The Sad Gun Show Dilemma

There is an outstanding gun show sponsored by SAR in Phoenix each year that I always make a point to attend, and this year’s was about two weeks ago. One of the things that came to mind several times while I was browsing tables looking for cool stuff was the issue of mismarked items on tables…

One group of mismarked items are the ones that are simple fraudulent, either by nature of make markings or fake provenance. The fake provenance is usually a matter of probability and storytelling – can you really prove that Walther WASN’T personally owned by Hitler? Maybe not rhetorically speaking, but grander the story to more documentation one should demand to back it up. The minor end of this thing is claiming that a particular gun like a beat-up Mosin Nagant, was a Vietnam bringback. Well, it certainly could have been…does it have an import mark? Does it fit the characteristics of the guns we would realistically expect to be in Vietnam? Does the seller have the GI’s papers authorizing the rifle?

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell genuine bringbacks from more mundane guns. For example, I met a fellow at the show who had a tanker M1 that he was pretty convinced was an original in-the-field modification from WWII. He said it had come back with a Navajo soldier who was a friend of his family, and had described it as being his army rifle. The vet passed away years ago, and there was no physical evidence to back up the rifle’s provenance (and it did have a muzzle brake that was clearly post-war). On the other hand, it was a wartime production rifle and didn’t have any third-party stamps on the barrel. I really could have been a field-modified rifle…but there’s absolutely no way to tell.

At the other end of the spectrum are things like the batch of clearly faked “Nazi” M95 straight-pull carbines that are floating around (I’ll have a more detailed post on these coming up). When you see something like that on a table, what do you do? It the seller knows it’s fake, it won’t do any good to point it out, and if he doesn’t know he’ll probably not jump to slash the price on the word of a stranger at a gun show. Having made foolish attempts to “fix” this sort of situation in the past, I now just walk on past – and make a point not patronize the table unless I suspect it’s an innocent error.

Fake Nazi marking on an M95 carbine
Fake Nazi marking on an M95 carbine

Fraud may always be a risk, but one would think we could at least help reduce simple mislabeling. Unfortunately, it is really tricky to attempt to tell someone that an item they are selling isn’t actually what they believe it is. I thought I had a case where I could do some good at this past show, when I noticed that one dealer had a Remington-Lee early turnbolt rifle labelled as a Lee Navy. I’d been talking with him about some other guns earlier in the day and I though I had a bit of a rapport developed, so I mentioned the mislabeling. He immediately turned suspicious and hostile at the notion, so I dropped it.

I took the lesson to heart, and the next time I found something mislabeled it was a box of 7.65mm Frommer ammo. I’ve been looking for that for a long time, so I just kept my mouth shut and paid for what the seller thought was a box of vintage 7.65mm Browning. And felt a little guilty about it. Sigh.


  1. I’ve always enjoyed a good story that goes with a gun, but if you can’t document it, it didn’t happen. Enjoy,yes. Pay more for, no. Like you I’ve learned to just walk on by, it ain’t worth it. As for the ammo, just as a buyer needs to know what he is buying, the seller needs to know what he is selling, so no guilt!

  2. I don’t know the situation where everyone else lives, but in Louisiana, gun shows are not what they once were. They used to be a place to find a good deal, see interesting or unusual firearms, and catch up with regular attendees.

    I’ve only been to 2-3 in the last several years and they just aren’t what they used to be; wildly over-priced, lots of misrepresentation (as experienced by Ian), it just seems like everyone is trying to take advantage of one-another. It also seems like half the tables these days are arts and crafts or junk, which is fine in moderation, but I would prefer to have that spaced used for firearms.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head — the unfortunate subversion of truth, fairness, historical value, sincerity, humanity and authenticity in the name of profit and advantage.

      When are we ever going to b****y learn?

  3. Well, well… Same bs all around the world.

    Some +15 years ago I had few hundred rounds of 7,62x53R ammo (most in unopened boxes) Made by Winchester in 1940. The batch was meant to be shipped to Finland but after the 105-days Winter War 1939-40, most of it was sold to Dutch East-Indies.

    So naive as I was, I thought these cartridges would be worth something to collectors…

    I went to the biggest collectors buy/sell-happening here in Finland, Ellivuori Gunshow, and showcased them to all interested but none seemed to be willing to buy them. “Everyone has a rucksack full of those!” -was one comment.

    I was feeling frustraited and thought that maybe these arent worth anything, although I had a different gutfeeling, until I met one old (and then deadly-ill) distinguished collector, Alf Danker. He told me that I should not give those away and sell only if I`d get a 700marks* per unopened box (15cart.) *about 115€ or 120$

    After that I only laughed at those sellers who wanted to change them 1:1 to a new cartridges or offered some petty sum. To that one rucksack-guy, I told that I would shoot them with my Maxim because everyone has these by the rucksacs!

    And so I did. Most of em I`ve shot through a Maxim 32-33 but the best boxes I`ve kept to myself and also have given as gifts to another younger collectors.

