Welcome back to another installment of TFB’s Wheelgun Wednesday series of articles. Today we’ll talk about revolvers embellished by Tiffany & Co. This article is based on the six Tiffany Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers that are consigned to the upcoming September 2020 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction, as well as Tiffany wheelguns sold during past RIAC auctions. The six lots in the current catalog pretty well demonstrate the differences in host firearms, embellishment styles, ways of the company’s collaboration with gun makers and cover a wide period of time in the history of Tiffany embellished revolvers.
Founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young, Tiffany & Co. was destined to become one of the most recognizable jewelry and luxury item brands in the world. Over the course of its history, the company has been extensively cooperating with the US military and American arms industry. For example, Tiffany & Co. designed a version of a Navy Medal of Honor known as the “Tiffany Cross” which was the US Navy’s highest combat decoration from 1919 to 1942. They’ve also been supplying swords and other items to the Union Army during the Civil War and authored a number of presentation swords. Last but not least, Tiffany & Co. has a rich history of collaboration with the greatest American firearm manufacturers such as Colt, Smith & Wesson and Winchester, which resulted in the creation of unique decorative art items from the firearms made by these companies.
A Tiffany Blue Book from the early 1900s describes the wheelguns listed in their catalog as “Revolvers of the most improved types, mounted in silver, carved ivory, gold, etc. with rich and elaborate decorations“. Indeed, these revolvers often represented the latest achievements of firearms technologies embellished with precious materials and Art Nouveau style decorations designed and executed by Tiffany masters and the most renowned master engravers of the time like Louis Nimschke or Gustave Young. Needless to say that these guns were not cheap, even the relatively common ones. According to Rock Island Auction Company, at the turn of the centuries, acquiring a Tiffany revolver would “set a customer back $50.00 to $300.00 or about $1,400.00 to $8,600.00 in today’s money“.
Being fine luxury items, many of these revolvers were displayed by Tiffany & Co. and the gun companies at the largest exhibitions of the time such as the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901. Some of these firearms are one of a kind such as the Tiffany Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle that is currently kept and displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Others are relatively more common (if the word common can even be used when describing these guns) and every now and then appear in firearms auctions. The exact number of Tiffany firearms that survived to our days is unknown.
The six revolvers consigned to the upcoming Rock Island auction contain both unicorns and more frequently encountered specimens, guns completely embellished by Tiffany and ones made in collaboration with the manufacturers and engravers, revolvers made from the second half of 19th century to the end of the 20th century. Without further ado, let’s take a look at each of these revolvers and discuss their decoration styles and features. The lot titles are linked to corresponding Rock Island Auction pages where you can find more detailed descriptions and higher resolution pictures.
A result of Tiffany and Colt collaboration is the set of signature grips created by Tiffany specially for Colt revolvers. These cast metal grips were silver or gold plated and installed on high grade Colt revolvers that were oftentimes engraved by prominent master engravers of the era. There were four versions of Tiffany Colt grips called “Mexican Eagle”, “American Eagle”, “Battle Scene” and “The Missionary and The Child”. There are also many Tiffany-style grips made to replicate the original Tiffany Colt grips and unfortunately, a lot of fake ones too.
This particular revolver is a .36 caliber Colt Pocket Navy engraved by master engraver Gustave Young and fitted with a Mexican Eagle Tiffany Colt grip. Note that on top of the grip, right behind the hammer, there is an oval-shaped blank space that would allow personalizing the gun by engraving initials or other inscriptions.
Estimated Price: $14,000 – $22,500
Here are examples of Colt revolvers equipped with the other three Tiffany Colt grips. These revolvers were sold at past RIAC Premier Auctions.
This is an example of Tiffany revolver set that is one of a kind – there is no second set like this. Also, being designed and made from 1992 to 1994, these are rare late Tiffany revolvers as most of the Tiffany & Co embellished wheelguns were made in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries.
These two consecutively serialized .44 caliber Colt Model 1860 Navy revolvers are manufactured in 1992. The decoration design was created by Tom Watts of Tiffany & Co. and executed by master engraver Andrew Bourbon on behalf of Tiffany & Co. This set of revolvers is dedicated to the Civil War. Each revolver is decorated with the symbols of each side of the war. The decorations include gold inlaid elements, enameled Union and Confederate flags and US/CS raised inscriptions on the butts of gold plated silver grips.
Estimated Price: $18,000 – $27,500
Here we are looking at another unique Tiffany embellishment style that consists of relief etched vine and leaf motifs all over the surfaces of this Smith & Wesson Model 32 Safety Hammerless revolver and similar silver floral latticework wrapped over the horn grips. The decoration of this revolver was completely done by Tiffany & Co.
This specimen is also unique in that unlike most of the Tiffany revolvers that were made in New York, this one was made by Tiffany & Co. Paris.
Estimated Price: $20,000 – $40,000
A rare Tiffany Colt cartridge revolver (Colt Model 1895 chambered in .38 LC) which shows another Tiffany revolver decoration style. The etching on the sterling silver grip depicts a French Foreign Legion battle scene. Although being a separately attached part, the Tiffany grip harmoniously merges with the floral motifs on other parts of the revolver that are likely engraved at Tiffany & Co., too. It would probably look like a single piece with the rest of the gun if not the slight color change of silver over time.
Estimated Price: $35,000 – $55,000
This Smith & Wesson .44 caliber Double Action First model revolver is fitted with a Tiffany sterling silver grip similar to the previous one in terms of the general design and execution. Of course, it has a different overall shape, bird’s head butt and different scene etched but to me, this and previous lots are a great example of a similar general embellishment style adapted to guns of different manufacturers as opposed to the manufacturer-specific decorations like the Colt grips in the first lot.
This Smith & Wesson revolver was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Guns from that exhibition are identified by a special exhibition cartouche stamping, a globe over a capital letter T.
Estimated Price: $55,000 – $85,000
What sets this revolver apart from others is the unique design of the sterling silver grip that features carved ivory elements. I think ivory inlaid silver grips can probably be considered a separate style of Tiffany grips as there are other known Tiffany embellished revolvers with grips made of the combination of these materials. The host gun, in this case, is a Smith & Wesson Double Action 3rd Model revolver in .38 S&W which originally had black hard rubber grips when it was shipped to Tiffany & Co. in 1886. As identified by the inscription engraved on the revolver, it belonged to West Point graduate Lt. Colonel Wright Prescott Edgerton.
Estimate Price: $60,000 – $95,000
I hope you enjoyed today’s Wheelgun Wednesday dedicated to Tiffany revolvers. For bladed weapon aficionados, there are also two Tiffany swords consigned to the September 2020 Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction, particularly, Tiffany & Co. Silver Civil War Officers Sword of General Halleck and Civil War USS Monitor Crewman’s Tiffany Presentation Sword. This auction will be held on September 11th, 12th and 13th.
Wrapping up this article, I suggest you take a look at a set of pictures showing some of the Tiffany embellished revolvers sold during other Rock Island Premier Auctions.
Tiffany & Co also made silver cap guns!