How to Choose my First Small Arm

Johnny676767

Private
Joined
Nov 30, 2020
Hello,

I just joined and wrote a short post in the introduction section. My recent trip to Gettysburg has planted the collecting bug in my head. I thought I would give you a bit of background and then ask your advice.

First, I am totally new to any type of Civil War memorabilia. I picked up a short, introductory book on small arms from a shop in Gettysburg that supplies uniforms to re-enactors. The guy I talked to was great and gave me a brief introduction. I decided I’d read and research before buying.

I understand that condition and rarity greatly affect price. From what I have seen looking online, the condition of the wood stock, metal barrel and lock vary greatly. I’ve been focusing on muskets/rifles (not sure how to refer to that class of arms). Barrels, for example, can be rusted, have a heavy patina, be heavily pitted, or recently cleaned. Stocks can have damage, repair, sandings, cleanings, and engravings. So, how much does all of this matter?Well, it seems fairly reflective in price.

The first piece I want is a long (original size) musket/rifle. I believe models 42, 61, and 63 or a 53 Enfield would be good choices. An 1816 conversation would be cool, too. At this point, contractor doesn’t really matter to me. I could see searching out different models and/or contractors down the line.

I would like to spend $1,000. I prefer an example that shows use. I wouldn’t mind attempting a bit of reconditioning although I don’t want to ”clean” it, rather just enhance/preserve if possible.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this? It seems, at least where I looked so far, it’s challenging to find a good example for $1,000 or less- maybe I need to go to a show? Should I save up a bit or hunt harder? Are there specific sellers or vendors you recommend? Do I need to worry about fakes? Are there specific books to read? I saw a “resource” section on this site that I’ll go to now.

Thanks in advance for all of your help. I’m excited to get started!
 

Dbackfed29

Private
Joined
Sep 1, 2014
Location
Chicago, IL
$1,000 should get you a nice representative firearm of the era. Obviously as you touched on, the values can go up and down depending on condition, type of firearm, CS markings, etc. Do NOT go on gunbroker and try buying a musket on there when the item is listed as a buy-it-now. Often, you will see the same musket there for months/years because it is priced at full retail or even higher. Gun shows and Civil War relic shows are a good start. Dealers will cut you deals typically on the asking price by a few percentage points, even up to 10% depending on how willing they want to sell. Storefront dealers will have higher prices to pay for rent, salaries, utilities. Smaller ones do not have those expenses so they can be priced a little more affordable, but their selection will be smaller.
Remember, it is an investment so you want to buy something that will generally hold its value. If reconditioning it, I personally would not go beyond cleaning any active surface rust. Oiling the stock and metal is fine.
As you touched, the order of least expensive probably goes like this:

Foreign Imports
m1816 Springfield
p1853 Enfield
m1842 Springfield
m1841 Mississippi
m1863 Springfield
m1854 Austrian Lorenz
m1861 Springfield
m1855 Springfield
CS markings add quite a bit of value to any of the guns. Harper Ferry made guns also increase the value.

I personally like the m1816s because they are the most affordable, then the 1853s. The biggest thing I would recommend is buying a CW Firearm price guide book and pay attention to auctions. Larger auctions have better stuff (Rock Island, Morphy, Poulins), but attract more buyers so there are fewer deals. Good deals can be found at smaller auctions. Figure out what YOU want specifically (wall hanger, reenactor/live fire musket, collector's piece) and keep that in mind. Don't settle for something you will be unhappy with and forced to sell possibly at a loss. This is just a starting point, but I hope you find it helpful.
 
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
Texas
$1,000 is not a bad price point to get into collecting with, but another $500 or so will greatly elevate the quality of longarms you're looking at. Condition and rarity are everything in collecting, and lower end guns tend to be quite common, so I would focus on getting as nice of an example of whatever you settle on as possible.

