PUBLISHED: 12:45 02 August 2012 | UPDATED: 15:05 28 November 2012
Famous Firms and their Boxlocks
with Diggory Hadoke
Famous Firms and their Boxlocks
Exploring the range of boxlocks offered by various firms, (which I am doing as part of researching my next book) catalogues are very useful points of reference. They show us model designations, where they exist, and help to clarify the pecking order of the boxlock in the marketing of the wares of each individual firm.
Examination of these catalogues can be perplexing in the sheer number of trade names under which the various models appeared. Some are simply described by grade: ‘Best Quailty', ‘Second Qualirty', Plain Quality' etc. Others are listed according to an internal hierarchy of grade in the style of the firm: ‘B' Quality, ‘C' Quality etc. Others still are designated a grade via a descriptive name ‘Keeper's Gun', ‘Boy's Gun', ‘Duck Gun' etc and finally, we have the most confusing of all systems; the names that have no implicit grading in them, yet which relate to a particular firm's own model list. Who among laymen is to know whether a Churchill ‘Field' is a higher or lower grade than a Churchill ‘Prodigy'?
Then we have the system upon which the gun was built, which may or may not be indicated by the name of the model. The Greener ‘Empire' was a particular action, specified by its name as distinct from an ‘FH50', which was built on the Facile Princeps design for example. However, what kind of differences you may expect to find between and Enos James ‘Zephyr' and an Enos James ‘Leader' would be impossible to tell without reading the full description in the catalogue.
I doubt whether any reader of the 1937 Abdoolally Noorbhoy (a big Bombay store rather like the Army & Navy CSL or Manton & Co, Calcutta, with a good mail order service) catalogue of 1937 would realize that the Midland ‘Colonial' boxlock and the Ward &Sons boxlock advertised on the same page were of totally different internal mechanism, one operating on leaf springs, the other on coil springs.
Some firms went to great lengths to describe their individual models and others described them in the loosest of terms, referring only to choice of quality or barrel length etc as options on their guns available on various action types. Others still simply offered gun in a rage of prices: if you had £70 guineas to spend you would get a best quality bar-action sidelock ejector, if you had £5.10s, you got a plain Anson & Deeley action non-ejector. To the modern collector this is very important. I am often asked a question along the lines of ‘What can I expect to pay for a Westley Richards droplock? The answer is that it depends on original quality. The ‘droplock' (properly the Deeley & Taylor hand-detachable lock) was not a designation of quality, but of a system. It may originally have cost 55 guineas in plain ‘Gold Name ‘guise or it may have cost 210 guineas in ‘Modele de Grande Luxe' form. Price now will reflect that fact.
Some guns were made as one-off orders. I you went to MacNaughton in Edinburgh and asked for a best quality boxlock, they would make it for you. These can be unique pieces and one is very unlike any other. Others were a set range from a big factory. If you wanted a Westley Richards ‘Gold Name', it would be like every other ‘Gold Name' of a similar price, more or less.
In the following pages, we shall explore the boxlocks made and sold by a number of well-known firms and explore their range and ‘house style' if such a thing exists. Findings are based on examination of actual guns encountered as well as through perusal of available catalogues from the firms listed and conversations with the firms themselves, where they are still in business.
Holland & Holland
After WW1, Holland & Holland sold guns bought from Webley & Scott as 'H&H Shot and Regulated'. They were taken to the H&H shooting grounds and were there shot and regulated before being sold with the seal of approval of Holland's. The guns were of plain finish and medium quality. The actions are engraved ‘H&H'. The top rib is engraved ‘Shot and Regulated by Holland & Holland'.
In the 1950s Holland & Holland sold a boxlock called the ‘Northwood' (after their shooting ground). It was made in Birmingham by the firms of S. Wright & Son and A Brown & Son on a Webley 700 action. Holland & Holland claimed that the guns were finished in the London factory and shot and regulated at the Badminton Shooting Ground but they acknowledged the origins of the gun in their advertising: ‘This new model is not manufactured entirely at our gun works in London but the final finishing is carried out there...'
The Northwood model was available as a game gun, or as a wildfowl and pigeon gun. It has a colour-hardened action with border engraving and a mildly ‘fancy back'. Wood tends to be straight grained and relatively plain. Bore sizes available for the Northwood were 12, 16, 20 and 28. The Northwood was available until the mid-1980s.
The standard specifications indicated a 12-bore with 2 ½" chambers and English steel barrels of any length chosen by the customer. Weight for a game gun was typically 6lb 8oz. The wildfowling version could be had with 2 ¾" chambers weighing 7lb 6oz or with 3" chambers weighing 7lb 12oz.
Small bore 2 ½" chambered ‘Northwood' models were available: A 16-bore game gun weighed 6lb, a 20-bore 5lb 9oz and a 28-bore was 5lb. The pigeon gun had 2 ¾" chambers, whether in 12-bore, 16-bore or 20-bore and these guns were correspondingly heavier, typically 3-4 oz more then equivalent game guns.
In 1985 Holland & Holland purchased W&C Scott, who had a long history of making guns for Holland's. With the purchase came the plan to build a new ‘London boxlock', starting off in Birmingham in the old Scott factory in Witton and being stocked, engraved and finished in Holland & Holland's Harrow Road factory. It was sold as the 'Cavalier'.
Production of this new model leaned heavily on the CNC machinery acquired with the Scott purchase (production machinery was moved to London in 1989). The basic design stemmed from the Webley 700 but was carefully re-worked with a 'Royal' type hinge pin and best quality barrels. The ‘Cavalier' in basic and ‘de-luxe' forms and was in production from 1986 until the mid 1990s, numbering around 200 guns in total, both in 12-bore and 20-bore. Apparently one 28-bore was built on a 20-bore action. The old Webley 700 was a robust and decent handling gun. It may have head a weakness in the rather slender hook, which is prone to loosening up after afew years use. The retaining pins in the sides of the action, which hold the cocking levers also strip their very fine threads, which is annoying.
Holland and Holland added a removable hinge pin to the design, which may have been a technical improvement. However, thet also dispensed with the hand pin, which was not. I had a pair of Cavaliers in for re-stocking in 2008. The wrist of one had cracked. In order to stop the problem recurring, we had to re-design the whole section, adding a hand-pin to prevent excessive flexing and movement from breaking the new stocks. The quality of the two guns is disappointing: the gold -inlaid 'Holland & Holland' name on each action does not even match in size.
We'll look at more famous firms and their attempts at the Anson & Deeley and other similar actions in future articles.Buying at auction >>