A little distressed
Who is influencing who?
By Dennis Adler
Today I got an email from Dan Wesson, not the ASG Dan Wesson, the CZ-USA Dan Wesson with news about a new 1911 DW model, the Wraith. The name caught my attention right away, not exactly the name you would pick for a handgun unless there was something ominous about it. Well there isn’t, except that it has a unique distressed finish, black finished barrel and sights, and distinctive grips. Sound a little familiar? A little Sig Sauer WTP like?
So this morning I got an email from CZ-USA’s media relations announcing a new Dan Wesson 1911 model called the Wraith. As you can see, it is a very clean gun devoid of extensive markings or branding and just the model name in script. The most distinguishing feature of the gun, aside from the threaded muzzle, is the distressed version of Dan Wesson’s Duty finish. I have to say, this is something different that is very eye catching and falls into that category of seldom seen new guns with an aged, worn, or distressed finish. There are a number of gunmakers out there with custom finishes, not many though, who offer a distressed look. Think Sig Sauer 1911 WTP and that’s about as close as you get in a production model. Would we like to see ASG and Dan Wesson turn this into a new blowback action CO2 model with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine? Oh yes!
Distressed finishes on centerfire guns are not that common, custom finishes yes, but not deliberately aged finishes unless you are looking at Western guns, which were the original distressed finish handguns, with 19th century-design black powder and cartridge-loading single actions being offered up by manufacturers with worn finishes to look like original old guns. Very cool stuff for Western gun enthusiasts and, as it has turned out in the last few years, for CO2 guns based on original centerfire pistols and long arms. But now, who is influencing who?
The Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE in .45 ACP and as a CO2 model (this is the latter but the two look almost identical), is the epitome of a modern gun that is sold with a distressed finish and custom touches like the star grip panels. It is a little over the top for some folks, but right on the money for others. The new centerfire Dan Wesson Wraith falls somewhere in between.
Back in 1997 when I was writing Colt Blackpowder Reproductions & Replicas, the new thing was weathered finish versions of Colt, Remington, and other Civil War era percussion revolvers. Some gunmakers called it their “Original finish” which was totally erroneous because in the 19th century an original finish would be a factory blued or polished nickel gun; nobody back then made new guns that looked old. But the idea took hold in the late 1990s and has held fast ever since. Airgun manufacturers picked up on the idea a few years ago and began limited edition models with aged, worn, or weathered finishes, some under the guise of WWII commemoratives, others as battlefield worn finishes, and these limited editions caught on.
The really short-lived WWII model that we would love to see make a comeback is the Umarex Legends MP40 subgun which really had the look of a real battlefield aged WWII era gun, pictured at top.
My personal favorite and one that is presently unavailable, is the Umarex M712 Broomhandle Mauser with WWII finish. This proved to be one of the best looking of the aged finish CO2 guns to come from Umarex. The design of the gun lent itself to this look as well. If this one comes around again I would like to see it with wood grips, and more polished out surfaces on the hammer and bolt. This is an otherwise nearly perfect copy of the old select fire Mauser.
Some come and go, like the Umarex Legends MP40 and Model 712 Broomhandle, the WWII commemorative Umarex Colt Commander, Desert Storm Beretta 92, while some others make a comeback like the WWII P.08 Luger, or just become production versions like the John Wayne 1911 A-1, some of the Duke Peacemaker models, and the recent Sig Sauer 1911 WTP.
Another gun that Umarex did a great job on was the Colt 1911 A-1 WWII Commemorative which had most of the correct markings that we have not seen again on a 1911 air pistol.
The same happened with the Umarex Beretta M92 Desert Storm model. This limited edition model came and went quickly.
Actually, the new Dan Wesson Wraith falls right in the lap of the Swiss Arms 1911 A-1 model I defarbed and distressed about a year ago, with just about the same degree of wear and fade to the edges and slide finish. The Wraith is a kind of backhanded vindication from the centerfire gun world for what I thought was a great project gun in CO2.
Some of us have even taken up the art of defarbing and aging our CO2 models, like I did my Swiss Arms 1911 A-1 and Tokarev TT33, and these fairly worn looking guns become personal favorites. In the world of centerfire guns, manufacturers seem to be embracing this as well, as evidenced by the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE (which extends beyond just the 1911 in the centerfire line) and now the new Dan Wesson Wraith. New is good, old is better? But only on the outside, you don’t want a gun with a worn out action and eroded rifling. In reality, it takes years to wear the finish off a handgun if you carry it every day, and some finishes don’t wear that much at all. Scratch, yes, but wear down with use, little if any. So when you start making new guns that are already worn looking, you have to ask “where is this coming from?” Why would you put good money down on a new gun that looks like it has been ridden hard and put away wet? The answer is that it looks interesting. But this is honestly a one-way street.
My very first attempt at defarbing an air pistol (I have done quite a few black powder guns over the years) was a Gletcher Tokarev TT33 and I went pretty heavy on the finish, which was a learning curve since working with cold blue and oil to refinish an alloy gun is fairly unpredictable. Still, it is far better looking than the baked on matte finish the Gletcher came with. Now that more contemporary guns are being done with distressed or antiqued finishes I suspect we might see better antiqued finishes on CO2 models from the factory.
Some of the very early weathered finishes that Umarex tried on the Colt Peacemakers resulted in some very interesting looking guns that were sold as limited editions like this early BB cartridge model sold as a U.S. Marshals Museum commemorative. The wood grained plastic grips were also very nicely done on this limited series. This example enforces the idea that most limited edition models are not reissued once they sell out. If one comes along that is really appealing (like this one was to me), its best to buy it.
One not so limited edition series is the John Wayne Single Action line which has become a long term model with various finishes including a weathered look like the U.S. Marshals Museum model. The John Wayne fitted signature boxes are also still offered.
In the world of arms collecting, finish condition is everything, an old gun that has all or most of its original finish is worth many times what a worn and weathered gun is, unless that gun has some serious historical provenance.
The legendary Webley MK VI served enough time in two World Wars to earn itself a place in history as one of the most famous military sidearms. A WWII era gun was used by Peter O’Toole in the film Lawrence of Arabia, but that was a long time ago and the Webley MK VI CO2 is only a few years old. Still, it shouldn’t have taken too much imagination to realize that a battlefield finish would be ideal for the Webley MK VI CO2 model. And it is!
Maybe that’s implied when you look at a new gun with a weathered finish. And there are advantages to new guns that look old, or worn. You never have to be concerned about holster wear on the high edges, a scratch, well, that just adds to the character of the gun, and it looks like a gun you have had a long time and has become an old, trusted friend. But this is really just a gun thing.
It did take Webley a little while to get it done, but the best looking of all the CO2 models has become the Battlefield Finish MK VI. This is the one artificially aged air pistol every collector should own.
If you went down to your favorite new car showroom and there was a 2020 model on the lot with a hood in primer, faded, cracked paint on the trunk lid, half a dozen door dings, and a nicked fender, you wouldn’t say, “Hey, hey, that’s the one I want!”
Like I said, it’s a gun thing.