Tuesday, July 10, 2018

From the Pages of Flintlock Magazine: Forty Years Of Collecting Contemporary Longrifles And Accoutrements By Margie and Gordon Barlow

One day we looked back over forty years of collecting the contemporary longrifle and accoutrements only to realize that we have handled literally thousands of pieces of this art form.  How did we know which object to keep? How were we able to keep so many of these wonderful objects? We certainly do not have unlimited funds with which to purchase objects. In fact, we are amazed as we remember how difficult it was to afford objects in our early years of collecting and we realize that it has not gotten much easier today. It seems that as we accumulated money to buy objects it became increasingly difficult to accomplish our goal. First the prices of objects have increased. Secondly our desire to acquire fancier pieces of art has surfaced and finally, as we meet new artist with exciting new art objects, “the chase” has heightened.  We even dreamed of commissioning pieces for our collection. How then does one mass a wonderful collection of contemporary longrifles and accoutrements?

Gary Birch Hunting Pouch

First there must be the love of collecting. Than be thankful that you love collecting the contemporary longrifle and it’s accoutrements. This love will over come any skepticism you may have about investing in these objects. You must just accept the fact that you want to own these objects. You may even decide to give up lunch or save the price of a motel so that you can purchase an object, only to drive several hours into the night without food to reach home because you have spent all of your money. This has happened to us many times. In the end you will be proud of your collection and it will prove to be a good investment.

Bruce Horn Powder Horn

Second, the old collectors were right. You must truly believe what they continue to say. “Buy the best you can” they say, “It will only get scarcer or more expensive”.  No it is not just another sales pitch. Good art does become scarce and prices do increase. Contemporary artist pass away or they stop making art or change their art interest. All of these factors contribute to the decreased availability of art objects by a particular artist. It is a matter of supply and demand. When supply decreases the result is an increase in the prices of art by that artist, even if the demand stays the same.  In 1972 we purchased an engraved powder horn made by William Buckley from Ohio for $55.00. William Buckley died a number years ago. Today that powder horn would sell for more than a $1,000.  In 1984 we purchased a hunting bag made by Gary Birch while at the Kentucky Rifle Show for $750. Since then, Gary has changed his interest in art. It is doubtful that he would consider making a hunting bag of this quality today. The hunting bag is a one of a kind. We would be afraid to price the bag today for fear that someone would buy the object. Joe Scott’s engraved powder horns have steadily increased in value.

Mark Thomas Gorget

Third, start collecting as early in life as you can. Buy whatever objects you can. Buy the best you can afford but most important of all “buy”. Even if you change your collecting focus, there is always someone willing to buy your items and usually at a profit if you have owned the objects a year or two.  Trading is another option. Sometimes duplicate objects, available for trade from your collection that were purchased a few years ago, is better than money.  A good rule of thumb is never place an object in the market place for sale or trade until you have had the item out of circulation for at least one year. Only then will the object have a “fresh” look and command value. Collecting over a long period of time is essential in helping you develop a collection that represents a large number of artist.

Lally House Knife Sheath

Forth, watch the market place. Who are the artists of tomorrow? Which artists are improving their skills?  Purchasing art from the artist not only allows you to get neat objects and have personal interaction with the artist, it also supports the artist financially while the artist works to increase the value of the art you have purchased. Buying art directly from the artist provides you the best value. It is often important to purchase art made by artists that have disappeared from the market place. How can you buy art made by these artists?  Ask around to find out which old collectors have their collections up for sale. Remember what may seem to be a good price to an old collector that purchased his object ten years ago, may be very, very reasonable today. Attend the shows. Even the most experienced dealers are usually willing to accept a reasonable profit. If you know your artist you probably know more about value than “the dealers”. After all most collectors are really “dealers” by default?

Wild Willie Powder Horn

Fifth, diversify your contemporary longrifle and accoutrement collection. Consider having as many artists as possible represented in your collection. Yes even the artists agree that not all works of art display the same level of sophistication or quality, even when made by the same artist. Variety is good. Having objects available with a variety of sophistication and quality provides a supply of art at various pricing levels. There is a buyer for every level of art. Most new buyers do not start buying at the highest level. Those that do often become disenchanted with collecting because they were more often than not buying a dream and never really developed the passion for “the chase”. Owning art of all levels of quality, sophistication and pricing allows you to share a common interest with new collectors that are just beginning to purchase objects. It also allows you to develop relationships with artists that will mature into tomorrow’s superstars.

Collecting the contemporary longrifle and accoutrements is rewarding. We love collecting the 18th and 19th century longrifles and accoutrement however you must remember that when you are purchasing 21st century objects you  get the opportunity to meet the artist. Most probably the buyers of 18th and 19th century longrifles and accoutrements were influenced by personnel relationships. No doubt these relationships resulted in gifts and special favors, as was the case for us this past year at the CLA 2000 meeting in Lexington, Ky. David Price presented us with a wonderful gift. An engraved 21st century powder horn depicting the 1756 French and Indian War Campaign in the northeast. David new we loved contemporary powder horns and just wanted to surprise us. What a treat!

In closing the most important advice we can offer is to encourage you to consider your collecting career to be a lifetime event. Whether you add an object to your collection weekly, monthly or only once or twice a year is not the important issue. What is important is that you continue adding as long as you can. We hear collectors say “I am getting to old to buy” or “I am getting to old, it’s time to sell”. We hope we never get too old to enjoy what has made our life very special. The contemporary longrifle and accoutrements are still the most under valued art form we know. These objects and their artist are just now achieving the recognition they deserve. See you at the artisan events as we all join in “the chase”.

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