Great Western offered engraved revolvers and derringers for sale to the public, somewhat mimicking Colt’s legendary custom shop service that provided engraved SAA’s. Great Western did not employ any engravers at the factory however. Guns were sent out to professional engravers on a commission piece basis, and some of these were done by engravers with lasting regard. Among them, it is understood that Cole Agee, Alvin White, Weldon Bledsoe, Ray Viramontez, Charles Jerrid, and Shiro Ogowa provided ‘factory engraved’ Great Western revolvers at various points.
Carl Courts of Long Beach is known as Great Western’s primary ‘factory engraver’. He did several or more in an ornate style with gold bands, including those given to GW spokesmen and capital investors. However it was confirmed through Courts late in his life that some of his engraved Great Westerns were not factory commissioned. Courts purchased several to engrave and sell on his own on the southern California gun show circuit in the mid fifties.
It is impossible to authenticate a factory engraved Great Western by way of documentation, such that production logs do not exist. Some examples have attributes that offer their own kind of persuasiveness and certitude, however. Early serialed presentation guns to capital investors and spokesmen are all no doubt factory. Jeweled hammers on engraved guns are persuasive of factory origin, because the jeweled hammer was a factory option and these are seen on Courts’ examples. And some examples residing in collections now can be authenticated because they appear in Great Western catalogs. Those engraved examples found in the rare Great Western leatherette case are no doubt factory.
Engraved guns were done in blue, nickel, silver, gold, and coin / in the white.
Both revolvers and derringers were offered engraved. Among revolvers, factory engraved Frontier models, Target models, Fast Draw models, Sheriffs models, and Deputy types have been observed.
In terms of collectible-ness, factory engraved Great Westerns can be sub-typed. These kinds can be distinguished:
1. The presentation guns given to the GW capital investors, notably GW3 & GW4 given to Fortmann and perhaps some others.
2. The presentation guns given to spokesmen endorsers, because they were no doubt otherwise not given cash compensation. This included John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Mel Torme.
3. The presentation guns given unsolicited to celebrities to engender good will, notably a derringer to Elvis and the GW5000 revolver sent to President Eisenhower.
4. Then finally, the engraved guns made available to the public that were somewhat off the shelf or commission-able through the factory.
John Wayne’s engraved Great Westerns
John Wayne was a spokesman endorser for Great Western Arms. It stands to reason he was compensated with free revolvers rather than cash payment. In his 1954 promotional shoot for the Great Western catalog, Wayne is pictured with Carl Courts engraved .45s.
That Wayne used engraved Great Westerns in his final movie The Shootist is a fairly well known detail of his career. The Shootist Great Westerns are not the original set he is shown with in the catalogs. The first engraved set was stolen from the Great Western display booth at a Chicago trade show in 1955. Their whereabouts remain unknown.
A second set was finished quite soon apparently, and they remained with Wayne until the end of his career when he performed in The Shootist. The Shootist guns are also understood to be Courts engraved. They are currently in the collection of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.