Plans for the future?

In the last few years, I have lost several friends who were collectors or accumulators of firearms, etc. Getting a fair price for their widows requires a lot of work. My kids look at “Dad’s bullet museum” and shake their heads, wondering what to do with it. Any suggestions here?

A few ways to go: Keep the collection together to be inherited by someone, split the collection a few ways to be purchased by a few interested collectors, consign it all to an auctioneer which often sells guns, or the most time-consuming, but highest earnings yielding option: sell it all piecemeal via Gunbroker or take it all to a cartridge show to sell. I have seen collections sold rd by rd at shows, and then the remaining bulk will have an offer made on it as a lot, or else is listed on Gunbroker. Most collectors know of a few interested people who would jump at the chance to buy sections of, if not their entire collection, and should leave instructions with their next of kin.

I have dealt with this situation several times over past years when I was in a position to help friends’ families dispose of cartridge and gun collections left in an estate, most recently a couple of months ago. I can tell you from experience that the most critical thing by far is to have a descriptive inventory with values listed for everything. One friend who died 25 years ago had no inventory at all … nothing. His widow had no clue what his collection was worth, not even a rough idea. Fortunately, another collector and I were able to sort things out. I took all of the “good” items to the Chicagoland Cartridge Show and got top dollar for the widow. Other “common” items, like a large group of WW II .30-06 cartridges, were sold in bin sales and others were sold in groups to dealers. I don’t know what would have happened if the other collector and I had not lived in the same city and had the time to do the work required.

In the more recent situation, the widow had a wonderful inventory with high-resolution color digital photos of almost every item. I know because I took them about five years ago at my friend’s request for just this purpose. Organizing his collection for sale was sad, but easy. My friend also kept great records over the years of what he paid for things and more importantly, what their current retail and dealer values were.

It is so easy now to use a digital camera to take excellent close-up color photos and assemble them in a digital file with descriptions, values, etc. that there’s really little excuse to not do it. Items can be added to the file or deleted. I’ve seen at least two major problems over the years:

  1. The collector inflates the collection’s value to justify (generally to his wife) spending a lot of money to get a “bargain.” Then later his heirs wonder why they can’t dispose of the collection at anywhere near its “value,” and they think that people making reasonable offers are crooks trying to take advantage.

  2. The collector grossly undervalues his collection on purpose so his family is kept in the dark about how much he is spending. Then when the time comes, the heirs give it away for a fraction of its real value.

The most important thing is to have an inventory, and one photo (or several of a really rare item) is worth a thousand words.

There are auctioneers who deal in just collectable ammunition & can get top dollar for the better items.

Often gun auctioneers don’t know anything about collectable ammunition, singles, boxes they often do well with, but not singles as they very often don’t know the good from the common. A 30-06 or .45 ACP is not just any .30-06 or.45 ACP, some are worth a lot on money, most are common, but not all. I’m sure Mel removed the rare ones form his friends collection, but he would know, but not necessarily a gun auctioneer.

Our last sale had 12 lots of just a single round that went for over $1000.00.

So unless you’ve provided a list some of those could well slip into the “big box of ammo” lot at the gun action.

I know this is going to sound like an old man talking, but that’s what I am.

Both my wife and I have accumulated a lot of good junk over the years and we sometimes talk about what will happen to it when we’re gone. Luckily, we are pretty much in agreement. Basically, it’s just stuff that will be of no value to us someday. We acquired this stuff over the years to enjoy it, but its monetary value to us becomes less and less each year and will become zero some day. If we wanted to cash it in we should have done that years ago when the money would have meant something more than it means today.

Whatever our kids choose to do with it is up to them. If they decide to keep it for their own amusement, fine. If they toss everything into the burn pit, fine.

There are not too many advantages to getting old. But finally acquiring a sensible outlook on the importance of “stuff” is one of them.

So, that’s my take on it. I know it may alarm some of the younger collectors but, trust me, you’ll be there someday too. If you live long enough. ;-)


Adopt a younger collector (I am NOT one of them).

I am only 27 :-)


Looking at the monetary value of a collection is only one aspect.

A collection may illustrate a piece of history of technology, for example what a given manufacturer produced while the company existed. Or the development of, say, hunting bullets.

Nowadays, commercial entities, and more and more also government institutions, are happy to throw away their heritage. This is one reason why so many old mistakes are repeated again and again.

I admit that most collectors are simply collectors, not interested why design A was changed to design B. But some have accumulated information of this type as well as specimens of A and B. It would be a great loss if such a collection were taken apart by selling it piece by piece or even scrapping it.

I think, when making plans for the future, a collector should ask himself/herself if some museum or similar institution could be interested in taking over parts of the collection, especially if its catalogued/documented. For example, to me as a foreigner, Springfield Armory Museum comes to mind for U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition from Frankford Arsenal.

A special case are documents like old test reports or factory pblications. Countless entries in this forum clearly show how important they are. Before throwing them away, a good idea would be to make them available for publishing on the Internet.

I am fully aware that maybe 98 percent of the collections do not qualify for such a treatment. But there are the other 2 percent where historic value (history of technology to be more precise) -at least of a part of the collection- much exceeds monetary value. They should be preserved if at all possible.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most museum custodians have no idea of the historical value of cartridges. In addition, to display properly takes a great amount of space, and usually they like to rotate displays for the gratification of the public. Even with descriptions it’s difficult to enthuse the public with displays of smaller cartridges. Thus it will often end up packed away and lost for all practical purposes.

It is terrible to contemplate the breaking up of a historical significant collection, but the reality is that few have the financial resources to purchase an extensive collection and so keep it intact. In general, the collection represents an asset for the family which they usually want to cash in. I think the best outcome is for a knowledgeable trustworthy collector friend to do the disposition based upon knowing the owners desires. At least the important sets have a chance of staying together.

In reality, proper documentation is important. Good photographs and written descriptions put into the public domain in some way at least means the effort in the collecting is not wasted.