The Paper Armoury: Firearms
An article by Sean A. Flynt, Gordon Frye, and Patrick Kelly
Compiled and edited by Sean A. Flynt

Building a fine, thoughtfully-focused arms and armour library should be as important to the student of these artifacts as building a collection of modern replicas.

Why? Because books and articles:
  • Provide the most convenient and inexpensive means to compare original arms and armour to modern reproductions.
  • Explain the construction and use of arms and armour.
  • Provide the full historical context for the development of arms and armour.
  • Reveal a world of arms and armour dramatically broader in scope and more diverse than that available through reproductions or even through museums or private collections.
Our Paper Armoury series is intended to help readers identify the essential titles for a library on a given subject. This third installment of the series offers 20 wonderful titles on firearms, the weapons that drove edged weapons from the battlefield. The books describe that long and technologically impressive process, especially as it relates to the history of the United States of America.

These titles are among the best references on the subject, but our list certainly isn't exhaustive. We have selected the books reviewed here because they inspire and entertain us as well as they educate us. We return to them again and again for information and for the simple personal pleasures of good writing, evocative images and immersion in fascinating history.

Many of these books are decades-old classics, and have been reprinted by two or more publishers. In such cases, we have listed the most recent publisher and publication date to aid you in the search for your own copy. The bad news is that many of the titles reviewed here are now out of print. The good news is that all of the out-of-print titles are available on the used book market, many for less than $10 US. All of the links below will lead you to a source for a given title.

European and American Arms, c. 1100-1850
Claude Blair
B.T. Batsford, 1962

The distinguished arms and armour historian Claude Blair offers an amazingly detailed and concise overview of many weapon types, with special attention to firearms. His 32 page introduction to the subject compliments a visual catalog of over 400 photos of all types of firearms. Twenty-eight line drawings document both external and internal details of 14 types of gun lock. Excellent chapters and photos covering swords, staff weapons, arms decoration and other subjects provide helpful martial context for the firearms. Sean Flynt

The Treasury of the Gun
Harold L. Peterson
Golden Press, 1962

Long out of print, this book's 250 pages provide an excellent overview of the development of firearms, from the crude handgonnes of the middle ages to the cartridge firearms of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The text is accompanied by large color and black and white photos of many seldom-seen pieces. This book should be acquired by any student of firearms whenever it's found on the used market. Patrick Kelly

Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.
Diagram Group
St. Martin's Press, 1991

This inexpensive book covers just about every type of weapon imaginable, including firearms. Its 60 pages on the subject include obscure information about small arms theory and ammunition as well as detailed diagrams, measurement scales, photos and historic depictions of everything from the earliest medieval firearms through modern military rifles and machineguns. Sean Flynt

The Age of Firearms
Robert Held
Gun Digest Co., 1970

This densely packed and lavishly illustrated book is valuable not only for its detailed information on firearms from the medieval era through the 19th century, but also for its many reproductions of historic artwork related to those arms. These, along with photos and diagrams, do much to clarify the evolution of the gun. Used copies can readily be found for less than $7 US. Sean Flynt

Dudley Pope
Delacorte Press, 1965

A far-ranging study of firearms both great and small, from their earliest days to the modern era of automatic weapons and computer-aimed naval guns. Pope shows a remarkable ability to pinpoint certain times and places where the firearms in use played a pivotal role, but he also goes into some detail about the more unusual weapons that never made much headway, but are of interest nevertheless. Well illustrated with pictures of firearms seldom seen elsewhere. Gordon Frye

Weapons and Warfare of Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology and Tactics
Bert Hall
The John Hopkins University Press, 2001

