Commercial Art: A Look at Classic Firearms Print Ads – Part 4

Luis Valdes – TTAG

In Part 3 we took at look at HK and SIG SAUER (part one here and part two here). In this issue we’re going to look at two American names known for their quality revolvers and direct competition against one another for the top spot in wheel gun dominance; Smith & Wesson and Ruger.

Smith & Wesson

As long as they’ve been around, Smith has a long, extensive history of print ads, battling it out with a number of rivals over the decades. Their ads range from colorful to downright questionable. So let’s take a look and see.

Here we have a S&W Model 29 being advertised in a simplistic but well laid out ad. By this point, the N-Frame was a known quantity, so flashiness wasn’t needed.

This ad is almost painful to look at. None of them except the plainclothes officer looks like an experienced cop and even then that’s questionable. If you recall SIG’s ads, their cops look like cops. Still, it’s a good layout and informative enough.


Here we have what could have been a well done Bangor Punta era ad if it was done in color. The ad itself is too dark to see much detail. If it were in color you’d see a classic S&W N Frame being worked on by skilled hands. The message is there, but the quality isn’t.


A 90s-era ad showing off the new 3rd Generation Value Line series of guns. It looks great except for the white text on that background, which gets a little hard to read in spots.


Here we have an early Sigma ad. The design is simple, but bold. The text is easy to read and the presentation of the pistol is well done. I’d go so far as to say the ad is better than the gun itself.


Here’s a nicely presented SW99 Compact. The full page photo of the pistol with the small text box is again simple, but nicely balanced. The lighting accents the pistol well.


A Sigma .380, horrible pistol in a decent ad. The “actual size” photo of the .380 was a common thing back then, especially for compacts. The manufacturers really wanted to get the reader to understand the size of their guns. Compact CCW class guns were a whole new market in the 1990s due to the explosion of shall-Issue CCW laws.


A 2nd Generation Sigma ad. That photo is a little dark, but at least they’ve added some texturing to the sides of the grip.


Another full size Sigma ad. Simple white background and comforting S&W blue text with some nice photos and explanation of the pistol works well together.


A full size SW99 being shown off as fitting in both a man’s and a woman’s hand. I like the subtle swirls in the background along with the inclusion of a black model’s hand. Indeed, times had changed and S&W was on board.


The classic S&W attack ad against Ruger. Since the Ruger revolvers are made form the lost wax method of casting. They tend to be thicker guns. But Ruger also made them somewhat stronger, too for heavier loads. That didn’t stop Smith from attacking them and claiming that their wheel guns are just as strong and since they’re forged, they’re thinner too. Cast versus forged is an age-old debate. Both are just as strong when done right. This is, in my opinion, the best S&W ad of the era.


The main rival to S&W in the 80s and 90s, Ruger was making some damn good guns (and ads) back then, including their own attack ad, firing back at Smith.

The P90, Ruger’s first .45 ACP semi-auto laid out nicely.


Clearly an 80s-era ad. Here we have a Ruger P85 with a black background and a nice electric blue outlining. It is simple, clean, and eye-grabbing.


The Mini-14 Ranch rifle showing off the best feature of the gun — the ability to mount a scope without a goofy aftermarket mount. Red Ruger name and logo catch the eye.


Here we have the GP-100. It’s a simple ad with almost no text. The gun itself is the selling point here.


Here we go…Ruger’s attack ad. Here they defend their design, comparing a GP-100 and a S&W Model 686 side-by-side (the Smith’s frame is “thin” while the Ruger has a “full frame”). Ruger claims that makes their design inherently stronger. They did a good job here and the use of graph paper was a nice touch. Less comical than S&W’s ad, but just as strong.


A Steel I-Beam and grid lines going off into an infinity of blackness make the stainless revolver pop. Simple but well done.

So there you have folks, the battle between Ruger and S&W. In Part 5 we’ll look at Beretta, AMT, Marlin, and others.


