The first acquisitions of the National Museum, the forerunner of today’s Croatian History Museum in Zagreb, were already made in 1846. These were exceptionally valuable examples of historical arms and armoury which were donated by perceptive patriots with the intention of creating the national heritage and preserving it for future generations. The collection thus initiated was diligently registered, safeguarded and expanded by all caretakers, curators and directors of our Museum until the present day. The many donors and/or sellers included distinguished personalities, after whom the collections of their objects were named. Only a few of these will be mentioned here: the Gaj Collection (objects originating from the father of the Croatian national revival, Ljudevit Gaj), the Jelačić Collection (its core consists of the Bequest of Ban Josip Jelačić and his heirs), the Kulmer Collection, the Fon Collection, the Pajlok Collection, the Praunsperger Collection, the Desnica Collection, the Schwarz Collection and the newest Petković Collection.
Some of the arms were owned by the donors or sellers themselves, or their ancestors, who either used them in combat or had them as symbols of their reputation and dignity. Over time, the production technology and typology of weapons changed, as did the techniques of warfare and combat, and they also adapted to tastes and customs of both holding and using weapons and their ornamentation. In this manner, by examining the development of weapons, it is possible to follow the political and military, but also economic history of Croatia and its distinguished individuals and families.
The Arms and Armoury Collection is the most important one of its type in Croatia in terms of number of exponents and the diversity of their variations. It covers the period from the eleventh century to the present, and the arms are primarily from the territory of the crown lands of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, or from adjacent regions – particularly those under Ottoman suzerainty. The collection features over 5,500 objects that are categorized into three basic sub-groups: cold steel, firearms and military gear. We are proud to be able to show a major group of broadswords from knightly times, the first firearms – muskets and Petronels, lovely rapiers and Schiavonas, Turkish sabres and Oriental rifles, various weapons on shafts, a notable collection of yataghans, pistols and military and hunting rifles. We are particularly pleased to point out certain items that may be linked to the estates of the Zrinski family, followed by the sceptre of Ban Ignjat Gyulay (ban from 1806 to 1831), the sceptre of Ban Franjo Vlašić (ban from 1832 to 1840), the inaugural sabre of Ban Josip Jelačić, the magnate sabre of the Rauch, Pejačević, Bužan, Khuen Belassi and other families. The Collection also contains very luxurious and expensive examples of rifles and pistols, various firing systems and mechanisms, made in the best-known arms workshops in Europe, as well as arms workshops in Croatia: in Zagreb, Karlovac and Otočac. In terms of quality and beauty of rendering, these products of domestic workshops can stand side-by-side with the products of the best known Belgian, French, Italian, German or Austrian master weapons-makers.
It is precisely this diversity in the typology of arms and armoury and their ties to Croatian history that makes our Collection the equal of those in any major European museum.
Dora Bošković, Museum Advisor