PO Box 2068 Ormond Beach, FL 32175 (386) 677-7314
by James Rawles, Clearwater Trading Company
Revised April 30, 2004
In response to numerous requests, here are the answers to the questions
that I most commonly get on pre-1899 firearms. The second half of this FAQ
posting lists serial number cut-offs for the 1899 threshold for many gun makers.
Q: What constitutes "antique" under U.S. law?
A: Although your State and local laws may vary, any firearm with a receiver actually made before Jan.
1, 1899 is legally "antique." and not considered a "firearm" under Federal law. This refers to the actual
date of manufacture of the receiver/frame, not just model year or patent date marked. (For example,
only low serial number Winchester Model 1894 lever actions are actually antique.) No FFL is required
to buy or sell antiques across state lines-- they are in the same legal category as a muzzle-loading
replica. I regularly ship them right to people's doorstep via UPS, with no "paper trail." Think of it as
the last bastion of gun ownership privacy.
Q: I saw a post that said that pre-1899s are considered modern “firearms” if they are chambered to fire
ammunition that is available off-the-shelf. Is this correct?
That is absolutely incorrect. ANY gun manufactured before Jan. 1, 1899 (other than a machinegun or
other NFA category, such as a short-barreled gun) is NOT controlled in any way by Federal law.
There is NO Federal requirement for sales of these guns to be handled by Federally licensed dealers.
They may be freely bought and sold across State lines by private parties, regardless of what cartridge
they are chambered in. (However, State or local laws vary.)
Q: Does sporterizing or re-chambering an antique end its exemption?
A: Sporterizing, re-barreling, or re-chambering an antique gun does not effect its legal status. Thus, I
can legally sell folks Mauser sporters that have been converted to modern cartridges (like .308 Winchester!),
without having to go through the "FFL to FFL" hassle.
Q: Would an antique serial number range gun be worth more than an otherwise identical gun made just
a few years later?
A: Pre-1899 production guns now bring a 20 to 60% premium over identical condition guns made
AFTER 1898. Based on market trends, I expect that premium to increase considerably in the next few
years. Many of my customers are commenting that they previously had no interest in "antique" guns,
but now want one or more because they are paranoid about additional gun laws. For the time being at
least, pre-1899 are completely EXEMPT from all federal laws. Presumably, this would also mean that
they would be exempt from registration if they ever have nationwide gun registration.... Think about
Q: But what if I find a pre-1899 gun at a gun shop that was mistakenly logged into the
dealer's "bound book" of post-1899 firearms? Won’t I have to fill out a Form 4473
A: No. All the dealer has to do is log the gun out as: "Inadvertent entry. Pre-1899
manufactured receiver. No FFL required." (If the dealer gives you any grief and insists on
the yellow form, a call to any ATF branch office will confirm this.)
Q: Will the prices of pre-1899s continue to go up?
A: Yes, and the rate of increase is likely to accelerate! After Nov. 30, 1998
the permanent Brady rules went into effect. On that date all post-1899 gun sales--long guns and handguns--came under the federal control of "national instant background checks." Subsequently there has been a much bigger interest in guns that are Federally exempt and that can be bought via relatively anonymous mail order!
Q: Are pre-1899s included in the Brady II background check law?
A: No. They are exempt.
Q: How does the law on pre-1899 antiques and replicas actually read?
A: From the Gun Control Act of 1968 (Which modified Title 18, U.S. Code):
18 USC 921 (a)(16).
(A) any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock,
percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or
(B) any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph (A) if such replica --
(i) is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or
(ii) uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured
in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial
Q: What are the primary advantages in investing in pre-1899 guns rather than modern
(post-1898) guns, or replicas?
A: They are not considered "firearms" under Federal law. Thus they will
most likely be exempt from any new Federal gun registration law.
(Sadly, registration looks inevitable within a few years unless there is
a massive swing of the pendulum back toward a constitutional republic.)
