The Rock Island regional auction this past weekend was, in fact, my first experience actually participating in a gun auction – and it was a pretty interesting experience. I’ve been aware of such auctions for a long time, and drooled over the RIA glossy print catalogs for years, but never actually taken part before. I figure there are probably a lot of other folks out there who are in the same boat, so I should take the opportunity to put together a Newbie’s Guide to Auctions, for what it’s worth.
How Does it Work?
Okay, the very basics, in case anyone doesn’t know them. Each item or lot (several items being sold as a package) is shown on a screen and identified by lot number and description (which will be something very generic, like “three semiautomatic rifles”. The auctioneer will pick a starting price and start asking for bids. He (or she) will be mostly repeating the bid that they’re trying to get at the moment – it’ll sound something like “I have 500 looking for 600. 600, 600, now 600, do I have 600, 600! Now 700 700 will you do 700…” Typically you are in the room with the auctioneer, and you raise a card with your bidder number to signal the auctioneer that you will offer the amount he is asking for. Each time he gets a bid the price goes up, and so on until it nobody will offer the amount, at which point the auctioneer will say something along the lines of “going once, twice, sold for 700 to number 123” and move on to the next item.
This process goes FAST. Bidding lasts about 10-15 seconds for each item. The auctioneer is trying to set a fast and smooth tempo to the bidding, subconsciously leading people to bid fast and bid often. You can bump a price up by a thousand dollars in literally seconds. FYI, the bid increments are $25 up to $500, then $50 up to $1k, then $100 up to $2k, and $250 above that.
The Dangers – and the Solutions
Bidding at auction can become emotionally driven very easily, and for some people I’m sure it can be as dangerous as drunken gambling. it’s really easy to justify “just another $100”, and then someone counters another hundred, and you are already at $1500 and $1600 is like 5% so you can afford one more bump, and so on. Of course, there is a simple and easy solution to prevent this all from happening: plan ahead. If you don’t have the self-control to set a price and stick to it, you probably should get involved in an auction. But if you do, there is no risk or danger at all.
It took some time, but here’s what I did to prepare for the auction. I went through the catalog and noted down each lot I was interested in (there ended up being about 35 of them, out of hundreds of lots overall). I made as careful an assessment of value as I could for each lot, and determined what I would be willing to pay for it. Then I divided that number by 1.15 (1.175 if paying by credit card), to account for the bidder’s premium they I would be paying on any willing bid (which is how RIA makes its money) and subtracted an estimate of what shipping would cost. So if I was willing to pay $1000 for a trio of rifles, for example, that would be $869 less shipping, and I would round it to a maximum bid of $800. Once I determined that maximum bid, I stuck to it absolutely. Trying to recalculate what a lot is worth on the fly with the auctioneer calling out bids would be impossible for me, but being able to do all the numbers calmly ahead of time made the process easy and financially safe.
Of course, RIA is in Illinois and I’m in the southwest, so I wasn’t actually on the auction floor with a numbered card. Instead, I set up an account with RIA and placed telephone bids with no dollar amount specified. When one of my lots was a few items away, one of RIA’s staff members would call my phone and act as my proxy, bidding whatever amount I asked. Since I had my maximum numbers preplanned, this was easy – just give them my maximum as the lot came up, and watch what happened. It was easy to hear the auctioneer through the phone connection, so I could hear what was going on. In addition, I was watching the feed of the auction through Proxibid with the sound muted, so I could watch the dollar amounts changing live. After my lot was sold, the RIA staffer would either stay on the line with me if I was bidding on another lot that was just a few away, or hang up and call back when my next lot was nearing. I bid on all three days and had a different phone contact each day, and all three of them were friendly and helpful (although they all politely declined to help me out by pulling the fire alarm at the critical moment to distract other bidders).
On Sunday, in fact, I was away from my computer when the lots I was interested in were up, so I ended up bidding with just a cell phone and a paper note with my prices while on the road (no live feed to watch on a laptop). That worked out just fine as well, and allowed me to be doing this within an hour of winning a batch of rifles.
