Selling antique firearms is more complicated than most other categories of antiques because you have to take federal and state laws into account both for the actual sale and for shipping considerations. However, you may be surprised to learn that the regulations for buying and selling antique firearms online are not nearly as stringent as the regulations for buying and selling modern firearms. This is good news for collectors.
So what is the difference between an antique and a “modern” firearm? The definition of an antique firearm, according to US federal law, is one that was produced prior to 1899. However, in different states, this date may vary. For example, Florida defines an antique firearm as one made prior to 1919. For this reason, it’s important to check both federal and state laws in your area before you sell or purchase a firearm online.
The rules about who can sell a particular firearm may also vary from state to state. In general, you do not need a federal dealer’s license or official documentation to sell an antique firearm, while you would for other firearms. Additionally, antique firearms may be shipped from an unlicensed individual directly to the buyer, whereas modern weapons may only be shipped to a dealer in that state and then passed on to the buyer. You also do not need a background check before buying an antique firearm, as one would for a more recently manufactured gun.
The NRA has a useful overview of federal laws surrounding firearm sales and special rules for antique gun sales. State laws vary, so be sure to check those as well.
Pricing your antique firearm
The most accurate way to get a fair market value for your firearm is through a professional appraisal. Mearto offers accurate and detailed appraisals so that you can be sure to get the best price for your item, understand its history and determine a value for shipping insurance if applicable.
There are several price guides you can reference as well. The Blue Book of Antique American Firearms & Values is an annually updated reference guide. You can buy a paper copy or pay a fee to look at the data online. Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Arms is another trusted source, though it is only published every few years, so some prices may not be up-to-date. The Standard Catalog of Firearms is an extensive guide that is produced annually. Standard Catalog also publishes guides for specific makes, such as The Standard Catalog of Winchester, The Standard Catalog of Remington and others.
Many sellers use the NRA Antique Firearm Conditions Standards to describe a piece’s condition. Be aware that there are separate rating systems used for antique vs. modern firearms. The standards range from “poor” to “factory new.” A “poor” rating describes firearms that are mechanically inoperable, badly scratched, contain replacement parts not original to the firearm, or are in need of extensive repair. A “fair” rating means the firearm has cosmetic issues like rusting, wear, or obliterated markings, but it is operable or can be easily repaired. “Good” denotes firearms that have minor replacement parts or slight cosmetic wear, but are in working order and have legible markings and unobscured metal design, when applicable. A “very good” rating means the firearm has all original parts, clear lettering and metal design, up to 30% of the original finish, and the metal has smooth sharp edges, though the wood may be slightly damaged. “Fine” describes firearms that have all original parts, sharp lettering, markings and design, only minor wear on wood components, and whose finish is over 30% original. An “excellent” firearm has all original parts, over 80% of its original finish, sharp design and lettering and unmarred wooden components. Finally, a “factory new” piece is in perfect condition inside and out, with 100% of its original finish.
A separate ratings system, called the Percentage of Original Finish System, has been popularized by the Blue Book of Gun Values. This system refers to the percentage of the original factory finish on metal surfaces. This system is not applicable for firearms with no remaining original finish or that have been refinished. Another ratings system, called the The Standard Catalog of Firearms System, is employed in the eponymous reference guide. It uses similar terminology as the NRA Condition Standards, but defines them differently.
In addition to your firearm’s condition, its value will be affected by its rarity and aesthetic qualities, as well as whether it has historical significance. Antique firearms that have fetched the highest prices at auction are usually associated with a famous owner. For example, two guns previously owned by the notorious bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, sold for $504,000 in 2012, a pair of saddle pistols owned by George Washington sold for $2 million at Christie’s in 2002, and a Colt .45 revolver that once belonged to Wyatt Earp went for $225,000 in 2016.
Selling your antique firearm
Many auction houses facilitate antique gun sales. Both brick and mortar and online auction houses are good options. It is legal to sell a gun online in the US, however, some internet platforms prohibit the category without exceptions. eBay does not allow firearm sales of any kind, antique or not. Etsy, Amazon and Craigslist also do not allow any firearms to be listed on their platforms.
The Mearto Marketplace is an excellent place to list your antique firearm. We offer lower after-sale transaction rates (7%) than most auction platforms, and free listings. Note that we only list firearms made before 1899. Here are a few other sites that allow or specialize in gun sales: gunbroker.com, antiquegunlist.com, liveauctioneers.com, Rock Island Auction and Amoskeag Auction. For high-end pieces, look into Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Heritage and Bonhams. Another option is selling your firearm at a gun show. Gunshows-usa.com is a good resource that allows you to search by date and location.
In general, it is not necessary (as it is with a modern gun) to ship the item through a dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). However, there are some restrictions. First, you must tell the shipping company you use that your package contains a firearm. Secondly, the firearm must not be loaded and any ammunition must be mailed in a separate box. There may be different laws regarding shipping ammunition in different states, so be sure to check before sending your package. If you are shipping the antique firearm internationally, you do not need a permit, as you would for a more recently made gun.
However, be aware that different countries have specific import laws for antique firearms. Additionally, countries define “antique firearm” differently than the US. For instance, Finland uses 1890 as the cutoff date, while Austria defines an antique gun as one produced before 1871.
If you are shipping an antique firearm from another country into the US, there are regulations. US law defines an antique firearm as an ‘antique” rather than a “firearm,” so the Gun Control Act does not apply. US Customs does, however, require documentation authenticating the date of manufacture to verify that a gun was manufactured prior to 1899. They will accept a certificate of authenticity or bill of sale with the year the antique firearm was manufactured as proof of age. To verify the date of manufacture, you can check for a serial number or look at general reference guides in some cases. Wikipedia has a useful list of pre-20th century firearms. Though not comprehensive, it is a useful reference and contains specific dates on the most well-known antique guns.