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The Finer Points of Grading Condition (?)
January 17, 2020
1:09 pm
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A few years back I started to take an interest in trying to determine firearm condition in terms of percentage.

I know the easy things to look for as I've been interested in guns for more than 50 years and have a fairly critical eye.

But when it comes to determining percentages ie. 80%, 90%, or even 85% as I've seen some guns described as, what can be referred to for guidance in making these evaluations.

Are there hard and fast determining factors that are generally agreed upon in the collecting community, or is this more of a subjective process based on experience that leads to opinions of condition and then of course an opinion of value ?

All feedback on this subject will be greatly appreciated.

January 17, 2020
2:09 pm
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The Blue Book of Gun Values has a good set of photographs of condition percentage and descriptions of how They determine that percentage.  It is a good starting point reference .

   I look for ended auctions to find fair values at any given time. 

January 17, 2020
2:13 pm
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David McNab said

Are there hard and fast determining factors that are generally agreed upon in the collecting community, or is this more of a subjective process based on experience that leads to opinions of condition and then of course an opinion of value ?
 

How can it be anything but subjective, unless there was an optical device that could scan the gun from all sides & angles, then using a computer program, generate a read-out of the percentage of original finish remaining?  Or maybe such a device already exists, as you might think when you see a gun described as "94.7 %"; such a degree of precision is of course absurd! 

But even with an scientifically accurate means of determining percentage, that's far from the whole story, because the manner & distribution of wear is equally important; an evenly worn finish is far more preferable to me than a better finish having, for ex., the ugly flaking that occurs on some models.

January 17, 2020
3:01 pm
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The problem with grading finish, is the gun 50 bright blue, 50% dull blue or 50% patina. Each one would have a different value.

Bob

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January 17, 2020
3:18 pm
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Maybe I was hoping for too much in starting this post.

Yes, I have the "Blue Book Photo's" - they are helpful but some examples give a range of 30% to 80 % which makes no sense to me.

I suppose I should have started with what are the "Top Ten Points of Condition" to consider when evaluating a gun ?

ANYWAY, I'm looking forward very much to Berts' article in the Winter 2020 Collector Issue for some constructive help.

January 17, 2020
5:02 pm
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I have my own grading system and a % number is not part of it. Rough, good, very good, nice and very nice.  These are all based upon the fact that I have actually held the gun in my hands and that I'm a buyer not a seller.  I may also add a note on a specific area or part.

January 17, 2020
6:18 pm
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David McNab said
Maybe I was hoping for too much in starting this post.

Yes, I have the "Blue Book Photo's" - they are helpful but some examples give a range of 30% to 80 % which makes no sense to me.

I suppose I should have started with what are the "Top Ten Points of Condition" to consider when evaluating a gun ?

ANYWAY, I'm looking forward very much to Berts' article in the Winter 2020 Collector Issue for some constructive help.  

Will Bert's referenced article focus on grading finish?

James

January 17, 2020
6:48 pm
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I have only been at this hobby a little more than half the time that you folks with 50+ years of experience have got, and the Blue Book (BB) has been, by far for me, the Bible where learning about the percentage of finish is concerned. The second best source might have been reading the vast and descriptive terminology used by the appraisers that work in the large auction houses. Some of the finer points have been through developing knowledgeable friends who go out of their way to help other people understand what has taken them the better part of a lifetime to learn...(Old-Colts being one of them), or from other WACA members who give freely of their knowledge to this end. 

Discussions on and off the forums with these folks have helped to bring about a greater understanding of what Bob has just mentioned in terms of the finish being bright, dull, and patina...or that, "three dimensional" look as he put it...(Thanks for making something so easy to see and difficult to describe, so simple, Bob!  Thank you!), in his thread Spotting Fake Guns, "Determining if the finish of the gun is real can’t be learned from reading a book. It has to be learned from experience from seeing good guns in person in good light. Blue on old guns has a depth to it. When looking at it in good light and you roll the gun around the blue almost looks three dimensional."

So, with the shade and thickness of the bluing that I see on new guns representing 100% finish and being the basis for our grading of the remaining finish, let me add using different words that blue on old guns has a depth (thickness) to it that forms various shades of blue and patina.

David: In reference to your statement, "Yes, I have the "Blue Book Photo's" - they are helpful but some examples give a range of 30% to 80 % which makes no sense to me." I have looked at page 79 of the 34th edition of the Blue Book.  It pictures a Marlin 1899 model receiver and shows that its condition is 30-80 percent.  In these pictures, I see that the case colors cover about 80% of the metal, (less the barrel), and the same metal has various shades of case colors that might range between 30% - 80% bright, with at least a bright 80% blue loading gate.  Anyway, that's how I make heads and tails out of the claimed 30-80% condition as referenced.  Hope this helps a little.

