c. 1890: Handguns decorated by Tiffany

Between about 1880 and 1905, Tiffany & Co. embellished a series of deluxe handguns for the nation’s leading firearms manufacturers, notably Colt, Winchester, and, most important, Smith & Wesson. The guns were either special orders for Tiffany’s well-heeled clientele or commissioned by the manufacturer as show pieces for display in exhibitions such as the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.Smith and Wesson .44 New Model No. 3 Single-Action Revolver, serial no. 25120

This New Model Revolver was a special order, recorded in the Smith & Wesson archives as having been shipped to Tiffany’s on November 11, 1888. Once in New York, the plain nickel-plated frame received a two-piece silver grip etched overall with scenes of a buffalo hunt.

During the late nineteenth century, Tiffany’s often used etching to render large areas of ornament, including complex and often charming pictorial compositions like this buffalo hunt. The revolver complements two other Tiffany-decorated Smith & Wesson firearms from the collection of Gerald Klaz that are already part of the Museum’s holdings, one exhibiting an embossed and martelé silver grip, the other with a grip in mokume, a Japanese-style laminated metal.

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Smith and Wesson New Model No. 3, .44 Caliber Double-Action Navy Revolver, serial no. 23060.

Exhibited by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, this is an unusual example of Tiffany “jeweled” silver. The semiprecious stones suggest the influence of Islamic weapons, on which such stones were considered to have talismanic properties.

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Smith and Wesson .32 Single-Action Revolver, Serial no. 94421.

The grip combines three decorative techniques: repoussé, etching, and niello inlay. The revolver was shown by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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Smith and Wesson .44 Double-Action Revolver for George Jay Gould (1864–1923), serial no. 23402.

With the exception of the trigger and trigger guard, the steel parts are etched and silver-plated. The grip is covered in sheet silver, enclosing plaques of ivory. It also bears the initials, GJG, for George Jay Gould, (1864–1923), a wealthy financier and railroad executive.

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Smith and Wesson .32 Single-Action Revolver, Serial no. 17156.

The grip is sheathed in silver and etched with foliage around shaped panels inlaid with laminated metal that has a wood-grain pattern. This Japanese technique, called mokume (“wood grain”), was one of various metalworking forms explored by Tiffany and Company’s chief designer, Edward C. Moore (1827–1891). His experimentation with Japanese design elements and media helped to establish Tiffany’s international reputation in the 1870s.

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Smith and Wesson .38 Double-Action Revolver, Serial no. 70002.

The silver grip has a hammered surface popular in domestic silverware of the period. Its design reflects the elegant, whimsical style of Art Nouveau. The original design for the grip, dated 1883, is preserved in the Tiffany archives.

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Smith and Wesson .38 Caliber Safety Third Model Double-Action Revolver, serial no. 83097.

The flamboyant Art Nouveau grips recall French or Russian enameled silver. The revolver was shown by Smith and Wesson at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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