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August 2, 2023

Elvis' Guns: The Bicentennial Smith & Wesson

By Kurt Allemeier

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Elvis Presley loved guns. He loved buying them, shooting them, gifting them, and showing them off. As his fame grew, threats came and he regularly went armed as well as arming the men who surrounded him. At the time of his death at the age of 42, Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, reportedly owned 37 firearms and a machine gun.

Rock Island Auction Company has proudly offered guns owned by Elvis in the past that were as flashy and brilliant as his concert jumpsuits. An engraved Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver with gold and silver inlays matches the Las Vegas razzle-dazzle of any of his other guns and will be on offer in this month’s Premier Auction.

The blued Model 53’s exhibition engraving done by Smith & Wesson’s master engraver Russell Smith has an American bicentennial theme with relief floral scrollwork on stippled background, silver inlaid five-pointed stars, “1776-1976” in flush gold toward the muzzle, and gold inlaid bands at the muzzle and breech. On the side plate is an eagle in flight grasping an enamel 13-star Betsy Ross American flag, while the left side of the frame has a minuteman flanked by stars, and the Liberty Bell is on the back strap. The gun’s delivery date, according to documentation was Nov. 16, 1976. Elvis died just nine months later.

Elvis Presley owned several guns in his lifetime and bought countless more for friends and acquaintances. This Smith & Wesson Model 53, adorned with a bicentennial theme by Master Engraver Russell Smith and with an extra cylinder, was delivered to the King of Rock and Roll only months before his untimely death.

Elvis Guns

Elvis received a .410 Winchester shotgun in 1956. When he served in the Army he earned sharpshooter badges for the M1911 and the M1 rifle and a marksman badge for the M2 Carbine.

The King of Rock and Roll kept a Colt Government Model for protection at Graceland and was made a Shelby County deputy sheriff in 1964. He regularly carried at least one gun, even when he was on stage, especially after the Manson family murders and receiving death threats when he started performing in Las Vegas in 1970. Elvis encouraged members of his entourage to do the same.

The King mostly used wheel guns since many of his movies were set in the Wild West. He sang and danced with a Colt Single Action Army in “Viva Las Vegas,” and wielded a number of Smith & Wesson revolvers in films like “Follow That Dream,” “Tickle Me,” and “Stay Away, Joe.”

The gold relief inlaid minuteman pops from the beautiful blued finish of Elvis Presley's Smith & Wesson Model 53. The gun also bears oversize smooth grips.

Of course, part of the Elvis Presley legend is that he shot televisions. One of the televisions he shot, a 25-inch RCA model, was allegedly sacrificed when the King saw Robert Goulet singing.

“There was nothing Elvis had against Robert Goulet. They were friends,” Kevin Kern, a spokesman for Presley’s home and museum, Graceland, where the TV was put on display, told the AP in 2006. “But Elvis just shot out things on a random basis.”

The right side of Elvis Presley's bicentennial-themed Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver features 13 gold stars, and a gold relief inlaid eagle with a Betsy Ross flag in its talons.

Elvis Guns: How Many Did He Buy?

The book “Elvis ̶The Final Years” opens with Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father questioning him about his spending after seeing some invoices. “There must be a mistake, because this one’s from Kerr’s and it says you charged $38,000 in guns there this month.”

He brushed off the inquiry saying the purchases at the Beverly Hills sporting goods store was Christmas shopping. Elvis’ anger at his father spurred his trip to the White House and meeting with President Richard Nixon.

During the decade he would buy dozens of guns at a time, keeping some of them while giving away the others. It is believed he bought 300 guns during his lifetime.

One story about Elvis is that he was gun shopping and a man was admiring a shotgun. Elvis asked if he liked it to which the man replied that he did but the gun was out of his price range. As the King of Rock and Roll was leaving the store, he told a store employee to charge the shotgun to him and give it to the man.

The bicentennial-themed Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver of Elvis Presley has plenty of gold, from the relief inlays of a minuteman and an eagle to narrow bands on the barrel and cylinder, and and "1776-1976" on the barrel. Even the sights have gold on them. Stars on the barrel are silver relief inlays.

Elvis Guns: A Gift for the President

Elvis liked to give guns to people, like those who worked closely with him, and to friends. He reportedly gave Hawaii-Five-O star Jack Lord a Walther PPK in 1973. The revolvers sold by RIAC in 2017 were both gifts from the King of Rock and Roll, but more on those later.

The most well-known of Elvis’ gift guns was what has simply been described as a Colt .45 in a display case with seven silver bullets that he presented to President Nixon. That meeting was precipitated by an argument between Elvis and his father over spending referenced earlier.

After the argument, he left Graceland in Memphis and flew across country to his Los Angeles home where he stewed for a bit. Elvis also collected badges, and decided he wanted a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge so he decided to write a letter to the president asking for one and hand delivered it to the White House. As he left his California mansion, Elvis plucked a cased commemorative Colt M1911A1 off the wall.

Elvis and one of his bodyguards flew across country to Washington, D.C., and drove to the White House and left the letter for Nixon on Dec. 21, 1970. The King received a call later in the day summoning him to the White House. The Secret Service wouldn’t allow Elvis to bring the gun into the Oval Office because of security concerns but accepted the gift on behalf of the president. In the Oval Office, that famous photo of the president and the King of Rock and Roll was snapped.

