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About engraving

In the times of reality shows, computer games and tabloids full of celebrities it is hard to imagine a craftsman who arduously cuts a piece of metal,

using simple tools, to produce pictures of animals which are so similar to real ones that they could make an impression of black and white pictures taken during photo-safari in Masai Mara. Realism of the contemporary engraving art would not be possible without the use of the latest technology.

Better and better cameras and “high definition” technology enable acquisition of better references for engraved elements. What is more, the use of a microscope or high class magnifying glass used to select diamonds, enables to add more details. Weapon engraving is one of a few forms of artistic communication where modern technology and materials are frequently combined with traditional art and craft. Let this mésalliance last as long as it is possible since the final effect for a receiver, apart from its value for a collector, is still a culture values carrier, more durable and original than TV or a computer.

The most beautifully engraved weapon items are more expensive than the newest Rolls-Royce model.

Weapon manufacturers, which are appreciated by hunters, manufacture their most expensive weapons per individual requests only. Hence, the best quality engraving art is available to a very narrow group of very wealthy clients. In order to fill out this gap and, most of all, to meet needs of numerous fans and less wealthy weapon connoisseurs in many European countries there are published stunning books-albums providing readers’ eyes with beautiful pictures of unique weapon and very interesting descriptions of engraving art styles along with their genesis and development. One can see works of the most famous engravers working in Europe from nineteenth century till now. The most recognized promoter and reviewer in this sector is Marco E. Nobili. One thing we regret is we still do not have his books in Polish.

Since I have been dealing with this type of craft for many years I know that among Polish hunters there are also many collectors and lovers of beautifully decorated weapon. And personalization, making those things individual and unique, especially when we are emotionally connected with them, does not have to necessarily mean spending great amounts of money.

In order to introduce this issue a little bit let me describe shortly engraving technologies applied in order to decorate hunting weapon.

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Pic. A Pic. B

The same scene, the same composition, two engraving techniques. On the left (pic. A) “deep relief” engraving technique, ornament with oak leaves; on the right (pic. B), Eurasian woodcock engraved acc. to “bulino”, around it – English arabesque “fine scroll”

There are two main techniques: deep German engraving (continental), and flat (linear) technique of ornament, which is an English tradition.

The first one of the afore-mentioned styles, representative for German and Austrian craftsmen, combines features of a spatial nature bas-relief and a basic etching technique. A base-material in this case the most frequently is: baskila, sidelock plate or lock seat in a rifle, deeply perforated by an engraving tool, up to 2mm. Hence, proper preparation of weapon elements is necessary at the manufacture stage. However, an engraver (when applying etching technique) must not exceed certain limit which could deteriorate strength of a material. This technique, commonly known as ”deep relief ” reflects greatly nature of hunting weapon – heavy repeaters, expresses, weapon intended to hunt large animals. Deer, moose, wild boars, the entire African five look impressive in this type of engraving. Oak leaves is a classic floral element when applying the technique in question, their shape and structure suit perfectly for engraving with use of punches.

Also small game and birds fit well to the “deep relief” technique.

And there is no clear aesthetic barrier to apply this technique when decorating a shot rifle. Applied moderately, by sensibly used chisel, it may reflect the most subtle nature of an object.

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Scenes with animals, “deep relief”
on a baskiki of Krieghoff Semprio rifle,
acanthus leaves ornament


Steyr Mannlicher rifle, chiseled ornament
with oak leaves, ”deep relief ”

The second one of the afore-mentioned engraving styles, characterized by more delicate and subtle relief, is a classic English engraving.

Its quintessence is bouquets of roses and arabesques, engraved so accurately that watched from a certain distance they give an impression of mat areas of a weapon, while strings of pure and not engraved metal make a decorative pattern in themselves, which makes weapon amazingly stunning. Arabesque arrangement is not accidental as well. Seemingly monotonic and repeating elements have their beginning, continued part and the end. Every part of the weapon engraved in this way requires a separate graphic preparation and a design. Final of this work is an eye-catching and “light” pattern on steel parts of a weapon.

