Firearms collections drenched in history
Gun collections tell many stories
It might be the gun that Teddy Roosevelt had in his hand during the famous charge up San Juan Hill. Or maybe the firearms carried by the Roughriders. Perhaps it is muzzleloaders used in the Revolutionary War or the Great War of the Rebellion. Maybe it is a standard carry for soldiers in World War I or II. It just might be the “gun that won the West.” The list of favorites for gun collectors is as lengthy as history is long.
Firearms collectors sometimes concentrate on a particular manufacturer of a firearm, or a certain era. Some gun collectors like old Remington or Winchester rifles. Others prefer early-day shotguns. For Bruce Gjorven, Williston, the item of choice to collect is a sidearm – 1911 pistols.
The year 1911 is when the famed sidearm made its debut. It came about because the U.S. military defined a need for a pistol that had excellent stopping power on the battlefield. The 1911 Automatic Colt Pistol, or ACP, .45 caliber, filled the requirement perfectly. The pistol was so well designed and reliable that it remained the choice of the U.S. military from 1911-1986.
Although the military eventually replaced 1911’s with a 9mm handgun, the 1911 platform remains an extremely popular firearm for both military and recreational shooters today. The impressive history of service for 1911 pistols is an obvious attraction for collectors. Gjorven has about 130 1911’s in his personal collection and maintains a fascination for the firearm.
“I like the .45’s, the 1911’s,” said Gjorven from behind a display table at the recent Minot Rifle and Pistol Club gun show held at the State Fair Center. “The license plate on our Tahoe is 1911A1, my pickup is 1911A2 and our Cadillac is 1911A3.”
Gjorven had a recent addition to his collection on display in Minot. It was a set of six limited edition 1911 pistols commissioned to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 101st Airborne Division. From the time of landing on the beaches at Normandy in 1944, the famed Screaming Eagles have been known as the “tip of the spear” for the U.S. Army. Everywhere the 101st has been, 1911 pistols have been there.
“They commissioned a special edition,” said Gjorven when asked about the 101st Airborne commemorative 1911’s in his display. “They made 101 of three different finishes. These are all three plus the proofs. That’s the only ones there will be. Of the three on one side there will only be 100 of them because I have 101.”
When asked how he was able to acquire the specially engraved, limited edition 1911’s, Gjorven responded, “They look pretty and I know the guy that’s selling them.”
Production of the 101st Airborne 1911’s began in the spring of 2017. Gjorven said he completed his collection of them in August of 2017, just a few weeks prior to putting them on display in Minot. He added some 101st Airborne patches and even an engraved bracelet to his display, helping to remind those looking at the display of the historical significance of the 1911 and its importance to the 101st Airborne Division.
Those wonderful wheel guns
A collector’s penchant for revolvers, or wheel guns, likely goes back as far as the revered Colt .45. The Colt .45 was a reliable revolver developed for the United States Army in 1873 but almost immediately became the preferred choice of handguns for law enforcement, citizens throughout the West and those inclined to a life of crime.
Unlike automatic pistols in which a magazine containing several cartridges is inserted into the handle and “automatically” cycle into the firing chamber with each trigger pull, revolvers are firearms in which bullets are inserted into a “revolving” cylinder. With each pull of the trigger, or cocking of the hammer, the cylinder revolves so that a live cartridge moves into firing position.
Throughout history revolvers have been known for their functionality. Because revolvers have fewer parts and require less lubrication than automatic pistols, they have earned a reputation among many shooters who consider them to be more reliable than their automatic cousins. Not lost in the debate among collectors is the unquestioned history of the revolver. They are legendary firearms, from the famed “Peacemaker” of the Old West to those concealed in the holsters of lawmen for decades.
One man who has an appreciation for revolvers is Don Williams of Minot. Williams has a very interesting collection of his favorite handguns, Smith & Wesson revolvers. Smith & Wesson has long been known for producing reliable revolvers under their M&P stamp, which stands for Military and Police. Smith & Wesson M&P versions of handguns remain among the most popular today for service pistols, competition shooters and handgun enthusiasts.
Among the Smith & Wesson revolvers in Williams’ collection is a .38 caliber M&P that saw service with the New York City police department.
“When I look at that revolver I think, what has this thing seen? Who has it been with?” said Williams.
Fortunately for Williams, he was able to learn some of the history of his collectible revolver after providing Smith & Wesson with the serial number of the firearm.
“We have researched your Smith & Wesson .38 Military & Police, Post World War II Long Action, caliber .38 S&W Special, New York City Police Contract, revolver in company records which indicates that your handgun was shipped from our factory on October 7, 1946, and picked up at the factory by the New York City Police Department. Records indicate that this was a shipment of 500 units with 4 inch barrel lengths, blue finishes and checkered walnut square butt grips,” wrote Smith & Wesson.
The historical information supplied by Smith & Wesson to Williams is the kind much coveted by collectors. It is what helps make a collection interesting. It also led Williams to an opportunity to learn even more about the revolver in his collection. He struck up a correspondence with a man who served as historian for the New York City Police Department. Using numbers stamped on the revolver, Williams’ contact came through with a few interesting facts about the handgun.
“It was issued to the officer in 1947 and he carried it his entire career with the New York Police Department,” said Williams. “When he retired he gave it to his son who as also a policeman in New York, a city cop.”
In 1974 the gun was sent to Smith & Wesson to be completely refurbished. Williams purchased the gun from a consignment shop in New York City.
“It is like holding a piece of history,” remarked Williams. “A lot of these guns nowadays, they don’t have any soul. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, they just don’t do anything for me. The old stuff feels good, smells good and looks good.”
Williams has a few other interesting firearms from the past in his collection. One is a Model 98 Mauser rifle with unusual markings. Mausers were the primary service rifle carried by German soldiers in World War II.
“The one I’ve got is one that the Czechoslovakians made. It has a German eagle stamped on it and also the Star of David stamped on it,” said Williams.
After WWII the Israeli Defense Forces formed and purchased Mauser rifles, which were readily available in sufficient numbers. They had them reworked to their specifications. Subsequently the rifles were acceptance stamped with the Star of David, remarkably close to the existing German eagle. It makes for a very odd appearance.
“I kind of like the history of the stuff, basically period pieces that make you think about places and times that are long gone,” said Williams. “When you start collecting this stuff, the more you get into it, you find information you didn’t know anything about.”