“I Found This Old Maxim Silencer…”

Since I posted my brief article on the original Maxim silencers, I’ve had more than a few people contact me saying that they have found one among the possessions of a deceased parent or grandparent. These folks are curious what the value of a Maxim silencer is, and are looking to sell it or learn more about the history behind them. Well, from the number of contacts I’ve had along these lines, it is clearly something that needs to be better addressed. I expect many of my regular readers are going to know what I’m about to explain, but I want to put this out there so that people searching on Google and other engines will find it.

So – the first thing that you need to know about Maxim silencers is that, like all other silencers (aka suppressors) today they are required to be registered with the BATF. The law requiring this took effect way back in 1934, and possession of an unregistered silencer is a federal felony. In addition, it is not legal to register an existing unregistered silencer – they must be registered when originally manufactured (or during the one registration amnesty that was granted in 1968).

The Maxim silencers were patented in 1909, before this law (the National Firearms Act) existed, and at that time they were cheap and unregulated. They were purchased via mail order, and cost a few dollars (exact cost depended on which model you wanted; they made them for .22s as well as centerfire rifles). They were stamped “Maxim Silencer”, but were not serial numbered – there was no reason to go to the expense of putting a serial number on such an item.

When the NFA passed in 1934, it put a $200 tax on the sale of a silencer. Given the cost of a Maxim at the time this was roughly a 4000% tax, and it ended the sale of Maxim silencers virtually outright. As you would expect, nobody was willing to pay this prohibitively exorbitant tax for one (which was the exact intent of the law), and the company stopped making them. People who already owned one were in theory required to register them within a grace period, but very few people did. Many people were not aware of the law, and law enforcement wasn’t particularly concerned about tracking them down at the time. So they continued to be used discreetly, or stuffed into the back of drawers of gun stuff and forgotten about.

Today, when one is found in an attic, the first question that needs to be answered is whether it was registered. If it was, there would have been a paper recording its model, serial number, owner’s information, and so on, and that paper would have a tax stamp on it. This is just like a postage stamp or excise tax stamp, issued to verify payment of the legally required tax on the item. The stamp will look like this:

NFA tax stamp

However, the chances of actually having this paper and stamp are slim. NFA item owners today are generally super paranoid about keeping their paperwork protected and accessible, because of the potential legal penalties for breaking even a technical aspect of the law – but 60+ years ago this wasn’t so much the case, and the papers have had a long time to get ruined by moths, water, mice, misplacing, and other things. So if you have no paper, the next thing to check is to see if a number has been engraved on the silencer. They were not originally numbered by the factory, so if your is not numbered, it is illegal today. The only ones with numbers stamped or engraved on them are ones that were registered.

If you have a number but no paperwork, you will need to contact ATF and try to work with them to get a replacement copy of the stamp and registration paper. This may be difficult if the owner is now deceased, but the executor of their estate should be able to have it transferred into their own name or the proper inheritor’s name (this would be a Form 5 transfer). If the registered owner is deceased and you are not in legal control of their estate, this step will be difficult if not impossible.

If your Maxim silencer is not numbered and you don’t have registration papers, it is considered contraband. ATF will tell you that it must be surrendered to them or other law enforcement to be destroyed, and this is legally accurate. It is also a real shame, as there are relatively few of these silencers still remaining. One legal alternative is to find a police department with a reference collection run by a person with an interest in history. Law enforcement agencies can keep contraband items like this in reference collections, and that is one way to prevent it from being destroyed. If you email me (admin@forgottenweapons.com) I would be happy to put you in contact with an agency in my area that will take in a Maxim silencer and keep it for ballistic and historical study.

Another option (technically illegal, since you are supposed to run down to the police office and surrender it immediately once you realize you have it) would be to find a local machine shop with a bandsaw, and have them slice it in half lengthwise. This would comply with the legal requirement of destruction (as long as they don’t catch you in possession before the process is complete), and it would result in having a pair of cutaway half-silencers suitable for display. The baffles inside a Maxim have a neat curved design, and I think a sectioned one would make a pretty cool display, framed in a shadow box or the like. (and if you do this and feel like sending me the other half, email me!)

