Honest Question

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With the cultural changes in the united states, has it made it harder to find clients interested in high end engraved firearms?, and is the future for engraving mostly going to be in other creative palates like jewelry, motorcycles,etc. I will be very upset if anybody brings politics into this conversation, so please just dont.

I just wanted to know from the more experienced crowd who have already ventured the art show circuits. Backstory, Ive finally signed up for fega and am looking for a career i can sink my teeth into, and wont mind working 14 hours a day for myself rather than 8 hours for some corporate soul sucking job. Ive noticed that about less than 100 engravers, give or take, really put their name and efforts to firearms. Hopefully there is some insight out there because i see alot of success from getting a better pay rate with smaller items. Mind you, "if you can engrave a firearm, you can engrave anything", but i wanted to see if it was more a matter of skill alone or public interest that drives the market.

Thank you for all those who have gone before me to even show what good engraving looks like, there are too many names of those whos work i admire to even begin. I will hopefully carry that torch for high level work in a few years, but wanted to bend your ear and ask a hard question. Thanks in advance.
 
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mdengraver

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#2
Mattymo good quality engraving is very labor intensive! Be prepared to work hard to derive the satisfaction you seek! It's not a cakewalk! Although quite rewarding, it is a quite difficult way to make a living even for the most highly skilled engravers out there! It helps to have an extra source for income!
 

mitch

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engraving is no difference from any other art form or medium, be it music, painting, or kitchen design. styles/genres fall in and out of fashion. we may wish to think it's immune to the fickle tastes of the unwashed masses, but it ain't. at the moment, classic engraving of the sort traditionally applied to fine doubles, etc., is in limited demand, and in my not-so-humble, highly experienced, opinion, IT IS NOT COMING BACK. in large part, art reflects society, which currently means clients want the same [insert adjectives of choice here: ___ ] images on their guns & knives as they have inked all over their bodies.

it also shows in what's being being built & engraved. the custom weaponry market is now very heavily weighted toward 'tactical' everything. bottom line, if you have bills to pay you may need to get used to idea of cutting dragons, superheroes, cartoon characters, etc., on the more expensive versions of the sorts of objects once sold in the back pages of comic books....

one other thing- if you're thinking you'll do some side projects to feed your artistic soul, that's awesome, but keep in mind that historically spec jobs don't bring jacks*** when you sell 'em.
 

JJ Roberts

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Mattymo,When I took up engraving it was to engrave firearms and nothing else,no jewelry,hobo nickel's or knife's just gun's when to gun show all over the east coast when I lived in N.J. I know I had to get my name out there.All I had back then was James Meek's book the Art of Engraving and a dream did get advice from some of my fellow engraver's and I'm self taught worked in the printing trade by day and engraved at night.If you want to be successfully concentrate on one thing. J.J.
 

mitch

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As someone who would REALLY prefer to still be doing the classic stuff, it pains me to write that, but there's no point tilting at windmills. The art business is first and foremost, a BUSINESS. I've had a talk with a few nieces and nephews about the whole "find something you love to do" thing and I told them in no uncertain terms, that's BULLS*** (for the vast majority of people, anyway). I've been engraving for about 38 years and I can count on one hand the number of times a client has told me to 'do whatever I want'. And even then, it was on THEIR choice of gun or knife, and still had a few set parameters on stuff like gold/no gold, etc.

On a related 'note', I have a client/friend who builds musical instruments of the sort only really used much in classical music (woodwinds). He recently lamented how his business is so limited by the fact so very few even listen to classical anymore (<3%), and next to nobody plays it. He's fast approaching retirement age and wonders if there will even be a market for his shop full of specialized equipment, tools, materials, etc, let alone someone to carry on making his exquisite instruments...
 
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Thread starter #8
Theres about three people in the world: pessimists, optimists, and realists. With the changes in the hardness of steel being presented and the cultural changes, im having a hard time seeing the risk versus the reward benefits. Ill gladly engrave guns for myself and friends, but peoples attitude towards guns is no longer an heirloom mentality, for all intents and purposes.

