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BOSTON (TheStreet) — Seeking more bang for the buck?Set aside your views on gun control or perceptions of survivalist arsenals. Those who collect and sell firearms, many of whom are white-collar and affluent, often have turned a profit from their hobby-cum-investment.
For example, a small pistol that gangster John Dillinger was carrying, hidden in a sock, when he was arrested in Arizona (six months before he was fatally gunned down in Chicago in 1934) sold for $95,600 at an auction held by Heritage Auction Galleries, a Dallas-based auction house that is the nation’s largest. The winning bid was more than double the pre-auction estimate of $35,000 to $45,000.
With firearms, collectors are drawn to more than just a piece itself — they are paying for history. Pieces with relevance and context command the most money. Wartime relics are among the most valuable firearms, according to Dennis Lowe, director of militaria for Heritage Auction Galleries.
“I’ve never seen firearms do anything but increase in value,” he says. “Those increases are sometimes not as fast in one period as they are in another, but certainly they never go down. If you began collecting this stuff 30 years ago, unless you had gotten into an IPO of something like Apple(AAPL), you couldn’t have put your money in a better place.”
Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, an event observed when the new Confederate States of America fired upon the Union’s Fort Sumter outpost in South Carolina. Lowe suspects that observances will bolster an already booming collectibles market. The availability of Civil War artifacts, from belt buckles to pistols, has made that time period a popular obsession for collectors.
“I can count on one hand the number of well-heeled Revolutionary War collectors who are out there,” Lowe says. “Why? There isn’t anything to collect — they are too rare. The great advantage of collecting Civil War material is that they are out there.”
A Confederate revolver in good condition can fetch from $20,000 to $30,000 and up, he says.
“I have a Dance Brothers Revolver in an upcoming auction that will be $40,000 to $60,000,” he says. There were only 550 made.
Lowe says cost often is not a concern for modern collectors, who have changed over the years. The wealthy have gotten into the collecting game, pushing up prices even more. As a result, the economic recession didn’t derail sales of collectible firearms, even as art and wine prices dropped. Lowe’s best auction ever was in 2008, at the worst of the downturn.
“Collectors are more comfortable with tangible assets they can hold in their hand, with a track record,” Lowe says.
Even as values soar, some collectors find it hard to part with their treasured pieces, Lowe says, adding that it often takes the prospect of buying better, more expensive firearms to push them to do so.
Still, Lowe urges new collectors to prepare and protect themselves before making a purchase.
“My recommendation for collecting and investing in collectible firearms are the same as they would be in terms of investing in stock,” he says. “Do all the research possible.”