The Russian Mosin Nagant Page and Preservation

      This site has long been an advocate of preserving the historic integrity of collectable or historically significant firearms. Over the years this has not been a popular stance and has somewhat offended the sensitivities of some visitors. We make no apologies for believing that military surplus firearms should be preserved in the condition and configuration they were in upon retirement from active service. There is a clear and quantifiable trend in several lines of historically significant firearms of being nearly extinct because they were treated as expendable, cheap commodities and subjected to an endless amount of modification and eventually cast aside. We believe that these firearms are in fact historical artifacts that represent significant periods in the world's history and our support of maintaining the historical dignity of these firearms is not limited to just the Mosin rifle.

A Case for Historic Firearms Preservation

A Brief History of Collecting Firearms

    Firearms collecting never really came into its own until a few years after WWI. Up until that time, there were a handful of collections mostly in the hands of museums. In the late 1800’s, firearms were regarded as simple tools, no different than a plow or a shovel. Nearly every rural household had a firearm of some type. It wasn’t until after so many men were exposed to military firearms in the First World War, that the idea of collecting became popular. This popularity was on the increase for a couple of reasons. One is that many young men returning from the war brought back firearms as war trophies. The second reason the idea of collecting took off was the enormous stocks of military firearms left over from the war that were put on the civilian market as “military surplus”. This affordable source of firearms made it easy for the average person to acquire a firearm similar to those used in the war. Another facture that spurred on firearms collecting was the movement in the early years of the twentieth century to introduce legislation to restrict the ownership of certain types of firearms. The National Firearms Act of 1934 provides for the registration, and the taxing of the transfer, of a class of weapons described as NFA Title 2 weapons (sometimes referred to as "Class 3 weapons"). These include machine guns, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, silencers (also known as suppressors) and also a class of weapons known as "Any Other Weapon" (AOW). An example of an AOW is, but not limited to, a smooth barreled pistol or a short barreled combination gun. Prior to the enactment of this law there was a rush to obtain many of the proscribed firearms in hopes that the ownership of them would be grandfathered.

    After the Second World War, a new generation of gun owners began collecting firearms for the same reasons their fathers did following the First World War. Again, military surplus firearms were plentiful and affordable. In the early years of collecting military type firearms, many of the dealers involved were antique dealers. This allowed the hobby of collecting firearms to take on some of the “rules” for collecting antiques. These rules governed authenticity, condition, history and the value of the firearms being sold on the market. Traditional terms for antique furniture collecting transferred directly to firearms such as “patina”, “sheen”, and “maker’s marks”. Like antique furniture, collectors expected that firearms would be in original condition. That is to say that the firearm would not be restored or altered in any way. These rules strongly held that fading finish on the wood stocks and worn bluing on the metal actually preserved or increased the value of a specimen.

    At the same time the antiques crowd started becoming involved in historically significant military firearms, another group of people took an interest in these firearms as well. In the years between World War One and World War Two, commercial establishments like import distributors and catalogue companies saw these firearms as a strong revenue enhancer. Francis Bannerman VI was a giant in the military surplus market. He began his career buying and selling surplus equipment and cast off lots of small arms. Although he died before the military surplus firearm trade really came into its own, his sons carried on with his business and were perfectly positioned to capitalize on the flood of surplus arms following the First World War. What firearms they failed to sell to other countries, were channeled into the retail market. Retailers like Sears & Roebuck saw these firearms as having real potential in the sport shooter and hunting market for that segment of society that could not afford a high dollar firearm. Many of the surplus firearms were changed for the civilian market by having the stocks and barrels shortened, civilian type sights installed and other changes both cosmetic and practical. Other importers saw the value of Bannerman’s venture and started importing large numbers of surplus small arms and channeling them to the retail market as well.

    After the Second World War, the demand for military surplus firearms was just as great at least initially. However, during the 50’s, the retail chains began to scale down their sales of firearms. The importers and distributors began searching for a new channel to dispose of these firearms. They had to settle with supplying specialty sporting goods stores and smaller retail operations like gun shops. The firearms that moved this chain were largely unaltered from their original configuration. This gave firearms collecting a shot in the arm because a whole new group of would be collectors sprang up. However, their numbers were relatively small. During the 60’s and 70’s, the average buyer was still the hunter and sport shooter looking for a bargain rifle. This trend continued into the 80’s and early 90’s. It was during the late 90’s, that a new phenomena helped the collecting community explode. The distributors and some of the larger retail channels discovered the internet. At the same time, collectors also discovered the internet and the confluence of the two brought the numbers of new collectors up to record levels. Websites began to appear that featured collecting various types of military surplus firearms. Information became available to potential collectors at a record pace. These new collectors learned more than ever before about these firearms, their history and the laws and regulations governing their sale. The Bureau of Tobacco Alcohol and Firearms began issuing the Curios and Relics Federal Firearms License in record numbers. This license allowed collectors to conduct firearms transactions across state lines with other collectors and retail establishments. The firearms covered by this license had to be at least fifty years old and on an approved list from the BATF.

