The White Letter Chronicles

The White Letter Chronicles

History of white lettering on handguns

By Dennis Adler

Oh those pesky white letters. Sometimes they’re OK, like the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five or the Umarex S&W M&P40, they’re not correct but they’re not unattractive. Then there are manufacturers who feel compelled to fill the slide with their name, but white lettering isn’t exclusive to CO2 air pistols!

We all hate that white lettering on CO2 pistols. Nothing says air pistol like white lettering…or does it? White lettering on centerfire pistols has actually been used for almost a century. It is much less common today but there are some very noteworthy historical precedents for seeing white!

This Bergmann Model 1910 dates back to the early 1920s. You often see examples of this model, and later versions also built under license in Belgium, with white lettering to embellish the name.

White lettering is most often seen on German firearms and among the oldest examples is the Bergmann Model 1910/21 semiautomatic pistol. Theodore Bergmann introduced his first autoloader a year after Paul Mauser patented his design for the Broomhandle in 1895. In 1897 Bergmann and arms designer Louis Schmeisser introduced a new pistol using a removable box magazine; the basic pistol configuration that would become characteristic of all future Bergmann designs. An improved version was developed after the turn of the century, and rather than manufacturing them in Germany, Bergmann moved production to Herstal, Belgium, under license to Societe Anonyme Anciens Establissments Pieper. That is the name you see stamped into the barrel extension on the 1910 Model pictured above. Mauser used white lettering as well, often to highlight the manufacturer’s name stamped into the frame. White lettering was also used for export models to denote the retailer, such as Von Lengerke & Detmold in New York, which began selling Broomhandle Mauser pistols in 1897.

Mauser often did the same on Broomhandle models beginning in the late 1890s and continuing well into the 1930s.

Find a Hawke Scope

Walther was and is another company that occasionally uses white lettering on its handguns. One of the most distinguished being the Walther P.38 and the snub nose P.38K version developed in the early 1970s. Walther also uses white lettering on the P22, introduced in 2001, and still manufactured today in several versions including the P22 Target version pictured.

Walther has used white letters as far back as the WWII era. White letters can be found on various P.38 models and even newer P.38 versions, like this c.1970s snub nose P.38K. White letters are used on both sides of the slide.
Ironically, had Umarex chosen to use white letters on its Walther P.38 CO2 models it would have been technically correct, though the majority of P.38 pistols did not have white lettering.

White lettering also has another origin: gun collectors. Over time older guns have picked up white markings (by filling in the stampings with white paint or other medium) to make the markings more distinct. This was also the reason gunmakers used white. The vintage Colt Model 1905 semi-auto pictured below has white lettering on both side of the slide.

Vintage firearms like this Colt Model 1905 are sometimes seen with white lettering. It is not unusual to see collectible firearms with the factory stampings filled in. It does not reduce the value of the gun.
Even on some current Walther rimfire models, like the P22 Target, the Walther name and banner, model number, and manufacturer’s stamping are done in white.

White is also used on limited edition models, as is gold or silver, to set off special lettering or edition. So white lettering on the side of a CO2 model copied from a centerfire gun doesn’t always have to scream “air pistol.”

While less common on American guns, Taurus uses white letters on some models like this Ultra-Lite Titanium Model 444.

Of course, there are those bold face warnings on the right side of many air pistols, which are a visual affront. But even those have their centerfire counterparts with various armsmakers stamping warnings to “READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL” right into barrels or frames. Ruger has been doing this for years. Different manufacturers take different approaches, some more subtle than others. Air pistol manufacturers generally follow this same approach but with more information and white lettering.

Webley is one airgun manufacturer that has made every effort to keep the MK VI as authentic as possible and unnecessary marking, in any color, to an absolute minimum. The MK VI is one of the most detailed of all WWI and WWII military arms, especially in the weathered battlefield finish.

There are some manufacturers (and more and more are following suit) that either don’t place warnings on the air pistol or move it to a more discrete location on the underside of the barrel, triggerguard or frame. And we thank you!

White letters are not always used on air pistols but when they are most times there is a sense of style to it incorporating brand names and logos, but there are also companies that go overboard with names and warnings in impossible to miss white lettering. When that happens, there’s always my way of dealing with it!

When white lettering offends, there’s always my way, defarb the gun and give it an aged finish. It’s a lot of time and effort for an air pistol, but if you want a vintage look, it’s a means to an end.

6 thoughts on “The White Letter Chronicles”

  1. I am not sure how difficult it would be , but after performing a nice defarb, it would be nice to have a stencil that would allow the application of the proper markings

    • Not sure a stencil would work, no depth to the lettering and could rub off over time. Having hand engraving done would certainly work, just depends on how much you want to put into an air pistol for authentic detail. I’m sure it would cost as much as the air pistol itself, but engraving airguns is not uncommon. I’ll have to look at some options and write that up using the 1911.

      • Remember reading awhile back that it was possible to restore blurred markings on a pistol with a cutting pantograph. It traces and cuts the markings by copying an original . Would be less expensive than engraving

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