4. Milwaukee Public Museum, Nunnemacher Arms Collection, Milwaukee, WI 3,500 guns, 150 on display (4%). Established in 1901

Milwaukee Public Museum, Nunnemacher Arms Collection Exterior
Milwaukee Public Museum, Nunnemacher Arms Collection Case


With 4.5 million objects, the MPM is not a gun museum per se, but it is a wide ranging natural and human history museum, curated through scores of intriguing life-scene dioramas. One hundred and fifty guns are exhibited, and a further 3,350 guns are preserved in storage, a collection that includes some immensely rare firearms.

The Museum’s philosophical position on firearms is that they are tools and objects of technology rather than ‘presentation’ firearms of social rank. The firearms are set in various cultural and ecological habitats. In order to preserve the authenticity of the dioramas, firearms are shown without labels, which is tantalizing for gun collectors. The dioramas include a rack of nine military matchlocks (Japanese Armory); a rack containing three shotguns and a rare revolving rifle (European Village); two nineteenth century flintlock Springfield muskets, complete with newly cast ball and paper cartridges (Tribute to Survival); five Indian owned Wheeler, Henry and Colt rifles, some decorated with nails or repaired with rawhide and wire (Indian Arms); and ten pepperbox pistols and Colt revolvers used for personal protection by prospectors (North America’s Great Basin). Temporary exhibits showcase a different aspect of arms every few years.

The collection in storage chronicles the world-wide development of firearms between 1650-1940, with a focus on 19th century American military and sporting arms. Highlights include Schuetzen rifles, air rifles, and the early repeating and percussion rifles of Cookson, Ferguson, Forsyth and Jennings, After WWI, the French Government donated a trove of military long and hand guns, as well as machineguns.

The detailed 1928 Metschl catalog is the only account of the collection, and over the past ninety years many guns have been subtracted and added. The museum requires scholars to request a particular gun, and does not permit inspection of up-to-date catalogs. It has plans for a publically accessible online database and finding aid.

Metschl, John, ‘The Rudolph J. Nummemacher Collection of Projectile Arms’, 2 vols., Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, Vol 9, May 25, 1928