Re-Post: Becoming a Savvy Pre-1899 Gun Buyer

JWR’s Introductory Notes: It is very unusual me to re-post any of my SurvialBlog articles.  But I am doing so today, because we are living in very unusual times.

I wrote the following article in February of 2019.  I am re-posting it now, as it appears that the Republican leadership of the Senate is caving in to the demands of the mass media and some liberal constituents.  The word inside the D.C. Beltway is that plan to fast-track the passage of a “compromise” Universal Background Checks law, before the end of October.  Signing by President DJT could come as soon as early November, with an effective date on or before the end of calendar year 2019. Yikes!

Please take this article to heart. In addition to contacting your Senators to stop this, and stocking up on ARs and PMAGs, you should beat the rush and find yourself some pre-1899 cartridge guns, pronto.

The Senate returns from their summer recess on September 9th. The clock is now ticking. If this private party transfer ban legislation passes, then the window of opportunity to privately buy used modern guns will close in 37 states. At that point, pre-1899 guns will then become the last bastion of firearms ownership privacy. – JWR


After posting my recent warning about potential passage and enactment of H.R. 8 / S.42 and an interview about this on the Reluctant Preppers podcast, I’ve had several readers and consulting clients contact me.  They’ve been asking these questions:  “How do I actually find pre-1899 cartridge guns in good condition?”, “Where can I find antique guns at reasonable prices?”, and “How do I know what I’m looking at”? Here is my summary on how to get savvy:

1.) Do your research. Visit a local gunsmith and have him show you how to spot a gun that has been reblued. (Blurred patent date markings on barrels are a sure sign of buffing and rebluing. And recently-reblued guns literally have the distinctive smell of bluing salts.) Have him describe how to spot and test for revolvers that have been “shot loose.” Also research your state law before you buy anything. A few states treat antique guns just like modern ones. Research the pre-1899 gun makers. Develop a list of makers and cartridge chamberings that makes sense for your locale.

2.) As a prepper, you should probably shun most oddball-chambered guns, unless you are already an experienced handloader and have a ready supply of brass. Some sure picks include: .30-30 Winchester (“.30 W.C.F.”), .25-35 Winchester, .30-40 Krag, .303 British, .45-70, 6.5 Swedish Mauser, 7×57 Mauser, .38 S&W, .44-40, and .45 Colt (commonly but incorrectly called .45 Long Colt).

3.) Check gun show schedules in your state, and be willing to make those drives. Even though it is legal under Federal law to buy antique guns across state lines, some gun show sellers and most folks running estate sales don’t understand the law, and will get spooked. So I suggest that you stick to buying your pre-1899s in your state, if you meet face to face.

4.) When visiting gun shops, gun shows, pawn shops, and estate sales, be sure to bring references. A hard copy of my Pre-1899 Cartridge Guns FAQ is a good start. One fairly exhaustive reference is the book Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. It is wise to buy your own copy.

5.) Bring plenty of cash, but don’t flash it. Wear casual clothes. Leave your Rolex at home. You want to look like an Everyday Working Joe. Don’t let the seller size up your wallet and raise his asking prices.

6.) Carry a bore light. Very carefully inspect guns before buying them. Bore condition is crucial to having a practical and shootable antique. Don’t hesitate to point out the defects you see to the seller, such as cracks in stocks, worn bluing, signs of alteration or refinishing, pitted bores, et cetera.  Everything that you mention as a flaw or detractor is “ammunition” for your price negotiation that will immediately follow.

7.) If in doubt, don’t. If you think a gun you are examining might have been made after December 31, 1898, then pass. Many sellers will say “I’m pretty sure its an antique.” But if your references don’t confirm that, then pass. If If you suspect a gun isn’t mechanically safe to shoot, then pass. If you suspect that a gun has been reblued and is therefore overpriced, then pass. One proviso: Decide in advance if you are buying “purist” antiques as an investment, or just “shooter” antiques. If you are more concerned about legal status than long term investing gain, then you might consider buying guns that have been re-blued or altered (with modern sling swivels, recoil pads, or even full “sporterizing” of a military rifle) that essentially ruins their collector value.

8.) If buying an antique gun via Internet or mail order, then be sure that the seller will promise you a 3-day inspection period, with the right to return a gun that is a disappointment. A “full refund” (less shipping costs) is the norm.

9.) Be willing to pay for quality. A gun that is just the model that you are looking for and that is in exceptional condition with no signs of alteration is worth paying top dollar.  But relax: It is also probably a gun that will be worth much more, in another 10 years.

10.) If the condition or provenance of a gun, or even a seller’s appearance of shadiness gives you pause, then walk away.

11.) Consistently watch online. Regularly check, and There, watch for auctions cartridge guns that are being sold as “No FFL antique” (Federally exempt) guns. One hint:  Develop a list of keywords to search, and also a list of possible misspellings of keywords.  For example, say you are looking for a “Mosin-Nagant”, commonly just called a Mosin. (In Cyrillic: мосин.  It is spoken “Mo-Seen.”) In addition to “Mosin” also search for the common misspelling: “Moisin.”

