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Shopping for Vintage and Antique Bows

So I recently did a different post titled "Shopping for a Traditional Bow", and it occurred to me that I should also write a second post about "Shopping for a Vintage Bow" or "Shopping for an Antique Bow".

And eventually I decided, yes, I should write it, but lets just make it "Vintage and Antique" together so that people can understand the difference.

And yes, it is possible to shoot vintage and antique bows - if you buy the right one! eg. I have an older post from 2016 titled "Bullseye at 195 feet with an Antique Recurve" which proves that, yes, you can still shoot these bows, and in the hands of a skilled archer they are still very accurate.

Also I should note that the bow used in the above post was technically a vintage bow from 1975, and is not technically an antique because it is only 44 years old. So whoops. My bad.

A Few Definitions

Vintage Archery Equipment - Typically anything that is 25 to 50 years old, or possibly older counts as vintage. Thus currently any bow that is older than 1994 currently counts as vintage. The upper limit of what counts as vintage could be considered to be 1969, but in reality vintage bows can be older than that.

Antique Archery Equipment - Has a considerable difference in age. There is no hard line on this topic however. Being 100 years old or more is definitely considered to be an antique when it comes to furniture, but with archery equipment we also have to worry about whether the bow is still usable and the fact that William Folberth did not invent and patent the fibreglass recurve bow until 1933 and it would be several decades before fibreglass recurve designs were perfected by other bowyers. Thus with respect to archery equipment I think anything that is 70 years or more should be considered to be an antique. So at present that would be anything that was made in 1949 or earlier, a time period when fibreglass recurves still had some bizarre designs.

Now you notice of course that there is a gap between the two definitions. The gap between 50 and 70 years old. So we shall simply extend the definition of what counts as vintage as anything between 25 to 70 years old.

Ancient Archery Equipment - Belonging to ancient times. eg. A Roman bow would count as ancient.

Prehistoric Archery Equipment - So old it predates known history. eg. The Meare Heath bow is prehistoric.

Shopping Wise

Black Hawk Avenger
So you can't really go shopping for ancient or prehistoric bows, as such things are typically in museums. But Vintage and Antique bows can be found readily enough on eBay and similar websites, for sale for what can sometimes reach outrageous prices due to the auction bidding format.

Thus when you go shopping on eBay, you can find a wide variety of vintage bows (and to a lesser extent antique bows) that are available - but be prepared to spend a pretty penny when it comes to the price of various bows as the other people can bid just as high as you do.

Certain companies are more rare and desirable, like Black Hawk (I own two of them so far) which is desirable because their bows are so beautiful and well made. One of them, the 1972 Black Hawk Avenger, is one of my favourite bows to shoot with.

Various companies like Bear, Browning, and Ben Pearson are also desirable. (Basically if it started with a B, it is probably a bow people now collect.)

When shopping you want to be looking for defects in the bow to see what condition it is in. This means you want to see many photos of every part of the bow. Front, back, sides, tips, limbs, riser, everything. So sellers will often post 16 to 20 photos of every angle of the bow.

Hot Tip - Avoid any bow where the seller only posts a few photos and they are all blurry photos that make it difficult to see any defects in the bow. If they cannot be bothered to post quality photos then they don't deserve your money.

Bow Usability

Depending on the manufacturer's level of quality, the bow in question can even still be usable.

So for example, I have a 1949 Bear Grizzly Static, which would count as antique bow because it is now 70 years old. It is still usable too, as Fred Bear put significant effort into making bows which had the level of quality that would withstand the test of time.

I also have a Ben Pearson lemonwood bow from 1942. It is also still usable, but is significantly weaker than it used to be so it doesn't really shoot that far.

So yes, it is totally possible to get an antique or vintage bow that is still completely usable. However this isn't true for every bow. I have a 1952 Roy Rogers longbow which is not usable for my 28 inch draw length. It is in reality a vintage children's bow, and it is meant for a draw length of 20 inches or less. So my son someday may be able to shoot it, or maybe it will just be a decorative piece.

Hot Tip - Just because the owner claims the bow is usable, that doesn't mean it is. They could be lying to you just to make the sale. Use your own judgment.

Bow Maintenance and Care

#1. Oil your vintage wooden bow to protect it from water damage. Linseed oil works well, as does mineral oil. I use a mix of both.

#2. Never overdraw your vintage bow. That is a great way to break it.

#3. Never let a friend or a stranger draw your vintage bow. They might overdraw it and break it.

#4. Never take your vintage bow outside if it is too hot or too cold. Too much heat or cold could damage your bow. Avoid rain or snow too if you can. Use your best judgment.

#5. Never mishandle or misuse your vintage bow. That is just asking to break it.

#6. The older the bow the more strictly you should follow the above advice. eg. A vintage bow from 1994 might not be that big of a deal. But a vintage bow from the 1950s would be a whole different topic.

#7. Get a bow sock for storage / transportation of your bow. Keep it is cool dry place, like a wall rack.

Happy Shooting!

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