The secondary market for antique and collector firearms is enormous. Tens of thousands of items are sold on a regular basis accounting for tens of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, anytime there is that much money at stake there are those who attempt to pass off reproduction or doctored everyday firearms as rare, one-of-a-kind finds. If you’re looking to add to your current antique firearms collection, or to simply test out the market for the first time, the tips below can help you take the first steps in determining whether or not an advertised item is genuine or fake.
In its most basic definition, patina is the coating that develops on the surface of any object that is used, exposed to the elements or is handled by humans with any sort of regularity. Specifically, patina on antique firearms occurs on the exterior and is commonly seen on antique firearms. Patina is important because it takes years and years to develop on any object, thus often validating age claims of various antiques. While patina is a simple thing to look for in an advertised antique or collector firearm, be wary. Patina CAN be faked or accelerated by soaking or dabbing various chemicals on to the surface of metals. The best way to determine whether the patina on a specific firearm is real, retouched, or forged is to have a professional appraiser or other collector review the item to ensure authenticity.
Not to be confused with the brand of whiskey, maker’s marks – also known as manufacturer markings or proof marks – are also key in establishing the age and authenticity of any firearm. True craftsmen and gunsmiths have always left their unique markings on any piece they create, so any firearm completely lacking in proof marks or stamping should immediately raise a red flag. These markings help establish the firearm’s country of origin, year of manufacture, materials used and potentially even the gunsmith who created the weapon.
While the location of these markings will vary from item to item, there are established, well-researched markings that have stood the test of time. The National Rifle Association has a free proof markings document that can be of great help in learning the basics. However, proof marks can also be altered or stamped onto a reproduction firearms in attempts to boost the item’s value. As always, if you’re not a seasoned collector your best bet to validate the authenticity of any proof or maker’s marks will be to consult an appraiser.
Much like proof marks, serial numbers on antique firearms were used for the same purposes then as they are today. As manufacturing became more automated, serial numbers were stamped onto specific components for quality assurance and testing purposes. As with vehicles, as these firearms aged and/or were damaged, various parts may have been swapped out to ensure that the gun stayed in good working order. This can lead to a mixing of serial numbers on any given firearm. As with matching number cars, matching number firearms are quickly becoming extremely rare and forgers have taken it upon themselves to falsify serial numbers of mixed number guns to increase their potential value. Again, the best way to ensure that the serial numbers on any firearm are authentic is to have them verified by a professional appraiser or collector if you’re not 100% familiar with the process yourself.
While all of the above topics will give any casual or beginning collector a solid start when it comes to checking on the authenticity of any purchase, serious collectors of high-value firearms will definitely want to ensure that a potential purchase is reviewed by an independent or auction house appraiser. These professionals dedicate their lives to knowing all of the minute differences between firearms that can greatly effect the item’s overall value. As always, if something seems to good to be true, it often is.