12.) If you goal is buying shooters, then be willing to buy a “diamond in the rough”, as long as its bore is still good. However, consider the cost of gunsmithing to bring the gun up to the condition that you desire.

13.) Phone a friend. If you lack expertise on a particular type a gun, then consult an expert and gain some knowledge. If what is at issue is a gun that is worth more than $1,000, then be willing to pay for consulting.

14.) Develop a long term mindset. This is a marketplace for guns that are already more than 120 years old. Consider: What will it be worth in 20 years? 50 years? In the year 2120? Will this be a gun that my grandchildren or great-grandchildren someday be thrilled to own? Again, buy quality.

Time For Action

Remember, the clock is ticking.  If H.R. 8 is signed into law, all modern (post-1898) guns will require a background check. Therefore the prices of the very few still circulating pre-1899 exempt cartridge guns will surely escalate. Buy yours before that jump in prices.

I hope that you find this advice helpful. – JWR

JWR’s P.S. (August, 2019): I have two pre-1899 hexagonal receiver Finnish M39 Mosin Nagant rifles available that are in exceptional condition, with nice shiny, tight bores. Both of them easily passed The Bullet Test. (See the 15:17 mark in in Eric & Chad’s instructional video.) One of them is a Valmet  (“VKT”) with a tang dated 1896. The other is a very rare “B”  plum barrel rifle with a tang dated 1897. These were both Finnish arsenal re-worked into M39 configuration during World War II. Neither of them appear to have been re-issued after rearsenalization! Contact me via e-mail, if you are interested. They can be mailed right to your door with no dealer paperwork, in most states.- JWR


  1. It is time to disobey these unconstitutional firearms and ammo laws, period!

    The main goal is to disarmed the American populace and overthrow this Republic. Good luck on that!

    Who is going to enforce it?

    They want a war, they’ll get a bad bloody nose! There’s more of us than them!

    It is time for the American cowards to get off their dead butts and start rounding up these traitors in elected and appointed office and put them on trial for treason, that day is coming!

  2. “Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.” –Will Rogers

    As with land, so it is with pre-1899 firearms. Using JWR’s advice, however, the pre-1899 firearms that are actually available can be purchased now from people who do not hold them quite so dear. Later? It may be “Katy bar the door!”

    But, what if you do nothing? If the state of this country ever gets to the point where the 2nd Amendment is only a wistful memory, then it may still be possible to purchase replica cap and ball weapons–at least until they, too, are banned. Here are some offerings from Cabela’s:

    Make no mistake. I consider cap and ball pistols and muskets to be a last desperate choice, but they are lethal (as about 300,000 Yankees and Rebs can attest), and they can be delivered directly to your door with no trail of paper, given that they are exempt from the 1968 Firearms Act. No muss, no fuss.

    For pistols, I recommend the Remington New Army. It comes in .44 cal., a more lethal caliber than the so-called “Navy” caliber, .36, and it can be easily reloaded with a spare cylinder that costs about $50.00. In “Pale Rider,” Clint Eastwood reloaded his Remington with a spare cylinder in the gun fight. In “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” Clint carried several pistols and spare cylinders as was common with Confederate cavalry. Confederates did not have access to the repeating carbines carried by Union cavalry. The Confederates’ tactic was simply to get in close to the Union cavalry and blaze away. Think of a man with a shotgun trying to fight a man with a bolt action rifle.

    The Colts, while they have a certain panache, are not so easily reloaded, as the barrel assembly has to be removed from the grip portion of the gun. Even then, with 6 shots, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

    1. You can also buy those black-powder Henry’s under the same mail-order rules. While the muzzle energy is anemic compared to modern firearms, you still get multiple human-lethal shots.

  3. While I understand the author’s point, the better option is to procure 80% lowers (ARs, pistols, etc) and purchase the remaining parts via cash, face to face transactions. No weird ammo and no paper trail. For now….

  4. The blood of Patriots waters the tree!
    Now on to my question, it’s a serious one no joking aside. I have read and do my best to understandd the Constitution, Declaration, Bill of Rights numerous times, (Constitution daily), have read the Federalist and American State Papers, have listened to numerous academics and professors of the Constitution. The question is: Where in the Constitution or it’s amendments does it state that the federal gov has the right to “Control arms”, or make laws controlling them.
    All I can find is that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. No where else does it state they can make laws regarding the use and bearing of those arms. It cannot be construed as being covered in the “General Welfare” clause, which to my understanding means the fed gov is to enact policies and laws that promote the general welfare of the people and states.
    Perhaps someone more well versed in this matter can shed some light on this.
    With all the threatening of background checks gun controls, red flag laws, and outright confiscation we are fast approaching 1776 part 2. B ready…

    1. The congresscritters CLAIM that their authority over gun transactions is based on the Interstate Commerce Clause. This is doubly ironic, because the planned Private Party Transfer Ban is on INTRAstate sales of used guns between private parties. They already banned INTERstate sales of used guns between private parties, with tge Gun Control Act of 1968.

