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December 17, 2021

Tulsa Gun Show

By Sean McCarthy

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“If all our tables were placed end to end, they would stretch 5.7 miles,” says the website for the Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show, the largest gun show in the world. 5.7 miles. A lot of folks out there commute a comparable distance to work every day, if that helps put into perspective just how expansive the Tulsa Arms Show is.

The view of the Tulsa Expo Square bottom floor. This is only about half of the space utilized for vendors at the Wanenmacher gun show.

Another thing to consider is that the stated 5.7 miles mainly consists of firearms, swords, knives, ammo, gear, and every type of gun collection must have you can imagine. The sheer inventory contained within the walls of the Tulsa Expo Square for that weekend is so vast and varied, it would make a small nation’s military look like a Boy Scout troop.

Joe Wanenmacher discusses the history of the Tulsa Arms Show.

The Wanenmacher Gun Show

The Tulsa Arms Show began in 1968 and has since evolved into the biggest gun show in the world. As a firearms enthusiast, it is difficult to adequately express how awestruck I was upon seeing some of what was on display. I should emphasize that I was able to see only some of what was on display because my trip to Tulsa was far from a leisure trip.

Rock Island Auction Company displayed numerous antique rifles.

Rock Island Auction Company has a long history of holding court at gun shows, the Tulsa gun show being one of them. We have had a presence there for well over a decade now, and I was told multiple times by multiple guests that visiting our booth was “a highlight” of their time at the Wanenmacher gun show. That distinction is one we wear proudly, as a lot of time and effort goes into making our presence at shows like Tulsa a hit.

Highlights of the Tulsa Gun Show 2021

Since I began at Rock Island Auction, I’ve had the pleasure of representing our company at the Tulsa gun show twice. Both times I was there we were on the campaign trail for one of our premier auctions, so we naturally brought out some of the greatest items that would be up for sale less than a month later.

One of the gorgeous and historic Colt SAA revolvers offered at RIAC's December Premier, owned by the Last Navajo Chief, Henry Chee Dodge.

Despite the fact that we don’t sell items at the show itself, our booth is one of the biggest crowd-pleasers, and Rock Island Auction's crowd at the 2021 Tulsa gun show was absolutely thriving. It’s never boring working the Wanenmacher gun show, and it is a great opportunity to talk shop with fellow gun enthusiasts. My personal favorite aspect of working these shows is the opportunity to share what I know with people, and to absorb the knowledge the crowd was willing to impart on me.

Two highlights from Rock Island Auction's Tulsa gun show 2021 exibit.

The Finest Guns on Display

Kevin Hogan, president of Rock Island Auction Company echoed a similar sentiment when I asked him why we make our gun show appearances a priority. “One of the biggest benefits of our presence at shows is our ability to interact with clients both old and new. Shows are an opportunity to reach out on a regional level that might not be possible otherwise.

Another of December's many highlights, an exhibition quality relief engraved gold inlaid pre-war Colt Government Model.

Say a client wants to inspect an item that they are considering placing bids on in an upcoming auction. In the past, we’ve found ways to bring that item to them at a show for their inspection. If a gentleman in California wants to bid on a gun, but can’t make it to preview day, we try to bring preview day to him. It’s a simple demonstration of the way we work FOR our clients, not just with them.”

Another exceptional firearm from Rock Island Auction Company's Tulsa gun show 2021 display.

A New Generation of Firearms Fans

I also spoke to Jessica Tanghe, our Vice President of Acquisitions & Incoming at RIAC upon my return home to get her thoughts on the gun show experience. Jessica has been with Rock Island Auction Company for about 17 years now and has been to the Tulsa show at least 10 times. One thing I asked her was if she noticed any changes in the crowd over the years she has attended the Wanenmacher gun show. I can’t say I was surprised when she answered, “The crowd has certainly become younger over the years.”

Gun shows and gun exibitions like Rock Island Auction Preview Days have attracted a younger demographic.

During my first Tulsa gun show, a young kid no older than 12 stopped at our booth and began explaining to his dad each and every facet of the guns on our rack of rare WW2 rifles. His father looked at me as if to ask, “Is he right?” and all I could say is,“You’ve got a very bright son.” Even as a newcomer to the gun show circuit, I noticed a much younger crowd this time around.

Welcome to the gun show of gun shows! Preview days at Rock Island Auction Company offer a firsthand look at thousands of the finest collectible firearms publically available, and they're absolutely free of charge.

As mentioned in a recent RIAC blog on the growth in gun popularity and rising gun prices, firearm culture has breached the walls of the internet in a big way: channels and personalities like Brandon Hererra, Demolition Ranch, and Hickock45 (pictured here with me experiencing the best day of my life) have made gun culture more accessible to the tech-savvy youth of today.

The man. The legend. Hickock45!

Seeing people my age (and younger) at an event that historically has had a reputation for being populated by an older crowd is a great sign for the industry as a whole.

Not All Art Is Framed

Beyond the opportunity to talk shop with fellow enthusiasts, being at shows like Tulsa provides the unique opportunity for Rock Island Auction Company to meet face to face with consignors, and folks who may someday bear the title of consignor. Both times I’ve been to the Tulsa gun show we came home with some absolutely fantastic pieces destined for auction, and the market in 2021 has been unprecedented. How could our consignors not seize the opportunity to work with us? Rock Island Auction Company is the #1 gun auction in the world.

A fantastic lineup of legacy guns from world-class collections helped RIAC achieve another record sales year.