In one of the best books on the subject, Hall goes into great detail on the economic, military and social development of weapons and warfare from the mid-14th Century on, focusing, of course, on firearms. The book includes fascinating discussions of the chemical and therefore practical properties of gunpowder as it was developed, as well as a fabulous chapter devoted to the ballistics of smoothbore weaponry, something for the most part ignored by historians, but vital to the understanding of why tactics evolved as they did. Hall also makes one of the best and most succinct arguments as to why heavy cavalry disappeared from the battlefield in the third quarter of the 16th Century, after having stood firm against cannon, pike and musket. His concluding chapters, comprised of a full discussion of the economics of late 16th and early 17th century armies, shed light on many of the more misunderstood aspects of the study of military history. Highly recommended! Gordon Frye

Scottish Firearms
Claude Blair and Robert Woosnam-Savage
Museum Restoration Service, 1994 (reprinted 1999)

This booklet features 65 illustrations on 52 pages and traces firearms in Scotland beginning with full-time production of cannon in the early 16th century. It includes many photographs of Scottish pistols and long guns, and provides detailed descriptions of both weapons. The authors give special attention to the various forms of the Scottish pistol, and a chapter by Woosnam-Savage details statistics of all known examples of Scottish long guns, of which only 28 survive. The book's three-page bibliography should be a good reference for those interested in these weapons. Chad Arnow

Arms and Armour in Colonial America, 1526-1783
Harold Peterson
Dover Publications, 2000

The reprint edition of this classic title provides a good introduction to firearms in North America from the 16th century through the War of Independence. The book's black and white photos are only mediocre but Peterson's text remains highly readable and includes extensive diagrams related to firearms technology. Be sure to read the reprint edition's preface by archaeologist Beverly Straube. This sheds light on Peterson's text and corrects some of his writing on the subject of the earliest colonial firearms. Sean Flynt

Kentucky Rifles & Pistols: 1750-1850
James R. Johnston
Golden Age Arms Company, 1976

This book's 270 pages provide a detailed photographic record of Kentucky long rifles and flintlock pistols of the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. The book does not focus on the historical development of these arms, but instead provides very large and detailed black and white photographs of rifles, patch boxes, gunlocks, and etc. Photos of other equipment such as powder horns, tomahawks and knives are also provided. This is a very good book for anyone interested in collecting and building arms of early North America. Patrick Kelly

Accouterments, Vols. I, II, III
James R. Johnston
Golden Age Arms Company, 1990

This three-volume set is much like Johnston's previous book, yet is taken to a much higher level of coverage. The basic topic of Kentucky rifles, pistols, and their accessories has been expanded into this photo-intensive set of volumes. A huge number of rifles and pistols are covered within, as well as tomahawks, powder horns, and hunting bags. All of the photographs are black and white yet are of excellent clarity, allowing the subtle details of the items to come forward. This set is an invaluable tool for anyone wishing to build replica firearms of this period, as well as collectors and researchers who wish to familiarize themselves with the various working styles of the gunsmiths of the American colonies and early frontier areas. Patrick Kelly

The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle
James R. Johnston
Golden Age Arms Company, 1990

This book's 374 pages provide a detailed, if somewhat dry and academic history of this distinctly American firearm. The book is filled with medium-quality black and white photographs and line drawings of period long rifles and pistols. Also covered is the production of gunpowder in colonial America, as well as a comprehensive listing of colonial gunsmiths of the period. While this book can't be considered a light read for an evening's pleasure it does provide an excellent informational resource. Patrick Kelly

Weapons of the American Revolution
Warren Moore
Promontory Press, 1967

This is an excellent source for information about the military firearms of late colonial America. The book features two full-length, black and white photos per item (right and left sides) for 82 pistols and 63 longarms. It presents18 photos of powder horns and other accoutrements, and catalogs swords of the period in much the same way it documents the firearms. Sean Flynt

Firearms of the American West, Vol. I, 1803-1865; Vol. II 1866-1894
Louis A. Garavaglia and Charles G. Worman
University Press of Colorado, 1998

One of the best-researched reference works on the subject. The authors combed through not only contemporary diaries and travel memoirs, but also used newspaper advertisements, published recollections and the vast records of the US Army Ordnance Department to produce this set of books. The volumes have extensive footnotes as well, which allows other researchers to dig into the original materials to further their own detailed studies. Hard to find any fault with, it has remained a standard tool for anyone interested in the subject, and is highly recommended. Gordon Frye