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Classics of English engraving art ”fine scroll & bouqets”
on a rifle of a London company – J. Purdey & Sons

More developed version of the English engraving art, so called ”bold scroll”, are acanthus and palm leaves combined in a form of arabesque.

The first of them are an allusion to the civilizations of Greece and Rome, where acanthus was very popular decorative motive in architecture and the functional arts as well. And the palm leaves are a relic after a long-term romance of the Albion artists with the art of the East.

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”Bold scroll” on English baskilas

Haunting scenes engraved in the English style are characterized by accuracy of details. The use of graphical method of hatching and dotting of an area enables a graver to reflect a wide range of attributes. In this case it is a very wide range of gray color hues. This technique reflects greatly feathering of birds or details of anatomic structure of animals in motion.

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Classic scenes on English rifles


Bock by Browning engraved in the English style

A fact that certain contemporary gravers, heading for perfection in the field of use of an engraving tool, specialize in only one of afore-mentioned techniques, must not mean an application of both, the English and the German style at the same time. There are a lot of great examples of co-existence, on a single engraved area, of both of the engraving methods – in form of oak leaves interlacing with arabesques or in form of delicate linear relief, apart from deep grooving.

Generally, differences between the English style and the continental style can be found at the sources that is in the environments of artists-craftsmen from whom weapon gravers originate.

Most of German and Austrian gravers have developed their craft at famous European goldsmiths and silversmiths. In turn, basis of art of the English craftsmen should be traced in very popular, both in nineteenth century and now, print reproductions market, so called ”prints”. In the traditional method of manufacturing, a graver prepares a steel engraving or a copper engraving as a printing mold. In case of the earliest reproduction techniques there were applied wood molds made from a hard wood.

The “bulino” technique, popular today and described many times, is a continuation and in fact, more accurate and delicate form of steel engraving. Called a “banknote style” in English the technique in question is still applied by Securities Printing Houses and mints in many countries, to manufacture banknotes and stamps. An interesting fact is that the most valuable and recognized artist in the world who applied the technique was Pole – Mr. Czesław Słania. He is, among others, creator of the Elizabeth the Second image on the stamp of British Post Service valid today.


”’Snow brothers” work demonstrated in 2012 in the London Mall Galleries, ”bulino” technique. Total dimensions of the scene 45 X 38 mm, whiskers of leopards on an engraving of human hair thickness.

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Knifes crafted in ”bulino” technique


”Gołębiak Karoliński” a scene engraved on a rifle side lock, per a request of a client from Texas. Worth mentioning are the depth of the gradation, the background and shades in the crowns of trees.

Using gold to decorate weapon has the same number of followers as the number of objectors.

Traditional incrustation means slow studding, pinching of 24 carat gold on previously prepared area. It is mechanical and very strong connection of two metals without the use of any artificial welds. Incrustation has nothing in common with cheaper and less tough technique of galvanic gold-plating. Finely encrusted details, animals, monograms or subtitles are decorative elements in themselves. They greatly fit all other traditional engraving techniques.


BPurdey Bock, gold plated (24 carat)


Three decoration forms: ”deep relief”, ”bold scroll” and gold-plating


Serial number of the weapon, encrusted

For years, simultaneously with development of decorative styles many companies have been trying to simplify the decoration form.

The use of pantograph, chiseling or the latest pressure molds techniques substantially shortens the work time and reduces the production costs. Companies trying to attract clients try to manufacture cheap weapon and provide the market with shoddy mass products, of low quality.

Traditional burin, chisel and engraving hammer will never be replaced by a computer or laser. Unique and individual nature of work of an artist-engraver results from certain insinuations and imperfections, which occur only in individual copies made by a human hand. Also a name of the author means a lot for connoisseurs.

A legendary reputation and prestige of the most famous weapon creators, who manufacture weapon per individual request, is promoted mainly by purchasers of the weapon, collectors and fans of stunning and sophisticated things. And this is just a matter of taste and individual fancy whether one desires pictures, sculptures or stamps, while others need Swiss watches or engraved hunting weapon.

M i c h a ł    N o w a k o w s k i

” Tradition, style and modernity”

Łowiec Polski No. 2009/12