Comments on passing

Some of us have occasionally contemplated our own mortality, and the subject of "our favorite possessions and their inevitable disposal" is often avoided as if it was the knock of the insurance salesman. It is of course human nature to avoid unpleasant tasks and confrontations, but here the truth of the notion of "no pain = no gain" is inescapable. I have come to conclude that unless some effort is expended regarding the disposal of our guns while we are able to do so, it is almost a certainty that they will be taken care of, by someone else, in a way that would make us roll over in our graves.

Author Jim Ballou once remarked that he would like to leave his guns to the museum at the former Springfield Armory (which is now operated by the national park service). This sounds like a laudable idea, for one can imagine how the specific examples in one's collection would improve any display and enhance the historical continuity of the national museum, but then the reality of the situation set in. Those who have been to the Springfield Museum (or most other museums for that matter) may be impressed (as I was) by the attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible. I fear the result is not too different from what one sees on commercial television. The last time that I was there, a number of display cabinets had been added which housed (among other things) a display of M1911/M1911A1 pistols. All of the pistols were very new looking and were identified only in a vague way. There were a few very rare examples, but most of the display consisted of refinished and mismatched guns. The identification of the guns indicated that the custodians of the displays had little, if any concept of what the original pistols looked like. When I mentioned these thoughts, Jim said that he had worked at the Springfield Museum and while there, he had uncovered some rare items that were languishing with neglect in damp and musty basement areas, rather than receiving the care that they deserve. After discussing it, we both agreed that turning over our prized possessions to some bureaucrat who would dump them in a crate and stash them in the basement to rust away would be one of the worst ends for a collection.

We both further agreed that the free market system may not be a good way of finding a home for our guns, but it is better than any other system that we know of. It is my personal conclusion that the free market forces will find as good a home for our guns as will any other method. For example, if someone is willing to pay as much or more than anyone else for a rare gun, it is likely that he will appreciate it and take care of it. Whereas the same gun given to a relative may be summarily turned into a bowling pin shooter or traded for a dog.

Often collectors want specific items to be offered to specific individuals because in the past they have expressed an interest in them. Offering an item to a friend at a price, which may be below market price, is something that should be taken care of while one is alive so that the arrangements are watched over. NO ONE can do this for you after you are gone.  The variability of interest and attitude of our fellow collectors may be far wider than any of us realize or care to admit, and it is probably also human nature to gauge others by our own attitudes and experiences. We are Seldom objective with regard to our own children and families, but if we tried to be completely honest, we would likely conclude that our families and relatives have no interest whatsoever in our guns short of the money that they could be sold for.  Keep this in mind when considering how to dispose of your guns.

Outright selling will bring cash that can be turned over to the family and your supervising the selling will bring more cash than any other method.  If any other method is used to dispose of your guns, you MUST provide for the implementation of the criteria if you really want it to be carried out. Leaving specific bequests in a will is a reasonable way of disposing of our guns as long as the dollar value is not too high and the number of guns is not too large. This method places a small burden on the executor of the estate, but does not generate any cash for the family. An advanced gun collector with more than perhaps 10 guns would probably find that his immediate family could use the cash, and that relatives would not really appreciate the collection. A relative who is not a real collector might want one or two examples, and anything beyond these examples would be seen only as a potential source of cash. In the very rare case where a family member is also a real collector, it is unlikely that his true interests are the same as yours. A large collection (over 10 guns) will attract the attention of not only relatives, but lawyers, tax collectors, and every other sort of parasite imaginable. In ANY event, having a will is an absolute necessity. Without a will, an estate is “INTESTATE” and becomes a possession of the State until proven otherwise. This means that the estate will go through probate court where lawyers judges and other scavengers will divide the spoils among themselves. Many people have an idealistic vision of Lawyers and expect them to behave like Perry Mason. Reality is far different. Especially with the proliferation of lawyers in our society, where cheating widows and orphans out of every penny is standard procedure for many lawyers, and totally tying up assets is standard procedure for most. Nowhere is this more true than in the probate courts. Without a will, the complete dissipation of an estate is almost a certainty. Avoiding the Probate Court altogether is probably the surest way to insure that ones wishes are carried out. The most certain method to avoid Probate is to dispose of your prize possessions while you are still alive. Personally disposing of your prize possessions or at least personally supervising their sale through an auction we are still alive may be the best of the alternatives.

Some of us see our guns as treasured possessions, and the mere thought of parting with them will induce heart palpitations. Others certainly look at their guns with the detached eye of the pawnbroker and see little other than a valuable commodity to be sold at a healthy profit. No matter where we fit into this spectrum of detachment, we MAY ultimately come to face the question "How can my gun collection be disposed of in a fair and honest manner and the proceeds given to where I want them to go?" Furthermore, we may be asked to help someone else and we will have to face the question" How can I dispose of someone else's gun collection in a fair and scrupulously honest manner and at the same time get a fair price for the individual or the heirs of the individual?"

