Back in September, Virginia Military Institute broke word that they were planning on showcasing a storied collection of antique guns estimated to be worth millions.
The collection came to VMI back in 1988 after the death of famed gun collector Henry Stewart, a VMI class of 1935 alumni who was ironically moving the collection into the school at the time of his passing. Never before displayed in its entirety, this bequest and its now probable exhibition at a newly renovated Jackson Memorial Hall on VMI campus has left other likely benefactors beating their fists. The Smithsonian Institute and the National Rifle Association have both expressed interest in Stewart’s gun collection over the years.
And rightfully so, because to any history buff’s ears this collection sounds like the Holy Grail. Stewart acquired most of the 800 guns in his collection while on the road as a promoter of kitchen appliances and he was able to get his hands on some real finds at what often turned out to be unlikely locations throughout the lower forty-eight. Though just the tip of the iceberg, his collection features 28 extremely rare Colt’s Paterson model pistols, a 17th-century matchlock revolver from India, a .44-caliber rifle owned by 1844 Mexican President Valentin Canalizo that hand delivered to him by Sam Colt and, the jewel in the crown, an air rifle that many specialists believe Meriwether Lewis had on his shoulder on his trek to the Pacific in 1803.
To serious collectors, Stewart ‘s name is spoken with more than a hint of reverence and he has earned the title among these communities as the, “Dean of American Collectors”. He is mentioned in innumerable volumes of firearms literature and on more than one occasion contributed his own writing on gun history. He also once served as the president of the American Society of Arms Collectors.
Stewart always intended on donating his collection to the VMI Museum even as other museums began to invest their efforts in securing Stewart’s extensive library of guns. Assuredly they have found a worthy home among current VMI cadet.
Henry Stewart 19th-Century Antique Firearm Collection began in October and will continue in the months and presumably years ahead. For information on tickets, directions or for any other questions contact VMI.
(All photographs courtesy of My Lil’ Rotten)