    I even got some calls after the show and there were many who would have wanted to buy or trade those cartridges. Most of them those same guys who earlier said that they arent worth anything. But to a a-holes like that I wont sell or trade.

    Was there a moral-lession in this story? Well, yes. Dont try to bs a new guy. It may work once but your reputation gets a hammering when that new guy gets older and wiser and he can and will turn the table.

  4. Great post Ian. I’ll look forward to future posts on this show. I had a similar experience with a mis-labled firearm. Mine turned out different. A vendor had a .36 cal percussion cap Manhattan revolver on the table – circa 1860’s Civil War. I have one and knew there was something wrong and said so. Turns out he had a low number, matching parts Navy Colt, pre-Civil war I think – worth a bit more than he was asking at the time. He was appreciative of my interest and his gain. But I’m also reluctant to question unless I’m sure. As for fakes, misrepresentations – yea, tons of ’em. As a collector of Garands I’ve seen many. ” Genuine WW2 Garand. Serial no. 5 million+” It’s amazing how ignorant
    sellers are. With the internet it doesn’t take much time to research and not look like a boob or a crook. I’m glad there’s a large group of collectors who are willing to assist other “rooks” like me. And this forum is a great help to enthusiasts overall. Keep it going. 😉

  5. As a collector, I’ve spent much time determining what it interesting, what is available, and what simply is not to be found except he oddest of incidents taking place.
    Many will try to take advantage, particularly, now, with all the “newbies” having bought their panic guns, much of the routine old military equipment sold off in he rush, and many like myself, have managed to get “the last of that piece” because people are digging out their corners, being in hard times.
    On the other hand, my best finds have always been guns disassembled by owners and either in a box, confused, or better, reassembled, and entirely locked up. Such is the making of a fine deal, one which won’t be beat.
    I fear this time, because gun shows have become “the last chance to buy” for so many, and have ceased being primarily for “gun nuts”, filling up with novelty items and other useless junk.
    I have found I no longer attend them unless I have good reason, the crowds of the “unknowing” with kids tagging along is stultifying, and the pressure is on new guns, with lots of people no longer bringing their boxes of old parts, and I fear we will see them lose their attraction, and end up “left behind” an anachronism, and something which was once as common as county fairs will go the same way.
    If we would have our children’s children be able to easily and readily have arms, and choose what they will, we must keep these shows relevant, valuable to our communities, and well filled with customers and vendors with wants and desires, and wares for sale, respectively.
    If nothing else, we should start taking our odd guns, our old guns, and “showing them”, as we walk around, and if there is the slightest hankering to own a piece, buy it, and keep an old tradition alive, so we can keep our form of society alive.
    Semper Fidelis,
    John McClain
    GySgt, USMC, ret.

  6. Many moons ago when I use to work gun shows almost every week end. I saw something that I still laugh about to this day. This was before the 94 AWB. One day this guy comes in with this semi auto AKM that looked like it was drug through every south American country behind a truck. He is trying to sell the gun and explains that he artificially aged the gun yo make it look like one of those commonly seen in pictures in war zones of less developed countries. I passed on it since AKMs at the time were $300 new. Another dealer a few tables down bought the gun for I think $150. The next gun show this guy has this same rifle on his table and marked at $700. He has made a story how the gun was a drug cartel gun that was brought into the USA on a mule. Well he sells the gun to a guy. The next gun show sure enough the gun shows up again for sale on a table for $1000 with the story that it was a south American communist rebel gun picked off a dead rebel. The fact that the gun was semi auto and import stamped never seem to halt or effect the size of lies that kept coming out about this gun. This gun kept turning up gun show after gun show with a newer and more fantastic story each time and a higher price tag. Finally after the AWB in 94 the gun stopped making the gun show circuit. I no longer work or go to gun shows anymore but wonder if that gun with its variety of stories shows up now days.

    • Another version of the old game “post office”. Start tale, pass it on to the next person, and so on and so on – and see what the message is at the end. I’m guessing today it’s Che’s personal AKM 😉

    • Great variation on how a continuously repeated story grows to the point of acceptance and legend, like a mantra — “If you repeat it often enough, it becomes the truth”.

      Fortunately, FW still encourages strong critical thinking skills.

  7. I’ve seen plenty of fakes too. Like the “Jungle Carbine” badly chopped down Lee #4. I mean, this jerk didn’t even bother to make the stock look authentic, the forestock was cut at a 90 degree angle! He wanted $500 for the junker. Disgraceful, but not unexpected.

    I’ve gotten a few bargains, but now everyone’s got a Blue Book and is charging like their gun is still mint.

  8. Sadly, the same can be seen at the “National Gun Day” show here in Louisville. I now try really hard to not point out what may be “mislabled” or even asking “are you sure it’s a,,”. I just keep walking. It’s a great show to pick up interesting items but the fake items kinda hurt your feelings. I still left there happy as I was able to get some Gyrojet ammo and some Trounds for my Dardick.

