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The Elegant Firearms of Tiffany & Co.

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March 20, 2012

The Elegant Firearms of Tiffany & Co.

By Phil Bourjaily

When I visited Smith & Wesson a couple of years ago, I saw the in-house museum on my tour. Among the guns on display was a beautifully decorated revolver with an elaborate art nouveau-style silver grip, the result of a collaboration between S&W and jeweler Tiffany & Co. — it was made for the 1893 Columbian exhibition in Chicago. This revolver and others like it marked a departure for S&W, which usually used its own in-house engravers.

As an exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nev. that runs through May 20 demonstrates, Tiffany has a long history of decorating firearms and edged weapons. According to the museum’s press release, Tiffany’s production of fine guns and swords began in the 1850s and peaked during the Civil War, then underwent a revival between 1982 and 2001. 
 

RARE TIFFANY & CO. ARMS ON DISPLAY AT THE NEVADA MUSEUM OF ART IN EXCLUSIVE, SINGLE-VENUE EXHIBITION
 

Reno, Nevada – In an exclusive, single-venue showing, the Nevada Museum of Art presents Tiffany & Co. Arms from the Robert M. Lee Collection featuring objects from the finest-known collection of privately owned Tiffany & Co. firearms rivaled only by those on view in the Robert M. Lee Gallery of American Arms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. On view February 11 - May 20, the exhibition features six Tiffany & Co.-designed revolvers, four pistols, one rifle, and one presentation sword from the Robert M. Lee Collection.
 

The most distinguished name in decorative firearms in America is Tiffany & Co.—a surprise to those who might otherwise recognize the firm as a legendary purveyor of fine silver, jewelry and luxury objects. Founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany, what became Tiffany & Co. commenced business just one year after the young inventor Samuel Colt registered his new designs for revolving pistols and long arms with the U.S. Patent Office. In the 175 years since then, the paths of Tiffany & Co. and Colt crossed many times. Among the other American gun makers with ties to Tiffany & Co. are Henry Deringer, Winchester, and Smith & Wesson.
 

“The magic of Tiffany & Co. arms drew clients the likes of Theodore Roosevelt,” states R. L. Wilson, Curator of Firearms for the Robert M. Lee Collection, “and inspired the creative instincts of the firm's designers, from the first objects of the mid-19th century, continuing up through modern times. The Robert M. Lee Collection showcases some of Tiffany's most exquisite pieces."
 

Tiffany’s production of presentation swords and fine guns began in the 1850s, reached a peak during the Civil War period (c. 1861-65), and continued through the close of World War I (c. 1918). The art of Tiffany & Co. arms was revived c. 1982, and remained active until c. 2001, with innovative modern era designs created by the firm’s Corporate Division. The Tiffany & Co. items in this exhibition span just over a century — they were made as early as 1893 and as recently as 1994.
 

All of the rare arms in this exhibition are featured in a series of books being published by Yellowstone Press, under the umbrella title The Art of the Gun. The first book in the series, Magnificent Colts Selections from the Robert M. Lee Collection, is available in the Nevada Museum of Art’s Museum Store.
 
**Among creators of the exquisite decorations on Tiffany & Co. arms was Paulding Farnham, considered by many to be the firm’s premier designer. The elaborate sword in this exhibition, featuring embellishments by Farnham, was presented to Admiral Robley D. Evans, Commander of the U.S.S. Iowa in the Battle of Santiago, a major victory in the Spanish-American War.

**Certain pistol handle types made in the 19th century are identified by collectors as “Tiffany grips.” These were sometimes manufactured by Tiffany & Co., but most were produced by other firms, primarily in New York City—such as Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, military goods dealers and distributors. A Police Colt with Mexican Eagle Tiffany & Co. grips is featured in this exhibition.

**Tiffany & Co. was renowned for its skills at etching, and a cased and inscribed pair of silver- and gold-finished, elaborately etched, Colt Model 1861 Navy revolvers—presented to frontier hero Wm. “Buffalo Bill” Mathewson—is included in this exhibition.
 

The objects included in this exhibition are from the private collection of Robert M. Lee.
Exclusive sponsorship of Tiffany & Co. Arms from the Robert M. Lee Collection provided by the Wayne L. Prim Foundation.

Click here for full-sized photos and descriptions of these beautiful guns.