Other Remote Options
If you can’t be available on the phone when a lot is being bid, you have the option of setting a specific price and having RIA bid up to it for you. Pretty much the same as doing it on the phone, but without you having any option to exercise control over the process. I skipped that option because while I was bidding on about 35 lots, I only had funds to buy a couple. I didn’t want to find out at the end of the process that I’d won 20 lots and had no possible way of paying for them. By being in contact with my proxy, I could simply cancel all my remaining bids once I spent the money I had available. In addition, if you set a price for them to bid for you, you had better be willing to pay the whole thing. I have a friend who did this with a lot a couple years ago – he really wanted it, and gave them a maximum that he figured would be significantly more than it would sell for. When he heard back the day after the auction, he learned that he had won it for his maximum dollar value – which he was not expecting. It left him with a suspicious sour taste for the process, which could have been avoided if he’d been on the phone at the time hearing his competing bidder drive the price up.
In theory, you can also bid live online through a third party service like Proxibid, but I would discourage that. The bidding goes so fast that even a very slight delay in seeing the current bid and in entering your own bid would make it very difficult to participate effectively. Proxibid also tacks on an additional couple percent fee for themselves (and has a questionable reputation), so I see no advantage to using them.
Really, the phone bidding went extremely well for me. The only caveat to be aware of is that a floor bidder can win an auction by matching a remote bidder’s price. So If I was holding an item at $1500 and someone present on the floor bid $1500, they would take control of the sale and I would have to go to $1600 to get it. Such ties are not allowed between two bidders on the floor.
Spoils of War
Okay, so an auction isn’t quite “war”. But I did win a couple lots, and I’m very happy with the items. At least, I am so far – one thing with these auction is that which folks who are there in person have an opportunity the day before the action to handle the guns and look at them in detail, we remote bidders are much more limited. RIA provides a basic description, and overall rating of the condition, and a reasonably high-res photo of the left and right sides of the guns. You can learn a lot from that information, but not everything. Matching serial numbers, for example, are impossible to determine. Same for any small markings, which can sometimes make a huge difference in value. So I won’t know exactly what I’ve won until the guns arrive in a week or two.
That being said, there was one batch of rifles I was bidding on because it included a nice looking non-sporterized Ross MkIIIB. The shooting I did with my sporterized Ross prior to blowing it up left me really impressed with the handling and shooting characteristics of the design, and I decided I would like to have an intact one if the opportunity presented. And that’s just what it did this weekend! Here she is:
The MkIIIB is a rather rare (in the US) variant of the Ross that was purchased by Britain and reportedly issued to Home Guard units during WWII. They have a distinctive rear sight much like a No1 MkV Enfield, instead of the screw-adjusted sight on the Canadian-issue Ross rifles. The markings on the receiver should tell a lot about where the rifle has been, but I expect it to be a good shooter regardless, and I will definitely not be trying to blow it up! Actually, I’m thinking I’ll be running the next 2-gun match with this Ross and a No2 Enfield revolver…
I also won a batch of mostly-rifle magazines, and I credit that to my abnormal level of interest in unusual magazines. The lot description was pretty vague, and only identified a few of them by type. I was able to look at the photo and recognize a bunch of pretty rare types, though, and was thus willing to spend more for it than anyone else. The jewel of the batch is a dual-column magazine from the 1964 Springfield Project SPIW bullpup:
I have no idea what that magazine is worth – there can’t be many out there, but there also aren’t any people needing spares to go shoot their SPIW prototypes. It’s a moot point, though, because that mag will definitely be going into my collection of unusual gun bits. For folks not familiar with the rifle it came from, the idea was that it held two double-stack columns of ammo, one in front and one in back. The rifle would feed from one (the front, I think) first, until it was empty, and then feed from the rear column. It was a way to get twice as many cartridges without having a taller than normal magazine. The only other gun using this idea that I know of was the Vesely V42/V43 SMG.
The magazine batch also had, by my count, 7 items wrapped up or otherwise obscured from identification – so between them and the rifle markings I will have a great new treasure trove to explore when everything arrives at Forgotten Weapons World HQ!
How about you folks? Anyone else win some cool goodies?
Coincidentally, I also attended my first auction this past weekend. They were clearing out an old gunsmithing shop in a small rural town nearby. I didn’t make any unbelievable scores, but I did pick up a couple of guns and some tools. I will make a post in the forum about my acquisitions when I get a chance to take some pics.
