Irwin Greenstein and Michael Sabbeth, Shotgun Life
I remember vividly meeting Remigio and Elio Bertuzzi. It was March, 1997 and the extraordinary engraver, Mauro Dassa of Incisioni Dassa, had arranged for me to visit four of Italy’s most prestigious gun makers. F.lli Bertuzzi was first. We entered the workshop, attached to a home, and were welcomed with hugs from the brothers.
Remigio greeted me with a heavily accented ‘hello.’ I knew Bertuzzi produced shotguns of unsurpassed elegance and desirability, yet the brothers were as modest and accessible as old school chums. Their faces transmitted a joy in their craft and a modesty most refreshing for people of their stature.
New to the constellation of elite gunmakers, I was surprised, indeed, perplexed, by the small workshop, its square footage not much greater than an average garage. The fragrance of cut wood and oil tickled my nose. We stepped toward the worn wooden workbench affixed under an array of small windows. Tools of the gun trade covered the table; dozens of files and chisels, stacks of sand paper and emery cloth of various grit and one or two oil lamps for smoking the steel. By the stocker’s bench, wood shavings covered the floor like bits of chocolate. To my right electric-powered machines—lathes, drill presses, band saws and a torch or two—were nestled in a dimly-lit corner. From an array of actions separated by thick paper neatly fitted in a wood box, Elio handed Dassa a petit sub-gauge action in the white, ready to be engraved.
I was granted permission to handle a ‘gull wing’ action, also in the white. I marveled how the seams where the moving pieces fitted into the action were nearly invisible when closed. The craftsmanship, before the use of lasers, electro spark reduction and CNC machinery, impressed me as preternatural, the product of men with their files, their genius and their pride. From such a seemingly primitive shop, firearms among the finest in the world emerged as if they were perfectly cut and polished diamonds found in a magical soil.
− Michael G. Sabbeth, June 2, 2015
In recounting his visit with F.lli Bertuzzi, (the Bertuzzi brothers), Michael Sabbeth provides a window into the rarified world of bespoke shotguns as exalted art.
Unfortunately, F.lli Bertuzzi retired in 2009 after 33 years − the fourth generation of Bertuzzis in the Italian gun trade. After learning the craft at the hands of their father and grandfather, the brothers apparently had no one in line to pass the torch and so locked the doors forever on their fabled workshop. One friend says he envisions the brothers sitting on a bench somewhere in Gardone Val Trompia, in the Brescia region of Italy, enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
Elio and Remigio Bertuzzi possessed two traits in particular that elevated them into the pantheon of shotgun luminaries. The first is shared by others: perfectionism. The second truly sets them apart: ingenuity.
It may sound ironic that the Bertuzzis established their reputation by essentially replicating the actions of England’s best gunmakers through their own models named the Zeus, Venere, Orione and the mind-blowing, self-cocking hammer gun. F.lli Bertuzzi interpreted those designs through their own sensibilities and accomplished feats of engineering that would leave collectors speechless.
Case in point is the Bertuzzi Zeus. Both models of the Zeus sidelock ejector initially appear as duplicates of the Boss sidelock ejector – until the rarest version called “Ali di Gabbiano” or Gullwing is presented before you.
Thumb the safety lever past ‘off’ and the undetectable lockplates spring forward to reveal the action that is an instrument of dazzling elegance, painstakingly engraved, a contrasting gold bridle catching the eye, complete as a mesmerizing portrait of austere precision. It touches your soul like a religious artifact.
The exposed action on a Bertuzzi “Ali di Gabbiano.”
There’s a realization of beholding a tour de force: F.lli Bertuzzi are the only gunmakers to meet the challenge of embedding a complete sidelock action into the wood – the meticulous inletting undoubtedly performed by master stocker, Elio. And Remigio’s seamless integration of the gullwing trapdoors verges on magic. Their artistry is unsurpassed and the engineering subtle: by installing the action between the top tang and triggers, F.lli Bertuzzi has lowered the shotgun’s center of gravity for sublime handling.
Classic sidelock actions are mounted on plates that typically detach via a conspicuous toggle that, when opened, harkens to their origins. The sidelock, with its internal hammers, is a direct descendent of the hammer gun and appeared in London during the late 19th century as a clever means of readily cleaning the action during field use in the colonies. Today, sidelocks remain a hallmark of the finest traditional bird guns; yet in their brilliance the Bertuzzis, as they achieved with other British bests, exalted it to incomparable virtuosity.
A 12-gauge, side-by-side “Ali di Gabbiano.” The gullwing trap doors are invisible. Engraving by Gianfranco Pedersoli.
It makes you wonder if the old-school Italian firearm craftsmen of Gardone Val Trompia were inspired by the abundant mythology and iconary of the Catholic Church.
