THE HISTORY OF THE OHIO GUN COLLECTORS ASSOCIATION
The Ohio Gun Collectors Association (OGCA) started from the dream of one man, Miller Bedford. He sent out postcards in 1937 with 1 cent stamps to interested souls. Perhaps it was only natural that the simple, one penny announcement which created the world’s largest and oldest assembly of firearms collectors would be generated in Ohio. Nowhere has the spirit of the early American pioneer, the legends and lasting footprints of the old frontiersmen been more deeply perpetuated than in this state named by Iroquois and Wyandotte hunting parties for its “Beautiful River.”
It is a matter of record that 32 collectors responded to Miller Bedford’s invitation, bringing along with them the prize pieces of individual collections. They assembled in Bedford’s backyard and the meager accounts do indicate that a substantial trading session took place that very first day. For sure, overall enthusiasm was high enough to warrant formation of a permanent organization on the spot
So it was that from this acorn of an idea, this humble beginning, there was born an organization that would one day overflow virtually all existing exhibit space in the state. There is small doubt that a major stimulation through the ranks of those charter members was the opportunity to swap and sell old firearms, hopefully updating their own collections, ideally meeting friends along the way.
Miller Bedford, founder and first president of the Ohio Gun Collectors Association
A one-time vanilla extract salesman who would later try to market a product loosely termed “gun juice” to his OGCA friends, Bedford, himself, had long been a smooth trader and dealer. But that is the essence of every collectors group, and it is thus even more noteworthy that the very first OGCA guidelines were both totally unselfish and prudently dedicated to the future growth and welfare of the organization.
Objectives described in the preamble and articles of that original constitution, adopted during the inaugural meeting stressed the upholding and promoting of the highest ethical standards in all activities. They also pledged a united stand in opposing legislation “which might be injurious to the collection, possession and use of firearms by responsible collectors, shooters and sportsmen.” Membership, with proper endorsement from 2 current members, would be open to any American citizen over age 18, with no criminal record, and “having interest in the collecting, preservation, use and study of all kinds of arms and accessories.”
From the very beginning, spouses of the members were encouraged, even urged to attend meetings, which ranged in location from National Guard armories and fraternal halls to parks and fairgrounds. Today their growing number of female collectors chuckle to read early historical newsletters encouraging wives to bring their needles for the “knitting circles,” which took place in the “air-cooled” (early air conditioning) sitting rooms.
Captain Clark Gable,
a former member of the OGCA
Continuous flurries of newspaper and radio attention served to further popularize and swell the membership of OGCA and, unknowingly at the time, help prepare it to robustly weather the tumultuous years of World War II. Sessions were enlivened by the presence of distinguished military personnel and arms experts and technicians, and by a constant influx of brand new members. At an early 1944 meeting in Cincinnati, 90 new members were accepted, one of them an eager gun collector with proper sponsorship. He was Capt. Clark Gable, U.S. Army Air Corps, native Ohioan and yes, in peace time a professional movie actor.
The OGCA wheeled by its 10th anniversary in 1947 with a membership of over 800, incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1949, and that same year, without dissent, increased its annual dues (now $30.00) all the way to $1.00.
There also had developed a strong sense of confidence and feeling of mutual respect between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and OGCA. When, in 1954, the NRA invited collectors groups to erect organizational displays at its annual meeting, the OGCA responded with an enthusiasm that would soon bring them top honors in the firearms exhibition field.
This includes the NRA Gun Collectors Committee Trophy, better known as the Silver Cup, which the organization has accepted eight times including their 2004 collaboration with the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) to present “100 years of the National Matches” also an Ohio tradition. The OGCA is proud of its long record of support for NRA goals and objectives and was honored to receive the NRA’s Outstanding Gun Collector Organization Award for the year 2000.
OGCA’s official Credo was formulated in 1975. Then and now, the OGCA Credo states, “We believe every responsible American has the unrestricted right to own pistols, rifles and shotguns. We believe when a person is convicted of a crime when a weapon is used, the punishment should be swift, certain and severe.”
