Guys call me all the time about shotguns.
Most of the side-by-sides they mention are every day doubles — Nitro Specials, Sterlingworths, no-name Euro shotguns from WW2. The callers are nice folks; I’m happy to help them out. They ask questions, I throw out values and usually say no thanks when buying is mentioned.
But every now and then something nice pops up and makes it all worthwhile.
Last March a gentleman from Maryland called me about a double barrel. In less than twelve weeks, this shotgun would change hand three times and almost double in price.
“YOU THE FELLA INTERESTED IN L.C. SMITHs?” he hollered at me over the phone. He spoke slowly, with an accent that sounded just south of the Mason Dixon line.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said.
“I’ve got one – a 20 gauge No. 2. Twenty-eight inch barrels, ejectors, two triggers…”
He gave me the run down. “What kind of stock?” I asked, scrambling to find a pen and paper for notes.
I looked harder for a pen and paper.
“What about condition?” I said, expecting bad news.
“Ninety-nine percent” he said matter of factly.
“You mean 99% refinished?”
“No – I mean 99% ALL ORIGINAL,” he said, hollering again. “I DOUBT ITS HAD A BOX OF SHELLS THROUGH IT.”
Well now, I thought, a 20 gauge No. 2, 99% ALL ORIGINAL. That’s a gun.
Twenty gauge, pre-1913 LCs are hard to find. The Hunter Arms Company didn’t start making them until 1907. In the next six years they turned 5,198 twenties, fewer than 5% of all the guns they made from 1889 to 1913.
They made just 404 twenties in No. 2 grade. Probably fewer than 10% had straight grips, or 40-50 guns. And this caller had one that was almost new, meaning it could be the finest in existence.
“Let me get this straight,” I said, slowing down the conversation to gather my thoughts. “Your Smith is a 20g No. 2 grade, two triggers, ejectors, 28″ bbls, a splinter forend, straight grip, 14 1/4″ to a buttplate, and just about all its original condition. Is that right?”
“Yes sir. And it’s in its original case.”
I hesitated, thinking wow.
“So what are you looking to get for it?”
“$7,500?” I replied, pausing for affect. “That’s a lot.”
“It’s a lot of gun,” he stated without hesitation. He was right – if the gun really was in near-new condition.
“Well, how about you send me some photos and we’ll see what we can do.”
He agreed. We hung up and all I could think was how am I going to scrounge up $7,500?
Nice guns have always been expensive. Even though Hunter Arms considered No. 2s to be lower- to middle-grade shotguns “…just right for rough usage…” they still cost a lot of money.
In 1907, a 20g No. 2E L.C. Smith was $95. At that time, most guys in America earned $300 a year. This means $95 shotgun was 31% of their annual salary. Today, the average American male makes $44,000. Thirty-one percent of that equals $14,000 – a lot of money for a gun (just ask your wife). So was $7,500 was actually a bargain price for this LC? Perhaps.
After several weeks of waiting, pictures of the 20g L.C. arrived. They weren’t the best, but the gun looked right. The only problem: I still hadn’t found $7,500. In the end, I had to pass on the gun.
But instead of letting it get away, I forwarded the pics to a friend. A few weeks later he brought the gun home with him in the trunk of his car. The final price: $7,200.
My friend is a crazy for vintage American guns. When he saw this LC Smith he had to have it. “You just don’t walk away from condition like that,” he told me afterwards as we rehashed the deal.
But even though this LC was almost new, my friend soon traded it to a dealer. A week later this dealer had the little Elsie 20g on the open market for $9,995.
My friend and I were both surprised. Ten grand for a LC Smith No. 2 grade? While they’re nice, they’re not that nice – at least not to us. That kind of money lifts you into another league of double barrel shotguns.
But what did we know? Within a few weeks the gun sold to a second dealer. When it appeared on his website, the asking price had jumped – to $12,995!
In just a few months this 20 gauge LC Smith had gone from $7,200 to $12,995. That’s an 80% jump in value.
I wish my 401(k) would perform just as well.
Thanks to a friend of mine for the color images.
First image is from the L.C. Smith Collector’s Organization web site.