What’s Granddad’s Rifle Really Worth?By Luke Dixon
- 26th Dec, 2019 Dec 26, 2019, 7:06 PM
- 3 Comments
God only knows how many .303 Lee Enfields inhabit this land of ours, or are still used to harvest deer. Tables piled with venison were made possible by tough, powerful rifles at an affordable price. After war’s end the stockpiles of serviceable rifles were distributed and supplies of parts and ammunition appeared to never end. The choice was simple and the Lee Enfields, Garands, M1 Carbines and Mausers were eagerly sought.
“Those were the days” when the general public could purchase surplus military rifles. This took place back when the national attitude was different than that of the cotton soft, nanny state whingers so common in today’s New Zealand. Such rifles were yours for the asking at a reasonable price.
There was little in the way of buyer’s remorse and their plentiful numbers meant some owners neglected or simply disregarded maintenance, which in due course sent many to the scrap bin, or saw them broken up in to parts. A similar occurrence plagued the Mosin Nagant in the United States to some degree, due to its $89 price tag in recent years.
For those of the mindset that a rifle is just a tool like any other, sporterising was common practice. But re-built sporters were also available under various brand names such as Churchill and Parker Hale (in the case of Lee-Enfields). These re-built sporters were available in various grades.
This could involve something as simple as a new stock and bluing, or a completely new barrel chambered in the latest high velocity fad of the day, based on a service cartridge case. Prices varied with no end of options available for either the experienced or budding hunter.
“German military models like the Gewehr 98 and Karabiner 98k are worlds apart in terms of availability with the former being surprisingly difficult to acquire outside of the likes of Carvell’s Auctions.”
There were those who bought surplus rifles and took care of them, leaving them in their original military form, or who had “duffle bagged” a war trophy to bring home, and it’s these rifles that are becoming sought after today.
I grew up in Whangarei and have always loved shooting; target shooting, plinking, and pest control - I like firearms. My sixteenth birthday present was a German Krico bolt action .22 from my father. I still have it today and have shot countless pests with it. But like many my age, I grew up watching war movies and reading books about it.
Thinking of war and the awe-inspiring stories from those who were there where courage, sacrifice, mental toughness and of course luck stand out against the backdrop of carnage and destruction. You cannot deny the profound impact these wars had on shaping the world we live in today.
And as macabre as it may sound to those in the petal parade, some of us, especially those removed from war by time, want a piece of that history. To some it may be medals, uniforms, letters, maps, original photographs, but for many it’s the rifles or other small arms. So if it’s a rifle you seek, where to from here?
An obvious start for most Kiwis is the Lee Enfield in one of its various numbers, marks and stars. The Lee Enfield was used by the Commonwealth forces, including New Zealand’s. Primarily we were issued the No.1 Mk III during both wars, with the No.4 Mk I coming in near the end of the Second. These rifles served in many forms from the late 1890s through to the 1960s in some places, but from there I will spare you a history lesson.
A lot of budding collectors or history lovers are divided into one of two camps - No.1 or No.4. How do you feel about that nose cap - love it or hate it? If the rifle you want is not a hand-me-down from granddad or another relative it may have a price tag that your old uncle will raise an eyebrow to - the going rate for a World War One or Two rifle can vary anywhere between $700 and $1500 for a non-sporterised standard issue model.
Obviously condition dictates much of the price. That’s not saying you can’t spend much more on one due to its rarity. I am not an expert, but that seems to be where the market is at, at least according to TradeMe.
With the opening of the vast Russian and Ukrainian storage arsenals that started in the 90s, German and Russian war stocks were distributed throughout the world. The Mosin Nagant was not exactly cutting edge even when it was first adopted in 1891.
A mediocre design at the time, it survived in Russian service until 1945 and longer in satellite states with new models being produced into the 1950s. In the United States piles of these old Russian service rifles were marketed, as mentioned, at the average price of US$89 with a ‘spam can’ of 440 rounds of surplus ball ammo.
