How an Ex CIA Agent Built a Fortune Selling Small Arms to the World

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hunters lodge interarms interarmco advertisement

[Samuel] Cummings didn’t make a massive fortune just by shuffling arms from one conflict zone to another. His real innovation was discovering there was a massive market among Americans for military surplus guns.

In the 1960s, American manufacturers such as Winchester and Remington made fine rifles—but at $100–$150 new, they were comparatively expensive. Interarms started a mail-order catalog, ‘Hunters Lodge,’ that sold some military surplus rifles for as little as $9.95 (about $80 today, adjusting for inflation). They were literally marketed as “throwaway guns” a hunter could abandon in the woods after bagging his deer. It was the domestic demand for guns that caused his warehouses in Alexandria [Virginia] to reach peak capacity.

Also of interest is how his guns arrived in Alexandria in the first place. When Cummings started buying up warehouses in the only non-union port on the East Coast, there was just one other major company using the port: The Washington Post. Cummings struck a deal with the same Finnish shipping line that brought the paper its newsprint to also pick up his arms shipments. For years, the Post subsidized an unholy percentage of the world’s small arms traffic.

Interarms’ commercial peak ended in 1968, when Congress, prodded by domestic gun manufacturers upset over their lost market share, passed a law prohibiting the import of military surplus guns. (It didn’t help that Lee Harvey Oswald had assassinated JFK with a cheap mail-order Italian rifle.)

Fortunately for Cummings, by then he also had a firm grip on the international arms trade. He was eagerly sought out for his ability to seemingly conjure weapons out of thin air. When the Sudanese ceremonial camel corps needed new lances, he just happened to have some World War I–era German lances made of blue steel in an Alexandria warehouse.

— Mark Hemingway in The All-American Arms Dealer

38 COMMENTS

  1. “When Cummings started buying up warehouses in the only non-union port on the East Coast, there was just one other major company using the port: The Washington Post. Cummings struck a deal with the same Finnish shipping line that brought the paper its newsprint to also pick up his arms shipments. For years, the {Washington} Post subsidized an unholy percentage of the world’s small arms traffic.”

    Now *that* warms the sub-cockle region of my cold, black heart. Leftist propaganda scum inadvertently paying cold, hard, US currency out of their pocket to put guns in American citizen’s hands at a bargain price… 😉

  2. I remember seeing these ads but didn’t see anything in them I was interested at the time. Might be different now.

    There was also the minor issue of no money.

  3. An interesting article. Yes, a little light in info, but still neat. I met him once at the SHOT Show; and I have studied Samuel Cummings over the years. He and other people like Sig Shore, Val Forgett, Milton Klein and others brought a lot of iron back into the good ‘ol USofA.

    A side story: Remember the Argentine DGFM FMAP 1911’s? Sig Shore (Centennial Arms) imported roughly 27,000 of these and basically beat Sam Cummings by 2 miles, 2 minutes and 2 bucks! He told me that his “General” that he palm greased had more clout than Sam’s General! This happened all the time.

    Here is a little background on Sam and his company and pursuits:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/polo/polo1286.htm

    https://www.thehighroad.org/index.php?threads/what-ever-happend-to-interarms.715267/

    In Wiki, we learn that his daughter got locked up for voluntary manslaughter:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Cummings

    In the industry, he was not really revered. Think about it: the new gun manufacturers wanted us to buy their new guns and the hell with the surplus stuff.

    Strictly speculating, I will bet that the movie Lord of War was very loosely based on a little bit of Sam Cummings.

  4. I fondly remember this place. In 1966 my father took me the the store/warehouse located on the Alexandria waterfront. He was going to buy me a bolt action .22, but they were out of the model I wanted. The owner took my dad and I back into one of the storerooms, and found me an Ithaca single shot, with pretty wood and a gold trigger. Still have it. Dad told a few years later of the owners previous employment.

  5. “Congress, prodded by domestic gun manufacturers upset over their lost market share, passed a law prohibiting the import of military surplus guns.”

