Photo Finishes

Photo Finishes

What is it about battlefield weathered guns that is so appealing?

By Dennis Adler

Weathered finishes on new guns are intended to duplicate naturally aged finishes on actual handguns and longarms. The faded bluing and loss of finish and discoloration on the 1858 Starr double action revolver at top is about a 50 to 60 percent gun for finish. The weathered finishes on CO2 models like the John Wayne Signature Series Umarex Colt Peacemaker and Air Venturi Model 1911 are less severe but show fine edge wear and fading to give them a more historic appearance. A lot of airgun enthusiasts and collectors find this very appealing.

When you look through high end firearms auction catalogs, like the Rock Island Auction Co. Premier Auction catalogs, the first thing you want to see is the photo or photos of the gun for sale, then the item description, and at the very end, what is written after the word Condition:

What you want to see is “Excellent” or “Very Fine” or at the worst “Fine” which usually indicates a worn but attractive patina with 60 percent of the original finish remaining. The rarity of the gun is part of what makes “Fine” actually fine because the gun is either hard to come by in any condition, and this usually applies to guns that are over a century old, or to those used in battle where the finish has been worn or faded over time. When it comes to WWII firearms, gun collectors look to find Very Good and Excellent guns, Fine, once again, is only appealing if the gun is rare or has historical provenance, and that is what makes Battlefield Finish CO2 pistols particularly interesting, they have the look of a gun that has a story to tell!

In the “so well done” category are two WWII era CO2 models that look as authentic and as aged as their centerfire counterparts, the remarkably authentic Battlefield Finish Webley MKVI revolver, manufactured by Webley (about as real as it gets in vintage era airguns) and the equally impressive Umarex MP40 submachine gun with weathered finish. These two are the best weathered finish CO2 models made.

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The weathered finished on current CO2 models became popular with the first Colt Peacemaker special editions like the John Wayne 5-1/2 inch and later John Wayne Model 1911. There were also some earlier limited models like the U.S. Marshall Colt Peacemaker. These caught the attention of airgun collectors and eventually led to a number of weathered finish models from Umarex, including current special edition Peacemakers. But when we get to WWI and WWII era guns, the choices are far more varied and once again that “fine” condition rating becomes appropriate for models like the Luger P.08 Parabellum, Mauser Model 712, the MP40 submachine gun, and Webley MKVI revolver, as well as the Model 1911, which all constitute a sub category of CO2 models just for weathered or Battlefield Finish guns.

King among the blowback action WWII semi-auto pistols, the Umarex Legends Mauser M712 select-fire Broomhandle is almost as authentic as the Webley and MP40 but leans a little heavy on the black aged finish (rather than a faded blued finish) as does the Umarex WWII Edition Luger P.08 Parabellum. Even still, they are far more eye appealing in an historic sense with their weathered finishes than the standard models.

The court of appeal

What really draws us to old guns with worn finishes when they are reproductions and not the originals? Few would pick a 60 percent or less condition gun over an 80 to 95 percent condition gun, and the main reason is that condition is more than finish, it is also mechanical, and that is the appeal for CO2 models, they are perfectly functioning new guns that have the look of battle tested old guns without the mechanical infirmities that lesser condition actual WWI and WWII guns often suffer. Catalogs often state, “Mechanically fine” with comments about issues such as “cylinder doesn’t lock” or “trigger needs work” and other mechanical problems that may or not be repairable.

The Webley MKVI is so well done that at a glance it is almost hard to tell it from a real WWII era MKVI (top). The CO2 model’s construction is based on the original MKVI blueprints. If I were buying only one WWII era revolver as a CO2 model, this would have to be it. The Battlefield Finish MKVI also has a rifled barrel so it shoots 4.5mm pellets, not BBs.

Now here’s a little bit of finish trivia. The Civil War era Starr double action revolver pictured in the lead photo is not 158 years old. It is about 10 years old. It was originally a brand new Pietta Starr black powder revolver manufactured in Italy. This 100 percent authentic reproduction chambered in .44 caliber was completely stripped of its blued finish and antiqued to appear as an original Civil War era gun with a well worn and aged patina. The sample for this process was then proofed at an antique arms show, where it was inspected by a number of firearms appraisers and judged to be an actual old Starr revolver from the Civil War era. Of course, everyone was let in on the secret after the fact, but it had passed through the hands of some very credible firearms appraisers unscathed by its true identity. This speaks to the authenticity of the Pietta reproduction and the art of refinishing a new gun to look old and authentic.

