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Klim Zhukov on the contemporary Russian market of antique weaponry

Zhukov, Klim Aleksandrovich is a war historian, an expert on medieval weapons, a re-enactor of historic events, and was a specialist at the State Hermitage from 2000 to 2008.

Zhukov, Klim Aleksandrovich
Zhukov, Klim Aleksandrovich

Weapons have always been collected in Russia. In the Russian Empire, this was, of course, the famous collection of Count Sheremetyev, the collection of weapons and suits of armour at the Armoury Treasury, and the arsenal of Nikolai I. There were no laws at the time to govern collecting and, therefore, anyone could do it. The legal framework of the USSR was in this respect the absolute heir of the legal framework of the Russian Empire.

In 1918, due to the Civil War being just around the corner, the circulation of arms was strictly regulated (the Decree of the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR dated December 10th, 1918 was in effect until February 23rd, 1925) - the civilian population was required to surrender all weapons in its possession. A violator could be incarcerated for a term of up to 10 years. However, the strictness of laws in Russia is allayed by the lack of obligation to actually follow them, which is why collectors were for a long time left unnoticed in the USSR. If a person were to collect knights' swords, ancient arquebuses, or flintlock pistols, this did not concern anybody. Back in the day in Russia, these flintlock pistols were sold in flea markets in bundles like bagels, and they cost a comical sum of money.

A lot of things were collected in the Soviet Union, I know this very well. I know many collectors from the Soviet era personally. Some collections arrived at the Hermitage when people left them to the museum in their wills after their death. From 2000 to 2008, while I was working at the State Hermitage, I was constantly being called upon as an expert and I specialised in antique weapons.

The collecting of antique weaponry in contemporary Russia was not formalised and liberalised right away:

  • In 1993, a new law "On weapons" was written that included the concept of "collecting weapons";
  • In 2006, the crime of carrying a cold weapon was removed from the Criminal Code of the Russia Federation, only administrative liability remained;
  • In 2012, the law "On weapons" was expanded with the definition "weapons with cultural heritage value", "ancient (antique) weaponry", "copies of ancient (antique) weaponry", "replicas of ancient (antique) weaponry";

Now, one can without hesitation collect and store antique cold weapons. If, however, we are talking about collecting firearms with quick-firing fixed rounds, they absolutely must be certified and registered.

If we examine the profile of a modern Russian collector, this is usually a wealthy person: a businessman, a government official, a high-ranking officer in the military, or a police officer. This is an expensive passion that requires a lot of resources as collecting antique weaponry is not possible without a high salary. Apart from that, of course, there is a slightly higher percentage of collectors among historical re-enactment enthusiasts.

The first problem for collectors is, naturally, cooperation with the authorities. The law "On weapons" is quite outdated. For example, a large number of permissions must be obtained to import or export. Another problem is the activity of unauthorised diggers. Oftentimes, collections are enriched with items from illegal archaeological digs, that is to say through the activity of looters. In essence, this is simply the sale and purchase of stolen items. All of these articles can and should be confiscated, but they are not being confiscated quite yet and this affair is flourishing quite nicely. There are indeed also con artists and forgeries — this has always been and will always be the case. As soon as you take up any kind of collecting, be it stamps, precious stones, or antique weaponry, you can be sure that sooner or later someone will try to swindle you. I have seen forgeries of exceptional quality on numerous occasions, a high level of skill turning them into a likeness of a real article that can be sold for a hefty price.

Our market of antique weaponry is not very well developed as we do not have a real market in the full sense of the word. There are, of course, auctions and antique stores, dealers and thematic forums, but no one can tell you, for instance, how much a sword in the Chrysostom style from 1936 costs. If a buyer can be found for 10 thousand dollars, then that means that today, this sword costs an absolutely mind-boggling 10 thousand dollars.

The western and, in a broader sense, the world market is not an alternative for our collectors as importing weaponry into our country is quite difficult. One can buy, for instance, a capsular revolver from the times of the North and the South in the States. However, bringing it into the country could end quite sorrowfully, our laws "On weapons" regard this capsular revolver as a firearm and it cannot simply be brought in. One has to appeal to the regulatory authorities governed by a completely incomprehensible legal framework. It is simpler with cold weapons, but problems could occur nevertheless.

Although, if instead of weapons you were to buy armaments such as armour, ammunition, some bandoliers from the XVII century, baldric, buckles, helmets, or shields at a foreign auction, these can easily be brought in. Without a doubt, the world market is much richer than the Russian one. Someone might want to acquire Indian weaponry, German weaponry, someone might want North American Native weaponry - all of this is naturally represented much better abroad than here. The whole world is becoming globalised, and the antiques market is no exception.

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