I already mentioned “The Montreal Gun”, created by Leonard Vassev for the 1967 World Expo, in the post about Izhevsk’s best engraver. Thousands of people from all over the world admired this unique specimen of gunmaking art; many were able to appreciate the amount of talent and toil that went into it, but none of them knew what drama lurked behind those graceful lines – or that the gun was in fact No2 of an unvoluntarily matched pair.
Actually, the gun was never supposed to come in more than one copy. Leonard Vassev was creating the unique and inimitable evidence of Soviet gunmaking skill. Imagine drawing an oil on canvas painting, only for each strike you use a miniscule amount of a gold or silver alloy, with varying composition for different colors. That’s how Vassev created Lenin’s face, campfire, and the evening sky. I can’t even imagine how hard he had to work to get it right – only to see it ruined in a split second, due to someone else’s blunder.
After engraving was over, the action was to be color case hardened. Case hardening, as you probably know, is achieved by surrounding an iron object with a mixture of charcoal and grinded bones or other carbon-rich organic matter, heating it to a certain temperature, and then dumping it into water, avoiding any contact with air. This is meant to saturate soft iron with carbon, for added strength, the colors are being only a side effect – and it was a mandatory step in the making of Izh-54, so that The Montreal Gun, being an Izh-54 in “Sport” grade, couldn’t miss it. But something went wrong – the action was momentarily exposed to air, and when the hardeners took it out of the water, to their horror, they saw that it now looked like a lump of charcoal!
Later Vassev claimed that if the hardeners ‘fessed up and brougth him the action without touching anything else, he would’ve been able to get rid of the black with a chemical solvent. But they were so shocked to see a masterpiece ruined, that they couldn’t think of anything better than to file it off on a sandwheel! The damage that incrred for the delicate engraving was so great that Vassev decided it was easier to engrave a new gun from scratch. He had only a week or two – but he made it!
“Montreal Gun No 2” duly went on its journey to the World Expo, collected its share of applause, and now rests at Russia’s most respected weaponry collection, the Gun Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. The No1 remained unfinished, and stayed in Izhevsk. Now it is kept at Leonard Vassev’s School of Gunmaking Excellence in Izhevsk, as an example of an engraver’s skill, and a lesson in what uncompromizing attention does the making of a best gun require, for the school’s students.