Curios & Relic firearms

A Quick Guide To Curio And Relic Guns

There is a certain class of firearm called curios and relics that you might have heard mentioned. Generally, these are collectible but possibly still functioning firearms that are treated differently under law than the run of the mill gun you find in a gun store.

What are they?

Curio and relic guns, also called C&R, are firearms that are at least 50 years old and/or have historic significance. Granted, the "significance" can be relative, but the point is that C&R guns are treated differently at law due to their interest to collectors. Since they are older designs, there is also a federal license that can be obtained that allows for a bit more freedom in purchasing than buying typical guns.

Here's the straight dope on the C&R scene.

Curio And Relic Firearms

A C&R classified S&W Revolver

Curio and Relic firearms are a legally-defined class of firearm, regulated - as all guns are - by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF, in the broadstrokes, defines them as guns that are old or of some sort of significance historically.

Straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, the ATF gives three criteria by which a firearm can be considered a C&R gun. To qualify, a gun must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Firearms which were manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas of such firearms;
  • Firearms which are certified by the curator of a municipal, State, of Federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest;
  • Any other firearms which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.

From these rules, it can be gleaned that a C&R gun has to be old and/or historically significant.

More Relic Guns Out There Than Curios

Manattan firearms co relic revolver

As you can imagine, there are more relics out there than there are curios when it comes to curios and relics. Far more old guns are out there than guns that are historically significant, at least for the most part.

For instance, there are a heck of a lot of Yugo M48 rifles in circulation. The M48 was a copy of the Gewehr 98, service rifle of the German army from before World War I through to the end of World War II. Many a person has picked up an M48 for use as a home defense or ranch rifle, target shooting or for iron-sight hunting. They go for a pittance and are relics, in every sense of the word.

However, a never-issued Mauser K98 that has all the proof marks of the Third Reich and so on...now that is a curio, as the period and so on are significant. Such a rifle would be a serious collectible, and would have a price point to match.

As a general rule, most curio and relic guns fall under the first criteria. As a result, they are quite common and can be purchased for quite reasonable firearm prices, (sometimes unbelievably small amounts) though the condition of said firearms can be quite variable. Many look like they've been beaten like a rented mule (because they have) but are still perfectly good shooters.

However, those guns that fall under the latter two criteria are generally rarer and command a much higher price tag; sometimes downright astronomical. Conditions can also vary, as can shootability, but many legit curio guns will sit in a safe or a display case as part of museum or personal collection.

As an aside, C&R guns are different than antique firearms, as antique firearms - as a matter of law - have to have been made prior to 1898.

That said, the ATF maintains a list of all eligible curio and relic guns. You'll have to download it in PDF form, but it's on the above link to the ATF's website.

The Curio And Relic License: FFL #3

Collector of Curios and Relics license

Along with the curio and relic guns, there is also a curio and relic license that you can get from the ATF. It is, naturally, a class of federal firearms license.

If you apply for an FFL, there are 11 types of license you can apply for. Most are related to manufacturing of guns, "destructive devices" or ammunition, a couple are for becoming a dealer or pawnbroker of firearms, but one - the third option on the form, commonly referred to as FFL #3 - is "Collector of Curios and Relics."

Along with the application and the application fee ($30, not terrible) you'll also need an endorsement from local law enforcement. That said, once you get it, you become what's colloquially referred to as a "cruffler."

A FFL #3 License

What does this license get you?

You might get wholesale prices and you can also - and here's the kicker - get guns shipped to your doorstep. No need to find an FFL to get your C&R guns because YOU are the FFL.

However, there are some constraints. First, you can only mail-order curio and relic firearms. Second, you can't sell your collection for business purposes, as the curio and relic FFL only licenses you as a collector. To sell guns for a living or as part of business, you need the appropriate license to do so, which would be FFL #1 or FFL #2.

That said, the license does get you that privilege. It's good for three years upon being issued.

Why Purchase Curios And Relic Firearms?

S&W M1917 Revolver chambered in .45

There are a few different reasons why you might. There are some cool old guns out there, some of which can be had for very reasonable amounts and still shoot incredibly well.

Some curio and relic guns are just good guns, period. Old military bolt-action rifles are great for target shooting or hunting, as many a deer has been felled with a Mosin-Nagant, Yugo M48, Lee-Enfield or Swedish Mauser. These rifles are also good ranch guns and are certainly viable for personal defense...though a rifle in an urban setting is certainly overkill.

There are some fantastic old handguns out there that make for a great nightstand gun or even CCW. A Colt or S&W M1917 would be a great gun to pick up, as you get a big-bore revolver that shoots .45 ACP, great for home defense. Ditto a Webley that's been converted to fire .45 ACP with moon clips.

And so on and so forth.

Granted, many C&R guns are military surplus and as a result will be a bit beaten, but can often be found to be perfectly functional. There are cool collectibles out there as well. So really, curio and relic guns can offer something for a lot of people, it just depends on whether what you want in a gun can be had from the C&R market.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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