The value of history – exploring what provenance can do to a firearm’s value. By Josh Loewensteiner

Every auction, we line up literally thousands of fantastic guns to bring to the market.  We work hard to bring a vast offering in all of the major areas of collecting, whether it be U.S. Military, Class III (NFA), Best quality sporting shotguns, or Civil War Collectibles.  Regardless of what is offered, the phone rings off the hook once the catalogs are posted online and mailed (for which we are so thankful to our loyal clients!), and the most common question about any firearm most often is “Where did it come from?” or “Can you tell me about it’s history?”.  Most often, sellers choose the auction route as a means of hiring someone to represent them in the sale of their treasure and use this means because it can offer anonymity.  We are also often blessed to get some important and major collections.  In that case, our consignors often understand their prominent position in the collecting world and that the sale of their guns is an import part of the evolution of that genre of collecting.  The purpose of this article is to discuss not just the value added by collection history but the value added by famous ownership of the past.


Many times, we will get a call regarding a gun that someone believes they have provenance on.  The most common example of this is in German WWII Military.  Many times, family lore was that Grandpa took the gun out of Hitler’s underground hideout.  Most of the time, there is nothing in writing to validate the story and subsequently, the provenance has virtually no real monetary value.  Other times, we get calls from direct descendants of past famous people, such was the case last Spring when we sold the Parker AA Grade Hammer gun of famed pigeon shooter and Parker Bros. Gun salesman, Arthur W. Dubray.  The gun came directly from his great-grandson and had resided in the family since his passing.


I’ve been involved with collectible guns for more than 30 years now and have seen great changes in the hobby.  One of the greatest changes I have seen is the cash or monetary value that is placed on provenance.   In my estimation, there are several different types of provenance that a gun can have:


  1. Historically and perhaps forensically proven to have been used at certain battle or in a certain place and time.  Our April Extraordinary auction will have 2 Springfield Carbines that are both forensically proven to have been used at the battle of the Little Big Horn!  Both from the Extraordinary Collection of Glenn Swanson.
  2. Historic Ownership – A gun that is know or documented to have belonged to someone of prominent stature in history.  The most significant Russian Sporting Shotgun of the 20th Century is included in our Extraordinary Auction in April – Nikita Khruschev’s 12 Bore Tula.
  3. Semi-historic ownership – A gun that was owned by a figure that is not readily recognized today.  Perhaps the gun was sold to a town Mayor, a business owner, etc.  This type of provenance adds intrigue and may add some value, but it is not necessarily a multiple of the base gun price.



When assessing provenance, my intuition tells me that it always becomes a multiplier of the value of the gun without the history.  A great example of this would be Teddy Roosevelt’s A.H. Fox shotgun that was sold in 2008.  The gun itself, as an FE Grade Fox might have brought $100-$125,000.  The rock solid provenance of its ownership by an important U.S. President drove its sales price to $865,000!  A world record that stands to this day for an American Shotgun!  This would be a 7-8x multiple.  President Benjamin Harrison’s Lefever Optimus recently sold for $120,000.  The base gun would likely have brought in the neighborhood of $50-$70,000, so the gun commanded a 2x multiple.  The examples are numerous but the point is that the greater the fame of the owner, the greater the multiplier will be.  How to assess that is nearly impossible, but the market answers the question every time!


Morphy’s April Extraordinary auction has some very highly provenanced items.  One incredible highlight, already mentioned, is the personal shotgun of Nikita Khruschev.  This incredible gun transcends gun collecting and is more like investment grade art with its rich engraving, gold inlay and symbolic meaning.  The gun was sold shortly after Nikita’s death by his daughter, who needed to raise money.  Since then, it has resided in a private collection and has never been offered for sale publicly!  Morphy Auctions is proud to present this incredible piece of history to the world!