Introduction to Collecting Seminar

So, I was doing a bunch of driving this past weekend and had lots of time to think (a dangerous thing). Well, the thought occurred to me that folks might be interested in an “Introduction to Military Gun Collecting” seminar, and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the idea. I know a lot of regular readers here are extremely knowledgeable shooters and collectors, but there are also a lot of folks who are interested but haven’t had the time or obsessiveness to learn a lot yet.

The seminar I have in mind would be intended for the person who may or may not have a few military firearms already, is interesting in getting more into collecting them, and doesn’t really know what to look for. My goals would be three-fold; helping folks understand what they are looking at, preventing folks from getting ripped off, and enabling folks to recognize really good deals. It would be a class that would pay for itself pretty quickly, if you were in the target audience. Here are the main points I’m envisioning:

  • Focus on standard rifles and pistols from the major combatants in WWI and WWII (Germany, Italy, Russia/USSR, Japan, USA, UK, France, Austro-Hungarian Empire)
  • Cover the major variations of each weapon (using Russia for an example:  M91, M91/30, PU sniper, M38, M44, Ishevsk, Tula, early producers, and other Warsaw Pact variants)
  • Special focus on how to identify guns, so good pictures of different markings and explanation of what they mean
  • How to identify counterfeits, when applicable (like 91/30 snipers and No5 Enfield carbines)
  • One day timeframe – something like 9am to 4pm on a Saturday with a lunch break
  • Price ideally $99 per person, maybe a much as $150, including a catered lunch
  • Printed study guide also included in price (based on presentation slides/photos, so folks don’t have to try to memorize all the designations and markings)

[poll id=”003″]

Please let me know what your thoughts or suggests are in the comments! For instance, would you rather learn about iconic but more expensive guns like German Mausers, or cheaper but less used guns like Swiss K31s and Steyr M95/30s?


  1. Gosh, US really is a different continent ! From one point of view it is a shooters’ paradise considering the prices you have on most weaponry things but here you are really oppositing. Over here in EU a K31 is anyway more expensive than a Mauser… One more thing I have to add, crazy people asking for big grands because they invented a funny story about a rifle just to increase its price to double-triple up
    there are lots even here, especially shop-owners but you know it’s a big jump from shouting an astronomic price up to finding the insane who will pay it !! More funny stories about Italian market to follow; the good thing abput that is that I know i will let you laugh a lot, dear friends….!

  2. My input

    Eh, maybe – I really need the class but it might be fun (after all I could not buy a thing at that Ohio auction!!!!).
    If the price was under $100 and I had nothing else to do that day.
    Yeah, sounds like something I would do.

    May I suggest that it be done in Phoenix in conjunction/adjacent to the Big SAR’s gun show in early December.

    That way I can come out and bundle the two events plus maybe get some range time in with all the like minded heroes that I have come to know since buying my first class III, a Vickers.
    And the boys from the UK could be there too, Dave, John

  3. The idea itself is sound, but I don’t know how you find an audience. Make it broad, and 90% of the customer base will be “I know that stuff” and not pay to attend. Make it specialized, and people will go, but maybe only a handful, making it commercially a flop.
    My suggestion, start it as a free series (or minimal cover if you have to rent a room) in your home area, and gauge interest. Once you can fill a room (and get good feedback at the end) you can think about raising the prices to make it worthwhile.
    A good starter topic (from my experience at gun shows) would be “Collecting Garands, at what to look for”. If there’s one gun that fascinates novices it’s that one.

  4. Ian:
    Another consideration might be the format. While nothing beats sitting in room with folks possessing amazing knowledge, picking up and inspecting various rifles, pistols – I can see distance is a no-go parameter with some readers. Consider online seminars or forums using some of the free/cheap software out there – WebX or GoToMeeting. Keep it at 60-90 min. Charge a resonable fee for an access code – $10?. Start with a General overview seminar like you describe above and future subjects can be more focused – Mausers, Enfields, counterfeits. Ask for your readers/members/advertisers if they wanted to sponsor/prepare/present on a subject matter. I like the idea of a published guide. Make it available for purchase online or in paperback. Believing this may be more work than a 1-day deal schedule one a month or quarterly. And then culminate the year with a gathering at your place. You’ve got some big open spaces out there – people can bring their toys or try out toys they’re thinking of buying. I’m 3/5 into my plan to own what I consider the “Fab Five” – Garand, Mauser, Enfield, Mosin-Nagant, K31. I only lack a Mauser and an Enfield. And seeing the prices out there – yes, I need/want more knowledge before plunking down hard earned cash.

  5. I chose “if the price was under $100 and I had nothing to do that day” because I am more interested in the technical aspects of how guns work, and to a lesser extent their collectibility and history (I have only a passing interest in those). If it was close by I would seriously consider attending, but I think you live out west.

    I have gotten mildly burned in the past by overpaying for modern-manufactured guns, and the potential for overpaying for the some of the collectibles you mentioned is certainly much greater.

  6. Time was, I had a DCM M-1 Garand that I got to promote high-power matches and marksmanship. I’d been using a Chi-com Type 56 SKS to, erm, “compete.” I was employed in food service and was taking some college night courses for personal interest.

    Once I got the M-1 Garand, oh boy… I just “had to have” an M-1 carbine: Blue Sky RoK S. Korean Winchester came next. So then I resolved to get an example of comparative “enemy weapons” and a T99 Arisaka and a T38 carbine came next, followed shortly by a mis-identified Type I Carcano navy commission rifle… A few years later, no Mauser 98k in sight, but plenty of other milsurp rifles available, I decided to get a 1946 Izhevsk M44 Mosin-Nagant carbine as an example of enemy weapons from the Korean War [KPA and later, PLA Volunteers]. Before long, I had ambitions to get a rifle from every major player in the second world war… But wait! Boy is that Schmidt-Rubin M1911 Langewehr a neat rifle!

    Unfortunately, I got really, really serious about school and tuition costs and expenses of a prolonged stint as an impoverished college student ate up most of my “collection.” By the time I left grad school I still had a Finn M91 [I’d grown up on stories of the Winter War…], and my M1 Garand. When I started collecting again, I emphasized rifles that I just plain find interesting, are widely available, and ammunition is plentiful. I got heavily into collecting Mosin-Nagant rifles, but shrank from acquiring a “complete set” given the sheer expense of doing so. I quickly realized that there is a sort of “two-tiered” market–like most things: folks who acquire stuff that is not onerously expensive, and folks who really, really like “high end” stuff… I’ve been privileged to see some outstanding collections and very interesting firearms and machine guns, but I simply don’t think I’ll have the means to play with the über-elite collectors! I think you’ll find that that is the biggest inhibitor of would-be/wanna be collectors these days! Gone for good are the days of relatively inexpensive and widely available military surplus firearms!

  7. Ian –

    If you are going to do this seminar in person, you should ‘piggyback’ on an quality collector’s gun show. The modus operandii would be established collectors bringing along their wives, children, neighbors, acquaintances, etc. to get them further involved in collecting. I can ask around at OGCA see if there is any interest.

    You might also consider doing it in person, with a simulcast on the web for those who cannot attend. Conducting the seminar on Saturday would allow the attendees to use their newfound knowledge on Sunday on the show floor. Don’t leave out the legal aspects of collecting. Possibly the most important issue as a novice goes ‘deep’.

  8. I live in Europe, and I’d be interested in a seminar like that. But with me it falls flat on scheduling and financing on my end.

    Regardless of what most americans might think, gun collecting is legally possible here. Even in a highly bureaucratic “socialist” country like Finland. Every gun needs a permit, with a valid reason for purchase. It’s easier to continue collecting weapons (esp. historical) than it is to start up such a hobby. But most, if not all, who do it are trusted people.

    If you ever go around the world holding these or recommending programs for collectors and enthusiasts on this continent, it might decrease the “I live in Europe…so no” count (which carries more nuances in my highly suspecting mind).

  9. I’ve been a collector for many years – had one big collection, a stroke and lost it – recovered to a degree, got married (for the first time @ 56)was in a nearly fatal accident along with the wife, settled the suit – the wife replaced most of the collection, PLUS SOME…still adding – member of the Yahoo C&R group – have held a C&R on and off…would be willing to give a talk or two – next week I’m giving a presentation to our collector’s group (the Palm Beach Historical Arms Collectors) on the SMLE; in March I did a presentation on the Swedish Mauser…could probably get some of the members to divulge their secrets…we have a WEALTH of expertise amongst ourselves!!!

    CB in FL

  10. John D., Tom and Mu all have excellent, practical suggestions that might prove very useful to you, Ian, as you finalize the ways and means of making this seminar work for as wide an audience as possible.

    The other thing that really gets my attention is Tounushi’s idea of conducting a seminar when you are traveling in Europe. Since you are planning to go there again at some point, it might be a very good way to network and to provide FW members who are otherwise not able to get as immersed as they would want to be ( due to political / legal / geographical restrictions ) with a real chance to be more deeply involved. It is most unfortunate that international borders, politics and all the parochial restrictions these imply have so unfairly kept our friends and fellow contributors at arm’s length. I am certainly cognizant of the amount of organizational effort that it will take to make this happen, but it is nonetheless possible.

