|Guide to the condition of firearms|
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An accurate description of a gun's condition is essential in evaluating a firearm and estimating the value of any gun. Differences in condition can easily halve or double the value of a collectible gun. The terms used in evaluating firearms condition have specific meaning. The most widely used set of standards for grading firearms condition is that defined by the NRA many years ago..
It is vital to note that there are separate rating systems used for Antique vs. Modern Firearms.
NEW IN BOX (NIB), or AS NEW: NIB means in the same condition as when the gun left the factory, with accompanying box, literature, and accessories. This is important to note, as older boxes may have substantial value in themselves. Purists will want the box to be the original box which that particular gun was shipped in (serial number was often penciled on the bottom or marked on the end of the box by the factory).
As to the condition of the gun itself, the gun must be unfired and unused. Comparable terms expressing the same gun condition when not accompanied by box might include “AS NEW”, “MINT”, “PERFECT”, or “100%“. Even if the gun has never been fired, if the action has been worked to the extent that wear is visible, the value may be less that “NIB“ or “AS NEW“ to a collector. For example, the faint drag line that appears on the cylinder of a revolver that has been “dry-fired” a few times will reduce the value to less than “AS NEW” for a condition purist on an out of production revolver. This sort of general “shop-wear” to an otherwise new, current production gun will not matter to a buyer purchasing the gun to shoot. It rapidly becomes more important to a “condition collector” who wants a truly pristine example of an out-of-production piece.
Generally this condition is seldom found in older antique guns, but an older antique gun that is NIB or AS NEW will bring substantial premium over antique Excellent condition - sometimes bringing double or more what the same model would bring in Excellent condition.
EXCELLENT (EXC): All original parts and configuration. For modern guns, nearly new condition, with only slight finish wear at muzzle or sharp edges. For antique guns, sharp markings, unmarred grips, fine bore. Also, excellent guns should generally exhibit at least the following percentages of original finish, depending on production era & type of finish:
(For comparison, NRA definitions require that Modern Exc. have “bluing perfect, except at muzzle or sharp edges”, and that Antique Exc. retain “over 80% original finish“.)
Stainless steel: Due to the durability of the finish, most used stainless steel guns are found in excellent to very good condition so long as they are unmodified and in perfect working order.
FINE: This condition rating applies primarily to older and antique guns. All original parts and configuration, or possibly a very minor alteration from original configuration that was made during the period of use (fancy grips added, sight configuration changed slightly, etc.). Sharp markings, only minor grip blemishes, good bore. Minor replaced parts may be acceptable on antique guns, but will effect value. Also, at least the following percentage of original finish by production era & type of finish:
(For comparison, there is no NRA standard for “Modern Fine”. NRA “Antique Fine” requires “over 30% original finish”.)
Factory refinish: A factory refinished antique S&W with 98% of the refinish remaining, which was in excellent condition before refinishing (i.e., sharp markings, no pitting remaining under refinish) may approach Fine in value.
VERY GOOD (VG): All original major parts. For modern guns, must be in perfect working order, no corrosion or pitting, minor scratches only. For antique guns, smooth metal and sharp edges, clear markings. Mismatched parts from the same model, or minor replaced parts may be acceptable on older guns, but will effect value. Also, at least the following percentage of original finish depending on production era. (At this condition level, the difference between blue & nickel finish required is not significant.)
Post 1945: 85%
Pre 1865: less than 10%
(For comparison purposes, NRA “Modern Very Good” discusses general surface condition, while NRA “Antique Very Good” requires “zero to 30% original finish.)
Refinish & Modification -- The following classes of refinished or modified guns may approach “Very Good” in value:
Modern guns with at least 98% of a factory or arsenal refinish.
Pre-1945 guns with at least 98% of a modern professional refinish or restoration.
Antique guns with at least 85% of a factory refinish or old period of use refinish.
Pre-1920 guns with major period-of-use modifications (for example, bobbed barrel) which are otherwise about Fine or better.
GOOD: Good working order. Markings are legible. There may be properly matched replaced parts, minor repairs and light pitting. May be professionally refinished. Grips may be worn or cracked, but should be serviceable. Configuration may have been modified. Bores should be shootable on modern guns, but are disregarded on antique guns. Older antique guns may lack any original finish, but modern guns in Good condition will probably show at least the following percentages base on production era:
Post 1945: 75%
(For comparison, neither NRA Modern nor NRA Antique definitions specifically address percent of original finish for “Good” or lower condition guns.)
FAIR: Modern guns must be in safe working condition, but can be well worn, showing visible repair or replacement parts, or needing adjustment or minor repair. May be pitted so long as pitting does not effect function or safety. Antique guns may have major parts replaced and minor parts missing, may be rusted, pitted, heavily buffed or refinished, may have rounded edges, illegible markings, cracked or broken grips, and should be working or easily repaired.
POOR: Broken, poorly refinished, heavily rusted and pitted, or otherwise generally undesirable. Most often valued only as project guns for amateur gunsmiths, curiosities for display, or parts guns.
Applying the above standards - These condition ratings represent an attempt to describe the general overall condition of a gun in a single word. Variation from a single aspect of any condition definition does not exclude a gun from that classification. For example, a gun that was in otherwise “Excellent” condition except for a broken grip would not be reduced to “Fair” condition for that reason alone. However, a responsible description of any gun will mention any variation from the standard of definition for the condition rating, and any variances will most likely affect the monetary value.
Most recent production guns are found in good or better condition, since it seems to take decades of heavy use &/or substantial abuse to reduce a quality modern firearm to fair or poor condition.
Collectors of some early to mid 20th Century firearms, have commented that, for high condition guns, a more precise estimate of original finish remaining is essential. The difference between a 98% and a 99.5% gun can make a significant difference in value, especially in rare variations.
Disparity Between Antique and Modern Definitions:
The widely differing standards for antique and modern guns make a great deal of sense when you consider that they must cover both a seventeenth century flintlock and a year 2000 production polymer framed semi-auto. However, they can cause a problem when the products span both sides of the modern/antique line.
While guidelines do not specifically define “antique” and “modern”, most agree that the cutoff date between modern and antique firearms is 1900 -- those made in or before that year are antique, with more recent production being modern. Hence, if you take two top-break revolvers, both in 80% original finish condition, but one made in 1900 and the other in 1901, the antique gun would be rated excellent while the modern gun would be closer to good.
Please note: All old guns are sold as collectibles only and are NOT warranted for shooting.
Many of the guns listed at this website will be fine to shoot with appropriate ammunition. However there may be hidden safety problems with old firearms.
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