James

January 18, 2020
5:07 am
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All, I would add, in my meager opinion, the per centage of blue or other finish depends on whether you are a buyer or a seller!  It will be at least 10% lower if the former, or inversely 10% higher if you are selling!  Tim with tongue firmly in cheek!Laugh

January 18, 2020
1:41 pm
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tim tomlinson said
All, I would add, in my meager opinion, the per centage of blue or other finish depends on whether you are a buyer or a seller!  It will be at least 10% lower if the former, or inversely 10% higher if you are selling!  Tim with tongue firmly in cheek!Laugh  

EXACTLY - Subjectivity motivated by objective self interest, a.k.a. "Human Nature".

But what would be really helpful is an in-depth educational article with appropriate photo's and narrative using 1 particular model only and with solid examples of varying degrees of condition written by a recognized expert.

With a full explanation of the elements of condition considered and why they add up to "x" per cent.

I only started this post in the interest of learning more.

January 18, 2020
4:05 pm
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David McNab said

But what would be really helpful is an in-depth educational article with appropriate photo's and narrative using 1 particular model only and with solid examples of varying degrees of condition written by a recognized expert.

So "recognized experts" always, or even usually, agree?  Listen to the "legal scholars" now debating our impeachment fiasco, if you think so.  What's surprising about the fact that, where human judgment is involved, differences of opinion always exist?  In fact, what you propose has already been done; it's called the Blue Book, & yet it's still unacceptably vague. 

Much as I hate how on-line selling has for the most part killed off quality gun shows, one thing it has done is eliminate the NEED for vain & inevitably subjective attempts to describe condition with a percentage number, by using photos, not of "examples," but of the specific gun--what you see is what you get, at least if the photos are good enough.  That leaves only one variable to consider--the cost; is what you SEE worth to you what it will cost to own it?  Estimating condition by a percentage number belongs to the era of Gun List & Shotgun News, which, much as I lament its passing, is now dead & buried.

January 18, 2020
5:03 pm
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One also must address varying conditions of components when considering the condition of Winchester rifles.  Such as a rifle or carbine with much original finish on the barrel, forearm, and stock, and very little left on the receiver.  Unfortunately, such a gun, in my opinion, is reduced nearly to the condition of the component with the least remaining original finish.  Which is FAR better than a refinish because a refinished firearm has ZERO remaining original finish.

January 18, 2020
5:19 pm
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clarence said

David McNab said

But what would be really helpful is an in-depth educational article with appropriate photo's and narrative using 1 particular model only and with solid examples of varying degrees of condition written by a recognized expert.

So "recognized experts" always, or even usually, agree?  Listen to the "legal scholars" now debating our impeachment fiasco, if you think so.  What's surprising about the fact that, where human judgment is involved, differences of opinion always exist?  In fact, what you propose has already been done; it's called the Blue Book, & yet it's still unacceptably vague. 

Hey Clarence  - I'm not looking for an argument.

#1 I don't know everything.

#2 Neither does anyone else.

#3 All that I'm suggesting is that an educational photo-narrative tutorial would be very helpful to anyone who cares to study the subject.

#4 The "Blue Book" attempt at indicating factors of condition is inadequate and not very specific from an educational point of view.

#5 I guess we somewhat agree on the "Blue Book", therefore it might be helpful to all if someone did what I suggested in the first place.Laugh

January 18, 2020
5:30 pm
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Many times, at gun shows, several of us will be looking at a rifle and someone will say "What percentage would you put this rifle at?" Most of the time, we are 10% one way or another apart. Unfortunately, 10% can be a heck of a big price difference on high end guns.

I usually factor in each area separately to come up with a collective overall percentage, slightly prioritizing in this fashion. 1. Receiver blue (or case) 2. barrel and tube blue 3. Wood fit and finish. Then of course there's many other factors outside of finish condition like screws, other dings and damage, bore condition, extra holes, correct (or incorrect sights) that all factor in to a full assessment.

Bob made the best point yet talking about blue and the fact that you can have 100% coverage but its very thin. Things like this make us all come up with different perspectives and opinions. I think I'm a little more lenient on grading turn of the century guns than I am war-era guns. The expectation of a 90% 1940 Model 61 blue is higher than a 90% 1900 vintage 1894 in my way of thinking. Different types of bluing are part of this mentality, I guess.

Quite often, I am focusing on 70-90% rifles with interesting anomalies rather than vanilla high condition specimens so I really cant utilize the Blue or Red book. Several of you also mentioned the value of putting your hands and eyes on as many rifles in your collecting genre as you can so you eventually get a feel for condition and value of what you are holding.

Anyway, its a complicated subject that none of us will ever agree on 100%. If you are buying rifles to keep them or fill holes in a collection, buy the highest condition you can afford and if you pay a little extra, so be it, you will enjoy it for years to come. If you are buying with the intent of selling in the near future, follow the auctions and online sites like a hawk to see what actual sales are showing.