Comments (20)

Top Rated
All Comments
from Steward wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Kudos to anything that supports and celebrates the art of the firearm.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fezzant wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Those are beautiful - but I would always be afraid to damage one (not that I could ever afford it anyway).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

As I recall, the Russian Czars were big on Tiffany decorated firearms. I have all of Bob Lee's books on firearms and have viewed many of them in person. His collection of firearms is one of the finest in the world, as is his automobile collection.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I know this is all a matter of taste, but I personally have no use for highly-decorated firearms.
I remember seeing photos of Egyptian King Farouk's shotgun many years ago, with gold and ivory inlays in every conceivable place from butt to muzzle. There may have been precious stones as well. Absolutely garish.
It had more junk on it than Hermann Goering's Marshal's baton.
Different strokes for different folks.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Hey Phil, what's the value of the guns pictured?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Something to see such a departure of *normal* firearm perspective. Makes some flossy German guns.. conservative.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Stinker wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I would really like to see the full-sized pictures of the guns at the bottom of the page, but it links to a page that says "welcome stinker" at the topof the page and about a third of the way down says "please log in to continue...you are not authorized to see this page". The programers have outdone themselves. By logging in, I am logged in to only the top few lines of the page...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Avon wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Tiffany - Creating the pointless for the useless for more than 150 years.

Checkering? Functional. Some engraving? Acceptable. But what they do to what are essentially tools is the equivalent of dressing Chuck Norris in a tutu. Just another way in which the rich ARE different...

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I also have stinkers problem. What's that all about?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave_Maccar wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Sorry about that Stinker, tom...it's been fixed.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

One of the things about firearms that has always appealed to me is the elegance of function of a well-crafted tool. Eventually, I learned to appreciate the aesthetics of guns designed with intent to appeal to the eye as well: finer wood grains, checkering, lines of the design, etc. While these Tiffany guns are a tad garrish for my taste, I can understand the attraction of them to some and even appreciate the eye-candy factor of them myself. I like looking at them and would love to see them in person. Just like a Rembrandt or Van Gogh. I don't expect to own any of them either, but I can still admire them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

When I was a small kid and not fully cognizant of the value attached to a Tiffany Colt Single Action Army, I remember looking at pictures and wondering who was so crude as to brutally corrupt a nice Colt with such extravagant alterations.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from plinkster wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I like mine to have a few scratches on the stock and forearm showing that it's a working gun not for fast shooting competition like sass (single action shooting society)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

It was brought to my attention many years ago that men who choose to have plain firearms, probably have plain wives too. I do not know how true that is in the general population, but I do know that makeup makes most women prettier, and a little tasteful engraving or enlays certainly make a gun more desireable, to me anyway.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from NHshtr wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

I can see some nice engraving or scroll work as adding to the good looks of hand guns. But this is way overdone.
To my eye, these are not beautiful, expensive, yes, gawdy? yup. beautiful? not so much!

Jim in Avon's comment (Chuck Norris....) was right on! Hilarious image :)

Seems like "I did it because I could" is the reason for these.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

T.R.'s hunting knife was a Tiffany if I recall correctly.

No one would survive trying to get Chuck Norris to wear a tutu. Even if they did the tutu would never recover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from sdditchpig wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

O.K. Phil I've had it! Your supposed to be the shotgun guy. We have done guns in outer space, pennies off of empire state buildings, double barrel 1911's, and so on. If you need a subject, try this one. Beretta just came out with the gun Randy Wakeman, Mike Watly, and I, have been waiting for. A return to something like the old A303. The A303 burried the 1100. The new gun, just might be the perfect shotgun. The Benelli killer, god nows we need one, is the new A300 outlander. If you need some good reading, google "Randy Wakeman, The mistery of the beretta 391. "

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

I didn't really see any strong indications of art noveau in the S&W gun from their museum in the main photo. It looks more "high Victorian" to me. The relief is too bulky. The use of Tudor rose and the "netting" on the grip reminds me of something from the midevil revival. Art noveau would be equally as busy but with finer lines (long and lean) and more natural elements (i.e. skinny naked ladies, real foliage [tudor rose is a design not a real flower] particularly grape leaves, etc.). Perhaps the museum called it art noveau and perhaps Tiffanys may have even described it as such. But, truth be told, Tiffanys was not always faithful to any particular artistic period theme. Often they'd just decorate the hell out of stuff, seemingly cramming as much ornamentation as possible into every square inch in any way possible. I find the main photo S&W to be an overdone artistic mess. The lower two are more palatable. I find the Moorish theme of the gold-handled S&W interesting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

Yeah, you're a shotgun guy, Phil, but you're also a Gun Nut, and gun nuts are interested in all things gun-related. So, don't worry about any sniping on this piece. Most of us had a comment, even if many didn't like the art work.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Jim in Avon wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Tiffany - Creating the pointless for the useless for more than 150 years.