“We believe in presentation,” says Kevin Hogan. “We make a point to show up to gun shows with our best foot forward. Before we leave, our team sets up tables and displays exactly how they will be at the show. This allows us to perfect our display and make sure no detail is overlooked."

We have a saying here at RIAC: “Not all art is framed.” If you look at the items that were on display at the Tulsa gun show, you will see what we mean. Our consignors can proudly say that they have items in the same sale as monumental items such as the Napoleon Garniture or John Wayne’s revolver. Talk about bragging rights.

John Wayne's True Grit revolver went up for bid at Rock Island Auction Company in September, 2021.

The Best Place for Gun Consignments

I’ve been asked many times, “Are these estimates what this gun will sell for?” regarding our listed estimates on display items. Being able to say with pride “things sometimes sell beyond the estimates,” is rewarding for me, but the tangible reward is realized by our clients. This success is why we are sought out by gun consignors.

Jessica seems to agree when she said, “We are absolutely the destination at shows for consignments."

The collector firearms market has been trending upward and shows no signs of slowing.

Clients considering consignment are able to put a face to the business and know that their items will get proper treatment from start to finish when they speak with our acquisitions team at the booth. Beyond the dazzling firearms on display, our knowledgeable crew is there to answer questions about the guns they wish to consign, and about our gun consignment rates and process.

2022 Gun Shows

Our public presence is not limited to the Tulsa gun show. This year we’ve had a booth at the Colt Collectors Show in South Noblesville Indiana and the Winchester Gun Show in Cody Wyoming, and we're preparing a full slate of appearances in 2022. It goes without saying that getting out into the world has been...tough for the last little while. This is not preferable, as Rock Island Auction has historically had a presence at numerous gun shows throughout the country.

Delayed in 2020 due to COVID-19, the historic Las Vegas Antique Arms Show is back with a vengeance.

Large, small, and in between, RIAC has been there taking in gun consignments, displaying some breathtaking items, and mingling with fellow enthusiasts. As the world slowly begins to become accessible again, we are chomping at the bit to do all of the above at your favorite gun show. We will be hitting the ground running next year by appearing at the Dallas Safari Club Convention & Expo, the Safari Club International Annual Convention, and the Las Vegas Antique Arms Show, to name a few, and there will be even more to come as the weeks roll on.

Auction weeks at RIAC are the best gun shows you've never been to, an event onto themselves, and they’re absolutely free to attend.

Biggest Gun Auction

I asked Kevin which shows he has been to over the years, and his answer was “all of them.” If it was anybody else I might bat an eye at such a simple answer, but this is the Hogan family we’re talking about. They have held a presence in the firearms industry since 1993, and to date have turned Rock Island Auction Company into the most successful firearms auction house in the world.

Rock Island Auction Company shattered the 100 million mark in 2021 for another industry setting record.

A quick look at our website, which includes past and present auction catalogs, is all it takes to understand how dedicated the RIAC team is to our continued success. From start to finish, acquisitions to packing, our team is truly a cut above the rest. We wear our years of success proudly and considering we are an auction company, our success equals success for our consignors.

A solid silver, Nimschke signed and engraved, Winchester '66, one of the staggering success stories of Rock Island Auction's December Premier.

My experience working at the Tulsa gun show (and the experience of many at any of our nation’s gun shows) can best be summed up by a short conversation I had with a gentleman the first morning of the show while waiting in line to enter. During our quick chat, he said, “These are our people. They work, they vote, and they pay their taxes. Even if we collect different things, believe different things, drink different beers; we are all here for the same reason. We love guns.”

Well said, sir. It’s a joy to be part of an industry in which everyone involved is there for the same core reason, and for us here at RIAC, that love keeps us working doggedly to bring you the best of the best.

An American gun from one of the most American legends of all time, an engraved Smith & Wesson New Model No 3 revolver documented to the future 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. The revolver’s engraving is believed to be the work of Gustave Young, and Roosevelt picked up the gun the summer of 1898 on his way to train the Rough Riders in San Antonio, Texas. Available December, 2022 at Rock Island Auction Company.

In Memory of Joe Wanenmacher

Joseph Melching Wanenmacher, Jr., founder of the Tulsa Arms Show, passed away on February 10, 2022. Joe Wanenmacher’s name is rightfully admired by countless friends and firearm fans around the globe.

After graduating from the University of Texas, Joe Wanenmacher moved back to Tulsa in 1961 to work in his father’s business as a petroleum consultant. A few years later, Wanenmacher joined the Indian Territory Gun Collectors Association, where he was eventually voted club secretary and assigned the responsibility of coordinating their local gun shows.  As Wanenmacher invested more time into growing the ITGCA gun show, he discovered a true passion in the venture and struck a deal to purchase the event and turn it into a family business.

Joe Wanenmacher built the Tulsa Arms Show into the largest gun show in the world, and has been honored by both the City of Tulsa and by Tulsa County for the economic contributions the biannual event has generated to the region.

“He was a people person and a gun person,” Wanenmacher’s son, Joe Wanenmacher III explained. “So it was kind of a match made in heaven for him.”

“Everyone who attended the Tulsa Arms Show knew Joe as friendly, kind-hearted, and knowledgeable,” said Rock Island Auction Company President Kevin Hogan. “His legacy is as large as the 75-foot "Golden Driller" statue outside the convention center.”

Thousands around the globe remember Joe Wanenmacher with equal reverence, one of the great entrepreneurs of the region who transformed a local gun show with 19 tables into a premier international event.

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