Frontier Pistols and Revolvers
Dominique Venner, Phillipe Fossat, Rudy Holst
BookSales Inc., 1997

Originally published in Spain in 1996, this English language reprint edition's 142 pages provide a reference for the development of percussion and cartridge firearms on the American frontier during the 19th and very early 20th century. While this book features many high quality color photographs, unfortunately it fails in regards to its text. There are several factual errors throughout, proving that the field of edged weapons is not alone in being filled with misconceptions. Still, the book has value as a photographic reference and should be considered if found for a decent price on the used market. Patrick Kelly

The History of Colt Firearms
Dean K. Boorman
The Lyons Press, 2001

The 128 pages of this book provide a good basic overview of Colt firearms and their development. While not as in-depth as other books on the subject it is still a worthwhile addition to a firearms library. It contains many color photographs of famous Colt firearms from both percussion and cartridge eras. Patrick Kelly

Colt, An American Legend: The official history of Colt firearms from 1836 to the present
R.L. Wilson
Abbeville Press, 1985

The 406 pages of this book are primarily focused on providing a photographic record of Colt's firearms. The book is filled with large, high-resolution color photographs that illustrate the history and development of Colt firearms from the original Patterson revolving pistol to the company's development circa 1985, when the book was originally published. This coffee table book, written by one of the leading authors in the field of collectable firearms, is an excellent addition to the library of any firearms enthusiast. Patrick Kelly

Colt's Single Action Army Revolver, The Legend, The Romance, The Rivals
"Doc" O'Meara
Krause Publications, 2000

Colt's Single Action Army, also known as the "Peacemaker", "Thumb buster", "Equalizer", and a host of other names, is perhaps the most recognizable firearm throughout the world. This book's 160 pages provide an interesting, if brief, overview of this famous revolver and its copies. Also discussed are some of Colt's rivals like Smith & Wesson, Remington, Merwin & Hulbert, and a few other lesser-known companies. The history of Colt's Patent Firearms Company is discussed, as well as Colt pistols owned by celebrities such as John Wayne and Tom Mix. Patrick Kelly

The History of Winchester Firearms
Dean K. Boorman
The Lyons Press, 2001

My comments regarding Boorman's Colt book apply to this volume as well. Written as part of a series, this book provides the same overview of Winchester firearms. While it should not be considered a definitive resource on the subject it is still a worthwhile addition to a firearms library. Patrick Kelly

Winchester: An American Legend
R.L. Wilson
Chartwell Books, 2005

At 404 pages this book provides an excellent companion to Wilson's previous work on Colt firearms. Winchester continues the photo-intensive approach of Wilson's other books. The text is somewhat minimal and basic, but the plethora of large color photographs make up for any deficiencies in the text. This book provides an excellent visual overview of the other "gun that won the west." Patrick Kelly

Packing Iron : Gun Leather of the Frontier West
Richard Rattenbury
ZON International Publishing, 1993

Another groundbreaking book, Packing Iron shows the development of the modern Western-style holster from its earliest incarnations as a saddle holster for military men, through the exponential increase in the popularity of the belt holster in the Gold Rush era due to its adaptation to Samuel Colt's invention, the Revolving Pistol. Rattenbury shows the development of the military holster and its use primarily by cavalrymen, along with some other leather accoutrements useful to the mounted soldier. In a second section he focuses on the holster as used by the civilian westerner. There are also discussions of the cartridge belt and its development, as well as of saddle scabbards and covers used in the West. Richly illustrated on high-quality paper, it's well worth the price just for looking at the pictures. There are, of course, a large number of excellent photographs of the guns the holsters served. Gordon Frye

About the Author
Sean Flynt is a writer and editor living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in Western arms and armour of all periods, but especially those of 16th through 18th century Britain and Colonial North America.

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