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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 1

For years in the magical world of gun collecting, enthusiasts heard rumors about a quiet collector from the East – most often long before they ever heard that distinguished gentleman’s name. This mysterious individual had a wealth of fine guns – of all kinds – and had a Renoir painting in his gunroom. One also heard that he loved fine cars, and collected them, too; that he had a zest for life and enjoyed a vacation home in the Caribbean; and he had his security professional Herb with him at all times - and was always dressed like a gentleman. Eventually as that bigger-than-life personality Joe Murphy became public, we also learned that he was generous with causes . . . that was particularly true of the NRA, where he was appointed a coveted position on the Gun Collectors Committee, and created a special Gold Medal award for the finest antique arm displayed at the Annual Meetings, as well as making numerous other contributions.

Soon many in the arms field knew that the Murphy collection was quite broad-based, with excellent and rare European arms (among them the finest known cased set by artist/gunmaker Nicholas Noel Boutet), Kentucky rifles, U.S. martial arms, various rival makers to Colt, and was especially dedicated to the very best in Colt firearms.

The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Gun Room

How often does one visit a gunroom and view a masterpiece painting by Renoir, and a carefully selected array of superb arms representing master engravers, stockmakers, and gunmakers dating back centuries? To meet a collector to whom these beautiful and important objects were not looked upon primarily as investments, but as things of beauty and history and craftsmanship that represented the best that humanity could built by hand and (with the post-Industrial Revolution examples) by machine.

The late Dr. Joseph A. Murphy was very proud of his firearms collection, as can be seen in this image. The following statement is from R.L. Wilson’s Introduction to Fine Colts – The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection.
“The Murphy Collection , gun for gun, is the finest group of Colt firearms ever assembled, particularly featuring presentation arms, engraving by several craftsmen, and combinations of finishes, grips, casings, and accessories.”
Image courtesy of Nancy Garvey.

However, it was not through the Colts that I met the dynamic Joe – though there was a fleeting glimpse of him as an exhibitor at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in the mid-1990s. Our meeting was when he decided the time had come to do a book on his firearms collection. Publication of the Dennis Adler book, In Search of Excellence The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Automobile Collection, had been completed, and the always-energetic Joe was brimming with ideas on how to make what came to be known as the “Joe Murphy Colt Book” special.

Wanting to Do Justice to Fine Colts

From the outset, Joe wanted this book to be “done right.” Sparing no expense, he organized an airplane to fly to Connecticut, picking up photographer G. Allan Brown and myself. Joe personally welcomed us at an airport near his New Hope, Pennsylvania home, and we quickly became immersed in the Joseph A. Murphy Collections. The plural must be used since before beginning photography and the compiling of information, we were given the grand tour of the strikingly beautiful Murphy estate.

The collection room itself was completely hidden from view. One could access it only through a secret paneled and rotating wall system. But prior to all that, Joe escorted us throughout the gorgeous house, beautifully appointed in every respect – and as most striking estates, the first stop was a stunning kitchen. Martha J. Wise Murphy was the ultimate wife of an advanced collector. Of great humor, she offered encouragement to Joe and understood his many passions. Both were justifiably proud of the Horatio Alger saga of returning from the Vietnam War, having served in frontline combat with the Marines, and faced on discharge with the challenge of forging a career following that bitterly contested war. Joe was among the many service men and women who had to confront an all-too-often hostile public back on the civilian front.

Dedication to Fine Colt Firearms and Joe’s Sheer Joy of Collecting

A large and robust man, no one who tried to be critical of the role of veterans from the Vietnam conflict got a pass from Joe. His front line experiences were worthy of a book, and his patriotism and sincerity as an American was central to his character. We proudly included photographs of Joe on the front in the introduction to Fine Colts. Page v was a collage of just some of Joe’s life, and served also as a dedication of the book to:

Joseph J. Murphy, Sr.,
My father, my friend and fellow gun collector
Joseph P. Murphy, Esq.
my son, my best friend,
and fellow hunter and gun collector.

Collage showing three generations of the Murphy family of Philadelphia. At center, Joseph A. Murphy, Sr. in his uniform as a Pennsylvania State Trooper, circa 1924. Serving in the State Police during the Prohibition era, he entered the business world thereafter. At lower center, Joseph A. Murphy Sr. with his unit in training during World War I, standing at far right. At lower left, young Joe Jr. with his father, circa 1948. At center right, young Joseph P. Murphy with his cap pistol, circa 1974; now a litigating attorney in Pittsburgh. Service pictures of Joe Jr., both in basic training at Camp Pendleton, California, and during combat service in Vietnam. Image and caption courtesy of Fine Colts – The Dr. Joseph A. Murphy Collection.

Joe Murphy’s Legendary Prowess as a Businessman

Besides the fascination and enjoyment of guns and collecting that was inherited from his father, Joe was endowed with a business acumen that reminds one of Colonel Samuel Colt. Joe’s entrepreneurial wizardry was in quite another field – panty hose. The story, as told to me by Joe, was that he and a partner developed that business with the kind of relationship on which American financial dreams of success are so often based. Their gentleman’s agreement was that if something happened to one of the partners, the other would inherit ownership of the company, and carry on the business.

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

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