A Look at Some of the Rarest Collectable Guns

From the outset of humanity, people have been assembling collections. Coins, stamps, fossils, arrowheads – if you can think of it, someone, somewhere, has probably started a collection. Few things, however, can match the appeal of collectable guns, especially those that are rare and unique. Gunsmithing has a rich and varied history, from the time of flint and steel muskets through modern automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Within each time period of manufacture, collectors are able to find a variety of smithing techniques, unique gunsmith signatures, firing mechanisms, and materials used.

The earliest reference in history to the use of a hand-held, explosive-based, projectile weapon was likely in 1260, in an area just south of Tyre and Acre. In this battle, the Mamluk army accomplished what had never been done before. They defeated the Mongols in close combat – a victory that included the use of explosive hand cannons.

While notable in and of itself, this piece of history effectively illustrates one of the many appeals of collecting and learning about rare guns. Firearms have become a huge part of human history in the past eight hundred years or more. Guns have gone from loosely fitting assemblies of cast iron without firing mechanisms (relying on manually applied fire to a touch hole to ignite the gunpowder) to today’s weapons, which largely make use of mass-produced bullets and have attained a reliability that weapons of past ages could never dream about.

In this evolution of weaponry, the most effective methods of manufacture have survived, but the snapshots along the timeline of gun use and manufacture offers a valuable glimpse into human ingenuity, craftsmanship, and creativity.

The oldest known surviving hand cannon is dated to 1288, the second oldest dated to 1332. These were rudimentary weapons, designed more for making noise and startling horses and infantry than firing damaging projectiles. Through the years, gun makers (or cannon makers, at the time) realized that the seal between projectile and barrel needed to be tighter. Centuries later they discovered the value of rifled barrels. Eventually, they created firing mechanisms, moving away from the touchhole operation of a lit stick or slow burning match.

It wasn’t until the early modern period (starting around 1500) that guns started to take the form that we are more familiar with. It was during this period that we saw the introduction of the flintlock rifle, then the breach loader, and even automatic weapons. In 1865, Springfield Armory, in Springfield, Massachusetts, introduced the Springfield Rifle, one of the first breech-loading rifles. Guns from this period and beyond have understandably become some of the most sought after firearms.

Most Springfield Rifles have been refurbished over the years, so finding an original, unaltered Springfield from the early years of manufacture is truly exciting. Like many collectable guns, these guns carry with them a history of use. Springfield Rifles that were owned, used, and marked by Native Americans provide the owner of such a weapon a rare glimpse into the history of the United States.

Even though some of the most rare collectables are inaccessible to most buyers, being owned by private gun collectors or museums, collectable guns can be found within reach of nearly any interested collector. Some weapons, such as the JFK Colt New Frontier, serial number PT109, designed and made for President John F. Kennedy, may be out of reach for most collectors. A true piece of history, this gun became a collectable firearm because of the President’s assassination – he was assassinated before the gun could be presented to him. But this is not the only weapon that carries with it distinctive marks from history.

To say that this brief overview of collectable guns is the tip of the iceberg would be a gross understatement. Building a collection of rare guns can take any direction the collector might find interesting. Some might make an effort to collect dueling pistols from European countries dated to the mid 1800’s. Perhaps the collectable guns that would appeal to another collector would be derringer-type pistols from the early 1800’s through modern weapons – certainly a collection that would be appreciated by any able to view it.

So, while many of the rarest collectable guns may be out of reach for the average gun collector, there is no reason to think that starting and building a rare gun collection is an impossibility. It truly is a world in itself, and one that rewards the collector with unending appreciation of human ingenuity, ability, and craftsmanship. The beginning gun collector may not have access to the only 1907 .45-caliber original Luger remaining in existence (and sold at auction for $495,500 in 2010), but with the wide variety of collectable guns available today, that should hardly be a reason to not pursue the fulfilling and rewarding hobby of collecting rare guns!

Posted in: Industry and Product News