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While Mosin Nagants had come into New Zealand before in the form of the Polish M44, importation was scarce until Gun City got their batch of rifles from Liberty Arms International, a gun shipping and distribution hub. These rifles were sometimes referred to in advertising as “unissued” but cartouches imprinted on the stocks often suggested refurbishment as opposed to reserve stocks. Locally these Mosins cost between $300 and $399.
Most were of the 91/30 variety with round receivers, but some had the older hexagonal receiver (considered to be stronger and of a higher build standard). Primarily what you found when you walked into the shop would be one or two hex receiver rifles and a bunch of round receiver models made by either Tula or Izhevsk.
The Mosin is a fantastic piece of history; the 7.62x54R is a great round for a rimmed cartridge, and most importantly, a great shooter. Today a Russian 91/30 with all of its included accoutrements can go between $450 and $800, sometimes more if it is a “sniper model” or fitted with a scope. Prices for variations manufactured in other countries, like the much revered Finnish Mosins, command much more, and rightly so.
Mausers, is there anyone in the firearm community who doesn’t respect them? They are arguably one of the best designed rifles of all time. Just about every nation outside the Commonwealth had a Mauser type rifle, and much like Winchester back in the Old West, Mauser offered an array of off the shelf variants or custom designs.
“Czech rifles like the VZ.24 are somewhat uncommon in New Zealand, but the VZ.33, a short carbine employed by the Czech security forces and by the German mountain troops do pop up from time to time.”
There are those who chose to collect some or all of the variants, while others might be satisfied with one specific type related to a particular nation, cartridge or conflict.
German military models like the Gewehr 98 and Karabiner 98k are worlds apart in terms of availability with the former being surprisingly difficult to acquire outside of the likes of Carvell’s Auctions. The K98k on the other hand are far more common, and divide into three camps – vet bring-backs, arms dealer’s batches, and lastly, Russian captures.
The first two could be anything but Russian captures are considered less desirable due to the large “X” stamped on the receiver ring and the refurbishment process the Russians put them through which often meant rifles were painted, and almost always had mismatched parts. With a Russian capture however there is absolutely no doubt the rifle has been there and done that, which to some collectors has an appeal of its own.
Arguably one of the most desirable of all surplus Mausers outside of the German contemporaries are the Swedes with their three distinct variants, the 1894 Carbine, 1896 rifle and the M38 “short” rifle. These rifles introduced the cartridge with the cult following, the 6.5x55mm Swedish, arguably one of the best all round rifle cartridges of the period, fighting for top place with the 7x57mm Mauser.
Swedish Mausers are often found in excellent condition, and near mint examples are common, often with all of their original attachments such a slings, bayonet and frog. Brass discs in the stock provide an insight into the rifle’s service condition. Produced by Husqvarna and Carl Gustav, the rifles are made to a high standard and while a small number did in fact see action, most have been well cared for.
Czech rifles like the VZ.24 are somewhat uncommon in New Zealand, but the VZ.33, a short carbine employed by the Czech security forces and by the German mountain troops do pop up from time to time. Well made, the Czech rifles are worth your time.
“Swedish Mausers are often found in excellent condition, and near mint examples are common, often with all of their original attachments such a slings, bayonet and frog.”
Yugoslavian rifles like the M48 Mauser have been brought into the country in small numbers in recent years, chambered in the original 7.92x57mm (8mm Mauser) cartridge; their condition and quality of manufacture are also very high.
South American variants of the Mauser series like the Brazilian, Chilean and Argentine are not your usual candidates for the Gun Shop shelf. Often manufactured by DWM, the build quality is high but the condition varies immensely from rifle to rifle, in part due to the climate they were employed in.
Those in the market for a Lebel are going to have a hunt on their hands. The French seldom sold their arms on the private market, the Lebel was last produced in 1904 and they were lost in huge numbers during the war, which means you rarely see them.
