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There are two pistolsmiths now testing the limits of what consumers are willing to spend on a full house custom 1911. I once posted about the subject in a thread titled Economics & Custom 1911s on the 1911Forum. Unfortunately, that thread was immediately locked by a moderator. Bad timing for free speech, as that thread came on the heels of the (now infamous) Mark Morris thread. Most of the Morris thread focused on what many forumites were characterizing as an outrageous amount ($3895 on a customer supplied gun) that Morris was charging for his 'best grade' full house pistols. As several members pointed out, this was an amount in excess of what even the Dean of American Pistolsmiths (Richard Heinie) was charging for his finest craftsmanship.

Prior to Larry Vickers' American Handgunner article, he warned future buyers that he was upping his prices. His 'basic' full house gun will now be around $4,000 (on a customer supplied gun) and his 'best grade' full house is going to set you back $6,000 (on a customer supplied gun). Considering this will be something of a new professional high-water mark, this begs the question; How much is too much for a custom 1911?

This is not an indictment of Larry Vickers or Mark Morris, but rather an observation about a developing market trend. We as consumers, should be able to discuss such things openly and without malice toward anyone. Personally, I think we need to take an objective look at this trend. Are we suddenly getting THAT much more pistol than the best work of the past decade? I gotta wonder, when Dane tells me the the Craig Wetstein (of Pachmayr and the Auto Shop fame) pistol he now owns, is built with more observable craftsmanship than most current pistolsmiths are putting into their work.

While there certainly have been developments in materials and machining technologies, much of the work still involves a keen eye, talented hands and time. No doubt, costs have gone up for both labor and materials in that time. But unless I have not figured correctly, the retail price of custom work seems to have moved up (mostly) insink with the rate of inflation. The 1911 has been around for an awfully long time. Nearly every thing that can be done has now been tried in one fashion or another. Are we seeing these higher prices as a result of creating an elitist hierarchy among a small handful of pistolsmiths? Is this push for higher prices a result of ignoring too many of the other talented pistolsmiths in the business?

Maybe this forum (and others like it) will ultimately change our perceptions. We can (and should) expect honest answers to the such questions. The gun press is never going address our real questions, as it is not conducive to selling ad space. Clearly their interests and ours are not completely aligned. If were are to be enlightened, then IMO, we need to use this medium to its fullest advantage.

There will (of course) always be buyers for whom price is never a consideration, but I suspect that does not reflect the vast majority of our members. So what do you see as the point of diminishing returns for the cost of a full house custom 1911? If money were not a consideration, then what would the extra cost of the bespoken 1911 bring to you? Just how much extra hand fitting and polishing can possibly be done to a 1911 to justify still higher prices? Would you consider using such an expensive pistol as your daily carry piece, or would it simply become the pride of your handgun collection and reside unfired in the dark recesses of your safe? How much more can we gild Browning's lily?

DD
 

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I personally won't be going that high. I'm on the wait list for Mr. Vickers and Mr. Heinie, but if their prices are at that level by the time my name comes up, then I'm afraid I'd have to pass :sad:

Just being honest and truthful. I guess I might have them do just a few things like reliability package and dehorn. But I have faith in the free market and prices will be set at appropriate levels by YOU and ME (there are always up and comers that will take the place of the smiths that price themselves out of the market) :smile:
 

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If you feel you pay to much for any service, its too high.
If you are satisfied with what you pay for, then its not too high.

Ive always been somwhat confused on custom pistolsmith pricing. There is really not alot of variation between the smiths, regardless of skill level. In any other "craft", take knifemaking for instance, there is a HUGE difference between pricing from the "elite" in the knife world and the average maker. Maybe we are going to start and see some of this in the pistolsmithing proffesion.
 

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To me 3 grand for a Heinie gun is perfectly acceptable. I'd easily be willing to pay for that. Morris, after reading his rather trite letter in American Handgunner would be out of the question at ANY price now. Even without the letter, I'd still rather send 3 grand to Dick Heinie and get a great gun. I just don't see what he's doing that justifies such a high price. Seems a little bit over the top and maybe a bit of an ego stroke :roll:

Concerning Larry Vickers, I have never seen one of his guns, but have heard lots of great things about them. MY question would be, is it really better than Heinies work, and thus justifies such a price?

