For American shotgun collectors accustomed to Italian and English aesthetics, One-of-One also has the distinction of showcasing the masculine Austrian school of engraving as performed by a master, Roland Schmidt.
Under Mr. Schmidt’s steady hand, one of the hottest shotguns in America has been transformed into an exceptional masterpiece.
For those of you unfamiliar with F3 shotguns, they are manufactured in Isny, Germany by Blaser -- a gunmaker recognized for its high-quality R93 hunting rifles adorned with game scenes from the Austrian school.
When deciding to enter the U.S. with its first shotguns in 2004, Blaser pursued the mid-range market with shotguns starting in the low $5,000s. Built in a new factory designed by Porsche Consulting, the F3 line was distinguished by innovative mechanical triggers, an adjustable balance system in the stock, a sleek look and other advances that made it the poster boy of the contemporary sporting shotgun.
As Blaser gained traction in the U.S., it introduced a customization program. The Super Luxus provided one game-scene motif per side and Grade 6 wood. Moving up, the F3 Exclusiv offered two motifs per side with Grade 8 wood. The Super Exclusiv’s sideplate had three motifs per side and also came with Grade 8 wood. And the Imperial depicted three motifs on the sideplate accompanied by Grade 9 wood. The Imperial also let the customer choose fine English scroll instead of the game scenes, including detail work on the barrels.
The Consignment of One-of-One
It didn’t take long before the buzz around the F3 grew palpable. Place an F3 on a gun rack among Krieghoffs, Berettas and Perazzis, and it drew attention. The F3 clearly was a shotgun to own.
So it was only natural that a collector would take F3 ownership to new heights.
The consignment of One-of-One began with a chance encounter.
Bart’s Sports World of Glen Burnie, Maryland, had been exhibiting at the 2007 U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship at Hopkins Deer Hunting in Kennedyville, Maryland.
As owner Jack Bart relates, they displayed a wide range of Blaser rifles and shotguns, prominent among them the Blaser Big Five rifle -- a $38,000 beauty of relief engraving. The receiver and grip cap featured Africa’s Big Five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo.
A Big Five Shotgun
One of Mr. Bart’s long-standing customers, already an F3 owner, happened by the tent. He was immediately drawn to the Blaser Big Five rifle. He asked Mr. Bart if the Big Five engraving was available on an F3.
Mr. Bart contacted Blaser in Germany. Blaser’s concern was whether or not the receiver was thick enough to handle relief engraving. A few days later, Blaser confirmed that the F3 receiver did have the structural integrity for the job. Blaser also said they could make the F3 available with its best wood, Grade 11 Turkish walnut.
Mr. Bart accompanied the customer to Blaser’s U.S. headquarters, at the time in Stevensville, Maryland, for a custom fitting. A few more requirements were added. The customer wanted both 12- and 20-gauge barrels, engraving on the breach of both barrels, gold-wire outlines and his initials in gold on the top lever. It was also decided that the S and F on the safety should be in gold.
It was agreed that One-of-One would come with a custom saddle-leather case lined with velvet and fitted for both barrels.
The order was placed in June 2007, with an expected delivery of Christmas that year (although the shotgun actually arrived in February 2008).
Enter Roland Schmidt
An investigation into One-of-One revealed that it was engraved by Roland Schmidt of Staig, Germany. As a Blaser master engraver he was enlisted for this extraordinary assignment.
We located Mr. Schmidt’s phone number. It turned out his English was rough, and our German nonexistent. Still, the conversation turned up that One-of-One was hand-engraved in his home workshop. He believed that his specialty in gold and silver engraving qualified him for the Blaser appointment. The shotgun, he said, was originally conceived from a drawing, and took two months to complete.
Mr. Schmidt said he had been engraving for 45 years. In addition to Blaser, he worked for Krieghoff, Mauser, Purdey and other European gun makers. He engraves approximately 20 guns per year. At 66 years old, he said he had no plans to retire -- and in fact he looked forward to working for the next 10 years if possible.
After our conversation with Mr. Schmidt, we felt there was still more information we needed to acquire about One-of-One. We called our friend, D.J. Glaser, president of Glendo Corporation in Emporia, Kansas.
Glendo supplies leading engravers with many tools of the trade, and Mr. Glaser knows several of the world’s fine firearms engravers.
The Austrian School of Engraving
Mr. Glaser went on to explain that One-of-One represented one of the classic styles of Austrian relief engraving. It’s a three-dimensional art in which metal in relieved for depth. Called Federstich, it’s different from the Italian Bulino style, for example, that relies on fine cuts and shading to give the effect of shadows and depth through very high definition.
By contrast, the Austrian style of animal has shoulders and muscles of true three dimensions.
The Austrian style is also recognizable by the cock of an elk’s head, the fascination with hunting maidens, dragons, deer in forests, and old scenes as originally depicted in the 1800s and 1900s.
“The Austrians are famous for really removing metal when they engrave,” Mr. Glaser noted. “It’s a history that goes back hundreds of years especially around Ferlach.”
Ferlach, Austria features one of the highest concentrations of superb gunsmiths in Europe. The focal point is Höhere Technische Bundeslehranstalt Ferlach School of Gunsmithing. Students in their mid-teens enter the academy and over the next four years learn to build long guns from scratch.
Himself an enthusiast, Mr. Glaser said that although he did not personally know Roland Schmidt he suggested we contact Martin Strolz. Mr. Strolz lives in Steyr, another Austrian city with a long lasting firearms heritage; he is also a well-known master engraver and teacher.
He thought Mr. Strolz could give us the additional information about Roland Schmidt and One-of-One. He gave us Mr. Strolz’s email, which we promptly followed up on.
A Surprise Turn of Events
A few days later we were in for a pleasant surprise. Mr. Strolz actually contacted Roland Schmidt and conducted a follow-up interview on our behalf, which he emailed to us.
Roland Schmidt was born in Klagenfurt, Austria. In fact, his father was an engineer and a teacher (theoretical subjects like mathematics) at the Höhere Technische Bundeslehranstalt Ferlach
Mr. Schmidt studied engraving there from 1957 until 1961. After graduation, he moved to Germany. He found employment in the firm Krieghoff and worked there for 20 years as an engraver, eventually managing the entire operation with the title Master Engraver. He subsequently left Krieghoff to start his own business.
Following the notes on his interview with Roland Schmidt, Mr. Strolz elaborated on the Austrian school of engraving. He explained that it’s often distinguished by the style and type of scrolls.
Traditional Austrian engravings feature different styles of leafs, thistle framing, coats of arms, and scenes that test the engraver by depicting animals in animated scenes. These animals typically include red stag, roe deer, chamois, wild boar, moose, wild sheep, ducks, pheasant, black grouse, hare and fox in combination with hunting dogs.
The human figures appear with St. Hubert the hunter, Diana the goddess of hunting, St. George fighting the dragon and other mythical heroes. Mr. Strolz noted that engraving demands knowledge of anatomy to capture the realism in executing such an elaborate job as One-of-One.
Close examination of One-of-One shows it to be a wonderful example of the Austrian school. The fortunate owner, who chose to remain anonymous, shoots it regularly.
Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of ShotgunLife.com.