Muzzleloading Antique Firearms are not generally owned with the intent of firing them (although many people do shoot original muzzleloaders, after having them thoroughly inspected and safety tested), instead being owned as display pieces or for their historic value. Cartridge firing Antique Firearms are more commonly encountered as shooting pieces, but it should be noted that most antique cartridge guns made from the 1860s through the 1880s were made with relatively mild steel and were designed to use black powder. They were limited to low bullet velocities and had heavily arcing "rainbow" bullet trajectories. However, advances in steel metallurgy and the advent of mass-produced smokeless powder in the early 1890s gave cartridge rifles of this new era much higher velocities and much flatter trajectories than their predecessors. These advances, typified by cartridges such as 7x57 Mauser, .303 British, and 7.62x54R made many smokeless powder rifles manufactured in the 1890s quite capable of accurate shooting at long distances. In fact, many antique smokeless powder cartridge guns from the 1890s can still compete satisfactorily in target shooting events alongside modern guns.
This article concentrates on antique breech loading cartridge guns from 1865-1898 rather than earlier muzzleloaders, which are documented in their own Wikipedia page. It should be noted that, prior to the late 18th century, there was little standardisation with regards to muzzeloading firearms, which sometimes make establishing the provenance of early muzzle-loading pieces more difficult than with a later cartridge firing arm.
Some of the popular antique firearms sought after by collectors (by time period) include:
These guns are all seen as reminders of epic expeditions, pioneering railroad expansions into wilderness areas, and of the golden age of big game hunting throughout Africa, India, and the United States. To paraphrase fascination with history, collectors have been known to use the phrase "if this gun could only talk" when they hold a historic piece- guns such as a Boer War era Mauser rifle stamped "OVS" (for Oranje Vrij Staat- Orange Free State), a "Trapdoor" Springfield Model 1873 cavalry carbine from the Custer era, a Martini-Henry .577/450 single shot rifle with dozens of successive ordnance marks from England, India, Nepal and Tibet, or a well-worn Winchester lever action rifle with its stock studded with American Indian tribal brass tacks.
Some brands/makers that are popular with antique gun collectors in Europe include: Brevetes, Colt's Manufacturing Company, Chamelot Delvigne, Fabrica de Durango, Charles Francois Galand (C.F.G.), J.D. Levaux, Lefaucheux, Le Page, Martin & Cie, Émile et Léon Nagant, Perrin & Cie, Raphael, Simson & Co., Smith & Wesson, William Tranter, Waffenfabrik Bern, J. Warnant, and Webley. There is also interest in military issue antiques such as Albini-Braendlin, Chassepot, Krag-Jørgensen, Kropatschek, Martini-Henry, Mauser, Mosin-Nagant, Peabody action, Gebruder Sulzer (Milbank-Amsler), Schmidt-Rubin, St. Etienne Lebel rifle, Steyr Waffenfabrique (Mannlicher), and Vetterli rifles/carbines.
Some brands/makers that are popular with United Kingdom and Commonwealth of Nations antique gun collectors include: Robert Adams of London, Colt's Manufacturing Company, Holland & Holland, James Purdey and Sons, John Rigby (company), W&C Scott, Smith & Wesson, William Tranter, Webley, and Westley-Richards. There is also interest in military issue antiques such as Lee-Metford, Martini-Enfield. Martini-Henry, Mauser, Peabody action, and Snider-Enfield rifles/carbines.
Some brands/makers that are popular with U.S. collectors include: Colt's Manufacturing Company, Merwin Hulbert, Mosin-Nagant, Parker, Remington Arms, Savage Arms, Smith & Wesson, Whitney, and Winchester Repeating Arms Company. There is also growing interest in military issue "martial" antiques, such as Mauser, Peabody action, Schmidt-Rubin, and U.S. Springfield Armory rifles including the Springfield Model 1873 (commonly called the "Trapdoor" Springfield) and Krag-Jørgensen rifles/carbines.
Gun control laws vary widely from country to country. Several nations such as Australia, Canada, Norway, the UK and the United States make special exceptions in their gun laws for antique firearms. The "threshold" or "cut-off" years defining "antique" vary considerably. The threshold is pre-1898 in Canada, pre-1899 in the United States, and pre-1901 in Australia. Some countries like England exempt certain antiques but they do not set a specific threshold year. Other countries treat antique handguns and long guns quite differently. For example, Norway has a pre-1885 threshold for rifles and shotguns, but a pre-1871 threshold for handguns.
