- Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway
In a sporting career of more than fifty years, Ernest Hemingway owned dozens of firearms. Some, his favorites, he used for years in Wyoming, Africa, and Idaho, and even put into the hands of his fictional characters. Others were specialized hunting or competition guns, many rare and valuable, and a few were remarkably ordinary.
Because hunting and the shooting sports were so important in Hemingway's life and literature, it's surprising that next to nothing has been written about the subject. This gap in Hemingway biography has now been ably filled by Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley, and Roger Sanger, recognized firearms experts and joint authors of Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway. [End Page 123]
It would be good to point out first, however, that the emphasis in this book falls primarily on the guns, not the man, although the relationships among Hemingway, his sporting arms, and his manner of using them is strongly implied and often explicitly stated. Weapons have long been signifiers of the person who uses them, and that function is true even in the 20th century sporting field. What model, make, type, or caliber of firearm Hemingway chose says something about his expertise and sportsmanship, and that point is a strong theme in this book.
The authors of Hemingway's Guns set out to produce a descriptive inventory and certify the provenance of every gun Ernest Hemingway ever owned, or at least of all those for which any evidence could be found, but a problem that should have killed the project presented itself at the start: in the fifty years since Hemingway's death in 1961 and the twenty-five since Mary Hemingway's in 1986, almost all of the Hemingway guns have disappeared—given away, bequeathed to friends (and then sold and re-sold), auctioned to unknown buyers, consigned to sporting goods dealers and sold for a pittance, deliberately destroyed, stolen, deep-sixed from the Pilar, abandoned in Cuba, or simply vanished no one knows where or how. With few exceptions, Hemingway's guns, particularly the famous ones most closely associated with him, aren't available for inspection and identification.
Instead, Calabi and his associates combed the Hemingway archive—letters, journalism, fiction, biographies and memoirs, photographs, auction catalogs— to accumulate every mention of a firearm. Then, by meticulous and often ingenious research, the authors examined records fortuitously held by two related New York firms with which Hemingway did business, the gun-maker Griffin & Howe and the sporting goods company and safari outfitter Abercrombie and Fitch. The result of their search is a body of evidence proving what Hemingway bought and when, and even what he paid, and from this information the authors reconstruct a significant portion of the Hemingway gun collection. For guns that Hemingway acquired in Europe, they rely on similar documentary records where possible, but mainly on biographical data, photographs, and letters.
Hemingway's Guns is organized into fourteen chapters, each identifying and explaining one of his guns (he owned duplicates of certain types), an addendum summarizing six more for which information is scanty, and a coda mentioning several fugitive pieces said to have been his. The authors use their extensive and detailed knowledge of firearms history and design to explain [End Page 124] Hemingway's arms, setting them in the context of his sporting life, and showing why a certain gun was a suitable choice for Hemingway's purposes. They are particularly good on the gun that Hemingway and others routinely called "the Springfield," actually a custom made .30-06 sporting rifle built in 1930 by the prestigious Griffin & Howe company on a military 1903 Springfield action, an elegant rifle in the caliber that has become the American sporting standard. They are equally informative about the Model 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer 6.5 x 54 mm carbine, a small-caliber but surprisingly effective lightweight gun with a distinctive, highly reliable rotary magazine, a worldwide favorite of...