Gun Collecting: Hitting the Right Shows to Find Treasure
Those who collect vintage firearms swim in somewhat different circles than other gun owners.
FOR MOST SPORT SHOOTERS and hunters, the local gun shop is the best place to find the right firearm, while gun shows offer an opportunity to see a wide selection of offerings.
Then there is another breed of serious firearms enthusiast: the collector of historic small arms. These individuals—I’m one of them—have the same respect for the Second Amendment, but when it comes to the firearms they seek, they value different things than the average gun owner.
A typical gun show can certainly be a place to find treasure, but there are several notable shows that serious historic firearms aficionados shouldn’t miss. Here is a rundown of some of the best shows for historic small arms collectors in the U.S. throughout the year:
Show Of Shows (SOS)
Type of Collectible Guns: Military small arms and more
Show Dates: February 19-23, 2020
Location: Kentucky Expo Center, Louisville, KY
The Show of Shows is a military collectibles event, hosted by the Ohio Valley Military Society. It’s so big that it needs to have the word “show” in its name twice!
SOS is held each year at the end of February in Louisville, Kentucky and with nearly 2,000 tables, it attracts dealers and collectors from all over the world.
Now, this one is not a “gun show” in the remotest sense, but rather a military collectibles show—and that means there is everything from uniforms to helmets to medals and badges for sale, as well as daggers, military artwork and other collectibles. But militaries fight wars with guns, so this is the place to come for the highest quality small arms from the late 19th century to the modern day.
Here you’ll find fantastic offerings of M1 Garands, German 98Ks and more than a few Class III fully automatic machine guns for sale. And if you’re looking for parts to restore an old military firearm, there is simply no better show.
Las Vegas Antique Arms Show
Type of Collectible Guns: Antique firearms from every corner of the globe
Show Dates: February 28, 29 and March 1, 2020
Location: Las Vegas Westgate Resort and Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) – Las Vegas, Nevada
It is often said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but if you’re a collector of antique arms and have a whole lot of money what you find in Vegas can come home with you. Just know that you could probably drop more on a table at the Las Vegas Antique Arms Show than you’d drop at any gaming table in town.
To say that this show is “high end” in terms of firearms is a true understatement. Here is where you can find small arms from the Old West, Old World, and the Far East. You’ll find early Winchesters that cost more than a car, armor from Japan that was used centuries ago, and rare European armor better than what many museums have on display.
The Las Vegas Antique Arms Show was first started in 1962 by local gun collector and gun shop owner Harry Manny, and while it was overshadowed for many years by such events as the Great Western Gun & Knife Show, this is a show that is truly in a league of its own in terms of high quality firearms. It is now the longest continuous running event in Sin City.
In actuality it also isn’t just a gun show either, but has grown to become three marquee events in one: the Las Vegas Antique Arms Show, the International Sporting Arms Show, and the Custom Knife Makers Show with a total of more than 1,500 tables! It is normally held each January the weekend following SHOT Show, but will move to February for 2020.
The Baltimore Antique Arms Collectors Show
Type of Collectible Guns: Antique and Early American Long Guns, Arms and Armor
Show Dates: Third Weekend of March – March 21-22, 2020
Location: Maryland State Fairgrounds Cow Palace – Timonium, Maryland
While Maryland might not exactly be one of the most “gun friendly” states it the country these days, the “Old Line State” is home to one of the nation’s oldest and continuously running gun shows – it celebrated its 65th anniversary this year.
But to call the Baltimore Show, as it is typically called, just another gun show is a huge mistake; as this event has become one of the premier events for antique arms and armor.
Hosted by the Maryland Arms Collectors Association on the third weekend of March, this show features 1,000 tables of some truly notable firearms.
At this show you won’t find dealers offering SKS rifles, hunting supplies, military surplus or even any post-1898 handguns. Instead you can find weapons—long guns as well as swords, pikes and other melee arms—from the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War.
In addition to the items for sale this is also the place to come to take in the numerous “display” tables that always include something special – and past years have featured an impressive number of cannons, rare Winchesters and Colts.
Ohio Civil War & Artillery Show
Type of Collectible Guns: All types of military small arms with an emphasis on Civil War weapons
Show Dates: May 2 & 3, 2020
Location: Richland County Fairgrounds – Mansfield, Ohio
This is so much more than a gun show, but also so much more than a “Civil War” event.
For the past 43 years this show has steadily grown and today could best be described as a “Comic Con” for all things in military history.
At this show you’ll find Civil War re-enactors (of course) who mingle with re-enactors from the American Revolution, the War of 1812, World War I and World War II. In past years there have been attendees dressed out in Spanish Civil War garb (clearly they didn’t understand which Civil War) as well as even Roman Legionnaires and Indian Raj.
The show features an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to give the Gettysburg Address, and there are weekend-long cannon shoots and other small arms demonstrations, as well musical performances from the Chase Fife & Drum Corp and the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regimental band!
Beyond the activities, the Ohio Civil War and Artillery Show is also a collectible gun show spread across seven buildings with more than 750 tables!
This is a show where you can find Sharps and Spencer rifles of course, as well as Single Action Colt revolvers and even actual artillery for sale. There are plenty of high-end military small arms for sale, plus more ordnance, including cannon balls, that you’ll have difficulty finding anywhere outside a museum.
The Military Antique eXtravaganza (MAX Show)
Type of Collectibles Guns: Focus on World War II small arms
Show Dates: September 18-22, 2019; Sept. 16-20, 2020
Location: Monroeville Convention Center – Monroeville, Pennsylvania (2019); York Expo Center – York, Pennsylvania (2020)
This is the other big military collectibles show that is hosted by the Ohio Valley Military Society. The club acquired the show back in 2015 and has continued to expand what is now the longest-running 1,000 table military collectibles event in the country.
This is the show to find vintage German Luger pistols, Mauser rifles and other small arms from the Axis forces, but it also features plenty of Allied weapons, along with uniforms, flags and other high quality militaria.
This show has been running for 35 years, and for the past decade has called Monroeville, Pennsylvania (outside of Pittsburgh) home, but will move to York, Pennsylvania in 2020, where it is expected to further grow in scope and size.
Wherever it is hosted—it has been held in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Charlotte in past years—this is the show where the advanced collectors of military small arms come to meet, buy, sell and trade.
Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Gun Show
Type of Collectibles Guns: Everything you can imagine and more!
Show Dates: November 9 & 10, 2019; April 4 & 5, 2020
Location: Expo Square, Tulsa Fairgrounds – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Anyone who is used to the 200 table local gun show at the VFW Hall needs to experience Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Gun Show at least once. With 4,200 tables it is, hands down, the largest gun show anywhere, period.
In many cases, simply having a lot more tables doesn’t mean much, especially if it is just tables of flea market junk mixed with vendors selling fudge and beef jerky—but Joe Wanenmacher’s twice annual show brings out the best dealers and collectors from across the land.
Here Class III weapons are sold alongside cannons from the Far East, while you’re also likely to find late medieval armor and rare prototypes for sale. This is a show where collectors, hunters, sport shooters, competition shooters and even preppers can find plenty to buy.
Best of all, this show is held every April and November, offering double the opportunity to find that must-have gun.
If there is a downside to this show it’s the sheer size of it—plan on doing a lot of walking to take it all in. And if you can’t find it in Tulsa, that’s probably just because you didn’t look hard enough.