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  • Writer's pictureT. Logan Metesh

NRA Silver Medal Guns Up for Auction

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Obverse and reverse of an "NRA Silver Medal"

Every year at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, gun collectors set up in a special section of the hall to show off their guns and compete for various certificates, plaques, and medals, which are awarded by the members of the NRA Gun Collectors Committee.

The silver medals - up to 10 each year - are "awarded to one of the ten best weapons exhibited at the NRA Annual Meetings." The numbered medals are presented to the current gun's owner, but the medal does not belong to the collector. The medal belongs to the gun, and it is supposed to convey to the new owner when the gun is sold. (This doesn't always happen - they occasionally show up on eBay.)

The guns that receive these medals are highly desired by collectors who are lucky enough to own a gun when it wins or wealthy enough to buy one after it wins.

This is a rare opportunity to do the latter of those two things. On March 23-24, 2019, Amoskeag Auction Company in New Hampshire will be selling five of these silver medal guns, and they're all from the same collection: the estate of Cletus Klein of Boerne, Texas.

Cletus was a friend of mine. He was, well ... it's hard to describe Cletus to someone who never met him. He was funny, sarcastic, an incredibly kind friend, ornery as hell, would talk to anyone about anything, and, most importantly, you couldn't believe a word he said!

My friend, Cletus Klein

I knew him for five years and took great joy in watching him pull the same pranks on others that he had previously pulled on me. (When I first met him, he convinced me that he didn't know how to read or write. No joke!) Even after five years of friendship, there were still times when I had no idea if he was messing with me or not.

My friend Cletus led one hell of a life. Orphaned at a young age, he grew up in a boys' home and ended up on the streets for much of his teenage years. He was given the opportunity to attend Texas A&M, telling everyone that attending college saved his life. Indeed, it certainly turned things around for him.

After college, he went into the Marines and served his country in Vietnam. After returning from the war, he went back to Texas, built a ranch, and - I believe - worked as an engineer. (I say 'I believe' because work was the one thing we never discussed.)

He made a good living and spent his money on two things that were near and dear to his heart: collecting high quality firearms and providing scholarships for students to attend Texas A&M. At the time of his passing, he had put more than 40 students through that college.

The scholarships are what bring us back to the guns. This upcoming Amoskeag auction will see a total of 82 guns from Cletus' collection - including the five medal winners - go across the auction block. In November 2018, dozens more of his guns went under the Amoskeag hammer, and all of them will have one thing in common: scholarships.

The sale of his entire collection will go to fund scholarships for future students at Texas A&M. The five medal winning guns alone will bring in more than $100,000 to be used at A&M if they hit the conservative estimates, and I'm sure they'll go for much more because the guns are truly spectacular. [Update: they sold for a total of $117,000.] Let's take a look at them, in order of their appearance in the auction:

From the description:

The top of the barrel is marked ''S. HAWKEN ST. LOUIS'' with the last couple letters beneath the rear sight. The inside of the lockplate is neatly stamped ''T. GIBBONS'', Thomas Gibbons was a St. Louis gunsmith and lock maker with a shop at 187 Franklin Avenue. Samuel Hawken and Thomas Gibbons were both in St. Louis for a short period of time as Gibbons came to St. Louis in 1859 and Hawken moved to Denver that same year which helps narrow the date of manufacture of this rifle. This rifle was awarded the prestigious NRA ''Ten Best Weapons'' Silver Medallion at the 142nd NRA Annual Meeting in Houston in 2013. Medallion No. 515 and its accompanying certificate are included with the rifle.

Estimate: $35,000 - $50,000. Sold: $49,000.