The other option is stuffing it back into the attic intact, of course. But this is illegal.

I have not yet run across a Maxim silencer that is actually registered and legal, so I can’t give any good advice on what dollar value one would have. I have seen the packaging tubes (which are neat little metal tubes with threaded caps that were used to mail the silencers to buyers) sell for a couple hundred bucks, depending on condition. If you do actually have a legal one and want to sell it, I would recommend an auction, either online or though a reputable firearms auction house like Rock Island.


  1. Now that I think about it, the law forbidding contraband suppressors isn’t very enforceable. Even if a Maxim Silencer had been found in an attic, there would be no way to actually get a “search warrant” for it unless the house owner blabbed about it right in front of a cop. But even then, what if the device in question was rendered useless by corrosion due to poor maintenance? Would it still qualify as a suppressor or a useless accessory?

    How many assassinations are carried out by suppressed rifles anyway? Maxim Silencers were used for sporting rifles, not pistols! Hollywood gets it wrong again!

    • Andrew, The state of the suppressor is not considered. If not demilled, its a suppressor even if completely full of concrete. As far as the getting caught side… well usually its one of two things. Either something else happens, house catches fire, wife decides to divorce you…etc or like you said, someone has a big mouth. Then all the sudden ATF comes knocking. You can get 10 years in jail for it. So as much as I do hope they remain hidden, I could never suggest anyone do so.

      I do think there is a third option. I think it can be donated to a Museum. I know a lot of MGs are going this way. I don’t know all the ins and outs but I am pretty sure a Museum can take NFA items that can not be legally registered anymore.

      Of course back in the day the other way this was dealt with was a manufacturer or a person would submit a form to build a suppressor. Then they would mark the old suppressor with the new serial number like they just built it. While its not legal, once complete, its pretty hard to prove that is what was done. After a generation it would be almost impossible. Since you as an individual can still build a suppressor today, unlike a MG, I am sure it still goes on to some extent. I am not suggesting this to anyone, just stating that I am 99.9% sure its happened many times in the past or some people are so seriously skilled its unbelievable.

      • Isn’t it true that a suppressor is defined in the NFA as – roughly – a device that reduces the sound signature of a firearm?

        If it was literally inoperable, it would not be a suppressor, thus, because it would not meet the statutory definition of a suppressor.

        If it rusted so badly it completely fell apart or was in “one piece” but did not measurably reduce sound signature, it’s no longer a suppressor. Likewise if it was permanently inoperable due to being filled with concrete.

        (“Demilled” means only “demilitarized”; that is… rendered permanently inoperable.

        Thus, filling it with concrete should suffice just as well as cutting it apart.

        Sure, you could probably pick out the concrete … and you could also weld together one that was cut apart.

        When it’s less machine work to make a new one than to put it back together, that seems to satisfy BATFE; thus the demilled machinegun parts sets missing a few important inches of receiver.)

        • In short, no that is not correct. Just like dewatting a MG or plugging the barrel does not make it any less of a MG to the ATF.


          18 U.S.C., § 921(A)(24)

          The term “Firearm Silencer” or “Firearm Muffler” means any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for the use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication

          So as you see, even an incomplete pile of suppressor parts is a suppressor. Actually I believe the ATF has ruled even a single suppressor part to be a “suppressor” and thats why no one uses wipes anymore… since you can’t have spare parts.

          The term Demilled to the ATF means demilled to their spec, not yours. They have a whole set of standards that you must meet for it to be removed from the NFA according to the ATF. Thats why dewat MGs are still considered MGs to the ATF.

          Picking out the concrete is the exact reason why its still a suppressor. However welding it back together is considered manufacturing a new suppressor. Its a time and skill thing… anyone can pick out concrete. The ATF makes you destroy the NFA item to the point that it will take a skilled person considerable time to “repair it”.

          Most modern MG demills involve 3 torch cuts, not a missing receiver section. Usually the missing sections are for guns were its easier to do the first demill cut and then completely destroy or abandon overseas the remaining section.

          • Suppose I destroyed a machine-gun or suppressor by means of explosives… Would the remains still be illegal to own, since all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put them back together again?

