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:
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.