by K. Corey Keeble
During the Summer of 1991, a loan exhibition of miniature firearms by Mr. David Kucer of Montreal was installed in the Arms and Armour Gallery of the Royal Ontario Museum's new European wing. The exhibition, which was so successful that it continued through the summer of 1992, features no fewer than 29 superbly crafted one-third scale reductions of historic European and American firearms, accurate in every detail, and accompanied by equally accurate cases and accessories to the same scale.
David Kucer's miniature firearms are well known among firearm cognoscenti, and have attracted the interest of private collectors and muse-ums in Europe and North America. Mr. Kucer has been invited to establish a collection of his minia-tures at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and in 1990, a special showing of his work was arranged at the Royal Armouries of H.M. Tower of London, with a beautifully illustrated catalogue with text by Howard L. Blackmore and Terry Byrnes. The colour illustrations by Jeremy Hall in this book are reproduced by kind permission of Guy M. Wilson, Master, and the Trustees, of the Royal Armour-ies and the black/white with the assistance of Brian Allen of Studio V, Montrel. Most of the firearms in the Toronto exhibition were previously featured in the Royal Armouries display, though Mr. Kucer added two extra miniatures to the Toronto show which were not seen by London audiences; a perfectly scaled Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, and a Colt 08 semi- automatic pistol.
It is important to place David Kucer's work into an historical perspective. Miniature firearms were the invention of the Renaissance. Their appearance coincided with the acceptance by the aristocracy of the wheel-lock. Wheel-lock arms were complex and costly, their manufacture requiring highly specialized and advanced technical skills. What was true of full scale firearms was equally true of miniature wheel-lock guns which were made in the 1500s and early 1600s. Miniature firearms were the most extreme test of the abilities of the virtuoso metal-smiths. They equalled in their demands upon the abilities of their makers the most intricate and delicate achievements of goldsmiths and jewellers. In addition, they were an extension of Late Renaissance and Mannerist fascination with small scale works of art such as the bronze statuette, plaquette, and medal.
In his notes for the catalogue of the Kucer exhibition at the Royal Armouries of H.M. Tower of London, Howard L. Blackmore refers to Michael Mann of Augsburg (he died c.1630), who made both miniature caskets and miniature firearms. For artists like him, the careful making of miniature arms was an extension of a whole, complex field of decorative arts and applied technology. There was in a sense no real separation of art and science; they were part of the same phenomenon of human development.
It is appropriate that in the Royal Ontario Museum, David Kucer's miniature firearms were put on display contiguous to masterpieces of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque silver and goldsmiths' work, to which they are in no way inferior.
Like his Mannerist predecessors, David Kucer chose miniature firearms as a field of activity because of their extreme technical challenge. Every part which functions in the full scale originals, is accurately replicated in the 1/3 scale miniatures. Typical of the complexity of his work are the cased pistols in the display. There is, for example, the cased set of a Colt 1851 Model Navy percussion revolver, and Colt Model 1860 Army percussion revolver.
The 1860 Model Army revolver is provided with a detachable shoulder stock. The set is provided with a perfect 1/3 scale model copper and brass powder flask with decoration in low relief, bullet moulds, and a percussion cap canister with an accurate 1 copy of the paper label of the full scale original. Every detail of the set is perfectly to scale; every single metal and wood part is individually hand crafted. Kucer's ability is such that he was even able to reproduce in miniature the engraved naval battle motif on the cylinder of the Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver, an extraordinary achievement since the entire length of the cylinder is only about 1.5 cm (or 5/8 inch)! Both pistols, the shoulder stock, and accessories are fitted into an exquisitely hand crafted wooden case less than 15.5 cm (6-13/16 inches) and 12.4 cm (4-7/8 inches) in length and width - about the size of a small paperback novel!
With his cased miniature firearms, David Kucer fully hand crafts not only the cases, but all of their fittings, including all of their miniature brass hinges, screws, locks with fully working parts and miniature, fully functional keys!
The smallest firearms on display in the Kucer exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum were reductions of Dolne's patent Apache knuckleduster-rimfire revolver with folding knife (length about 4 cm or 1-9/16 inch with the knife closed) and Colt's Third Model rimfire pocket Derringer (length about 4.3 cm or 1-11/16 inches). The largest are three long arms, a Colt Root Model 1855 percussion revolving rifle (length about 37.7 cm or 14-13/16 inches), a Winchester Model 1866 lever action repeater (length about 35.8 cm or 14-1/16 inches), and a Winchester Model 1873 lever action repeater (length about 34.5 cm or 13-1/2 inches). Every working part of the originals is reproduced in the miniatures, and with rifle firearms, Kucer has even reproduced the rifling grooves to perfect 1/3 scale.
Typical of the attention to accuracy and detail which David Kucer gives to his miniatures is his splendid 1/3 scale Borchardt semi-automatic pistol with shoulder stock, ammunition clip, screw driver and other accessories in a custom fitted wooden carrying case only 18.5cm (7-1/4 inches) in length. The pistol itself is a mere 11.7 cm (4-5/8 inches) in length. Fully functional, it includes milled sideplates on the grip and miniatures of the engraved inscrip-tions of the original from which it has been copied.
David Kucer's skill at working on a super-small scale are further demonstrated by the inscription on his exquisitely rendered Colt Model 1911 Al semi-automatic military pistol which has an overall length of less than 7.5 cm (under 3 inches). The lettering is about 1 mm in height!
The miniatures in the ROM display cover a remarkably wide range of historic types. There are ten Colts, from percussion to semi-automatic among the pistols and revolvers, plus one Colt long-arm; four Wesson/Smith and Wesson pistols and revolvers; two Winchester rifles; two Lugers; one Walther P.38; a British Webley service revolver, and a classic Mauser broom-handle semi-automatic pistol with combined holster/shoulder stock and carrying case, and a few other items such as two cased Ruger pistols and a replica of an 18th century hunting sword or hanger with combined flintlock pistol. There is also that marvellous sub-machine gun with its detachable drum magazine and rosewood stock and grip.
The display of Kucer miniatures attracted considerable public attention and comment. Visitors were fascinated, indeed astonished, by the brilliance of his artistry. David Kucer's miniature firearms are a supreme example of the transformation of metal and wood into objects that are a challenge to the hand and mind and a delight to the eye. They are true masterpieces blending art, science, and technology. Their precision of detail, their balance of form makes them as aesthetically pleasing as works of small sculpture. In that context they bring to the modem viewer who has seen them feelings akin to those expressed by connoisseurs of the Renaissance and of Roman antiquity contemplating the beauty of bronze statuettes. Of a small bronze Hercules, the Roman author Statius wrote "such dignity had the work, such majesty despite its narrow limits..." it was, he said "small to the eye, a giant to the mind." Similar sentiments may, with equal appropriateness, be applied to the wonderful firearms of David Kucer.