Growing up, some kids wanted to be super heroes, others wanted to be astronauts, but for me, I wanted to time travel. I’ve been obsessed with history ever since I learned to read. This natural love of all things historical paired well with my love of all things firearms related. For these reasons, I love buying military surplus firearms.
One of the more important aspects of collecting military surplus firearms is knowing what you are looking at. Older collectors had to rely on reference books for info on military surplus firearms, but we now have the internet. Most -- but not all -- of your questions can be answered there.
When buying military surplus guns you must know what you are looking at. One stamp or color of finishing on a gun could mean the difference between hundreds and even thousands of dollars. When you find a gun you want, take pictures of as many markings or proof mark stamps as you can. Research the pictures. Usually stamps or markings are as portrayed, but when it comes to the high dollar stuff make sure, because there are reproductions. There are no dumb questions -- don’t be afraid to ask. With that being said, be wary of gun forums. They can be a huge help, but the tiniest misinformation costs individuals money. Digging for information on a piece of history makes collecting exciting. The hunt of deciphering markings is a huge fun part of collecting.
Guns vary just like the countries that made them. For example, most pre-war to early-war German guns have markings all over the place. On the flip side, some wartime American firearms won’t have anything more than a maker, serial number and inspector’s marks. Finish and overall cosmetic affect the value. Every collector I have found is different when it comes to this. For example, I love firearms that have obviously seen use. To me that is character. Other people would rather pay a premium for unissued condition. Just because a gun looks new doesn’t mean it was never used. Many guns look new because they were refinished at the various country’s arsenals after the war.
The value of a military surplus firearm is affected by the number of them that have been imported. Take the Mosin Nagant Russian model 91\30, for example, compared to the BRNO-produced Persian Mauser rifles. The main reason the Russian Nagant is cheaper is because for every BRNO imported there were probably thousands of the Nagants imported. This is a huge deciding factor on price and customer demand.
In old sniper rifles, pay close attention to variants, especially regarding optics. Optics and optic mounts on vintage sniper rifles constitute the most commonly reproduced items in surplus. There’s a ton of reproduction optics and mounts out there, and the difference can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in value.
Shooting and collecting surplus military firearms is fun and exciting. These guns represent living history, and by shooting and collecting them, we keep history alive. New firearms aren’t bad, and I own many of them, but I love discovering new-to-me items in the military surplus world. Go to your local gun shop, buy that old war horse and take it shooting. But do your research.
Ian Bradley Johnson is a passionate firearms enthusiast. His gun hobbies include historical military and sporting firearms, hunting and collecting. Johnson is an avid hunter who enjoys travel and experiencing different hunting cultures abroad.