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Survival rate of historical firearms vs other historical artifacts

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by orpington, Sep 12, 2021.

  1. orpington

    orpington Member

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    This is a thread that will be full of hypotheses and no correct answer is likely, but prove me wrong.

    The answers are going to be qualitative, as a percentage is mere speculation. Not that other answers won’t be pure speculation as well.

    Somewhere someone mentioned that despite firearms being lost, destroyed intentionally or unintentionally, etc, there still are a lot of very old firearms out there. Most are well used with replaced parts often being the norm, but are firearms the historical artifact that tends to survive as compared to other historical artifacts over several centuries. The claim for this lies in the fact that they are durable artifacts that often one takes special care not to lose and also they would usually not be discarded?

    What do you think? Are these the artifacts most likely to survive from another era? If not, what historical artifact might be more likely to survive at a greater percentage. Pottery, furniture, oil paintings, books, jewelry, coins, historical homes, etc. All the things I have mentioned seem less durable than a firearm, with the exception of coins, but these are often melted.

    What say you?
     
  2. DeepSouth
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    DeepSouth Contributing Member

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    I think it likely has as much to do with value or worth as anything else. Obviously the durability helps and definitely has a positive impact.

    Things worth more are taken better care of, kept up with better, and handed down more often than things of lesser value.

    Also, remember “worth” is not only monetary, some of my grandfathers tools are worth more to me than anything.
    But as you said, pure speculation.
     
  3. earlthegoat2

    earlthegoat2 Member

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    Firearms have always been useful throughout history. As such, they have not been discarded.

    Things that are durable AND resistant to obsolescence will survive through the ages. Even flintlocks were useful and not obsolete up until the turn of the 20th century which was about 200 years after their inception. Things like that stick around.
     
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  4. Riomouse911

    Riomouse911 Member

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    One can just imagine how many more old/historical firearms would be around if victorious armies didn’t go on disarmament sweeps and collect firearms for destruction from both the vanquished army and civilians as well. Europe alone had lots of these events as countries fought and millions of martial and sporting arms were ultimately confiscated and melted down. :(

    Stay safe.
     
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  5. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

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    If they go to a museum they get dewatted. That is they are welded up to make them inoperable.
     
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  6. Tirod

    Tirod Member

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    Older sporting arms which weren't neglected as much as stored up inappropriately fall thru a few steps and wind up being crushed. At first they still get used and a spot of oil now and again. 40 years later they reside in the dark of a closet or security cabinet ignored, if a part is broken it's usually the death knell as now it's a $85 old plinker needing a $125 part that has to be gunsmith installed for $150. Then the owner passes with NO disposition of their goods planned, that gun and dozens of others are thrown into the trunk of the widder's Buick who then hits up a few pawn shops for 10c on the dollar.

    Once purchased the new owner sorts the lot, discovers a few that could sell, and bundles the rest for the nearest gun buy back where he gets about the best price possible, $50 each and those are then tossed together with a few hundred more for a political photo. Some PD's then attempt to sell them for revenue, others schedule them for destruction at the nearest commercial knifemaker to remove them returning to their evil ways - sitting in a corner rusting.

    Eventually most guns not held as valuable or in good material condition wind up being scrapped for junk. Like old watches they don't function well and after a point become an embarrassment to their owners. There are photos of Australian guns being poured out of dumpsters - including 40 foot containers - and not so much as a screw was saved. They are tossed into the Jaws of Death and crushed into unserviceable scrap for melting.

    Of the nearly 2.7 million 1911's in inventory during the Clinton Administration, MOST were scrapped and the few left are what CMP is now slowly selling off. During the war in Southwest Asia when it became desireable to kit M14's for longer range operations in Afghanistan there were so few that Color Guard chromed rifles were being recalled from funeral units to reprocess - most of the parts being scrapped. All the others were previously disposed. The US Army is no longer in the business of sitting on huge arsenals of unused weapons. They are gone for the most part.

    Which gets us to melting coins down - no not so much. Not worth any appreciable increase in the oz price, requires labor, molds, etc and "junk" silver including coins sell as is for good return. Coins are their own provenance, melting them only brings up questions about what the alloy really is and why did anyone bother in the first place to create more doubt? What are they hiding?
     
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  7. Coyote3855

    Coyote3855 Member

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    Well, not always depending on the museum. I volunteer at the Wyoming State Museum as firearms historian so I have access to its complete firearms collection. The only dewatted ones are those that were obtained from military arsenals. The dewatting may be subtle and not immediately apparent. On the other hand, the Museum returned several to the arsenal because welds were so obvious and objectionable that the guns were not even suitable for display.
     
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  8. CapnMac

    CapnMac Member

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    Yes, and no. Firearms are dependent on the history of mechanics as to their preservation. There are vast questions about how the crossbows of the 14th & 15th Century operate, as the machining of the era was not something that preserved well. So, complete examples are rare.
    While there are all sorts of bladed weapons still retained, and back to the Bronze Age, often the scabbards are not also still extant, so the manner of carry is dependent upon interpretations of contemporary artwork.