            Incidentally, what would happen if I rigged the machine-gun to catastrophically self-destruct if it fired a single live round (thus killing the person who pulled the trigger)? And what would the ATF say if I ruined a suppressor with highly corrosive acid and then stuffed the remains with black powder, corked the “muzzle,” and then aesthetically fixed it to look like nobody messed with it?

          • Andrew, Yes if you blow it up, the mangled piece of steel that came back down out of the sky (assuming you did not blow it into space, in which case you are out of the US anyway) would still be an NFA item. Ground dug items are too even if they are pitted and rusted shut forever. We are talking about the organization that said a show string could be a MG if hooked up to a semi auto in a certain fashion…

  2. Everything you wrote about finding a Maxim suppressor is also true if you found a full-auto type (MG) firearm, say in the attic of an old house you purchased. Now, since you own (have possession) of the house you probably also now own the gun. The question then becomes, was/is the gun registered? Furthermore, you want to legally retain the firearm and someday shoot it. How do you determine if IT IS REGISTERED. I suggest that you DO NOT write directly to the BofATF&E (ATF), inquiring about your gun’s legal status. I’ve overheard, from folks in the know, that you will not get an answer from the ATF but maybe an unwelcome visit. It is better to engage a knowledgeable attorney to inquire to the item’s status and then go from there. I have seen an ATF arms room containing dozens of firearms, some were class III and very historical. The guns, I was told, would be destroyed once the adjudication process was complete.

  3. As I understand the “original intent” of the 1934 NFA (which, like many gun laws since, was largely a panic response to media hyperbole) the silencer portion was designed as an anti-poaching move, not to prevent assassinations. In 1934 most of America was still rural, mired in the Great Depression, and hunting was an every-day activity of most households. The silencer ban was to prevent Gramps from sticking an out-of-season deer in the larder during the aftermath of our last experiment with unfettered, unregulated free-market corporate capitalism. Mob hit men with silencers are much more a creation of movies, TV and print fiction than reality. In 25+ years in Houston I’ve read stories about locals getting murdered with just about everything I can think of (it’s been a while since we had a good trailer-park sword murder) but I cannot recall a single silencer murder.

    Enjoyed the reference to “police department with a reference collection.” Ummm… is that like the gun safe at a rural sheriff’s department? A friend who was a senior deputy (who wound up being sheriff himself some years later) at a rural county once showed me their “reference collection.” This was years before the rural-meth epidemic and deputies with full-autos were still years ahead in the public mind but they had a safe full of seized and surrendered weapons that they just kept around for…. ummm…. historical references. Not that any of the good ol’ boys in the department were the sort of bubbas who just loved to go out to the range with the grease gun and MP-40 that were turned into the department after they showed up among Grandpa’s WW2 stuff during the estate inventory. There was also an Ithaca Auto-Burglar in there with the WW2 bringbacks; only one I’ve ever held but I would not even consider firing one of those things with anything but the very lightest 20-gauge trap loads. Just seemed to be a real wrist-breaker of a grip design.

  4. A person that is in possession of an unregistered Maxim suppressor, can sell and ship the suppressor to a person from another country where it isn’t necessary to have a serial number on the suppressor to comply with the country’s laws (like Denmark in my case).
    It is still not legal to ship out of the US (as far as I know), but it is a better option than get it destroyed or just stuffing it back into the attic.

    • That would need some careful checking first

      I’ve heard horror stories [of dubious reliability] about people being detained for “exporting” scope rings.

      • Yes I agree with Keith, not a good idea for someone in the US. Exporting an illegal item will only cause 10 times the issues. If you are caught, I can just hear the news report suggesting you were shipping a suppressor to Denmark to assassinate some leading official…

        It might be fine for the guy on the other end but for the guy in the US, that is crazy stupid. Customs does look at what is in the packages…

        While they are mainly looking for high end optical scopes…etc, right now… a suppressor, even an old one would be jumped on if found!

