THE PHILOSOPHY OF COLLECTING ARMS
By Reiner Daehnhardt (President , Port Academy of Antique Arms)
Why is it that some people turn away in disgust at the sight of a gun whilst others take delight in picking it up and admiring it? Is it because some are lovers of peace and others have fighting tendencies? No! Nothing of the sort! We are often surprised to see acts of violence practised by the kindest and most unsuspecting persons! It is also a well-known fact all over the world that arms collectors belong to one of the groups of people with the lowest rates of crimes caused with guns. One thing has nothing to do with the other. It is all a question of character and how people approach life. What distinguishes man from beast? Our early ancestors were animals that were hunted and eaten by predators. We learned to run away, climb a tree and hide in a cave in order to survive. One day, when one of these “pre-men” was cornered by a stronger animal, he picked up a stone and hit his attacker with all his strength. Looking at the dead animal before him and feeling the moment of joy at having survived, he also realised that it was due to his attitude of creating a weapon in a moment of despair. Our hands are no matches for the claws of an attacking bear. Our hands are ridiculous in comparison with those of a tiger. What made the difference? The use of our brain.
Soon man exchanged the place of hunted for that of the hunter. We found that particularly sharp pointed stones have a stronger impact than just any stone. So we started to look for them, and having difficulties in finding appropriate ones we started to make them ourselves. By fastening them to a club or long pole with cord we invested the axe and the lance. This evolution took over a half a million years. The bow and arrow was invented a mere 12 000 years ago bringing with it new hunting and warfare techniques. The hunter could hide in a tree to shoot his arrows downward at his target. He could also be on one side of a narrow watercourse and cause heavy damages to animals or enemy on the other bank.
The main idea was stay out of reach of the adversary’s weapons. To inflict wounds without being wounded. If we look at intercontinental missile of today, isn’t it just the evolution of the ancestral idea of shooting your arrow across the lake? Who became leaders among men? Naturally they were the strongest, the best hunters or the most victorious of warriors. The weapon became the most important item created by men in any culture or period of time. Man has always put his knowledge to maximum use in the making of weapons, applying all technical achievements with his reach to obtain the best possible results.
So it is by studying arms and the way they were used that man is able to learn the most about himself. All of his genius of creativity was put to use to produce better weapons than those of his neighbours. Very soon arms were not just a regular companion but also an object of pride and beauty.
Those who were capable of producing the best, the finest, the most admirable arms became highly regarded and well rewarded by the rulers of the time.
So arms became more than just weapons. They became works of art and even objects of worship in certain cases.
When we look at the bow found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and discover that it was just as good as the famous Turkish bows of the 15th and 16th centuries and for which our modern Olympics bows are no match, we are astonished by so much knowledge that has been “lost”.
When we hold a medieval Japanese samurai sword and see the blades as sharp as a modern razor blade, we have to stop and wonder.
When we examine a 17th century Kaithoff Flintlock Repeating Carbine and find that it was capable of firing one hundred rounds before reloading and then look at our modern rifles that can rarely fire more than twenty shots at once, we have to start to ask ourselves in which direction are we evolving and who or what is behind it all.
By studying arms and armour, their technical evolution and application in warfare, we begin to feel a certain concern as we realise that mankind may be on its way to self-extinction, and this makes us look for peaceful routes to our general future.
Collectors gather knowledge and evidence. Collections become museums offering general access to all – if we don’t understand arms we can never really understand man! We should only be prepared to hand over this planet in liveable conditions to another generation after we find out all we can about our capabilities, our dangers and ourselves. This astonishing effect has accompanied man subconsciously for thousands of years. The fact that men admire arms is in part our search for the reason for our existence as well as our chances of survival. The very best were just good enough for the moment because there was always a need for even better ones to be produced. This was just another aspect to be added to those of efficiency and beauty. Many of our best-known artists of earlier periods became rich and famous not because of their paintings and sculptures for which we know them now, but because they invented or produced wonderful arms.
Leonardo da Vinci received next to nothing for his Mona Lisa, but was highly rewarded for his inventions of ignition systems for firearms and multi-barrelled rotating cannons. Donatello produced a beautiful sword. Albrecht Durer had an interesting court case against the German Emperor for being late in paying for a splendidly engraved silver suit of armour he had ordered from Durer’s workshop. Even the simplest weapons used by hunters or soldiers deserve our respect. Were they not the tools with which history was written?
Coincidentally, the new millennium starts at a cornerstone of man’s evolution. We have to decide whether or not we have a future. In either case we have our past and the tools that came with it. There is no guilt in arms, only in the brains of those who order them to be used. By studying them we are studying ourselves and that must give us a chance.
Collecting arms is gaining wisdom in the search for peace!