Some may find this conversation discouraging, but i see its all in how the truth is handled. Im glad you have the cahones to stand up and speak because your work is some that promotes me too achieve higher, and its nice to hear about the reality rather than reminisce about the good old days. Makes me want to be more creative honestly and that will leave me with a positive note.
 

DKanger

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wonders if there will even be a market for his shop full of specialized equipment, tools, materials, etc,
Before I moved south almost 20 years ago, I went to a conducted estate sale of a gentleman who made and repaired brass woodwinds. I bought almost 50 files, several swaging tools, a box of drill rod in sizes from 3/8 down to 1/32, a box of various sized brass and nickel silver tubing, and some other miscellaneous items for less than $100. They only let 10 people in at a time. A guy in the group before me bought his fully equipped lathe, all the tooling, and various dies and fixtures as a package deal for $650. I was slightly PO'ed at having missed it but was about 15 minutes late. All the stuff served me well in the muzzleloading business.

When I closed my auto shop, I sold about $15K worth of equipment for $3500. It was either that or store it for years while trying to sell it off piecemeal. When you come to the end of the road, you ain't gonna get what you want unless you want to become an eBay seller to get rid of it......and in the long run it ain't worth the hassle.
 

Memorymaker

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First, thank you for keeping this non political........ seems you can’t have a post without someone bringing politics into it. Second, for me at least, it’s just something to have fun with so I’m not looking to make a living from it. While firearm engraving may be going the way of the wooden bucket, you might be able to find something that would be desirable with the changing times. I don’t know what that is but beautiful engraving must be desirable on many things that people would be willing to pay for. You just have to find that thing and the people that are willing to pay for it and that’s harder than the engraving. Jus sayin
 
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Thread starter #11
Wholeheartedly agree memory maker, and im finding more joy in the hobby rather than business aspect, but thats just a personal choice at the moment and could change in the future. Im hard pressed to find the long lasting keepsake value that firearms did have, but that will be where the creative thinking comes in. The palate almost defines the motif, but as most things are going the way of the machine, im happy to say that this artform has gotten a new renaissance. Im curious to see what new palates people poor their soul into. Thanks again for joining in everyone, honest conversation is always refreshing.
 

Jonathan.Silas

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For what my admittedly neophyte opinion is worth I believe we might still see art guns, just more in the vein of TSterling sculpture/Netsuke type graving rather than the traditional double rifle with english scroll. With companies like Henry putting out single shots, and Stoeger selling reasonable priced firearms you might start seeing "Theme" gun. A double barrel 12 done in a western style, a larger caliber bolt gun done in a nordic theme with Gungnir runes and symbolism. Ill admit to doodling a pirate styled blackpowder pistol... none of these things are traditional by any means but it would allow for both art and business to continue on.
 

John B.

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Just a thought or three. :)
Could it be that some engravers are pricing themselves out of the client base?
I personally know of very good engravers with more than a one year backlog.
And one with a fully booked three year waiting list!
There is work out there if one is flexible and works within the needs, expectations and pocket book of the client base.
Mitch's friend, the woodwind instrument maker, is in the unfortunate position of trying to serve a minute or nearly non-existent clientele. If you are fortunate enough to be a world renowned engraver and wealthy enough to be selective, then you can limit your practice to only the highest of your ability. Not so for most of us with our potential and regular firearms, knife and engraving clients.
Many firearms engraving clients are not looking for a world class piece of art or a lifetime family heirloom when they contract us for work.
Remember, much of the everyday work of L.D Nimsche and Gustave Young was not then considered any more than well done decorative engraving when it was engraved.
Most clients are looking for a well engraved, usable, individually hand engraved item, whether it be a gun, knife or high end watch.
One that they can enjoy owning, show off at the trap and skeet or cowboy shooting club etc.
Yes, many of these items will later become keepsake family heirlooms.
Not because they are World Class masterpieces pieces of artwork.
But because they were associated with the family member that lovingly owned and used them. And had the fore site to purchase them for enjoyment and the future.
 