I’ll bet that SPIW magazine was developed by someone who had handled the S&W Model 1940 Light Rifle, which had the same feed arrangement with two magazines.
was that the same feed arrangement, or a single mag and a sort of column for ejecting brass? Here’s what Ian wrote previously:
I came this close (makes Maxwell Smart hand signal) to buying one of these off GunBroker last year. If I had done so, I guess I’d know.
I thought if I put the “cite” in blockquote it would link. Guess not. Here’s the link to the previous post:
Having personally handled a S&W 9mm light rifle I can confidently say that they don’t have such a system.
What looks like a second magazine well behind the first magazine well is simply and chute for cartridge ejection.
Hammer prices were way out of line with ‘suggested’ min/max prices…Not just hundreds, but a thousand over what I had thought would be real-world maximums for the items I was interested in…
I bid a couple hundred over the max suggested, and was outbid by $1,000 or more in the three lots I coveted…
I timed two days (1st & second), random lots, and came up with 20 second average time between lots…48 seconds was the highest I saw…
I have been to a couple of live gun auctions and many general auctions. At the gun auctions they have often tried to start at outrageously high prices and go down until they get a bid or bid by $100 increments on a $300 or $400 gun, I haven’t been to an auction that had the nice little table you mention. One in person trick is to bid half the increment. For example, if the bid is at $300 and the auctioneer is trying to get $400, you can make a horizontal slash with an open hand to bid $350. Most auctioneers will accept this bid. The other nice thing about in person bidding is you can find unexpected deals. One auction I went to featured many high end Winchesters, but there were several low end guns in lesser condition. The lesser guns went CHEAP. The guys buying $5,000 winchester lever actions didn’t care if a $200 .22 went for $75 or $50. It pays to be a “bottom feeder”. It also helps to know if there is any reserve price on an item. Also, one auction I went to did use Proxbid ahead of time. The live bidding started at the high Proxbid price. I’m far from an expert, but auctions can be a lot of fun.
In my limited experience, it seems that auction catalogs lowball the expected selling prices. I can think of two plausible reasons that they do this. The first is to maximize the number of bidders. The more bidders, the more potential victims of “auction fever.”
The second is so that they can tell potential consignors, “well, in 2013 we predicted the sale would make $X and it made $1.3X.” This also makes for great press releases from the auctioneer: “rusty Iver Johnson makes record sales price!” (Well, they wouldn’t write it quite like that….)
That’s a bit cynical, but isn’t really meant to disparage the auctioneer’s craft. If you have a rare or unusual item, chances are you will do better with a specialist auctioneer who can reach a national or global market. (Even online auctions like eBay and GunBroker beat taking something weird to your local FFL). The international scope of this forum ought to tell you that the folks passionate about these odd guns tend not to cluster geographically. So you have to reach them wherever they are, and auctions are great for that.
VERY good point about the oddities in any auction often falling for low prices. Every Luger collector has some weird stuff and junk along with his Lugers, and if the collection is auctioned, the Luger bidders won’t be seeking the weird stuff.
Because I buy guns to shoot them, I have a higher tolerance for mismatched and refinished guns than collectors do. Of course, sometimes I wind up with a gun with a tolerance stack that can’t be made to shoot accurately, reliably or even safely. If there’s a sales strategy for turkeys like that, I’m not sure what it is.
Hi, Kevin :
I really enjoyed reading your viewpoint about buying guns because they were meant to be fired. With very few special exceptions, I concur. Guns were designed to be used for their intended purpose, and so it should be. Only exceptional circumstances covering rarity, mechanical condition, etc., would preclude this.
As for rare guns with a tolerance stack that most collectors wouldn’t touch, it’s still all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? As long as you are happy and satisfied with your collection, perhaps that is what matters most after all ( unless, of course, you are looking specifically at resale values, financial possibilities, etc. ).
Nice score on the SPIW magazine! I am a consistent reviewer of most of the auctions. RIA has been getting pricey over the past 2 years, but occasionally you can find a bargain. Unfortunately, the best way to find a bargain is to be diligent. I hate looking at the price realized list afterwards and seeing something I would have gladly purchased.
