka-ching, ka-ching!
Rarity, then, drives values.
The easiest way to determine what is rare is by identifying the gun and its maker, then referencing books such as the Blue Book of Gun Values. This standard reference compiles all the brands, types, variants, serial numbers, etc., to determine relative values. Then they list suggested values based on degrees of wear, such as stock scratches or cracks, bluing still present or missing, damaged screws, etc.
Short of referencing this book, you can do an online search. Enter as much information as you can into the search engine and see what pops up. I punched in “What is value of Winchester Model 1873 in 38-40 in good condition?” and dozens of sites popped up, some listing values from $1,000 to $18,000, depending on various factors.
If your used firearm is fairly common and of reasonably recent manufacture and you just want to know trade-in or resale value, a similar search should work for you.
I searched “1978 Ruger M77 .270 Winchester value” and, as expected, many websites popped up listing going prices. They averaged $622.19 trade-in value to $957.21 private sale value.
All of this is simple and straight forward, but don’t expect to sell for such prices without some skillful negotiating.
As with the sale of any used item, getting “full value” depends on finding a buyer willing to pay full value.
You’re advised to research basic selling tactics like “start high and come down” to give the buyer the idea he or she is getting a good deal. Of course, if said buyer knows as much about gun values as you, they will see through the ploy and play accordingly.
Another way to assess gun value is to research what it would require for you to replace the lost value. If you’re wanting to sell a perfectly good .30-06 in order to buy a new whiz bang 6.8 Western, what will that whiz bang new or used 6.8 Western cost you?
Can you afford to take a $100, $200, or $500 loss in order to satisfy your desire for the new tool? Much of this value assessment is in the eyes or lust of the buyer.
One gun value you can’t expect many to pay for is memories and nostalgia.
“This was my dad’s rifle and he used it to shoot a charging grizzly mere inches from my face when I was 10 years old!” That’s an “interesting-but-so-what” value to the buyer, but a priceless memory to you. I can’t imagine anyone would sell a rifle like that.
Finally, there is the honesty part of this transaction. Will you tell prospective buyers that the rifle shoots 2 MOA on its best day?
Or that it fails to cycle every 10 rounds or so?
This is between you and your conscience, but if you’re a solidly honest citizen, mention the gun’s shortcomings and subtract potential repair costs from the asking price.
And yet, many a gun owner has sold an “inaccurate” rifle that the new buyer turned into a tack driver merely by professionally cleaning the bore or replacing the trigger, so try that before selling.