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allan621

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John

Life in the real world. I do jewelry engraving, not knives or guns. For about 15 minutes I was planning to switch over to doing some knives and did engrave a buck knife. I showed it to someone whose family collects knives and firearms and he put a price on it of 85.00. It was a decent price but I can make much more money engraving inside rings which takes less time and less layout than engraving that knife. I have over forty years of engraving simple things and received a well deserved dope slap from the head of our household ( she who must be obeyed ) for thinking I can learn to engrave knives now.

Most of the pieces I do are not cultural, they're traditional. Cufflinks for weddings, inside wedding bands for marriages, baby cups, trophies that have been previously hand engraved and need this year's winners name, charms, pedants, and bracelets. Basic, basic , basic.

I have trained two other full time engravers and they are doing well. There is a decent amount of work for them to do but they are grounded in the understanding that they are not doing masterpieces. They do the best job they can do, engraving what the customer wants and then its onto the next job. And my attitude is that I engrave what the customer would want if he could engrave it himself. Its like going into a hallmark store, picking out a card and thinking that's me.

Its a hard thing to do. And there are lots of ins and outs with trying to get that done. But to me its really how to make this a career.

Allan
 

monk

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engraving can be just like the lottery. spend 2 bucks-- next day you got $120,000,000 !
or your dream of making it big just goes into the outhouse. my endeavors have required many hours of unpaid labor. also have earned some worthwhile money.no regrets here.
nobody ever paid me for going fishin, but good catch, or no, i enjoyed every minute !!
that's sort of life in general, is it not ? just like engraving. if you don't enjoy the work, do somethin else.
 

John B.

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Hi Allan and Jay,
At this time very few people perceive even the finest engraving to be Fine Art.
And that is a sad situation and must leave the "fine art engraver" frustrated and unrewarded.
But that's life and the way it is at this time.
We need to continue the work of educating the public.
 

dogcatcher

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#17
I have been a gun owner for almost 7 decades. I own none that are engraved. To me, guns are tools. Although I do admire some that are engraved, others I look at and wonder what possessed the owner to have it engraved.
 

highveldt

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It is no secret among the high dollar gun trade that the demand for firearms has decreased significantly in the last decade, largely driven by the aging of the portion of the populace who have the means to purchase these firearms. Subsequently, the value of such firearms already in the possession of collectors, large and small, has decreased by 20 to 40 per cent to my mind and my view of the market place.

There remains a segment of the population who can and are still purchasing bespoke highly engraved firearms from firms in London, Birmingham and in Europe ( from firms such as H&W there as well as the Italian firms). I think we all remember reading (5 to 10 years ago) of the large number of firearm engravers who were no longer needed in Val Trompia, Brescia, Italy.

To my mind an indicator of what the demand of high dollar engraved firearms now will the subsequent hammer price at the Holt's auction in London that took place earlier today of auction Lot 1250. This lot consists of a trio of Purdey 20 bore shotguns (one O/U and one SLE) and one Purdey .375 H&H double rifle, all engraved by Sinclair and very likely unfired. Holt's had estimated the hammer price range of UK Pounds 150,000 to 180,000. It is my observation that just 10 years ago these three firearms would have never gone to auction, but would have been "snapped" up by a collector as soon as it was heard that they the present owner had them for sale. For the person who has the wealth the Holt's estimated price is a bargain as the double rifle alone would cost that much if ordered from Purdey today.

Also to my mind a young engraver of today needs a day job to support himself while he learns how to engrave firearms that would be to the skill level of acceptance by the London trade (or if you are good enough serve an apprenticeship with the London trade). Maybe in 30 years the demand of such firearms will be back to the level that it was in the 1990's. The amount of "disposable income" is the key factor--if it is not there they do not buy and engravers do not engrave; and gunmakers do not build. It also should be noted that Americans are not the lead buyers any longer for such highly valued and decorated firearms, but Europeans, Mid-Easterners and Asians. Of course, free advise is valued accordingly.
 

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