Tomorrow’s Collectors

I attended the memorial service for Uncle Bob Faris on Wednesday, and it really highlighted to me why I (and my collaborators) devote so much of our time to building this web site, and made me reflect on why and how I collect guns myself.

7mm Vickers
Photo courtesy of Tom Mayer and R&R Exotic Machines

At the reception/wake after the service, there was a selection of machine guns out on display. Great guns – Maxims, Vickers, Brens, Lewises, Brownings and more. They set the tone of the gathering perfectly, and whoever thought to arrange the display is to be commended. But I couldn’t help thinking as I looked at them that there is no way I can hope to accumulate a collection like Bob had. For him and the other fine gentlemen of his generation, these guns were available to those who had the interest and were willing to do the legwork to find them. A smaller market and less available information worked to their benefit, because demand was much less than it is today and the guns were available. It was a matter of being able to appreciate the rarity and seek it out.In gunsmithing school, Bob bought his Mondragon rifle from none other than P.O. Ackley for all of $35. Sure, that would be a lot more in today’s dollars, but the gun was there to be had and you could only market it by word of mouth or paid print ad in a periodical.

Today, thanks to the internet and passing decades, that rifle is priced out of reach of any young beginning collector. Someone looking to sell such a gun can make it available to anyone with an internet connection at the touch of a key. Thanks to the explosion of knowledge that the internet has brought about, far more people know what the Mondragon was, and want to have one. You can’t just find one just by luck and perseverance now, you have to be able to compete directly with everyone else who has the disposable income to throw after it.

Is that a bad thing? No, not really. Because it does mean that people like me do have the opportunity to buy one, if we are willing to make it enough of a financial priority. And more importantly, I can find out more about the Mondragon today in an hour online than I could get from a week in the library fifty years ago. That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make, even if it’s always depressing to see guns that sold for a few hundred dollars 30 years ago bring tens of thousands today. Yeah, I’m talking about you, Bren gun.

And that’s why we put the work into this site. I can’t earn enough money in my whole lifetime to buy all the interesting guns I would like to have – but I do have some connections to folks who bought them back when 08 Maxims were being thrown away as scrap metal. If we’re going to suffer the prices that the information age (and the ’86 ban) has brought, we should certainly exploit the information flow to learn about the rare pieces. Yesterday, a student would have to travel across the country to find someone with a rare gun if they wanted to learn about it. Today we can discuss that gun with them as if they were right next to us, with photos and videos and forums. We won’t have the barrels of Trapdoor Springfields that the last generation was able to pick through, but we can share our knowledge so much more easily – and that is ultimately a more valuable resource. I think we can make ours a the most broadly knowledgeable one yet, and I want to help ensure that with this web site. We will continue to grow the archive here, and keep it freely accessible to anyone interested. We do not want to be an exclusive club, but rather a inviting source to all – hobbyists, collectors, and the curious young folks who will go on to be tomorrow’s Robert Faris’.