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Volume 3 Issue 1
A Question of Ethics

Within its "Conditions of Sale" one of America’s most prestigious auctions houses states " All statements contained in the catalogue or in any Bill of Sale, invoice or elsewhere as to authorship, period, culture, source, origin, measurement, quality, rarity, provenance importance, exhibition and literature of historical relevance or physical condition are qualified statements of opinion and not representations or warranties".

Under their "Right of Rescission" they state the buyer can return for a refund, within 10 days, any piece alleged to have been misrepresented IN BOLD TYPE in the catalogue. The right of rescission, however, does not extend to (a) works executed before 1870 unless these works are deemed to be counterfeit, as this is a matter of current scholarly opinion which can change or (b) to descriptions of physical condition and size, quality, rarity, importance, provenance, exhibition and literature of historical relevance which identification normally appears in lower case below the BOLD TYPE. In other words, "LET THE BUYER BEWARE".

Most serious antique gun collecting organizations attempt to attract members interested in the collection and preservation of collectable and historic, pistols, rifles, shotguns and their accessories. Anyone without a criminal record who is interested in the collection, preservation and/or study of these firearms is normally qualified to become a member. None of the clubs I am aware of require potential members to be experts in every collecting field. Most clubs attempt to discourage from membership anyone whose interest lies only in personal profit.

The more serious clubs stress the continued education of their members through talks and displays at meetings and with their publications. Any collector, dealer or member proven to have defrauded others by misrepresenting or enhancing collectibles for resale is usually openly discouraged and held in contempt by other collectors.

This said, however, there are some misconceptions concerning the obligations of these clubs to "police" their membership. The "expertise" of even the most knowledgeable of collectors is often limited to a specific gunsmith, firearm type, specific period in history or type of accouterment. Clubs have neither the time, the expertise nor the legal right to judge the conduct, morals, or business dealings of their members.

Some would believe there is a "right" or "wrong" that every collector or investor should be aware of with regard to acceptable or unacceptable restoration or repair. This is, of course, incorrect as well. If you ask ten collectors what restoration and repair is acceptable, you will get ten different answers. It is largely a matter of personal preference. Everyone would prefer to purchase his or her gun in "as found condition". Some collectors would leave it that way; others would restore the gun to near original condition as they see fit. I can tell you that many of the world’s major museums honestly restore and preserve their artifacts.

The key word is "honestly". "Gilding the Lilly" is never acceptable. Dressing up a piece to a state where it appears even better than when created in order to enhance its value is universally unacceptable. A person who enhances a gun beyond its original appearance specifically for the purpose of enhancing its value for resale is guilty of fraud which, if proven, could result in legal action. This person, if found guilty, would most probably be expelled from any serious clubs active membership.

Now let’s address the ethics question. Person or persons unknown for a wide variety of usually honest reasons have performed repairs, alterations and restorations on rifles, pistols and shotguns from the date of their manufacture to the present day. Most of us have had restoration performed on our own collection, over the years probably by a variety of persons with a variety of skills. All these modifications were made honestly with no thought or intention of fraud, but rather to preserve the original appearance or usefulness of the artifact.

When selling a gun the most ethical practice would be to clearly state, in writing, to the buyer everything you are aware of with respect to the overall condition and originality of the piece in question. No one can ever be expected to divulge things done to a gun they themselves are unaware of. This seems to bring us back to LET THE BUYER BEWARE.

We would hope anyone purchasing a collectable would (1) request a written statement from the seller concerning his knowledge of the over all condition and originality of the piece in question. (2) Ask the opinion of fellow collector’s whose opinion he values and (3) attend informational talks, pay attention to

displays, read books and in every way possible attempt to increase his or her personal knowledge about his field of interest. Often those who cry "foul" do none of these.

In conclusion, restoration has occurred at one time or another on most every firearm available today. The "attic" condition guns are few and far between and, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your opinion, are becoming even fewer as time passes. A seller who is aware of restoration on a gun offered for sale should always advise the buyer of that restoration, even if not asked, so the buyer has the opportunity to accept or reject that restoration.

Persons who enhance their guns dishonestly by making them "better than they were" for personal profit are a disgrace and should not be tolerated by any organizations or collectors. In time these persons are normally "found out", but hurt many others in the process.

Keep in mind restoration has been accomplished as long as objects have existed and the art of restoration is reaching the point where it is all but impossible to spot items correctly restored. Restored guns will continue to be sold by the most honest and knowledgeable of collectors. Therefore if you are a collector or investor who is concerned about "honest restoration" it remains your responsibility to closely examine the piece in question, ask questions, consult with friends whose opinion you respect and satisfy yourself the piece is for you.

Collector organizations will continue their efforts to provide continued education to their membership so members are able to make intelligent purchases and to recognize those who are unscrupulous. Any seller who has been legally proven guilty of deliberate misrepresentation or dishonest restoration of artifacts for personal gain, we would hope, will be officially sanctioned by organizations in which they are members.

Honesty or Dishonesty aside "LET THE BUYER BEWARE".

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