~Gary~

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January 18, 2020
5:49 pm
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David McNab said #5 I guess we somewhat agree on the "Blue Book", therefore it might be helpful to all if someone did what I suggested in the first place.

Don't believe clarification of purpose & usefulness is argument...because it's still not clear to me what the purpose would be, unless someone were trying to buy or sell a gun for which no photos were available, which would hearken back to the era of Gun List & dealer's printed lists.

Prior to having photos made, or going to see the items first hand, a rough assessment of condition can be very useful, as for ex., if you were told about a gun or collection that averaged about 80%, 90%, etc. (for which Blue Book's ratings are close enough), you'd have a reasonable idea of whether the stuff was likely to be of interest to you.  It's trying to pin it down closer than that that I think is futile.

But if someone wishes to undertake what you suggest, more power to them!

January 18, 2020
6:04 pm
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David,

I agree with Clarence in that what you suggest has already been done with the Blue Book. In fact, any such successful guide would have to "duplicate" what the Blue Book has already established to a very large extent...which is where credit should be given if an improved percentage grading system guide focused on metal and wood finish alone is published. 

I also think that despite what appears to be vague about the BBGV could be improved upon by addressing the specific shortcomings whatever they might be. The book does an excellent job of helping people learn how to estimate the percentage of finish on the receiver area, which is the basis that is critical in determining an accurate grade and value, but the remainder of the piece needs to be described in terms of percentage along with notes about descriptive terms having to do with depth of finish, shades, patina, etc., plus a section that has to do with wood and its condition.  And, while it might be true that one is not going to learn how to grade guns or spot fakes by reading books with pictures that address the subject...it will certainly streamline the learning process.

Basically, the BBGV has been a steppingstone toward the subject matter, sorta like Madis and his prolific career to improve the knowledge of collectors, hobbyists, and dealers.  An expert, like Bert, for example has the skills and knowledge to produce a percentage grading guide...even if he has to delay some of his many projects.  I think it would be helpful, for example, chayns uses a whole lot of close up, high resolution pictures and then backs them up with descriptive terminology...this sorta advertising is a lesson in and of itself.

James 

January 18, 2020
6:28 pm
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The grading of the condition of a firearm is much too subjective to pinpoint to an exact percentage.  A percentage is just an educated guess, as also would be the precise valuation of a firearm at a given point in time.

Use YOUR best educated guess and, as always, caveat emptor!

January 18, 2020
10:04 pm
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If I've said anything to imply I'm a proponent of the Blue Book, let me hasten to correct that impression--I've never owned one!  Have looked through them a few times, but why would I need one, when I already knew VERY well what the kinds of guns I was interested in were selling for at any given time from seeing prices at shows & talking with friends who shared my interest.  Has anyone ever heard of a seller who reduced his price because the Blue Book indicated it was too high???  What the seller would undoubtedly say to any novice foolish enough to flash his Blue Book is "I only wish I could buy them at those prices."  And now it's easy to find on-line sale prices, making Blue Book even more irrelevant, except I guess to pawn shop owners & dealers like Cabela's who know next to nothing about guns.  (By the way, does Cabela's negotiate, or are their online prices firm?)

The only "value guide" I ever bought was Flayderman's 1st ed, which I still use all the time for quick checks of dates of production, model changes, & similar facts.  However, his values for the guns of my main interest, single shots & certain US military rifles, were laughably out of date the first year it was published! 

January 18, 2020
10:34 pm
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The Blue Book is ridiculously out of touch with reality when it comes to valuations.  Look at the Colt Single Action Army section, if you collect these.  Way, way higher than current sale prices, or even when they were higher.

Cabela's, I have been told, will negotiate prices that do not end in a 7 or an 8.  If the price is $1999.99, there's room to negotiate.  If it's $1999.77, that's as low as they are willing to go.  Which makes no sense!  A beautiful Winchester Model 1873 languishes in a case collecting dust at the Cabela's nearest me because they are unwilling to go any lower, and yet, as the market softens, the gulf between their bottom line price and realistic selling prices further widens.

January 18, 2020
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mrcvs said
The Blue Book is ridiculously out of touch with reality when it comes to valuations.  Look at the Colt Single Action Army section, if you collect these.  Way, way higher than current sale prices, or even when they were higher.

Cabela's, I have been told, will negotiate prices that do not end in a 7 or an 8.  If the price is $1999.99, there's room to negotiate.  If it's $1999.77, that's as low as they are willing to go.  Which makes no sense!  A beautiful Winchester Model 1873 languishes in a case collecting dust at the Cabela's nearest me because they are unwilling to go any lower, and yet, as the market softens, the gulf between their bottom line price and realistic selling prices further widens.  

So I can't figure out if you are saying BBGV prices on SAA Colts are higher than they are actually selling for, or lower.

Shoot low boys. They're riding Shetland Ponies.

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