ValueMyStuff sat down with our antique guns and Militaria specialist, Tom LoPiano, for a Q&A. Learn more about why Tom continues to love antique guns and get insight into a specialist's valuation.
How did you get involved with antique guns and weapons, and why do you enjoy this category?I have always been interested in American history and especially the Civil War. As a result I acquired my first collectible weapon when I was 11 years old - a gift from my family doctor whose great grandfather fought in that war. By the time I was 18 I had amassed over 100 arms in my collection- many of them with original inscriptions denoting presentations to soldiers who fought in war. From the beginning I considered "historical" weapons as more valuable and genealogical research important to "illuminate" the history behind the soldier who may have carried a particular weapon in service. Over the past 50 years I have authored almost 100 magazine articles "retracing the steps" a soldier may have taken in the past -thus preserving the history with the weapon for future generations to enjoy.Years later this enjoyment evolved into my profession and I have been a dealer in antique & modern weapons and collectibles - military and sporting for the past two decades.What is an antique firearm? By definition any firearm which was manufactured before December 31st, 1898 is considered an "antique" -even if it fires modern ammunition. Serial number records of "machined" arms are important in dating pre-1898 weapons. Also printed publications showing periods of manufacture serve to date weapons as well.What drives people to want to start a collection of antique arms and are there different types of collectors?The motivation to "collect" is varied. A collector may be interested in history as I am and those weapons are a part of history. Collectors are interested in firearms "technology" and development -of sporting arms or those used in warfare. Those interested in hunting and shooting for recreation make up a large part of the collecting "fraternity". Collecting weapons as "art" is another area. Many valuable antique firearms represent a high degree of craftsmanship and design and are collected on that basis. Finally, arms are collected for investment purposes- predominantly combining the enjoyment of any of the above areas but with particular emphasis of weapons "in demand" from an investment perspective.Which market area and what types of guns are the most sought after? Many collectors may choose to generalize-usually beginning collectors- collecting military or sporting arms of all countries or a particular one. As one advances he or she may specialize in handgun or longarms. One may center on a time period in history Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI or II for military arms or arms of a particular century. Those arms technology related as far as periods of "ignition" - matchlock, wheelock, flintlock, percussion, cartridge era - all are types collected. Those arms which represent famous or well known "inventors" or "innovators" - we may call them "brand" names for manufactured arms - such American names as Colt, Winchester, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Browning, Parker and European makers such as Mauser, Walther, Beretta, Webley, Purdey, Francotte, etc-just to name a few- are eagerly sought after makers. In addition, there is a myriad of "custom" gunmakers is history whose specimens are in demand.What are the rules for collecting; do you need a license to buy an antique gun? No license is needed to buy antique arms although some counties qualify arms differently such as an antique arm allowable due to its ammunition no longer being made or obsolete. In the U.S. "curio & relic" licenses may be obtained for the collector to buy weapons greater than 50 years old. Modern weapons usually require a permit and state or federal paperwork approval (U.S.) however requirements differ by state. Modern firearms laws also may differ by country.The market for collecting has been on the rise in recent years. Do you have any thoughts as to why this might be? Historically, collecting was relegated to those who enjoyed hunting and sporting. As wars ended after the mid-19th century antique and surplus weapons became available to public through dealers - as "commemorative" collectibles. Those buying these weapons were our first "collectors". The rise in recent years in the market primarily has been fuel by the media - movies, TV and internet exposure commemorating wars in history and important events. As far as investments are concerned the media has been important as well - such as the Antique Road Show and other similar series. Live auction houses and published results in media have raised awareness of collecting as investment while the unpredictable investment areas such as the stock market have caused some investors to turn towards antique collecting for a sound and predictable investment vehicle.