3. National Firearms Collection of the Smithsonian, Washington, DC ±7,000 guns, ±150 on display (2%). Established in 1876

National Firearms Collection of the Smithsonian Exterior
National Firearms Collection of the Smithsonian Case


Akin to the US National Archive, the National Firearms Collection is the repository of America’s historic firearms, and is probably the most prestigious collection in the country. It includes patent models, military projects, key examples of production arms, guns of historic figures, exhibition guns and presentation guns. Although one of America’s finest and largest firearm collections, is it also the most invisible. The exhibition was dismantled in 1988 and put in storage, and now has only 150 guns on display scattered throughout the many branches of the Smithsonian Institution. The collection is currently stored in the ‘Gun Room’ within the National Museum of American History, and is only accessible to scholars and dignitaries.

The strengths of the collection cover a wide range of topics and includes unique prototype models sent to the U.S. Patent Office prior to 1888, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 3. There are firearms belonging to historic figures and Civil War heroes. Private donations of immensely rare guns have been made, such as Collier’s first flintlock revolver with serial number 1. The collection contains firearms from military sources, such as a PPSh-41 presented by Joseph Stalin to Eric Johnston, the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. It has exhibition guns from World Fairs decorated by Tiffany’s, as well as presentation arms, embellished by the finest engravers of the 19th century.

The collection includes small arms ammunition of all types and ages. Several sectionalized cartridge boards from the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 are included, as well as the 1960’s MBA Girojet Rocket and the Dardick Tround. At this time, the Gun Room can be visited via video on the Smithsonian Channel, and there are no plans to put the Nation’s historic collection online. 1% of the collection is on loan to the Cody Firearms Museum.

Bowman, H.W., Famous Guns from the Smithsonian Collection, New York, (1966)
The National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution)