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This volume explores the history, process, period applications and use of authorized and unauthorized modern copies of the Colt Cylinder Scenes. Through copious illustrations and thorough research, fictions are revealed and facts explored regarding the creation and use of the work of one of the 19th century's most famous banknote engravers, on the products of that era's most famous arms maker. For each of the three Scenes methods for detecting modern, fraudulent copies are painstakingly illustrated.
W. L. Ormsby and His Process covers the biography, working methods and motivations of the man commissioned to create the Scenes. Pertinent facts about 19th century commercial engraving and Ormsby's working life are discussed. Myths and misstatements about the roller die engraving process are revealed in a well illustrated explanation of exactly how the images on Colt's cylinders were made.
Beginning with an extensive, on-the-ground search for the site of The Texas Rangers and Comanches Fight the second chapter lays the groundwork for the discussion of the first major Scene that Colt requested from Ormsby for the newly revived Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company. Every aspect from the original application to the Walker cylinders, to the truncated version on the first Baby Dragoons, is covered. The history of the actual event recorded in Ormsby's Scene, a watershed in 19th century mounted warfare, the actions surrounding its passage into engraved history, the variations in use and on period Brevettes and modern copies are discussed.
Surprising facts about The Stagecoach Holdup Scene are to be learned in chapter three. Drawing on research from many sources a complete picture of the circumstances surrounding the conception and purpose of the Scene on Colt's most popular percussion revolver are detailed. Variations in the period application, including into the cartridge era and on modern copies, are illustrated and discussed.
The Naval Engagement Scene is the topic of the last chapter. Little known historical facts connecting the events depicted in the Rangers and Naval Scenes are presented, with strong research support. The history of what was a groundbreaking moment in naval warfare is thoroughly presented, compiled from American, Texian and Mexican primary sources. The long life of the Naval Scene engraving itself, into the cartridge era, is discussed with copious illustrations. And one lingering, oft-discussed aspect of the Colt-Ormsby collaboration is given a new twist in an explanation culled from the history of 19th century American currency counterfeiting.
Many images, photos, drawings, maps and original 19th century illustrations illuminate Colt Cylinder Scenes, to clarify points made in the text for both the general reader and the most technically-minded gun collector. A number of items are brought together for the very first time to clearly define just what Sam Colt and W. L. Ormsby were up to in what was an exceedingly fruitful time for both of these men in the years 1847 to 1851.
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Dr. Arthur Tobias has published over a dozen articles in various journals, on the topics of Colt percussion arms design and roller die engraving, detecting fraudulent engraving, Civil War history, and the use of arms in the 19th century. He is a lifelong artist with extensive experience in fine art design and engraving, a professor of education, an art historian and an aficionado of old Colts.Review:
Quite apart from their decorative appearance, the distinctive scenes engraved on the cylinders of many Colt percussion revolvers served a far more important purpose. They were visual brands that were as closely associated with Colt's revolvers as the inventor's name itself. That they were recognized as such is clearly demonstrated by the fact that W. Bridge Adams made the following comments in an 1854 article published in the Journal of the Society of Arts: ... more poetical image than the four robbers shot down from a traveling carriage, engraved on the cylinder of a Colt's revolver.
That Adams did not need to further clarify his remarks indicates his audience was not only aware of the scene, but also familiar with it.
Given their importance, it is therefore fitting that the actual construction of the scenes, the method of their being applied to cylinders and their structural evolution has finally been examined in detail. Tobias presents this information in an easily understood fashion reinforced by multiple comparative images showing specific parts of individual scenes. As a result, the evolution of each design can be traced in an uncomplicated fashion and, more importantly, the shortcomings of old and modern copies, as well as forgeries, are made apparent. He also provides information concerning the models for the scenes by Waterman L. Ormsby.
Because no other work discusses this subject, Colt Cylinder Scenes is an absolute necessity for anyone who collects Colt revolvers of the percussion period.
Herbert G. Houze --Man at Arms, August 2012
As announced earlier in The E-Sylum, Arthur Tobias has written a new book relating to W.L. Ormsby, author of one of the rarest books in U.S. numismatic Literature, Bank Note Engraving. He kindly provided me with a review copy and furnished some excerpts from the text.
Books like Arthur's are among the favorites in my numismatic library - the ones that are interesting and relevant to numismatics, yet not directly about numismatics. It's books like these that cross over into other areas that illuminate the whole of someone's life work - not just the numismatic parts, but all of it.
Through this little volume I learned a great deal about Waterman Lilly Ormsby, his life's work, his talents and his business projects as well as learning something more about his numismatic (and bibliophilic) projects.
From Chapter One: W. L. Ormsby, His Process: Mention Waterman Lilly Ormsby to a member of the numismatic fraternity and you will hear about the famous engraver's many banknote designs of the mid-19th century, rarely a word about Colt cylinder scenes. Mention W. L. Ormsby to a collector of 19th century American engravings on steel and you will hear of the famous copy of Trumbull's Declaration of Independence that hangs today in the White House.
Mention Ormsby to a Colt collector and you will stimulate thoughts of the topics of this tome, cylinder Scenes. Rarely will you hear anything to do with banknotes or framed prints. The disparate collecting communities are not often aware of their mutual interests and how they are pooled in the life and works of this one original, irascible American artist, engraver and inventor.
Hopefully this book, with its crossover niche, will entice new collectors to the obsolete paper money field. Or encourage numismatists to take up arms and collect Colt revolvers!
The book illustrates one of Ormsby's bank notes and as a paper money collector these would be interesting items to have, now knowing more about their maker.
The book is primarily a study of its title subject, the Colt cylinder scenes. I enjoyed reading the historical and artistic background of the scenes Ormsby and Colt choose to use. Arthur's book reminded me of another favorite series of small but incredibly useful books in the obsolete paper money field - Roger Durand's Interesting Notes...; series, where he provides background information on the images used to adorn many obsolete U.S. bank notes.
In short, I recommend it for any E-Sylum reader interested in numismatic literature, obsolete paper money, engraving, art (or Colt revolvers).
Wayne Homren, Editor --The E-Sylum, Volume 14, Number 38, September 11, 2011, Article 7
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