R. L. Wilson, author, biographical sketch

Author’s Biography

R. L. (Larry) Wilson is a freelance consultant and author in the broad fields of firearms and engraving. His career began with intern positions at the Royal Armouries, H.M.Tower of London and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as at the Wadsworth Atheneum, where he was appointed Curator of Firearms at the age of 23. He has served on advisory boards or as consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the U.S. Marshals Service, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Inc., the Winchester Museum, the U.S. Historical Society, the U.S. Society of Arms and Armour, Tiffany & Co., and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage.

He is consultant on American Arms to Christie’s for whom he was active in organizing the Colt/Christie’s sale of October 1981 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arms and Armor Department benefit auction of October 1985 as well as auctions of May 1987 and January 1991: four milestones in the history of arms collecting which set record prices for American firearms and launched the current popularity of public firearms auctions.

Wilson was born in Minnesota, the son, nephew and grandson of Presbyterian ministers. He studied history and art as a scholarship student at Carleton College. A resident of Connecticut, he is the author of approximately 30 books and more than 200 articles on firearms and engraving subjects. His publishers include Random House, Simon & Schuster, Abbeville Press, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the Wadsworth Atheneum and Audubon magazine. He has been the subject of (or noted in) articles in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, M, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Business Week, The Houston Chronicle, Esquire, and Town & Country.

He has appeared frequently on radio and television, both nationally and internationally, including the A&E documentary The Story of the Gun and The Guns That Tamed the West; the Discovery Channel’s Gunpower; the PBS Frontline documentary Gunfight USA; a CNN profile; Business Day; Good Morning Australia; Japan Broadcasting TV; The Barry Gray Show (New York); Channel 4 (London); and the BBC documentaries The Gun Industry in America and Son of a Gun or How Sam Colt Changed America.

Wilson was scriptwriter for the Sony video presentation Colt Firearms Legends, narrated by Mel Tormé. He appears in and is co-executive producer of the feature length film (and video) on conservation, hunting and the African safari entitled In the Blood. As president of Castle View Productions, he produced Mille Miglia – The Most Beautiful Race in the World (1995) and is presently engaged in producing Winchester Firearms Legends.

His book The Colt Heritage is the only firearms-related work ever nominated for the American Book Awards (1979). Colt – An American Legend, the official history of Colt firearms, was hailed by publisher/author Michael Korda as “a classic… the most beautiful book on firearms ever published and a milestone in modern book design and production”. In promotion of this title Abbeville Press organized a two-week, seven-city author’s tour during which Wilson participated in over 35 radio and television appearances, newspaper interviews, and bookstore signings. Over 170,000 copies of these Colt titles are in print.

Winchester – An American Legend appeared in 1991 (50,000 copies in the first edition) and is the official history of Winchester firearms and ammunition. The Peacemakers – Arms and Adventure in the American West appeared in 1992 and was honored with a Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Colt – An American Legend, Winchester – An American Legend and The Peacemakers have also been published in Italian, French and German editions. Spanish translations are planned. Foreign language editions of Wilson’s recent book, Steel Canvas – The Art of American Arms (1995) with a foreword by William R. Chaney, Chairman of the Board, Tiffany & Co. are scheduled for the fall of 1996.

These four, plus Wilson’s next book, Ruger and His Guns: A History of the Man, the Company and Their Arms, just released by Simon and Schuster, make a unique series of lavishly illustrated books sharing the same design and appreciation for fine guns. These works are the first in Wilson’s The History of American Firearms series, which ultimately will total approximately a dozen titles.

Wilson is a member of the Appraisers Association of America, and his clients have included P. R. Phillips, Gene Autry, Monte Hale, Mel Tormé, members of the Lilly, Ford, Mellon and Deering families, the Sagamore Hill Historic Site, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Texas Ranger Museum. He is a consultant to the Wadsworth Atheneum on a lavish Colt exhibition, Sam and Elizabeth Colt: Legend and Legacy of Colt’s Empire, opening in September 1996.

In collaboration with George A. Strichman, then Chairman of the Board of Colt Industries, Wilson organized the Colt Industries Museum Collection (1972-85), as well as Mr. Strichman’s own 165-piece Colt collection, both now featured exhibits at the Autry Museum.

He is past president (1989-1995) and currently on the executive committee of The Armor and Arms Club of New York (founded in 1921) and is an Honorary Director of the Texas Gun Collectors Association. Wilson has also served on the board of directors of the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia, and is currently on the board of the Eli Whitney Museum in New Haven, Connecticut. He has spoken on fine guns to the Boone and Crockett Club, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Australian Arms Collectors Society, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, The Armor and Arms Club of New York, and other groups.

With the Royal Armouries Museum of Leeds and H.M. Tower of London, Wilson is working toward developing a major international museum loan exhibition, The Art of American Arms. An accompanying book and video are also planned. Still another project is an exhibition and video The Arms of Tiffany & Co. in collaboration with former Tiffany & Co. archivist Janet Zapata. Other current book projects include Firesticks and Tomahawks: The Arms of the American Indian and The Guns of Manhattan.

A keen sportsman, Wilson has pursued game shooting in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Belgium, Australia, India, Africa, and extensively in the Western Hemisphere. He has participated in nine African safaris, and is a member of the historic Camp Fire Club of America (founded in 1897), and the Hammonassett Fishing Association (founded 1888). He also belongs to a number of other firearms and conservation organizations as well as being a life member of the National Rifle Association.

A devoted student of automobile racing, Wilson has attended numerous Formula 1, Indy Car and endurance events including the LeMans 24 Hours, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indianapolis 500. He has visited several museum and private automobile collections throughout Europe and North America and participated in such competitions as Italy’s Mille Miglia (1993, ’94, ’95), the Tour de France (1996) and the American U.S. Express, popularly known as the “Cannonball”. He is a graduate of the three-day single-seater race car course and the two-day advanced single-seater course of the Jim Russell Driving School at Laguna Seca in California, and is a graduate of the 3-day single-seater course of the Skip Barber School at Bridgehampton, New York.

He has been researching a lavishly illustrated book on the North American Racing Team and the celebrated race driver and Ferrari importer, Luigi Chinetti, and his son, Luigi Chinetti, Jr., automobile designer, race driver and Ferrari importer.

“Larry Wilson’s contributions to the study, collecting, and appreciation of Colt firearms and history have no parallel.”

George A. Strichman, late Chairman Emeritus, Colt Industries

“R.L. Wilson has examined, handled and written about more fine and historical guns than anyone in the entire history of firearms.”

Mel Tormé