Handgun Esthetics

Why are so many of today’s handguns ugly? Do handgun manufacturers test design applicants for a sense of esthetics and then not hire any who have it? Used to be at movies I would annoy Yvonne endlessly by identifying whatever model of handgun someone on screen was using. Such as, “That guy’s got an S&W Model 19 with 2½” barrel, or that Japanese officer has a German P38 instead of the Nambu he should be packing.” Now if someone asked me what handgun anyone on screen was holding I’d have to say, “Don’t know but it was big, square-shaped and black.

I blame a lot of this on Europeans. They hardly ever had a lick of sense about what a handgun should look like, especially the British. Europeans had one bright spot among handguns. It was what we know as the Luger, although there never was a Luger factory as such. Someone might ask, “But what about the Browning Hi-Power made in Belgium? They’re decent looking handguns.” My point exactly; they were designed by American John M. Browning.

When I was going to movies as a kid, if the bad guy was a European he usually pulled out a Luger before falling to an American good guy shooting a S&W Military & Police .38 or Colt Model 1903 or 1908 Pocket Pistol. Going back even farther to black and white movies on late shows, European or Asian bad guys sometimes would pull out Broomhandle Mausers. They were ugly too, but at least you wouldn’t mistake one for any other handgun.

Some Flash?

In fact, fancy after-market grips were probably the most common way professional gun-toters of a past era personalized their handguns. Used to be I always took note of what cops were carrying in their holsters, whether they were giving me a traffic ticket or just sitting at a donut shop. Those wearing stock, as-issued handguns, I would have bet couldn’t hit a bull in the butt at a dozen paces. When I saw a cop’s handgun with fancy grips, my estimation of their ability grew a notch or two. If the handgun was engraved or had some sort of fancier finish then I figured he must be a “pistolero.” I might have been wrong but those were my initial impressions. I’d like to know what our Editorship, Roy, packed in his 20-year career. Might be interesting, eh? (Check out the Insider in this issue! -Roy)

Nowadays, all cops have big, square, black pistols. No fancy finishes, no custom grips, no pride of possession. Nothing to indicate which of them might even be a good shot. Well, some carry 1911s nowdays and I’ll bet some of those are gussied-up a bit. Usually a cop with a 1911 in his holster is a gunnie. As far as handgun esthetics goes, I’m glad I grew up in a bygone era.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino

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7 thoughts on “Handgun Esthetics

  1. Jim

    I totally agree. Maybe some of the handgun manufacturers will read this and start making some decent looking handguns again. I wonder if that’s why so many offer 1911’s? Timeless beauty and they don’t have to waste any time or money coming up with their OWN designs…It’s funny too considering so many new ones are made of polymer which can be molded into ANY shape.

    1. Mark Freburg

      I agree with Mike. And Jim, you might be right, but most of the Johnny-come-lately 1911 manufacturers wouldn’t know a handsome 1911 if it bit them in the behind. The 1911 pistol is perhaps the best looking pistol ever designed, but most modern renditions are ugly as the south end of a north-bound baboon.

      Forward slide serrations, weird serrations everywhere, odd cuts and new shapes to the slide, silly extensions to the standard levers, swoops of all kinds–more than your average new car in 1959, really. Multi-color finishes–oh, and that’s just the sights. Plastic bits–again, that’s just the sights.

      Too many modern makers have taken the most beautiful pistol in the world and made it appealing to a generation who thrives on professional wrestling and video games. I know, I sound like an old geezer, but I’m only in my fifties.

      I just love the classic lines and near perfect symmetry of a Government Model. It needs good sights, a clean–not necessarily light–trigger, and no sharp edges. And it’s good to go. And that’s not original. A gentleman named John Dean Cooper said that several decades ago, and he knew something about shooting 1911 pistols.

      1. Dave Anderson

        Obviously what appeals to one may not appeal to another. It is interesting how perception changes over time.

        For example many handgunners find the 1911 a handsome pistol. I do myself, my particular favorites aesthetically are “Commander length” models.

        Yet not so long ago handgun enthusiasts looked on the 1911 much as those of today look at polymer-frame pistols.

        A generation or two ago the 1911 was considered utilitarian at best, and ugly by many – including Jeff Cooper.

        Don’t believe me? Here’s a direct quote from a Cooper article (Guns & Ammo, Nov. 1967): “Its (the 1911s) drawbacks are it’s a bit large for handbag use, its safety is inaccessible to a southpaw, and it’s ugly.”

        Cooper admired the 1911 for what he considered its practical superiority as a defensive handgun, and was therefore willing to overlook aesthetics. As he put it, “We love the 1911 dearly and for us it can’t be ugly.”

        What handguns did Cooper find handsome? I’ll quote again from the same article: “Ah, the Luger. Here’s another old-timer that lives by its looks, which are gorgeous… it is so handsome that many of its fans do their utmost to deny its obvious obsolescence.”

        Maybe all the modern polymer pistols need is a champion as eloquent and persuasive as Cooper! (But I doubt it.)

  2. Mark Freburg

    Good points all, Dave. For what it’s worth, I also find Hi-Powers attractive, and most older S&W and Colt revolvers, and generally handguns made of steel, blued, and stocked with walnut. But like Mike said, made by Americans, as the Europeans didn’t know how to make attractive firearms, with few noted exceptions.

    On the other hand, I carry Glocks and have a lot of them. In some cases, beauty is as beauty does.

  3. alanzen

    Only the Luger? I beg to differ; the CZ75 is every bit as handsome a pistol as the 1911 or Hi-Power. Makarovs aren’t to bad looking, either. Otherwise, quite true, most Euro-pistols have no aesthetic value.

  4. Steve Gibbs

    I too find the Browning to be a good looking pistol, and any S&W k frame with the old deep bluing. But I also find an elegance (a dangerous word in a gun mag) in the brutal, no frills simplicity of Glock.

  5. Robert Mercer

    My lifelong dream was to own a Springfield 1911 – A1. I recently fulfilled that dream. It’s the classic design that’s withstood the test of time. I have other handguns – Glock 23 Gen4, Springfield XDS45 and others. Excluding the 1911, the others are bland, black & unappealing. But, since when do style points matter in a life or death situation? I’m not concerned about my gun being “pretty” only that it’s reliable, accurate and capable of defending my family and me.

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