The “Ali di Gabbiano” sideplate theatrics are evocative of the Renaissance triptychs – the three-panel alter pieces of oil paint or egg tempera that, when unfolded, consecrated Saints and the Holy Family in a narrative of Christian spectacle. The comparison is inferential – an attempt to fathom the Bertuzzi brothers’ muse.
The exemplary engraving shown here is on a 20-gauge, over/under “Ali di Gabbiano.” Engraving by Valerio Peli.
Elio and Remigio collaborated with the world’s greatest engravers, who happened to be local and subject to the same spiritual influences: Mauro Dassa, Gianfranco Pedersoli, Giancarlo and Stefano Pedretti, Mario Terzi, Manrico Torcoli, Firmo and Francesca Fracassi, Valerio Peli, Angelo Galeazzi and the celebrated studio of Creative Art.
Imagine for a moment that it’s 2001 and you’re Guy Bignell, CEO of the distinguished American fine firearm institution, Griffin & Howe. Your universe revolves around bespoke Griffin & Howe shotguns and rifles as well as those from Purdey, Boss & Co., Holland & Holland, William & Son, Anderson Wheeler, Fabbri, Bosis, McKay Brown, Rigby, et al. Your international clientele is very wealthy. In the world of shotguns, it will take a lot to impress you.
Then you lay eyes on your first Bertuzzi “Ali di Gabbiano.”
“That gun left an impression on me for years to come, as the finest mechanism and engraving I had seen at that point,” Mr. Bignell recalled. “Elio and Remigio demonstrated a desire to create gunmaking problems just to see if they could be solved.”
The owner, who Mr. Bignell identified only as International Sportsman hailing from the Low Country, subsequently ordered five more “Ali di Gabbiano’s” from F.lli Bertuzzi – quietly amassing the largest single collection of the firearms masterpieces.
In 2007, Mr. Bignell’s interest in Bertuzzi was rekindled at the inaugural opening of Kessler Canyon Ranch in Colorado. A chance meeting brought a further 28 Bertuzzi’s into the hands of Griffin & Howe, including two “Ali di Gabbiano’s.” Mr. Bignell would only say those guns sold for “north of $200,000.”
Dan Shidler, author of the “2012 Standard Catalog of Firearms: The Collector’s Price & Reference Guide” estimates that each “Ali di Gabbiano” takes three years to build. He pegged the initial selling price by F.lli Bertuzzi at $125,000-plus.
It’s easy to understand why a Bertuzzi “Ali di Gabbiano” would take three years to build. Engraving by Manrico Torcoli.
Fast forward to 2013. Mr. Bignell receives a call from the International Sportsman inviting him to the Low Country to view his collection. Acknowledging his mortality, he is concerned that the true value of the “Ali di Gabbiano’s” shouldn’t be decimated by his estate. He asks Mr. Bignell to seek a new custodian for his magnificent collection.
“He ordered them one by one over a period of eighteen years,” Mr. Bignell confirmed. “He’s fortunate enough to become the custodian of six.”
The collection consists of “Ali di Gabbiano’s” in both over/under and side-by-side configurations. Miraculously, all the guns are unfired.
That makes Griffin & Howe custodian of the largest collection of Bertuzzi “Ali di Gabbianos” on the planet. “They are investment grade examples,” Mr. Bignell said. “Since 2006, Griffin & Howe has been in the privileged position of having had 31 Bertuzzi sporting firearms pass through their portal. Given the diminutive total output of Remigio and Elio during their career, this new collection is a privilege indeed.”
F.lli Bertuzzi never revealed their production output, and so it remains a mystery precisely how many “Ali di Gabbiano’s” were made. Working with a gun historian, Mr. Bignell estimates a total number of 12 to 15.
“Needless to say, work of this quality and rarity does not come cheap,” Mr. Bignell said. “Each new Bertuzzi “Ala di Gabbiano” was usually spoken for long before completion.”
You can see the full inventory of the Griffin & Howe “Ala di Gabbiano” at their dedicated web page: http://griffinhowe.com/f-lli-bertuzzi
“There are only six “Ali di Gabbiano’s” currently available at Griffin & Howe, awaiting their new custodian, as a whole or independently, dependent upon the seriousness and depth of passion of the true aficionado,” Mr. Bignell said.
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer and a writer and lives in Denver, Colorado. He has written the acclaimed book, The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Teach Values to Children, available at www.amazon.com He is now writing a book titled The Honorable Hunter: Defending and Advancing Our Hunting Heritage. The book will show how to make the best arguments to advance hunting and the shooting sports and how to defend and refute unwarranted attacks against them. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org