Master Engraver Firearms in Collector’s Elite Auctions

No one knows for sure who was the first to engrave a firearm. We do know that engraved firearms appeared sometime in the 1500s. There are theories on the first, but engravers were once considered just another artisan in a shop. These artists engraved all manner of items, such as swords, knives and guns for a variety of reason.  It wasn’t until much later, however, that master engravers started receiving the recognition they deserved. 

In fact, most consider the 19th century to be when firearm engravers became known for their work, especially in the United States. Shortly before the Civil War, firearm engraving jumped in popularity. During that time, most guns not deemed for the military received extensive engraving. It was very common to engrave guns for friends, family members and personal use. 

Most firearm manufacturers had in-house master engravers, who could turn already beautiful guns into works of art. And they did this all by hand, in the beginning. Some manufacturers still have engravers on staff, cranking out one-of-a-kind and limited-edition firearms. Technology, of course, such as CNC and lasers, has changed the process for many. 

However, there are still some master engravers who do almost everything by hand. This includes using rare metals to enhance the look. These people are artisans who spend years perfecting their craft, often going to other masters, sometimes overseas, to learn. And once they become masters, their work becomes sought after by collectors worldwide. These artists can enhance a beloved firearm and turn it into a family heirloom. 

Of course, not everyone knows how to find and purchase these works of art. There is more than one method, ranging from contacting the engraver to various high-end auction houses. The most recent opportunity, however, comes from Collector’s Elite Auctions, which lists the finest luxury guns and collectibles for the discerning collector. This includes five beautifully crafted Colts by five amazing artists. 

Master Engravers in Collector’s Elite Auctions 

Richard Boucher — Custom Colt 1911 in .45 ACP 

Most gun owners know the name Pachmayr, even if they don’t realize that the company does way more than develop handgun grips and recoil pads. In fact, Pachmayr Custom Gunsmiths was founded by master gunsmith Frank Pachmayr. The company was one of the first to customize and accurize the 1911A1 pistol. It also used master engravers, such as Richard Boucher, to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces. 

Boucher engraved firearms for Pachmayr during the 60s and 70s, creating works of art on rifles, shotguns and handguns. This 1911 is a great example of his work, showcasing exceptional gold inlay and sculpting and attention to detail down to the engraved grip bushings, according to Logan Metesh of High Caliber History. In fact, few have reached his level of mastery. 

This Pachmayr custom built Colt 1911 features meticulous hand engraving by Boucher. It showcases intricate floral scrolling and 24 karat gold inlay. This includes a sculpted American Eagle on each slide side. It comes with a French Grey finish, genuine aged ivory grips, engraved silver inlay, and even engraved screws and escutcheons. This pistol, signed by Boucher on the frame, is in collector grade condition, even though it has minor oxidation specks from storage. It even comes in a bespoke exotic wood display case with a French fit interior for display. 

Jan Gwinnell — Consecutively Serialized Colt SAA Class D Factory Pair 

Over the years, a lot of master engravers worked for either Colt or Smith & Wesson. Well, Jan Gwinnell took the Colt route, starting as an apprentice. However, Gwinnell was able to work his way up to master engraver in an amazingly short five years, which is a testament to his dedication to his art.

“This pair of Colts done by Jan are interesting in that they are confirmed by the factory as being a sequential pair ordered together, but the prefixes do not match. This could make them truly unique,” said Metesh.

That alone makes these revolvers special. However, they also come with a silver-plate finish and checkered ivory grips. Then, master engraver Gwinnel made them even more beautiful and special.

His attention to detail and artistry makes them an iconic pair. These revolvers were even featured in Don Wilkerson’s book, “The Post-War Colt Single-Action Revolver 1976-1986” on page 220, which is in the package. Also included are the factory boxes, a letter from Colt verifying their authenticity and a beautifully crafted Colt wooden display box with a glass top and soft grey interior.

Kelly Laster — Colt SAA 4.75 Inch Nickel, Cattle-Brand Engraved 

Kelly Laster got into engraving while in the jewelry business. He worked hard and quickly got good, especially considering he was self-taught at the time. Eventually, however, he went to the source by studying in Italy at Bottega Incisioni Cesare Giovanelli. This premier school cranks out some the best engravers in the world. This includes Laster, who spent time at both Colt and Smith & Wesson. He currently owns his own shop, where he specializes in Cattle Brand engraving. 

Cattle Brand engraving features full engraving of multiple cattle brands, usually on a punch-dot background. This 4.75 -inch Colt Single-Action Army revolver that features Laster’s iconic style was hand-built by Colt Custom Gunmaker John Schultz of Frontier Classics. 

“Kelly’s cattle brand engraving is excellently executed, and is a wonderful tribute to the style’s inventor, Cole Agee,” said Metesh.

This gun is chambered in .44 Special and comes with a mirror-bright Nickel finish and Fire Blue small parts, and genuine Black Buffalo Horn grips. It even comes with the original Colt box with manual, paperwork and end label. Though technically listed as “Used,” this incredible work of art is in Collector Grade condition showing a pristine 100-percent perfect finish, mechanics and fit. 

Bill Mains — 1971 Colt SAA 4.75 inch in .45 Colt 

Almost famous as some of his clients, such as Frank Sinatra, Mike Tyson and Elvis, Bill Mains started engraving jewelry at 16. After high school he traveled from Florida to Pennsylvania to attend Bowman Technical School for hand jewelry engraving. He finished the school’s eight-month self-advancement course in two and a half months. 

It was in the Air Force where he learned about the history of weapon engraving, including firearms. Right up until his death in 2012, Mains used hammer and chisel at a workbench to create artist hand engraving. He even spent years working for Colt, and has the distinction of engraving more 2nd generation SAA revolvers than anyone else. 

Mains always marked his work, even when he wasn’t allowed. This is how the engraver is known on this nickel-plated Colt SAA, via his “Buffalo” stamp on the front of the frame. Featuring Factory Class “B” American scroll hand engraving, this revolver comes in the iconic .45 Colt chambering with the 4.75-inch barrel. It is even fitted with factory original matching smooth walnut grips with silver Colt medallions in pristine condition. There were supposedly only 350, 2nd generation SAAs ever engraved. It even comes with the factory original Colt Stagecoach two-piece box with shipping sleeve, cardboard insert, original manual, paperwork, Colt Archive Letter and labeling.

Ben Shostle — 1993 Colt SAA 4.75 inch in .45 Colt 

The late master engraver Ben Shostle went blind before he died. This is one reason why his work has become highly sought after and expensive. The other is because he was good. Shostle was a founding member of the Firearms Engravers Guild of America, even serving as its president. During his lifetime, Shostle hand engraved hundreds, if not thousands, of guns and knives, including one for John Hart, the actor who played the lead in the original Lone Ranger television series. 

This particular gun, a 1993 Colt SAA, showcases how well Shostle mastered the art of “less is more” with the subtle gold band inlays and backstrap design against the rich blue, says Logan Metesh of High Caliber History. Combined with the mother of pearl grips, the gun just pops. Chambered in .45 Colt, it comes with 24 karat gold inlay in the deep relief engraving. It even has “Shostle” signed under the recoil shield. And it comes with a handmade SK Bespoke Collection Walnut Custom Display Case with Glass Dust Cover, and lock and key.

BId Now!

About the Author

From an early age, Paul Rackley showed interest in guns, hunting and words. He had no idea he would be able to combine those interests into a career. During the past 20-plus years, Paul has worked for the NWTF, NRA and other national groups as a writer/editor, publishing thousands of articles on hunting, shooting, conservation and self-defense. Currently, he is the GunBroker editor.

Recent Posts