A collection of WWII rifles, pistols, and machine guns

The Beginners Guide to Collecting Firearms

You’ll find plenty of collectible firearms at Pennsylvania’s Largest Gun Show. Starting a gun collection can be a fun, rewarding, expensive, and frustrating part of your shooting lifestyle. Every gun is an investment, and many of the choice specimens will hold their value well over time. Just about every gun owner has thought about starting a collection, but many don’t get far past thinking. Understanding how to get started the right way can be difficult, so we’re going to break down how to get your collection going without breaking the bank or running afoul of the regulatory agencies that start to get nervous when a private citizen has “too many” guns.

Collection vs. Accumulation

Historic pistols in a collector's exhibit

We’re not snobs–in our opinion, there’s no wrong way to collect guns. To true collectible firearms aficionados, however, there is a big difference between a gun collection and accumulation. While there is no way to cover every type of collection out there, we’ll start with some popular choices.

  • Accumulation – You wanted it. You bought it. Now there are a lot of them. Some gun owners just have a love of buying and shooting different firearms. Maybe they’re looking for the “perfect gun” that keeps eluding them. Maybe they just have commitment issues. These collections aren’t about investing, telling a story, or nostalgia as much as they’re about liking all things that go bang.
  • Historical – These collections center on the collectible firearms used in important historical events. From the guns that won the West to the firearms of World War II, there are collectors who theme their collections around these historical guns.
  • Rare – Limited edition guns come in several varieties, and all have a place in collecting. Some were produced as collector editions or in serial numbered releases to commemorate events, places, or people. Others were from small firearms manufacturers who just couldn’t outlast the big dogs. Rarity doesn’t always mean pricey, but it can be valuable to the person collecting it.
  • Obsolete – Not every gun makes it big. Obsolete weapons use outdated technology, odd mechanisms, or downright unique ammo, making them a fun niche to get into. Whether you’re looking for a sword-pistol, duck foot, or good old-fashioned Gyrojet rocket pistol, there’s something for everyone that most people haven’t seen.
  • Pop Culture – Who didn’t love watching the Duke swing that lever-action around to reload it or Dirty Harry drawing his Iconic .44 Magnum? Pop culture has a long history with collectible firearms, and plenty of collectors set out to build a gun collection around their movie matinee heroes’ exploits.
  • Sentimental – Some collectors keep their reverence for the past closer to home, filling their safe with family hand-me-downs and models they remember Pappy taking out on hunting trips. 
  • Investment – No bones about it here. Some gun owners focus on collectible firearms that are most likely to increase in value. They hold them for a few years or decades, then sell them at a profit. The downside is that while guessing wrong may just lead to lower profit margins, it could also potentially lead to a loss of capital.

Collectible Firearms and the Law

Firearms laws largely vary from state to state, so it’s important to know how your jurisdiction regulates guns, as most collectible firearms will fall under the same laws. The federal government, likewise, has little guidance for gun collections beyond a specialized C&R FFL. Otherwise, normal federal gun rules apply for in-state and interstate transfers through an FFL dealer, with one major exception. National Firearms Act weapons, like machine guns, short-barreled rifles or shotguns, silencers, and other registerable weapons, fall under the rules regarding all NFA transactions. Non-NFA guns are still subject to the same background checks or notifications for multi-gun sales as any other gun purchaser.

Federal Firearms License Type 3 – Collector of Curios and Relics

To get started with collectible firearms, you don’t need a special license. In fact, many gun collections are assembled under the same firearms rules and regulations that apply to most members of the general public. The ATF does offer a special C&R FFL for collectors of firearms deemed to be curios and relics. The single major advantage of this license is that it allows you to purchase a listed C&R weapon through interstate trade without needing to go through a commercial FFL dealer. If you do a lot of out-of-state buying of these weapons, especially handguns–this license can be valuable, but it comes with additional record-keeping requirements and does not apply to non-C&R weapons. 

Gun Collecting Equipment and Accessories

  • Safe Storage – Whatever type of collection you assemble, you’ll want to keep it safe and secure. To start with, you need a gun safe or cabinet that is strong enough to deter opportunistic thieves and keep children and teenagers away from your firearms. In addition, consider upgrading to a safe that’s fire and water-resistant. You may also want to invest in alarms for the safe that warn you of entry attempts, high humidity content, or temperature differentials, especially if you plan on insuring your collection. 
  • Cleaning and Maintenance – Even collectible firearms need periodic cleaning and maintenance to ensure dust isn’t accumulating and that they’re well-protected from moisture. Do your research on the proper solvents and lubricants to use on historical firearms to avoid unintentionally harming their value.
  • Resource Material – Books, manuals, guides, and historical documentation can all help you put together a better gun collection and help you take care of it. Schematics can also be helpful when you need to identify or fabricate obsolete parts for a special project piece.
  • Associated Gear – Some collectible firearms need accessories to really show off their place in your collection. From replica old-west gunslinger holsters to WWII helmets, adding a few extra pieces of “flavor” to your collection can be great for display or when passing them on to the next generation.  

Gun Collecting at a Gun Show

Vendor booths set up at an Eagle Shows Gun Show in PA

Don’t discount your local gun show as a place to find both collectible firearms and the accessories you need to care for them or complete the look and feel of your gun collection. We bring in vendors from across the country who want to get their products in front of you in a clean, comfortable event hall with paid on-site security. That means it’s the perfect opportunity to track down the next piece for your collection…if you’re ready for it.

  • Do Your Research – Whether you prefer traditional books or web searches, form a plan about what you need to make your collection complete. You’re more likely to find what you’re looking for at the gun show if you know what you’re looking for to start with.
  • Know Your Budget – “Money is no object” just isn’t an option in most cases. Know the market prices for what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to spend. That will keep your collectible firearms purchases on track and prevent you from having to hide receipts from your spouse.
  • Buy Your Tickets – Order your tickets online in advance to guarantee your entry on the day of the show. It’s fast, easy, and gets you ready to get to the deals.
  • Get Ready to Talk and Walk – Be sure to make a full circuit of the floor before moving in to make a deal. If you can’t come to an agreement with the gun seller on a price that fits your needs or research, you may have to walk away, but don’t be afraid to exchange information with a seller. Many vendors who specialize in collectible firearms will gladly keep an eye out for some pieces that fit your criteria or budget if they know how to let you know when they’ve found a gun for your collection.

Your next local gun show is coming soon. Make sure you’re ready. Order your tickets to your Eagle Shows gun show online today.

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