At a party, c. 1975, on the Hudson River. Norm's long-time friend and hunting companion, Jack Malloy (c), is pictured with Peter Tillou (r), one of the most knowledgeable antique and art dealers in the world.
Spending even a few hours with Norm Flayderman was an adventure. A man of enormous energy, he came from generations of antiquarians, all of whom had distinguished themselves, primarily in antique furniture. His father had gone into Russia immediately following World War I - without a passport - seeking antiques. Dealer and collector relatives Philip and Benjamin both had major auction sales from their furniture holdings at galleries in New York (early 1930s). Norm’s mother was a bundle of energy. But Norm chose to specialize in what was a childhood fascination and became a lifelong passion: arms and militaria. The career he forged became as distinguished and accomplished as that of anyone who ever entered that field.
Flayderman’s calling of more than 60 years spanned an exciting period in arms collecting, art, and antiques. Increasingly, objects that had often been discarded from attics became treasures – eventually inspiring the highly popular and engaging PBS television series, Antiques Road Show.
The life’s profession of Norm Flayderman began with collecting as a child, surrounded by a variety of collectables in his parents’ home and their antique shop. But his future was interrupted during World War II, serving in the U.S. Navy, with the rather exotic specialty of aerial photography. He later became an officer in the U.S. Air Force and still later served as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, representing the Army and the Secretary at official business and functions. Building an internationally recognized business and reputation as an antiquarian and purveyor of arms and militaria was thus aided not only by family contacts but also through his own military service, quite rare in three different branches. A graduate of Boston University, Flayderman would also have the advantage of a college education, and beginning as a professional in photography.
Eventually all those factors would lead not only to dealing and collecting, and an active series of major evaluations and appraisals, but also to public service. Along the way he made many discoveries of important arms and artifacts, not the least of which was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Remington New Model Army cap and ball revolver, which Cody himself hailed as a pistol that “never failed me.”
When Life magazine’s May 14, 1956 issue ran a sensational photograph of a youthful antiquarian with a forest of American swords from the Philip Medicus Collection, the Flayderman name was given a solid boost of recognition on a national scale. The article was entitled, “A Hoard of Swords,” and Flayderman had just bought the entire collection for $20,000. He was then residing in Kennebunk, Maine, and Life said this was “the acquisition of a lifetime – the world’s largest collection of American swords.”
At center with shooting badges, the collage on Norm and Ruth used in Silk and Steel Women at Arms (page 222). Below is the collage tribute to Norm in The Paterson Colt Book, documenting several of the many Paterson Colts he owned over the years. Bottom center, with Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and the signed "Hat-In-The-Ring" insignia, a gift from the Medal of Honor winner and WWI Ace to his friend and appraiser of many years. Bottom right, on a camel with shotgun, on a shoot, likely in India or Africa. Above that, Norm with proclamation presented to him by Connecticut Governor Thomas J. Meskill, c. 1974, as Appraiser for State of Connecticut Weapons Collections. Top right, with trophy lion on safari. Second from top on left, with five Generals, at a function, believed to have been taken while on his duties as Aide to U.S. Secretary of the Army. Top center, in fatigues with U.S. Army troops on maneuvers; note Colt M16 rifles. Collage done by the writer for use in the foreword by Norm for the forthcoming Lock, Stock & Smoking Barrel, a work in progress.
Four years later, this writer was researching what became the book and exhibition, “Samuel Colt Presents,” for the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (1960-61). Flayderman was not only a lender of rare Colt revolvers for the show, but kindly offered wise counsel.
Over the years, Norm Flayderman probably helped more writers and researchers on arms books and articles than any other antiquarian of his generation. Always gracious and helpful, his depth of knowledge – and vast experience – were encyclopedic.
Personally and representing N. Flayderman & Co., the man whom Life recognized served as Staff Consultant to the Springfield Armory Museum (by appointment of the U.S. Army Corps of Ordnance), Arms Consultant to the Marine Corps Historical Center (Washington, D.C. and Quantico, Virginia), Arms Consultant by Legislative Act to the State of Connecticut for its Historic Weapons Collections, Member, Board of Overseers, U.S.S. Constitution Museum (Navy Yard, Boston MA), Fellow of the Company of Military Historians – and so much more. In 2012, The Maryland Arms Collectors honored Flayderman with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Having established N. Flayderman & Co. in 1952, his trademark catalogues first appeared in 1954. These packed-full-of-information publications had a run of some 45 years, with the array of material playfully identified by his lifelong friend (and in-law) John J. Malloy as “Flayderama.” The sheer energy and degree of knowledge required to author and publish approximately 118 consecutive editions of these catalogues is in itself monumental.
Though beginning his career from Kennebunk, Maine, most of these monographs came from the firm’s address in Greenwich, Connecticut, followed later from the sprawling N. Flayderman & Co. estate in New Milford – complete with authentic Wild West buffalos in the corral. Years later when he decided to move to a more temperate climate, operations headed to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. No less than eight semi-trucks were loaded up with papers, books, arms and militaria, and art and artifacts, for a move that required months.
Ever a student, Flayderman built a sizeable library and was always alert to new research and discoveries. He developed a publishing division, seeking works that would add to a growing wealth of knowledge in the field. His 1961 release of the Illustrated Catalogue of Arms and Military Goods – the Schuyler, Hartley and Graham catalogue of 1864 – was perfectly timed for the Civil War Centennial. Among several other titles he published were reprints of Major James E. Hicks' French Military Weapons 1717-1938 and the historic V.D. Stockbridge Digest of U.S. Patents Relating to Breech Loading and Magazine Small Arms, 1836-1873.
Norm Flayderman A Life Lived Large in Arms and Militaria, and in So Much More (July 19, 1928 - May 23, 2013) continues in Part 2