Displaying Firearms - By Ray Kling, Jr.
I find myself looking at my
collection with a feeling of great concern and thinking
“Somebody should have told me.” I was warned of the ‘habit
forming’ properties of alcohol and drugs, but nobody even hinted
that I could fall victim to a World War II Firearms addiction. A
smile takes over my face as I conclude, “I sure am glad nobody
In truth the condition has progressed
beyond a simple addiction to firearms collecting. It started
with an urge to make a connection with these artifacts of
history. Then the disease rapidly spread into an insatiable
quest for knowledge (with the requisite library of books from
the likes of Canfield, Cate, Kuleck, and Duff). Then without
warning the disorder became about something entirely different…
…people, fellow collectors, friends.
How it began…were did they come from…
A certain predisposition for this condition may be hereditary.
In my case it was passed from my father in the form of a
beautiful ac44 Walther P.38 with matching magazines and holster.
He had acquired it when I was a boy along with a collection of
coins and a couple of other firearms. When I had reached an
appropriate age, I opened a birthday gift from my father to find
this long coveted treasure was mine.
The gestation period of the addiction
from this first exposure was several years. When I completed
college I began to think of other interesting firearms my father
had owned when I was younger. I quickly concluded that I must
have an M1 Carbine. It was the gun of WWII movie heroes, army
surplus bargains, and stories my father told of tracers
inadvertently advertising his target practice one evening.
I headed off to several local gun
shows, often taking my father with me. We were surprised to find
a number of my father’s friends that we hadn’t seen in 10 or
more years were at the shows. On one of their tables I found the
prize I had been seeking. It was an Inland M1 Carbine in
Excellent condition except for the aftermarket stock, which
brought it down into my price range and was easily replaced with
a GI stock. Before long my father was hooked again and together
were regularly going to shows.
Diagnoses: Addicted to collecting
From this point my addiction grew rapidly. I was thrilled with
my new acquisition, but began to miss the hunt. Before long I
needed ‘another fix’. I reasoned that if I had an M1 Carbine I
should have an M1 Garand, and then Springfield 03A3, a German
98k, a Japanese Type 99, a British Enfield MkIV, an Italian
Carcano, and on and on it went. This is the stage in which you
find out how much your spouse really must love you.
Local gun shows and shops could no
longer supply my habit. OGCA meetings had become my primary
hunting grounds, supplemented by auctions, and a growing number
of contacts more than willing to help me get my next fix.
Sometimes I made smart purchases, at times I found bargains, and
frequently I was just lucky. Occasionally I made mistakes,
overpaid or bought something that wasn’t what it was supposed to
be, but this was rare. I found that most of people in this hobby
were honest and helpful, particularly those who were OGCA
I didn’t really “decide” I wanted a
rifle and pistol from every combatant nation of World War II,
the objective seemed to just establish itself. Each new addition
seemed only to point to the next obvious gap in the collection.
I wasn’t going to look for every type of firearm, or every
variation. I wanted the guns that the average soldier would look
at and say, “Yep, that’s what I carried in the war.” This
objective, and my budget, would help to focus my efforts. Rare
variations, sniper rifles, and class III arms weren’t going to
be on my shopping list (at least for now). Of course if I came
across a rare gem for the right price, like my 1941 Johnson, I
wasn’t going to pass it up, but priority would go to the rifles
and pistols that saw the most action.
If you buy a gun……buy a book.
By the time I had acquired examples of most of the well known
arms of WWII, my addiction had started to move into the quest
for knowledge stage. I had purchased books to learn more about
the values and variations of the firearms I owned (or wanted),
searched the internet, and interrogated dealers and collectors
for bits of information. At first the knowledge was just a means
to continue my mission. I “needed” to know what type of rifle
Poland used, did France use 35A & 35S pistols in WWII, and did
Luxemburg even have any arms of their own (still looking into
this one)? That was when I realized how much information there
was on some topics, and how little there was on others.
With the objective clearly
established I needed a seemingly simple set of information, a
list of WWII combatant nations and the arms they used. To my
surprise this was not readily available. Even most lists of WWII
combatant nations had obvious omissions. Books on military arms
tended to be either too broad, listing arms from various
periods, or too narrow, covering only certain types or nations.
This is not to say the books weren’t valuable. Editions like
Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, Cartridges of the
World, The Blue Book of Gun Values, Standard Catalog of
Firearms, and dozens of others were indispensable in my
research. Ultimately I would have to build my own list. Even
after several years I am still occasionally finding arms, and
even nations to add to my list.
