Thread: thoughts
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Old 03-19-2008, 08:53 PM
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Roger Bleile Roger Bleile is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Kentucky
Posts: 1,692
Default Re: thoughts

After reading 96 posts on this thread, I am ready to chime in with my two cents worth.

I first want to thank Charles for starting this discussion about the history of the art. It has become obvious, due to this thread, that there are many here whose interests go beyond "teach me how to engrave."

Next I have to say that I was surprised at comments early in this thread that indicated a belief that the type of engraving that Charles displayed in the beginning was not being done because contemporary engravers do not want to spend the time and effort to accomplish such work. Have you been looking at the pictures of top level work on this site or the Engravers Cafe?!!!!

Contemporary engravers such as Ron Smith, Phil Griffnee, Alain Lovenberg, and Winston Churchill, among others, are doing work that takes thousands of hours for one gun. The guns are not usually done in the baroque style of Thuraine or Le Hollandois but are masterpieces of the engravers art to rival anything of the past. While I own hundreds of books on firearms and every book directly devoted to gun engraving, I can make this statement from first hand viewing of early guns in collections from the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and most recently the Frazier Museum of Historical Arms in Louisville to name but a few.

Guns by Monte Mandarino have been mentioned. Monte has made a number of muzzle loading rifles in the style of those in question. This style of gun has also been made by John Bivens. In both cases Daniel Goodwin did the engraving. Parts of these guns can be seen on pages 55 and 56 of my book American Engravers. The gun on page 55 is a wheelock designed to conform to the Nuremberg style of 1690 with the butt plate shown on the next page. On page 56 is a side plate or "serpentine" of a Mandarino gun in the style of a German long rifle of the early 18th century. I have looked at and handled both of these guns and can assure you that the engraving is the equal of anything I have seen on antique specimens.

Now let us proceed to the question of why the style in question is rarely executed today or even in the past 125 years or more.

Some of the previous posts have, I believe, touched on the reason. Basically I believe that one reason is simply due to changing styles in everything from architecture to furniture over the same period of time. The wealthy who can afford ornate and expensive things are always looking for the "next big thing." Thus popular styles changed over time from baroque to rococo to neoclassical to art Nuevo to art Decco and so on.

Another reason is the form of the gun itself. Muzzle loading guns lend themselves better to highly ornate decoration of the baroque and rococo style due to the configuration of the cock (hammer), lock, side plate, stock shape and barrel configuration.

An additional factor was the decline or, as in the case of France, the elimination of the aristocracy who had favored the most ornate artifacts. Especially in America where the European aristocracy was even held in contempt, this distain for for the old order caused the highly ornate to be frowned upon. This can be seen in all American craft from furniture to guns of the colonial period.

Because I personally like the baroque style I have, in the past, engraved a few things that way to test the market for that style and see if I could gain commissions for it. Generally the people who actually pay for engraved arms met this work with a lack of enthusiasm. Thus the market calls the tune unless one wishes to invest the time and money only for self-satisfaction.

I hope I have added something useful to this discussion. The following books are ones that I can recommend for more illustration of the arms and engraving in question on this thread:

Master French Gunsmiths' Designs (XVII-XIX Centuries) by Stephen C. Grancsay, Winchester Press. This book has all of the designs shown in Prof. Lenk's book plus many more.

The Art of Gun Engraving by Claude Gaier and Pietro Sabatti, Knickerbocker Press. This book, in English (also found with French text) shows the best of the old and new from ornate wheelocks to the best of Lovenberg.

Suhler Waffenkunst (Artistic Guns of Suhl) by Hans-Jurgen Fritze,Peter Arfman-Verlag. This book in German is replete with pictures of both antique and modern German guns of the most ornate decoration.

Roger Bleile
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