I can literally send you a pre-1899 handgun or rifle right to your
doorstep without a lick of paperwork. (Unless your live in for example New Jersey,
New York City or D.C.) It is a great loophole.
The Dec. 31, 1898 cut-off date has been in existence, (unchanged),
since 1968. Thus the pool of available pre-1899s continues to shrink
with each passing year, and because of it they A.) Look more and more
antique/obsolete to lawmakers--i.e. not worth bothering about. and B.)
Grow more valuable with every passing year. Pre-1899 guns are already
bring a considerable premium. People are willing to pay more for privacy.
So the bottom line is that with pre-1899s you are buying both privacy
(the lack of a "paper trail" and probable exemption from future
registration) plus a great investment. Why buy a replica (such as the
Trapdoor Springfield, Winchester, and Schofield top break revolver
replicas currently on the market--and requiring the Federal "Yellow"
Form 4473), when you can buy the real thing (with far greater long term
investment value, and NO paperwork) for just a little bit more money?
Q: Do you have a list of "cut-off" serial numbers for determining if my gun is an antique?
A: The following is a listing that combines information that I have compiled over the years, plus some information that was kindly provided by Jim Supica, proprietor of The Old Town Station. (OldTownSta@aol.com), Dixie Gun Works, Dennis Kroh, and Ben Sansing.
Here is a partial list of pre-1899 "cut-off" serial numbers:
Ballard rifles, all are pre-1899
Beesley (Frederick Beesley, England) shotguns - serial numbers below 1500
Boss & Co. shotguns - serial numbers below 4200
Churchill (E.J. Churchill, Ltd., England) shotguns - serial numbers below 959
Colt 1878 & 1883 Shotguns, all are pre-1899
Colt-Berdan, Colt-Burgess, and Colt-Franklin, all are pre-1899
Colt Lightning Rifles, all large frame are pre-1899; Medium frame:
serial numbers below 84,000; Small frame: serial numbers below 35,334
Colt Percussion Revolvers (and cartridge conversions), all are pre-1899
Colt Spur trigger revolvers, all are pre-1899
Colt 1st and 2nd Model Derringers, all are pre-1899
Colt Single Action Army (SAA) and Bisely revolvers with serial numbers
under 182,000. I consider SAAs with serials between 165,000 and 182,000
(1896 to 1898 production) the most desirable, since they have steel
frames (and are thus safe to shoot modern smokeless loads), yet they are
Colt Model 1878 Double Action Frontier revolvers (serial numbers below
Colt M1889 Navy .38, all are pre-1899
Colt New Police .32 (serial numbers below 7,300)
Colt New Pocket Model (ser. # below 11,900)
Colt "New Army" or "New Navy" .38 and .41 (ser. # below 115,000)
Colt Model 1877 (Lightning and Thunderer) .38 and .41 (ser. # below
Colt Model 1878 ("Frontier") D.A. (ser. # below 41,000)
Colt New Service, first year of production (1898) only. (ser. # below
250) (I found one for my own collection. It only took ten years to track one down...)
Dickson (John Dickson, Edinburgh, Scotland) shotguns - serial numbers below 5000
Forehand and Wadsworth .32 or .38 (all made before 1891.)
Fox (A.H. Fox) shotguns - all are modern
Francotte (Auguste Francotte & Co.) shotguns -
Best grade: serial # below 16310
Medium grade: serial # below 29614
Bottom grade: serial # below 305769
Grant (Stephen Grant & Sons, London) shotguns - serial # below 7050
Greener sidelock shotguns (Best grade: serial # below 5311)
Greener boxlock shotguns (serial # below 47130)
Holland & Holland shotguns : Best grade: serial # below 22000, Paradox guns: serial # below 15400
Hopkins and Allen _Mfg_. changed its name to Hopkins and Allen _Arms_ in 1898.