Before you do any serious shopping you might want to consider getting a couple more books that cover, in detail, the types of guns you're interested. For your interest in US arms I would recommend a copy of George Moller's American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume III. You can find paper back copies of this book in the $100 range. That might seem steep, but it is an excellent book, and has lots of information on percussion altered rifles and muskets that isn't available in other publications.
If you're considering European muskets like the British P1853 Rifle-Musket, you should pick up a copy of Firearms from Europe, or the more recent European Arms in the Civil War. Both are good, though the latter is more recent and corrects some errors in the previous book as well as updating terminology and model designations on several types of musket. Regarding British arms, with some looking you will no doubt see a large number of guns being offered as Confederate. Often this is a salesman's pitch, and at this point we have a good idea of what viewers marks to expect on Confederate imported English weaponry. If collecting CS imports, or being able to spot them while shopping is of interest, you would be well served with a copy of The English Connection. Other CS firearms could generally be covered with Confederate Rifles and Muskets. Again, if you are interested in percussion conversions Confederate Rifles and Muskets is definitely worth buying, and you could very well sneak up on a nice Confederate conversion on the cheap.

I would recommend you hit a good Civil War show and take a little time to handle different guns and find something that really speaks to you. With COVID running rampant there aren't many, if any, shows left this year, but the Dalton, Georgia show the first weekend of February is a good one to attend, and it is still a "go" for now.
In the mean time study, study, study. It will pay huge dividends when you start buying.

I worry less about outright fakes than I do original muskets that have been tarted up to look like a more expensive gun. This happens pretty regularly with Confederate arms, especially Enfields. Other than that, keep an eye for non-matching patina that could indicate replaced parts or major work having been done to the gun.
 

111thNYSV

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2019
Location
Rochester NY
While I don't collect original civil war arms....yet, I suggest doing what Grayrock says. Get learned up on the subject with as much reading you can. There are some fakes out there, shady sellers, and lots of sellers that might not know what they have. I dabble in some 1911 collecting and the saying with that goes, "buy the gun, not the story."
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Unless you really get the collecting "bug" the musket you select now may be your "one and only," ... sort of like choosing a spouse, and so you should take your time.
You'll find lots of advice on this forum, but here is a point to remember - the bayonets are not always interchangeable. The hand fitted muskets, including the Model 1816s from the US, and foreign arms such as most Enfields and the Lorenz rifles, don't have completely interchangeable parts, and if you want a bayonet with your musket, keep this in mind.
 

Johnny676767

Private
Joined
Nov 30, 2020
Thanks for all the advice. I have noticed a significant increase in quality when stepping up from $1,000 to $1,500. I have browsed gunbroker and will keep the above advice in mind.

I understand about the varying patinas and parts, including repairs and replacements as I have seen examples online. It is tough because I would like to go to shows to handle some and look at them in person. Big difference from pics.

I collect coins and it’s always said to “buy the coin not the holder”- holder referring to a 3rd party who has officially graded the coin (which may or may not be accurate). I was reminded of this when 111thNYSV said “buy the gun not the story”. I will keep this in mind. As far as the wife analogy....
I guess we’ll have to see.
 
Joined
Dec 17, 2014
The Maryland Arms Collectors show held in Baltimore is one of the biggest and I think the best antique gun show in the country. You will find many guns in your $1000 to $1500 price range. The show is held in March and right now is a go.
 

gjpratt

Corporal
Joined
Apr 14, 2019
Ah, this brings back pleasant memories. The collecting bug bit me hard after my first visit to Gettysburg and The Horse Soldier in 1980. I saw a posting recently where a member said he was in awe of a civil war museum where everything was for sale! I had the same feelings. I was smitten by a relic US musket mounted on a board that was a fresh find from South Mountain. I shopped for my first gun the same way you are. I ended up with a VG M1859 brass mounted Sharps carbine; I had to really stretch my budget but it resulted in a much better acquisition dollar for dollar. Some time later, I pursued a Spencer rifle as my second gun because of its association with Hoover's Gap.

