A question worth answering


 

We purchased a complete collection of pre-64 Winchester model 70s today from a friend and client who has decided to divest himself of his collection. The aging owner told us he wanted to do it himself before the task was left to his kids. He was comfortable with the decision, but it was a bittersweet moment for us to see rifles in our shop again which we had helped this fine gentleman collect in years past. Beautiful rifles we are delighted to be able to offer to other clients, but the return of his rifles to our shop marked the end of one man’s collecting. It is the second time in as many months that we have helped a client in this way, and the second time I felt the same pit in my stomach to see a friend decide they are done collecting.
I posted a photo of the modest collection of 10 fine rifles on social media and a question appeared in the comments which gave me pause.  A question I’ve been asked frequently in the past, and one which is important both to our business and to anyone who has invested in collectible pre-64 model 70s.  The question is whether interest in pre-64 model 70s is increasing or decreasing and how any change in interest might affect rifle values in the future. It’s an excellent question worth exploring. For people with considerable investment in collectible model 70s, it’s a concern – if interest wanes, values will drop and a life of investing in collectible rifles becomes an enormous financial blunder.

Around 7 billion dollars will be spent on firearms in the US this year and more than 70% of that money will go toward semi-automatic rifles and pistols.  The growing popularity of “black guns” among all gun owners is undeniable, and nowhere is this more true than among the youngest generation of people purchasing firearms. It is rare among this demographic to find an interest in bolt action rifles and iron sights, let alone an appreciation for a nice piece of American walnut fitted to silky rust blued steel. So does this reality spell an eventual doom for interest in the model 70?  Without further dissection, it would be easy to believe it does.

Don’t hit the panic button just yet.  For 4 important reasons, we believe model 70 values will not only prove resilient, but we believe they will continue to grow. Here is why we hold this view:

Because it’s the pre-64 model 70
Before you accuse me of spewing nonsense, let me explain – this may be the most noteworthy reason model 70 interest will remain strong. Whenever a person reads about the history of great hunts in North America and Africa, the pre-64 model 70 is going to feature prominently in these stories. Any person studying the history and evolution of the hunting rifle is going to see how the orignal model 70 set a standard which influenced every American-built bolt action rifle to follow – even to this day. And whenever a gun enthusiast talks to a Professional Hunter or a custom gunmaker, or that graybeard in their world who seems to know everything about firearms, they will hear the pre-64 model 70 referred to with a measure of awe and respect which is reserved for royalty. The pre-64 model 70 holds a uniquely important and revered place in the world of firearms. It will always be the rifle which defined what an American sporting rifle should be, and this fact will sustain ongoing interest in the pre-64 model 70.

Because a rising tide lifts all boats
While it is true that spending is increasing on black rifles, it is also a fact that consumer spending on all market segments in the firearm industry is growing. The 7 billion that will be spent this year on firearms will grow to more than 10 billion in 2027 – a growth rate which is more than double the current high inflation we are living with. This gives us reason to be optimistic investments in collectible rifles will at least keep pace with inflation, if not outpace it.

Because people pay more for things that are hard to get
Winchester produced 581,471 model 70s before the unfortunate change to the push-feed action design in 1964. The change to push feed increased demand for the already popular pre-1964 rifles, cementing their place in the world of collectible firearms.  By the time Winchester made this change, countless pre-64 rifles – by virtue of being used as they were intended – had already had their stocks cut and fitted with recoil pads, their receivers drilled for scope mounts, their barrels threaded for muzzle brakes, and thousands more were damaged by use, abuse, weather, falls, and countless other ways which removed them from contention in the world of collectors.  On any given day, a survey of rifles available for sale via online retailers will reveal fewer than 1 in 10 pre-64 model 70s presents in a condition and configuration which would interest a collector, meaning truly collectible model 70s are very scarce.  There are probably less than 50,000 collector-quality model 70s in existence today. The science of microeconomics teaches us supply works with an inverse relationship to demand and that this connection let’s prices go up for things which are scarce. The relatively small numbers of truly collector quality model 70s will keep demand and values high for all model 70s.

Because we all eventually grow up
We’ve all experienced it. As we age our tastes refine and we often gain an appreciation for finer things we ignored in our youth. Black rifles have their place and in a world of instability and uncertainties, tactical weapons will continue to be popular. But those generations which today have an affinity for plastic and matte black finishes will one day have the mind-altering experience of looking into the silvery depth of a pre-war Carbonia blue finish. They will see the flames in a figured piece of walnut and their eyesight will be forever changed. They will try running their hands down the length of their HK416 and it will become as clear to them as it is to you and me – the HK416 has a place and a use, but it can never own a piece of the heart in the same way a fine vintage rifle can.

Over a decade of buying and selling pre-64 model 70s, we have a pretty good idea of what it will cost you to pick up a nice and all original .30-06 post-war standard rifle – the most affordable and easy to come by, but still collectible model 70. Tracing those values over time, rifle prices have just about exactly mirrored the value growth of the Dow Jones Industrial average. It’s a remarkable testament to the resilience of the model 70 as an investment, even against a stock market which has delivered record growth over the same period.

We are not financial advisors, so I guess I should end this by making clear I am not offering financial advice. It’s also worth noting that past performance means nothing about what may happen in the future. But from our little knothole to the world, we believe a new generation will discover the model 70, sustaining interest and creating future collectors for this rifle. With continued interest and the scarcity of truly collectible model 70s, we expect values will continue to grow. Great news for those of us who own model 70s, but not so good for all those future collectors who will someday be trying to put a few treasures into their safe.