    Over the last couple of centuries, as machining technology has matured, the retention of working, operable, firearms has increased. But, many machines from previous era are also being retained--consider various examples of toasters, or door latches and the like. Assembly line manufacturing has revolutionized machines.

    That's not always the case. It's all too common, sadly, but is not universal.
    Some of that is linked to foolish national laws, but that's a different topic.
    There are a number of museum types who feel that removing parts of working history is removing the history.
    If you preserve a vehicle in a museum, but remove its engine or motor, have you actually preserved it at all?
    Context is important.
     
  9. wiscoaster

    wiscoaster Member

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    I think the premise has merit. Firearms are manufactured to be durable. They have to be in order to perform the functions for which they were designed and produced. That being said, the passage of time never improves the durability of anything man-made, so with increasing age increasing care needs to be taken not to degrade the firearm by excessive or improper use or lack of proper care and maintenance.
     
  10. 74man

    74man Member

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    My family made Kentucky Muskets and Long rifles for the American Revolution in Strassburg, Lancaster county Penn and I now own one. Yes it was rather expensive but it has our family name on it. I will never shoot it. Our family came to the America's in 1750, fought in the revolution and some are SAR's and some are DAR's. Everything needed is on paper and easily researched.
     
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  11. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    Take a look at the Rock Island Auctions catalog, quarterly, and you will be astounded at the number and quality of fine firearms that have survived the years.
     
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  12. Airborne Falcon
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    Airborne Falcon Contributing Member

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    I say if you, or many others, had seen the firearms we captured or confiscated in Iraq ... and then were forced to destroy ... it would have made your skin crawl and your hair to curl.

    We woukd throw some of the most valuable firearms imaginable into the same pile of weapons of war stuff ... and it would all be indiscriminately destroyed. Usually melted, sometimes mashed, always made to be indistinguishable from a hunk of metal when done.

    Enough to make a grown man cry inside.

    I saw several mint Thompsons destroyed. I don't know how many mint 1911s but hundreds and not counting 1000s of those considered well used surplus. 1000s of mint AKs. 100s of mint Lugers. Probably 50 or more mint leverguns, many Winchesters and Marlins. I don't know how many mint Colt revolvers but well into the 100s. Three mint BARs that I personally held until I was obligated to throw them in the pile. We (Cochise) did security work for the Environmental crews charged with destroying everything ... and I mean everything, in terms of confiscated or captured firearms.

    I would genuinely estimate, without hesitation, that I saw at least a half dozen absolute mint pre-64 Model 70s go down for the count.

    Those mentioned above were just the ones I personally witnessed being destroyed in my sector. There were two other major demilling operations in other parts of the country that destroyed as many or more than did we around Baghdad.

    It was gut-wrenching.
     
  13. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

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    I absolutly sympathize!!!! Can you imagine how I feel???? :what: :fire::(:confused::barf:o_O
     
  14. tark

    tark Member

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    That depends on the museum. I do volunteer work at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, which is currently closed for renovation. Before the Army took back almost all of the 1225 guns on display, I can say with assurance that none of them were "de-watted." They WERE rendered inoperable by removing and storing certain parts. Firing pins and springs are the simplest and easiest parts to remove. This was per DOD regulations, all weapons on display at any military museum must be inoperable. Some of the older guns had firing pins ground off. It causes me great pain to say that Rock Island manufacture 1903 Springfield serial # 1, in its original rod bayonet configuration, falls into that group. Its firing pin is missing the last 1/2" of its tip. :(

    Of course, many museums do weld up and trash weapons on display but not all. I suppose it depends on different laws in different states ( and countries ) as to how museum guns are displayed.
     
  15. shoobe01

    shoobe01 Member

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    Survivorship bias has strange causes. My favorite example of this is clothing. At a glance it might appear that everyone in the old days (pick your definition, can be 1850 or 1650...) was tiny because all the clothes and (when applicable) suits of armor are small. But that's just what survived.

    WHY are only the small ones still around? Well, until the last 50 years or so, clothes were not so disposable. Even the highest class folks would pass them on, rework them, sometimes for literally centuries for the most rarely worn and speciality items. But how do you rework clothes? Well, if resizing you can go down, but rarely up very far. Tiny people's clothes just... sit there. You can't modify them to fit someone else, so they are delightful research fodder as we can see what it was delivered and worn like in one era, without change. But don't be fooled by the size.

    Same for armor, as well. It was reworked to match threats and styles, but if you have a tiny cuirass, that cannot be stretched to fit someone larger so it just stays in the attic for 500 years.

    Similar with firearms. Many are modified, such as conversions to cartridges, and there are only few left behind unconverted. Often, I bet, that prized very old gun is unmodified not because it's great, but because it's terrible. Weird caliber, heavy, not that accurate, weird size or shape.