  11. I probably couldn’t attend, but I have a couple of suggestions.

    1) Arrange a “pub night” after the seminar, where the attendees can socialize with each other. Many pubs around here will provide a reserved space for free, provided you can promise enough people (as obviously the pub would be able to sell beer to them). It’s possible that pubs in your area would do the same. Look for a pub that also serves food so that everyone can go directly from the seminar to supper and then to an evening of drinking together.

    Make it clear though that the “pub night” isn’t part of the seminar itself, as you don’t want to be responsible for people who end up drinking too much. It would just be a “we plan on getting together afterwards” sort of affair.

    2) Think about making it a two day event, with the second day being an optional “range day”, where people can socialize and show off their own rifles.

    If you provide a “social” side to the event, you may attract people who otherwise wouldn’t attend just for the seminar.

  12. Well… from the stats it looks like the centre of gravity is around the Azores..!

    I would suggest a way forward… hold meetings across US/Europe and podcast the result!

    A useful contact in UK would be the Historical Breech loading Association.

    The “ace in the hole” would be some presentations from the Pattern Room collection. This would take some careful negotiations, but would be by no means impossible!

  13. Although not actively collecting now (do not have valid acquisition licence, just ‘holder’ certificate for those I acquired times ago), I’d be potentially interested in meeting you and taking your lecture if there is enough interest in this neck of woods to warrant your trip. There is always something new to pickup. Would you plan for Ontario trip?

  14. You guys have lots of good ideas. Here are mine (ideas, anyway, you guys can judge the good of them):

    1. The difference between a collection and a bunch of guns is, in my opinion, a theme or focus. Many young (in the field, maybe not on the calendar) folks don’t have an idea about this, and just get what they like. NTTAWWT.

    2. But I think something focusing on “how do you choose your field/interest/theme” would benefit both young and experienced collectors.

    3. A common error is choosing a field that’s too large. “Semi-auto military rifles.” From a French 1917 to a Dragunov, that one’s gonna keep you busy.

    4. People get emotionally attached to guns and a wise collector upgrades. He gives up that representative Luger so that he can get a higher quality one, and passes the representative one on to a new entrant. Such appreciation as there is happens more at the high end than at the low end.

    5. Most collectors are not shooters. Collectors who shoot their guns are even viewed suspiciously by the collector world. Consider this sentence: “Don’t shoot that one! It’s too rare!” Most people either agree with or completely fail to understand that idea… the two groups have a hard time communicating.

    6. Nobody is really leveling with new entrants about the prevalence of fakes in the market. That’s a class in itself.

    7. I could apply MBA-fu to collecting as investment, but the short version is: it’s not a very good one, when weighed against CPI inflation over time. There are some common laws of collectible appreciation that do seem to be unknown to the public. Fads and “manufactured collectibles” like third-party commemoratives are the Confederate currency of the collector market.

    8. I was very disappointed with the copies of the NRA’s collector magazine that I have seen. Not that it is low quality, but it is extremely focused only on the highest-end, museum-worthy vision of “collecting,” and is basically an advertiser for the auctioneers that serve that market. I was shocked that there was not even a column or feature each for the novice and intermediate collector. There’s no effort to bring newbies in and bring them along. OK, if NRA is not going to do this, who will? Why not us?

    • RE: Man at Arms – the NRA collector magazine….One issue, that I wound up buying at Barnes & Noble, had an article and picture of a Czech VZ-24 that had been part of a purchase by the Soviet Union for delivery to the Loyalist faction in the Spanish Civil War…one of the identifying marks was a waffle-like strikeout of the Czech acceptance mark. Shortly after that purchase one of the members of our collectors club was selling just such a VZ-24 – all matching and with that unique mark – indicating that it indeed was part of the shipment, but evidently, because of the matching numbers – stock included – saw little action or use. I kept quiet about the mark until I bought the thing and wound up with ANOTHER piece of history…if not for that article I wouldn’t have bought the rifle, NOR the magazine – I bought the magazine strictly for THAT article and the rifle materialized quite by accident….my point is that you can’t say Men at Arms is only for higher end collectors (no offense meant)…there are some interesting tidbits for those of us with limited resources – also WHY shouldn’t higher end collectors have a magazine to which they can refer to?? Some of the older G&A Surplus specials are good resources for beginners in collecting (as well as those of us who are ‘more advanced’ collectors). I began my collecting with an East German Army helmet given to me by a fellow worker at Sikorsky Aircraft, ca, 1992 or so – he’d gotten it in a lot that he’d bid on at an auction, had no idea what it was and gave it to me….it was THEN that I decided to collect at least ONE firearm from EACH of the former Warsaw Pact countries…which I’ve accomplished…in some cases I have MORE than just one example….

      CB in FL

  15. Here’s a few beginner collection ideas:

    -Rifles (or pistols) of the Great War

    – Pistols before 1900

    – Police revolvers (a currently unloved area)

    – “The American Gun” (the 10 guns in Chris Kyle’s posthumous book).