From the description:

This is a deluxe cased set of folding trigger pistols which are French fitted and cased with all of their original accessories. The tops of the barrel ribs are engraved ''Gastinne Rennette Arq de l'Empereur a Paris'' and the tops of the barrels are engraved ''EXPOSITION'' on left and ''ANNEE 1855'' on right. ... An interesting feature is the hidden ramrods which fit into the butt of the grips. The grips have a lock on each side plus this .36 caliber ramrod fitting into the grip from the butt between the two main springs, precision and very fine craftsmanship. ... The guns come cased in their original ebony veneered makers case with fancy brass scroll inlay on lid within a brass inlaid border. The interior of the lid is gold embossed ''GASTINNE - RENETTE / ARQr ORDINAIRE / de S.M. l'Empereur'' and the entire interior is lined in green baize lining. ...These pistols received the NRA 10 Best Weapons Silver Medallion at the 2012 NRA Convention in St. Louis. The NRA Cerificate and medallion #500 are included with the pistols. A superb and very interesting set of French pistols made specially for the Paris International Exhibition of 1855.

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000. Sold: $20,000.

From the description:

This is without a doubt, one of the very finest William Billinghurst buggy rifles in existence. According to Cletus, he first saw this gun when a gentleman collector was showing it to some other collectors and Cletus happened to be present, the year was 1955 and Cletus was 15 years old. When everyone was finished admiring the gun, Cletus said that he would like to buy the gun when the gentleman collector was ready to sell it, this comment was met with a collective chuckle among the group. Years later, the collector contacted Cletus and sold the gun to him. This set was awarded the NRA 10 Best Weapons Silver Medallion at the 1991 NRA National Convention in San Antonio, Texas. The certificate and Medallion #305 accompany the set.

Estimate: $30,000 - 50,000. Sold: $30,000.

From the description:

The barrel was made in 1707 by Mattias Baeza of Madrid. It shows a lovely bright blue, no doubt redone masterfully by the LePage brothers. There is a gold bead front sight mounted in the typical star or turtle base. ... The top flat shows Baeza's sunken initials beneath crown in squarish field ''MTS/BA/EZA, as well as his touchmark, also sunken in a gold rectangle. The top barrel flat reads ''Sanguinea Bellona Manu (geometric rectangular pattern) longaque fatigat: 1707'' (Likely some reference to Bellona, Roman goddess of war, roughly ''with her bloody hand, Bellona guides....''). The original flintlock vent area can actually be seen beneath the blue if one studies it closely, ... An exceedingly lovely arm, it comes in a hinged French-fitted carry case with pale blue baize interior with carved ebony handled turn screw, Mahogany wiping rod, cleaning jag and wad pull and a space for a bullet mould which is no longer present; there is a nice turned muzzle plug included. ... It received a "Ten Best" Medallion at the 2012 NRA Show.

Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000. Sold: $8,000.

From the description:

.54 caliber rifled bore over .64 caliber smoothbore, 29'' barrels show very good bores. The top of the barrel is engraved in a fancy inlaid gold riband ''TATHAM LONDON'' along with a 3/4'' x 5/8'' gold filled British coat of arms which appears to be dovetail mounted in top of barrel at breech. The locks feature waterproof pans with roller frizzens and externally mounted springs which act both as the frizzen springs and the main springs. The locks feature tasteful relief scroll and border engraving with sunbursts and are each marked ''Tatham''. There are rear mounted sliding half cock safeties and the toucholes are platinum lined. ... In the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds there is a group of 29 of these Tatham flintlock rifles. ... We can find no reference to any other over under Tatham flintlock Indian guns being offered for sale. How this gun came to America is unknown but one cannot help but wonder if it was brought here by or delivered to Norton as a ''sample'' piece or if it was an actual presentation to a high ranking Mohawk warrior. This extremely rare and historic arm was awarded the prestigious NRA Silver Medallion at the 2011 NRA Convention in Pittsburgh, PA. It is very likely that no more than a handful of these highest grade arms were ever produced making this opportunity to acquire one, exceptionally rare. A superb British Flintlock Indian Presentation gun worthy of the finest personal or institutional collection of historic arms.

Estimate: $15,000 - 25,000. Did not sell. [Edit: Relisted in October 2019; sold $10,000]

Those are just five of the incredible guns from Cletus' collection. You can extrapolate from there just how impressive it is/was in its entirety. Thanks to Cletus' impeccable taste in guns, he's managed to ensure that I won't be able to afford a single one of them. Even so, I know that his legacy will live on as the guns convey to their new owners - much like the silver medals.

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