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From Time to Time… By R.L. Wilson
Photo credit: Christopher T. Wilson   R.L. Wilson was a noted freelance consultant, author, researcher, scholar, historian, and literary powerhouse who wrote on a wide variety of subject matter, including the broad fields of the Old West, firearms and engraving. His career began with intern positions at the Royal Armouries, H.M. Tower of London, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum, where he was appointed Curator of Firearms at the age of 23. A keen sportsman, Wilson has been on nine African safaris and on shooting trips worldwide.

Born in Minnesota, Wilson studied history and art as a scholarship student at Carleton College. A resident of Nevada (part time in San Francisco CA), he was author of over 50 books and over three hundred articles. Appearing initially in English editions, several titles are also in French, German, Italian and Japanese.

His The Colt Heritage (1979) is the only firearms-related work ever nominated for the American Book Award. The Peacemakers and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West (with Greg Martin) received the Director’s Award for Contributions to Western Material Culture, at the 32nd and 38th Annual Western Heritage Awards, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City (1993 and 1999). Additionally, his landmark The Book of Colt Firearms, originally printed and published in 1972, easily remains as the finest firearms reference book ever created, with over one million words of text – all done on an IBM Selectric typewriter!

One of Wilson's most recent projects was the landmark two-volume work, Magnificent Colts Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection, coauthored with Bob Lee. Another is being guest curator for the Nevada Museum of Art loan exhibition Art of the Tiffany Era, featuring arms from the Lee Collection on loan through May 20, 2012. His last book to appear in print during his lifetime was History and Art of the American Gun (originally titled Steel Canvas).

R.L. "Larry" Wilson, appropriately nicknamed "The Professor" by the late Robert M. Lee, passed away unexpectedly in his San Francisco apartment on Dec. 11, 2016.

Alfred DeJohn Maestro of Colt’s Custom Gun Shop (March 15th, 1924 - June 13th, 2013) - Part 1   
Alfred DeJohn Maestro of Colt’s Custom Gun Shop (March 15th, 1924 - June 13th, 2013) - Part 2   
Joseph A. Murphy, Ph.D Collector Nonpareil (January 19, 1944-July 23, 2013) - Part 1   
Joseph A. Murphy, Ph.D Collector Nonpareil (January 19, 1944-July 23, 2013) - Part 2   
Norm Flayderman A Life Lived Large in Arms and Militaria, and in So Much More (July 19, 1928- May 23, 2013) - Part 1   

Joseph A. Murphy, Ph.D Collector Nonpareil (January 19, 1944-July 23, 2013) - Part 2

Joe was the survivor and carried on with gusto. With an acute sense of humor, Joe relished telling of football teams like the Chicago Bears wearing Murphy company panty hose . . . particularly to keep warm during those frigid games in the frozen tundra off Lake Michigan. The L’eggs campaign of panty hose within the classic egg-shaped packaging was one of his many innovations.

Fruits from his self-made fortune were well spent, creating not only his arms and automobile collections, but also the spectacular Murphy home. A vacation residence in the Caribbean – and later in Florida - must have been equally striking, and places for the family to relax.

One of the features of the New Hope residence was the swimming pool complex. Inspired by classical architecture, there were Roman-bath style columns, murals, all the amenities – a grand structure rivaling anything one could see in Gatsbyesque Newport, Rhode Island, reflecting the grand era of the Gilded Age.

The Perfect Collector and Publisher

Joe Murphy’s Colt collection was perfect for what was needed as a “third volume” for the at-that-time-not-yet-in-print two volume The Colt Engraving Book. Delays in producing that work meant that Joe’s Fine Colts could be in print first. Being of equal page size and quality in printing and binding (the same printer was used, Kwong Fat, of Hong Kong and mainland China), we thus created Fine Colts as a key part of that complex, quite detailed set. With the approximately 250 pages of Fine Colts, it gave the accompanying The Colt Engraving Book project a total of 1,250 pages. The result: The largest in page size, number of volumes, and illustrations of any set of books done to date on Colts or on the subject of Colt engraving.

Dr. Joseph A. Murphy (left) and R.L. Wilson, author of the definitive Fine Colts – The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection, each holding treasures from the Murphy Collection. Image and caption courtesy of Fine Colts – The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection.

