So you were digging around in your long-since-passed grandpa’s attic when you uncovered a dusty trunk. Inside, there’s a gun! It looks old--and a little rusty--but your grandpa was a very interesting man. Maybe it’s a long-lost artifact from the Great War! How do you know? Here's a story of how it happened for a friend of mine. About 20 years ago, he skipped up to me and said, “Whatddaya think of this?!” From a backpack he pulled an old flintlock-style smoothbore dragoon that looked like it might have come off Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge.
“Where’d you dig that thing up?” I asked.
“Found it at a garage sale, in an old trunk,” he said. “I’m not sure the lady knew what she had, but before I could say anything she said she didn’t like guns and she’d take $5 for it! I’d have probably paid $100!”
I was amazed. No doubt my buddy was holding a priceless artifact from firearm history, all obtained it for $5! Oh, the luck!
“Come on,” he said. “I’m on my way to the gun show to find out just what I’ve got!” And so the two of us drove to the giant Tulsa gun show to see just how rich we—I mean he—was.
We simply couldn’t believe what the first gentleman--a dealer of old revolutionary war-type stuff--told us! I’ll tell you about it later, but first, here’s what to do if you find a gun and wish to know its value.
Follow all gun safety rules to make sure the gun is unloaded.
1. Be careful when lowering slides (or cylinders or bolts) of old guns, because if the firing pin is rusted in its exposed position, slamming the slide home could fire the gun if it were loaded. If the gun’s action is rusted closed, or you have no idea how to make it safe, take the gun to a gunsmith.
2. Visually search for make, model and serial number stampings on the gun. Your first goal is to find out who made the gun, what model is it, and when it was made. If you cannot immediately find any markings, it typically means either they are hidden behind the gun’s furniture, in its action or by rust. Disassemble the gun—if you know how—to find any markings on it. Write down what you can discern.
3. Take photos of the gun, including the serial number, any markings and profile shots of both sides. Later on, if you must describe the gun to someone, you’ll have images to send.
4. Use the names and markings you found on the gun to do some research. Your local library or college might have some historic books on firearms, or you might find some gun value guides like The Standard Catalog of Firearms or The Shooter’s Bible. But if you can’t find those books, a great starting point is the internet.
5. Search to find if anything about the gun or that type of gun is notable or even legendary. Who knows, maybe a gun like the one you are holding is very rare. If so, you’ll be able to find something on it. Next, go to gunsamerica.com or gunbroker.com, then enter the name of the firearm there to see if others like it are for sale. Note prices. If you cannot find specific information, consider purchasing a three-day pass to gunvalues.com for $4.99. You'll also find the Blue Book of Gun Values of tremendous help. It should give you the value of your gun, based on its condition.
6. If you do not know and cannot discern the make, model or type of gun you have, consider taking it to a reputable local gun store. Most often, the people who own and run these stores are awfully knowledgeable, and if they don’t immediately know what you have, generally their interest will be piqued enough so that they’ll research it a little for you, or at least phone a friend who might know.
7. Large-scale gun shows often abound with sellers of old guns who know their stuff. Just be hesitant to sell the gun to them before you know for sure what you have. But at the same time, don’t immediately doubt this person if they tell you it’s of much lower value than you expected. Likely, they are telling the truth; it’s just that the truth is sometimes tough to accept if you’re sure you’re holding the Holy Grail of guns. Rather, thank them for their time and seek out another opinion.
Due to the sheer quantity of inexpensive guns that are stashed in attics, basements and garages around the world compared to those rare gems that are, in fact, seldom lost or forgotten, chances are that the gun you found in the attic is a non-particularly valuable shotgun or rifle purchased from Sears and Roebuck in the 1970s. Today it might be worth $300 if it’s in good condition.
But you never know…Occasionally a Purdey double-barrel shotgun, a Thompson machine gun or an early Winchester rifle surfaces that’s worth tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe it’s that one-in-a-million Colt Peacemaker that’s stamped with Buffalo Bill’s initials—and you can find the documentation in your grandpa’s attic to prove it! At the very least, the gun you found is a family heirloom, with its own story, and as such it may hold notable sentimental value to you and your family. And that’s worth something.
As for my buddy’s Blackbeard-era pirate pistol? Turns out, it was a pot-metal toy made recently in China, and my buddy was lucky indeed that he only paid $5 for it.