Book Review: Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms

Norm Flayderman opened an antique gun shop in 1952, and a few years later expanded his marketing to a mail-order catalog. He would ultimately print 119 such catalogs by 1998, researching and documenting a tremendous amount of information on antique American firearms. In 1977 he published the first edition of Flayderman’s Guide, compiling this information into a single volume. Mr. Flayderman passed away in 2013, but his Guide has been a central pillar of firearms knowledge, reprinted most recently in the 9th updated edition (this video shows the 8th edition). The information in Flayderman’s Guide is generally not very deep, but it is specific and direct, covering production numbers, configurations, and other basic important details of an incredible breadth of American arms history. From the Colonial period and American Independence through the Spanish-American War, this work covers virtually everything.

There are not many books that I would consider essential staples of any firearms reference library – usually such things are too varied by specific areas of interest. But Flayderman’s is truly a book that every scholar and enthusiast should have. Happily, it was printed in significant quantity, and is easy to find. The current 9th Edition retails for $45, but older editions are readily available for less than $10 at gun shows and through sellers like Abe Books.


  1. You do wish you’d met him.

    Mr. Flayderman was one of those people that when he was talking to you, you were the most important person in the room. I knew him slightly in my Connecticut days. I never saw him treat anyone as though they were not important, and he was uniformly honest and fair with ignorant people who asked him about inherited guns.

    He was also one of those people who believed that knowledge should be shared, not hoarded, and his guide is a result of that. I never saw him take an unfair advantage of the fact that he knew more than, well, anybody.

    Maybe everybody.

  2. I bought a copy for a friend after he’d died, and the seller joked that this would be the last Flayderman edition. I said it was a shame it wasn’t autographed, he said he could sign it, so he did (his own name, not Flayderman’s!), and my friend got a good laugh out of it.

  3. This is a truly essential book for any arms historian for the superbly researched info. Even if the values may no longer current market conditions, at least you can get a feel for something as relatively common item or a rare treasure. Get a copy while you can, preferably the last (9th) edition, but the historical info is pretty much the same in earlier editions, although each included updates and corrections from previous editions, so 9,8 or 7 would be best.

    R.L. Wilson once (thankfully only once) tried a similar book which was execrable.

    Recently the Blue Book folks gave a shot at something obviously intended to replace Flayderman, and it too falls terribly short of being anywhere near as comprehensive or user friendly. And their pricing information is often unrealistic compared to market conditions I see, although they may be able to cite some auction results somewhere as their basis. But, their flawed system has some items listed twice in different sections, with drastically different values. I got rid of my copy and went back to using Flayderman for info, and GunBroker for prices.

  4. I don’t have an extensive collection of firearms books and often balk at the cost of some of the books you review, but I liked the look of this one and even with shipping to the UK (From Toledo!) a first edition is only £10…

    Newer editions were relatively expensive with shipping, so a first edition it was!

  5. I agree with all above, and would say that if I were banished to a desert island with only 5 books (about anything) this would be one of them. I wore mine out and am looking for another.

    His book on the Bowie knife was also excellent, although the photos, for me at least, exceeded the text in interest and information. Mr. Flayderman also was an acknowledged authority on scrimshaw, and published a lot about that as well.

    I never met him either but wish I had.


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