Jewelry giant Tiffany & Co. created these show guns in the late 19th century to boast America’s creative ingenuity and manufacturing power.
Before Mexican cartel members and crazed African warlords began flaunting golden AK-47s and desert eagles, there were these ornate show guns. Tiffany & Co. started producing them in 1880 as a way to show off American craftsmanship at the time.
“They were produced to symbolize the potency of American manufacturing and craftsmanship, and were created using techniques that nobody else could equal,” said Pierre Terjanian, head of the Arms and Armor Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and History in New York, where the six guns are currently on display.
At the time, the guns displayed advanced decorative techniques, including enameling and chemical etching. The decorative revolvers could fire bullets, but the thick silver and ebony wood made it nearly impossible to disassemble and clean them.
These show guns aren’t the first examples of lethal beauty created by Tiffany & Co. The company designed ornate swords for US Army officers during the Civil War and Mexican-American War. In 1880, Tiffany & Co. started tinkering with firearms but only produced 50 guns before shutting down the project in 1911 because of New York’s strict gun laws.
Terjanian said the revolvers were never used to kill anyone, as far as he knows. A handful of the guns were purchased by the uber wealthy businessmen of the day, including railroad tycoon Jason Gould.
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