  5. Although I’d rather have a Finnish M39, the 1893 Turkish Mauser would work. A quick search found this one.

    The advantage of the Finnish M39 is a stronger action, and less expensive, and easy to find 7.62 x 54R ammunition. I could also use common .308 projectiles if hand loading if the correct .311-.312 bullets were not available. The 7.62x54R cartridge can also use the popular powders use in .308 winchester, 7.62 x51, and .30-06. Also, some .30 caliber lead bullet molds could be used, and swagged to fit the M39. Pay now or pay latter. It is not the price of the razor, but the price of the blades that can get you.

  6. The recommended video, The Bullet Test, is outstanding and a must see, however there is more to know.

    I have 1893 Turkish Mauser’s. These will accept modern 8mm ammunition, however, because these are small ring Mauser’s reheat treated to withstand the higher cartridge pressures of 8mm ball ammunition of the 1930’s or latter, than when it was first manufactured. However, the design is inherently weaker than the K98, or large ring Mauser. To safe, use the recently manufacturer Romanian 154 grain ball ammunition that is lower in pressure. Actual milsurp 8mm tends to be high in pressure, and possibly erratic, and may eventually create excessive head space if used regularly in the 1893 Mauser. To be safe, modern 8mm hunting ammunition is within safe pressures for this rifle, and it will be more accurate with the heavier and modern bullet. Check whatever ammo is used for flattened primers, and a heavy bolt lift that are indications of excessive head space, and it should not be fired again with that ammunition should those symptoms be present separately, and certainly, together. This should be observed in any new -to- you- rifle, especially older rifles and milsurp’s. Spanish Mauser’s in general, and especially the 7 x 57mm, the original chambering, should be avoided, but any rifle is suspect, until it has been head spaced and test fired.

    Even if one is not mechanically inclined, another option is to buy AR lowers at garage sales. Often these are not stripped, and around here can be found for as low as $50.00, a bargain even in this soft market.

  7. JWR, your opinion please as to how HR8/S42 can possibly be legal as It is certainly not an “interstate commerce ” issue as the laws are intended to affect intrastate sales, secondly the SCOTUS may have something to say about this and thirdly this type of legislation will be great for the economy when you think of the # of prisons the Fed will have to build. Remember what happened in the Canadian plains provinces when the govt decided to register all long guns? and what is now happening in NZ with the mandated gun buy-back?

    1. The proposed law is a gross over-reach of the Interstate Commerce Clause. If the courts uphold it, it would be a travesty of Wickard v. Filburn proportions!

  8. I may be wrong but it is my understanding that Gunsmiths keep a log of all guns that are left with them, to be worked on. This means that your unregistered firearm just became registered!
    The ATF has a bad habit of checking these logs.

  9. While you and I might be able to recognize a pre-1899 firearm for what it is, I doubt the jackboots sent to collect them will care whether you have an AR-15 or a Hopkins & Allen .32 Rimfire.

    A strict reading of the law makes all pinfire revolvers of any vintage legally antique. Good luck finding or making reliable ammunition.

    I remember when the M1888 Commission Rifles were readily available at department stores for $50 each. Even with pre-1898 dates, the management still insisted on a 4473 form. I know a prominent store chain that still runs background checks on guns that are legally antique.

    That will likely be the rule, in the case the government takes the new gun laws more seriously than they do the immigration laws. Sellers will be pressured or intimidated into requiring checks on all firearms, even muzzle loaders

  10. I really hope this unconstitutional bill never becomes law but if it does why own an antique weapon? That idea if one follows the logical path of the anti-2 Amendment agenda is your AR-15 and all other weapons have already been confiscated by the government. And having a antique weapon is to be used where, how?

    One should realize that going down that rabbit hole or any variation thereof will lead to unreal chaos throughout the nation.

    Would it not be a better strategy to own common many deer/elk rifles that can take down a beast at 500 yards.

    We really are only talking about is a time frame before a Democrat captures the White House for the full blown assault on all are Rights. That will not be a good day for this Republic.

    1. I think that you are missing my point.

      If you have other more-modern guns, then the pre-1899 cartridge guns can simply be INVESTMENT pieces. Right now, for example, you can buy a Chilean Mauser made by DWM in 1902 and one made by Ludwig Loewe in 1897 for about the same price. ($300 to $900, depending on condition, with perhaps a 5% premium for the Loewe antique.) But if “Universal Background Checks” become Federal law, then I predict that the 1897 ANTIQUE example will roughly DOUBLE in value (to $600 to $1,800), while the modern one barely changes in price.

      The other advantage is that if you have to make your modern guns disappear, whilst waiting for the counter-revolution, then you can STILL hunt, and STILL go to the range with your antique guns, without fear of arrest.

      Folks will wake up to all this AFTER the law changes. Be proactive. This is presently an overlooked new investment. Plan ahead. Buy now, before prices accelerate. Buy low, and sell high.

  11. If these criminal politicians ever pass such a law it will be because they know they won’t have to enforce it, some poor dumb cop with 2 kids will.
    Let every politician know that if they vote for ANY more infringements on the 2nd they will have a bounty on their heads!
    Dead or alive, we arrest them for the treason and sedition they are committing, convict them, and apply the noose as needed!

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