    We see very few pinfires because most of them were hard to switch to centerfire and the ammo is odd, so mass quantities of guns disappeared instead. We see very few air guns despite them being nearly ubiquitous for decades, because when firearm leapt ahead with better powder driving rifling, that took all the technology and smiths and parts with it. After a few more decades, those that fell into disrepair could not be fixed easily, and a store room or attic cleaning or two later, and they get tossed, so we have very few of something once very common.
     
  16. shoobe01

    shoobe01 Member

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    This. A notable one nearby is the National World War 1 Museum. Huge collection including artillery, machine guns, etc. More or less all functional and huge number on display. When it opened you could touch the artillery and yeah, firing pins and all. Smuggle a 75 shell in and you could put a big hole in the museum.

    They do this in large measure by regular (like, weekly!) visits by ATF. They monitor /everything/ and at least tacitly sign off on even things like display cases, to help assure that no one can smash-and-grab an SMG.

    I know others (USAF museum) go straight to disappointingly obvious rubber replicas almost everywhere, whereas seriously gun law places like small regimental museums in England and Scotland have live guns also. Seems to be a lot what each museum wants to put up with re: paperwork. Many have too little staff, too little funding so go the easy route to nothing regulated so less paperwork.
     
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  17. CapnMac

    CapnMac Member

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    And, it's silly, too--as pointed out by several directors and curators. In all the history of all the firearms in all the museums, not a single one has been busted out of is case by a visitor (there have been a couple that walked out the back doors--but, that's a different issue).
    Given that musea are loathe to display live ammo with any of these items, the risk of mayhem is pretty insignificant.
     
  18. .455_Hunter

    .455_Hunter Member

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    I visited a Spanish military museum in Barcelona in 2000. I remember seeing actual holes drilled into cylinders/chamber areas of the display weapons. Kinda disgusting...
     
  19. Electrod47

    Electrod47 Member

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    I think ephemera is highly sought after and saved even though extremely perishable. Take the Dead Sea Scrolls as an example of how old some documents can be. I have many old telegrams of correspondence between the editor of the Tucson Citizen and field reporters following Pancho Villa with Blackjack Pershing hot on is heels. I have a front row ticket to the Buffalo Bill and Congress of Rough Riders thats about 125 years old. There's a lot of paper out there still.
     
  20. .455_Hunter

    .455_Hunter Member

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    I suspect the survivability of firearms in the US, especially post-Civil War cartridge guns, is very good. I think the lowest rates would be for the cheapest examples- non-serialed .22 rifles, single-shot shotguns, and small IJ/H&R/F&W style revolvers. Many of these literally did just "rust away" in the barn. However, I don't think there was ever an era where functional centerfire handguns or long-guns where intentionally left to the elements in large numbers. All of the confiscated, crime scene, and "buy back" victims are a drop in the bucket to was was produced or imported. Its important to note that all of that is being diluted into the current 340 million population. Once what was common "in every house" is now being spread over many more houses.
     
  21. illinoisburt

    illinoisburt Member

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    I think the OP does bring up a really interesting question of how long modern firearms and other weapons can survive in usable condition. It's been long understood that governments often round up and destroy weapons within their areas of control to maintain a hegemony on power. Huge numbers get scrapped after conflicts and of course we have seen the civilian disarmament programs as well like the one mentioned in Australia. Occasionally this happens here in the US as well, just on a smaller scale in some cities or counties. Of course part of the equation is the change in how common and ubiquitous gun ownership has become here. I imagine the massive number of guns made for the US civilian market and older surplus military arms from around the world sold to us are going to be around a very long time unless (until?) some government program removes them.
     
  22. orpington

    orpington Member

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    How did all this nice stuff end up in Iraq?
     
  23. illinoisburt

    illinoisburt Member

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    It's a big country with lots of oil. There is a strong gun culture amongst the elites in the middle east and they have plenty of money to buy whatever they want, which often is more expensive or luxury items. Plus Iraq was our friend for a long time, until it wasn't (same with lots of other places over there).
     
  24. tark

    tark Member

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    This is interesting, because At the Arsenal Museum, we never see the ATF, despite the fact that we had a least a couple hundred fully automatic weapons. None of our full autos are on the ATFs books, as they will never be for sale or transfer. They are owned by the Federal Government.

    I assume that the WW I Museum is not a DOD run museum? Perhaps owned by the state, or city?
     
  25. Reloadron
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    Reloadron Contributing Member

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    Here is an observation of mine. I was born in NYC circa 1950. Growing up Long Island NY I remember family trips to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and the summer home of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. I remember as a kid being mesmerized by the endless display of guns and trophies. The house was adorned with all of Roosevelt's mounts and guns, really nice guns. Looking at that same national site today all of the guns are gone, the mounts remain but not a gun to be seen anymore. Roosevelt was a pretty firm lover of Winchester rifles and the NRA did a story on a few of his rifles but there are no longer any to be seen at the Summer White House on LI NY. Why? Good gun museums seem to be getting scarce or is it just me?

    Ron
     
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