The Art of the Shotgun

A selection of superbly engraved shotguns from the collection of Robert M. Lee.

 

Note: An article by Robert M. Lee and R.M. Wilson, appearing in the latest issue of Sporting Classics. Not a subscriber? Sign up today.

 

These shotguns represent one of the highest forms and most challenging mediums of all artistic endeavors.

The design of their mechanical components required the collaboration of the most talented innovators: mechanical geniuses, sculptors of steel and wood, and the assistance of the finest goldsmiths, silversmiths, engravers, and carvers of steel and precious metals.

The embellishers have always had the most difficult tasks of working on hard surfaces composed of multiple planes and curves. Unlike great painters, who could correct their errors or change their minds about details, or sculptors who worked first in easily altered and repaired clay, firearms engravers, chiselers, and inlayers are seldom able to rework their creations.

Working on “miniature canvases,” the embellishers created, through the ages, mythological, hunting, and/or wildlife themes framed and enhanced with beautiful ornamental designs, or compositions composed exclusively of complicated ornaments. These works were engraved with a light or heavier hand, or deeply carved and chiseled into the steel, sometimes with inlays of various shades of gold and with platinum and copper.

We should also salute the great stockmakers. Apart from graceful and beautiful shapes sculpted from rare, highly figured European, Circassian, or Turkish walnut, the gunstock is functional and must be comfortable in all shooting positions. An improper fit between metal and wood can cause the stock to crack, split, or chip from recoil.

Fine checkering is an art in itself. Some stocks incorporate both checkering and carving. Others feature inlays of contrasting woods, polished horn, ivory, mother of pearl, and precious metals. The master stockmaker has in his repertoire the talents of an exceptional cabinetmaker, but the reverse is seldom true.

Today, patrons of the art are very fortunate to be able to see or even own the finest sporting firearms ever made because of the talents of  exceptional gunmakers, and the creative genius of some of the finest gun embellishers in history.

 

28-Bore Westley Richards Side-by-Side Boxlock
Engraved by Rashid El Hadi

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Westley Richards is most famous for bringing the Anson & Deeley boxlock action to its ultimate state of evolution. The firm’s development of hand-detachable locks is one of the seminal improvements in the history of the boxlock action.

Master engraver Rashid El Hadi selected the hummingbird, floral, and feather designs. El Hadi is an emerging star in the English gun trade, and his creations are highly sought after.

 

12-Bore Beretta Over & Under
Engraved by Firmo Fracassi 3 2

 

This Beretta S09 was embellished by Firmo Fracassi of Gardone, Val Trompia. One of the world’s greatest masters in steel and precious metal embellishments, Fracassi is best known for his scenes of sporting dogs, upland birds, and waterfowl in bulino technique. Fracassi has been at the forefront among Italian master engravers since the 1960s and 1970s.

No. C102217B is an exquisite example of his work, and ranks among masterpieces which set an extremely high standard for engravers anywhere, in any field.

 

20-Bore Purdey Millennium Side-by-Side
Engraved by Ken C. Hunt

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Purdey produced two superb Millennium masterpieces: this side-by-side shotgun engraved by Ken Hunt and a .600-bore double rifle engraved by Phil Coggan.

Once again using his multicolor techniques, Hunt illustrated gundogs and a sportsman in his detailed compositions. The semi-pistol-grip stock is often favored on single-trigger guns, and in this case provides the steel grip cap as another complex shape to challenge the engraver.

 

12-Bore Galazan Millennium Over & Under
Engraved by Firmo Fracassi & Giacomo Fausti

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Setting a new standard for shotguns “Made in the U.S.A.,” Tony Galazan’s Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co. commissioned Old World maestro Firmo Fracassi to engrave the game and sporting dog scenes on this Millennium masterpiece. The ornamental work was beautifully done by Giacomo Fausti of Creative Art, also of the Gardone area.

As Firmo Fracassi’s first work on an American-made gun, No. G-111 is testimony to the excellence of the Galazan over-and-under sidelocks, as well as to the skills and artistry of Firmo Fracassi.

 

 

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