Airguns of the American West Part 4

Airguns of the American West Part 4

Delivering Western Justice – The hand engraved Umarex Colt Models

By Dennis Adler 

Set atop a print of the 1876 Colt Centennial Exposition display cabinet, the Adams & Adams hand engraved copy of the L.D. Nimschke .45 Colt 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker and the new hand engraved Umarex Colt 5-1/2 inch .177 caliber Peacemaker shows how realistic the air pistols can be made to look.

Set atop a print of the 1876 Colt Centennial Exposition display cabinet, the Adams & Adams hand engraved copy of the L.D. Nimschke .45 Colt 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker and the new hand engraved Umarex Colt 5-1/2 inch .177 caliber Peacemaker shows how realistic the air pistols can be made to look.

As far back as the late 1580s firearms were being embellished by the engraver’s hand. Wheelock pistols and muskets were among the very first, each unique to the craftsman who engraved them. But by the mid to late 1600s engravers were beginning to record their work in pattern books. As noted by historian R.L. Wilson in Steel Canvas, “In 1684 French engraver Claude Simonin published a book of his engraving patterns comprised of designs that could be adapted to deluxe flintlock firearms, thus allowing engravers the advantage of sources to copy.” The pattern books of 19th century engravers, particularly the works of Gustave Young and Louis Daniel Nimschke and their work on Colt revolvers, have long been the source of designs for 20th and 21st century engravers, as have the guns themselves.

A hand engraved Colt was often a presentation pistol to famous lawmen, either from Colt’s or the people of a town to their Sheriff or Marshal. Engraved guns were also an occasional hallmark of gunfighters and outlaws.

A hand engraved Colt was often a presentation pistol to famous lawmen, either from Colt’s or the people of a town to their Sheriff or Marshal. Engraved guns were also an occasional hallmark of gunfighters and outlaws.

Within the world of firearms engraving there are some constants in the established patterns used by the vast majority of engravers; foliate designs, vine scrollwork of various sizes, the popular banknote scroll, classic French fleur de lis motif, barrel bands (also referred to by engravers as wedding bands) and of course, the use of animal heads and animals, often hunting dogs, which can be traced back to the 1600s. Though many of these design motifs were well established in the 1700s, it was Gustave Young, Samuel Colt’s first master factory engraver, who brought so much of it together in his early presentation Colt revolvers. Young remained at Colt’s from 1852 to 1871 when he left to establish his own shop in Springfield, Massachusetts. His replacement was Cuno A. Helfricht, the son of Colt stock maker and engraver Charles J. Helfricht. His work advanced the designs forged by Young and along with his own variations and patterns; he remained in charge of Colt’s engraving department for a remarkable 50 years! There are more Helfricht engraved Colts today than any other.

Three of the current hand engraved Umarex Colt single actions, the first hand engraved model (at top), a hand engraved nickel finished model (at left), and the hand engraved John Wayne “Duke” commemorative SAA. The patterns are based, in part, on the Helfricht engraved Colts displayed at the Centennial Exposition.

Three of the current hand engraved Umarex Colt single actions, the first hand engraved model (at top), a hand engraved nickel finished model (at left), and the hand engraved John Wayne “Duke” commemorative SAA. The patterns are based, in part, on the Helfricht engraved Colts displayed at the Centennial Exposition.

Of course, neither Young nor Helfricht worked alone, they had family members, Young his sons Eugene and Oscar, along with a staff of journeyman engravers, and assistants. Colt’s, along with other armsmakers like Smith & Wesson, Remington and Winchester (which had its own in-house engraving department run by the Ulrich family), also used the services of independent engravers like New York’s renowned Louis Daniel Nimschke. The Nimschke shop established what is known as the New York style of engraving, which was famously sold through Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, (which employed L. D. Nimschke and his shop as their “in-house” engraver), Tiffany & Co., and other prominent 19th century retailers. The Nimschke pattern books are regarded as among the most influential today.

The original 1870’s Nimschke gun and the Adams & Adams copy both had gold plated hammers, trigger, cylinders and ejectors. The Adams & Adams Umarex Colt version has a real gold plated cylinder, hammer and trigger.

The original 1870’s Nimschke gun and the Adams & Adams copy (bottom) both had gold plated hammers, triggers, cylinders and ejectors. The Adams & Adams Umarex Colt version (top) has a real gold plated cylinder, hammer and trigger.

