Hmmmm…

BEST quality Coggswell & Harrison London – made non- ejector back- action sidelock, 16 gauge, six pounds even with 29″ barrels choked very lightly (near cylinder and SK 1 by today’s standards; probably a “lady’s gun” with its 14″ stock as it is too ornate for a young person’s. Despite the length it fits very well with the Connecticut Arms detachable leather pad I use with my old LC. It is a “dark” gun and my photos fail to do it justice; unlike some later boxlocks by the maker I have owned, with fine finishes but a dubious ejector system that eventually weakened and affected the trigger(s) it is a London Best in every way. As a matt er of fact it is less the maker (which affects fit and esthetics, and more practically price) but the time: it is a Seventies pattern and patent non- ejector back- action hammergun. Before Diggory Haddoke bestowed his imprimatur on them in his new book on hammer guns , John Besse, as always, said it best and first, speaking particularly of Daniel Riviera’s Purdey,

but meaning a whole class of London guns:”That is the pinnacle of gun development; they don’t get any better. They’re completely hand made to the highest standards- you never even see a tool mark anywhere- but they are completely practical. With one of those you could wander around, shoot a pheasant or a duck or a hare; or even a fox. After that, after the Beasley Patent Purdey” [what everyone thinks of as THE Purdey- 1874 I think, though most London makers would build you an old fashioned gun at LEAST until the Great War] “all the innovation was just gimmicks to impress rich people, needless complications. Who needs ejectors or easy openers except for driven birds? RICH people’s sport!” It’s an echo of my statement in the Book o’ Books (a new one is in the works!) that the Victorians spread the vices of driven shooting and respectability along with enclosures and industrial capitalism- but read Colonel Thornton for that, or at least wait until I can quote the last of the wild squires at length.

Anyway, the gun; what do y’all think?

A little on 4 Bores

We know little about the “ten- plus” bores in America, but in England they still build them. The always- innovative Michael Louca of Watson brothers builds them as Best- quality sidelock ejectors– not just for collectors either, though he admits his over twenty pound, 42 inch plus barrel model is mostly a collectors item. He prefers the eighteen pound “light” model for wildfowling. At 49,000 pounds, they are actually what passes as a modestly priced Best– Boss game guns go for twice that much.

Building the four…

And shooting it:

A bit more on Watson here and below.

Watches and London Bests

If you read newspapers or magazines with “good” demographics, you might be bemused or puzzled by the totally irrational number of advertisements for wristwatches. Odder still, NONE give you any prices, perhaps because the sticker shock will be unbelievable if you are not already informed. Suffice to say simply– five figures, getting to six pretty fast…

 In the seventies, any shooter who really wanted one might buy a second- hand London Best. A two or three thousand dollar fee was a matter of saving up. I was there, enthusiastically buying up many good guns from many countries, oblivious of what was lurking in the gun racks on a level just above what we bought. Before her death in’86, Betsy Huntington was known to mutter that if we had just bought a Purdey and a Boss in ’75 we would have saved a hell of a lot of money. Which is true- but we would not have gotten an education…

London Bests are made by hand, still, the way they were in a pre- electronic and even in a barely industrial civilization; more like the way my blacksmithed snaplock Mongol muzzleloader carbine (younger than I am) was. They don’t have to be; a few manufacturers, notably Italy’s Fabbri and, allegedly at times London’s H & H,  do all but the last hand-fitting by using precise and very expensive machines. But they lose the mystique thereby, the mystique that says all work must be by hand or the gun is not “custom” – frankly, nonsense.

The suspicions of this nature’s own conservative is that this is decadent late capitalism, where value is so divorced from meaning that all is nothing but signifiers and you need a scorecard to tell the players, and a crib sheet before you buy ANYTHING.

I figured this out a while ago, using knowledge to buy Best quality shotguns with slightly obscure names. Meanwhile Libby and I watched the watch phenomenon take off, especially in the weekend Wall Street Journal. So it is only fitting that a writer there finally gave me a clue to what was happening. On  March 12,  Michael Malone wrote about why the high- tech iWatch got such a lukewarm response:

 “…these products were prodigies of technological innovation. But their makers — some of the smartest businessmen ever — soon discovered that the watch business is not first about technology, but rather about exquisite design, cultural prestige and enduring value… to suggest, as Apple has, that today’s owners will pass their watches down to their grandchildren as cherished family heirlooms is absurd. People pass down Rolexes and Patek Philippes precisely because they aren’t subject to Moore’s law; their hardware won’t be obsolete in three years because it has been obsolete for a hundred.”