Would I use a 4000 dollar Morris gun, or a 6000 dollar Vickers gun as a carry piece? Probably not, I'd say. At the end of the day, a gun is a tool used for a specific purpose, and I myself would have the tendency to leave the expensive ones in mint condition. I'd definitely carry the Heinie gun thou :grin: There are a LOT of nice custom knives I'd like to own, but most of them
are SO nice I'd be hesitant to use them. I'm the type of person
that buys things that I can USE, not just sit back and drool over.

DD, concerning the 2 threads you mentioned I read both of them,
and thought that that type of dicussion was perferctly warranted.
Its shame that the felt they had to censor people and take
punative action against certain individuals. But hey, we are HERE now, so I guess its THEIR loss right? :grin:

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: JLM on 2001-05-21 01:24 ]</font>
 

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This one oughta be interesting. Personally, I'm not at all interested nor impressed by someone's parts polishing capabilities. I'll pay what it takes to make the thing reliebly go boom, and perhaps a little extra for modest craftsmanship, but beyond that...not interested. It's a tool. There will always be someone who will just have to have the most expensive of anything in order to maintain their self-esteem. Me, I have a life...and a family. My hard-earned money goes to them first! I can see spending $2500 or so for the right tool, but $4-6k is way out of reason, for me. I cannot help but wonder what that extra $2-4k is buying. :smile:
_________________
Make It Hot!

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: dpcdivr on 2001-05-21 15:34 ]</font>
 

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DD,

I think you are on the mark on asking the question what is too much. I guess some will say it is worth it others will not. I think with all the above mentioned you are paying for their mark. Handgunner published a list of what they thought were the top ten most sought after gunmakers. Maybe, maybe not. To get a reliable, nice looking firearm one does not have to pay that much. Thank God for a free market and the ability to make my own choice.
Some will say it is the handwork and hand fitting that makes the gun worth that money..But why..when modern technology and machines can replicate with perfection the fit and finish of the finest hand work. I guess it not the old world artisan approach but is that necessarily the best?
I have been lucky enough to have seen the work of some of the finest pistolsmiths first hand and others only the beautiful photos in magazines. Yes handling one is totally a different experience than just seeing pictures, but if you can find fault with the handwork on the outside, what are you missing on the inside?
I guess people will pay what they want to pay.

Oh by the way...what is everyone top ten list of guns they would get if they could afford it.. :smile:
 

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From a gunsmith's perspective, "too much" is the price at which people stop buying. Since a smith can only build (and sell) one pistol at a time, he might as well price his work for the highest-paying consumer in the market.

Names on a waiting list don't pay the bills. :wink:
 

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The limit I would be willing to pay is $2500. There's not that much I want done to a 1911 to begin with beyond an excellent frame/slide combo, match barrel, and a reliability job. Guess that means I'll never get a full-house. Ah, well. That just means I can buy more pistols. Shucks. :smile:

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: buzz_knox on 2001-05-21 09:56 ]</font>
 

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The gunsmith can only decide how much to charge, he doesn't get to decide how much the buyer pays. "Too much" is entirely subjective and highly variable. If he charges less than the market will bear, he will generate a long waiting list, and a secondary market will spring up, in which some of the people that have his guns will sell them at a profit. This was the situation with Seecamp for a number of years.
 

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Would not the question be in determing price = value how long it takes _in house_ to do a full house gun ?

Most of the top Smiths send out for finishing, and perhaps for checkering as well, and maybe even some machining....

If, and I`m guessing here, it take 30 - 60 hours of actual hand work in house, then there is going to be some very rich Custom Smiths out there in a few years or the Custom Gun Market is very, very small...

No judgements intended here..just thinking out loud.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Blackjack on 2001-05-21 10:35 ]</font>
 

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Interesting subject, DD. Regarding the Morris thread, I was more concerned with getting an answer on what did, or didn't, come with the heavy tag. From his page, I honestly could not tell. Then, when he got bitchy in a recent magazine article, well, that was enough for me. At no price.

Price is an enigma. To a point, quality follows price. Beyond some point, quality following price becomes a myth. Only the buyer can determine where that point is.

