Colt’s Aluminum Canvas

Colt’s Aluminum Canvas

The art of engraving the CO2 Peacemakers

By Dennis Adler 

The art of arms engraving is more than 500 years old, and the tools used to engrave a modern Colt Peacemaker, even this limited edition Umarex Colt Adams & Adams hand engraved SAA CO2 model, are essentially the same, as are the patterns used by such legendary Colt engraves as Cuno A. Helfricht, Gustave Young, and Louis D. Nimschke.

The art of arms engraving is more than 500 years old, and the tools used to engrave a modern Colt Peacemaker, even this limited edition Umarex Colt Adams & Adams hand engraved SAA CO2 model, are essentially the same, as are the patterns used by such legendary Colt engraves as Cuno A. Helfricht, Gustave Young, and Louis D. Nimschke.

One of my very best friends wrote a book some years ago titled Steel Canvas. It was a literary and illustrative history of the art of arms engraving, and over the years it has not only inspired many of my articles on firearms, but portions from several of my own books on Old West and Civil War era firearms. Engraving was regarded as not just an art form but a means of paying respect to the individuals who were presented with engraved pistols and rifles like Winchester lever actions and Colt Peacemakers, and long before that finely embellished knives, shields, and armor. The art of arms engraving spans more than 500 years since the earliest Matchlock and Wheelock rifles and pistols were engraved in the late 16th Century.

The 1876 Centennial Exposition Colts were, at the time, the most highly engraved Colt Single Action Army Revolvers ever done. The Centennial engraving is attributed to Cuno A. Helfricht and his shop at Colt’s.

The 1876 Centennial Exposition Colts were the most highly engraved Colt Single Action Army Revolvers ever done at the time. The Centennial engraving is attributed to Cuno A. Helfricht and his shop at Colt’s.

It was this rich history that inspired Samuel Colt to use engraved firearms as presentation pieces to European royalty, Russian Czars, Presidents, politicians and military officers. From the beginning of his first firearms manufacturing company in Paterson, New Jersey, (1835 to 1842), and throughout the remainder of his career, as founder of the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company in 1855 until his untimely death in January of 1862 at age 48, Samuel Colt made the engraver’s art legendary.

By 1862, the Colt tradition had been firmly established, and Colt’s continued on with the manufacturing and presentation of finely hand engraved revolvers. That practice, established by Samuel Colt more than 180 years ago, continues to this very day. In Steel Canvas, author R.L. Wilson noted that, “Considering all the trades that together make a fine gun or edged weapon, only filing, polishing, and engraving employ the same basic tools that have been in use for some five centuries. An engraver from centuries past would feel very much at home if he stepped up to a modern workbench to cut a Colt Peacemaker revolver. His only real concern would be the increased hardness of the metal. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, having to fight tough steel was virtually unheard of. Today many steels (including stainless) are so hard that even in their so-called soft state they are extremely difficult to engrave.”

One of the great American masters of Western engraving was Howard Dove. Done in a combination of styles, this cased pair of Dove engraved 2nd Generation Colt .45s show the ultimate in hand engraving, 100 percent coverage.

One of the great American masters of Western engraving was Howard Dove. Done in a combination of styles, this cased pair of Dove engraved 2nd Generation Colt .45s show the ultimate in hand engraving, 100 percent coverage.

John Adams, Sr. of Adams & Adams, recreated the engraving from the famous Colt factory engraved SAA presented to legendary Frontier lawman Bill Tilghman in December 1893. The 2nd Generation Colt reproduction of Tilghman’s Peacemaker is now in a private collection.

John Adams, Sr. of Adams & Adams, recreated the engraving from the famous Colt factory engraved SAA presented to legendary Frontier lawman Bill Tilghman in December 1893. The 2nd Generation reproduction of Tilghman’s Peacemaker is in a private collection.

In just the past two years, the advent of the aluminum alloy construction used for the Colt Peacemaker .177 caliber CO2 air pistol has brought about its own renaissance of the engraver’s art, by once again providing a metal that is strong, yet yields to the graver and chasers hammer in the hands of a skilled artisan.

The patterns used for the limited edition Nimschke Umarex Colt Peacemaker are taken from actual guns engraved by L.D. Nimschke for New York retailers Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, and Tiffany & Co. in the 1870s. The Umarex models engraved by Adams & Adams have the same depth of engraving, punch dot backgrounds, plus the addition of hand inking to bring the engraving to its highest detail.

The patterns used for the limited edition Nimschke Umarex Colt Peacemaker are taken from actual guns engraved by L.D. Nimschke for New York retailers Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, and Tiffany & Co. in the 1870s. The Umarex models engraved by Adams & Adams have the same depth of engraving, punch dot backgrounds, plus the addition of hand inking to bring the engraving to its highest detail.

The possibilities for creating the same level of fine engraving used on Colt revolvers since the mid 19th Century is almost endless, as the pattern books of legendary Colt engravers such as Gustave Young and Cuno A. Helfricht, and famed New York City engraver Louis Daniel Nimschke, offer a treasure trove of designs that can be recreated not only in steel but now in aluminum.

What we have seen, and are about to see done with Single Action airguns, and not only Colts but others, presents for the first time in both the history of firearms and airguns, an opportunity for almost anyone to own a piece of handcrafted functional fine art, and at a price that is not prohibitive.

When you start running the numbers it’s really amazing because you are getting what would be a $1,200 to $1,500 engraving job on a cartridge-firing .45 Colt Peacemaker, on a $200 gun for $600. The Nimschke is a lot of gun for the money and the Adams & Adams hand engraving is the same!

A close look at the front of the gripstrap reveals the AA signature that appears on Adams & Adams hand engraved firearms, thus making this Colt licensed Peacemaker .177 caliber revolver authentic right down to the engraver’s signature.

A close look at the front of the gripstrap reveals the AA signature that appears on Adams & Adams hand engraved firearms, thus making this Colt licensed Peacemaker .177 caliber revolver authentic right down to the engraver’s signature.

If you are a Western gun enthusiast, and have not already taken advantage of the opportunity to own a hand engraved Colt revolver because it was just too expensive, the current and future line of Umarex Colts and other Western handguns recreated as authentic .177 caliber reproductions, represents an unprecedented opportunity, even to collectors who have the real guns. I said about a month ago when I began the recent series of articles on Airguns of the American West, that this was the new frontier. And we are only just seeing the horizon.

5 thoughts on “Colt’s Aluminum Canvas

  1. With the high price and limited availability of Colt Single Action revolvers today , these engraved airguns are quite appealing. The alternative to a hand engraved Colt , is a laser engraved replica like the Pietta. Here you are getting a hand engraved limited edition Single Action Peacemaker at a very reasonable price for the degree of workmanship you receive. It would be interesting to see if laser engraving could work on the Umarex guns to get them out for general use in greater numbers for those who hesitate spending a few hundred on an airgun. I think for the hand engraved models a higher grade pair of grips would increase the appeal of the revolver. Fleur de lis pattern or white Horse and eagle or Steer’s head grips would be nice. as would be mother of pearl pearlite grips with small Colt medallions


  2. Would also be nice to see an all nickel engraved Umarex 7 1/2 inch barrel Peacemaker. While some like them . I never liked the two tone trim ,which Colt used on most of the 22 alloy frame Scouts. My favorites , of which I have a pair are the all nickel Bat Masterson Scouts , from you guessed it, the Lawman Series , made in 67


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