There is no bad advice from the other posters, especially the investment in a library of reference books. My bibles in the beginning were Civil War Guns, by William Edwards, and Norm Flayderman's Price Guides (which are chock full of information in addition to prices). Edwards' book is still the best general introduction to CW guns, North and South, out there in my opinion. My recommendation for any beginner is to make your first purchases from reputable dealers like the Smalls at The Horse Soldier. Yes, you will pay more, but you will get exactly what is represented and the good dealers will guarantee authenticity. I bought my first two guns from dealers. I still do not mind paying a dealer premium for their vetting of the item and their ability to acquire for resale desirable, rare or unique items. Over time as you acquire knowledge and confidence you can venture into shopping at shows and such and begin assessing the offerings yourself and haggling.
 

ucvrelics

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
Welcome From THE Heart Of Dixie. Congrats on wading into the CW collecting pool. A few notes to add to all the great advice you gotten already. The price of yankee muskets has been declining over the last few years while CS muskets continue to rise. For the $1000 you have earmarked you should be able to find a very nice US musket but I would lean toward items that will rise in value over the years. Just be very patient do your homework, go to the shows, ask questions and when you find THAT one you will know it. In the words of my good friend @Lanyard Puller your first purchase should be a reference book. On another point be VERY careful as collecting CW items can be habit forming.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
By the way, if you want a good example of an item that sounds good in the description but you might not want as the foundation of your collection, look at this interesting "FAYETTESVILLE" Enfield:

https://www.gunbroker.com/Item/885710617

I don't know what this was to begin with, but it sure in interesting now. This owner does clearly state that it is not an antique, and is a shooter - but you might find plenty of offerings where such an item is sold as an original antique.
 
Joined
May 1, 2015
Location
Upstate N.Y.
First thing would be if is this going to be as a collectable or are you looking to be able to fire the weapon? Most important, as mentioned, is knowledge of the firearm you are seeking. Books,books and more books should be your first purchases. If this is going towards a collection, don't be in a hurry to grab first one you see. Get comfortable as to what you are willing to accept as normal usage and aging. What points are you going to stay firm on. Matching serial numbers, bore condition, even patina, missing parts, cartouches, dings, linear cracks to name a few considerations. Compare what the dealers publish online. Do searches on the individual item. Ask questions here as many members who have been at this awhile are willing to share their knowledge. Did I mention books? You mention minor repair, consider only appendage items like swivels or rear sights. Even that can be a challenge finding some parts. Warning! Collecting can be addictive. Have fun.
 

Johnny676767

Private
Joined
Nov 30, 2020
Thanks for all of the replies, but now another question (or 3) has come up:

1. What’s a “wall-hanger”? Is that like it sounds: a gun that just hangs on the wall and isn’t fired?

2. How do I look for one that can be fired? Are there any specific features?

3. I have a good friend who was a re-enactor and he told me I’d need to get the gun x-rayed to make sure there were no cracks that may cause big problems when fired. Is that right? Where do you go to get a musket x-rayed?

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to fire it.
 

captaindrew

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 13, 2017
Location
Whereabouts Unknown
Thanks for all of the replies, but now another question (or 3) has come up:

1. What’s a “wall-hanger”? Is that like it sounds: a gun that just hangs on the wall and isn’t fired?

2. How do I look for one that can be fired? Are there any specific features?

3. I have a good friend who was a re-enactor and he told me I’d need to get the gun x-rayed to make sure there were no cracks that may cause big problems when fired. Is that right? Where do you go to get a musket x-rayed?

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to fire it.
Yes a wall hanger is just that. I don't know about x rays but a good gunsmith will be able to tell you if it's safe to fire. If the lock is functioning properly and the bore is in good shape it should be good to go.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
Thanks for all of the replies, but now another question (or 3) has come up:

1. What’s a “wall-hanger”? Is that like it sounds: a gun that just hangs on the wall and isn’t fired?

2. How do I look for one that can be fired? Are there any specific features?

3. I have a good friend who was a re-enactor and he told me I’d need to get the gun x-rayed to make sure there were no cracks that may cause big problems when fired. Is that right? Where do you go to get a musket x-rayed?

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to fire it.
Simply put a wall hanger is a rust bucket. That said I've handled many a wall hanger that were fully functional just uncared for and the occasional real steal can be found that way. A friend picked up a Spencer carbine at a flea market for $250 that was just filthy. An hour clean up showed a weapon easily worth almost 10 x that.

Businesses that support the NSSA such as Lodgewood, already mentioned up thread, cater to those who wish to shoot. They're honest to a fault and will answer any question you might have.

If you are looking just to collect I might suggest Gunderson Militaria or Dennis Fulmer. Both currently have ACW era arms that fit your bill for under $1k. That said it is ALWAYS advisable to call first. My experience is that both men are honest and forthright with the information. Other vendors are Tim Prince of College Hill Arsenal, Horse Soldier of Gettysburg (full retail +) and there are many others.

Good luck
 

vmicraig

Sergeant
Joined
Mar 12, 2018
Location
Mobile, AL
As noted above, reputable auction houses like Rock Island Auctions, Heritage auctions, Cowan's all deal with antique firearms of all makes and models and have online websites that you can review at your leisure. You pay a premium, but more often than not, the weapons are in good condition as opposed to some of the rust buckets attempted to be sold by individuals on sites like GunBroker, although it should certainly be reviewed from time to time. You definitely want to get yourself a few reference books like Flayderman's before purchasing something, if only to get some basic background on that particular weapon and the basic values of the item. The more reading and research you do, the better purchase decision you'll make. We all started out buying something we later regretted spending money on - but that comes with experience.

As for auction houses, Rock Island, for example, usually goes into detail on the item, the condition and the estimated value before you even place a bid (see link below...and note - I do not work for them or are affiliated with them in any manner - just using it as an example). With info like that and a couple good reference books, you should end up paying a fair market value and not getting ripped off, unless you let your heart get into the mix and bid emotionally. Just remember, auction sites also charge a buyers premium, which you won't have at a gunshow.

As often noted in this forum, market value goes out the window if it's something that speaks to you. Remember, a gun is only worth what you (or another collector) will pay for it, with the exception of fine quality museum pieces that have a set value based on rarity. However, for those of us who are limited to "run of the mill" weaponry, stick with something that falls within the market value range you prefer to spend and that is in decent shape. Good luck!!
https://www.rockislandauction.com/catalog/81/1/?keywords=musket
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I've bought and sold muskets for thirty years, both common and choice rarities, and I've dealt with all the internet auction sites.
I would caution you that I believe that when sellers have troublesome items to sell Rock Island is a favorite choice. That doesn't mean that Rock Island does not give the best description they can, or will tell you something they know is not true, but be sure to follow the standard advice to study, study, and take your time.
 

KHyatt

Corporal
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
By the way, if you want a good example of an item that sounds good in the description but you might not want as the foundation of your collection, look at this interesting "FAYETTESVILLE" Enfield:

https://www.gunbroker.com/Item/885710617

I don't know what this was to begin with, but it sure in interesting now. This owner does clearly state that it is not an antique, and is a shooter - but you might find plenty of offerings where such an item is sold as an original antique.

I looked at the lock and spotted the circled GDG cartouche for Armi San Paolo/Euroarms. I couldn’t see an Italian date code anywhere but I think that given the cartouche it dates from the 1970s.
 

Package4

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Research, research, research And patience!!!! I went full bore into collecting, thinking I knew what I was doing and received a very rude education.

My first ACW era firearm purchase was a Sharps carbine that had been converted to cartridge for IW use, it also had a cartouche for the studio that filmed “Birth of a Nation“. So here I had a carbine that went through the Civil War, IW and was in one of the most famous historical films of all time. Just had to have it, paid way too much and when I really decided that carbines were not my passion went to sell. Trying to find a CW, IW movie buff is tough, the conversion hurt the true ACW value and the studio cartouches hurt it even more. I ended up donating it to a school auction.....

Do your research
 
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