I have played with one pistol built by Larry, and it was indeed nice. Forget what my buddy paid for it, and he probably has too since he enjoys the pistol. To me, $6,000 is too much of my money in a carry pistol. I have about that in a brace of dogs though, and their life will certainly be shorter than the life of a durable good. So, it all revolves around the customer's priorities, desires, etc.

I wish Larry, and all of the other artists who make these pistols, knives, and rifles, the best. Their work is appreciated by many, thus the market. In the end, no matter what one 'smith or the other is charging, it benefits us all. Lordy, the 1911 market is cooking, and we shooters are the benefactors of it.
 

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I retail the Custom and Semi-Custom 1911 and had about 500 of all pass through my little ole' retail operation in the past.

In my opinion there is a price point where one, the buyer, is getting name. So what. That is the buyer's option. Nameis reputation and reputation is not earned by garbage work and worse customer service. Name is earned.

I recently got in a Richard Heinie gun and the amount attention to detail is more than I have ever seen to include the number of well known gunsmiths and gun shops. Is part of the price I paid the name. Yes. Would I do it again. Yes and faster than before.

Some folks will think I am nuts for paying what I did.

In one sense we are paying for the skill of the men building the guns. I am sad to say but gunsmithing is a dying art. One thing for sure and as technology advances, the gunsmithing trade is an art where there is no young. Look around.

In another way it becomes like a piece of art. What is worth $4000 in one place is worth $400 in another. We bought a piece of art, a simple print, for about $500 a couple of years ago. That piece in the right circle is about $1500 now and in the wrong circle $50. Again, value is percieved and relative to the wants and not always the needs of the buyer.

Value is perceived by the individual and what it is worth to him.

Do Custom gunsmiths make a lot of money from building guns only. I would say no. I do not care if he charges $50 an hour. Most if not all of the gunsmith have some other form of support for the shop. Notice how many support another line of sights, grips or whatever.

I have another full-time job and I sell the guns. Margins are very, very, tight. If I see that I know the rest of you can also.

Enough philosophy. Time to burn powder.
 

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I personally can't see paying more than $3000 myself for a custom gun. Having said that, I would say that how much is too much depends on whether I feel I'm getting my money's worth. The description of the amount of attention to detail and hands on work Larry Vickers put into his full house guns says to me that his asking price just about covers the number of hours he's actually giving to that gun.

I know I made some smart @$$ remarks about the price Mark Morris charged for his guns, but there's not a great deal of detail as to what he's doing to his full house guns to justify his asking price beyond the fact that he's very popular right now. If he's giving the same amount of attention to the guns he builds as does Larry than maybe his price is justified. However, given his poor attitude and other thinks I've seen about his demeanor, I would NOT do business with him ever.

If Dane or Richard Heinie or any number of our best smiths are putting the same amount of time into their full house guns, then obviously we are getting a bargain.

Beyond the functionality of the pistols, many 1911's buy gunsmiths are also works of art. To me art has whatever value it can generate from any particular individual.
 

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I'd like to throw a few words at this. For me to answer this question, I think I have to break it into two parts. Guns that are to be used and then guns that are to be "collected" in some way.
For a gun to be used as a tool for defense/training, I think I have a price limit of $2,500.00. This is my limit on a gun to be used in training, classes, etc. where I may fire as much as 500 rounds in a day and make countless numbers of presentations that would wear off any finnish you could apply to a gun.
I might pay more than this amount for a gun that I wanted for other reasons.This is where you get into almost a collector's status. For me to pay more than $2,500.00 for a gun, I have to want it because it is a limited editon, it has "special" features, it may appreciate in value for some reason, etc. This collector gun would then see limited selective use. I enjoy expensive quality items such as watches, guns, cars, etc. and can understand how someone can buy a very expensive item and enjoy owning/using it more than a lesser expensive but just as servicable version. I enjoy taking handgun training classes and have been to several big name schools where you see all kinds and prices of guns. In some advanced classes, you have to understand the idea that ...A gun is a tool used to save your life... because it gets some serious concentrated use in theses classes. I use a Wilson CQB. I enjoy this gun and have no problem using it for these classes. Other people see my gun and cannot believe I use it for the class. Obviously it is over priced for them. If I had a $6,000 gun, I would just have to be more selective about how/where it is used and be able to appreciate it in other ways. Dollar limits are set by individuals based on various aspects of their life. Do not criticze/judge a person based solely on what they pay for something. The person may be so filthy stinking rich that it means nothing to them and they just like the gun. $10,000 to them may be like $1,000 to you. Try to learn more about the person before you judge them based on what's in the holster.
I've also learned another lesson about money and guns. I can miss just as easy with a $5,000 gun as I can with a $1,000 gun.
It is intersting to read the opinions of everyone. Good topic for discussion.
 