    Names? Eh, that was before the internet forums. Springfield Armory will have to stay lonely in the dog house.

  6. Those prices for a p08……. this hurts to see how inexpensively these were back then…..I will take 2 of everything listed on that sale ad….

    • I have some old gun books where similar adds showed Colt SA Army 45s for under 5 bux.
      My Father bought a 6.5 Japanese “Arisaka” sniper rifle for 12 bux at GI 1200 many years ago. I was still a kid then, and it was in a 55 gal. barrel with many others..
      It’s all numbers matching with cleaning rod. After some recent research I find it’s the 221st one of it kind that has been found and documented.This via a guy who wrote several books on the Arisakas. ( I documented it with//via him). It’s worth much more today…..much, much more…To top it all off the barrel is in great condition and it’s fully shootable.

  7. Interesting article and look at those prices! 20 bucks for a Unique .32 and 18 bucks for a Ruby. I bought a couple each Ruby’s and Uniques maybe 6 or so years ago, some at antique shows and they cost quite a bit more than $20. Now it’s hard to even find them at all. For those that don’t know, they are similar to Colt’s 1903, fun, but not as good as the 1903.

  8. Lol at pols “protecting” American businesses.

    Kind of like pols protecting kids by regulating cartoons, music and games in the 90s and now every 8 year old has gangbang and beheading videos in the palm of their hand 24/7.

    It’s money. It’s always money. Until you have enough money then it’s all sick Epstein shit.

    • yeah but the beheadings and decapitations are done by members of the “religion of peace”, so you’re a “racist” and an “islamophobe” for complaining about it!

    • Interesting…there a parallels everywhere especially in the non-firearm antique world. Oh for an old-timey machine😏

    • It was never illegal, except for the countries America chooses to sanction. Nothing has changed.
      What I want to know is why aren’t foreign imports of ammunition available.
      Well I do know, however conspiracy theories have no value.

  9. Cool article. Seems like there’s a movie about a guy doing something similar in the 1980’s and 90’s. Funny how repetitive some things are.

    I’ll also note though that that averaged 804% inflation in the last ~55 years has a lot to do with why the entire country is on the ropes at this point.

  10. The Left is always complaining that the US spends to much money on guns. Well that is true. Civilians spend more money on guns than the US government does. And American civilians spend more money on guns than many foreign governments spend to arm their own military. We are the only country with the second amendment. So it makes sense that we would be buying more guns than any nation on earth.

    I take pride in that.

  11. The GCA of 1968 did NOT stop the importation of surplus arms. I stopped the importation of machine guns for civilians and small & cheap “Saturday night special” handguns. What it did stop was his direct sale mail-order guns to his customers & set up the FFL dealer licensing system we have today. Lots of great cheap surplus guns were imported in the 1980’s & 1990’s by his company Interarms IAC and SOG, Century, samco, cherries, PW arms & others

  12. Once I got my driver’s license I was a regular at Interarms. I remember the guy in charge (Cummings?) asking me what I was looking for – I said military stuff he said we got plenty of that. The string of warehouses in Alexandria looked like a stiff wind would knock them over.
    Still looking for military stuff.

  13. While I was stationed at Ft. Belvoir, 1957-59, I moonlighted weekends at Hunters Lodge, assembling a wide assortment of handguns that had been imported as parts (the duty on parts was less than assembled guns). I got paid in merchandise. Hog heaven!

  14. That looks very similar to an old shotgun news catalog! I love buying things out of that catalog, my SKS rifle was $110, 2,000 rounds of ammo was just over $100!

  15. My first centerfire rifle, a sporterized Mauser 98 in 30/06 from Sears was an Interarms import. I was 16 years old at the time.

  16. afterwards he continued to import new guns. I have a Interarms marked Walther PPK/S 380. and I remember the ads in the gun magazines. oh but if only I had the guns we see here in good condition. especially the Lugers.

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