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Antiques appraisals net $2,000-plus for charity

Antiques appraisals net $2,000-plus for charity

January 25, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A man with gray hair stood before Tom Millay, who was seated at a table adorned with a desk lamp, a magnifying glass, an animal skin and four neatly placed rifles Saturday at the Shepherdstown Fire Co.

Millay, 53, inspected the man's rifle.

"It's hard to put a price on this because you just don't go and get another one," Millay told the man.

Millay, an appraiser, placed the firearm on the table. He picked it up. He noted the etchings on the stock. The length of the barrel was shorter than normal. The trigger guard was in good shape. Some work had been done to the rifle since it was made sometime in the late 1700s by a Shepherdstown manufacturer.

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The barrel was certainly an original, he said. The hole in the end was hexagonal, not round like modern weapons. Also, the gun had been personalized. The sight notch, used to aim the gun, had been placed farther down the barrel of the gun. The original owner's vision probably was declining, Millay said.

After 15 minutes or so of looking the gun over and learning about its past from the owner, Millay rendered his decision.

"I wouldn't hesitate to put 20,000 (dollars) on it. Or more. ... It's a good piece of history," he said.

Antique and collectible assessors gathered at the fire hall on Saturday for a fund-raising effort for Hospice of the Panhandle Inc. About 75 to 100 people came to the event.

Hospice Executive Director Margaret Cogswell said the assessment event was part of her organization's overall fund-raising efforts. While she said they had hoped to make $7,000 over the course of the day, they only collected between $2,000 and $3,000.

Cogswell's group was charging a per-assessment fee of $10, or a three-assessment package for $25 Saturday. They also held a bake sale.

Cogswell said Hospice provides long-term care for sick and suffering, including pain management. She said the group's annual budget is about $4 million, and programs like Saturday's help fill a $250,000 annual gap that is not covered by government and foundation grants.

There was a steady flow of history buffs and gun enthusiasts who visited Millay's table, where he and his son, Tom Millay Jr., spent the day inspecting people's firearms, as well as educating their owners.

Bill Collier, 57, and his wife, Peggy, 58, watched Millay as he assessed someone else's rifles.

"You could learn a lot just listening to these guys," Peggy Collier said.

Millay said his interest is in the history behind the weapons.

"You're looking at the guy's personality, his own family history," Millay said.

Carvings, metal work and other stylistic flourishes on old weaponry could show ethnic background or nationality - and changes in barrel length could mean the gun was used enough that it had to be shortened to work properly.

There's also the money part, Millay said.

"It's just like buying art, a painting," he said. "It's a good investment. And like any investment, you gotta know what you're buying because there's a lot of fraud out there." He also keeps a stack of books with him to compare models.

But there's also a eureka element to assessing rifles, Millay said. There are some that have never been documented, and were lost in someone's attic for years, and then pop up.

And then, Millay said, "It's kind of like finding a dinosaur."

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