Gun collecting with Jonathan Young

So you want to be a collector? You’re suddenly overcome by an urge to buy more airguns. There’s nothing wrong with that, argues Jonathan Young as he leads you down the rabbit hole of gun collecting.

Waking up on any given morning thinking about airguns is totally natural – don’t worry about it. Over time you accrue things: experience, information, anecdotes and, wherever possible, more airguns. Before you know it you’ll have a small pile of guns and will start noticing the differences; after all, it’s those differences that attract us in the first place.

Alternatively, you might have a bunch of modern guns and decide you want to add an oldie into the mix. You may then decide you like it so much you want to buy another vintage gun. Or perhaps you’ve only been an air rifle shooter, but the old air pistol that you bought on a whim turns out to be the wild card that triggers you to head in new direction.

While they look similar, the rifle on the left is an ultra-rare .25 BSA Improved Model D, while the other is a more affordable .177 Lincoln Jeffries Model H

And then you’re off… Some people will only buy and collect air rifles their entire lives, while others will only collect air pistols. Other folk love all types of airgun. Some buy into the idea of shooting and collecting guns from only one manufacturer: there are Webley shooters and then there are BSA shooters, and never the two shall meet.

A small collection then begins, and grows with the addition of one example of each model that was ever made by that manufacturer. You may get a hankering for something specific, and eventually after a long struggle you find one. Then another turns up within weeks and you convince yourself this one’s worth having too, as it took so much effort to find the first one.

Either way, you don’t really need to spend a fortune. Sure, rare or desirable things (which are not always the same, by the way) can command high prices. But in collecting and using older airguns, common items are just as good. You see another model – maybe an earlier version of something you’ve already got – at a car boot sale, and buy it for a tenner.

Soon you’ll be sticking duplicates into boxes. First the wardrobe fills up, then the spare room. The collecting bug has big teeth – and they can sink in deep.

On one level, having too many airguns is really bad for your shooting. If you are getting competitive in any discipline you will need to be practising with one gun, as chopping and changing will be taking a backwards step when it comes to technique. It’s still okay to shoot airguns seriously and collect, though.

A classic springer is worth trying even if you swear by your multi-shot PCP. In fact, how many people have only used a PCP and can’t handle a springer? Collecting airguns doesn’t even have to mean collecting old airguns: just pick a theme and start collecting modern ones.

Plenty of collectors will line up to grab the latest new release. Many new airguns, however, can be basically the same item with only minor differences – such as a nickel finish, a gold finish, a blued steel finish or an aged finish. Also, don’t forget different barrel lengths may be available. So one gun could yield numerous versions.

Jonathan has accrued a collection of pop-out pistols. They’re not exactly the greatest guns, but as he says, somebody has to like them…

What’s the moral here? Be selective. Beware of terms that suck money out of your wallet being used by sellers. Watch out for words like ‘scarce’ or ‘rare’, especially when they’re matched with ‘vintage’ or ‘classic’. ‘Rare’ is a fantastic word for sellers when it’s applied to collecting desirable airguns.

Variations of this abound in the collecting dictionary, such as ‘It’s as rare as hen’s teeth’ or ‘it’s as rare as rocking horse poo’ . Worse still is the term ‘sought after’. How do they know? “A mate of a mate down the pub said it’s rare,” is usually the reason. Just stick to your budget and exercise some common sense.

Genuinely rare airguns do exist, and they will cost you a small fortune if you can find them. But pitfalls abound. Some people search for rare things to hoard, rather than for the love of owning and shooting some rarely seen airguns.

Here’s an example of vintage perfection: an early Webley Junior that’s been fitted with tin plate grips

One day they discover someone who collects exactly the same things for the same reason – it’s nice to have a new friend! But all those ultra-rare airguns that cost them a king’s ransom will have just plummeted in value as they find out their new best friend has exactly the same guns already. Bummer!

So hoping to make money out of an investment is often a bad reason to collect airguns. Some collectors will only buy new, in mint condition, and then never take the thing out the box. Rather than being an airgunner who collects, these are collectors of airguns who rarely shoot for fear of damaging their investment.

So what makes a gun rare? Something that was made for only a few years or in low volumes will obviously be hard to find to the point of impossibility, so prices rise – guns such as the .25 BSA Improved Model D, for example. But some collections can consist of the worst airguns ever made.

Guns don’t have to be
old to be collectable;
this Dan Wesson CO2
BB gun with custom
walnut grips is a very
nice example

They were deemed so bad when new that most ended up in a skip as soon as they needed a service, and today so few are found that they are genuinely scarce. The buying public itself can also turn something into a rare item. A new airgun release will draw comments and queries on the pros and cons of the gun, whether or not they like it, or “wouldn’t it have been better if they had made it with X, Y or Z”.

In some cases a percentage of end users may then decide it’s poor, meaning retail sales slump and the item does not stay around in the first-hand market for long.

British guns can offer a very different experience to collecting American airguns, for example. After a clean and a light service, most pre-war air rifles still hold their own today on the club bench and out in the field. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with American airguns, even though many use diecast and plastic components.

Some of the best-designed and rarest airguns ever made are American. Collecting and using older airguns is a passion that just happens to some people. One day, somebody will try to push on me their rare brightly painted target PCP. No chance! I’ll be out with my 1990s Falcon Lighthunter in blued steel, brass and walnut – or I’ll have gone fishing.

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