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I'm not a pistolsmith, nor do I play one on TV :smile: But, wait, that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion:)).
It seems to me that there are two ways to look at this. Real costs, and WTTWB (What The Traffic Will Bear).
Real Costs:
I've been told that it takes 5 hours to do a god trigger job, and longer for a great one. If it does take 5 hours to do a "good" trigger job, and the going rate is $60 per hour, that means we should be paying $300 JUST for a "good" trigger job. Anyone payed that lately? Now extrapolate that kind of cost to what other services a pistolsmith delivers. For example, a lot of people say, "I just want the 'smith to do a reliabilty job on my gun". Let's see, reliability means fit the barrel to the bushing, the bushing to the slide, time the link, slide and frame, time the magazines, and make sure it goes "bang", then cycles another round so it will go "bang" again. 8 hours work. $480. Anyone payed that much, either? Guess we've been lucky, what? It seems that the pistolsmiths have been pursuing a love, and a personal hobby, and have not been pursuing making a living. Maybe this "rash behavior" of charging a reasonable price for their work (e.g. Morris, Vickers pricing) is just them trying to get fair wages. We all have been told that NO pistolsmith can make a living at current pricing levels, just working on pistols. Maybe they are trying to change all that. About time, I think.
And, since someone mentioned inflation as a possible cause,
I bought my first new car, a loaded 'factory' Pontiac in 1968 for $2,650. Try 8-10X that price for a 2001.
Factory Colt 1911 in 1968? probably $2-300. (Don't really know, didn't buy one that year since I was paying for my new Pontiac.)Thank goodnes that 8-10X factor didn't hold for them, don't you think?
Please don't ask me to believe that CNC, MIM and other forms of technology should keep prices low. The automobile industry is the leader in technology, robotics, CNC, MIM, and (heaven forbid) plastics. And they still seem to get higher and higher prices.
WTTWB:
I, for one, am surprised the pricing is as low as it is. Do the numbers.
10 Noted Pistolsmiths. (Say even 20) at a gun every other week (or even 1 a week).
MAX 1000 handguns per year.
In a marketplace where there are that many handguns being sold on a good Saturday in California, alone?
Now, add to that the pressure created on the market by the NRA and others who constantly remind consumers that "gun grabbers will make it impossible to own a handgun if we're not careful".
Hold tight to your seats, guys and gals. There are at least a couple of thousand people in these here great 50 states that would gladly pay $4 to 6,000. for a classic like Vickers, Heinie, Burns, et al.
Tribute after death is a common way to honor artists. Maybe it's time to honor them while they're still alive to enjoy it.
My $.20 (.02 adjusted for inflation)
Walt
 

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This is a pretty interesting subject and here is my nickle's worth. There are different layers or qualities of gun smiths as there are in other jobs. Some will be content to smith part time and get better over the years. They will be good friends to have when you need emergency maintainence on your shooter. There will be small shops like Wilsons that does a great job, and there will be smiths that do a fantastic job. This upper layer of gun smiths will be set apart by their life experience and ability to produce a fine shooter.
The expert smith will have make a living or die on the vine. He will see his market taken from him by gun control efforts in large states. The money available for expensive toys is in the larger states. There you find the 40 plus guy buying a super go fast motorcyle and getting killed as a result. The 40 plus guy is the one with the bucks to buy expensive guns and he may buy more than one each year. So the economy and gun laws are going to affect the smith very much.
Now how much is an expensive gun and what will we pay, please excuse the really rich and famous. To carry a gun that costs under $2,000 is just about right in my mind. It will be a quality shooter for that price. From $2,000 to $3,000 I would think you get a gun that has been fitted very well. Beyond that is where a guy calls the smith and says please make me a super fine shooter and let me know how much when its done!
The quality talented smith will make the fine shooter and it will be a heavy responsibility. So my guess is above $3500 is a different air layer reserved for big spenders, and there is nothing wrong with that!
 

