In my late 20s, I owned one of the two or three finest collections of German Lugers, Walthers and Mausers in the US. The truth is, I was too young at the time to appreciate exactly what I had. Virtually every one of the dozens and dozens of variations I owned was in nearly perfect 100% mint museum quality. If I had them today they would probably be worth at least $2 million! I think I sold them for less than $50,000 – but I was only earning $10,000 a year then and my new four bedroom colonial house in the suburbs only cost $35,000, so it was a lot of money.
The first gun show I attended in Anoka, Minnesota, was a real experience for me. I came upon a table with 50 beautiful Lugers for sale and the owner was willing to sell all of them for $5,000 – $100 each. The people around the table all laughed and said that they had been for sale for a couple of years but no one was willing to pay such a high price for them, so there they sat. The next day I paid a visit to my banker and he gave me a $5000 loan on a handshake (those days are long since gone). I walked out of the bank with a stack of hundreds maybe a quarter of an inch thick and had never held so much money in my hand at one time. Just a couple of years earlier, my first job out of college paid me $4,800 a year, so this was really a lot of money. I called the gun dealer and drove to his house and bought all of them, fool that I was (or so the other so-called “collectors” thought.) Well, within two weeks I had sold enough of the collection to repay the bank loan, and I was able to keep the 10 best pieces for free. That’s how I started collecting Lugers. My fabulous collection was acquired with wheeling and dealing and trading and I was very good at it. I had little of my own money in the collection by the time I decided to sell it off.
In those days, I was able to purchase mint common-date WW1 and WW2 military Lugers for between $100 – $125 each. I bought two rare Luger Carbines for $1,250 and a Borchardt (the 1890s pre-version of the Luger) complete with case and accessories for $1,000. I owned two mint complete cased Luftwaffe Survival Drillings (issued to German planes in the African campaign) and they cost me around $700 each. These were just a few of the guns I purchased over a three year period, and then when I changed jobs and went to work as an assistant buyer at Target (they only had 31 stores then), my income took a steep hit and I decided, foolishly, to sell off the collection to maintain my lifestyle. I used the proceeds to buy furniture, a car and hi fi gear.
The reason I mention this is because two weeks ago I received a catalogue from Rock Island Auction Company and it was titled The Most Anticipated Auction In Our History and there were pages and pages of exceptional Colts, Winchesters, Civil War and Revolutionary War pistols and long arms, and over 100 Lugers. If you are curious, you can find it on Google. I got excited, as it had been many years since I checked out Luger prices and availability. First of all, there was hardly a single Luger in the catalogue as nice as the ones I purchased in the 60s. Not even close. But the prices really blew me away. The guns I paid $125 for were selling for at least $4000. The Carbines and Borchardt that I paid around $1,000 – $1,200 for were expected to fetch $30,000 or $40,000 each. The guns had increased in price on average by around 30-40 fold! “How could this be?” I asked myself. The prices were so crazy, I had no interest in buying any of them.
Then I paused and asked myself, “Did the guns really go up that much in price or did the dollar lose that much value?” Being in the gold business, that is the way I have trained myself to think, so I decided to price the guns out in “ounces of gold” instead of dollars.
The common date military lugers would have cost around three + ounces of gold in the mid-60s. The Luger Carbine and Borchardt would have cost around 30 ounces of gold. The JP Sauer cased survival drilling around 20 ounces. What would they cost, in gold ounces, now? The common dates would cost around two to three ounces of gold. The Carbine and Borchardt would cost me around 17 to 24 ounces of gold and the survival drilling around 11 ounces. Geez, when priced in ounces of gold, many of the fine guns in the auction would cost maybe half as much as what I paid for them nearly four decades ago. You could say gold has held its value and then some over the last 35 years, at least when valued in high quality Lugers. As much as their prices had escalated, 30 – 40 times, gold did better, much better. Gold increased by 48.5 times in the same period. I, of all people should not have been so shocked by the Luger prices. It turns out they were actually a bargain. But it’s easy to forget just how much buying power our dollar has lost in the last third of a century.
Of more importance – gold will continue to outperform the dollar, and significantly in the next three or four years. The same collection in 2015 could easily price out twice as high, or more in dollars, but not in ounces of gold. That, my friends, is why I own gold.
I’ve sold many fine firearms myself that I purchased for under $200 – and that I dream about now and again. I could say I needed the cash, and did, but could have survived without selling those pieces.
Silver and gold, on the other hand, that I’ve been collecting for over 30 years in small increments — I’ve never sold.
On a happy note, I had the sense to retained a great Colt military 1911 auto, circa 1943.
Selling my fine collection of firearms was one of the only things I regret in my life. My wife keeps telling me to get back in again, but these prices are hard to swallow. Still, I might just buy a few?
I did keep three Colt 45ACP WW1 commemorative cased guns and they are on the wall in my home office.
Thank you for the thoughtful, reassuring article. I would think that every man who is honest with himself has a regret or two for giving up something, when only later does he learn its true value.
We’re on the verge of a world economic quantum shift. Keeping a store of true, lasting value (whether that be firearms or precious metals) will become increasingly important as we near the precipice. Your cautionary tale reinforces, and steels me. Thank you. I appreciate your sharing.
Here’s to hoping you go find yourself a Luger (or three). To hell with collecting — go enjoy the thing at the range!