Info needed on collectability of unsearched lots

Info needed on collectability of unsearched lots (not an offer to buy/trade/sell)

I used to be a member way back when it was the International Cartridge Collectors Assn, and I had a collection of a couple thousand types of mostly military and police loads. When I had to apply for a destructive devices permit from the California DOJ simply because I had tracers in the collection, I donated the collection to a PD that had a reference collection. It actually saved someone from going to jail, by the way.

The guy in charge of the collection told me he was working on a case where someone had started a small brush fire with a tracer. The suspect insisted that he had not purchased tracers; just surplus military ammo with no red tips. I mentioned that in my collection there was a bunch of chemically-cleaned Israeli surplus ammo, and that when I had pulled a few bullets, I had found one that was a tracer with the red tip cleaned off. He found the Israeli ammo in the collection I had donated and started pulling bullets. Sure enough, he came up with one that was an unmarked tracer. He used it in court, and the charges were dismissed. (BTW: the rounds were really yellowy brass colored from the chemical dip, if anyone has one they intend to shoot. I don’t remember the headstamp, but I think it was Israeli, and not ammo they had purchased elsewhere. It still had a faint outline where it had been in rusty linked belts.)

Anyway, back then I used to try to find all the different headstamps I could for a particular caliber. It was like looking for a complete penny collection: most were easy to find, but some were harder. What brings this up is that I now work for a firearms auction house, and one of the consignors also has a large ammo collection. When I saw what he had, it reminded me of my own former collection. There were lots of nicely-cataloged items, but ammo cans full of loose common rounds, like 30-06, that were mostly different headstamps, but not yet sorted or cataloged.

He’s given us a few nice rounds (which I will post in the B/S/T forum when I get access) , and he wants to give us the rest over time if they are worth what he wants.

I’m looking for advice.

Is there enough interest in the collector world these days for unsearched cans of mostly different headstamp ammo? I know how much value you put on ammo that you picked up one or two rounds at a time. But most of the time, your time is worth a lot to you, and not much to others. I also suspect that it’s not worth much of a premium over surplus and mixed commercial [quote]shooter[/quote] ammo.

The analogy I’m thinking of is that there are a few wheat cents that are worth a lot of money, but unless you know one is there in a bag-full, it’s going to go for three cents apiece with the rest of the unsearched ones.

Since I have been out of general ammo collecting for about 25 years, I would love advice on what to tell him (Consign them, take them to a gun show in bulk, shoot them, etc). I currently collect only a few calibers related to guns I actually own, so I don’t know the current collectability of the bulk, unsorted stuff he’s got. The auction house here in NH is only a couple of years old. They get a few collectible rounds, but mostly shooter ammo, so there’s no real track record here.

Based on what I saw, I would guess that 90% of what’s in the cans is common, about 8 or 9% being a little harder to find, but not uncommon, with less than 1% being uncommon. If I had to search it all, it would take a week; my hands would be black for a months, and I would have eyestrain for a year.

BTW, I love this web site! The last time I was a member, my computer was a 286, and I was running straight DOS. The amount of info here is staggering!

Thanks for any advice you are willing to share.

Glenn D-M

I used to collect pennies and would go to the bank, where my wife worked, and buy $50 sacks directly from the parking meters. There were times when I could go thru an entire sack without finding anything, and other times a sack would yield several good ones.

I’m getting to my point, which is, I could always return the pennies and get my money back instantly. With cartridges you get stuck with the hundreds of common headstamps and finding a few good ones may not be worth your time and effort, not to mention the $$ investment.

I’d venture to say that you’d have to sell the big lots at a very cheap price in order to get any interest. You say they are unsearched lots, but a buyer never knows how much they have already been culled and is taking an additional risk in that regard. I’d say it’s a rare lot that hasn’t been searched to some degree at one time or another. It’s kinda like the TV shows where people bid on locked storage units. You can bet that the sellers have been thru them in advance.

Bottom line, the seller is not going to win the lottery, and neither is the buyer in all probablility, when dealing with cartridges like the Cal .30 (30-06).



I personally love large mixed lots. I rerely find anything VERY interesting but the process is exciting, akin to archaelogy, where you dig a mound hoping for a treasure but find a boulder. And, yes, I buy them ONLY if they are cheap, this way I don’t feel bad when I find nothing. I saw once a Swiss stamp envelope which went to around $7000 during a large stamp auction. I never saw the envelope during preview, too small size-wise behind all those albums. I asked the guy who lost that bid after the winner quickly paid and departed, of what was in the envelope. He said that there was a quater of a million dollars mint Swiss stamps, in his estimate. When I asked why he did not bid higher, he said that 7000 was the only money he could put together. That auction's estimate of the envelope was 200, the estimator had no time to look at every single album/envelope, he was paid a set amount of dollars to do the whole job in 2 days.

For an individual, it may be worth the effort to sort through a can full of ammo in search of treasures. And, they can probably sell off the leftovers if they are pretty much the same caliber as shooter ammo to recover their costs.

For a dealer, it may be worth a quick sorting to find a handful of good stuff, and then the rest will probably end up as “bin sale” items.

Frankly, for common calibers, the work involved to pull a few tracer rounds or early headstamps or other “treasures” worth a dollar or two is not a real good use of your time if you end up with 10, 100, 200, 500 rounds of other too comon to care about rounds worth almost nothing.

For full disclosure, I have several ammo cans full of this sort of stuff myself that I have not figured a good method to sell.

Cartridge collectors take no offense of labeling or offering a “junk box”.

I always accumulate one or two .30 to .50 cal. cans of mixed stuff that I will haul to SLICS. Therein lies a caveat, I have the Blessing of tossing it in a vehicle and carry it whereas if that much weight had to be shipped it would be cost prohibitive.

To me there are several layers of satisfaction of selling/trading such cans. One is the relief of finding it a “good home” and finally quit moving it from place to place in the garage. Two, is the pleasure it gives the buyer as they want to play with the can and sort it for the chance to find a treasure…so satisfaction for the seller and buyer. The least of the reward (to me) is the $$$ exchanged.

A can like that might be a $5 to $25 transaction and in some cases, I would just as soon give it away if the dollar threshold leads to haggling.

The tertiary satisfaction (as weird as it sounds) is the pleasure when someone tells you they found “X” number of rounds for their collection (meaning the can was worth it)…as long as they don’t throw it in your face that they found a $500 rarity in the can!

Bottom line for me. I don’t want to see the ammo in a scrap dump (unless it is corroded, dented, ruined crap)…so why not move it for the “satisfaction” of it? (sometimes, that’s all it’s worth)


PS…“PRESUMPTION”… that one would at least look over the can(s) to make sure there are no 1" Gatlings in it :)

Great advice, folks!!! The consignor remembers having some ‘good’ rounds in the cans, but finding them by headstamp would take way too long to make it worthwhile for my boss. If the consignor wants to do it, that’s OK, but I’ll tell him the cans should not get a reserve much over $20 if he wants to consign them.

The stamp story reminds me of a lot I bought at an auction in Maine. It was from an estate, and the executor threw all the broken jewelty in a box. I bought the box for $50, and tripled my money on the scrap gold and silver. Then I found what at first looked like a love token, but turned out to be the chaplain’s badge from Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. $1850 sold price on eBay!!

Again, thanks for giving me some direction on what to tell the owner of this stuff.

Young Falcon had a good find in a bag of loose odds and ends at a show a year or so back.

I’ve run mixed lots in my sales & they always seem to find a home & for a good price to the seller.