Applying for a Curio & Relics License

Applying for a Curio & Relics License

I’m a sucker for Ruger single-­action revolvers, particularly of the Bisley variety. A friend tipped me off to a Single-­Six chambered in .32 Harrington & Richardson (H&R) Magnum at auction. The fact that it was one of a handful built for members of the Ruger Collector’s Association in 1986 made it even more attractive. To me, these guns are beautiful and highly functional. It was time that this one come live with me. I placed my last-­minute bid and waited, somewhat impatiently, for the result. When the gavel fell, my bid was the winner.

Ordinarily, the agonizing anticipation of getting my hands on a new gun would be delayed further by a visit to my local Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer, but not in this case. You see, 18 months ago I applied for and received a Collector of Curios and Relics (C&R) license from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). This license, better known as a “C&R,” was part of the 1968 Gun Control Act and is a great tool for those of us who love old guns.

Unlike other firearms, C&R guns can be shipped directly to the buyer with no additional paperwork or fee beyond a logbook entry. Federal regulations define C&R firearms as “those which are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons.” In other words, collectible guns.

There are two ways for a firearm to become C&R eligible. The first is simple: If a firearm was manufactured more than 50 years ago, it qualifies as a C&R. Fifty years ago puts eligible guns at 1970. Nearly all of the classic firearms of the 19th-­ and 20th-­centuries fit the bill: Colt Single Actions, Smith & Wesson’s Hand-­Ejectors, pre-­’64 Winchester Model 70s, and most side-­by-­side shotguns meet the definition.


Just because a firearm hasn’t turned 50 doesn’t mean that it is not C&R eligible, though. Firearms that have been certified as “of museum interest” are eligible, as are any guns “which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.” Many of the firearms in the latter category are listed by name and serial number range in the C&R list, published by BATFE and published on their website (atf.gov/firearms/curios-relics), but this list is not exhaustive.


A C&R license is obtained by filling out an application and submitting a $30 fee. Licenses are issued for a 3-year period and the process is similar to completing a ATF Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record form for a firearm purchase. Unlike other FFLs, a C&R application does not require a photograph or fingerprints, but the form makes it clear that this is not a license to conduct business. Qualifying firearms are recorded in a bound book that the licensee maintains control of. Unlike a dealer’s log, when a C&R license lapses, the book is not sent to BATFE and can be destroyed.

If you love classic firearms, a C&R license may simplify your life without all of the hurdles in obtaining a traditional FFL. The application is simple, the $30 fee is low and approval times are fast. This minimally intrusive and underutilized tool is a boon for legitimate collectors that ends up saving time, money and a trip to the gun store.

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