Single-shot or double-barrel muzzleloading firearms manufactured before January 1, 1901 are considered Antique Firearms in all States of Australia, and can be legally purchased, owned, (and in some states, used) without licences.
Cartridge-loading firearms manufactured prior to January 1, 1901 may or may not be considered "antique", depending on the commercial availability of ammunition. For example, a Martini-Enfield rifle manufactured in 1896 would NOT be considered antique in any state of Australia, as it is chambered in .303 British, a calibre which is still commercially manufactured and readily available in Australia. Conversely, firearms manufactured after 1/1/1901 are not considered antiques, even if they are replicas of antique firearms (such as modern reproductions of black powder guns), or if ammunition is no longer commercially available (such as the Arisaka Type 38 Rifle)
Antique cap & ball revolvers require licensing in all states except Queensland and Victoria, where an individual may possess such a firearm without a license, so long as it is registered with the police.
In Canada, antique guns are defined under P.C. 1998-1664. One minor source of confusion for antique gun collectors and dealers is that in Canada, the threshold for antique status is one year earlier than in the United States. (In the U.S. guns made before 1899 are "antique", but in Canada, they are defined as guns made before 1898.)
P.C. 1998-1664 reads as follows:
The Regulations Prescribing Antique Firearms
P.C. 1998-1664 16 September, 1998
His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice, pursuant to the definitions "prescribed"(see footnote a) and "antique firearm"(see footnote b) in subsection 84(1) and to subsection 117.15(1)(see footnote c) of the Criminal Code, hereby makes the annexed Regulations Prescribing Antique Firearms.
REGULATIONS PRESCRIBING ANTIQUE FIREARMS
1. The firearms listed in the schedule are antique firearms for the purposes of paragraph (b) of the definition "antique firearm" in subsection 84(1) of the Criminal Code.
COMING INTO FORCE
2. These Regulations come into force on October 1, 1998.
SCHEDULE (Section 1)
BLACK POWDER REPRODUCTIONS
1. A reproduction of a flintlock, wheel-lock or matchlock firearm, other than a handgun, manufactured after 1897.
2. A rifle manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging only rim-fire cartridges, other than 22 Calibre Short, 22 Calibre Long or 22 Calibre Long Rifle cartridges.
3. A rifle manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging centre-fire cartridges, whether with a smooth or rifled bore, having a bore diameter of 8.3 mm or greater, measured from land
to land in the case of a rifled bore, with the exception of a repeating firearm fed by any type of cartridge magazine.
4. A shotgun manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging only rim-fire cartridges, other than 22 Calibre Short, 22 Calibre Long or 22 Calibre Long Rifle cartridges.
5. A shotgun manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging centre-fire cartridges, other than 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 or 410 gauge cartridges.
6. A handgun manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging only rim-fire cartridges, other than 22 Calibre Short, 22 Calibre Long or 22 Calibre Long Rifle cartridges.
7. A handgun manufactured before 1898 that is capable of discharging centre-fire cartridges, other than a handgun designed or adapted to discharge 32 Short Colt, 32 Long Colt, 32 Smith and Wesson, 32 Smith and Wesson Long, 32-20 Winchester, 38 Smith and Wesson, 38 Short Colt, 38 Long Colt, 38-40 Winchester, 44-40 Winchester, or 45 Colt cartridges.
According to Andrew Walls, a Norwegian gun law commentator, Norway sets a pre-1885 antique threshold for rifles and shotguns, and a pre-1871 threshold for handguns.
In the United Kingdom, antique guns are exempt from most controls, but unfortunately the definition of "antique" in Section 58(2) of the Firearms Act of 1968 is vague. Interpretation of the law is often left up to local police officials. However, guidance was issued by the Home Office in paragraph 2.7 of 'Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police' in 1989, suggesting that a range of vintage firearms might be considered for 'antique' status ('vintage' for those purposes means manufactured before 1939). Following advice from the Firearms Consultative Committee (FCC), the Government issued further guidance in a circular letter to chief officers on 19 November 1992, as follows:
The provisions of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997 do not apply to any antique firearm held as a curiosity or ornament. The word 'antique' is not defined in the Act, but it is suggested that the categories below should be used as a guide in deciding whether a particular firearm might be considered an 'antique' for these purposes.
