A Touch Of Class

The Siren Song Of Tastefully Embellishment.

Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

Back about 1984 I saved and scrimped and finally had enough dollars to fulfill a dream. It was to get one of Colt’s black-powder frame .45 SAA’s with a 7-1/2-inch barrel. It was going to be the nearest thing to a shooting specimen of a US Cavalry-issue Colt I could afford. At least I thought it was affordable.

Upon calling Colt to place an order, the nice lady on the phone informed me such a revolver could only be gotten from the Colt Custom Shop and it could only be had if a certain dollars’ worth of embellishments were bought with it.

“Embellishments?” I thought. “What the heck is she talking about?” I just wanted a good shooting .45 with a 7-1/2-inch barrel and the frame style with a tiny screw angling in from the front to secure its cylinder base pin. In other words, a Plain-Jane SAA was all I desired.

This Colt SAA and 1911 (above) wear fancy grips, personalized with
Duke’s initials. Before US Firearms ceased to exist, Duke ordered
these two engraved SAA’s (below). Both are in .44-40 and both wear
Duke’s and Yvonne’s initials as part of the serial numbers.

Some Extras

The nice lady explained to me embellishments included engraving, special plating, ivory grips, presentation box and other things I’ve likely forgotten now over 30 years later. To make a long story short, I opted for a presentation box and ivory grips. My new Colt arrived in December 1984.

I still have it. The ivory grips set in a safe spot, replaced by a 1-piece type of plain walnut even wearing a facsimile inspector’s cartouche. Never caring about the presentation box, I have no idea where I stored it. Back in 1986 there was a ride of the trail the US 7th Cavalry took from the Crow’s Nest right to the monument at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. I wore this Colt in a black El Paso Saddlery reverse-draw, full-flap holster.

Duke’s latest venture into the world of embellished guns
was this engraved Colt SAA .38-40.

Duke’s match-winning, custom-ordered Lone Star Rolling Block
.40-65 sports color case-hardening, high-grade walnut, engraving
and gold-inlaid MLV initials.

A Change of Heart

I’ve changed some in the past three decades. One area of change has been my attitude on embellishments. Now I want them. In fact, just a few days ago I spied on engraved, 3rd Generation SAA .38-40 on Gunbroker.com. It was offered both with bidding or buy-it-now options. The latter is for those who don’t want to take a chance on being outbid. I fit that category, so I hit the buy-it-now button so hard my finger hurt. (Interestingly, shortly thereafter, I got an email from a guy who said I narrowly beat him to it.)

I can’t really pinpoint exactly when I changed my attitude about fancy guns. Back in high school I plastered my “MLV” initials on my notebooks and then resurrected them as my logo for MLV Enterprises while selling my own books for 20 years.

As to guns, first came several sets of ivory grips with MLV on them. The crowning ones are a relief-carved set by an El Paso artist Paul Persinger. His work is stunning and his ivories went on a special-ordered Colt SAA .45 with full blue finish and my name engraved on the backstrap. It was presented to me by my friend, Hank Williams, Jr.

But I still didn’t go wild for engraving. After all, engraving doesn’t make a rifle or handgun shoot better. Such was my mindset when ordering my first reproduction Rolling Block rifle from Lone Star Rifle Company at the 1997 SHOT Show. However, I did go for presentation-grade wood, but the rest of the rifle was to simply include an ordinary color case-hardened action with a blued barrel.

When I placed the order, Lone Star proprietor—the late Dave Higgenbotham—assured me I would get it in time to work up a good .40-65 load before the NRA’s BPCR Silhouette National Championships in August. He kept his word, but upon opening the shipping box I was amazed to find the action fully engraved and my MLV logo inset in gold on the right side.

So I called him. “Dave,” I said, “This rifle is engraved. I didn’t pay for engraving.” He replied, “Mike, I know. But I also know you are prone to trade and sell guns. With that MLV on its side, you will keep it.” And so I have. I’ve won several matches with it and it is now a well-known rifle in the BPCR Silhouette community.

With that rifle it dawned on me embellishments don’t have to be gaudy. Done properly they are tasteful and evidence you have pride in an item, whether it be a carved saddle such as Yvonne bought for herself or engraving on a special firearm.

So around 2006 I ordered a pair of single actions from the now defunct US Firearms Company with engraving. One is mine with a 4-3/4-inch barrel and MLV and a digit for serial number and YMV and a digit for serial number for Yvonne with her preferred 5-1/2- inch barrel. Of course both were .44-40’s and roll-marked “FRONTIER SIX-SHOOTER.”

The engraved Colt SAA .38-40 I mentioned at the beginning? Well, it has arrived and it’s a beauty. I wonder if it should be embellished with some fancy grips?

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