By: Derek Landers
The craftsmen at Uberti have been making excellent reproduction firearms for many years. Derek Landers takes a look at some of their finest – in miniature form.
It was not too many years ago when quality counted above price. People were prepared to pay that little bit extra to know that what they were buying was well made and would last, if not a lifetime, then at least until the guarantee had run out! Nowadays it seems that many goods are made to a price rather than a standard. Second rate items are commonplace rather than a rarity. It is refreshing, then, to find something that has been well made, regardless of what it cost.
One hundred and fifty years ago English firearms were hand made by skilled artisans who were proud of their work. No two pieces would be exactly the same as parts were individually fitted. English workmanship was sought after round the World and prices were charged accordingly. Then along came Sam Colt. Already very successful in his native United States, he opened a factory in London using his American ‘production line’ techniques and the face of British gunmaking was changed forever. The Colt factory in Pimlico churned out revolvers by the thousand with parts being interchangeable between individual specimens of each model. Like it or not, and they did not, the gunsmiths centred in London and Birmingham had to adapt to this new production method. When, for various reasons, the Colt factory closed in 1857 English firearms manufacturing had entered a new era.
This is not to say that standards were compromised by the new working methods. Far from it as workmen were still fiercely proud of their endeavours, and the term ‘Made in England’ was still a byword for quality. In fact the Colt factory in Hartford continued to purchase large amounts of steel from Thomas Firth & Son in Sheffield and another Sheffield company, James Dixon and Son, supplied the American factory with powder flasks. Colt’s all too brief venture into foreign lands can be deemed a successful venture and served to promote the Colt name to the four corners of the World.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Colt can indeed be proud that reproductions of their entire line of nineteenth century percussion handguns has been, or is currently being produced by one or more of the European manufacturers. Add to these the numerous copies of what must surely be the most famous pistol in the World, the Colt Single Action Army revolver, or Peacemaker, and the modern day shooter is spoilt for choice if he, or she, is a Colt fan.
Foremost among the exponents of the art of reproduction firearms is the Italian firm of A. Uberti. Not only do they produce almost the full line of Colt percussion and cartridge revolvers but also offerings by Winchester, Remington, and Smith & Wesson. The quality of their work and attention to detail is legendary and this is reinforced by the introduction of a range of miniature firearms which have to be seen to be believed. For some reason, possibly no more than popularity, the only handguns chosen for this miniature collection are those originally produced by Colt. The range covers several models of percussion revolvers and numerous options of the Cattleman revolver along with two models of the Winchester 1866 Yellowboy. ‘Cattleman’ is Uberti’s name for their reproduction Colt Single Action Army or Peacemaker.
Make no mistake, these are not cheap ‘pot metal’ toys but exquisite, fully functioning models costing, in standard form, around twice as much as their full-sized brethren. The options of engraving and/or gold and silver inlays, along with ivory grips, will raise the price even higher. The addition of a presentation case could push the price of a pistol into four figure territory.
They are crafted from the same materials and offered in the same configurations as the larger guns and the fit and finish is of the same high standard. The parts are all made outside the main Uberti factory but are finished and assembled in house by one man, Mario Paseri. To say that Senor Paseri has a lot of patience must be a great understatement. When you see the size of some of the screws in these guns I would say that he could probably turn his hand to being a watch maker with little difficulty. If there is any hand fitting to be done on the internal parts of the full size guns it is done with infinite care. It must be doubly so with these miniatures. Can you imagine having to file the hand to get the timing right? I would have loved to have taken one of these to pieces when I had them to photograph but the screws were just a bit tight and I did not have the correct drivers anyway.
Those who know the difference will appreciate what I mean when I say that the miniature Single Action Army revolver is offered in both black powder and smokeless frame varieties. The three standard barrel lengths of this pistol are miniaturised, along with a scaled down Sheriff’s model (without the ejector rod) and a Buntline. Based on the First Generation models (1873-1940), they have bevelled edges to the cylinder flutes and the conical firing pin which is pinned into the hammer. They all come with Colt’s ‘two line patent date’ stamping on the left side of the frame and the calibre marking on the rear left flat of the trigger guard, and each gun has a serial number.
The percussion range consists of the most popular Colt revolvers of the era, being the Walker, Dragoon, three variations of the 1851 Navy, the 1861 Navy and the 1860 Army. The same attention to detail is evident and believe it or not they even have a rolled cylinder scene! The 1860 Army and 1861 Navy have cut-outs in the recoil shield for a shoulder stock which is available as an optional extra. These models strip just like the originals but I’m not sure if the nipples are removable.
With the exception of the nickel plated Peacemakers, standard finish consists of a blue barrel and cylinder (normal blue/black or charcoal blue) with case hardened frame and hammer. On the percussion models the rammer is also case hardened. Grip straps are either blue steel or brass (silver plated where appropriate) according to the specification of the originals. Grips are varnished walnut with the option of real ivory. There is a version of the Walker revolver which has a pewter grip and backstrap in one piece.
The rifle chosen for miniaturisation is the famed Winchester Model 1866, nicknamed the “Yellowboy” because of its brass frame. There are two models as in the original; an octagonal barrelled rifle and a round barrelled carbine. The correct shaped woodwork is fitted to both models and the metal is blue steel and polished brass. The sights are accurate facsimiles of those fitted to the Winchesters and the actions cycle identically. Uberti make small brass bullets that fit the cylinders of the Peacemakers but I did not try them in the long guns.
Whilst these miniatures are not something that one would buy every day they are great for that “special” present for the man, or woman, who has everything. They would also make a neat prize or trophy for a shooting competition.
1) Father and Son. An original Colt SAA with a miniature copy.
2) Two line patent dates stamped on the frame of the SAA.
3) Miniature versions of the three standard barrel lengths.
4) Miniature SAA alongside a .44/40 cartridge.
5) With the cylinder removed one can see the hand in its slot in the frame.
6) Little and large.
7) A pair of consecutive serial numbered revolvers.
8) Mario Paseri with one of his wonderful creations.
9 & 10) Display cases in the Uberti factory with a selection of miniature arms with artefacts.
11) An engraved and gold inlaid Dragoon in a presentation case.
12) This miniature SAA in a case was presented to Henry Krank for their success in selling Uberti products.
13) Full size Uberti 1861 Navy with its offspring.
14) The miniature Walker revolver with pewter grip and backstrap.
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates