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Modern Masterpieces: History of engraving belongs to the Italians as much as any other country 3/4

By S.P. Fjestad and Dennis Adler

F.lli Pietta SA Customs by Dassa

Since F.lli Pietta began manufacturing single action revolvers based on historic Colt models produced from the 1870s through the turn of the last century, the demand from collectors and enthusiasts alike has been for authentic but reasonably-priced reproductions that are both suitable for shooting and displaying, the latter being the reason Pietta and Dassa formed their relationship to create and recreate a series of single action revolvers indicative of the originals, with many based on famous historic guns.

Pictured are one of the original Centennial revolvers engraved by Helfricht and the new Centennial Buntline by Dassa. Note how Dassa incorporated various design elements from the original but also added their own personal touch by using a large bear’s head on the rear of the instead of an entire bear.

One of the most ambitious was the Pietta Buntline the Dassas engraved in the styles of those exhibited by Colt’s at the great 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

The Buntline was truly a masterpiece that managed, in one gun, to incorporate aspects of more than half a dozen various 1876 Centennial display guns originally produced by Colt’s master engraver Cuno A. Helfricht. Mauro notes that “The engraving from the mid-19th century was definitely prestigious.

However, modern techniques allow us to reach much higher levels of quality now.” To that end the Dassa Brothers were able to use a combination of techniques to recreate and in some ways go a step beyond the Centennial guns in crafting a single example to embody Helfricht’s designs.

His use of intricate scrollwork, animal figures such as bears and eagles, and elaborate border engraving around frames and cylinders was unprecedented on Colt Peacemakers prior to his engraving opus for the 1876 Centennial.

In December of 1893 famous frontier lawman Bill Tilghman was presented with a handsomely engraved Colt Single Action by the citizens of Perry, frame Oklahoma. The reproduction by Dassa is faithful to the New York style of engraving on the original. original photo of the gun with the ammo box was taken in the 1980s when the Tilghman gun was owned by John Bianchi and displayed in his Frontier Museum.

The same is true of several special guns recently engraved by Dassa based on originals, such as the Colt presented to famous frontier lawman Bill Tilghman in December 1893 from the citizens of Perry, Oklahoma.

Along with his deputies, Tilghman was largely responsible for wiping out organized crime in Oklahoma, particularly in Perry, a lawless, wide open boom town that Tilghman brought under control after becoming City Marshal in 1893.

In Perry, Tilghman was both the city law and a U.S. Deputy Marshall giving him unrestricted jurisdiction. The engraving on the Tilghman SAA was typical of the Nimschke or New York style popular in the 1870s and 1880s. The Dassa brothers copied the general engraving pattern from photographs of the original.

This represents one of the first designs that will be offered in a limited edition by Pietta under the Lawman Series.

The third of Pietta’s new Lawman Series is the Bat Masterson (see Guns of the Old West Winter 2013) engraved in a pattern reminiscent of one documented to have been carried by the famed Dodge City lawman. (Colt style grips by Lewis Ezsak/Cowboy Emporium; Masterson holster by Chisholm’s Trail Leather)

Another is the Colt based on the engraving patterns from a single action attributed to Bat Masterson, which is the second model in Pietta’s new series.

What also distinguishes these models, aside from the exceptional hand engraving and finely tuned actions, is that they are all on Pietta’s new black powder-style frame which allows not only the engraving but the gun being engraved to be historically accurate to the period. Black powder or early style Colt frames use a single screw in the front of the frame to lock the cylinder arbor.

This screw has to be removed in order to remove the arbor and cylinder for cleaning. The transverse latch mechanism most commonly used today on reproduction Colt Single Actions was not introduced until 1892 and coincided with a general shift from black powder cartridges to smokeless powder rounds, thus the reference to early fame styles as the “black powder” frame.

The Civil War was a watershed period for arms engraving with deluxe examples of Colt, Remington and other makes being presented to officers either by the various makers or individuals. Shown are a Starr single action, Colt 1851 Navy, Colt 1860 Army and Remington New Model Army engraved by Dassa.

Civil War Sesquicentennials

Tackling yet another period in American history, Dassa and Pietta have teamed up to produce a series of Civil War era revolvers based on historic presentation guns engraved by masters such as Gustave Young, to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Among these various black powder models originated in the 1850s and 1860s are four primary sidearms used by Union and Confederate troops, the Colt 1851 Navy, Colt 1860 Army, Remington New Model Army, and long barrel Starr Single Action .44 built specifically for the U.S. military during the Civil War. All four models will be offered with authentic engraving by Dassa based on actual guns of the period.

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

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