Checkering? Functional. Some engraving? Acceptable. But what they do to what are essentially tools is the equivalent of dressing Chuck Norris in a tutu. Just another way in which the rich ARE different...

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

As I recall, the Russian Czars were big on Tiffany decorated firearms. I have all of Bob Lee's books on firearms and have viewed many of them in person. His collection of firearms is one of the finest in the world, as is his automobile collection.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I know this is all a matter of taste, but I personally have no use for highly-decorated firearms.
I remember seeing photos of Egyptian King Farouk's shotgun many years ago, with gold and ivory inlays in every conceivable place from butt to muzzle. There may have been precious stones as well. Absolutely garish.
It had more junk on it than Hermann Goering's Marshal's baton.
Different strokes for different folks.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Hey Phil, what's the value of the guns pictured?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

When I was a small kid and not fully cognizant of the value attached to a Tiffany Colt Single Action Army, I remember looking at pictures and wondering who was so crude as to brutally corrupt a nice Colt with such extravagant alterations.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from plinkster wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I like mine to have a few scratches on the stock and forearm showing that it's a working gun not for fast shooting competition like sass (single action shooting society)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from NHshtr wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

I can see some nice engraving or scroll work as adding to the good looks of hand guns. But this is way overdone.
To my eye, these are not beautiful, expensive, yes, gawdy? yup. beautiful? not so much!

Jim in Avon's comment (Chuck Norris....) was right on! Hilarious image :)

Seems like "I did it because I could" is the reason for these.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from iron giant wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

T.R.'s hunting knife was a Tiffany if I recall correctly.

No one would survive trying to get Chuck Norris to wear a tutu. Even if they did the tutu would never recover.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steward wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Kudos to anything that supports and celebrates the art of the firearm.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fezzant wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Those are beautiful - but I would always be afraid to damage one (not that I could ever afford it anyway).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Something to see such a departure of *normal* firearm perspective. Makes some flossy German guns.. conservative.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Stinker wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I would really like to see the full-sized pictures of the guns at the bottom of the page, but it links to a page that says "welcome stinker" at the topof the page and about a third of the way down says "please log in to continue...you are not authorized to see this page". The programers have outdone themselves. By logging in, I am logged in to only the top few lines of the page...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

I also have stinkers problem. What's that all about?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave_Maccar wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Sorry about that Stinker, tom...it's been fixed.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

One of the things about firearms that has always appealed to me is the elegance of function of a well-crafted tool. Eventually, I learned to appreciate the aesthetics of guns designed with intent to appeal to the eye as well: finer wood grains, checkering, lines of the design, etc. While these Tiffany guns are a tad garrish for my taste, I can understand the attraction of them to some and even appreciate the eye-candy factor of them myself. I like looking at them and would love to see them in person. Just like a Rembrandt or Van Gogh. I don't expect to own any of them either, but I can still admire them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

It was brought to my attention many years ago that men who choose to have plain firearms, probably have plain wives too. I do not know how true that is in the general population, but I do know that makeup makes most women prettier, and a little tasteful engraving or enlays certainly make a gun more desireable, to me anyway.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sdditchpig wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

O.K. Phil I've had it! Your supposed to be the shotgun guy. We have done guns in outer space, pennies off of empire state buildings, double barrel 1911's, and so on. If you need a subject, try this one. Beretta just came out with the gun Randy Wakeman, Mike Watly, and I, have been waiting for. A return to something like the old A303. The A303 burried the 1100. The new gun, just might be the perfect shotgun. The Benelli killer, god nows we need one, is the new A300 outlander. If you need some good reading, google "Randy Wakeman, The mistery of the beretta 391. "

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

I didn't really see any strong indications of art noveau in the S&W gun from their museum in the main photo. It looks more "high Victorian" to me. The relief is too bulky. The use of Tudor rose and the "netting" on the grip reminds me of something from the midevil revival. Art noveau would be equally as busy but with finer lines (long and lean) and more natural elements (i.e. skinny naked ladies, real foliage [tudor rose is a design not a real flower] particularly grape leaves, etc.). Perhaps the museum called it art noveau and perhaps Tiffanys may have even described it as such. But, truth be told, Tiffanys was not always faithful to any particular artistic period theme. Often they'd just decorate the hell out of stuff, seemingly cramming as much ornamentation as possible into every square inch in any way possible. I find the main photo S&W to be an overdone artistic mess. The lower two are more palatable. I find the Moorish theme of the gold-handled S&W interesting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

Yeah, you're a shotgun guy, Phil, but you're also a Gun Nut, and gun nuts are interested in all things gun-related. So, don't worry about any sniping on this piece. Most of us had a comment, even if many didn't like the art work.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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