In the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail, there’s a scene where the plague-ridden peasants are called to “Bring out the dead!” But one old guy being carried to the corpsewagon keeps insisting that not only is he alive, but he’s “… feeling much better indeed!”
Maybe it’s just my weird sense of humor, but I can relate this scenario to some of our older, neglected guns. Some old guns are just ready for the scrapheap, some of course should never go — and of those, some can and should be restored. The problems begin to arise when we convince ourselves every old gun, no matter how badly battered, falls solidly into that third category.
We’re frequently asked “Can I restore?” or “Should I restore?” and “Which guns are worthy of the expense and effort of restoration?” That last one can be a tough question. It really boils down to three factors: condition, intrinsic value and sentimentality. Condition will determine the degree of restoration required, and will begin to paint a picture of how expensive things will get. Condition might also be the determining factor as to whether the gun even can be helped. Deep pitting, severe damage from use or abuse or missing parts might make the project a non-starter regardless of value or sentimentality. Hence the term, “Wall-Hanger.”
Even the most accomplished and patient hobbyist will at some point need the services of a professional, even if it’s just for finish work. Add to that, any repairs, rollmark restoration, new parts, etc. and the costs can be prohibitive. As a rule of thumb, I favor a condition of 70 percent or so as a baseline. They’re usually not worn to the point of needing parts replacement or mechanical reworking, and they’ve become just homely enough to sell at more reasonable prices than their mint condition siblings.
“Before” pic of a High Standard shows a good candidate for restoration.
Some nicks and scratches, but sound mechanics.
After restoration the results speak for themselves.
A good base gun equals a good restoration.
Guns in much better condition may fall into the category of those which shouldn’t be restored, especially if they have collector value. Collectors are generally not as interested in “average” condition guns unless they are also exceedingly rare. And, guns in less-than-average condition will almost always be disproportionately more difficult and expensive to restore, so you’ve got to think with your pocketbook there.
The value of a prospective restoration project is another important concern. Some guns are just never going to be worth much. Spending a little time to spruce them up on a hobby level doesn’t hurt anything, and it’s good practice to learn about the processes and techniques that will serve you on other projects.
Value, however, is pretty hard to ignore for those who will need to pay a professional for some or all of the restoration. Every project is different, and prices vary for services, so the customer needs to justify the expense when combined with the value of the gun. It hardly makes sense to spend $500 to restore a $100 gun.
Never one to let emotion guide my time or finances (yeah, right), I’ll have to admit to a few mistakes along the way; not a single one of which has made me one bit more sensible. But if we try to imagine condition, value and sentimentality as the three legs of a table — sentimentality is the leg most often spilling the drinks.
While a perfect balance of the three is preferred, common sense and frugality are always secondary to emotion. When it comes to Dad’s old Ortgies .32 or Grand-Dad’s H&R Double 9 revolver, the heart generally wins every time. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
So this whole “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question boils down to a pretty simple answer. Maybe. But only you can decide.
By Ted Yost