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So Much More than a Gun Show: The Baltimore Antique Arms Show

By: Peter Suciu

Maryland isn't exactly one of the most "gun friendly" states in the country, but it is home to the longest running gun show anywhere in the United States.

Yet to call the "Baltimore Show" a "gun show" is an understatement. It is actually among the very best antique arms collector events in the world and draws collectors from near and far.

Some History of the Event
The "Old Line State," which is famous for its blue crabs and horse racing, has played host to the annual March event for the past 65 years – literally a lifetime ago. The thousand-table event is hosted by the Maryland Arms Collectors Association and features vintage rifles, pre-1898 revolvers, armor, ethnographic pieces, and simply put, items you probably won't even find in most museums.

The Baltimore Show's roots go back to 1947 when a half-dozen antique arms collectors gathered on Baltimore's "antique row" and set out to form a club devoted to the history and appreciation of antique small arms and armor. This gathering grew into the Maryland Arms Collectors Association, and in 1955, the group held its first show in the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

As the annual event, which is now held the third weekend of March, grew in size, it literally outgrew its venues. The show moved to a local Armory and then to the Baltimore Convention Center before moving to its current home, the Cow Palace in the Maryland State Fairgrounds in the suburb of Timonium.

Quality over Quantity
Since 1993, the event has, in fact, been held in a building designed to exhibit cows, but the club pulls out all stops to make the hall accommodating for dealers, collectors, and other attendees. The Maryland Arms Collectors Association has had to deal with other "issues," including the state's draconian handgun laws, and as such, has a total and complete ban on the sale of all post-1898 handguns.

This isn't a show where attendees are likely to see tables of surplus SKS rifles, low-end sporting rifles, or "flea market" items that can be found at other gun shows around the country. The club has managed to maintain quality over quantity, and this is why the table count is in essence capped at the current 1,000 or so – to the officers of the Maryland Arms Collectors Association this show is "big enough," and more tables could mean the quality of items could suffer.

Given this fact, it is easy to see why dealers and collectors alike travel great distances to attend this show. It is one of those very special events for antique firearms collectors.

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Among the numerous displays was this impressive collection of Civil War firearms from Europe. While Springfields and Enfields dominated the battlefields, there were long guns from France, Prussia, and other parts of Europe.

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The Baltimore Show brings out the "big guns," such as this Confederate bronze "Napoleon" cannon. Few of these are even in museums, making this an extremely rare example.

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Benjamin Tyler Henry didn't invent the lever-action repeating rifle, but his Henry Rifle refined the design and served as the basis for all lever-action rifles to follow. Examples such as this one were used by the Union in the Civil War – it was favored for its greater firepower than the standard issue carbines. Later, the Henry Rifle was famously used by the Sioux and Cheyenne against U.S. Cavalry forces led by General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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The Baltimore Show has much more than guns; there are plenty of other small arms such as this collection of Moro blades from the Philippines.

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A display of the history of the "China Marines," who served in the Land of the Red Dragon – this included vintage hats, uniforms, and other items from the Far East.

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A pair of vintage powder horns – the top one is from the era of the War of 1812 (which has a notable significance to the city of Baltimore), and an even earlier one that dated to before the American Revolution.

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It isn't unusual to see a few re-enactors at the show. These men traveled from Minnesota to take part in the 65th Baltimore Show.

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Baltimore's connection to the nation's early past – from the Revolution to the War of 1812 – was apparent in this impressive display of early Continental Army uniforms.

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An impressive display of Haviland and Gunn airguns, which also offered the history of the company's founders Benjamin Haviland (1823-1920) and George P Gunn (1827-1906).

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"Modern armor" in the form of 20th century military helmets was a notable display at the show this year. This collection included "painted" helmets that featured camouflage, unit designation or "war art."

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Harpers Ferry M1806 Pistols were another notable display at this year's Baltimore Show and offered show attendees a preview of what the Harpers Ferry museum has to offer.

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While Baltimore may be "Back East" to those in the United States, the show included offers from the Far East, including this impressive set of Japanese samurai armor.

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at petersuciu@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.