Old tips gun the presidential pistol?

Author:Love, Jon
 
FREE EXCERPT

Dad bought them in the 40s, before collecting antique guns became unpopular. "Every one of them holds a story," he said. "They anchor us to the past." I didn't know at the time how true that would be. Dad's guns were muzzle loading pistols from the 18th and 19th century. He kept them in a display case and friends would tell him they were too valuable to leave exposed. "What good are they squirreled away?" Dad said. "I bought them to look at, to share."

My brother and I were teenagers when Dad told me he had left the guns to us in his will. We were to divide them by each choosing one piece at a time. First choice would be decided by a coin toss. In 1990, Dad had the guns appraised so he could include them on his homeowner's policy. Replacement value was set at $12,000. "I thought it would be more," Dad said. Dad lived to be 86, and following instructions in his will, we met at his house "after the funeral, arranged the guns on the dining table and the family gathered around to watch.

"Heads," my brother called. The coin bounced on the table, rolled and came to rest face up. "Heads," he said again, triumphant. He chooses a late 18th century French cavalry pistol. Next, I reached for the Nock Officers pistol. The Nock, with its cherry stock and browned barrel had always been my favorite. My brother picked a French dueler, then I the Model 1842, and so it went, each choosing in turn until the entire collection had been divided.

Famous?

When we got the guns home, my wife skimmed the letter of appraisal. The Neck was described as an officers pistol from 1790, all original, with "WHH" engraved on a brass nameplate at the wrist of the stock. "Probably officer's initials," the appraisal read.

"What if the officer was famous," my wife said.

"The gun would be worth a lot of money," I said.

"How much?"

"I don't know, $50,000 to $100,000 maybe?"

She picked up the Webster's and turned to a section at the rear of the book while I studied the name plate. The letters were in old English scroll and I had passed over them as simply being a filigree design. "Here he is," my wife said. "Here who is?" I said.

"Someone famous," she said. "William Henry Harrison, Ninth President of the United States." Could it be tree? It's possible, I thought, and spent days at the library and on the phone to experts trying to find out.

A Fighting President

Harrison was a fighting man and had need of a good pistol. Eighteen years old in 1791, he joined the Army under General "Mad Anthony" Wayne....

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