The Berthier also is an elusive carbine, and sourcing the ammunition is a hurdle. Rarely an example of the M36 bolt action rifle will surface, much to the enthusiasm of collectors who have almost every other rifle of the two World Wars.
Why would a flower mean so much on a rifle? In the case of the Japanese Arisaka it does. It is said that General MacArthur ordered the removal of the chrysanthemum seal (an imperial Japanese symbol) on all surviving Arisaka rifles. It’s often the first place an interested party will look when inspecting one of these fascinating rifles.
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Chambered most commonly in 6.5x50mm, you may also encounter one in 7.7x58mm. The 6.5mm is a soft-shooting cartridge sending a 139gr projectile down range at 2500fps from the muzzle, while the 7.7mm JAP is almost identical to the .303 British in performance.
Arisakas such as the Type 38 and Type 99 are well made rifles that don’t perhaps get the reverence they deserve. Sturdy and pleasant to shoot, the Arisakas are a fine addition to any collection. Outside the auctions and collector circles the only source of such rifles recently is Gun City, but some have been neglected and in many cases will never be shooters. With time and care however they make great conversation pieces.
Great rifles such as the Pattern 14 in .303 and Pattern 1917 in .30-06 are arguably the finest rifles of the First World War. Their Mauser type actions and aperture sights allow for an accurate, reliable and easy shooting experience. If in doubt shoulder one and you’ll soon see why these rifles are a favourite.
What’s best for today’s Kiwi buyer is that the P14, the P14 can be had for a very reasonable price. There’s plenty of spares for restoring them to original condition, and many Kiwis have acquired a ‘sporter’ for that purpose.
Despite some 30,000 M1903 Springfield rifles being lend-leased to New Zealand during the Second World War, they are few and far between. As it turns out we, unlike many nations, decided to return them rather than pay for them. The US did surplus those rifles in the 1950s/60’s and one or two marked with the New Zealand Army broadhead were imported individually back to New Zealand.
“Great rifles such as the Pattern 14 in .303 and Pattern 1917 in .30-06 are arguably the finest rifles of the First World War”
Sadly they are not often seen and tend to cost a dollar or two. In the USA the appetite for the Springfield is such that companies have produced replicas, including sniper variants with modern scopes. An importer here may one day bring in a few, but time and cost will tell.
You may be wondering why for an article titled “What’s Granddad’s Old Rifle Really Worth?” there’s a distinct lack of price guides? The answer is - no price guide can reflect what you might find out there, and more than that, I have a different angle on how I view the world of Military Surplus Rifles.
Let us say that you find a 1941 Lee Enfield No.1 Mk III* Lithgow (Australian) made, excellent condition barrel, proper stock fit up, all matching, in overall excellent condition and its price tag is $900. First up, they are NOT making any more of them.
Second, as time moves on we have price creep so if you don’t buy now, you’ll pay more later. Third, for $900 you could buy an average at best TV, a coffee machine that froths milk, a car that will probably not pass a warrant, or an entry level .308 bolt action.
With almost complete certainty none of the above will ever appreciate in value to the point that at any given time you could sell them and get your money back, let alone make a cent or two. With the Lee Enfield however - you will, if you look after it.
“I don’t have the money to amass a collection, I buy what I can afford when they pop up, and while I have them in my possession I learn a little.”
But more than that, you’re buying a piece of history. You have become the custodian of your own museum piece, and while others may not be lining up to pay to see it, the rifle will always be an conversation starter/talking point with anyone lucky enough to get a tour of your safe.
Spend time looking over the cartouches and markings to trace the rifle’s background and just enjoy the craftsmanship of an era long gone, a time when wood and steel were the only materials acceptable for equipping a military.
I don’t have the money to amass a collection, I buy what I can afford when they pop up, and while I have them in my possession I learn a little. There is something humbling in possessing a rifle made to fight a war, taking it home so many years after the battlefields have gone silent. I enjoy giving these rifles a comfortable retirement - shooting steel plates and milk jugs, in peace.
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