President Richard Nixon and King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley met in the Oval Office of the White House in 1970 when Elvis went to Washington, D.C., asking for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge and presenting the president with a cased commemorative M1911A1 he took off the wall of his Los Angeles mansion.

Elvis Guns: Showing Off

Numerous celebrities have recalled incidents with Elvis and his guns, like Tom Jones who discovered one of the King’s guns in the restroom of his dressing room. The tales can be either humorous or harrowing.

Comedian Steve Martin, in a radio interview with Howard Stern, talked about meeting Elvis when he opened for Ann-Margret in 1971 in Las Vegas. She had co-starred with Elvis in the film “Viva Las Vegas.” At the time, Martin’s act was what he described as a magic show with jokes and Elvis told him he has “an oblique sense of humor.”

As the men spoke, the King of Rock and Roll asked Martin if he wanted to see his guns, to which Martin said yes. Elvis was safety conscious and pulled out a Derringer, removed the bullets and handed it to the comedian. He did the same with the other two guns.

“Eventually, I am holding three guns and Elvis was holding 18 bullets,” Martin told Stern.

Brilliant engraving and inlays of gold and silver pop from the blued canvas of Elvis Presley's bicentennial-themed Smith & Wesson Model 53.

Shock rocker Alice Cooper has a more disturbing tale to tell about meeting Elvis in 1970, telling how Elvis gave him a gun and told him to shoot him. Cooper said in a BBC interview they were in a kitchen full of guns, and the King of Rock and Roll pulled a loaded .38 stubnose from a drawer and made his request of the “Schools Out” singer.

Cooper wondered what was happening, thinking Elvis’ security would see what was happening and shoot him. “Before I could decide what to do I was on the floor and he has his boot on my throat. I said, `that’s good Elvis.’” It turns out, Elvis, the martial arts practitioner was just looking to show off his skills.

Elvis Guns at Rock Island Auction

Both of the Elvis guns offered by RIAC in May 2017 were gifts. The first was an elaborate, exhibition grade .357 Magnum that was given to Vice President Spiro Agnew who eventually returned it since he was under investigation for corruption, an investigation that would lead to his resignation.

Very little of the K-frame revolver is free of embellishment. The gun was sent to Friedrick Wilhelm Heym Co. in Germany where it was covered with relief leaf and scroll engraving, gold and silver inlaid borders, and five raised gold North American game animals. That might be expected on a fine long gun but is a rarity for a Smith & Wesson. The revolver also features elaborately engraved staghorn grips with a vine and scroll pattern and two engraved game animals.

Elvis later gave the gun to Shelby County Sheriff Gene Barksdale after he did Elvis a favor. Barksdale retrieved some of Elvis’s friends from a local airport and shuttled them to Graceland. After he dropped off the friends, Elvis and the sheriff got to talking about guns. Elvis said, “Well, sheriff, I got something for ya,” and left the room. The King returned with the highly decorated Smith & Wesson Model 19-2 and presented it to the lawman. The gun brought $195,500 at auction.

The second gun sold in the May 2017 Premier Auction was an equally flashy Colt Python with exhibition quality engraving. The revolver, with similar engraving also done by Friedrick Wilhelm Heym Co. of Germany, was featured in Guns magazine in 1973. It too has North American big game animals in raised gold relief and plenty of silver and gold inlays. Engraving on the scrimshaw-esque grips compliments the gun’s engraving and has sweeping scrollwork and a leaping stag on one side and a pouncing mountain lion on the other side. The gun was given to Richard Grob who was Elvis’ director of security. The snake gun hammered for $172,500.

Among the documentation accompanying Elvis Presley's bicentennial-themed Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver are drawings of the planned engraving by Smith & Wesson Master Engraver Russell Smith.

Elvis Guns: Smith & Wesson Model 53

Among the documentation for the copiously engraved Smith & Wesson Model 53 are drawings by master engraver Russell Smith as well as pictures taken of the gun by Smith before shipping. It is work the engraver should be proud of. The amazing scrollwork that pops from the blued finish is further highlighted by inlaid gold bands at the muzzle and the breech. The barrel is highlighted by “1776-1976 in flush gold toward the muzzle and silver inlaid five-pointed stars. The serrated blade front sight has a gold insert, and the while the adjustable square notch rear sight is outlined in gold. The bicentennial theme bursts from the bluing with an eagle flying with a relief inlaid Betsy Ross, 13-star flag in its talons while the opposite side shows off a relief inlay of a minuteman flanked by five silver stars. The gun comes with oversize smooth grips and a second cylinder that is engraved and inlaid to match.

While this magnificent wheel gun’s beauty and patriotic theme allows it to stand on its own, the fact that it was bought by the King of Rock and Roll and engraved at his request makes this a true opportunity for fans that love Elvis Presley and love guns as much as he did. It will be available in Rock Island Auction Company's Aug. 25-27 Premier Auction.

Elvis Presley's bicentennial-themed Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver is beautifully adorned with a blued finish, floral scrollwork and gold and silver relief inlays by Smith & Wesson's Master Engraver Russell Smith.

Sources:

Steve Martin’s Introduction to Elvis Presley Involved Three Guns, by Ryan Parker, The Hollywood Reporter

“Alice Cooper: `Elvis Asked Me to Shoot Him in the Head,’|’ By Tom Goodwyn, NME

When Elvis Met Nixon, by Peter Carlson, Smithsonian Magazine

"Elvis, Firearm & Weapon Collector," by Paul Belard

"Elvis The Final years," by Jerry Hopkins

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