Leo Laden has been a contributor to the SSAA’s stable of magazines for a number of years and his knowledge and appreciation of firearms from yesteryear is awe-inspiring. Now the qualified doctor has turned his attention to documenting and assessing his ancient guns that are arranged for the public’s perusal way out in Australia’s west.
Dr Laden has put together his book Antique Arms & Armour Museum of Western Australia Volume 1 – Guns with some help from his fellow aficionado Victor Stuart. The A4-sized tome extends to 112 pages and offers an extensive pictorial insight into the vast array of longarms and handguns that are housed in the museum.
The book is split into four sections. As a starter, we have the foreword, where Leo takes the opportunity to recount how he came to be so interested in ancient firearms. He certainly conjures up an aura of being a colorful character, taking us right back to his childhood days in the north London suburb of Winchmore Hill. As a young boy, he developed a liking for air rifles, which over the years progressed into a penchant for Colonial arms that saw him acquire pieces including muzzleloading pistols, muskets, shotguns, rifles and even a cannon.
Leo’s eventual path to life in WA with his wife Daphne and their children came via a spell in the former British colony of Aden where he worked as a medical officer with the RAF. During his three-year stint, the eagle-eyed doctor continued to add to his growing collection of antique firearms picked up on his duties across the African continent.
Now Leo is happy to invite us into his far-reaching reference book, which moves onto the next chapter concerning longarms. A total of 125 articles are listed, with 113 of them accompanied by pictures of the respective models, which are not to scale. Leo employs a system that utilises a short, sharp one-line description followed by a rating. The abbreviated external appearance guide is tabled as: Like New/As New (New), Excellent (Exc), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Fair (F) and Poor (P).
A similar methodology is put in motion for the terms of the firearms. The list encompasses Calibre (Cal), Barrel Length (BL), Serial Number (#), Flintlock (F/L), Percussion (Perc) and Revolver (Rev). All the items are dated, where possible, and the layout is crystal-clear with each picture perfectly portrayed on a shiny white background.
When Leo moves onto his handgun section, the coverage is even more wide-ranging. In all, 177 exhibits are put under the microscope, with each one identified via a glossy graphic. Again, it is all very succinct and sets down the perfect base as a reference point.
Sandwiched in between both sections are a series of pictures spanning Leo’s years of devotion to his passion of antique firearms. We are able take stock of this arrival in Australia and how things rolled along from there. Included are photos of Leo with the SSAA WA Muzzleloading team, parading with the Perth Volunteer Rifles Regiment (PVRAR) and even dressed as a Royal Marine aboard the replica ship from Captain Cook’s days, the HM Bark Endeavour.
Along the way, Leo opened his own Colonial Arms Museum. Entry was free but by appointment only. He reckons there were more than 1500 items displayed for everyone to enjoy. Guns on show include some from Perth’s first settlement, to the Gold Rush days, through World War I, to after WWII. It was this labour of love which inspired Leo to pen such a wonderful, bounteous work.
The conclusion to Leo’s introduction sums things up perfectly when he says that the pictorial reference guide “has been compiled so other collectors can share in the pleasure I get from looking at the items I have looked after for so long.”
Leo Laden’s Antique Arms & Armour Museum of Western Australia Volume 1 – Guns is available direct from AAA Western Australia or Leo (phone 08 9407 5000) for $25 plus postage or via eBay (item number 162335380155) for $29.50 plus postage.