Ever since their first appearance, firearms have been customized, engraved, personalized and modified for each shooter’s needs, wants and tastes. In the 1870s, a delegation from China visited Ilion, N.Y., and presented the Remington brothers a brace of 16th century Miquelet Lock guns. These Ming dynasty firearms had incredibly advanced peep sights for long-distance shooting and were covered with ornate and beautiful carvings and engraving. That pair of old Asian flintlocks proves that the merging of art and firearms is obviously a global phenomenon—and one of the oldest collecting hobbies around. It also means that, just like today, over 500 years ago some poor guy had to explain to his wife in Nanjing that the engraved firearm he just bought was a great investment! Because of this timeless demand, collecting commemorative firearms is a popular hobby today, with many different kinds of engraved, embossed and inlaid pistols, rifles and shotguns now available from a variety of companies.
Now, having said that, not every commemorative firearm increases in value, so every purchase needs to be tempered with the fact that over time it may not be worth much more than its bland cousins. This means obtaining one as an investment is a risk. But, picking an engraved and inlaid firearm because it represents an important event, organization or part of your life—something that you will show with pride and pass on to your kids—is what provides value beyond what you’ll make selling the gun.
Most commemorative firearms are at their highest value unused, unshot and practically untouched. Even if just one round is shot through the barrel or if the cylinder of a revolver has been rotated, leaving the smallest wear marks, the selling price plummets. However, there are many commemoratives being built as fully functional firearms that also honor a specific person, event or location. Here’s a rundown of some notable models.
Akai Custom Guns
One example of a commemorative made for use is the Dakota Meyer Special Edition 1911 in .45 ACP crafted by Akai Custom Guns. Made in collaboration with Medal of Honor-recipient Dakota Meyer, this custom 1911 is designed for extreme accuracy and functioning—like its 1911 predecessors—but it’s enhanced with improved metallurgy, geometry, tolerances and manufacturing processes. The Dakota Meyer Special Edition 1911 has unique identifying markings that celebrate the honor and commitment of Dakota Meyer and other warriors. (acguns.com; 954-749-0095)
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson offers groups and organizations truly unique custom guns to commemorate any anniversary or other significant event. With individual care, these S&W guns can be enhanced with hand engraving, roll engraving, laser engraving and selective 24-karat gold plating. The organization’s emblem, insignia or slogan can be engraved or plated on the handgun, and for a gorgeous final touch, the company offers walnut or cherry presentation cases to display the commemorative pistols. (smith-wesson.com; 800-331-0852)
Another major firearms company that provides beautiful commemorative pistols and rifles is Sig Sauer. The company offers each customer, usually law enforcement, military or civilian organizations, a wide choice in finishes, materials, engraving and inlaying with Standard, Silver, Gold or Platinum packages. The program includes cut engraving and selective gold plating, floral pattern scrollwork, high-luster titanium bonded finishes, engraved wooden grips, and (for pistols only) two insignias on top of slide as well as three lines of text. For all of the packages, the minimum purchase requirement is 15 pistols or 10 rifles (all of the same model and caliber). (sigsauer.com; 603-610-3000)
Remington Custom Shop
Millions of Americans have owned and shot some of Remington’s iconic firearms. The Remington Model 870 shotgun and Model 700 rifle have probably taken more game than any other firearm in the United States. As a result, when Remington honors one of its production milestones with a commemorative firearm, it shows the capabilities of the renowned Remington Custom Shop. Engraving is an art form that is a combination of talent and practice honed with decades of experience. This is where Remington excels, as its Custom Shop has long-time, multi-generational gunsmiths who lovingly take standard Remington firearms and turn them into beautiful commemoratives for appreciative shooters and collectors. (remingtoncustom.com; 315-895-3288)
Kimber Team Match II
To maintain its great support for the U.S.A. Shooting Team that competes in Olympic shooting sports, Kimber has updated its superb Team Match II .45 ACP 1911 pistol that shoots as good as it looks—and it looks great. The Team Match II has a stainless slide with highly polished flats. A diamond-like coating (DLC) is applied for a tough, deep black finish, and then the slide is given the 24-carat gold U.S.A. Shooting logo, a rear sight adjustable for windage and elevation, and a dovetailed front sight post. The Team Match II has a lowered and flared ejection port as well as a stainless steel, match-grade, 1-in-16-inch-twist barrel. Each purchase also helps out the U.S.A. Shooting Team, which gets a portion of the $1,868 selling price. Kimber also offers other commemorative firearms. (kimberamerica.com; 888-243-4522)
Glock is one of the most popular self-defense, duty and competition handgun manufacturers in the world. In addition, the company makes commemorative and “Unusually Marked and Engraved” pistols on request. The “Unusually Marked and Engraved” pistols include those made with an agency or police department’s crest or name, as seen on the slides of Glocks used by the Cramerton, North Carolina, Police Department, which just recently transitioned to the G22 .40 S&W pistol. Glock’s first factory-made commemoratives were its 1,000 “Desert Storm” pistols. Since then, there has been about a dozen other commemoratives commissioned and made by Glock, including the “American Heroes” commemoratives made to honor our 9/11 first responders (glock.com; 770-432-1202)
The U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point is a very significant and historical American landmark as well as an institution where future leaders of this country are made. Their graduates not only go on to shape our world, but many leave with a unique remembrance as precious as their class ring—a commemorative pistol. Lieutenant Colonel Earl Dustin Saunders (retired), Class of 1972, is the volunteer coach of the Black Knight Pistol Team, and every year he has a team of cadets from each class design one or more pistols to honor their graduation in a unique fashion. This tradition started when the seniors of the Class of 1995 designed and sold 500 commemorative pistols to honor their class. Since then, every subsequent class (and now some reunions) has chosen to design uniquely engraved and inlaid pistols—all done by Baron Technology.
Although a couple of classes have selected Berettas and Sig Sauer pistols, by far the most popular choices have been the Colt 1911 or Single Action Army. The seniors work with Colt and Baron Technology to determine the amount and style of scroll engraving; the class design, figure and inscription; the inlays; and the finishes, which include Colt royal blue, color case hardened, charcoal blue, nickel, hard chrome, gold and nickel. Some classes have actually commissioned two or three different kinds so every graduate could have one for display but another, usually in stainless steel, for shooting and daily use. Although mostly bought by graduating cadets or their parents, civilian collectors obtain some. (colt.com; baronengraving.com)
Colt offers our military, law enforcement, and civic organizations a commemorative firearms program. These guns are engraved on the slide with the group’s specific logos, insignias or slogan. These firearms can also incorporate custom grips with artwork laser engraved to the customer’s specification.
Appreciating commemorative firearms is like any hobby—either you “get it” or you don’t. People who get it understand and enjoy the beauty of checkered, inlaid, well-marbled, black walnut stocks fitted flawlessly into gold-inlaid, engraved receivers with bluing so rich that it looks like deep, black ice. For those who would rather dust off their porcelain statues and old, unopened toys should understand during a crisis or emergency you can’t use your collection of Lladro figurines or Star Wars action figures to defend your family like you can with a commemorative engraved Colt .45. Who knows, maybe the poor guy in Nanjing tried to use a similar argument to explain the purchase of his new engraved flintlock to his wife, too!