  5. Thanks for the shout out! Yes, we’d love to get our hands on one of those. The closest we’ve been able to get so far is:

    1. Two times we’re sold a rare experimental U.S. Springfield Model 1905 bayonet for a Maxim Silencer-equipped Model 1903 Rifle
    More info and pic here: http://www.rockislandauction.com/viewitem/aid/58/lid/1910

    2. Bridgeport holster, badge, padlock and Maxim Silencer accessories
    More info and pic here: http://www.rockislandauction.com/viewitem/aid/1019/lid/4699

    We’ve sold a few silencers in our day, but apparently not that one, unless I’m searching our records incorrectly.

  6. i have permision to own an unlimited number of silencers and parts for them, i used to make them, before they were prohibited in denmark. this makes some things possible. i will happely help peaple in problems.
    if you need to keepe a silencer, just buy a small model engine, and make ½-20 unf thread on the exhaust

  7. Wow! So much effort to keep these little metal things off the hands of the public. Sounds more like a portable rocket launcher if it poses “that” much of a “threat”.

    And I’m also pretty sure all those petty criminals never ever managed to lay their hands on a suppressor once 1934 and this law came around… 😉

    • Most politicians and lawyers don’t know how to solve the “silencer and assault weapon” problem. If you don’t want people to get silencers or “assault weapons,” don’t emphasize them so much. After all, criminals didn’t start using overly cool guns until some dipstick started saying that the guns ought not to end up in criminal hands since movie crooks always seem to have impossibly lethal assault weapons at their disposal. Petty criminals don’t ever use “assault weapons” since the implements in question are too impractical to use for holding up stores or mugging pedestrians. Since when did ordinary people need tactical weapons anyway? Who advertised those things?

      Did you also know that violent video games do not directly contribute to school shootings? The violent game does not teach you how to kill. The violent game is a not-so-great way to relieve your frustration, since it lets you vent your stress on virtual objects. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO KILL PEOPLE IN A GAME! All that is happening is that the player is pointing and clicking (in the case of a first person shooter) or watching characters do awesome fight scenes (fighting games and some recent role-playing games in the fantasy genre). Our news media is really messed up with respect to gaming and shooting-sprees.

      • Interesting point about video games. I think they’re pretty weird, but it’s a free country (more of an expression than a reality, these days). Millions of kids play them and harm no one. The media made a big deal out of the video games played by the asshat in Newtown, CT. The AG’s report came out, and while he owned the same shoot-em-ups most of the local middle schoolers here have, the game he was obsessed with was — no joke — Dance Dance Revolution. (As the name suggests, it’s a dancing game, not exactly Bloodshed IV or Cop Killa or anything like that).

  8. Suppressor are on open sale in France for gun owners. If you need some old European firearms spare parts, we can make an exchange and save those pieces of history.

  9. A sidenote on law enforcement agencies and silencers.
    40 plus years ago I made a silencer to fit on a threaded Browning, 22 short, semi-auto for the local police department. They used it to dispatch “wermin” within the city limits.
    The retired Chief of Police, a classmate of mine, and I are the only living souls who know the source of this device.
    The local police department still uses the silencer equipted Browwning for its intended purpose and don’t seem to care if it is “legal”or not.
    Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

    • Doesn’t surprise me at all.

      However, one doesn’t want to encourage people to violate Caesar’s Decrees.. going down that road while expecting to be treated like the decent American citizens they were is what killed Vicki and Sam.

  10. Having built more legal suppressors than I can easily remember (with out my books) and as a collector, the thought of a piece history like this being chopped up is more than a little wrong. But, sadly the law is the silly law. The sad tales of XM14s and XM203s come to mind during my DOD gunsmithing days.

    Also, Rock Island Auction Company you people rock. I’m a happy customer of yours. Nice links too! Would have loved to add those to my Gun Room.

  11. @ IMBLITZVT entry at December 3rd, 3:51 PM:

    Dagnabbit! Darned ATF rules don’t take some technical issues into account! Suppose I screwed with the machine gun by removing the trigger assembly, bolt, and iron sight. Suppose after that I ruin the breech with acid and then smashed the receiver with a steam hammer. Suppose at the end of my sabotage I stuff the barrel with black powder and cork the muzzle and whatever is left of the chamber. Is the ruined machine gun still a machine gun?

