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If firearms collector Robert Petersen had donated just one of his rare guns to the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, it would probably have been a big enough event to warrant its own exhibition and publicity campaign. So the fact that the California hunter and shooting sportsmen handed more than 400 firearms for display was a major coup for the local museum affiliated with the National Rifle Association, said its director Jim Supica.

Museum staff has spent the last 18 months setting up a new gallery in the facility’s existing space on Waples Mill Road in Fairfax for Petersen’s guns. Staff said the new exhibit, which opened Oct. 8, ensures that the National Firearms Museum is now considered the best gun museum in the United States.

“Firearms enthusiasts will make a special trip just to see this. … This is the finest private gun collection in the country,” said Supica.

“The size of the collection is not nearly as exceptional as the quality of the collection. There are guns in here that are well into the six figures. You are talking FabergĂ© eggs here,” said Supica.

PETERSEN’S COLLECTION can be appreciated for a variety of reasons, including historical significance and artistic value, said the museum’s senior curator Phil Schreier.

It includes 10 large and two miniature Gatling guns, the precursor to the modern machine gun. Gatlings were mostly made in the late 1800s, according to the museum staff.

“Nowhere else in the world has this many in the same place. … They only come on the market every three years or so,” said Schreier.

Petersen also donated dozens of exceptional, high-end double barrel rifles that would typically have been used to hunt “big game” in Africa. These guns would often include fine engravings, including small drawings of elephants, rhinoceros and other animals in the gun. The very rich, particularly British and Indian royalty, often commissioned these firearms as gifts.

“No two are alike. They are custom-made to fit the individual and they can take years to make,” said Schreier.

Those in Petersen’s collection include a gun that was given to the Shah of Persia by King Edward in the early 20 century and a firearm commissioned to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles to Princess Diana, according to Schreier.

Petersen also commissioned these type of firearms for himself to use. For example, he had a gun made for each of his dogs, with a special engraving and picture of his pet drawn onto the firearms by an artist.

The guns of several other famous people have also made their way into the collection.

Petersen bought guns that Buffalo Bill gave to the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley as a gift. There is also a special gun intended for President John F. Kennedy with the presidential seal engraved into the side of it, though Kennedy died before the firearm could be given to him, said Supica.

Source: Julia O’Donoghue for Connection Newspapers.

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