7. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arms and Armor Department, New York City. NY 540 firearms, 160 on display (30%). Established in 1912

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arms and Armor Department Exterior
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arms and Armor Department Case


The guns on display at the Met are of unimpeachable quality and they are the best examples that could be acquired through donation or purchase. The museum’s focus is on decorated firearms and extensive galleries display European, Japanese, Islamic and American firearms from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The museum has no guns that were manufactured or decorated after around 1900.

Of the European and American firearms on display, almost every maker of note is represented, excepting a weakness in English firearms, so highlights depend upon the viewer’s interests. There are princely hunting rifles of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe, gilded French flintlocks made by Le Page and Boutet in the French Empire ‘Napoleonic’ style, as well as arms displayed at the great Expositions of mid-nineteenth century Europe. American machine-made guns include the finest engraved gold inlaid Colt Third Model Dragoon, presented to the Sultan of Turkey, and a sumptuous gold inlaid Colt Model 1862 Police Revolver, whose grip was decorated by John Quincy Adams Ward. The collection boasts five Smith & Wesson Number 3 revolvers and a Winchester 94, all embellished by Tiffany & Co. A display of Colt revolvers shows the history of Col. Colt’s unique machine-embellished cylinders, embossed with roll-died hunting and martial scenes, as well as unembellished Colts, noted for the aesthetics of their clean proto-modernist forms.

It is little appreciated that the Met was a research laboratory for the U.S. Army and developed fifteen experimental WWI helmets culminating in the M1 helmet made famous by GIs in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Extraordinary care has gone into the display cabinets, and many double sided glass cases permit very close inspection of both sides of some guns. The texts are excellent, but points are lost for poor navigation within the cases. Discrete numbers beside each firearm would solve this.

Pyhrr, S.W., Of Arms and Men: Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan 1912-2012, New York, (2015)
Dean, Bashford, Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, New York, (1977)