Ever wonder how the other half lives?Well, earlier this week I got a look at how the other .005 percent lives.I found the evidence in a walnut-and-glass display case in the Gun Library at Charleston's new Cabela's store.The Gun Library, for those who haven't yet visited a Cabela's, is where collectible, vintage and previously owned firearms are displayed and sold. Some of the guns were custom-built. Others were standard production models. Some are affordable. Others are jewel-like baubles that only the wealthy could afford.
"We have about 900 guns in the library," said Nate Kissel, who manages the department. "They range in price from $100 to 'the sky's the limit.'"Most of the firearms in the library carry price tags of less than $1,000. Roughly 30 are priced between $1,000 and $10,000. A handful of others fit into Kissel's "sky's the limit" category."The most expensive gun we have in here is a custom Purdey 12-gauge over-and-under, made for the former CEO of 3M Co.," Kissel said."It was elaborately engraved by the top engraver at Purdey, and it was one of four made for that fellow. After he died, Cabela's purchased the four guns. Two were sold as a matched set. One is at the Wheeling store and the other is here."The price tag? A jaw-dropping $99,999.Sitting in the same display case is a custom Belgian Browning 28-gauge, inlaid with gold and fully engraved with North American game scenes by renowned French engraver Yann Le Bailiff. Anyone willing to part with $23,999 could take it home — or, more likely, to the safe-deposit area of a bank.A few of the guns on display are classic military firearms."We have a couple of M1 Garands and a trapdoor Springfield," Kissel said. "We also have a few World War II-era Model 1911s."The most historic firearm on display is a genuine 1865 Spencer carbine, one of only a handful left in working order. It carries $3,000 price tag.Kissel, who previously worked in Cabela's stores in Dundee, Mich., and Hoffman Estates, Ill., said working in the Gun Library is "the best job anyone could ask for.""There's literally something new every day," he said. "You never know what is going to walk through the door."
Gun Library employees are the ones who appraise, buy and trade firearms. For that reason, Kissel said, the company hires only people for the department who have what he calls "collector knowledge.""We try to find the 'best of the best' to work the library," he said.Store executives go out of their way to make the library look special. At the Charleston store, it occupies a special room, paneled in walnut and lined with glass display cases. A pair of elephant tusks flanks the entrance. Special LED lights illuminate each gun-filled case."We try to display these guns in the best possible light," Kissel said.The approach seems to work. Kissel said most of the people who visit Cabela's stores anywhere in the nation eventually end up in the stores' Gun Libraries."A lot of these guns are truly works of art," he said. "And people seem to gravitate toward the fanciest and priciest ones.
"I guarantee you that if you examined all these cases at the end of a day, the one with the most fingerprints on it — by far — would be the one that holds the most expensive gun in the store."Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or firstname.lastname@example.org