    – Guns of X Nation (good for resident of that nation, or New World resident descended from or anyone interested in that nation. My ancestors, of course, never built a gun of any kind).

    – US Infantry weapons of WWII. You can have a representative rifle, carbine and .45 for $2500 if you’re patient and careful.

    Logistics are the largest unconsidered factor in collecting. Where the money comes from, where are the guns stored, can they be displayed, etc.

    You need to be aware of how rarity plays into the value of your collection, too. I had a number of very rare Communist bloc weapons that had taken years and a good bit of treasure to acquire. And then the Cold War ended. The world’s gain was a rather stinging financial loss. Sure, my Chinese Type 56 carbine is a Vietnam bringback, but what’s that worth when new, import-marked versions are $50 at the LGS? (Of course, since then, Chinese imports were rebanned).

  16. Different audience / seminar could be directed at the curators of small/mid size museums that don’t have people specializing in arms. I’ve seen some that had gun collections, but they did not necessarily know what they had (other than “Japanese rifle on loan from Sgt Smith” or something like that), what the significance was, etc. As the WWII generation continuous to pass on, I’d imagine some of the arms brought back by GI’s would be good donations to museums if the heirs were not into guns. Or museums might be persuaded to assemble collections, even if they are only shooter grade.

  17. This is a great idea. Think of all of the knowledge just in your readers .This could make a formidable reference repository. The new collectors are always buying what they read about; then they learn that a real M1 has seven different metal finishes a dozen different manufacturers of components and mismatched wood. Thats what happens after a World War a “Police Action” and Vietnam.Then the DCM/CMP reworked rifles to function not for some collector’s ideal. They also make M1Ds so if the Government makes it is it authentic? This detailed knowledge takes the fun out of collecting for me. If someone tells me my Broomhandle C96 does not have the correct number of lines in the grip; I really feel like hitting him it. Yet the “book” says it should be so. We need human references who have hands on experences;so we do not take our knowledge to the grave. One of the posters commented on US Police firearms..a truly forgotten area of collection. I am available to share whatever I know. This should be internet so that our friends around the World can share their knowledge. Great idea count me in;but I do not care about how many line are on the hammer of the pistol of the month.

      • Many folks new to collecting – or any form of shooting, buying, etc…fail to avail themselves of the MASSIVE amount of printed references available to the general public….so many great series – take for example the “For Collectors Only” Series from North Cape pubs- reasonable and excellent paperback references for both the beginner AS WELL AS the seasoned collector….I have a number of those books in my reference library….another great series (albeit expensive) is the “Collector Grade Publications” series – mostly geared to the serious collector…in addition there are various boards, forums, etc online dedicated to specific subjects – the Yahoo C&R group to which I’ve belonged for many years is just ONE of many. As an example – for many years I was an avid painter of military figures as well as a builder of 1/35th scale armor models – if I bought a new figure or armor kit I would wind up buying at least three or four books on that particular subject – this is how I slowly built up my knowledge data base…it’s no different in the gun collecting hobby I’m currently involved in…”Buy a Gun, Buy a Book” or perhaps better done as “Buy a Book – THEN – Buy a Gun”

        CB in FL

        • Good bit of advice that I am in complete agreement with — in other words, do the research before buying / collecting, or “look before you leap”, to use an old but wise phrase. I used to be a pretty avid builder of 1/35th scale armor as well.

          • Might rework that to “Book before you leap”!!! Books have actually helped me appreciate a purchase even more than when I first acquired it or find something I didn’t realize I had until I saw it in print…

            CB in FL

        • BTW, so there is no misunderstanding, my positive comment to Andrew Marcell’s post on June 11 2013 @ 4:25 p.m. was made in the context of his reference to the fact that the combined knowledge base of the contributors to this site is a comprehensive and valuable source for verifying authenticity over and above what established publications on the subject may say. While I have the greatest respect for the latter and their obviously knowledgeable authors, they are still sometimes subject to deviations in factual statement due to any bone of a number of reasons, eg., editing issues, typographical errors that give the wrong impression, incorrect matching of written and photographic documentation, and plain human error. I think Andrew’s frustration originates with having to deal with, and eventually ratify or deny, so many different and sometimes conflicting yet apparently credible sources of information on a given firearms-related subject. This is perfectly understandable given the number of detailed analytical opinions ( usually issued in good faith ) on most firearms.

  18. Better off not having a catered meal. Run it at a hotel either the weekend before or a day before a major firearms auction or show.

    With the huge run up in prices, I get worried about increasingly better “fakes”. I have a couple of nice firearms that I have collected but I am afraid to shoot for various reasons.

    I wouldn’t try to limit yourself to one theme. I would suggest adjusting the agenda based on comments from the people who pay you the deposit.

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