There's still time to catch the Sam Colt exhibit at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum--though not much. This interesting look at the "legend and legacy of Colt's empire" closes March 9.

The exhibit shows the lives of Sam and Elizabeth Colt, the influence of Colt's factories on Hartford, and--of especial interest--the guns that Colt produced.

The displayed paintings, jeweled snuff-boxes, and other decorative objects that cluttered the Colts' "Armsmear" estate are fascinating: they're sumptuous yet surprisingly tasteless. Further proof that money cannot buy good taste-- though it CAN buy any number of bad paintings!

Of greater interest to readers will be the good-sized exhibit of guns. On display are not only the guns that made Colt famous (1851 Navy, 1860 Army, etc.) but several fascinating rare and obscure ones--for instance, several beautifully-preserved revolver rifles. Also interesting were some VERY old guns, from centuries before the time of Colt.

Technical information about the guns is scant. For instance, I don't recall the exhibit ever explaining to the public the difference between powder-and-ball arms and modern cartridge-firing ones. More details on the techniques of gun manufacture would have been welcome as well.

The text accompanying the exhibits sometimes sounds just a bit squeamish and embarrassed by the 19th century's love of guns. To say nothing of the 20th's.

But the guns themselves are a treat.

The trademark "rampant colt" statue that once topped the factory dome is also on display.

Presumably to lend "balance," an anti-gun exhibit is offered at the same time. Outside on the north patio stands "The Manhole Cover Project." This comprises stacks of rusting manhole covers made of melted-down confiscated guns and the tape-recorded "testimony of Hartford citizens who have been profoundly affected by gun violence."

Guess which exhibit has been getting most of the media publicity.

Total cost of general admission to the museum and admission to the Colt exhibit is $8 per adult--less for children and college students. For more information, call the Wadsworth at 278-2670.

From THE SMOKING GUN, newsletter of Metropolitan Shooters, Inc., Manchester, CT 06040, February, 1997.