Gun Engraver C. F. Ulrich on a Coin?
The Ulrich family of engravers is a sort of dynasty in the gun world, with members working for Colt, Winchester, Marlin, and others. The first of the family to start engraving guns was John Ulrich beginning in 1868, and the last was Alden, who stopped when he died in 1949.
Conrad Freidrich Ulrich learned the trade under the renowned Gustave Young, master engraver for Colt, in the early and mid-1860s. Conrad’s brothers, John and Herman, later joined Conrad at Colt, and according to family tradition, they were taught the techniques of engraving by their older brother.
Some of the most beautiful and expensive guns ever engraved bear the Ulrich name, and those done by Conrad F Ulrich often bear his distinctive signature in the form of a stamp that says ‘C.F. Ulrich’ in a rectangle.
At first, it may seem odd that Conrad would stamp his name instead of actually engraving it, but when you consider the stamp itself, it becomes easy to see why he did it.
For starters, the stamp measures just 5mm wide and 1mm tall, or just shy of 2/10ths of an inch wide by 3/100ths of an inch tall. Even more impressive is that Conrad himself made the stamp in 1867 by reversing the lettering and cutting away the material around the letters so that the stamp would present properly when used.
When looked at like that, it’s much easier to see that the stamp was, in and of itself, a work of art - proof of a master of his craft.
While guns signed by C. F. Ulrich are rare in their own right, there’s actually another item with his signature that’s actually rarer: coins.
I’ve read that there were, at one point, ten such coins that had Ulrich’s stamp on them, but I’ve only been able to track down three: an 1870-dated nickel, an 1869-dated penny, and this 1865-dated three-cent piece that I now own.
Obviously, these items are nowhere near as valuable as guns that have been engraved by Conrad, but by the numbers, they’re far rarer.
Of course, another question is raised by the coins, and that is why was it done? It could be that he was testing how the stamp was received in different metal compositions. Or perhaps they were done as tokens for friends. The truth is we will never know exactly why they were made.
Conrad, Herman, and John all left Colt and moved to New Haven around 1869. The demand for engraving at Colt was then on a decline, and the brothers left because there would be more work for them in New Haven, primarily from Winchester.
John and Herman both appeared as engravers for the Winchester Arms Company, but Conrad was recorded simply as an engraver. He was never listed as an employee of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company but did appear as an employee of the Marlin Fire Arms Company, from 1895 through 1907.
Conrad worked for Marlin on a full-time basis, though undoubtedly continuing to do outside work on his own. Work for Marlin likely first began around 1875 on the Ballard rifles and continued as late as World War I.
By this time, brothers Conrad, John, and Herman were all retired or semi-retired. Conrad died on April 22, 1925. Despite their remarkable skills in engraving and stockwork, the Ulrichs considered themselves as shop hands more than engravers. Judging from the death notices published in New Haven and Hartford papers, this attitude was shared by their contemporaries. None of the engraving members of the family was properly eulogized in an obituary, and the death notices were brief and no mention was made of their skills or accomplishments.
And so that brings us back around to the mysterious signed coins. For people such as myself, admirers of Ulrich’s work but unlikely to ever be able to afford the six-figure masterpieces, the coins are, in my opinion, a close second. Sure, they’re not engraved by the master, but he marked them in the same way. For me, that’s about as good as it’s going to get - especially since there are far fewer marked coins than guns. I’ll just consider myself lucky to have handled the guns and own one of the coins.
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