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The simple answer is that the market will dictate prices. There will always be people who have $6,000 to spend on a Vickers or a Morris gun. That's a given. They want the best (or at least what they think is the best) and they will pay for it. There are also people who will spend $250k for a Lamborghini.

There are several pricing levels for 1911s. The first is a basic 1911 which feeds, ejects and shoots straight (is combat accurate). The second level involves comfort (e.g., beavertails, good grips, countoured thumb safeties, etc.), a higher level of accuracy (sights, trigger, fitted barrel, etc.), and better fit and finish. Most of us stop somewhere within that level. The third level is perfection. This is where people justify spending $6,0000 on gun.

Personally, I won't spend that kind of money because I don't think I will get a LOT more reliablility out of a $6,000 gun compared to a Kimber or Springfield with a $200 reliability job done by a good smith. In the right hands, a $600 Kimber with a properly fitted barrel and bushing can be as accurate as many expensive custom guns. If I want better fit and finish, I'll go into a semi-production gun like a Baer or Kimber. Obviously, the fit and finish on a Kimber will never look like a $6,000 hand-fitted gun. But, how much does that affect reliability and accuracy, particularly shooting freehand? For most of us, there's a point of diminishing returns. We all have our price break, which is why manufacturers make different models.

A problem for the rest of us, though, is that high pricing raises the bar and allows a lot of gunsmiths to crawl under it, regardless of their skill level. The price of custom gunsmithing is already so high that many people (including myself) choose semi-production guns over full custom guns.

The other question involves the purpose of the 1911. I nick my guns so that they're no longer "perfect." It reminds me that they're not beauty queens but functional (if not also beautiful) tools. That's why I like Dane's vision of a kickass functional 1911. OTOH, I can't fault anyone who wants to spend $5-6000 on a gun if that's what they want.
 

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Three to six thousand for a 1911! Get real!

As long as it feels good in the hand, had the sharp edges removed and is totally reliable that is all I myself need. To me, $1500 sounds more like a reasonable ceiling for a decent 1911. Others may say their's is a work of art and they believe it's worth the money. Good for them.

All I want mine to do is go bang and feed each and every time. Enough of the artsy and appreciation stuff! We're talking about the greatest FIGHTING handgun of all time, not something found in a gallery or exhibit. The mission of the 1911 is first and always has been as a close range fight stopper, and saver of your hide. This it does well, and I am quite satisfied leaving my 1911s as tools not art.
 

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I've heard the following in more than one Harley shop and I guess it can apply here as well, "It's not a question of how much it costs, it's how much you're willing to pay." I suppose it boils down to perceived value. I know I don't need to tell ya'll that H-D sells 'em faster than they can build 'em. :smile: My Shovelhead is 17 years old and my Gov't model is 30 years old. Not looking to buy a new one of either.
 

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On 2001-05-22 01:50, mountain man wrote:
Three to six thousand for a 1911! Get real!

As long as it feels good in the hand, had the sharp edges removed and is totally reliable that is all I myself need. To me, $1500 sounds more like a reasonable ceiling for a decent 1911. Others may say their's is a work of art and they believe it's worth the money. Good for them.

All I want mine to do is go bang and feed each and every time. Enough of the artsy and appreciation stuff! We're talking about the greatest FIGHTING handgun of all time, not something found in a gallery or exhibit. The mission of the 1911 is first and always has been as a close range fight stopper, and saver of your hide. This it does well, and I am quite satisfied leaving my 1911s as tools not art.
Exactly right. I had a Norinco customized with sights, safeties and most internals replaced. For what I had in it I could have bought a Thunder Ranch or middle of the road Wilson. I love the Norinco but wish I had bought one of the other pistols. After all the work the Norinco is still a Norinco and the Baer or Wilson would be worth more and have a customer service dept.

Collectors are driving up the prices to gunsmiths, I believe. I just want a 1911 that works every time and is reasonably accurate. Others want the ooh and aah affect that the top of the line pistols give them. And they pay through the nose for it.
 
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