Good tips on the phone bidding. I did the absentee bidding and I didn’t win two of the three lots that I bid on, but now that I think about it, if I had won all three lots, I would potentially be out thousands that I may not necessarily be able to afford. Still, the one lot that I did win has me pleased since it includes a Luxembourg Contract FN-49, 1940 dated Tula SVT-40, and a Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen M1912/16 in 6.5×55.
Nice score. I’d love to have any one of those three rifles.
No auctions as of yet for me… But I did pick up a sweet deal on a 91/30! 200 miles away on vacation, no less. I cleaned up the bore a bit, need to check firing pin depth and headspacing. The wood is in great condition, still original. The bore is beautiful now that it’s clean. The bolt is super smooth and the trigger is great for what it is. Still trying to figure out the markings, but it’s def a Soviet piece made in 1942, matching serials as well. Imported by Century Arms, but actually not bad. I think it’s nearly a collector-grade item and I got it for less than a beater Mosin back home!
Was there anything else of interest in the lot with that Ross?
Not anything really outstanding, but still some neat stuff. A Siamese Mauser, Gewehr 98, Type I Carcano, .410 Enfield conversion, and run-of-the-mill Type 99 Arisaka. I’ll probably be selling off most of them to pay for keeping the Ross.
Hmmm, the Siamese Mauser is interesting. And the Type I too. If they’re both in good condition, you should keep them… or perhaps doing a video on each before you decide to sell them in order to keep that fine Ross (looks to be in very good to excellent condition, btw).
They are unusual, but just don’t jump out at me as particularly cool to have, and I need to sell something to make up for the auction price. A Gewehr 98 will definitely be going too, since I ended up winning two of them. In any case, I will definitely be doing video on all of them before anything is sold.
Thanks in advance, Ian! For me, the Siamese (Japanese-made at the Artillery Arsenal, in Tokyo) Mausers always struck a chord – I once handled a minty Type 66 in 8x52R, with a splendid bore and 99% of original blue still remaining. Never managed to forget that experience… Its owner paid a ridiculously amount of money (and never spared a chance to remind others of that) for it. On the other hand, excellent, sometimes even mint Type Is aren’t that hard to come by…
I might be interested in the Gew 98s if they’re in original condition (receiver in the white, etc). I’m always on the lookout for nice Gew 98s in good condition. Can I ask what lot # the other Gew 98 was in so I can see pictures on the RIA website?
Neither of them has the receiver in the white, unfortunately.
The Type I’s probably obscure enough to merit an entry on this site, at least.
Great information and great tips to keep in mind for the next auction. Thanks, guys!
I would have given this one a try but the timing was off for me from a financial standpoint. I had purchased an AK-74, 5,45mm x 39 ammunition and a number of other related items just two weeks before this was posted. Talk about “bad market timing” on my part :)!
Hi Earl. I would be interested in hearing your experiences with the AK-74!
Hello, Ruy :
In answer to your question, my experiences with the AK-74 have been generally very positive, regardless of which make or model I have had the privilege to handle. We all know about the AK-47’s legendary reliability and durability under battlefield conditions, and about its mechanical functions. The AK-74 is more of the same, with the one major difference being the switch to the 5.45mm x 39 cartridge ( even the cartridge is a necked-down development of the venerable 7.62mm x 39 M1943 ). I won’t get into the performance aspects or bullet types available since these are already quite well-known. Suffice to say that some of the outstanding characteristics of the 5.45mm x 39 round are its flat trajectory, accuracy, penetration against hard targets, terminal effects, and recoil characteristics.
The latter is what you will notice the most when you fire an AK-74 — the relative lack of recoil ( measured at about 53% of the recoil from a 5.56mm M-16 or M-4, and at about 47% of the recoil from an AK-47 / AKM ) and how controllable the weapon is in both single-shot and full-auto modes.
The AK-74 also has a very effective muzzle brake that also serves well as a flash hider. The Mil-Spec muzzle brake on my Waffen Werks AK-74 is actually of larger base diameter and has a more extensive threaded area than most similar-looking after-market versions, and is chrome-lined to boot.