    Now in the early years of the twenty-first century, collecting historically significant firearms is possibly more popular than ever. People from all walks of life have discovered the rich history and tradition that these rifles represent. Unfortunately, the sport shooter and hunter have also taken advantage of the Curios and Relics Federal Firearms License. I say unfortunately because many in this crowd have little regard for the history of these rifles. To them, they are cheap resources to with which to build a sporting rifle. They see nothing wrong with permanently altering them to adapt the rifles to sporting or hunting use. If all things were equal and the supply of these rifles were endless, that would not be a real concern. However, I will discuss later in my lecture on firearms preservation, these rifles are in danger of literally becoming extinct.

Firearms Preservation

    Collecting historically significant military firearms has reached an unprecedented level. Through the global reach of the internet, people are introduced to these firearms everyday. As a result, there is some concern about the future of collecting them. Several factors are falling into place to endanger this activity, that are as old as collecting itself and as new as the new global society we find ourselves in. Collecting is effected by such factors as the supply of available firearms, the laws governing firearms ownership, the attitudes of the market, and changing social and political values regarding firearms ownership. As our society becomes more complex and diverse, we are faced with radical shifts in social values. Even the economy plays a role in the health of collecting firearms. I will attempt to address these factors as they apply to the preservation of historically significant firearms. The first order of business is to define just what “historically significant” means. By fleshing out that definition, we can begin to see the importance of preservation.

    Firearms have always been the ultimate tool of national policy. Throughout history, when negation and diplomacy failed, it was firearms that were employed to force the matter. The men and women who carried those firearms were hapless extensions of their nation’s intentions. None of them made up the policies that were forced and many were in societies where a vote on the matter was not even considered. They shouldered their rifle and marched off to battle and fought as bravely as they could. Now, over 60 years later, the battle fields are silent and many of those men and women are gone. The map of the globe has changed many times since some of the rifles we collect were designed and fielded. The only testimony to the historical events that these rifles were a part of is the rifles themselves. These firearms serve as reminders of how precious liberty really is. At least in our nation’s case, the government that enforced its will through the use of firearms did it with the will of its people behind it. It was firearms that made that possible when the colonists faced King George’s finest infantry at Lexington and Concord and through off the yoke of oppression and founded a nation based on individual freedoms and liberty. It had been firearms that have preserved that nation throughout its history by opposing both internal threats as well as international threats to is peace and unity. Collectors therefore view the firearms they collect as more than a mute and voiceless tool but rather an artifact of history. With most surplus military firearms, the rifle will speak volumes about its country of origin and its place in history. The quality of its construction and the date of manufacture will tell you something about the role in history it may have played. Some firearm types have seen the history of the country in which it was made change radically during the life of its production and use. The rifle Mosin was developed in 1891 under Czarist Russia, was part of the Communist revolution, repelled the Nazi invasion, supplied the Warsaw Pact during the cold war and saw service in Afghanistan 100 years after its design. Sadly, it still serves in the hands of the Chechen rebels. Never the less, the collector of the rifle Mosin can reflect on these events and appreciate the history behind the rifle. Hence, the term “historically significant” seems appropriate. So a working definition might be, “The events; political, societal and economic that are reflected in the development and deployment of a military firearm from a specific and unique period of world history”. Simply stated, a historically significant military firearm is a military firearm, active or retired, that represents historically significant developments in firearms technology or historic events that have occurred during the service life of said firearm.

    So why is this important to the concept of preservation? As owners and collectors of these rifles, we become the stewards of the history that they represent. By obtaining them and leaving them intact to survive over time, we are also preserving the legacy of the rifle’s contribution to history, good or bad. Take the example of the rifle Mosin. One model might remind us of the Imperial Russian Government which some may view in a positive light or simultaneously, it could remind us of the Soviet state. It might remind us of victory over Nazi Germany or it could remind us of the oppression of political dissidents and Jews of Russia. Some people might argue that it is wrong to respect something that was part of those events. However, I would answer that the German expression, “Nie Weider” or “Never Again” was made for such artifacts. They are physical testaments to both the enlightenment of man through their use for liberation from tyranny as well as the inhumanity of fear and repression. We would do well to remember both extremes.