  1. avatar jwm says:

    I recently bought a glock 19. My sigma 9ve has never let me down. But the trigger is something that can only be described as very heavy. It breaks clean and has no mush or grit. But it is for sure a ‘duty’ trigger. Sigma’s are not quite as loathed as Hi Points. But they come in a close second.

    I haven’t had a reloading set up in over 30 years. But when I did I was surprised to find that the maximum loads for .357 came in two levels. 1 for S&W and other revolvers and 1 for Rugers. The Ruger loads were marked in the manuals in red and as unsafe for Smith and Colt and the others.

    If I was to get a magnum revolver again, and I play with that idea ever so often, it would be a Ruger.

    1. avatar ai338 says:

      Love the sigma ad.
      “Several years in development”
      “Patents pending”

      Yeah, by Glock.

    2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “If I was to get a magnum revolver again, and I play with that idea ever so often, it would be a Ruger.”

      Make it the 7-inch barrel Super Redhawk in .44 mag, and put a pistol scope on it.

      Fun, fun, fun, ’till a Leftist takes the T-bird away… 😉

      1. avatar VicRattlehead says:

        A Super Redhawk in .44 mag is WAAAAY at the top of my ‘must have’ list!

      2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Ditto, only save a couple hundred bucks and go with a Super Blackhawk Hunter.

  2. avatar Sean G./The Rookie says:

    Man, I love the look of those old stainless steel S&W semi-autos.

  3. avatar Specialist38 says:

    I loved the ad from S&W on forged vs cast. Science in advertising.

    Too bad most people didnt understand it.

    1. avatar ai338 says:

      Same reason they don’t sell 1/3rd lb burgers.

    2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Problem is the Smith and the Ruger are the same weight (and cost) and it’s the Ruger that has (always had) the reputation of being a tank. Truth is you can accomplish virtually equal results through the proper heat treating of cast steel as you can with forging. Heat treating forged steel does not greatly increase it’s strength because it’s already forged. And it would be impossible to create a forged frame without a strength weakening side plate.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        It’s a little like Bud Light’s superbowl ad criticizing Miller and Coors for using corn syrup when in reality Budweiser uses rice syrup instead. The reason for using either is that it’s 100% fermentable so it makes for a lighter bodied beer than barley alone. There’s 0% of either left in the beer you’re drinking, it’s been converted to alcohol. It’s like saying my piss tastes better than your piss because I’ve been drinking Budweiser and you’ve been drinking Coors. The brand of beer you’ve been drinking has absolutely no effect on how your piss tastes.

        1. avatar Longhaired Redneck says:

          “The brand of beer you’ve been drinking has absolutely no effect on how your piss tastes.”

          Citations please. Your comment is entirely subjective. I wants me sum science here! //sarc off//

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Well yes, I’m currently trying to conduct a piss taste test but I’m having trouble finding volunteers for tasting. I can find volunteers to drink the beer and piss in a cup, but tasters not so much.

        3. avatar VicRattlehead says:

          I thought Bud Light WAS piss….

      2. avatar Specialist38 says:

        No. All things equal. Forged is stronger. It is also heat treated.

        Ask any metallurgist which is stronger, a bar of forged metal or a cast one of the same dimensions.

        Ruger overbuilds their guns, no doubt. The cost is a clunkiness in proportions.

        Cast works as long as you make it thicker.

        1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Yet a GP100’s weight is identical to the 686 (as is the cost). Yes, all else being equal, forged is stronger… BUT… all else is NOT equal. First, not all castings are equal. S&W boasts that it’s forged steel doesn’t have the porosity of cast, which is true if you’re talking about the gravity fed sand casting they taught me how to do in 8th grade shop class. Modern castings aren’t ‘porous’. Second, you have a great deal of latitude with casting custom alloys that you don’t have with forging. Third, I suppose you could further strengthen forged steel with heat treating, but S&W doesn’t. Otherwise they’d discover the law of diminishing returns and they’d find that it doubles the cost with little benefit. If Smiths cost 2 or 3 times as much as a Ruger you might be able to make that argument, but they don’t.