Other than what I have described , there are few additional differences between the AK-74 and the AK-47 / AKM except for minor production details depending on the country of origin and / or minor detail differences resulting from assembly or modification to meet import and compliance restrictions. For example, here in the U.S., the Waffen Werks AK-74, which is easily one of the very best AK-74’s readily available anywhere, is carefully assembled from an imported Bulgarian parts kit consisting of all-new surplus matching Mil-Spec parts and coupled to a new forged chrome-lined ESS barrel, original Bulgarian hardwood furniture, RPK rear sight ( 0-1000m graduations ), an improved TAPCO G2 single-stage trigger group and TAPCO AK pistol grip ( which is an exact polymer replica of the original ). It is finished both inside and out in an expensive but highly durable matte black KG Gunkote, and tolerances, fit and finish are “just right” — tighter than on an original, Soviet-era military AK-74, but not so tight that reliability under adverse conditions is affected.
The well-known Arsenal SGL-31 series of AK-74’s is another excellent example, but with the incorporation of a new and original Russian-made cold hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel which is generally regarded as the best of its kind. Tolerances are very tight — some would say almost too tight — and a good break-in period is occasionally required ( depending on the individual rifle ) before things settle down nicely.
Hope this helps a bit to answer your question.
Oh, and before I forget, the AK-74 also feels better-balanced and less front-heavy ( in spite of the larger muzzle brake ) than the AK-47 / AKM. It seems to point just a little more easily too, which helps in a quick-reaction snap-shooting CQB scenario. Having said all this, I have to admit that I still personally prefer the all-round performance and hard-hitting firepower of a full 7.62mm x 39 M1943 or 7.62mm x 51 NATO round.
I would say that the AK-74 is, all in all, a very well-balanced and highly-effective assault rifle that has few peers anywhere. It is a worthy successor to the AK-47 and AKM.
One other thing : 5.45mm x 39 ball ammunition ( as in Russian military surplus ) is highly effective but still relatively inexpensive to purchase when you can get it, at least in the U.S., which helps a lot. After-market non-corrosive ammunition, such as Wolf’s Polyformance 60-grain FMJBT, is also generally available at a reasonable price if one is willing to exercise a little patience and diligence in the face of the current ammunition shortage.
I must thank you for the generous and comprehensive comments on your own AK-74 from Waffen Werks (I just checked online for some pictures of the rifle – both with wood and polymer furniture that closely matches the original Soviet mil-specs). So, besides from other advantages you mentioned in the first post, the AK-74 also handles better than its AK 47/AKM predecessors, being better balanced. This echoes the opinion of Russian servicemen, according to what I’ve heard.
Thanks also for the useful tidbit on 5.45×39 ammunition. In Europe, at least in Switzerland, high quality commercial ammunition could also be had a few years ago (can’t recall the exact provenance, but I think – not 100% sure, though – that it made in Switzerland – with high quality brass cases). Another possibiliy is Barnaul ammunition marketed in the US under the brand Silver Bear (w/zinc plated steel cases), 60 grain FMJ.
You’re most welcome, Ruy. That Swiss-production ammunition sounds interesting. I haven’t come across any brass-cased production 5.45mm x 39 ammunition here in the U.S.— most available ammunition in this caliber is relegated to steel-cased Russian military surplus, Wolf or Barnaul ( Silver Bear ).
I have heard mostly good reports about the Silver Bear, although there was apparently an issue with a batch of it sometime ago. There haven’t been any negative comments on it lately, so Barnaul has probably resolved the problem.
Hi A couple of observations…we have a well established gun auction house in Red Deer Alberta and if you are patient and bide your time some good deals can come your way at an auction. But set you price limit and stay with it. Second comment…. the Ross front sight looks like a M17 front sight not the usual front sight with the hood. And comments?
The MkIIIB was a variant ordered by the British government, and used sights different from the Canadian pattern guns. As you say, the front sight is much like a 1917 one.
Hey- Small world! The mags you bought were MY LOT!!! You will also notice you just bought a Stoner 63 mag in there. It sounds like you might have picked up some of my rifles as well.
Cool! 🙂 My question, though, is – what’s the deal with the chainmail groin protector?
No idea. It was my dad’s and he never said what it was. Still sorting through all his stuff- he had lots of weird oddball things- plus some AWESOME stuff.