Buying Modern and Collectable Firearms: Know Your Condition

Published May 03, 2015 by Dave Link

There isn’t a buyer on the planet who wouldn’t want to know the condition of a vehicle before extending an offer to a buyer, so why wouldn’t you do the same thing for a modern or collector firearm? While the condition of a vehicle may be more readily apparent, there are many nuances that a seasoned buyer will know to look for. The same can be said for firearms. Organizations like the National Rifle Association have tried to make the process a little easier for both buyers and sellers by establishing widely accepted rating scales for both modern and collector firearms. Familiarizing yourself with the scales listed below can be a big time saver, and give both buyers and sellers a realistic idea of what a firearm is worth.

Modern Gun Condition Standards

  • New/Perfect: This condition level looks like it’s never left the factory packaging.
  • Excellent: The firearm may have been used a few times, but there is zero sign of wear and tear. Wood, metal and bluing are in perfect condition except at the muzzle or any sharp edges.
  • Very good: Perfect working condition, but with no noticeable wear on working components. No corrosion or pitting present.
  • Good: Safe working condition. Minor wear is likely present on working components, but still no corrosion or pitting.
  • Fair: Safe working condition, but well worn. Replacement of some components may be needed. No rust should be present, but some minor corrosion is not uncommon at this condition level.

Antique/Collector Condition Standards

  • Factory New: 100% original parts and finish. Perfect working condition inside and out.
  • Excellent: This level still has all the original parts and 80%+ of the original finish. Any stamping, lettering or design on wood or metal is still crisp and clear. The wood should also unmarred and the bore in great condition.
  • Fine: All original parts, but with 30%+ or so of the original finishing. Letter and stamping should also still be in near perfect condition, but dings or slight scratches on wood surfaces are present.
  • Very Good: All original parts are present, but less than 30% of the original finish remains. All metal surfaces are original and still have crisp, sharp edges. Stenciling or lettering is clear, but wood surfaces have more noticeable scratches or dings. Bore condition is also less important at this level.
  • Good: Repair or replacement of minor parts. Rust may be present, but is smooth with minimal to no pitting and possible re-bluing of the finish. Letters and numbers are legible, and scratches or dents in wood surfaces may have been refinished or repaired.
  • Fair: Major components may have been replaced at this level of conditioning, and minor parts may still need repairing or replacement. Light pitting is present over most of the firearm, and rust is more noticeable. Finishing has likely been cleaned vigorously or noticeably re-blued. Sharp edges have been worn down or rounded, and lettering or stencils may be partially worn away. The key is to be in decent working order, or can be made into that condition with a little effort.
  • Poor: Significant work would need to be done to bring this type of collector firearm back into working condition. Replacement and repair of both major and minor parts, significant pitting and rust, scratched surfaces, completely worn away printing and stenciling, and complete inoperability are calling cards of this condition level.

Other commonly used ratings systems include the Blue Book of Gun Values, based on the original finish system of rating, and The Standard Catalog of Firearms, which uses a system similar to the NRA rating terms, but with significantly different qualifications as to which items fall into which category.

For more tips on buying and selling antique or collectable firearms, see our posts on how to tell genuine from reproduced antique firearmshow to ship firearms internationally, and protecting against fraudulent federal firearms licenses.