The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Preview – Visit – Liège, Belgium

Not Just Chocolate and Waffles

When your most famous recent exports include Tintin, the Smurfs, and Jean Claude Van Damme, it’s hard to be taken seriously in the gun world.

Fabrique National Herstal (FNH) and the legions of gun-makers that emanated from the city of Liège have absolutely nothing in common with the clown show above, apart from hailing from the same country that came into existence in 1830. Prior to the formation of modern-day Belgium, Liège had a political history unique among European cities of the middle ages. Instead of the usual arrangement whereby the nobleman with the biggest army got to grind the faces of poor peasants, those citizens of Liège belonging to trademen’s guilds decided that just wasn’t going to fly, and in 1345 overthrew the local prince. For over 100 years, democracy reigned, which was unheard of until 1776 and all that.

Those same guilds were responsible for turning Liège into a center of arms manufacturing. Due to its strategic position on the Meuse river, Liège-made armor, swords, and firearms shipped throughout Europe. Once the Industrial Revolution got rolling, the city became one of the largest steel manufacturing centers on the continent. With an ample supply of raw material, labor, and intellectual capital, the gun industry took off.

FNH-PrototypesGauvain-Percussion-Pistols

Grand Curtius Museum
To house and display over 700 years of firearms history, two museums came into being, both of which are currently undergoing expansion. The first of these is housed in the mansion and business premises of Jean Curtius, an ammunition merchant who made his fortune supplying the Spanish army in the late 16th century. Located on the banks of the Meuse, the Grand Curtius Museum currently houses permanent collections of archeological artifacts, religious art, glasswork, and of course the one we’re interested in.

As the visitor enters the imposing medieval courtyard, they’re greeted by several iron artillery pieces dating back to the days of siege warfare, when they were employed to breach castle walls or hurl explosive rounds over the ramparts. Field artillery of a different age is encountered on the way to the more recent exhibits, as a pair of manually operated machine guns, contemporaries of Dr. Gatling’s creation, guard the entrance. Inside, cases of wheel locks, flintlocks, swords, bayonets, and intricately engraved presentation pieces give way to more modern firearms as the guest charts the development of projectile weapons.

Some of the artifacts on display are examples of working guns, service weapons of the various armies that employed them. Others are stunning masterpieces, ornately engraved, intricately inlaid, and stocked with the finest exotic woods. Some came from the workshops of the companies that would eventually band together to form Fabrique National in order to land a juicy contract for 150,000 Mauser rifles for the Belgian government.

Not all of the guns on display are European — there are several notable examples of American innovation such as an 1887 Spencer pump-action, a Dardick pistol and carbine, a Guide Lamp Liberator, as well as a Chicago Firearms “lemon squeezer” pistol. Medieval arms and armor are well represented, as are the guns of both World Wars — particularly poignant for the area, as Liège was captured by the Germans in both 1914 and 1939.

Ars Mechanica Foundation
Although extensive, wide ranging, and beautifully laid out with vital information on each of the guns on display (in French, so take a phrase book), the Grand Curtius Museum focuses on the many manufacturers that made their names in the city of Liege. Since 1889, the town has been synonymous with FNH, and it is with this company that the Ars Mechanica Foundation concerns itself. Currently, the collection is located within the secure area of the sprawling FN plant, but this year sees its relocation outside the wire where it will be accessible to a much wider audience.

Christophe-&-Montigny-Militraileuse

For the rest of this article, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 18




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