In response to numerous requests, here are the answers to the questions that I most commonly get on pre-1899 firearms. The second half of this FAQ posting lists serial number cut-offs for the 1899 threshold for many gun makers.
Q: What constitutes "antique" under U.S. law?
A: Although your State and local laws may vary, any firearm with a frame or receiver that actually made before Jan. 1, 1899 is legally "antique" and not considered a "firearm" under Federal law. This refers to the actual date of manufacture of the receiver/frame, not just model year or patent date marked. (For example, only ***low serial number*** Winchester Model 1894 lever actions are actually antique.) No FFL is required to buy or sell antiques across state lines. They are in the same legal category as a muzzle loading replica. I regularly ship them right to people's doorstep via UPS, with no "paper trail." Think of it as the last bastion of gun ownership and transfer privacy.
Q: I saw a post that said that pre-1899s are considered modern "firearms" if they are chambered to fire ammunition that is available off-the-shelf. Is this correct?
That is absolutely incorrect. ANY gun manufactured before Jan. 1, 1899 (other than a machinegun or other NFA category, such as a short barreled gun) is NOT controlled in any way by Federal law. There is NO Federal requirement for sales of these guns to be handled by Federally licensed dealers. They may be freely bought and sold across State lines by private parties, regardless of what cartridge they are chambered in. (However, State or local laws vary.)Q: Does sporterizing or re-chambering an antique end its exemption?