The Colt Custom Shop (and before that, the Colt factory engraving shop) have been producing hand engraved models since the establishment of the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Co. in 1855, and even before that, with engraved guns from Colt dating back to the 1836 Paterson models. Those same historic engraving patterns have been reproduced in the 20th and 21st centuries by America’s (and Europe’s) top engravers. Among those who have, and still do work for Colt’s, is Adams & Adams of Vershire, Vermont. John J. Adams Sr. has worked with Colt’s for over 30 years and his son, John J. Adams, Jr., has worked for the Colt’s Custom Shop and Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center. Today, Adams & Adams is one of the most historic names in modern western gun engraving dating all the way back to John J. Adams’ work for the legendary Alvin A. White and AA White Engraving.

The exacting dimensions of the Umarex Colt Peacemaker, compared to a .45 Colt SAA, allow engraving designs to be as accurate as possible. The Umarex Colts are all metal construction using aluminum alloys and a steel .177 caliber barrel liner, whereas cartridge-firing Colts Single Actions are all steel throughout, which is why the airguns are a little lighter in overall weight.

Exact dimensions of the Umarex Colt Peacemaker (top), compared to a .45 Colt SAA, allows the engraving to be accurate to the original. The Adams & Adams Umarex Colt Nimschke Model follows the design patterns from the original 1870’s Nimschke SAA.

Adams & Adams specializes in the Gustave Young, Cuno A. Helfricht, and Louis Daniel Nimschke engraving styles and it is the latter which is used on the forthcoming nickel and gold Nimschke Umarex Colt Peacemakers. The designs on this gun are copied from an original Nimschke gun done for Schuyler, Hartley & Graham in the 1870s, and a reproduction of that 7-1/2 inch .45 Colt caliber SAA created by Colt’s and Adams & Adams in 2008.

Engraving the Umarex Peacemakers

L.D. Nimschke is perhaps the most famous and prolific of 19th Century engravers outside of the Colt’s factory shop. He did much of the engraving seen on Colts sold through Schuyler, Hartley and Graham in New York, as well as for Tiffany & Co. which at one time in its history sold lavishly engraved handguns.

Details of the Adams & Adams Nimschke hand engraved Umarex Colt include the top strap (in a correct but bolder period design different from the Nimschke) and similar Nimschke style patterns on the frame, cylinder, barrel and ejector. The mechanical design of the air pistol precludes engraving on the shovel portion of the backstrap, but the airgun has engraving at the top and base, and under the triggerguard. Also note the duplicate hand checkering of the hammer spur.

Details of the Adams & Adams Nimschke hand engraved Umarex Colt include the top strap (in a correct but bolder period design different from the Nimschke) and similar Nimschke style patterns on the frame, cylinder, barrel and ejector. The mechanical design of the air pistol precludes engraving on the shovel portion of the backstrap, but the airgun has engraving at the top and base, and under the triggerguard. Also note the duplicate hand checkering of the hammer spur.

L.D. Nimschke’s style, and that of the Nimschke Shop, was unique in the combination of engraving elements, and extensive use of punch dot backgrounds to add greater depth to the engraving. Patterns were usually a combination of vine scrolls, sunbursts, crosshatch panels (usually on the side of the frame where it meets the barrel), and use of borders or waves and dots to accent ejector housings and frames. This is the style used by Adams & Adams for the forthcoming Umarex Colt Nimschke Peacemaker.

Though not done all the time, hand engraving on nickel plated guns is often inked in by hand to give the engraving greater detail and contrast against the polished finish. Adams & Adams has gone the extra step to ink in the engraving on the Umarex Colts.

Though not done all the time, hand engraving on nickel plated guns is often inked in by hand to give the engraving greater detail and contrast against the polished finish. Adams & Adams has gone the extra step to ink in the engraving on the Umarex Colts.

The engraving on this gun is also inked in, a process used to accent the engraving on nickel plated (or silver plated) guns. In addition, following the details of the Schuyler, Hartley and Graham 7-1/2 inch Colt, the cylinder, hammer and trigger on the Umarex Peacemaker are separately gold plated before the engraving.

This is the most lavishly engraved of all the Umarex Colt Peacemakers, and like the current hand engraved blued and nickel plated .177 caliber Peacemakers currently available, the Nimschke will only be offered in a limited edition.

The forthcoming Nimschke limited edition Umarex Colt and a current nickel plated hand engraved Umarex Colt model. Both with 50-1/2 inch barrel lengths.

The forthcoming Nimschke limited edition Umarex Colt along with a current nickel plated, hand engraved Umarex Colt model. Both pistols have 5-1/2 inch barrel lengths.

