Understanding Antique Firearms

The weapons that won the West are appreciated not only for their historical value, but can also be admired for their craftsmanship and beauty as much as a Ming Dynasty Vase. Antique firearms began becoming collectible shortly after the Second World War. Ranging from revolvers and rifles, collector firearms have wide variation in terms of their worth, but can be filtered into two categories; muzzle loading or cartridge firing. A muzzle loader firearm is one where in which the projectile and propellant (gun-powder) are loaded into the open end of the gun and ignited through a source of ignition (e.g. Flintlock mechanism). But what exactly counts as an antique firearm?

Defining an Antique firearm

In general terms, an antique firearm is considered to be a firearm that was crafted and designed before the beginning of the 20th century. The exact definition of an antique firearm is something that is disputed from country to country, however, the movement away from black gunpowder into the usage of smokeless powder in the 1880s is usually considered the point from which firearms are no longer considered as antiques.

Antique firearms laws in the United States – For a firearm to be classed as an antique it must have been manufactured before 1898. It must be a cartridge firing or a muzzle loading rifle, pistol or shotgun that uses black powder and cannot use fixed ammunition. For a more detailed insight refer to the ATF regulations.

The Most Expensive Antique firearms

The most expensive antique guns in the world are pistols that have been owned by historic heroes who have forged countries and fought for liberty. Some of the most expensive antique firearms, sold in auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have been owned by history’s heroic leaders.


George Washington’s pistols of liberty. A gift to the first President from the Marquis de Lafayette; his good friend and ally.  The symbolic meaning of brotherhood and liberty these pistols hold can be found in the documents that record the exchanging of them through a series of owners, from George Washington, to the 7th President Andrew Jackson and back into the hands of the Lafayette family; the Marquis’ son, George Washington Lafayette. The pair of pistols both feature octagonal rounded barrels, steel locks and have been inlaid with steel and gold.


Crafted by the legendary French gunsmith Nicholas Noel Boutet, this pair of old guns came to be owned by Simon Bouler, liberator of Latin America. Fighting in battles for freedom with this pair of pistols at his side, the Hispanic father of liberty battled the Spanish Empire for the freedom of Latin America. While he is adhered to as a Hero by some for his military and diplomatic achievements, Simon Bolivar failed in his attempt to maintain the Republic of Gran Columbia he had fought to create due to cultural differences. On the day he renounced his presidency he lamented “All who have served the revolution have plowed the sea” In the year the federation was dissolved into the nations of Ecuador, Venezuela and New Granada, Bolivar’s vision died so did the man. His pistols were last sold at Christies in 2004 to a private American Collector.


One of 22 revolvers made by Colonel Samuel Colt. The artistry of this weapon lays in its craftsman as much as it’s décor. The 1849 pocket revolver depicts 5 animals a pheasant, a leopard, a bear, a dog and a fox inlaid with gold. It is suspected that these embellished pistols were produced as presentations for European, Ottoman and Russian royals that Colt meet in his travels. These gifts were made in mind to gain favour with the royalty so to acquire them as customers for Colt’s production contracts. As a standalone pistol, the Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver is the most expensive antique handgun ever auctioned.

Antique Firearms Price Guide

When it comes to valuing antique firearms, no one website or book is capable of giving a precise estimate for the weaponry’s worth. It is outlined on a NRA information page that before you can get your antique firearm’s value assessed, you need to be aware of the gun’s condition and specifications, including its type, action, caliber, measurements and markings. A useful guide that can give you some indication as to how much your gun is worth is the Standard Catalog of Firearms 2015. Ultimately, however, to get a conclusive estimate on how much your antique firearm is worth it will need to get an appraisal from an expert.



About the Author:

Adam is a freelance writer that focuses on luxury asset trends for Borro Private Finance.