KENTON, Ohio – As Hardin County prepares to celebrate the 17th annual Gene Autry Days, Kenton resident Bob Bailey, is busy rounding up his collection of over 230 cap pistols for the upcoming event.
At the age of five, Bailey met Gene Autry during the western entertainer’s visit to Kenton in 1938. Since that meeting, Bailey’s interest in the cap pistol has grown and his collection is now considered not just one of the largest, but also one of the finest in the nation.
Consisting of all cap pistols manufactured by the Kenton Hardware Company, Bailey’s collection spans the company’s history from 1904 to 1950. It also includes at least one Gene Autry Cap Pistol per year they were manufactured between 1938 and 1950. One that he’s most proud of is the cap pistol Autry gave former Kenton Hardware Company employee Monette Whitmore in 1938. During Autry’s visit to the Company, a photo was taken of Autry inspecting the gun along with Whitmore and the photo has been used in many publications documenting Autry’s visit.
Bailey’s collection includes various styles and sizes of cap pistols. Some of the most unique cap pistols in his collection include an original zip roll cap pistol as well as the longest, one-piece cast iron cap gun ever made. He also has a “4-way,” which shoots a cap, rubber band, pea or bean, and a milk bottle cap all at the same time. Another cap pistol still has the original price tag on it. Sold originally for 59 cents, Bailey says the cap pistol is now worth $300.
The Hardin County Historical Museum currently displays a portion of Bailey’s collection. Located in their room featuring Kenton Toys, the display amazes visitors with its variety and quantity of cap pistols.
Last year, Fox 28’s “Good Day Columbus” featured Bailey and his collection during one of their morning programs previewing Gene Autry Days. Bailey also takes his collection on the road and shares it at libraries, nursing homes, and with other museums.
During a school’s recent tour of the Hardin County Historical Museum, Bailey allowed students to hold some of the antique cap guns. Automatically the students began to play with them and Bailey even allowed them to shoot the toys. Bailey said “It’s great to see the kids play with them. It’s what they were made for – to be played with.”
Bailey added sharing his collection with others also gives him the opportunity to hear wonderful stories. “You really meet some nice people and I’ve heard a bunch of stories,” said Bailey. “I’ve had mothers call me to say how much their kids talked about seeing the cap pistols, and even heard stories from people who knew someone who worked at the Kenton Hardware Company.”
Today, Bailey continues to search for cap pistols to add to his collection and states he prefers to deal directly with individuals versus over the Internet. He added most of his search is done by people contacting him when they want to sell.
A portion of Bailey’s collection can be seen at this year’s Gene Autry Days, June 26-27, located at the Hardin County Fairgrounds in Kenton, Ohio. For more information contact the Hardin County Chamber at 419-673-4131 or visit www.hardinohio.org. ?
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