Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SKS from the auction

I went to an Auction house near my home in Northern Virginia in mid-October. They were auctioning some guns, so I thought I'd take a look.

The guns were being sold for final bid price, plus 10% buyers premium (maybe it was 15%), plus tax and a $2 background check call-in fee. I had to keep all that math in mind when I was doing my bidding because the price can quickly jump when 15% buyers premium and 5% tax are added onto any of the guns.

I saw a few guns I liked at the auction, including a Squires Bingham 22 semiauto sold by Kmart. I decided to pass on it because I already have a great semi-auto 22 rifle that I shoot frequently. I didn't really NEED another rimfire rifle. I also saw a Ruger double action revolver in 44 that looked interesting, but I didn't need to track down yet another caliber for my small collection of guns. The guns I really went to the auction for were milsurp. I love surplus rifles because they're just so... hearty. A well-worn war hero is the type of gun that you can be a little rough with, the kind of gun you can take hunting or to the campsite and not cry about if a new ding or scratch appears. They're the kind of guns that are great for teaching people how to shoot. There's nothing fragile in a military surplus rifle. Their stout and robust design coupled with a warm feeling of reliablity make them well worth their low cost. The two military surplus guns I was interested in were an M21 SKS and a Yugo Mauser.

There were only a few pictures online. I had to go and see the guns for myself before the auction opened. The SKS looked very well-worn and had some shrapnel damage in the gas tube and barrel. I thought it was probably cosmetic damage and would make more of a conversation piece than anything. To date, I didn't have any guns with that kind of battlefield bruising. The Mauser was still in cosmoline and was numbers matching. It had an import stamp that I didn't recognize, but the gun looked nice, so I thought I'd make a bid on it. I wound up buying both of the rifles I was interested in.

I had to outbid guys for both of the guns, but I left happy. I spent more than I wanted to spend, but that's kind of how auctions go sometimes. I get caught up bidding and have it in my head that that's going to be MINE and I just bid until I've got it. I can get carried away when I see something that I like, which makes me the kind of bidder that auctioneers just love.

On the drive home from the auction, I called my buddy Jack. He's also into surplus guns and loves cleaning up old rifles. He came over after he got out of work and we went to town on my two new rifles.

First up was the ratty old SKS. I had noticed at the auction that it was matching and I didn't see an importers stamp anywhere on the gun. I didn't take the time at the auction to see if the import stamp was on the underside of the barrel, so I pulled the cleaning rod and checked it out when we got into cleaning it. No import stamp anywhere. Interesting. Also interesting was the fact that there is almost nothing about the M21 SKS on the internet. We pushed a cleaning rod through the barrel to get out all the bugs, cobwebs, and general crap that had accumulated in the gun over the years. The gun was obviously cleaned before it was put away, but the thing was probably left in the corner of someone's garage or workshop for ages judging by the small paint specs on the receiver cover and the decent coating of dust on everything else.

After removing the spiders, I went to town with some breakfree on a brush. I could feel something toward the end of the gun, right near the bayonet lug. I thought I might have a blockage in the barrel. I really didn't even want to look down the barrel because I was pretty sure what I was going to discover was a non-shootable barrel. Well, I looked down the barrel and saw a blockage. Some of the shrapnel damage had dented the outside of the barrel so badly that a piece of metal worked its way inside the barrel. No way could I shoot the gun. Great, all that money down the drain.

We finished cleaning up the gun, but I was in a pretty shitty mood. I knew that anyone looking at the gun would see that ding in the barrel and know it wasn't shootable. If I'd only known, I wouldn't have bought it. What a bite. After pricing out a replacement barrel online, I wondered if it was even worth fixing. I decided I would probably just sell it part by part and cut my losses.

After the disappointing news about the SKS, we cleaned up the Yugo Mauser, which turned out to be a surprise. The gun was imported by Mitchell's Mausers, which is why I didn't recognize the import stamp. The stamp itself was something like MMC HB CA. Not only was the gun numbers matching, but the barrel was just gorgeous. I've only seen a couple of surplus rifles with bores better than this one. The cosmoline was a project to remove, but the gun looks great and feels great. It is the first iteration of the M48, produced between 1950 and 1952. It is considered the best of that model because they were made with milled parts, not stamped steel. The quality of the guns apparently went down some when the makers switched manufacturing techniques to churn the guns out more quickly and inexpensively. It looks like I got a good one.

About a week later, I posted a question about the M21 SKS rifle on a forum that I frequent. A forum user suggested that I take my question over to a forum that's dedicated to SKS rifles. I did just that and the SKS forum went nuts.

Apparently I have a super-rare gun and even though it doesn't shoot, its worth big money. I never would have thought. Good thing I didn't try to rebarrel the thing. Within an hour, I had 5 offers ranging from $500 cash to a trade for a functioning SKS, and everything in between. Some people left their phone numbers saying "please call me now"

Hold on folks, I didn't even say I wanted to necessarily sell it when I posted pictures on that forum. These SKS folks were like hungry wolves after my beat up, non-functioning M21. After talking on the phone for over 20 minutes with a guy I know who's really into SKS rifles, he recommended that I keep it because this kind of stuff only comes around once in a blue moon. A gun like mine is so rare that people are willing to pay good money for it now, and possibly stupid money for it in the future when the economy gets better. When the economy improves, hopefully there will be more people floating around that would be willing to spend stupid money on a rare gun such as mine.

I'm still on the fence about this one, whether I should sell it or just hold onto it. One of the first things my friend Jack said about it is that the gun came off of a dead man. The last person to carry that rifle is in a pine box somewhere. How many people can really say that about a gun that they've got in their collection? Not many.

I'm going to contact the auction house when I've got a little free time and see if they can put me in touch with the seller of the SKS. Often times the guns that come into the auction house are put up for sale by widows or children of the deceased. If I could get any information about the person who found the gun in possibly Vietnam or somewhere else in Asia, I could really be onto something. If I could find capture papers or other military documentation for this very rifle, the value could easily double. I don't know if the auction house would be too forthcoming with information about those who've put items up for sale but its worth a shot, right?

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