    Suppose I ruin a suppressor by drilling into it crosswise. Suppose after that I pour acid into the suppressor and degrade it further by smashing it with a splitting maul. Suppose at the end of that, I stuff the suppressor with explosives and wrap it in duct tape. Is it still a suppressor?

  12. I don’t have an interest in silencers, and don’t any living relatives likely to have one in the attic in an old trunk, but it would be a pain to find one. The problem is that laws from the 1930’s took for granted that some sort of common sense existed. The modern government-state specializes in having no common sense. It seems that some of those laws ought to be updated to put in protections that were lost when common sense and decency went out of style.

    The NRA ought to have a congressman introduce a “Canadian/Finland Firearms standardization act” that would allow short barreled rifles (like Canada) and noise control items (like Finland). It is bizzare that cities don’t want shooting ranges because of the noise, and so the feds keep noise control devices from freely being available. It should also hold harmless anyone discovering prohibited items or possessing them unaware, e.g., the 90 year old widow whose GI husband brought back something prohibited, that she is unaware of, then she breaks her hip and some Barney Fife comes on the scene and recognizes it and in the end the Feds fine her, confiscate the house, etc. The sort of BS that King George would not have dared to pull on the colonists.

    I think the contention that the mobsters in the 1920’s did not use silencers is correct, I don’t recall seeing them in any historic photos or reading about them. People who used Tommy guns and BAR’s weren’t too concerned about noise. That that part if act was in regards to poaching makes sense.

    • Gangsters in the “Roaring Twenties” didn’t use Tommy Guns very much, either.

      Al Capone’s mob had exactly two. Which Al had obtained from the Chicago Police Department. (If you know Chicago, this doesn’t surprise you, I’m sure.)

      Dillinger had two as well. He stole them from the jail during his famous “gun carved from soap” breakout.

      Bonnie & Clyde? Nope. They had two cutdown BARs- stolen from a National Guard armory.

      Other than the FBI and a few police departments, the biggest users of the Thompson prior to WW2 were the United States Marine Corps (they found them useful in limited “police actions” like Nicaragua), and…. Warner Brothers, who bought twenty from Auto-Ordnance in 1926 to make gangster movies with.

      You can easily spot them in old movies because they have the military-type blank-firing adaptors attached to the Cutts compensator, instead of the internal pressure-peak plug that can’t be seen from the outside.

      In 1920, AO had Colt make 10,000 units, i.e. complete parts sets, of Thompson M1921s, and a further 8,000 or so M1928s in 1927-28.

      When the war broke out in ’39, they were very happy to sell the remaining unsold unis to Uncle Sam, most of which went to Britain under Lend-Lease.

      17,000 plus, altogether.

      Prior to the blitzkrieg, the Tommy Gun wasn’t what you would call a big seller, even before the NFA. The legendary ad showing a cowboy shooting rustlers with it was mainly an attempt to find some way to convince people it was actually useful for something. (SMG doctrine in the military was still in its infancy, of course.)

      It could be argued that the National Firearms Act of 1934 was “triggered” less by actual crime statistics than by Hollywood’s portrayal of criminals. Which puts it in the same category as the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban, which was mainly caused by the likes of Miami Vice and the remake of Scarface.

      It seems some things never change.



      • STUPID, STUPID, NFA! The backers of that thing didn’t learn common sense, did they? And as I said, “assault weapons” are too impractical for petty criminals. Too fiddly and complicated…

  13. Tommy guns were used in the St Valentine’s day massacre, which being an iconic moment in gangster history, probably fixed in the public mind that the Tommy Gun was a gangster weapon regardless of whatever the actual statistics. “Machine Gun Kelly” did use a Thompson. The ” Kansas City Massacre” also involved the criminal use of at least one machine gun, and left four law enforcement agents dead. But overall, then, as now, and as tomorrow no doubt, gangsters spend most if their time killing other gangsters and that is best done with a couple of quick shots from a pistol at very close range, either after “taking a ride” or near a crowd to disappear into. But there was certainly criminal use of machine guns that grabbed the headlines and news reels. A new law wasn’t the fix, a law, prohibition, was the source of the problem.

