Although the motifs and inscription on the Colt were largely the inspiration of Herb Glass, nevertheless, the preparation of the raw gun, polishing, with the perfect fit of all parts, plus the final stages of follow were in the bailiwick of Al DeJohn.
Devised by Al, in collaboration with Herb Glass Sr., and the marketing section under managers like Del Shorb and Vice President Dick McMahon, a line of engraving was devised, initially in A, B, and C coverages, and a catalog of options printed revealing of the company’s freshly available talent. The most exquisite handguns were principally done by Alvin White, whose arrangements with Herb Glass were that he would work out of his home workshop at East Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The necessary details of completion and then use of each creation were being done at the factory in finishing, presentations at trade shows, and sometimes gifts to important clients or employees.
A steady stream of significant custom order Colts came out of the Alvin White shop and the preliminary and final staging areas at the Hartford factory. Nearly all of the major pieces are identified and often pictured in my three-title series on Colt engraving, with the first of these by Alvin Herbert – preceding the Glass-White arrangements: a custom Single Action Army for President Eisenhower was the most important of these. That historic inscribed revolver not only appears in my Colt Engraving texts, but it also remains on display at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas.
Other presentations to U.S. Presidents were created, carrying on the tradition first established by Samuel Colt in the Paterson period. Among the known recipients are: Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon (never delivered due to Watergate), Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan. The last four of these were built under supervision of Al DeJohn.
Further under Al DeJohn, the Custom Shop grew in responsibility and in talent, while the production of Colt commemoratives created yet another new market. Under Paul Benke’s presidency, a rare opportunity for the Custom Shop appeared in the evolution of the collecting interests of Colt Industries Chairman of the Board, George A. Strichman. His love of Colt’s was rekindled, having initially been sparked during his assignment at Colt’s representing the General Electric company for the World War II effort. Strichman’s collection of deluxe pieces totaled approximately 85. Although the most important of these were by Alvin White, all of the guns had come through Al DeJohn’s department, and left the factory with Colt blue, color case-hardening, and various other finishes. Most of the collection is now exhibited as part of the permanent holdings of the Autry National Center of the American West, in the Greg Martin Colt Gallery.
Vital to Al DeJohn’s position with Colt’s was his direct involvement in designing decorative motifs for show guns, and for clients. He was keenly aware of exhibition Colts from the past, knew the talents of each of his engraving staff, and had an astute awareness of the possibilities in calibers and other features, as well as finishes, styles of engraving, scrollwork, inlaying, and accessories. All-metal grips and matching gold inlaying – as in the Tiffany & Co. Single Action Army of 1997, became one of his most spectacular projects. A first by Tiffany & Co. in over 50 years was that landmark Single Action Army. An added detail was its superb case, custom-made by the historic New York-based jewelry firm. The design was made by Tiffany’s artisan expert at the flagship New York store, on the spot - once he knew the parameters of the Colt revolver it would contain.
Al relished his decades with Colt’s, and was a model employee. He had the gift of a terrific sense of humor, could deal with the temperament of his artisans and engravers, and supplied the support they needed through his own admiration for the beautiful creations they made under his charge.
Another advertising piece featuring a highly embellished 2nd Generation black powder 3rd Model Dragoon. Many of the custom revolvers created during Al’s term were ordered by George Strichman.
With Al DeJohn as manager of Colt’s Custom Gun Shop, company management knew that the mighty traditions of artistry and craftsmanship established by the inimitable Samuel Colt would remain a high profile in the company’s repertoire.
It seemed like Sam Colt might be looking over Al’s shoulder, and that the Colonel knew his own incredible achievements as an artist-gunmaker were being continued into future generations by his loyal, creative, and hard-working successor.
All who knew Al DeJohn recognized in him the model employee in the finest traditions of the world’s most historic, distinguished maker of repeating firearms. As Sam Colt himself would say – “If I can’t be first, I won’t be second in anything.”
That was Al DeJohn’s credo too.
No doubt Colonel Colt is shaking Al’s hand to welcome him into the pantheon of legendary master gunmakers someplace way out there in the universe.
With sincere condolences to the family of the inimitable Al DeJohn - a Colt legend: daughter Sherri and her husband Jim Quigley; granddaughter Michelle and her husband, John Leonard; granddaughter Heather and her husband, Rob Wallace; and great grandchildren, Carly, Sammi, Maxim, Holly, and Kyle.
Al left a remarkable legacy as the Manager of Colt's Custom Gun Shop. His shop produced some of the finest engraved guns of our modern era. We shared a friendship and working relationship for over 30 years. Rest in peace, dear friend, and know you will be missed.
Noted author, Colt dealer, and CCA board member
I am very grateful to Al for sharing his knowledge of engraving with me when I started working in the Colt Custom Shop. He also should be remembered for his knowledge of the Colt Pythons.
Manager - Colt Custom Shop
A factory letter from December 4, 1991 written after Al had retired. Note the mention of Colt’s archery products from his collection.
I was fortunate enough to begin my career at Colt’s working in the Custom Shop with Al DeJohn. Al was very generous in sharing his vast knowledge of the gun industry and one of the most creative individuals I have known. His design abilities will be hard to match for years to come. Al had a habit of recognizing talent and strong work ethic, making sure he surrounded himself with people of the highest capabilities. That was one of the reasons for his success. I will always remember Al by his nickname “Maestro of the Custom Shop.” He truly lived up to that title!
Beverly Haynes - Colt Historian
Some of the finest post-WWII Colts ever manufactured were done under Al DeJohn’s watch as the extremely capable manager of the Custom Shop. The approximately 350 2nd Generation engraved SAAs done by Albert Herbert, A.A. White, Robert Burt, Leonard Francolini, and Dennis Kies were all done under his careful supervision, and remain the most valuable and crème-de-la-crème of post-WWII Colts.
Author & Publisher - Blue Book of Gun Values
Some information and images courtesy of S.P. Fjestad.