Letter Re: Purchasing an Antique Firearms Battery

Just in case laws change, and I must bury my collection of [modern] guns [to avoid registration or confiscation], then what do you recommend me buying for an “above ground collection” of 1898 and earlier guns? I’m assuming that they’ll still be unregulated [in the United States]. That is a great exception in the law, I think!

My thanks to you in advance, sir. – G.K.B.

JWR Replies: These are my recommendations for the most practical and affordable Pre-1899 guns, at the present time:

  • Finnish Model 1939 Mosin-Nagant rifles built on hexagonal Pre-1899-dated actions. (They re dated on the tangs, inside the sock.) Pat Burns is a good Mosin dealer that usually has some Finnish M39s built on antique (1898 or earlier) receivers available. (Scroll down to the second half of the yellow table of M39 listings for the pre-1899 antiques.) Please note that most of the 7.62x54r ammo on the market is corrosively primed. Search for the Russian Silver Bear 7.62x54r ammo, which is non-corrosive. J&G Sales in Prescott, Arizona often stocks it.
  • Mauser military bolt action rifles. These include M1894 Swedish Mauser carbines, and the Ludwig Loewe-made 7x57mm Mausers. (Mostly made for Chilean military contracts.) The years of manufacture is marked on the Swedes, but not the Chileans. But all Mausers marked “Ludwig Loewe – Berlin” are antique, because Loewe ceased to exist in 1897, when it became part of DWM.
  • Early (pre-1899) Marlin lever action rifles. The only models that are certain to be legally antique are the models for which ended production before 1899 are the Model 1881, 1888, 1889, and 1891.
  • Pre-1899 Winchester rifles. In terms of ammunition availability, .30-30 and .44-40 are the best chamberings to look for. You can often find these rifles at gun shows at bargain prices, especially if you don’t mind a gun with a well-worn exterior. Remember, it is the mechanical condition and bore condition that are crucial. Everything else is just a beauty pageant. Sometimes you can get lucky, and find a seller doesn’t realize that what he is selling you is pre-1899, or the significance thereof. So it pays to carry a hard copy of my Pre-1899 Cartridge Guns FAQ with you, when you attend gun shows.
  • Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge pump-action shotguns made in 1897 or 1898.
  • Colt Model 1892 series revolvers chambered in .41 Long Colt. This was one of Colt’s first swing-out cylinder designs. Now that .41 Long Colt ammunition is again being manufactured by Ultramax and a few other companies that cater to the Cowboy Action shooter market, it makes these guns once again practical to own and shoot. The double action models are largely overlooked by collectors, who are fixated with single actions, and Cowboy Action shooters, who are limited to single action guns by shooting competition rules. (Except, if I understand the rules correctly, for double action “Second Guns”, if fired in single action mode.) So this leaves the double action models as some of the most affordable antique Colts.
  • Smith and Wesson top break revolvers. As I’ve mentioned once before in the my blog, I anticipate that S&Ws will nearly “catch up” to Colt prices in the next 20 years. The .38 caliber S&W top breaks are often available for less than $300 each, and .44 calibers for less than $900. My top choice would be one of the “New Frontier” double action variants, chambered in .44-40. (The .44 Russian ammo is also quite potent, and also now back in production.) These revolvers are sold by a number of antique gun dealers including Jim Supica (at The Armchair Gun Show), and Joe Salter.

As I noted in my Pre-1899 Cartridge Guns FAQ, many antique guns models span the Dec. 31, 1898 cut-off date, so you will have to do some serial number research. (I’ve already documented many of the cut-off serial numbers, in my FAQ.)

You can find many pre-1899 antique guns available without a paper trail by mail order through GunBroker.com, AuctionArms.com, and GunsAmerica.com. Just include the word “antique” in your search phrases.