The disposal of a gun collection probably requires a significant degree of expert and specialized knowledge, and anyone with the required degree of specialized knowledge will probably want to acquire some or all of the guns in the collection to add to his own collection. This is the classic example of "conflict of interest." The other obvious alternative which avoids this conflict is to turn the collection over to a disinterested third party such as an auctioneer who will sell the collection at his convenience and at a healthy profit (gun auctions usually charge the seller 15% of the selling price and charge the buyer an additional 15%. This means that the selling price must have an additional 15% tacked on to it to arrive at the true selling price, and also the seller will receive 15% less than the selling price.). The auction selling price may be further lower than the fair market value of the collection because the guns may be of such a specialized nature that no interested buyers are present at the auction. The disinterested third party may lack the specialized knowledge to know what the guns are truly worth, or know how to contact the specific and probably small market where the guns could realize their true value. Fortunately there are a number of auction houses that specialize in guns as well as have a staff of knowledgeable people who are at least familiar with most type of firearms as well as their selling prices. There are three houses that I am familiar with who are, in addition to being competent firearm specialty auctions, are reasonably honest. These are: The J.C. Devine Co of Milford New Hampshire (603-673-4967 or ), The Amoskeag Auction Co. of Manchester New Hampshire (603-627-7383 or ), and The J.D. Julia Auction Co. of Fairfield Maine 207-453-2502 or ). The terms of all three auctions are similar. However the first two auctions hold about 6 sales per year while the last concern holds only two. All sell catalogs of the sale items but the Julia auction posts the entire catalog “On Line” so that wider exposure is a distinct possibility. However any consignment to an auction house should be accompanied by a detailed inventory listing each item as well as a detailed description of each item (that includes the gun’s serial) number to help the auctioneer fully describe it in his catalog. Often an incorrect description will cause the selling price to be much lower than it would with a proper description. The inventory of the consignment MUST be signed by the representative of the auction house and a copy provided to the consignor.

There is no way that any transaction involving significant sums of money can be concluded without the precondition of a certain amount of trust and honesty on the part of all parties involved. Now assuming that there is this degree of trust and honesty present, I propose that the two sets of guidelines, which are set down here, can avoid any conflict of interest and will insure objectivity when disposing of another person’s collection:

1. The disposer of the collection can run his own auction by advertising that the collection will be sold by sealed bids for the collection as a whole or as individual pieces. They can be advertised as requiring minimum bids or without minimum bids. The disposer can then submit his own sealed bid, which will be opened along with the others in the presence of another party agreeable to the heirs. Advertising expenses to be paid from the proceeds.

2. The disposer of the collection can determine fair asking prices and then advertise or offer for sale the collection as individual pieces with fixed prices approved by the heirs. The disposer would ensure that the items are advertised so that most interested parties are informed (ads on the internet sites such as the gun sale forum of , in AUTOMAG, THE GUN LIST, etc.). The disposer will not be eligible to purchase any item until after it has been offered to the public at prices determined by the disposer. If the item was not sold when advertised for some minimum period (say 30 days), the assumption is that it was priced too high and that the asking price should be lowered. The price should be lowered by 25% (equal to the minimum commission that would be paid to an auctioneer) and the disposer would then get a chance to buy the item. The unsold items would be advertised again for a fixed period at the lowered price. Unsold items would at the end of the period be reduced in price again by another 25% and offered to the disposer at the same time as they are advertised. The process should be repeated until all items are sold. This process allows a disposer to buy items from a collection but only after they have been offered to the public at prices determined by him, which will insure that the asking prices start off high enough. If there are any specific items that the collector wants the disposer to have first chance at, it can be specified beforehand in the documentation (The description of each item etc.) of the collection. When disposing of a collection of a person still living, but perhaps in failing health and not able to sell the guns himself, the disposer can sell them as in 1 or 2 above or he can attempt to sell them at prices set by the owner. If the owner sets the asking prices, the disposer should be allowed to buy any item at the asking price before or at the same time as it is first advertised or offered for sale to the public. This procedure gives the owner the flexibility to offer any specific items to the disposer at prices below fair market value if he wishes. Thinking about this subject is perhaps the best way to prepare for the inevitable. Disposing of our collections while we are still alive is by far the best way to terminate the long relationship that we have had with these prized possessions. This allows us to act as a sort of watchdog over the whole process, and to insure that things are happening as we wish. I know people who feel that the universe revolves around them and when their time is up, a new big bang will be initiated. Most of us however have more respect for our guns and want to do what we can to preserve their existence for posterity and for our own satisfaction. I try not to forget that at best, we are temporary custodians of these irreplaceable gems from the past, and that we have a responsibility to ourselves and to posterity to try to preserve them. This can only be done by turning them over to someone else who will hopefully carry on where we left off when our time ran out. We thus hand over the torch to the next person who will carry it during his journey, as we did during ours. Lastly, and above all, we should never hesitate to enjoy their treasures while we are here, and let future generations enjoy them by arranging for their prudent disposal.
Best - Karl Karash

Copyright 2003 by Karl Karash, All Rights Reserved.