Something of Value

Having your firearms appraised helps safeguard your family from getting ripped off after you’re gone.

When I reached Duke McCaa of Gulf Breeze Firearms by phone, he was in the middle of appraising a hunter’s gun collection. This isn’t particularly surprising, considering how many appraisals McCaa does a year and how in-demand his services are. As a licensed appraiser who specializes in firearms and knives, McCaa bounces around the country—from Rhode Island to Washington to Illinois and every other state—providing private gun owners with detailed appraisals of their firearms collections.

In many cases, these appraisals are conducted after the gun owner has passed away, and McCaa often discovers that the owner never kept detailed records of the guns in the collection—records that could have helped put a more precise value on each firearm. Most gun owners can tell you all about every gun in their collection, where they bought it, where they’ve carried it, and what game they’ve shot with it, and they assume that after they pass away, their heirs will be able to sell it for its true value. But that’s not always the case; McCaa says that there are crooks and swindlers who are only too happy to take advantage of grieving relatives, acquiring collections at a fraction of their value while posing as legitimate appraisers.

“It’s criminal,” McCaa says. “Many of the owners of these gun collections would haggle for an hour over $20 while making a purchase. When they die, these swindlers prey on their widows.” McCaa says he’s seen family members sell $250,000 collections for $100,000 simply because they didn’t appreciate how valuable they were, and because trusted the word of an appraiser who was ultimately out to scam them.

Think of a good appraiser as an attorney. They know the rules, they know what you deserve, and they’re willing to serve as a voice of dissent when someone is lying to you. Most gun collectors are passionate about their firearms, and a collection belonging to a family member who has passed likely represents a substantial financial investment, but it also represents an important part of the collector’s life. There may be guns in the collection passed down from older family members. There may be guns that are rare and hard to find. Perhaps there’s a special rifle they carried to Africa a dozen times or maybe it’s the shotgun they used to hunt upland game around the world. Regardless of the size or value of the collection, there are those who would gladly pay your family a fraction of the actual value to make a profit.

And that’s why you must have your firearms appraised—and the best time to do that is while you’re still alive and kicking. Sometimes the back story makes a big difference in the value of the gun. Was it owned by a prince, a celebrity, or a notable hunter? Was the custom work on the gun completed by an in-demand gunsmith? Having this information makes it easier to evaluate the value of a firearms collection, and that’s easier when the original collector is still able to work closely with the appraiser.

How much are these guns worth? Your neighborhood “gun expert” may provide a lowball estimate in hopes of personal gain. That’s why it makes sense to hire a professional.

“If you have a gun collection, you need to have an inventory, insurance paperwork, and a maintenance schedule,” McCaa says. Compared to homeowners insurance, firearm insurance is relatively cheap—you can often cover $100,000 worth of guns for a few hundred bucks a year—and that’s an important first step in protecting your investment. Having a detailed inventory is critical in case of a loss, such as a fire or theft.

McCaa, who has earned a solid reputation for being fair, provides clients with a “buy value” for each firearm, a number that is based on substantiated references regarding the value of the gun. A buy value represents a fair selling price. McCaa also offers to buy the gun at a portion of that price or consign it. This way, McCaa’s customers know he is willing to pay a high percentage of the buy value for the gun, or consign it for sale. At that point, the gun’s owner has multiple options—they can sell the gun to McCaa at the agreed-upon price, consign it, or sell it themselves. Whatever they decide, they’ll have a solid understanding of the firearm’s current market value.

Don’t be fooled into believing that your firearm collection is too small to be of value and doesn’t require an appraisal. “I once sold three guns that totaled $150 in a week,” McCaa says. “That same week I sold one gun for $150,000.”

It’s rare that an appraiser has experience with evaluating both high- and low-cost firearms, and that’s one reason McCaa is in great demand. Appraisers who deal almost exclusively in low-cost firearms may not be equipped to properly appraise or sell a high-end firearm. Conversely, those who deal exclusively in high-end guns like Rigbys, Purdeys, and Holland & Holland firearms may not be able to accurately appraise guns that cost a few hundred dollars.

Which brings up another point—can’t you simply have a friend who knows a great deal about firearms provide a rough appraisal? Not really, and here’s why: provided you trust the person (and you’d be surprised how many people will be tempted to fib on the price of a gun in the hopes of scoring a good bargain), someone who doesn’t understand true market value of a firearm won’t provide you with accurate figures.

“I saw an appraisal sheet where the owner filled out the value of a gun at $587.25,” McCaa says. “Well, that’s what he paid for it at the store. That doesn’t necessarily represent the true value.”

McCaa says that he fields several calls a week to appraise collections, and that most of those collections contain 100 guns or more, although he’s done collections that contained far more and far fewer guns. He charges daily costs, including mileage, plus $25 a gun (except in rare cases where an extremely detailed appraisal is required). That’s on par with other leading appraisers, and while $2,500 may seem like a lot to spend having a 100-gun collection appraised, consider this: If those 100 guns are worth an average of $1,000 each, and you sell them for 75 percent of their market value, you’re losing $25,000 for no reason. And 75 percent would actually be a very good return without an appraisal. In reality, you would be more likely to get 50 percent, losing $50,000.

Should you have your gun collection appraised? The answer is unequivocally yes. If you pass away without getting an appraisal, the best-case scenario is that friends or family will offer up their best estimates of the value of your firearms. At worst, criminals will take advantage of your family at a vulnerable time, and the gun collection you worked so hard to piece together will end up helping to line the pockets of someone who has taken advantage of your loved ones.

For more information on appraisals with Duke McCaa, visit

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