Part I: Old weapons which should benefit from exemption as antiques under section 58 (2) of the Firearms Act 1968
a) All muzzle-loading firearms;
b) Breech-loading firearms capable of discharging a rim-fire cartridge other than 4mm, 5mm, .22" or .23" (or their metric equivalents), 6mm or 9mm rimfire;
c) Breech-loading firearms using ignition systems other than rimfire and centerfire (These include pin-fire and needle-fire ignition systems, as well as the more obscure lip fire, cup-primed, teat fire and base fire systems);
d) Breech-loading center-fire arms originally chambered for one of the obsolete cartridges listed in Annex B and which retain their original chambering;
e) Vintage (pre 1939) rifles, shotguns and punt guns chambered for the following cartridges expressed in imperial measurements: 32 bore 24 bore, 14 bore, 10 bore (5/8" and 2 7/8" only), 8 bore, 4 bore, 3 bore, 2 bore, 1 1/8 bore, 1 1/4 bore and 1 1/2 bore, and vintage punt guns and shotguns with bores of 10 or greater.
Note (i) - The exemption does not apply to ammunition, and the possession of live ammunition suitable for use with an otherwise antique firearm will normally indicate that the firearm is not possessed as a curio or ornament.
Note (ii) - The exemption does not apply to firearms of modern manufacture which otherwise conform to the description above. Fully working modern firing replicas of muzzle-loading and breech-loading firearms, for example those used to fire blanks by historical re-enactment societies but capable of firing live ammunition, must be held on certificate. For these purposes, 'modern manufacture' should be taken to mean manufacture after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
Old weapons which should not benefit from the exemption as antiques under section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968
NB: This list is not exhaustive and there may be other types and calibres of firearms that should be considered 'modern' rather than 'antique'.
a) Shotguns and smooth-bored guns, including shot pistols, chambered for standard shot gun cartridges, .22 inch, .23 inch, 6mm and 9mm rim-fire cartridges;).
b) Rifles and handguns chambered for 4mm, 5mm, .22 inch, .23 inch, 6mm or 9mm rim-fire ammunition;
c) Revolvers, single-shot pistols and self-loading pistols which are chambered for, and will accept, popular center-fire cartridges of the type .25, .32, .38, .380, .44, .450, .455 and .476 inch, or their metric equivalents including 6.35, 7.62, 7.63, 7.65 , 8 and 9mm, unless otherwise specified;
d) Modern reproduction firearms or old firearms which have been modified to allow the use of shotgun cartridges or cartridges not listed in Annex B;
e) Extensively modified weapons (eg Sawn off shotguns);
f ) Very signalling pistols chambered for 1 and 1 1/2 inch cartridges or 26.5/27mm cartridges;
g) Pump-action and self-loading center fire rifles, except that examples originally chambered for one of the obsolete cartridges listed at Annex B and retaining that original chambering, may benefit from exemption as antiques under section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended)
An extensive list of calibers deemed "obsolete" (per the latest interpretation of the UK law) can be found at the david-squires.org.uk web site. (See the link to the PDF in "External Links".)
The following is an excerpt from the portion of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which modified Title 18, U.S. Code) that exempted pre-1899 guns from the Federal Firearms License paperwork requirements administered by the BATFE:
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 before 1898; and (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 trade.
Within the United States, antique exemptions vary considerably from state to state.
Since it the date of manufacture of the receiver that is relevant to identifying a gun as antique or modern, it is possible to have a weapon with date marks post-1898 but still be considered an antique gun. For example, some Finnish M39 (Ukko-Pekka) rifles with hexagonal profile receivers are considered antique because some were built on receivers dated pre-1899, even though the rifle itself was adopted in 1939. Many of these were assembled using a mix of old round and "hex" receivers from then on, until as late as the 1970s. To be identified as pre-1899, however, Mosin-Nagants that have been re-barreled must be disassembled to see the date stamps on their tangs.