Working with Joe was a treat – his talented assistant Nancy Garvey serving as the contact and backup to make certain that everything ran smoothly. Processing with the printer in Hong Kong was facilitated by immediate Fed Ex shipments, readings of proofs, communication with the designer, Martin Moskof, organizing required Library of Congress paperwork, and the necessary ISBN number. The only snafu encountered was the numbering page, which was supposed to be printed and bound within the book, but ended as an insert. Joe was a good sport, and graciously signed every one of the 3,000 sheets, with the unique signature page designed and drawn by talented arms engraver and artist, Paul Lantuch.

Commissioning a Legendary Colt Inspired by Historical Precedents

So keen was Joe on having Fine Colts reflect the modern history of the Colt company - to complement the excellence of engraving dating back to the Paterson period – he commissioned a superb set of gold inlaid Third Model Dragoons. Rivaling the pistols commission by Samuel Colt in the mid-19th century, these were unveiled in style during a visit by Joe to the factory, where the set was viewed for the first time. Chapter XVII, “The Colt Custom Gun Shop c. 1966 – the Present,” features those magnificent pistols. On page 211 were photographs of a very happy Joe, with master engravers George Spring and Steve Kamyk, members of the Custom Shop, and other officials of the company, and even an image where comparisons were being made of Joe’s cased pair with a deluxe Third Model Dragoon made for Colt Chairman Donald Zilkha.

Innumerable Unforgettable Experiences

There were so many pleasant and unforgettable experiences in our friendship, not the least of which were several trips to New Hope in chartered flights set up by Joe, dinners at his favorite restaurants, meetings at NRA shows, and marketing of Fine Colts at a variety of firearm collector shows. Part of the pleasure was in the final proofing of every page.

Revealing of Joe’s kindly nature was his generosity with the book in its marketing over the years. Whenever I ran out of copies, he would kindly ship another box or two – but somehow he never billed me for a single one of these. Further, as a freelancer, there are times when one is confronted with the worst aspect of being freelance: it’s either feast or famine . . . as Norm Flayderman advised me in the late 1960s. Once Joe and I were at an NRA show, and – not asking me how things were going, instead he assumed that times were tough - he spontaneously handed me a generous present, which he fully knew would prove quite helpful.

Expressing Gratitude to the Generous and Dedicated Dr. Joe

In my preface to Fine Colts The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection, I closed that special page with the heartfelt statement:

“The author is grateful to Dr. Murphy for his enthusiastic cooperation and participation. He has kindly agreed to contribute the following preface to this extraordinary panorama of the art and craftsmanship, history, mechanics, adventure and romance so spectacularly associate with the saga of Colt firearms.”

Published in 1999, Fine Colts – The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection by R.L. Wilson remains the definitive publication on Dr. Joseph A. Murphy’s massive firearms collection. Image courtesy of S.P. Fjestad.

Typical of Joe’s generosity of spirit, he made sure the book recognized the many collectors who preceded his own dedication to Colts and to firearms of fine quality. He prefaced this listing of more than 50 devotees as follows: “My sincerest gratitude is extended to the former owners and collectors who have cherished the firearms presented in this book . . . .”

The Perfect Collector Was Also the Perfect Patron

Joe’s remarkable life fulfilled his innate quest for the American dream. He was blessed with a wonderful and supportive family, business success beyond imagination, and landmark achievements as a collector and student in all of his chosen passions. His automobile and firearms books are not only brimming with information, but also inspiring to others to document their own contributions in collecting.

In turn, we in antique and modern arms and automobiles are blessed to have enjoyed his friendship and energetic pursuit of excellence. And to have enjoyed the many fruits of his generosity and enthusiasm.

In our wishing Joe all the best on his last journey, we recognize that the Dr. Joseph A. Murphy legend will live on in the memory of all who knew him, and to an incalculable greater number through the innumerable projects to which he gave his whole-hearted, long-term support.

Godspeed to Dr. Joseph A. Murphy, Collector Nonpareil.

Our heartfelt condolences to Martha J. Wise Murphy, to daughter Katherine N. Riggs, sons Joseph P. Murphy and William T. Murphy, and to five grandchildren.

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