48th Annual Colorado Gun Collectors Association Gun Show: No ordinary show
July 15, 2013
Saying the Colorado Gun Collectors Association Gun Show is just another gun show is like saying the Smithsonian Museum is just another museum or that Frederic Remington is just another artist.
On the weekend of May 18-19, over 1,000 tables of collectible guns, memorabilia and/or accessories filled over 140,000 square feet of space inside the Denver Merchandise Mart near 58th Avenue and I-25.
It was a spectacular event for any gun enthusiast, history buff or fan of the American west, and visitors should plan on spending an entire day just to scratch the surface of the remarkable show.
Not only were tables filled with collectibles for sale, there were also about 50 displays called, "Competitive Displays," set up in professional fashion to educate and impress visitors with rare, unique and historical items along with accompanying information and accoutrements.
The year's Best in Show winner of the judged competitive displays (judging is serious and based upon an extensive list of about 100 criteria) would earn a $1,000 cash prize, as well as an impressive bronze statue valued at about $4,500.
As a result, the entries were wide ranging and extraordinary.
"This is the finest display show in the country," said Lakewood, Colo., resident Warren Sellke, who has set up displays at the CGCA show for the last 16 years.
Sellke's display was an authentic revolutionary era Kentucky rifle, made by Jacob Dickert and in original condition, with accompanying provenance to its first owner, John Curry.
"The quality of the arms that you see here are not what you see in the rest of the gun shows around the country."
Others with experience at the show agreed.
"This is a unique show and is probably one of the top five shows in the United States for antique weapons," said Dave Vaughan, a retired U.S. Air Force major, who manned a display showing six of the rarest Colt 1911 Government Model pistols that were manufactured. "This is really a special place to come if you have older guns. You don't have the camo, you don't have the black rifles and sundry things (of modern gun shows).
"It's really a neat place."
"It's an old school gun show because of the exhibits; it is part educational and historical and is of a lot of interest," described George Caswell of Oklahoma-based Champlin Firearms, Inc., an industry veteran with a brick and mortar store. "It is an extremely high quality show (and) absolutely one of the top two shows west of the Mississippi River. Very few gun shows anymore will have the (competitive displays).
"Granted this is still called a 'gun show,' but it shouldn't be; this one should almost be like a museum exhibit."
The sheer volume of collectible firearms and memorabilia packing the venue was testament to the fact there was something for everyone at the show, even non-collectors.
"I tell people that I am not a gun collector or a sword collector; I am a history collector," said Bob Moulder of Northglenn, Colo.
Moulder stood beside his exhibit, titled Weapons & Equipment of the Civil War Navies (North and South), which included various swords, guns, accessories and ship models.
There was even a case displaying eating utensils recovered from a Confederate ship sunk in 1862.
"And this is one of the best quality shows in the country," he added. "Years ago, when I handled the advertising for the show, the tagline I came up with was 'museum quality displays that you will not see in a museum.'
"That is what makes it interesting."
Other than guns and historic items, visitors could also shop for a little bit of bling.
Scattered among the tables were vendors selling unique items anyone would be challenged to find in a mall, like the sterling silver jewelry hand crafted from antique china by B & B Sterling out of Michigan.
"My dad grew up doing collectible Winchesters, Remingtons, all those great kinds of things," explained a smiling Brenda Butters when asked about seeing her jewelry at a collectible gun show. "Then I married a man who does these kinds of shows and I traveled with him for probably 25 years, and I decided I needed something of my own.
"He had the tools and the knowledge and everything for me to do this, so I dove in full bore."
"Full bore" meant creating custom bracelets, necklaces, pendants, rings, etc., from antique sterling silver spoons and western-themed china (some that were turn-of-the-century), along with making the decision to head up the historical Western Antiques & Collectibles Show in Amarillo, Tex., in March 2014.
She and her spur making husband Randy and their craftsman daughter Bradie, create the exceptional jewelry that matches the historical moods of venues like the CGCA Gun Show.
"The joy for me is I go to the shop and anything I dream up in my head I go out and just experiment," she said about the one-of-a-kind items. "From what I see in my head to what I hold in my hands, it's me."
While the size, array and scope of the CGCA Gun Show was almost overwhelming, its purpose wasn't.
"(This show) is important from the standpoint of educating people, with our display program, to gun collecting," said Les Palmer, CGCA Gun Show chairman.
"All we ever hear about are AK-47's and assault rifles," continued Palmer with enthusiasm. "Arms are part of American history and there are guns in this room from the 18th century; so it is educational. And then, there is the camaraderie out in that room — old men that have been collecting for 60 years and young guys that have been collecting for 60 days.
"They all have a common bond; they love old guns or collectible guns. It is a neat environment and I am proud to be a part of it."
Asked to sum up the show for people who have not visited before, Palmer provided a quick reply.
"I think it's really kind of a show and tell," he said. "You've got to be here to feel the enthusiasm for the show. A person that truly isn't a gun collector needs to come and see what a collector has focused on and it is amazing."
"There is a good side to guns," added fellow CGCA member and former gun show chairman, Richard Smith, who owns and displays century-old South American Mauser rifles. "All most people see is the bad side, so just come down and buy a ticket and walk around. You'll see stuff you won't even see in museums. It comes out of the woodwork once a year and comes over here." ❖