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Modern Masterpieces: History of engraving belongs to the Italians as much as any other country 2/4

By S.P. Fjestad and Dennis Adler

Italian Engraving and a visit to the Dassa Workshop

In the Val Trompia region of northern Italy, beautifully situated at the base of the Alps, the most important two Italian words for the hard working craftsman in this area over the past 500 years have been “fucili” and “incidere” – or guns and engraving in English.

Over the centuries the Val Trompians have earned their reputation as being extremely independent, stubborn, talented, and hard working. The finest examples of arms and armament produced in the last 500 years were typically engraved and custom-made for royalty, dignitaries, and high ranking military officers.

And thanks to those who owned (and used) them, the gun also had the potential to become a work of decorative art. The object itself in its design for both form and function was often like a fine piece of sculpture.

The user could admire it, use it for hunting, target shooting, and self defense and, most importantly, experience the sheer joy of owning something practical, beautiful, and deadly.

Italian engraving has transitioned into its own distinctive art form, especially after WWII. In December 1976, Italian gunmaker Mario Abbiatico published Grandi Incisioni su Armi D’Oggi (Great Engraving on Today’s Arms), which was the first in an extensive series of beautifully illustrated books depicting ornately engraved guns made in Brescia, Italy.

Serious American engravers and connoisseurs of fine guns eagerly purchased each volume and over time, names like Galeazzi, Fracassi, Pedersoli, the Pedrettis, and Terzi were respectfully spoken among engravers and fine gun aficionados alike

The second Remington from Pietta and Dassa is based on a presentation gun given to Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer after the Civil War. (historic photo courtesy R.L. Wilson)

Walking into the Dassa brothers’ shop located in a small strip mall, both customers and visitors immediately feel comfortable because of the ambience and interior decor.

The front showroom looks more like an art gallery, with many framed paintings, prints, and related artwork hung from the walls. A large antique desk and other office décor remind the guest(s) of the business environment.

Not all engraving shops in Val Trompia are created equal and can range from unkempt basements with no natural lighting to well-lit studios with multiple work stations like Incisioni Dassa.

The Starr single action was the third most commonly carried Union sidearm. The Pietta SA model is the only reproduction of this historic break action percussion revolver manufactured. The deluxe Dassa engraved model, copied from an original post Civil War era gun, is beautifully inlaid in gold and silver.

Mauro and Sergio greet everyone with unassuming but warm smiles and look very professional in their personalized maroon work smocks and aprons.

After greetings are exchanged followed by a short introductory discussion, we go to the back room where all the engraving is performed.

There’s also a showroom in the basement, offering a wide variety of shooting/sporting related items – everything from premium greeting cards featuring sporting motifs to elaborately hand-painted coat hooks and miniature decoys, cast from a fine stone mixture. Mauro’s English is much better than he thinks, and sometimes Elena Micheli-Lamboy, long-term Italian translator, patiently listens as we converse in slow, basic subject, verb, and predicate English.

Naturally, we hang out in the engraving studio and talk about the various disciplines of hand engraving they can offer their customers, including enamel painting on metal. This is what separates the Dassas from the rest of the engravers in Val Trompia.

Not only can they expertly engrave an object regardless of the techniques needed, but they can also work with almost any budget consideration or restraints. Mauro tells me it is very important for them to remain affordable to almost all potential customers.

That’s what I like about the Dassa brothers – they have something for everybody and the customer will get the same level of quality and service regardless of the price point. Compare this to some of Italy’s older master engravers who won’t take a commission unless the well-heeled patron is willing to spend more than five digits and wait three to five years. The Dassas may also be the only engravers anywhere to accept credit cards! In addition to being talented craftsman and artists, they also have the savvy to make their business consumer friendly in the 21st century.

Anyone who custom orders a Dassa-engraved firearm or black powder replica definitely gets the best of both worlds –new world quality guaranteed by improved Italian manufacturing techniques coupled with the value of old world hand engraving by two of Val Trompia’s better engravers.

Just as Colt has offered factory engraving and special order options/finishes on its single actions for 140 years, which are now the most expensive revolvers on the planet, the Dassa brothers are engraving and providing ornamentation on a variety of firearms and other objects with their own unique style.

This article continues in the next issue of the editorial Pietta ...


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