Over time I was becoming pretty satisfied with my collection and
found I spent more time reading and talking about WWII firearms
then I did buying or trading them. I created a web site,
www.wwiifirearms.com, to share pictures and information on the
topic, and I was starting to think more about the OGCA display
shows. My wife and I set-up at our first OGCA Display Show in
2001. We didn’t have anything that would be called “rare” and
most of our 40 or so guns were of only average condition. Our
display was homemade by a guy that never took shop class (me),
and it showed. Even so it was a great experience.
For two days straight members and
guests came by in a steady stream. Many had similar interests
and would stay to talk or ask questions. Young kids, veterans,
and avid collectors alike were kind in complementing the display
and thanking us for bring it out. Even with a display that
didn’t compete in quality with many others at the show the
people made me proud of our display. They appreciated that not
everyone is interested in only the exotic and unfired guns. Some
people connected with these relatively inexpensive, well used,
artifacts of history as types of guns they owned and enjoyed. My
appreciation for my collection was being validated by those who
visited, and it felt great. Without my knowing my addiction was
becoming about the people.
The next OGCA display show was in 2003, this time I knew I
wanted to do something for the people that were coming to see
the display. We arranged the display tables so people could step
out of the aisle and spend time looking at the guns up close,
and we set-up computer terminals where visitors could look-up
information about the guns from the web site. Again the world
class exhibits of OGCA Display Show would offer plenty of
options for people to spend time looking at some fantastic
firearms. Still, many of them decided to spend few extra minutes
looking at our wall of relatively common firearms, and I loved
it. I talked to people who told me things about guns in my
collection I would have never known. People came back to report
that they had seen something I was missing for sale in the show.
Others went home and came back with guns they thought I might be
interested in. We had a great time, and filled a few holes in
Guns of National Matches, making
You meet so many great people while participating in OGCA
Display Shows it is hard to know what opportunities will come
about. In 2003 I was contacted by a fellow Display Show
participant, Jim O’Neil, about a unique opportunity. The
National Matches were about to celebrate 100 years of
marksmanship competition, and they were interested in putting
together a display of National Match firearms.
Jim had long been involved in
competitive shooting, and I was just starting to get into the
sport. Before I knew it a team of OGCA members, shooters, and
Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) employees was being
assembled to put together a display. We had so much fun we did
it twice, once for the National Matches and again for the NRA
National Convention (and OGCA meeting). The display has been
discussed in earlier newsletter articles. It was great and even
earned awards at the 2004 NRA convention, but for me the real
treasure was the people I met in the process.
I learned a ton from the display team
members and from all the OGCA members and directors that got
involved. They knew how to put something for everyone in a
display. They knew how to make a display look good for casual
observer, informative for serious enthusiast, and even appealing
to display show judges. I was trying my best to apply what I was
learning to my own display for the 2004 OGCA Display Show. One
thing I learned is that it is a lot more fun when you aren’t in
Our 2004 OGCA Display
This was a real family affair. My wife and my mother were my
chief designers and consultants, my father headed up research
and procurement, and my two year old son and I handled building
display components out in the barn each night. We came up with
bigger display signs, WWII style barracks lights, Eisenhower
D-Day letter handouts, and over 200 sand bags just to give it
the right look. Assembly at the display hall took almost nine
hours, but we were having a good time (except maybe mom who got
stuck filling sand bags with newspaper for hours).
The OGCA Display show offered some
unique experiences. Once again I had the most fun interacting
with all the members and visitors. I am not sure what got more
comments our collection of WWII firearms or all those sandbags
mom filled with newspaper. We had the opportunity to meet and
talk to General Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay during the first
atomic bomb raid on Japan. General Tibbets is one of the most
interesting people you will ever meet, and he delivered a great
talk at the annual OGCA banquet. It was very flattering to win
Member’s Choice and Best Educational awards, but I’d do it even
if they didn’t have awards.
2005 OGCA Display Show
As you might have guessed I’ll be back for the 2005 Display
Show. This time it will be something different, simpler, and
more about people. Whether you’re in the early stages of a .22
target rifle addiction, or fully involved in European sporting
arms dependency problem, I hope you’ll consider setting up a
display at this years show. You will have the opportunity to
meet other collectors, educate others about the arms that
interest you, likely learn a thing or two, and maybe even take
home some awards and cash prizes.