So, this 158 year-old Starr double action revolver is actually a professionally defarbed and aged Italian copy manufactured in Italy by Pietta. This one has had many a gun collector shaking their heads over the years since it was hand-finished and aged by the great Robert L. Millington. Now retired, (so no point in asking how to get ahold of him), Millington recreated some of the finest 19th century Colt, Remington, and Civil War-era handguns both as new finish and antique models. Imagine what he could have done with the current crop of authentic CO2 models!

This gun had been antiqued by a professional, which is fine so long as it is never really passed off or sold as an original. It was even used in the Blue Book of Gun Values Photo Percentage Grading Scale as an example of a 60 percent condition Civil War era revolver. What makes these so popular today is that one might be hesitant to load an actual 158 year-old gun and fire it, and that’s the beauty of this gun, and many others like it today, they are made of tougher stuff than the originals and they are only old on the outside. These are desirable for movies and television and to collectors who like authentic looking “holster stuffers.” The desirability of aged guns, however, has translated remarkably well to the airgun industry giving collectors a choice between a modern airgun finish and one with a worn, blotchy, faded patina.

Aging an air pistol can be hard work as I explained in my “Defarbing a 1911” series of articles using a Swiss Arms WWII era design 1911A1. The refinished gun (top) looks more realistic than the weathered finish on the John Wayne Signature Series 1911, but it certainly is a lot less work, since it comes this way!

The best part of that deal is that the price is usually the same or just slightly more for the Battlefield Finish. A professionally antiqued gun costs more to do than the gun is actually worth, so it is strictly for the satisfaction of the owner. Most are done for movies and usually in sets of three identical guns so there are backups if one gets damaged or broken during filming. There are companies that specialize in taking modern reproductions and defarbing them and ageing them to look as authentic as the Starr pistol in this article.

Back in the DIY category is the first CO2 pistol I ever tried to defarb and antique, a Gletcher TT33. The CO2 models are on the MIA list for now, but even with a separate CO2 chamber in the grip and a stick magazine, one of the best looking of all Russian handgun designs and a great shooting CO2 pistol. If you can find one, buy it. As for defarbing and refinishing, that’s a pretty intensive project as any of you who have tried it know. But done right, the results are worth the elbow grease, time and expense.

The aged CO2 models shown, are so much more affordable that for the sheer fun of having an authentic looking old pistol you can’t beat them for the money or for the looks. With these CO2 models age before beauty is the same thing!

7 thoughts on “Photo Finishes”

  1. The inside of the Webley is just as good as the outside in marked contrast to say the Peacemakers.
    Those pistols will still be pushing out the pellets and BBs in 100 yrs time (washers excepted)!!That is not to say that the Peacemakers do not do the job ; they do very well but compare the parts and springs and you will agree with my view of the Webley’s longevity. This has been borne out in practice.
    I have had a Webley for 3 years and the only breakdown I have had was due to the use of Dan Wesson shells.
    I hope the Cowboy legends will stand up to the welly it is currently receiving!!!

    • The Webley revolvers are excellent. I have the exhibition pellet and bb blues version. Well made, but they have their flaws. Poor sighting on the bright model , fixed by blackening the rib of the barrel and red front, and a weak release spring that can open the action too easily. I have used several Peacemakers for fast draw practice, both thumb cocking and fanningwuthout a single problem. They are also dead on accurate. Thumbs up for the thumb buster!

    • Derek, there is no way to go wrong with the Webley MKVI. It is one of the absolute best CO2 air pistols, especially in the very realistic-looking Battlefield finish. I have several Peacemaker CO2 models, so far so good but the MKVI is ruggedly built (or overbuilt) a very British tradition with Webley, Enfield, etc. Just good guns!

  2. I have to say , with a few weathered finish Peacemakers and a WW2 P08 in my airgun arsenal , that your finish is much nicer. I would like to see a blue Gletcher Nagant get the same treatment. Umarex should offer-a weathered 71/2 Cavalry revolver, it should then be given antigun case colors to the frame and hammer and your aged finish to the barrel , cylinder and ejector rod. Real wood RAC inspector grips wood be a nice touch

  3. Umarex came close to your 1911 defarb with the WW2 Combat Vet , but your finish is more authentic. If the actual markings could be put on with a pantograph, it would be a dead ringer. Umarex is missing out by not offering higher even pistols for the serious collectors and shooters

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