The same patterns are used for both the current nickel and blued models. With the blued guns you get an interesting reversed (negative) effect with the bright alloy beneath the blued finish coming though. If the engraving were inked, it would blend in much as engraving does on blued handguns.

The same patterns are used for the current nickel and blued models. With the blued guns you get an interesting reversed (negative) effect with the bright alloy beneath the blued finish coming through. If the engraving were inked, it would blend in much as engraving does on blued handguns.

The hand engraving for the Umarex Colts is no different today than it was in L.D. Nimschke’s time. Actually when it comes to hand engraving very little has changed since Young, Helfricht and Nimschke picked up their tools and began carving into metal in the 19th Century.

A word about safety

Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.

12 thoughts on “Airguns of the American West Part 4

  1. Very nice to see affordable engraved revolvers based on the Umarex Peacemakers . BB Pelletier has stated that a 7 1/2 barrel Peacemaker is coming soon . I would think that engraved versions of that barrel length would follow as well . Received a surprise in the mail today . A fall issue of GOTOW . I thought they had ceased publishing with theMay issue


  2. New owners. The title is being published again with many of the same people behind the scenes including the original managing editor and art director, both top notch guys! I’m not back with them yet, but we’ll see.

    As to the 7-1/2 inch SAA mentioned by BB Pelletier, when that becomes available it will most likely be offered as an engraved model. Like I said earlier, western airguns are the new frontier.

    Dennis Adler



    • They sure are. My only worry is the seals going making them less of a bargain. I have needed to purchase a second spare mag on my Makarov after only six months and I wound up trahing a Hatsan semiauto pistol after 3 bad mags just out of warranty. Some seem more resilient than others. I have old Crosman single actions and Hahns that hold air for years, the real stinkers are the Crosman 38t revolvers I have resealed them more than a sandwich leftover bag


  3. CO2 BB magazines are different than the operation of the single actions, and I have put quite a few rounds through the Umarex SAA models with zero issues. Not sure why you had a probelm with the Makarov, but magazines can be a bit touchy. I always have at least three or four on hand for any of the CO2 BB magazine airguns. Always make sure to put a drop of Pellgun oil on the tip of your CO2 cartridge before inserting it into the gun. This extends the life of the seals and keeps things running better.


  4. Hi Dennis, I have a Umarex S&W TRR8 which is a great pistol, but the gas valve leaks. I have tried pell gun oil and auto transmission conditioner with no luck. The beauty of semi automatics is that you can buy a new magazine and thus get new gas system. With the revolver frame mounted valve , it is harder to work on. I do not have any kind of tool to remove the faulty valve. Thanks for the history of the engraving. What a work of art.
    Harvey


    • There is a lot of great history behind today’s western airguns and the products will continue to improve as more air gun enthusiasts find western guns interesting to shoot compared to modern-style pistols and semi-autos. It is the same attraction that led to organizations like the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and other cowboy action shooting groups. While they use live ammo, (wax bullets in fast draw competition) the air guns are great for training and actually air gun competition “western style” would be a lot of fun! I do it for the articles and I’m sure there isn’t anyone who likes western guns and air guns who wouldn’t have a ball shooting BB and pellet single actions at SASS-style tragets from 21 feet. All the fun, without the noise, clean up and often substantial cost. I think it’s a win-win for the cowboy action shooting crowd.


  5. After Making this post I dug the TRR8 out of it’s box and instead of pellgun oil on the tip of the co2 cartridge I dabbed the auto transmission sealer on it. Viola, at this time no leaks. Maybe it takes a long time for that sealer to work.
    Harvey


  6. while not a true single action western revolver ,it would be nice to see a short barrel bulldog Webley. That revolver is one of my favorites, accurate and hard hitting with bona fide historical ,and movie credentials. Have used the pell gun on co2 for all my airguns, do you advocate storing airguns with an empty lubed co2 cartridge?


  7. I’ve never stored my airguns with an empty lubed CO2 cartridge in them. I do make sure the seals are properly lubed each time I insert a CO2 and you can leave a little Pellgun lube on the seal for storage, although Umarex does not recommend it as it puts too much Pellgun oil into the gun next time you load a CO2 cartridge. If you decide to do it anyway for storage, just put a drop on a CO2 cartrige, insert it, roll it around so the oil is on the seal and then remove the CO2 cartridge. There are other tricks you can find on the internet that work for fixing leaking seals but normally just a little follow up routine care as indicated in the instructions usually covers it. Seals do wear out, and Umarex does make repairs. To replace the seals on the Peacemaker, Umarex charges about $70 and this includes new seals, labor, and return shipping.


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