by Ron Norman
At a local gun show recently, I was asked a question about how long I had been collecting antique guns. I answered, “Over 60 years!” Before they left, I asked them if they had time for me to tell them the true story about my first antique gun. They said they would like to hear it. So, I thought I would share it with our Military Trader readers, as well. Here is the true story:
In 1948, my family owned an office supply business in Sarasota, Florida. As a youngster, I would go to the store after school and help out. At the time, I had also started collecting military items which were pretty widely available from WWII.
Within a few blocks of our store were several antique shops that I would visit and where, sometimes, I would find some nice things. On one particular day, Mr. Gavin, the owner of Gavin’s Antiques, told me he had just gotten in something he thought I would like. He pulled out a US Model 1836 pistol. It had been found on the ground in the town. He offered it to me for $12. Well, I had to have it. Since Mr. Gavin knew and liked me, he let me pay a dollar down and the balance over the next month or two.
I was one happy kid to have that gun — even though one side of the wood stock was all rotted out, and it had been converted from flint to percussion. It was still a neat, old gun.
I went to work on it. Ifilled the rotted stock with plastic wood and stained it the best I could. I did a pretty fair job for a ten-year-old.
From my trips to the library, I learned that the pistol had been US arsenal-converted from flintlock to percussion. The lock plate had also been replaced by some previous owner. Itcould have be done for use by the Indians in the last battle of the Seminole Indian War which took place about half a mile away from where it was found or possibly, even a Confederate soldier.
Meanwhile, I played Little League Baseball. I was always good enough to make the All-Star Team which was made up from all the local teams. I became friends with one of my fellow All-Star team members. He came over to my home to visit. While there, I showed him my antique pistol. He was impressed. After telling him what it was, I put it away in my dresser bottom drawer where I kept my collectibles.
About two weeks later, I went to pull it out to show to another friend and it was gone! Needless to say, I suspected my All-Star friend. I asked about him with some of the other people who knew him. They said he was always bragging about stealing gloves and equipment from the local sporting goods stores, but no one saw or heard about the gun. Regardless, I knew that he had to be the thief — but I could not prove it.
About 35 years later, I was now the owner of the family’s office supply business. On the wall behind my checkout counter, I would hang an old gun and sword with a sign that I collected them and wanted to buy them.
One of my newer customers, Bob Schmidt, was the office manager of an electronics firm. He mentioned that he was also a collector, but after our discussions, we found our interests were very different. What he had did not interest me.
About a year later, Bob told me that he was going into competitive pistol shooting and would be selling his collection to purchase some new, expensive pistols. He ran an ad in the paper and another collector friend went to his home and purchased a few guns. My friendcalled me and told me that Bob had an old, rough military pistol which I might want for parts since I now collected US military pistols and had a very fine collection. So, the next time Bob came into the store, I asked him if he still had the old pistol. He said he still had it, buthaving seen my collection on display at the gun shows, he didn’t think I would want it because it was so rough.
Since Bob lived in town, the thought occurred to me that it might have been my stolen gun from so many years earlier. After I described my old gun, his comments were, “It sounds like your gun, but my folks gave it to me on my 16th birthday in Atlantic City, New Jersey, so I would doubt it.” I forgot about it.
A few months later, Bob came into the store. While there, he mentioned he still had the old pistol. If I wanted it for parts, he would sell it to me for ten dollars. It sounded good to me, so I gave him the ten dollars and arranged to pick it up on my way home that evening.
After I got to his home, he handed me the pistol — I was totally astonished to see my stolen pistol again! I could not believe it!
Bob’s folks confirmed the story about buying it at a gun shop in New Jersey as a birthday present. I took my knife out and showed them where I had put the plastic wood and pointed out some other things I did. They were also truly astonished.
It is still a mystery as to how the pistol came to be sold in New Jersey. Bob had just moved down to Sarasota a year before to look after his parents who were then quite elderly. Unknown to him, he brought back my pistol that had been missing for 35 years!