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Jan 29

Collecting Store Brands

When I was about 12 years old I was given part of my grandfather’s stamp and coin collections. I was fascinated by all the different stamps and coins. This led me to learn everything I could about the items I had received. That in turn led me to try to add to the collections. Part of the obsession I had for these things, in my early life, was to try and remain close to my grandfather. He was my hero when I was little and I lost him at a very young age. (But I will see him again someday. Just a little food for thought for those of you who have not accepted Jesus Christ as your savior) I still have those collections locked away in a safe and they will go on to my daughter and her family. I have not looked at them in years because as I got older my interest changed to collecting things that use gunpowder and lead and that interest has only increased as I have gotten older.

Collecting guns today can be a frightfully expensive proposition (Just as coins and stamps can also). If your interest lies in Colt Single Actions from prior to 1900 you better have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth or have been very successful in your chosen field. Top grade examples of some of those early Colts can fetch $100,000 or more and even rare low grade examples are into the mid 5 figure range. Most of us who are not named Kennedy or Rockefeller have to settle for collecting lower grade examples or guns that most people are not interested in. There are many fields that can be interesting without selling the family home as long as you are not looking to make a huge profit if you ever sell that collection. Early Ruger, Mossberg, Hopkins & Allen and Marlin are considerably more affordable than their brethren with Colt, Winchester and Holland & Holland stamped on them. Who knows, in twenty years early Mossberg may be going for what early Winchester is today.

Today we are going to look at collecting store brands and how that can be a fascinating area of study. Since most American collectors of firearms are concerned with factory original condition I will address my comments with that in mind.

Store brands are defined for purposes of this article as those sold by large retailers such as Sears and Montgomery Ward with their name on them but they were actually built by someone else. A fact that not everyone knows is the large retailers did not build anything themselves. They contracted out to the lowest bidder to build a certain item to their specifications. In the case of firearms they mostly sold 22 rimfires and shotguns with a few centerfire rifles thrown into the mix. A certain model might have been built by Stevens one year but the next year High Standard was the low bidder so they furnished that model. To make matters more confusing the factory model might have a 24 inch barrel and be chambered in 12, 20 and 410 gauge but the retailer only wanted it in 20 gauge and with a 26 inch barrel. Because these orders were often for thousands of units manufacturers were often more than willing to oblige. The problem today is determining if that shotgun barrel is original or if that rifle originally came with a ventilated rubber buttpad. Most of the retailers that originally these firearms have either gone out of business (Montgomery Ward) or quit selling firearms long ago (Sears, J.C. Penny) I have assembled a partial set of reference catalogs over the years to try and sort out what is what but it has been extremely difficult and time consuming. (I would love to have a set of Microfiche from an old gunsmith that shows all of the original configurations and if you have or know of such a set please contact me if you are willing to loan or sell them). The bottom line is determining factory originality is very difficult with most models. Shotguns are the worst because most shotgun barrels can be easily removed and exchanged. An example would be some of the Sears models based on the Stevens model 58. A quick check of the parts list for this model at Numerich Gun Parts shows four different gauges and about 12 different barrels. Many are marked Stevens rather than Sears so knowing what configuration they were originally sold as by Sears is almost impossible unless you have the catalogs for that year.

Another issue is models that are not listed in any of the known lists. I was shown a Sears 12 gauge pump the other day with a 583.16 model number. It has a ventilated barrel extender/choke on it to make it a legal 18”barrel that is labeled JC Higgins. Is it original to the shotgun? Was it added later? Was it an accessory available for purchase at the time it was new? Since it is the only one of this model I have ever seen I am not exactly sure. Also, it looks like a Winchester model 12 action but Winchester firearms begin with a 273 model number prefix so nobody who has examined it is quite sure what it is. The only gun I have ever seen that closely resembles it is an Ithaca 37 that my stepfather brought home from Vietnam that has that same ventilated barrel extension on it. The point to this little tale being that I have no idea if the gun is original as sold by Sears or not.

Even with the difficulty in determining originality store brands can still be a rewarding and fascinating area to collect. Maybe you are interested in 22 rifles or 410 shotguns. Maybe you only want to collect high grade examples. Whatever motivates you and interests you is what you should look for. High grade examples are a worthy pursuit if you like the hunt as much as the find. These models were often built to a price point and lacked any special or high grade features. They were bought by people without a lot of money as tools and they were used as tools. As such, they were used quite heavily and high grade examples are rare. It is difficult for most Americans to imagine but before WWII there were a lot of people in this country that didn’t eat if they missed a shot at a rabbit or if a raccoon got in and killed the chickens. Extra money was non-existent and only essentials were purchased. The gun and ammunition were some of those essentials. At any rate, high grade store brands can be surprisingly difficult to locate.

Another area that can be interesting is the minor store brands. These can include many different names. Maybe a hardware store would have its name put on the gun; in the case of Sears they added JC Higgins and Ranger besides the Sears names. Montgomery Ward had the Hercules name and in my collection resides an Olympic 12 gauge shotgun the belonged to my wife’s grandfather. Hopkins & Allen and Merwin & Hulbert both put out their products with quite a number of private label names on them.

The sky is the limit when looking for store brands. Personally I prefer centerfire cartridge rifles as they are some of the hardest to acquire. Without any actual facts to back up this statement and just based on my own observations I would estimate that over 90% of store branded firearms are either shotguns or 22 rimfire rifles. With that being the case centerfires are very rarely seen.

Have fun looking and feel free to send us info on any store brands you might own. I have given one example here that is not listed in any known reference but I’m sure there are many more out there.

MyGunValues Original Content
David – MyGunValues

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