Black powder firearms
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- Last updated: 27/01/2017
If you shoot a reproduction muzzle loading pistol or rifle, the chances are it was made in the Brescia area of northern Italy. Likewise, many of the Winchester or Sharps rifle clones will have been manufactured in the same area. Centred around the village of Gardone, the Val Trompia region has the highest concentration of gun makers anywhere in the World. The Beretta family can trace their gunmaking roots in this region back almost five hundred years. Now well known names like Uberti, Pedersoli, Pietta, Armi Sport, Euroarms and Palmetto have set up their factories in the area along with the myriads of small specialist makers. It will come as no surprise then to find that the Italian Proof House is also in the valley.
The above manufacturers turn out tens of thousands of firearms each year and most, if not all, of these weapons are copies of those used and made in nineteenth century America. The era of reproduction Western firearms began in the early 1950’s when Val Forgett, of the American Navy Arms company, visited this area of Italy in search of a manufacturer who could make a copy of the Colt 1851 Navy revolver. From these humble beginnings has grown an industry catering for the needs of shooters, re-enactors and collectors Worldwide. Every percussion revolver that Colt made has been reproduced by one or other of these companies. Remington’s New Model Army revolver is also a favourite and we have seen single and double action Starr pistols and lately a Whitney Navy revolver. Each and every one of these guns must undergo testing at the Proof house and be stamped with the appropriate acceptance marks
Apart from a cursory glance I suppose many of you will have paid scant attention to the markings on your modern made black powder reproduction. You have doubtless seen the obligatory “BLACK POWDER ONLY” marking (stamped on the barrel of all Italian made black powder guns) and the proof house stamps, but are you aware of their significance? There will be two ‘proof’ markings and a date mark in at least one location on every firearm. The first proof mark, which appears on all weapons produced in Italy since 1950, is a star within a wavy edged circle (I have seen this described as lands and grooves of rifling) above a crest in a shield. The crest consists of crossed rifles with bayonets and a hammer and anvil. The second proof mark is a similar star and circle, slightly larger, above the letters PN. This is the black powder mark and will be found only on black powder weapons. This mark was also introduced in 1950.
There will be a third mark alongside these two and this indicates the year that the weapon went through the proof house. Prior to 1954 the year of proof was stamped on the guns in Arabic numerals, but this new coding system was introduced around the time of the first reproductions. The chart will enable you to determine the date your gun was proved. The reason for the missing letters in the sequence is unknown.
Click here to download sequence table.
Each manufacturer also stamps or engraves their own name and/or logo on the various guns that they produce. The most famous of these is probably Uberti’s representation of the muzzle of an octagonal barrelled gun, showing the front sight and rifling in the barrel, with a letter “U” in the bore. The company has used this mark since it produced its first reproduction, a Colt 1851 Navy, in 1959.
Pedersoli have changed their logo a couple of times since the late 1950’s but for the last forty or so years it has remained the same. It consists of the letters ‘dp’ inside an oval and is usually followed by the name DAVIDE PEDERSOLI or PEDERSOLI. Another well known name here in the UK is that of Pietta, and their logo is a diamond containing the letters FAP often accompanied by the name F.LLI PIETTA.
The recently introduced line of firearms from Palmetto Arms is marked with the company logo of a palm tree within a circle, sometimes followed by the name, ‘PALMETTO’. Another Brescia based company, Armi Sport, marks their guns with ‘AC’ within a circle. This stands for Armi Chiappa in reference to Rino Chiappa, the company’s founder.
Last but not least we have Euroarms, which prior to December, 2001, was known as Armi San Paolo. This company was formed in 1970 and used the initials of its three founders, Grassi, Doninelli and Gazzola to make up an emblem. These letters will sometimes be found in a circle. Recent Euroarms pistols have been observed with a new mark which looks like a letter ‘N’ surrounded by four triangles.
All of these reproductions will also be marked ‘ITALY’ or ‘MADE IN ITALY’, along with a serial number, calibre and, in the case of Uberti and Pedersoli, often a catalogue number. The largest market for these weapons is the U.S.A. and some of the larger American importers often have their own names stamped on the guns. It is not unusual to find some of these American marked guns on sale here in the UK.
I have often heard it said, more than once by myself, that the markings on these guns could be a little more subtle, especially in the case of an attractive looking piece such as the Uberti Remington New Model army in charcoal blue and case hardened finish. Whilst the maker’s marks are there principally for advertising and recognition, the proof marks and serial number are obligatory and will always take the same form. It just seems that a little more care in their placement could result in more acceptability and perhaps more sales to the ‘purists’. Finally, as a collector of antique weapons, I have to say that I would not like these marks to be omitted entirely. On a visit to the Uberti factory I saw an example of an ‘aged’ Colt 1860 Army revolver and had it not been for the Italian marks it could very easily have passed as an original. There are already a number of these fakes out there, just waiting for the unwary and uninformed, and there are those who would welcome the opportunity to provide even more.
Captions for photographs
1) An example of a full set of Proof and maker’s marks on a Pedersoli pistol.
2) It is not unusual to find one or more of the Proof marks lightly stamped.
3) Armi San Marco name stamp (1994)
4) The distinctive Uberti logo.
5) The palm tree logo of Palmetto Arms.
6) Pietta’s logo and name stamp.
7) Mark on a recent Euroarms revolver.
8) A variation of the ‘DGG’ stamping on Armi San Paulo or early Euroarms products.
9) An early Euroarms name stamp.
10) Uberti name and address stamping from 1975.
11) The mark on the left is possibly an Armi San Marco logo on a 1994 pistol.
12) Pedersoli sometimes stamp their name on the inside of the lock.
13) Were it not for the proof marks this Uberti could easily be passed off as an original Colt.
14) A strange mark often found on Italian black powder arms!