What are Curios and Relics and Do I Need a Type 03 FFL

Firearm Curios and Relics

The first time one of our team members saw an early style Swedish Mauser with a light hue French walnut, she knew she was in trouble.  Looking out for cracks through the recoil lug was one thing, but bringing a firearm from 1902 into the family raised all kinds of questions.  As one friend quipped, “Next thing you know, you’ll be getting your FFL in Firearm curios and relics.”


With summer being that infamous time that we find ourselves wandering in small towns with storefront, multi-generational dealers, you, too, may find yourself thinking maybe you’d like to expand your collection and wondering if there are any advantages to adding another FFL to your collection, as well.

On the one hand, if you already manage an FFL, you have a working familiarity with the essential structure of ATF requirements.  You know that there will be an application to complete, a license issued, and use of the license in FFL-to-FFL transfers, including interstate transfers.  You know that there will be requirements to maintain a book of acquisitions and dispositions, including individually itemized information from each firearm and concerning each transferee.

Chances are that just this one-paragraph reminder of the responsibilities of FFL holders means that some of you just dropped thoughts of picking up the FFL for curios and relics, even if you are eyeing a Russian capture rifle from the Eastern Front.

What are Curios and Relics and Do I Need a Type 03 FFL?

As per the ATF, “The principal advantage of a collector’s license is that a licensed collector can acquire curios or relics in interstate commerce.”

And more than 64,000 people around the country see that as a valuable advantage.  In the most recent listing of FFLs (1975 – 2013), the ATF showed the Type 03 FFL collector of curios and relics license as being the number one category of FFL.  Since 2008, the Type 03 FFL has out-paced the Type 01 FFL for dealers.  Both categories of FFL are substantially more prevalent than the next category, the FFL-07 manufacturer of firearms at just over 9,000 current licenses.

One reason for this popularity might be that the buyer of curios or relics tends towards collecting.  Take, for example, our team member who, upon going down the path of the WWI Swedish Mauser then wandered further down the path towards the WWII Soviet M1891/30 Moision-Nagant Rifle.  There may be a certain aspect of a favorite modern firearm that then starts the collector tumbling backwards into its historic antecedents, like the bolt action rifle.  Or perhaps a firearm is inherited and one starts reading up on it, only to then look for peer firearms.

So just what is the firearm “curio or relic?”

This is where the Type 03 FFL shows itself to be broader than you might have guessed.  This FFL is designed for three different categories of persons and firearms.  Here’s the regulatory provision that sets it out at 27 CFR 278.11:

  1. have been manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas thereof; or
  2. be certified by the curator of a municipal, state, or federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; or
  3. derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or from the fact of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.

You probably knew the first category of “over 50 years old” and the second category will be intuitive once read.  The third category is the one less frequently hitting our radar; it puts us into exotic models like cane guns.

One handy ATF publication to grab to feed your interest in this FFL is the “Firearms List of Curios or Relics,” which actually contains not only lists of various firearms pertinent to this conversation, but also includes all the statutory and regulatory references you could want in one place.  Published in 2007, the ATF website also has several updates to the original publication.  What’s equally nice is that the ATF is clear that it is not necessary for a particular firearm to be listed on the ATF’s C&R List.  “Firearms automatically attain C&R status when they are 50 years old.  Any firearm that is at least 50 years old, and in its original configuration, would qualify as a C&R firearm.”

So what are the two most important warnings to head about an FFL-03 license?

First, any and all restrictions pertinent to NFA firearms continue to apply, as do State and Local restrictions.  A firearm that requires special registration, even if a curio or relic, will continue to require that registration, even if you hold an FFL-03.

Second, an FFL-03 is prohibited from engaging in business as a dealer.  The FFL-03 is a collector’s license.  If you are going to engage in the business of selling firearms, you’ll find the dividing line is becoming one “who devotes time, attention, and labor to engaging in such activity as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit.”  While the FFL-03 can sell firearms out of the personal collection, various federal restrictions will apply to those limited and non-routine sales.

And as for our wide-eyed team member?  We left her somewhere in the aisle marked “Karabiner Model 1931 Swiss K31 7.5x55mm rifle.”  She does not have a company credit card.

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