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SITREP: October 1998

By Dan Shea

Values of machine guns seem to be the “hot” topic lately. I am constantly asked if “This gun is worth that much” or “How much is this worth”, or “How high are prices going to go”. I have no idea on any of the above. I can tell you what the market seems to be, what the apparent worth of an item is, and what they have sold for recently, but there is no way that the machine gun market can be definitively pinned down. Before I sound like a complete moron, let me elaborate:

“Is this gun worth that much?” Well, is it? Are you willing to pay that much? Is a new in the box M16A1 worth $4500? Is an MG-42 worth $10,000? It really comes down to whether or not you are willing to pay what the asking price is. As of August 1998, it is a sellers market. More on that in a minute.

“How much is this worth?” Prices have been going up steadily, with a few plateaus, since 1986. I can tell you the value today, according to advertised prices and personal information on what people tell me guns sell for, or what I have sold guns for. Watching the market for a long time is really the only way to tell the current values- just because someone advertises a machine gun for a certain price, doesn’t mean that he got that price for it. Hell, I’ve seen guns advertised at high prices just because a guy’s wife wanted him to sell a gun, and he tripled the price to “Make sure it didn’t sell”. Not the norm, but many married collectors can recognize the thought pattern. Not me, of course, this was just academic observation.

“How high are the prices going to go?” Here’s the tough one. There are market realities in collectibles that are undeniable. One of them is that as an item gains popularity, prices go up. Prices keep going up on the rarer, more desirable items, until they reach a peak where no one is willing to pay the price, and then the prices come down a little. In a market that catches a frenzy, the prices can get to unbelievable heights, and then some little thing brings them all crashing down to levels that are below where they started. Unless there are other factors, this is the usual course.

Say that you collected glass insulators from telephone lines. In the early 1970’s, there were rare ones that were bringing hundreds of dollars. Pretty soon every rural teenager was scouring the countryside, looking for the rare ones. It didn’t take too long before supply exceeded demand on these rare ones, and the prices crashed.

With machine guns, we have an added factor- an artificially limited supply. Because of the ban on further manufacture for private ownership in 1986, there are only 177,000 fully transferable machine guns in the United States. Barring legislation to change that (Unlikely), it is a very limited market. Dealers have been beating the bushes for collections since 1986, and most of the available big collections are already divided up.

What does that mean? It means that transferable machine guns as collectibles can reasonably be expected to defy market price laws.

“How much should I pay for this gun?” Two things of note- first- pay what you are willing to part with because you truly want the gun. Do so considering that you might never sell it. Secondly, don’t invest money in collectibles that you can’t afford to lose. This is the same rule of thumb that applies to any other speculative investment. If you are a dealer, then you take your risks. If you are an individual collector, I would recommend buying what you want, simply because you want it, and the supply is tightening up. There are no guarantees that when you want the MG-42, there will be one available. Or, because of the legislatively limited supply, that you will be able to afford it in the future.

- Dan

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N1 (October 1998)
and was posted online on December 9, 2016

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