Now in its 79th year, the 18,000 member Ohio Gun Collectors Association is faced with continuing challenges in terms of gun freedoms, shifting demographics and other market forces, and requires more and more increased leadership and experience within the ranks of its officers, directors and committee chairmen. Long time life member Robert Ray Preston serves as our current president. Directors are elected from the membership and provide leadership to over ten different committees. An active Past Presidents Council helps the organization keep its iron sites on founding principles.
One of the busiest committees plans the Annual Display Show competition in which thousands of dollars, beautiful bronzes and prizes are awarded to the best exhibits. The May Display Show Committee is busy preparing for what is one of the best events of the year and brings in many thousands of members. In addition, OGCA began a related program for members to exhibit their special collection at each regular meeting which is then featured in their 16 page quarterly newsletter.
With the members who display, it is merely pride of ownership and a desire to be in the company of others who speak the language of the true firearms collector. “Camaraderie” among collectors is the key, pure and simple, and it is the primary reason the organization has thrived.
The social event of the year for the organization is the annual Membership Recognition Banquet held in conjunction with the display show, bringing in such top speakers as Sandy Froman, General Paul Tibbets, and this year’s keynote speaker, Phil Schreier Curator of the National Firearms Museum. Our 75th Anniversary Banquet featuring keynote speaker Wayne LaPierre of the NRA was held Saturday evening, May 5th, 2012, at the Manor House in Mason, Ohio which can accommodate over 500 people.
The OGCA also sponsors book signings by member authors, as well as other opportunities for new members to learn from veteran collectors. Incidentally, its veteran members are well published – over 90 of the best firearm-related books have been written by current members, a fact in which the OGCA is duly proud.
OGCA is also proud of rising to the challenge of rallying behind pro-freedom candidates.
The Late General Paul Tibbets and NRA Past President Sandy Froman, OGCA 2004 Banquet
In recent elections, the OGCA Political Action Committee supported pro-freedom candidates and informed Ohioans on the voting record of the candidates. The PAC fund has successfully supported numerous Pro-Freedom Candidates in Ohio and Washington, and the OGCA was recognized in 2001 by the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms as the Gun Rights Organization of the Year.
Recognizing that the future of this hobby rests with the youth of today, charity and funding assistance has included the shooting programs of 4-H and Boy Scouts of America, as well as other deserving programs such as The Disabled Shooting Championship, the Heritage Foundation, and the educational “100 Years of the National Matches” exhibit at the CMP.
The 6-7 yearly OGCA meetings are a lively and active trading place of firearms – as well as ideas. Members come from 49 states of the union and 17 countries. Always family-friendly, membership includes free admission for the member, his or her spouse, and children under the age of 18. Their handsome convention center in Wilmington, Ohio holds 800 8-foot tables, which are strictly limited to gun or gun-related items. Each member can bring a limited number of guests, and can sponsor others for membership after one year of probation. Applicants for membership are sponsored by 2 members and go through a rigorous screening process.
Always family-friendly, membership includes free admission for the member, his or her spouse, and children under the age of 18. Their handsome convention center in Wilmington, Ohio holds 800 8-foot tables, which are strictly limited to gun or gun-related items. Each member can bring a limited number of guests, and can sponsor others for membership after one year of probation. Applicants for membership are sponsored by 2 members and go through a rigorous screening process.
Their home in Wilmington, Ohio brings them back to the central Ohio area between three major metropolitan areas: Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. It is arguably one of the most convenient and functional halls for the serious gun collector with its highway access, easy unloading, free parking and on-site hotel and restaurant in a gun friendly community known for its antique and outlet shopping. It is visible from I-71 and U.S. 68, Exit 50.
Above everything else, the Ohio Gun Collectors Association was born with a rustic charm that is as American as ice cream and apple pie. It has continued to grow and prosper, not because the exhibition halls of The Ohio Gun Collectors Association hold the tangible tools that made history – but because they hold the people who are making history – and who are willing to take the time to preserve that history for future generations.
Adapted in part from “The History of the Ohio Gun Collectors” by the late, Earl Flora, printed in 1987 in celebration of our 50th anniversary. The OGCA Historical Committee seeks to preserve and protect our club’s heritage. Please contact Laura Knotts, Business Manager, if you have an item of historical significance to donate, a display piece to loan, or a story about our history to tell.
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