          Finally, there’s far greater latitude in design for cast than steel, which is where the Rugers really have the advantage over the forged Smiths. Forging requires a side plate that greatly reduces rigidity. Even if the Smith’s metal is 10% stronger than the Ruger’s, the Ruger’s design is 100% stronger and that design simply can’t be replicated with forging. 1+1=2. The GP100 and 686 cost the same, weigh the same and yet it’s the cast one that everybody (including the people who write reloading manuals) knows is the stronger firearm.

        2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          “which is true if you’re talking about the gravity fed sand casting they taught me how to do in 8th grade shop class.”

          Do they even do that any more? In my shop class it was just sand casting aluminum…

        3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          I highly doubt it (and that’s a damn shame). Sadly, it’s been a few decades since I was in jr. high, but I’m pretty sure it was cast iron.

  4. avatar Connie says:

    Hey Gov! How about a video proving your piss taste theory.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Soon as I can round up some volunteers…

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        I bet Constance would be happy to provide for you a ‘sample’ for you to taste…

        *snicker* 😉

      2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

        ghandi mentioned something about asparagus.

  5. avatar GS650G says:

    I’d like to get a Smith and Wesson revolver, preferably a 686 or 629, but are they worth the money today or are used old examples better?

    1. avatar guest says:

      Used are better, but it’s a catch 22. Better gun, but if you shoot and use it, you hurt the value.

  6. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Buy early S&Ws. Pre Bangor Punta and certainly pre trigger lock. Rugers are great revolvers also. Just make sure they’re a Security Six. Or a Blackhawk.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      The only reason I’ve ever heard for preferring the Security Six over the GP100 is the lack of a full underlug, but now they’ve got a number of GP100 models out without it. The Six was good but the GP is better.

      Love the Blackhawks but I don’t care for the aluminum grip frame on the blued versions. Go stainless or go big and get the Super Blackhawk.

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        Gov, I agree with most of what you say, but Security Six has it all over GP 100. GP 100 is just too much sugar for a dime.

        1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Not that nostalgia isn’t a legitimate reason for preferring one weapon over another when it comes to wheel guns but…

          In absolute terms, the GP is stronger. In subjective terms, there’s a couple things I like about the GP. I prefer the peg grip frame that allows a nearly unlimited range of grip shapes. Personally I really like the Altamont rubber with wood side panel grips – for me they’re the most comfortable grips on any gun I’ve ever shot (the Hogues are awful). I also like the quick change front sights on the standard GPs, although there’s not nearly enough aftermarket support for them. It literally take two seconds to change the sight yourself without any tools except something to push in the plunger. But behind the GP the Six is easily the best DA .357 revolver ever IMHO.

        2. avatar Steve says:

          I have a Security Six. I wish I had a GP100 instead.

          Don’t get me wrong, the Security Six is a good gun, and I don’t plan on ever getting rid of it. But every GP100 I’ve ever fondled has been markedly nicer, and there isn’t any kind of aftermarket support for the Six anymore. I’m stuck with the crappy, 40 year old factory sights, and I still haven’t bothered to pick up a holster for it.

          I bought the Six cause it was a screaming deal, and, at the time, I didn’t have money for something nicer. But now, several years later, I wish I’d saved up a bit more for the GP.

  7. avatar joefoam says:

    What a shame that something that was so mainstream America has been reduced to subculture status.

  8. avatar GlockMeAmadeus says:

    Pictures of guns have been banned by school administrators, and will get a kid expelled.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Eating a pop tart into the shape of a gun will get you expelled. These administrators and teachers are trying to indoctrinate our children but they’re making it easier and easier to convince your kids that their teachers are idiots.

  9. avatar Sean G./The Rookie says:

    Ruger, S&W, whatever floats your boat.

    What’s *really* important here is that all of the pictured revolvers are square butt, as the good lord intended revolvers to be!


    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      Sean likes square butts, he cannot lie…

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email