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A collector’s guide to militaria: Antique guns

A collector’s guide to militaria: Antique guns at Hemswell Antiques

Antique guns and other military memorabilia have fascinated collectors for a long time, but now is a particularly good time to invest if you have an interest in the niche. Among the most coveted collectables from World War I and World War II are weapons, medals, gas masks, flags, posters, backpacks and insignias. 

In this guide we’re going to look closely at firearms. If you’re fretting over the old “when is a gun considered an antique?” debate or simply wanting to wise up on your weapons, read on for an in-depth dive into the niche.

What is an antique firearm?

Many sellers will learn how to restore antique guns and not actually declare it, so it’s important to have a good eye for what’s genuine and what’s not before you dive in. So when is a gun considered antique? Well, for a start, it should be at least 100 years old. Anything else is vintage: read our guide on the difference between antique and vintage for more on this.

Four centuries of firearms have left us with a wide and varied collection of antique guns for sale. The earliest were fired by burning a fuse and igniting gunpowder. Known as matchlock guns, these ancient models go for desirable prices at auction. Small clockwork wheels ignited sparks for gunshots from the 16th century, followed by the invention of the flintlock in the 17th century onwards. Antique guns from end of the 19th century will have ready-loaded cartridges, with a firing pin used to ignite them.

In the UK, it’s also important to know what qualifies as an antique firearm to avoid breaking the law. A special exemption applies for antique guns collected for their curiosity or adornment. The definition of antique is not defined by law but generally, obsolete firing guns that rely on muzzle-loading and breech-loading are allowed.

As always, conduct your research before even browsing antique guns for sale. Get authentication where you can, perhaps from a specialist dealer or auctioneer who can help you determine the specifications and value of antique guns.

Which antique guns are most valuable?

One-of-a-kind items are golden. Not everyone can get there hands on Hitler’s Luger pistol, (if they did they could probably quit their jobs from the sale at auction), but collectors pay good money for rare examples. 

Boxed pistols from the 18th and 19th centuries are among the most desirable antique guns. Many were barely used by their original owners, so quality is high and collectors are keen. Recently, there has been a surge of interest in antique guns from India and the Middle East, particularly for their intricate and exotic decorations.

The best thing a collector can do is specialise. If you have a passion for a particular era, location or specific battle - say, 19th-century English sporting guns - acquiring items in that niche and growing your collection that way is massively rewarding. The more time passes, the more valuable your antique guns will become. Whether later generations will hold emotional values to these items, we’re unable to say, but there is something very special in preserving our collective historical memories in these physical objects from the past.

If you’re thinking about going beyond collecting and venturing into learning how to sell an antique gun, you might want to dust of the cobwebs and approach the issue of rust. It’s important you research how to clean an antique gun properly: attempting to restore or polish an antique gun without knowing what you’re doing could lower the value and even render it worthless.

Where can find antique guns for sale?

Viewing antique guns for sale on the internet and inspecting them in person is the difference between night and day. From Georgian pistols to Colt revolvers, you’ll be taken back by the quality of our eclectic military collection. Visit Hemswell Antiques Centres for a wholesome day of treasure hunting: our dealer space in The Guardroom is home to an astonishing selection of militaria and antique guns for sale.


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