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Are Vintage Bows Worth Anything?

Certain things – like a fine wine – get better with age. Others – such as classic firearms – have intrinsic value with their historical significance. Bows, however, generally don’t keep their value well – if not in function, then in price. Surprisingly, bows don’t circulate that much after being bought, and the ones that do emerge have often been sitting in a box in a garage for decades. If you come across one of these, how do you know if they are worth anything?

The Modern Bow Market

If you traveled from the 1960s and looked at an archery catalog today, you would hardly recognize the equipment on offer. Risers made from carbon fiber, limbs with fiberglass and composite foam, compound bows released every year with new cam systems and all manner of accessories. Whether you are a target shooter or a bowhunter, there is absolutely no shortage of new bows and new models every year, each release marketed as being better than the previous.

With the price range going from budget bows that get the job done to thousand-dollar high-performance tools with full customization, the bow market is as good as it gets. The online market also offers incredibly cheap bows, which can give you that instant satisfaction if you feel the impulse to get into archery.

While older bows kept in reasonable condition may still be as functional as they were decades ago, it’s hard to find someone who will prefer an old PSE or Hoyt compound bow when newer models have better performance, better materials, and a better look.

These bows might have been in Rambo First Blood rather than Last Blood.
These bows might have been in Rambo First Blood rather than Last Blood.

Trash or Treasure?

We often get people contacting us to see if we want to take an old bow off their hands. Usually, it is a hand-me-down from a late relative, and the new owners have no use for it and no understanding of its value. In most cases, we have to decline. As a club, we have no use for a 1970s compound bow or even a 1990s cast aluminum recurve bow, and new members will more readily buy new equipment with the modern trimmings.

It’s likely that the bow your father played with as a kid has no recognizable value today, even if the bow has been kept in good condition. It might have been cutting edge twenty years ago, but it’s ancient technology now. A low-cost budget bow back then…well…

This was donated to us. Our first thought was how to fit it into the trash.

Not all old bows are worthless. Some traditional bows were made by particularly reputable bowyers and manufacturers, some of which are no longer around. These bows were quality, luxury bows in their time, with unique materials and patterns, loved by their owners, and would keep well. In some cases, the bow lineage continues today, and the precursors are just as good.

Bows manufactured by Fred Bear were legendary then, and still are today, fetching top price.
Bows manufactured by Fred Bear were legendary then, and still are today, fetching top price.

Sentimental Value

The reality behind the value of bows is that often, we value them because of what they mean to us. It may be our first bow, or the bow that we took out into the woods with our family, or a handmade gift from someone, or a bow used to win a tournament. Often, these bows are otherwise unremarkable, with only their individual histories being remembered by the people who made and used them.

These histories and experiences are priceless. However, they are often lost when the bow changes hands. It is sometimes difficult when we are approached with a bow donation that comes from a sentimental place – the owners want someone who will make use of it instead of tossing it out or selling it on Ebay. It’s really hard to put it to use or find someone who wants it when there are newer, better and cheaper bows.

This is especially the case with handmade bows. A lot of care, love and labour might have gone into making it, and the owner might have a long history with it. But to someone else, it’s an old stick and string. Preserving the memory that comes with the bow is more important than the bow itself.

The previous owner of this Hoyt GM used it to win a national championship.

Bargain Bows

If you do find an old bow that is being sold, you may be in luck. Even though the model and design might look outdated, in many cases, the bows are just as good as they were back when they were being used. If they are being let go for a fraction of their original price, you can walk away with a perfectly good bow for under $50.

Just because a bow might not be worth much today doesn’t mean it’s useless. Older bows might look and feel different to modern bows, but they can be excellent ways for someone to get into archery if the opportunity arises.

General Advice

  • If a vintage bow looks good, it probably was and still is. Quality bows will stand the test of time.
  • If it looks plain and generic, it probably was.
  • Be aware of the condition the bow was stored in. Old bows may have irreparable damage, such as delamination, and are not safe to use.
  • If the bow still works, it’s as good as any if you’re just looking for a bow.
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