    These firearms are a limited resource in the current climate of restrictive firearms regulations, and economic pressures that makes them the target for permanent alteration as hunting and sporting rifles. We jealously protect other resources that exist around us like our clean water, air and the rest of the habitat that sustains us. We protect historic resources and symbols such as monuments, buildings and battlefield sites. We also protect and preserve documents relating to great historical events-ours and the events of other nations. It only stands to reason that we should strive to protect historically significant firearms in the same way. It is the “why” in the concept needs to be clarified. This is the most difficult issue to address because so many people see these firearms in different ways. In addition, there are so many misconceptions about them. I like to break this whole issue down to some basic elements. Those elements are numbers, value, and utility.

    A common misconception is that millions of these firearms were produced so therefore there must be millions waiting to make it to our shores. The facts are that millions of these rifles were produced from 1891 to the late 50’s and early 60’s but millions of these rifles did not survive time. As these firearms evolved, new models were developed and fielded. With each new model produced, older models were pulled out of service and either recycled or stored. Parts were salvaged for use in newer models or in completely different firearms. Rifles built in the 40’s can be found with parts manufactured 40 years earlier. Also, as these rifles were fielded during times of conflict, they were damaged and destroyed in large numbers. Some ended up in tiny fragments or buried in bomb craters never to be found again. Large numbers of rifles were destroyed outright when captured and the materials recycled to be used in weapons built by the victor. Although the cumulative production figures appear impressive, the actual number of surviving firearms is actually a fraction of that number. To see this another way, let us consider something like automobiles. Millions of Chevrolets were produced in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. However, they did not survive time. Some were destroyed in accidents, while others, were driven until they were falling apart and scrapped. Some survived but were converted to hotrods or field cars. Of those millions of automobiles made, only a small percentage remain in existence today in their original form and intact. Of the billions of historic firearms produced in the last hundred years, many are now extinct for all intents and purposes. At one time, you could find pallet loads of Springfield 1903’s, M1 Carbines, pristine examples of WWII Mausers and Egyptian Hakims. Those pallet loads represented a small fraction of the actual production. Where are they now?

    The question of “where are they now?” leads to the element of value. The remaining stocks of historically significant military firearms have a certain value assigned to them. The value is related to both their cost and their perceived future worth. There is also an intrinsic value that represents their worth as a historical artifact. Depending on who you are will determine the balance of those values. If you are a collector, you are forever mindful of current value as you attempt to acquire these rifles. Balancing the cost of obtaining a rifle with your collection needs is a constant challenge. Many collectors are mindful of the intrinsic value of the firearms they collect. They are often students of history and have sought to expand their knowledge about the firearms they collect, the period of history in which the firearms were developed and used and the historic events behind their use. Predicting future value is nearly impossible. One can not possibly predict the future value of a firearm anymore than they can predict the future itself. Over time, laws and prevailing social beliefs and attitudes can adversely impact the value of a firearm or conversely, may elevate the value of a firearm. When assessing the value of a given firearm, a collector needs to understand the traditional benchmarks and how they may or may not apply to the specimen in question. The antiques oriented collector might assign less value to a rifle that has been arsenal refurbished or that has mis-matched serial numbers when in fact, the refurbishment or lack of matching serial numbers is correct and consistent with the history of that firearm. Another level of value is assigned to a firearm in terms of rarity. The fewer known examples of a given firearm, the higher the value. The sport shooter or hunter may only consider the utility of a given firearm when assessing its value. By utility, we mean its usefulness to the person obtaining it. It makes little difference to a hunter if a given firearm is rare or all matching. What counts is condition and accuracy as well as the potential to modify that firearm for sporting use economically. These criteria, value, numbers and utility, all combine to determine how these firearms will survive the present and be in existence for future collectors.

    It is with the thought in mind that historically significant firearms are a limited resource that carries an intrinsic as well as practical value and a degree of utility that begs us to consider their preservation. If we believe that these firearms are a historical artifact that deserves to be appreciated long into the future, we must encourage others to keep them intact, in original condition and to balance their consumption with the need to pass them on to future generations.