  9. I have found that most of the stuff at gun shows to be black rifle crap. Really how many different ar handguards do you need.

  10. Of course, it can, as pointed out, work both ways. I once bought a postwar S&W .357 Magnum that was mislabeled as a Model 27 and also a Colt 1909 Army that somebody thought was a 1917. It isn’t always greed, sometimes it is simple ignorance or not taking the time to properly identify an item.

    In western South Dakota, the gun shows are a mixed bag: one time you’ll see a bunch of interesting stuff and the next time its all Evil Black Rifles and Glocks but that is what appeals to lot of the younger crowd. Otherwise we’ll end up with shows full of old codgers (like me!) all selling the same rusty .22s and beat up shotguns they’ve been dragging around for years, leaving the “good stuff” home in the safe.

  11. The last sentence of TNThompson’s post is our typical gun show in Canada. Ancient and decrepid oldtimers (like me) as far as the eye can see and tables full of equally ancient and decrepid guns and gun related junk. After 30 years of our government’s progressively more restrictive and onerous regulations, coupled with an extremely effective social re-engineering program targeted on kids, the vast majority of our young folks have no and I mean NO interest in anything to do with firearms (except to ban them).

  12. I see it too, I miss the boxes of parts, and I hate the table of black rifles (the 15 year old me is spinning in his grave at that comment) and coins and jerky… and all the dealers telling me that I’ll never sell my gun for more than half of what it’s worth…But…
    The last gun show I went to was great, and it was great because of the racks of old 22s (I gotta sell my 10/22s and get something more interesting), the Ross I got to fondle, and the people roaming with interesting guns and friendly talk. It was like going back in time in some ways.

  13. We all want to make the yeas or liftime find on a gun shoow
    Some years back I was on a big fleemarket near copenhagen airport. at that time I was reparing some musselloaders, the loading sticks seam always gonor broken. Comercialy it is almost impassible to get a straigt pease of wood in a god qality, so I buy old walking stick for a$s, for the purpose The marked, lasted 3 days. I mes all the danish gundealers there.
    But in the last ouer i notised a barrel with walking sticks, in the middel, a gunbarrel was sticking uup. the seller only sold china, so I got this Kuchenreuter wheel lock rifle for a next to nothing price, I later dated it to 1570, ithad a few old repairs, butwas in tip-top skape, I still boils withhappines

  14. Misinformation on two ends. That’s how things go with bad communication and people mislabeling their products. Either someone’s pulling a scam or just plainly gullible. I expect tons of people will actually buy up a “Jungle Carbine” not knowing that the rifle they bought was not an original No.5 rifle but a cut-down and “bubbafied” Enfield No.4. At least people who buy Khyber Pass copies know what they are buying after looking at the markings…

  15. During my hunt for an 1871 Mauser Carbine I came across nearly a dozen cut down 1871/84 sold as “valuable carbines”. I only found one seller who actually seemed embarrassed by the misidentification and changed to description. Every one else got argumentative; one of the guns is still on gunbroker a year later.

  16. I had a similar experience at a gunshow. A guy was selling what he claimed was an SKS, but it used AK magazines, not the duckbill things tapco makes, and had a rotating bolt. I told him it was probably a tyoe-63 variant, and he got upset, and started saying how he’s been doing this for thirty years, and he saw those rifles in Vietnam, and what did I know, I was just some 20 something kid. So I just walked away and bought a nice Nagant from a very friendly gentleman right across from him.

    • Norinco did import some SKS that used AK mags in the 1990s, but I’m pretty sure they all used the standard SKS bolt. Don’t know if there are any legal semi-auto Type 63 variants floating around. (I am assuming this was in the USA.)

  17. Speaking of collections, most hardcore collectors get sooner or later in a situation where they luckilly stumble on a person that does not know what he’s selling and its worth.

    For example, late husband was an avid stamp collector and when gone, his old widow selles the collection to someone “for peanuts”. And so on…

    Should buyer feel guilty on these occasions ?

    Maybe to remember the case of the person that got up in the morning and said to himself; “Today Im gonna speak only the truth”.
    By the end of the day, he was kicked out of work, his wife left him, and had not one friend left.

  18. I vend at the local shows with TNThompson as a hobby enhancer. I have a bunch of parts that I turn over to buy more and/or different parts. Not really to profit, bit to help others out locally that are interested in building AK’s. Most of the old codgers here get pissed off at the end of each show because they haven’t sold but maybe enough to pay for their table(s) and some crappy slop from the concession cave.

    I really don’t do any shopping at the shows, as the prices are BS and the BS story behind the BS price is BS. There are other vendors that I commiserate with and I have some regular groupies that come around looking for special requests. I like the banter, making fun of the ignorant and insulting other vendors that are overpriced and/or full of $h!t. Gun shows can be fun if you make them that way!

  19. sadly prized stamp collections are worth peanuts. i went through this recently. there are no new philatelists being born, they are all playing with xboxes.

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