An Antique Firearm is, loosely speaking, a firearm designed and manufactured prior to the beginning of the 20th century- the Boer War is often used as a cut-off event, although the exact definition of what constitutes an "Antique Firearm" varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Antique Firearms can be divided into two types: Muzzleloading and Cartridge firing.
Muzzleloading Antique Firearms are not generally owned with the intent of firing them (although many people do shoot original muzzleloaders, after having them thoroughly inspected and safety tested), instead being owned as display pieces or for their historic value. Cartridge firing Antique Firearms are more commonly encountered as shooting pieces, but it should be noted that most antique cartridge guns made from the 1860s through the 1880s were made with relatively mild steel and were designed to use black powder. They were limited to low bullet velocities and had heavily arcing "rainbow" bullet trajectories. However, advances in steel metallurgy and the advent of mass-produced smokeless powder in the early 1890s gave cartridge rifles of this new era much higher velocities and much flatter trajectories than their predecessors.
These advances, typified by cartridges such as 7x57 Mauser, .303 British, and 7.62x54R made many smokeless powder rifles manufactured in the 1890s quite capable of accurate shooting at long distances. In fact, many antique smokeless powder cartridge guns from the 1890s can still compete satisfactorily in target shooting events alongside modern guns.
This article concentrates on antique breech loading cartridge guns from 1865-1898 rather than earlier muzzleloaders, which are documented in their own Wikipedia page. It should be noted that, prior to the late 18th century, there was little standardisation with regards to muzzeloading firearms, which sometimes make establishing the provenance of early muzzle-loading pieces more difficult than with a later cartridge firing arm.
Some of the popular antique firearms sought after by collectors (by time period) include:
* Brown Bess Musket
* Charleville Musket
* Kentucky Rifle
American Civil War
* Colt 1851 Navy Revolver
* Colt Army Model 1860
* Henry Rifle
* LeMat Revolver
* Springfield Musket
* Coach Gun
* Colt Peacemaker
* Smith & Wesson No. 3 Revolver
* Winchester Rifle
* Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket
o Magazine Lee-Enfield
o Charger Loading Lee-Enfield
o Short Magazine Lee-Enfield
* Mauser Rifle
* Lebel M1886
* Mosin-Nagant Model 1891
* Beaumont-Adams Revolver
* Enfield Mk I/Mk II Revolver
* Nagant M1895
* Webley Revolver
* Mauser C96
* Elephant Guns
* Cape Guns
* Buffalo rifles
These guns are all seen as reminders of epic expeditions, pioneering railroad expansions into wilderness areas, and of the golden age of big game hunting throughout Africa, India, and the United States. To paraphrase fascination with history, collectors have been known to use the phrase "if this gun could only talk" when they hold a historic piece- guns such as a Boer War era Mauser rifle stamped "OVS" (for Oranje Vrij Staat- Orange Free State), a "Trapdoor" Springfield Model 1873 cavalry carbine from the Custer era, a Martini-Henry .577/450 single shot rifle with dozens of successive ordnance marks from England, India, Nepal and Tibet, or a well-worn Winchester lever action rifle with its stock studded with American Indian tribal brass tacks.
Antique cartridge guns are highly sought by collectors and shooters. Ardent collectors scour gun shows, newspaper classified advertising, and the Internet searching for choice specimens.
Some brands/makers that are popular with antique gun collectors in Europe include: Brevetes, Colt's Manufacturing Company, Chamelot Delvigne, Fabrica de Durango, Charles Francois Galand (C.F.G.), J.D. Levaux, Lefaucheux, Le Page, Martin & Cie, Émile et Léon Nagant, Perrin & Cie, Raphael, Simson & Co., Smith & Wesson, William Tranter, Waffenfabrik Bern, J. Warnant, and Webley. There is also interest in military issue antiques such as Albini-Braendlin, Chassepot, Krag-Jørgensen, Kropatschek, Martini-Henry, Mauser, Mosin-Nagant, Peabody action, Gebruder Sulzer (Milbank-Amsler), Schmidt-Rubin, St. Etienne Lebel rifle, Steyr Waffenfabrique (Mannlicher), and Vetterli rifles/carbines.
Some brands/makers that are popular with United Kingdom and Commonwealth of Nations antique gun collectors include: Robert Adams of London, Colt's Manufacturing Company, Holland & Holland, James Purdey and Sons, John Rigby (company), W&C Scott, Smith & Wesson, William Tranter, Webley, and Westley-Richards. There is also interest in military issue antiques such as Lee-Metford, Martini-Enfield. Martini-Henry, Mauser, Peabody action, and Snider-Enfield rifles/carbines.
Some brands/makers that are popular with U.S. collectors include: Colt's Manufacturing Company, Merwin Hulbert, Mosin-Nagant, Parker, Remington Arms, Savage Arms, Smith & Wesson, Whitney, and Winchester Repeating Arms Company. There is also growing interest in military issue "martial" antiques, such as Mauser, Peabody action, Schmidt-Rubin, and U.S. Springfield Armory rifles including the Springfield Model 1873 (commonly called the "Trapdoor" Springfield) and Krag-Jørgensen rifles/carbines.
Antique Gun Values
Given their scarcity, the prices of antique guns have steadily risen. Some highly desired brands such as Colt and Winchester Repeating Arms Company have tripled or quadrupled in value in recent years. Current prices are best monitored by comparing prices at gun shows, and by checking references such as the book "Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values." Collectors also find gun auction catalogs, along with their accompanying realized price sheets, particularly useful.
Legal Considerations for Antique Gun Collectors and Shooters
Gun control laws vary widely from country to country. Several nations such as Australia, Canada, Norway, the UK and the United States make special exceptions in their gun laws for antique firearms. The "threshold" or "cut-off" years defining "antique" vary considerably. The threshold is pre-1898 in Canada, pre-1899 in the United States, and pre-1901 in Australia. Some countries like England exempt certain antiques but they do not set a specific threshold year. Other countries treat antique handguns and long guns quite differently. For example, Norway has a pre-1885 threshold for rifles and shotguns, but a pre-1871 threshold for handguns.
Australian Antique Gun Laws
Single-shot or double-barrel muzzleloading firearms manufactured before January 1, 1901 are considered Antique Firearms in all States of Australia, and can be legally purchased, owned, (and in some states, used) without licences.
Cartridge-loading firearms manufactured prior to January 1, 1901 may or may not be considered "antique", depending on the commercial availability of ammunition. For example, a Martini-Enfield rifle manufactured in 1896 would NOT be considered antique in any state of Australia, as it is chambered in .303 British, a calibre which is still commercially manufactured and readily available in Australia. Conversely, firearms manufactured after 1/1/1901 are not considered antiques, even if they are replicas of antique firearms (such as modern reproductions of black powder guns), or if ammunition is no longer commercially available (such as the Arisaka Type 38 Rifle)
Antique cap & ball revolvers require licensing in all states except Queensland and Victoria, where an individual may possess such a firearm without a license, so long as it is registered with the police.