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The J. Curtis Earl Exhibit

By Frank Iannamico

J. Curtis Earl is a name well known among most long-time Class III enthusiasts, for those who are not familiar with Mr. Earl there were a series of in-depth articles published in Small Arms Review about the man.

During 1965, Jesse Curtis Earl was one of only three Class III dealers doing business in the United States. Although he operated his business out of Phoenix, Arizona, Mr. Earl became very well known throughout the U.S. (during the pre-internet days) through his magazine advertisements and catalogs. The earliest catalog was published in the early 1970s and cost $1.00. The catalogs were a great source of information on machine guns and machine gun ownership, a subject of which in those days was pretty much unknown. The average citizen, including many firearm enthusiasts of the day, thought machine guns were illegal to possess. The catalogs also had a list of individual state laws and regulations regarding machine gun ownership by individuals. There were photos and a brief description of Earl’s large inventory, he pretty much had in stock any submachine gun, assault rifle, silencer, or belt fed machine gun you could name. In his 1988 catalog he boasted that he had over 850 machine guns in stock. The photos of the collection in his vault were pretty impressive. His specialty was Thompson submachine guns, and in his last catalog he claimed that he had 130 of them in stock. One of his Thompsons, known as the gold embellished “Midas Touch” gun, was featured in the July 1973 issue of Guns and Ammo magazine, providing Curtis with some free publicity. Photos were available for any gun or item listed at $2.00 for a submachine gun and $5.00 for a belt fed weapon. One reoccurring statement in his catalogs was that “all sales are final”.

Curtis had procured some of the guns in his inventory from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie studios auction in 1970. The guns were featured in many movies and TV series and used by a long list of actors including legendary stars like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and...

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