The last patents applicable to London Bests were in the 1870’s– the Purdey- Beesley self opener, without my looking it up, was about 1874. I rest my case.

If you inherit one, keep it. If you don’t, there are ways to shoot a Best without breaking the bank, by studying. I never had much more than a pot to piss in, and I have!

Below: Boss– new cost over $100, 000; below, Frederic Scott ca. 1910, once mine, now Gerry’s– at least 99% as good, but approximately 3% of the cost– still sound and shootable at 100.

Beautiful guns plus

I very nearly used Libby’s not unkind but perhaps too accurate term “gun porn”, but quailed at putting it in the title,  fearing just what search engines might send people here. The Stephen Grant 16 is all cleaned up– mechanicals by John Besse, wood by me– safe to shoot, and pretty– now I must decide what else if anything to do to bring it back to life. One set of numbers suggests it was made in 1868, but given its signs of being a converted pinfire, I must wonder if that was when it was converted. But the fine scroll is a mostly 1870 (and later) characteristic.

It really is a BEST gun though– airy balance right on the hinge pin. Adding removable Briley Titanium tubes in 28 wouldn’t get it to 6 pounds!

Here it is with its fellow 16’s– a square- backed Browning from FN in its first year of production, a 30’s Belgian guild gun made for Stoeger in the 30’s and sold at Abercrombie to my friend Gerry, or rather his grandfather, when he was 13, Soon afterwards, his mother took it over and shot enough Yankee grouse with it to shoot it loose. Look how much deeper a typical Anson and Deeley action is than that of a back action sidelock.

 And with its sister English gun, my amazing 4 pound Thomas Turner .410. Recently the Field has published an article suggesting Turner was one of only six provincial makers who made their own actions. If this is true it makes this rare long- stocked .410 even more unusual.  I already knew they were specialist makers of lightweight guns, not just .410’s.

A little more info?

For those who do not follow regularly– a couple of e- mailers wondered about the post below.

The shotgun below is a Best quality London- style Birmingham sidelock 12 bore, with a three figure serial number, built by Frederick “Frank” Scott between the end of the Great War and the end of his firm in 1918. He probably made less than a thousand guns, unlike his famous uncle William.

Many guns of this style have been made in England and Spain. Today the Spanish are expensive and the Brits cost more than my house. I got this one last year mostly by trading, turning over a boxlock nearly as fine, with the same dimensions, that I had owned for a long time. But its cost even without trade was about that of a good American semi- custom rifle, ie affordable by anyone who saves a bit. Let us say, low 4 figures as opposed to the latest Holland and Holland Royal on similar patents I saw for sale last week, at eighty seven thousand pounds. (This one cost 50 when it was made!) And still today, less than any contemporary Spanish sidelock.

Check the Internet ads of people like Kirby at Vintage, Diggory Haddoke,  Champlin, and Woodcock Hill, where they give plenty of detail. If you are in New Mexico, go to Ron Peterson’s, where I got this gun and have bought and sold a scary amount more.  Read Steve Hughes and Haddoke and Terry Weiland and Vic Venters.  Look at lots of guns; then, trust your instincts. Don’t be put off by things like sleeving that is well done; even less by good Damascus. You will pay much less if you avoid “names”– this was the first FRED Scott I ever saw.

Below, the Scott, with my English .410 to contrast, and his 1910 catalog, from Abby Cornell’s fabulous reprint series..

Locks

Whatever the advertising, don’t take any “as good as” statements from modern makers about their equivalence to Golden Age Best guns. Nobody can afford the new ones, but learn quality, and you might find something over a hundred years old that doesn’t cost much at all, especially compared to its imitators…

Gerry Cox, visiting from Ithaca,  and John Besse take the locks off my old Frederick Scott to examine them. (I have waited until John and his turnscrews arrived in Magdalena from Alaska– no WAY I will mar a screw!)

 No tool marks here– works of art inside and out, shootable as a new gun, and almost 100 years old. Look at the wood inletting too!