Ithaca Baker Model shotguns - all are pre-1899
Ithaca Crass Model shotguns (serial # below 38399)
Ithaca Hammer shotguns - other - (serial # below 33011)
Ithaca Hammerless shotguns - other - (serial # below 32988)
Iver Johnson top break revolvers. Special thanks to Ben Sansing ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for the following Iver Johnson information:
There were three main models of Iver Johnson "Safety" topbreak revolvers. 1st & 2nd Model
revolvers were built for black powder cartridges only. Continued use of higher pressure smokeless in
these revolvers will result in them shooting loose, getting out of time, and parts breakage.
[Editor’s note: So if you want to shoot smokeless in a pre-1899 IJ revolvers, you must handload
cartridges to match the lower black powder pressure. Use extreme caution and err on the side of lower
pressure when working up a load.]
The 3rd Model was especially beefed-up, redesigned, and "fortified" for use with smokeless powder
and is fine for modern factory ammo. Alas, only 1st (all) & 2nd (some) Model revolvers fall into the
legal Antique category.
1st Model (1894-1896): SINGLE-POST top latch; leaf springs;
cylinder "free-wheeling" when at rest
2nd Model (1897-1908): DOUBLE-POST top latch; leaf springs;
cylinder "free-wheeling" when at rest
3rd Model (1909-1941): DOUBLE-POST top latch; COIL springs;
cylinder locked when at rest
If you've determined, from the above characteristics, that you have a 2nd Model IJ revolver, here's
how to determine whether it was made before 1899 (and thus a legal antique) or not. Fortunately, Iver
Johnson built revolvers by the "batch" system, and only changed & upgraded their guns once a year,
so it is quite easy to determine whether an IJ is antique or not, just by cursory examination. In only
*one* case (.32 small frame *hammer* model) does the serial number need to be checked. In other
cases, you can "tell at a glance" once you know what to look for.
Pre-1899 2nd Model guns will exhibit the following
Large frame (.38) HAMMERLESS: Separate hammer shroud on
frame (shroud not integral with frame)
Small Frame (.32) HAMMERLESS: Separate hammer shroud on
frame (shroud not integral with frame)
Note: Integral frame w/shroud introduced start of 1899
Large frame (.38) hammer: Patent dates on top rib of BARREL
Small Frame (.32) hammer: Patent dates on top rib of BARREL, *AND* must check serial number
prefix (left side of grip strap underneath grip - yes, you must remove the grips for this one):
A = 1897; E = 1898; F = 1899. The easy way to remember: If it has an 'F' it FLUNKS the Antique
Note 1: Patent dates moved from top rib of barrel at start of 1899 production.
Note 2: All .22 rimfire IJ topbreak revolvers are post-1898 (The .22 chambering began in 1901).
Lancaster (Charles Lancaster, London) shotguns - serial # below 8353
Lang (Joseph Lang, London) shotguns - serial # below 8700
Lefever Arms Co. Sidelock shotguns - serial # below 28916
Lee-Enfield .303 Carbines, all are pre-1899 but all Lee-Enfield .303 Rifles are post-1899
Lee-Metford .303 Rifles, all are pre-1899
Marlin rifles--serial number groups not consecutive! The only models
that ended production before 1899 are the Model 1881, 1888, Model
1889, and 1891.
Marlin-Ballard rifles, all are pre-1899
Mauser M1896 "Broomhandle" pistols (serial # below 15,000--most of
these have cone ring hammers--are pre-1899
Mauser Bolt Action Rifles. See the following listings by model year/country:
M1889 Belgian, most rifles are pre-1899. However, most carbines with
yatagan bayonet mounts are post 1899 and thus legally modern.
