What Price History?

From Reader Ranger:

When to restore an old gun versus keeping it with honest wear? For example:  I have several old firearms.

1.) Old heavily worn SMLE, lots of interesting carving on the furniture, but the barrel might as well be a smooth bore. If i remove anymore rust, then fire the rifle I’ll start seeing daylight thought the side of the barrel. Originally I bought this for a song to convert to a modern De Lisle through one of those kits Rhineland Arms sells, by the time I got around to buying the kit (also putting the money together) Rhineland Arms stopped selling the conversion kit.

2.) A between-the-wars commercial 1911A1, which I picked up for a song. It looks like the previous owner had taken a belt sander to it. The rampant Colt is half gone and the serial number is barely visible. Before I dare fire it, I would replace the barrel, grips (broken), and replace all the springs, at a minimum. Of course since I like to shoot, I probably would get a gunsmith to lower and flare the ejection port, fit modern sights, and put some finish on the exterior. This would probably remove the faded Colt, etc. In other words, I’d probably spend the equivalent of buying a new Springfield 1911A1 to turn old steel into new. At the same time, I would be destroying another little piece of history.

The SMLE is easy:  turn it into a “mantlepiece gun” — put it up on the wall somewhere as a decoration, and give the old war weapon a dignified retirement.  There’s no point in “fixing” it, because the history is too important — why lose that piece of history when you could take the same money and get a new gun for about the same price?

As for the 1911,  I say the opposite:  go for it, and fix it up;  turn it into a shooter.  Frankly, from the sound of it, the gun has been all but destroyed, and as such it has little real intrinsic value, especially as it wasn’t a service piece.  By all means replace all the innards (don’t forget the firing pin) and get it running.  Oh, and you may want to talk to a gunsmith about the serial number:  for some reason, the fuzz don’t take too kindly to an anonymous gun, and it may be necessary to redo the stamping (along with a certified notification for future use).  Also check for frame cracks, because from all accounts the poor old thing has been horribly abused.

It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it?  And thanks for the letter.


  1. In fairness, the 1911 was made before serial numbers were a legal requirement. I’m not a lawyer, but I imagine that the owner would be good to go without a serial number.

  2. I have seen the prices on old battle rifles continue to rise over the last decade, I have a handful of Mausers and others an my suggestion is to carefully clean the gunk, don’t polish anything, don’t refinish any wood, make sure there is a nice, thin bit of lubrication over all the metal parts. If the gun is sound then enjoy shooting it preferably with non-corrosive ammo and if you do use the crappy Russian stuff, like I have of a Mosin, then do a thorough job of cleaning the same day you shoot the gun.

    Now remember it is your gun and you can do anything your heart desires and if you want to butcher and screw it up then my rifle of the same make will become a tiny bit more valuable since they aren’t making any more of those things. Wall hangers will gain in value too as long as you don’t screw them up.

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