The exceptionally unpredictable climate of today’s economic environment has prompted inquiry into previously overlooked asset classes. Throughout history’s turbulent periods, from the hyperinflation of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1918-1933), to Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse, people have often been pushed to resort to unconventional means of daily subsistence, including barter. When fiat currencies collapse, assets of intrinsic value always provide a hard floor. Gold and silver are two popular examples, as well as jewellery, clothing, food, livestock, tools, and as our readers can appreciate, art. The utility of these assets in barter only further compliments their viability as investments.
One relatively novel class of assets to emerge from an investment perspective, is firearms. While firearms and their related accessories, including ammunition, have long proved indispensable and crucial to countless junctures throughout the past several-hundred years, there can be no denying that a different light is bringing them into focus today. Take for example the precipitous rise in firearms ownership applications in the United States, where in 2020 the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) registered a 41% increase year-over-year. While the U.S. population increased by 18.8% from 1999 to 2020, U.S. firearm background checks within the same period increased by 206%. Although this can in part be attributed to social, cultural, and political conditions that are uniquely characteristic of the U.S., it does not account for the whole picture, and there remains yet a broader established phenomenon of increased demand for firearms elsewhere in the world. In Canada, America’s comparatively mild neighbor by reputation, despite a slight net decrease in total licensed firearms owners for 2020 due to COVID-19’s disruption of the application process, this itself was only a minor and negligible contradiction to an otherwise clearly established trend of increasing firearms ownership over the past decade. From 2009 to 2020 the population of Canada increased by 11.8%, while within the same period, the number of individuals with a Federal Gun License increased by 19.2%. In other words, the rate of increase for licensed firearm ownership in Canada over the past decade outpaced the rate of population growth by more than 62%.
Through the numbers a clear and enduring pattern of increasing demand reveals itself, and with it, opportunity. It is one thing for generic and continuously-produced supply to keep up with demand, and while there won’t be a shortage of generic AR-15 style rifles any time soon (and they too are increasing in price), other firearms enjoy the advantage of being inherently unique, finite, not-reproducible, rich with history – and therefore highly collectible. This is a classification where Soviet firearms excel.
Take for example the SKS. Designed in 1943 by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov, the SKS, which stands for Samozaryadniy Karabinsistemi Simonova (Self-loading Carbine of the Simonov system), is a semi-automatic rifle chambered in the 7.62×39 “M-43” cartridge. Produced in Russia from 1945 to 1958, it was adopted by the Soviet Union in 1945 to replace the Mosin Nagant as the primary infantry weapon, which had itself served Russian military since 1891. Compared to the Mosin Nagant, which was heavy, overpowered, and limited by its small five-round magazine, the SKS was an improvement that benefited soldiers in the field in that it was smaller, lighter, more compact and portable, and featured lower recoil and double the magazine capacity, while still retaining effective firepower. It even featured a bayonet that folded to the underside of the barrel and could be quickly deployed in the heat of combat. The SKS saw limited action against the Germans at the end of World War II, and would go on to serve as a “stepping stone” to the AK-47, which featured detachable magazines and selective fire modes, eventually replacing the SKS in the early 1950s as the Soviet Union’s designated front-line service rifle.
Despite its relatively short term as the Soviet Union’s main battle rifle, this has not diminished the SKS rifle’s presence on the global market as an increasingly sought-after firearm that is both highly collectible and investible. There are in fact numerous reasons for this. The most readily apparent is the historical aspect. There is of course the SKS rifle’s iconic status as a classic WWII and Cold War era firearm of the Soviet Union. There is also its extensive use by other countries across numerous conflicts throughout history, including the Chinese Civil War and the Vietnam War. To this day, the SKS remains in active, secondary, and ceremonial use across the world. This ties into its long-established reputation as a particularly reliable firearm, one that remains immensely popular with recreational shooters, and even hunters. This is complimented by a considerable selection of aftermarket upgrades and accessories provided by numerous companies. Furthermore, a broad variety of countries have manufactured the SKS over the years, and in some cases continue to, including China’s Norinco. This adds a completely new dimension of collectability to the SKS, beyond that of the original Russian production runs. Countries that have manufactured the SKS in addition to Russia include Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Yugoslavia (notable for its grenade launcher attachment), North Korea, China, Vietnam, and a particularly rare and sought after East German variant.
One of the more nuanced aspects of the SKS rifle’s investment appeal draws back to the original Soviet productions. Of the roughly 2.7 million SKS rifles manufactured in Russia from 1945 to 1958, the majority originated from the Tula Arms Plant, where full-scale production commenced from 1949 to 1958. A much smaller quantity, however, were produced at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant within a narrow window from 1953 to 1954. Marked by a distinct arrow inside of a triangle on the top of the receiver, in contrast to the Tula plant’s arrow inside of a star, these particular SKS rifles command a premium for their relative scarcity. It should however be noted that they are both of comparable quality, with good manufacturing standards. Some SKS rifles manufactured at Tula do have their own distinguishing features. From 1956 to 1958, what has come to be informally designated as the “letter series” were manufactured at Tula. These SKS rifles do not have the typical arrow within a star symbol on the top of the receiver, but instead feature a small star on the side of the receiver. Additionally, they are marked by a small Cyrillic character denoting their year of manufacture, either Д (1956), И (1957) or К (1958), followed by the serial number. Like the Izhevsk productions, these particular SKS rifles are highly sought after and command a premium.
This leads us to the subject of SKS price and appreciation of value over the years. There is much variability to take into account due to the myriad of models across different times and places of manufacture, as well as other factors such as condition, matching parts/serial numbers, and refurbishment. For the sake of efficiency, this article will focus on the Russian/Soviet SKS rifles. While there exists no formal database that has tracked the SKS rifle’s price history over the years, there are plenty of reference points to take into account that clearly illustrate an upwards trajectory. Throughout the 1980’s SKS rifles could be procured from firearms conventions and other retailers in the U.S. for as little as $70 USD, which is roughly equivalent to $170 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation. Today however, this is not the case, with Russian SKS rifles generally commanding upwards of $800 in the US marketplace – and that is a conservative figure that I am using here. Many listings reviewed during the research for this article were well above the $1000 USD mark, again subject to varying details such as year, condition, factory, matching serials numbers, etc. To provide broader context, we can look at the history of SKS prices in the Canadian market. As a lifelong Canadian citizen, I can tell you that ten-to-fifteen years ago Russian SKS rifles would routinely sell here, on average, for approximately $150-$200 CAD. When adjusted for inflation, that would be around $200 to $250 in today’s money. As of 2021, Russian SKS rifles typically retail in Canada for no less than $500 CAD – again, a conservative figure. This alone is an appreciation of over 100% within a fairly short period of time. Not too shabby, especially considering that ultra-wealthy career investors such as Warren Buffet typically subsist on a comparable annualized return of 15-20%.
One can expect that given current social, political, and economic conditions, that firearms as an asset class will continue to appreciate in value for the foreseeable future. Quite evidently, we can see that in addition to its enduring service as a reliable tool more than three-quarters of a century after its introduction to the battlefield, the SKS, among other Soviet firearms as we will come to learn in future installments of this series, is also an exceptionally viable asset from an investment standpoint.
The Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS: A Complete Guide to Guns, Gear and Ammunition – (2008) Patrick Sweeney
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