Reader & Friend JohnC sent me this pic of a Smith Model 629, which had all sorts of electronic drool stains on it:

I have to say, the artwork is well done, and extremely tasteful.

And yet, I have a love/hate relationship with engraving.  On the one hand, I regard the gun as a tool, and adding embellishment like the above often seems to me to be like engraving patterns onto a screwdriver or a chainsaw.

On  the other hand, I will never love any garage tool as much or in the same way as I love my 1911 — or pretty much any of my guns, really.  Guns may be tools, in other words, but not quite so much.

My problem with adding engraving onto a gun is that it makes it pretty, and that means you start treating it differently, either in its actual handling or else in frequency of use.  Turning a range gun into a safe queen… well, I think you all know where I stand on that issue.

Over at the Daily Timewaster, C.W. often has pics of fancy guns, like these two:

…and once again, I’m somewhat conflicted.  While nobody can complain about the craftsmanship in either case, I just can’t get excited about it other than that:  appreciation of the artistry.

Even with fine shotguns, I’m of a more conservative bent.  Here are two examples, from Steve Barnett’s House Of Horrors, of otherwise identical Venere-model shotguns from Abbiatico & Salvinelli:

I love the first, but kinda “meh” about the second.  And of course it’s not just the Italians.  Here are three from J. Purdey, the ultimate stiff-upper-lip Brit company:

Love the first, “meh” about the second, and the last is revolting.

And all that said, I think completely untouched shotguns look like shop tools.  Here are a pair of Winchester Model 21s:

The first is foul, the second is sensational:  understated elegance, defined.

What say you, O My Readers?


  1. As an architect and engineer I believe in a balance between form and function in all things. I can’t disagree with anything you have written in this article. If a gun is well designed and functions properly no other adornment is necessary. And yes, if it’s too pretty you will subliminally favor it and it no longer is just a tool but rather something to cherish and that can be a problem. Now, if I was very wealthy I’d probably have my share of trailer queens. Now, where my engraving tool iz? I’m gonna go draw some purty pitchers on the shaft of my 40 year old Estwing 28oz waffle faced framing hammer.

  2. I’ve got to say I prefer guns to be untouched like the Winchester 21 above, though I don’t mind case hardening. (Call me a Philistine if you like, I just think engraving makes them harder to clean – and keep clean).

  3. I think there’s a place for both. Just as you don’t wear the same clothes to go to a wedding as you do to mow the lawn, it’s OK if you don’t carry the same gun for each activity. And while you’re likely to be more CAREFUL with the pretty gun, providing it started off as a solid gun and the engraving didn’t didn’t detract from accuracy and reliability, there’s no reason not to use it. Use it, not abuse it, you wouldn’t want to use it in a manner which will wear it out prematurely, but properly used and maintained guns will last several lifetimes, engraved or not.

    Seems I read some time ago about the concept of a barbecue gun or Sunday-go-to-meeting gun.

  4. The first Winchester 21, plain, with some faded bluing, a few dings in the stock, and a lot of memories is better than the scroll work on the second Winchester. Especially if it’s been handed down from a family member.

    That said, if I had the money for the model 29 or the Diamondback, I’d buy it and shoot it regardless.

    I’d have to move up several tax brackets and suddenly find myself single again before I start buying safe queens. I don’t have anything against them per se, just don’t have a need or a budget for anything that fancy. I’ll let other people waste their money however they want.

  5. I read that when the rabbis were first compiling the Talmud, they had a long debate about whether weapons were actually decoration and therefore could be carried on the Sabbath. Seems backwards to me but theology has never been my strong suit. In any event, they decided no.

  6. My grandfather had a shotgun with a nice scene of a pair of flushed quail over a field engraved on the side. It was beautiful, but he kept it on the wall, and as far as I know, never used it. It wasn’t among my dad’s things when he passed away, so I assume he sold it at some point. He left his plain, unadorned shotgun to my son. That gun has been out rabbit hunting for three generations now, and I doubt it will ever leave the family.

  7. The 629 is laser engraved, which sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s a lot of hideous laser engraving out there nowadays.

  8. Would you pay a premium for a milling machine or a microscope or a mixer, that was embellished with rococco doodads?
    Well executed rococco doodads, that is.

  9. Like you, Kim, I’m conflicted on this, as well. I have no “safe queens” either, although once I discovered I had an all original early M1 Carbine, I bought all new parts to shoot it with (horrifying collectors), keeping the originals in oil in case I ever do want to sell it. But I shoot everything I own.

    I don’t like the over-the-top-can’t-find-a-smooth-spot guns. As has been said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I find them garish. I sent that because I think it has some of the nicest balance between scrollwork and smooth I’ve ever seen, and suspected your tastes and mine are not far apart. I find that revolver gorgeous.

    That said, I’d never buy one. However, I’ve heard the concept (in Texas, of course, and I’m sure NOT in Austin) of a BBQ gun, or a Sunday Go To Meeting gun, something you would wear to a social function. THAT revolver would be my choice if I ever had reason to attend such a function (and I won the lottery). It would not be every day carry, but I’d shoot it. Or maybe it would be every day carry if I was a Sheriff’s Deputy, but I’d do the bulk of my range practice with an identical unengraved gun

    When it comes down to it, it’s like Bob Hope‘S (I think) comment when he said he liked National Geographic and Playboy for the same reason. Both had lots of beautiful pictures of stuff he was never going to see in real life. I just like looking at them.

    But that, I thought, was a gorgeous representation of just the right balance in this type of thing, and I’d still shoot it. A little.

  10. A little bit of light engraving on a Beretta Silver pigeon looks just right, not too much and some of the old style single action colts are really nice to look at, cowboy guns that look right but not too practical for hard use. As for the rest of the stuff I agree, kind of like putting mud flaps, curb feelers, fender skirts and a continental kit on the back of a 1959 Cadillac, it just ain’t exactly right for most folks.

  11. I think about scrollwork/engraving on guns the same way as I do about tattoos on females: totally unnecessary and downright ugly. The only exception I’ll make gun-wise is for a quality side-by-side shotgun, especially if it’s a well-done hunting scene. On females, there are no exceptions.

      1. Innocent Bystander took the words out of my mouth. Tattoos on women still look like hideous bruises.Tasteful is in the eye of the beholder, engraving that complements the lines of a fine shotgun I could live with, but inlaid gold is not for me, even if I could afford it. Think of the pinstripe on a Rolls, that is enough, and it is still, I think ,done by hand. Laser or machine engraving lacks that “je ne sais quoi” of handwork, that is for sure.

        1. Don’t get me started about face or neck tattoos. That only looks OK if you are a Maori.

  12. What would Dan Shaver say about the “You’re F*****d” engraving inside the dust-door of LawEnforcementOfficial Phillip Brailsford’s duty-rifle?

  13. Those pistols do illustrate the concept of the barbecue gun. For those not versed in Texas history, the barbecue gun is the fancy gun you wear with your best suit when you’re invited to attend the Governor’s annual barbecue. As previous commenters said, it’s the Sunday dress-up, go-to-meeting gun, not the everyday working gun.

    My father once gave his father a very nice Sauer double-barrelled shotgun for Christmas, since his dad’s old gun was getting kind of battered. I don’t think grampa ever took the Sauer hunting – it was just too pretty.

  14. While Tammy Fay Baker looked like a gargoyle, somebody loved her. If ya hvae a chance visit the annual Vintage cup matches. Tents filled with quarter million dollar bespoke firearms. The folks who play at this level have different tastes. I never owned nor never will own a cigarette boat but can appreciate them. Seems like the Euro crowd pushes the envelope on taste. Take a look at President Eisenhowers model 21. Very tasteful in my eyes for the most powerful leader in the world…,-korea,-vietnam-and-beyond-1940-to-present/case-43-presidential-and-royal-guns/president-dwight-d-eisenhower's-winchester-model-21-shotgun.aspx

    On the other hand, one only has to visit Gunbroker to see that most folks treat their guns exactly like farm tools. Rusted, worn, broken, rode hard and put away wet. Hell, they have no respect for firearms even as tools. My old man, a factory man, would have wooped my ass if I treated anything like that. I had a friend who used to use Brillo pads and WD40 to “clean his guns”. The world is about 90 percent aholes.

  15. A friend of mine is a retired Louisville KY police sergeant (LPD). He retired in 1993, but back in the 70’s, long before he retired, he had the chance to purchase a limited edition, commemorative S&W 38 Special, which was the LPD issue weapon at that time. It is a beautiful handgun. Very well finished in blue with the LPD crest engraved on both side plates. It came in a very nice wooden box, also engraved, with all of the usual accoutrements. One of the things that made it special was that the Louisville PD is no more. It was reorganized about 20 years ago when the city and county merged and the city and county police departments became the Louisville *Metro* PD [LMPD] with an entirely different crest.

    He is getting on in years and recently offered it to me at a very good price.

    I very reluctantly turned it down.

    Why? Because in all these years it has never once been fired and I would want to take it to the range and shoot it. I have never been in law enforcement so it would not have the same sentimental value to me other than that he is my friend.

    I have two nephews who are on the LMPD right now, both of whom are gun collectors. I told him he should offer it to one of them. He did, but neither one took him up on the offer for the same reason I didn’t.

    I have only one gun that I don’t shoot anymore. It is an antique Kentucky long rifle (flintlock). It hangs on my wall.

  16. Got a business partner(ClassIII/SOT7) who one day in his late fifties decided he wanted to take up engraving. So he bought all the tools and took some serious classes and started cutting metal. He’s been doing it for a couple of years now and has turned out some really nice stuff. When he first was starting out I let him practice on some of my old not-so-nice pistols and now I have a really serious S&W M-39 compact BBQ gun that has about 99% coverage. His ongoing big project is a Harley tank with a lady riding a dragon that covers most of the tank. It’s to go with the dragon on the bike’s trannie housing. His site is Tomdotyengravingarts

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