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Understanding Gun Grades

How Gun Conditions are Rated

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If you have ever bought or considered buying a used gun, you may have seen or heard a reference to a "gun grade." Second only to supply and demand, this grade probably makes the biggest difference in values between one gun and another.

The problem with gun grading, though, is that there are multiple systems used. So you can’t judge the grade given to one gun using one system against a grade given to another gun using a different system.

Perhaps the most widely used grading system is the NRA system which is based on the overall condition of the weapon. The NRA’s system is broken down into two categories: modern guns and antique guns. Although the categories are both in the NRA grading system, the grades mean completely different things depending on the category in question.

Here are the grades given for modern firearms:

  • New – A gun given a grade of "new" looks just as it did when it left the factory and has never been sold at a retail store.
  • Perfect – A “perfect” gun is literally as good as new, although it may have been sold in a retail store.
  • Excellent-- An “excellent” rating means the gun appears to be in perfect condition but may have had minor use.
  • Very Good – A “very good” firearm is perfect mechanically but may have minor cosmetic blemishes.
  • Good--A rating of “good” indicates that the gun is in proper working condition but may show signs of wear.
  • Fair – A “fair” firearm is also in safe working condition but may require some minor maintenance.

These are the grades given for antique firearms:

  • Factory New--A “factory new” antique gun is as pristine as it was when it left the factory. It has all of its original parts and finish.
  • Excellent–An “excellent” antique firearm also has all of its original parts and at least 80% of its original finish. Aside from some finish wear, it is in flawless condition.
  • Fine–A firearm giving a rating of “fine” has all of its original parts and at least 30% of its original finish. It may have surface scratches on the wood.
  • Very Good–A “very good” rating indicates that the gun has all of its original parts but less than 30% of its original finish and the wood may show some wear. An antique gun with a rating of “very good” or less is not graded on its bore.
  • Good-- A “good” antique weapon may have had some minor parts replaced and the wood may be scratched or refinished. Any lettering is still legible and the gun will be in proper working order.
  • Fair--A “fair” gun may have had some major parts replaced and may still need some minor maintenance. If the gun is not currently in working order, it must be easily repaired to still fit into this grade.
  • Poor–An antique gun in “poor” condition may need a significant amount of work to restore it and is likely not in working condition.
In addition to the NRA’s grading system, another popular grading method is the percentage system. Used in the Blue Book of Gun Values, this grading method measures the percentage of original finish left on the gun. This can be very descriptive in terms of appearance but does not give a buyer an overall view of the gun’s condition.

In the end, a grade can only tell you so much about a gun. For collectors who simply want to display their guns, either grading system may be sufficient. For those who want to shoot their guns, there is more to consider than simply a grade. In either case, however, understanding the grading systems commonly used is a good place to start.

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