There are approximately 3,000 firearms on display at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. If you spent every minute of the 7.5 hours a day that the museum is open and tried to look at every gun on display, you’d only have, well, I’m not very good at math, but you wouldn’t have a whole lot of time.
To ease the burden of trying to take in everything in one day, here are (in no particular order) are my Top Five Guns of the NRA National Firearms Museum:
Parker’s Invincible Shotguns
OK, so this is actually three guns, but they’re all in one case and come as a package deal.
In 1922, Parker Brothers was celebrating the milestone of producing their 200,000th shotgun. They wanted that gun to be extra special, so they pulled out all the stops and created the “Invincible” grade shotgun.
At a time when you could buy a new car for $400, this grade of shotgun retailed for $1,250. Obviously, the guns were only available by special order. When production ceased seven years later, in 1929, only three had been made: two in 12 gauge and one in 16 gauge.
These shotguns are things of apparelled beauty, not to be missed when you visit.
Vampire Hunter’s Special
If you like Colt revolvers, silver-plating, ebony grips, exquisite engraving and a hauntingly good back story, the Vampire Hunter’s Special is must-see.
In addition to the list above, the Colt Detective Special snubby has a mirror, a wooden stake that screws into the cleaning rod, an oil bottle labeled “Holy Water,” and real silver bullets with carved faces of ghouls and vampires. All housed in a velvet-lined ebony casket-shaped case.
Made in the (dearly departed) Colt custom shop and engraved by Leonard Francolini, it’s a remarkable set. When delving into the history of the gun via factory letter, their historian plays along nicely: the records show the gun as having been ordered by a Dr. Van Helsing of Transylvania.
The 9/11 Revolver
On display in a velvet-lined case alongside a photograph and a patch: a mangled Smith & Wesson snubnose revolver. It may not look like much, but the story behind the gun makes it unique.
On September 11, 2001, this gun was strapped to the ankle of NYPD Officer Walter Weaver. Officer Weaver was one of the many brave men and women who rushed into the Twin Towers to help evacuate the victims after the terrorist attacks.
While in a stairwell on the sixth floor of the North Tower, the building collapsed on top of Weaver and countless others.
When Officer Weaver’s S&W was recovered, the serial number was still legible. The NYPD gave the gun to Weaver’s parents. They donated it to the National Firearms Museum. It’s worth a stop — and a moment of silence — when you visit the museum.
Annie Oakley’s Stevens Pistol
Annie Oakley was called “Little Miss Sure Shot” for her expert marksmanship. Her skills were so good that she toured the world as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Ms. Oakley could make astounding shots — while using basic, commonly available firearms. She didn’t need modified or embellished guns to make her shots, but she did own a number of one-off specials.
This .22 caliber pistol above features mother of pearl grips, a gold-plated frame, and fine engraving. It’s on display next to her plain-looking double barrel shotgun. The only special feature on the shotgun: an engraved plaque that notes the gun as having been given to Annie by Buffalo Bill himself.
Dirty Harry’s Model 29 .44 Magnum
Clint Eastwood wielded a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver chambered in .44 Magnum during his portrayal of Detective Harry Callahan in his classic Dirty Harry. The “Hollywood Guns” exhibit has the actual gun used in the film on display, alongside a replica of his police credentials.
Life on set wasn’t kind to the gun, so it was sent back to the factory to be refinished after filming was complete. The gun also bears an engraved plaque noting its history and presentation to director John Milius after filming had wrapped.
The Model 29 may not be the most powerful handgun in the world anymore, but it still is unquestionably one of the most iconic.
(All firearms courtesy NRA Museums)
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.