Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Condition Is Everything.

A phrase you'll hear often in the world of firearms collecting is "Condition is everything." This is handily illustrated by the two Colt Pocket Hammerlesses shown in the above photo. Both are extremely early specimens: The top gun was made in 1904 (second year of production) and the lower pistol was produced in 1905.

Despite the upper sidearm being a year older, its value is roughly half that of its newer sibling. Both handguns originally had the bright, almost purple, blued finish displayed on the newer piece, with small parts such as the safety and trigger showing the almost rainbow hues of fire bluing. This type of bluing tended to fade, however, when exposed to acids such as those found in sweat, and could even be faded by extended exposure to bright sunlight. The result was the dull gray found on the upper gun.

Note also how extended carry has blunted the corners on the older piece, leaving it with a "bar of soap" look. The newer gun (and photos don't do it justice, at least 'til I can get it to Oleg) shows very little evidence of having ever been carried. Many experienced collectors who have seen it have pronounced it the nicest one of its vintage they've seen for years.

The result? The pistol on top is one that I have no qualms about shooting or stuffing into a hip pocket as I wander the back forty, while the lower one I am nervous about touching too much without an oily rag handy with which to wipe it down. This is because the upper pistol is, in today's market (which is crazy about anything that has a Prancing Pony on it), worth maybe $400, while the lower pistol is worth at least twice that figure.

This is also why any professional will be hesitant to give a valuation on a firearm without examining it in person. Because condition is everything...

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