    The late 1980’s fixation on “assault weapons” was from the gun grabbers looking for something, anything, to ban after no-go attempts to ban “Saturday Night Specials” for decades. The Brady Bunch said in internal documents that the public would confuse them for machine guns. The net effect of that campaign was to tell every deinstitutionalized (or never institutionalized, these days) paranoid schizophrenic off their Thorazine that that was the magic gun to get, and faced with bans millions of AR’s have been sold to private citizens. Prior to the media/gun grabber obsession with them, semi-auto military looking rifles were just a niche interest of a few.

  14. The panic buying spree of the past year or so has had one positive effect: the reserve militia component of the Army of the United States has become better armed, a step closer to the Founding Father’s vision of what we should be.

  15. Two comments, one a bit of pedantry and one relative to the enforcement environment:

    1. taxes that exist not to raise revenue, but to deter or stop behavior, are called “Pigovian taxes” from the economist Alphonse Pigou. The NFA was meant to be an outright ban, cloaked as a confiscatory tax because the legislators of 1934 believed the 2nd Amendment prevented them from banning guns.

    Since then, the tax has become a trivial amount thanks to inflation, and the biggest deterrents to NFA ownership have become bureaucratic problems (delays of months) and arbitrary and capricious management and enforcement of NFA’s provisions. The Hughes Amendment in 1986 (you can thank the NRA) finally delivered the ban on machine guns that the 1934 Congress and courts wouldn’t attempt. NRA’s support for the ban was critical to Hughes’s success. So we have a Pigovian tax that did not meet its policy goal, and was replaced by an outright administrative ban instead.

    2. There is currently a media blitz about ATF’s fearless undercovers. You may have seen it in the usual papers that let ATF public affairs place stories. It’s not what I’m hearing from inside ATF and inside task forces with ATF agents on board. ATF’s prime focus is on “easy stats” and you get easy stats by pursuing technical violations, like Felon in Possession cases (even then, the AUSAs are getting ridiculous on the levels of proof they want, i.e. the felon’s DNA on the gun). That means anyone who finds something like this is a potential “easy stat”; he is at risk even if he surrenders it directly to police or ATF (maybe the most if he surrenders it to ATF). His call needs to be to an experienced firearms attorney if he finds such contraband. Let the attorney turn it in for an unnamed client, don’t go to jail for ten years.

    In ATF, actual undercovers have frequently been treated like crap. All levels of management consider them untrustworthy, and yet they’re the guys busting actual gang members in many cases. Not a priority. Your life will be easier, freer and quite possibly longer if no one at or above ASAC level at that agency knows you exist.

  16. “The other option is stuffing it back into the attic intact, of course. But this is illegal.”

    Oh noes! The horror of failing to comply with an unconstitutional law that has almost no chance of being enforced!

  17. Laws, Laws, Laws, 99% of all gun laws are against the law themselves. I get why people worry so much about them but personally I wouldnt register a damn thing just on sheer principle.

  18. OK, you addressed the legal ramifications, what of the technical? A quick description of how to break it down and service would be nice. Having had my hands on a De Lisle I can tell you proper maintenance is crucial, otherwise you end up with an ungainly and ineffective barrel shroud.

    • What service do you do? A lot of modern suppressor don’t even allow you to service them because other than 22LR suppressor most don’t need any service for a few life times? Are you shooting really dirty ammo? I have never done any service to my suppressor and its on a MG!

        • Maxim type suppressors you unscrew the 2 retaining nuts and pull the “guts” out and clean them.OR you screw off the front plate and pull the guts out and clean them. OR you unscrew the body from the barrel, remove the guts and clean them. Maxim Type Suppressor is not a specific description of an exact item. Maxim placed discs inside a tube, bottom edges touching, top edges touching. Slice it open and it looks like an Archimedian screw, which in fact the De Lisle was, one continuous piece of metal in a screw formation. The majority of Maxim types were not that design, most were discs held in place by parallel rods, and to open the can you either pulled the retaining nuts or unscrewed the front or back plate to remove the “guts”. It always comes back to guts.

      • Every suppressor I have handled could be broken down for cleaning/servicing. Carbon build up makes them useless in a hurry.

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