Friday, March 6, 2015

To restore or not to restore?

I was at the gun show the other day, I spotted an old rusty colt pistol (I am always on the look out for another project). I took a look at it and balked at the price (over $2000). I mentioned to my Father that this really should be restored. Another guy chimed in and said that restoring it, would destroy its value.
His comment got me to thinking........where did this notion come from? 
Why would a gun that was mistreated, neglected and stored improperly be worth more than one that has been restored?

I am not suggesting he is wrong about the value, I am merely questioning why a rusty gun would be worth more than a restored one?
The value of any item is based on what others are willing to pay for it. 
The finish on this gun was not "original" (as he called it). The original blued finish had been replaced by wasn't rusty like that when it left the factory!
This question comes up every time a gun is considered for restoration. Assuming the restoration was done properly, I think one could argue that a restored gun is much more aesthetically pleasing than a rusty one.

Doug Turnbull has some comments on the question of how a restoration will affect the value of a gun:

"When someone asks if restoration will affect the value of the firearm, I remind them that The Statue of Liberty, The Washington Monument, The Star Spangled Banner and The Charter of Freedom (Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence) have all undergone restoration efforts. Does restoring these pieces of American history diminish their value or significance in our country’s history? "

Certainly there are guns whose finish represents its history and restoring it would indeed ruin its historical value. Take for instance Jesse James' S&W revolver, the one he used in countless crimes and the one used by Bob Ford to end Jesse's life.

 The finish is not perfect, but it got that way by use, infamous use by a notorious criminal (and some engraving by Bob Ford).
Other guns, like military arms may have gotten their battle scars in actual military battles and thus should be left alone (although many were cleaned up by arsenals before being sold anyway).

Most guns get rusty, not so much from use, but from neglect. Neglect is not something to be admired.
This Winchester 1906 that my Father & I restored was definitely used, abused and neglected. I don't think anyone would argue that it should have been left as it was or that I diminished its value by restoring it:

What about those guns that were cared for? Very few guns were "saved for future generations" by their previous owners.....who'd of thought to dunk a gun in hot cosmoline or seal it in an air-tight, vacuum sealed chamber?
Many people treat firearms like tools, they get used, cleaned and put away, but perhaps not cared for as well as a collectable would be.

This Colt 1903 below has what we would call "honest patina". It was neither neglected nor cared for in a special way, it was just used.

Here is another 1903 Colt that was very well cared for, you can see this gun still has its original finish. It is probably unfired. Still, someone must have taken measures to preserve the finish of the gun.
One of the follow up questions is: at what point is it worth it to restore a gun? To answer that you will need to ask more questions. 
How much money do you have to spend on the restoration? To what level of restoration are you willing to go? Can you restore it to the same condition as new?

Sometimes the value of the gun will not increase enough to cover the cost of the restoration. In many cases the sentimental value is paramount. There is an article in the December 2014 issue of Guns & Ammo called The Christmas Tree Carbine that covers this facet very well.

The bigger question is HOW will it be restored? Not many people can duplicate the work the factory originally performed. Many of those techniques, chemicals and tools are long gone. That is where Master Gunsmith Doug Turnbull has made his mark. He has recreated the tools and techniques used by the gunsmiths that crafted these guns so long ago. He re-invented the charcoal bluing process, he did the same with color case hardening (a secret he keeps close to his vest).

Here are a few of the many guns that Doug Turnbull and his team of craftsmen have restored.
This is a Colt model of 1900 before:
and after
A Colt Single Action Army revolver before:
and after
An LC Smith Field Grade Side by Side
Now you tell me again how restoring these guns "ruined" their value. Poppycock!

There are other talented restorers out there as well, some specialize in certain models or eras.
Ford's Guns in Florida is the go to shop for revolvers, they also specialize in nickel plating, here are is a Smith & Wesson K-22 restored by Horace and his team at Fords:

Here is an older S&W that they nickel plated:

Mob guns specialize in late 19th and early 20th century guns, their work is truly inspiring

At the end of the day, what value a gun has is still based on what someone is willing to pay for it.
Some guns increase or decrease in value for no logical reason, other due to scarcity or perceived scarcity. 
Please remember this when looking at an old rusty gun, it didn't leave the factory that way and having a competent restorer bring it back to the way it was is not ruining its value.....

Winchester 1906 project
Ford's Custom Gun Refinishing
Turnbull Restoration 
Turnbull Restoration before & after gallery
Mob Guns

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1 comment:

  1. Make yourself happy, but if you can't improve it, leave it alone. A ratty ________ (FILL IN BLANK) is better than a cobbled one.