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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.

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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.

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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

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