M1890 Turkish contract, all are pre-1899
M1891 Argentine contract rifles and carbines, all marked LOEWE are pre-1899, those marked DWM are not
M1891 Columbian contract (Argentine Pattern) most are pre-1899
M1891 Ecuadoran contract (Argentine Pattern) most are pre-1899
M1891 Peruvian contract, none are pre-1899
M1891/1892/1893 Spanish rifles, all are pre-1899
M1893/M1895 Spanish *carbines* --see date on receiver ring
M1893 Turkish contract rifles, all are pre-1899 (Note: Many of there were re-barreled to 8 x57 Mauser at Ankara in the 1930s & 1940s, but they are still legally "pre-1899")
M1894 Brazilian contract, all are pre-1899
M1894 Swedish carbines --see date on receiver ring--about 40% are
M1895 Bolivian contract (M1891 Argentine pattern) all are pre-1899
M1895 Chilean contract by Ludwig Loewe --all are pre-1899
M1895 Chilean contract by DWM--Many later examples are post-1899, However, it has been determined with certainty that early DWMs with A thru K prefix serial numbers are
pre-1899. Special thanks to The Dutchman in Indiana for the "in captivity" report on a K-prefix M1895 DWM that is marked 1898.
M1895 Chinese contract (Chilean Pattern)--all are pre-1899
M1895 Costa Rican contract (Chilean Pattern) by Ludwig Loewe are
pre-1899 (most DWMs are not!)
M1895 El Salvadoran contract (Chilean pattern) by DWM. Most are
post-1899 except early production guns with three digit serial numbers.
M1895/96/97 Orange Free State contracts (Marked "O.V.S." Some also have
Chilean crests.) All are pre-1899
M1895 Paraguayan contract (Chilean pattern) by DWM. Most are post-1899
M1895 Persian contract (Chilean Pattern) by Ludwig Loewe are pre-1899
(most DWMs are not!)
M1895 Peruvian contract (Chilean Pattern) by Ludwig Loewe are pre-1899
(most DWMs are not!)
M1895 Uruguayan contract (Chilean Pattern) by Ludwig Loewe are pre-1899
(most DWMs are not!)
M1896 Swedish rifles --see date on receiver ring--only about 1% are
pre-1899, since 1899 was the first year of full production on this
model at Mauser, Oberndorf, and 1898 was the first production year
at Carl Gustafs stads Gevarsfaktori.
M1896 ("Protoype M1898") German, all are pre-1899. Note: Some prototype
98s were sold to Siam and overstamped with Siamese markings.
M1898 German--see date on receiver ring--less than 1% are pre-1899
Merwin Hulbert revolvers, all are pre-1899
Mosin-Nagant rifles--see date marked UNDER the rear tang, near the action screw. You have to take
off the wood to see it. The date that one first sees on top is actually on the rear of the BARREL, not
on the receiver itself. Many of these receivers that were rebarreled by the Finns (even up to 1970) were actually manufactured before 1899 and are indeed antique (though these are among the most accurate rifles ever made). Note: Some of the tang dates are two digit, such as “95” (for 1895) or “9^6” for 1896--with a vertical arrow or hammer between the digits.) Thanks to Dennis Kroh of Empire arms for this information! Note that Empire Arms (http://www.empirearms.com) occasionally (often) has pre-1899 production military rifles available for sale.
Nagant revolvers -those produced at Liege, Belgium (ser. number under 20,000) are pre-1899. But all of those produced at the Tula arsenal are legally modern.
Parker shotguns (serial # below 89350)
Purdey (James Purdey & Sons, London) shotguns - serial # below 16736
Remington Model 1875 revolvers, all are pre-1899
Remington Model 1890 revolvers, all are pre-1899
Remington-Keene bolt actions, all are pre-1899
Remington-Lee bolt actions, all U.S. military models are pre-1899, but
most civilian models are legally modern
Remington Model 1889 Shotguns (serial # below 89124)
Rigby (John Rigby & Co., Dublin) rifles and shotguns- serial # below 16600
Schmidt Rubin (Swiss) Rifles. Model 1889 - all are pre-1899
Schmidt Rubin (Swiss) Model 1893 Carbines (serial # below 5000)
Schmidt Rubin (Swiss) Rifles. Model 1889/96 or 96/11 (which were built on pre-existing 89/96 receivers) are pre-1899 if they have a serial number less than
236,500. Note: Only the 96/11 (and later models) are safe to use the high pressure M11 cartridge!
Schmidt Rubin (Swiss) Model 1897 "Cadet" short rifles (serial # below 2100)
Scott (W&C Scott a.k.a. Webley & Scott) shotguns - serial # below 56000
L. C. Smith double barrel shotguns (serial # below 61199)
S&W Single Action (SA) .32 and .38 top break revolvers, all are pre-1899
(S&W Spur Trigger: With the exception of one rare S&W model, production of
single-action spur trigger revolver frames had essentatially stopped by
1892. So, just about all of these will be antiques.)
S&W Double Action (DA) .32 top break revolvers w/hammer (serial #
S&W DA .32 top break hammerless ("lemon squeezer") revolvers
(serial # below 91400)
S&W DA .38 top break revolvers with hammer (serial # below 382022)
S&W DA .38 top break hammerless ("lemon squeezer") revolvers
(serial # below 119900)
S&W Model 3 and New Model 3 single action revolvers, all are pre-1899
S&W .45 Schofield revolvers, all are pre-1899
S&W DA First Model revolver, all are pre-1899
S&W DA "Frontier" revolvers, all are pre-1899
S&W DA "Favorite" revolvers, all are pre-1899
Important Note: An article by Roy Jinks (S&W factory historian), some
years ago reported that all of the *frames* for the large frame
top-break S&W's were made prior to 1899, and hence all New Model #3's,
.44 DA 1st Models, DA Frontiers, and related models are considered
"antique" by the ATF, even though they may have been cataloged and even
assembled well into the early 20th century. Special thanks to Roy Jinks
and the S&W Colloctor's Association for this information.
S&W Model 1891, all are pre-1899
S&W 1st Model hand ejector (.32s only), all are pre-1899
Sharps Co. Rifles, all are pre-1899
Snider-Enfield Rifles and Carbines, all are pre-1899
U.S. ("Trapdoor") Springfield .45-70, all are pre-1899
U.S. .30-40 Krag bolt actions (serial # below 152670)
Swift revolver (Made by Iver Johnson), all are pre-1895
Webley Mk. I .455 Revolvers (Later Marks are post-1898)
Westley-Richards & Co. rifles and shotguns (all except "T" boxlock)- serial # below 15818
Westley-Richards & Co. "T" boxlock shotguns- serial # below 13438
Whitney Arms Co., all are pre-1899
Winchester Model 1866, all are pre-1899
Winchester Model 1873 (serial # below 525923)
Winchester Model 1876, all are pre-1899
Winchester Model 1885 (serial # below 84701)
Winchester Model 1886 (serial # below 119193)
Winchester Model 1887 (all were produced before 1899).
Winchester Model 1890 (serial # below 64521)
Winchester Model 1892 (serial # below 165432)
Winchester Model 1893 (serial # below 34204)
Winchester Model 1894 (serial # below 147685)
Winchester Model 1895 (serial # below 19872)
Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun (serial # below 63633)
Winchester-Hotchkiss Bolt Action Rifles, all are pre-1899
Winchester-Lee (U.S. Navy) Straight-Pull 6 mm (serial # below 20000)
Woodward (James Woodward & Sons, London) - serial # below 15327
I hope that you find this information useful. Your comments, additions,
and corrections are appreciated. Thanks again to Jim Supica, proprietor
of The Old Town Station (OldTownSta@aol.com) snail mail: c/o P.O. Box
15351, Lenexa, Kansas , Dennis Kroh of Empire Arms
(http://www.empirearms.com), snail-mail PO Box 2068, Ormond Beach,
FL 32175, phone (386) 677-7314, and Dixie Gun Works
James Wesley, Rawles <><
I'm the author of numerous firearms FAQS on topics including:
AR-15 magazines, M1 Carbine magazines, M1911 magazines, M14/M1A magazines,
Mauser rifles, FN/FALs and L1A1s, and European Ammo Box
Markings Translations. These FAQs are available at the rec.guns web site:
Copyright Sept. 2003 by James Wesley, Rawles
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PO Box 2068 Ormond Beach, FL 32175 (386) 677-7314