I went and traded for two American Classics the other day at Ron’s, two old favorites, LC Smiths. “Elsies” have certain inherent problems– their sidelocks, insufficiently supported by bearing surfaces, have a tendency to crack their wood under pressure- but I LIKE them for reasons not entirely rational (but what reasons for passions like guns are at base reasonable?) One is that they LOCK up so well, like vaults; the first I knew, which Cap’n Rick Rozen got for 75 dollars and a roll of carpet back in ’71- and as far as I know, he still has it- was such a joy to snap shut that I probably overdid it. Later, I got a 20 bore as my first “Yankee” gun, and I am not sure it is not still in Professor Arthur Kinney’s attic in Amherst–!

I got these as Project Guns, ones that I could work on with John Besse’s help, and deliberately turned down a “too good” specimen, a field grade 16 featherweight with perfect wood and case colors, for a featherweight 12 at 6 1/4 pounds and 28 inch barrels, with no color to speak of and cracked stocks, and a fancy Damascus 16, an early grade 1, with engraving and fancy wood.Though a 16, it was a heavy duck gun at 7 pounds 2 ounces, full and fuller- only thing that was not up to grade in it was badly fixed dent down the front of the right barrel. They made a nice “set”.

The 12 went first. John prepared two sticks to go through the action and bear on the rear of the lockplates– intricate work…

He also re- peened several screws in this jig, and made a new one. Ready for stock refinish!

Working tools can be pretty too

More often than not, I like to publish pics of guns like pre- war English doubles; ones that, at their best, blur
the line between art and craft. Only their theoretical utility keeps
them to one side of that line, and ideally their utility increases as
they approach it, like Daniel’s 1870’s Purdey.

For my amazement, and because they cross and tie together several of my and I hope  your  fascinations,  I will also present things like Holland’s faux Japonaise Water gun, the only gun with gold inlays I ever really liked, or Malcolm Appleby’s early guns for McKay Brown, one of which, a feathered Raven, was donated to the Tower of London. He calls such things “totems”. When we were there it was in a dark room in a cramped dark space about two feet off the floor, with none of the associated material that even I have.

Despite the “woo” factor, I am less interested in the all- baroque over- the- top creations by England’s and Vienna’s bespoke makers who once made guns for the maharajahs of the princely states of India, and now design for Gulf princes, Texan oilfield fortunes smoothed by money, and, at the moment, Russian oligarchs.  (Though China is up and coming, recent investigations of provincials who own twenty- plus houses bodes dubiously for them, especially since as far as I know China still virtually bans all firearms more “technological” than matchlocks, which hunters still use in Tibet with the local tazis).

For an example, look for the one with animal skin textures, zebra and worse. Though if it is true that the owner hunts actual game with it in the Arctic and Central Asia, a “Flint’s Rules” toast and happy escalation: Nos’drovya!

 I do still fewer modern– postwar?– production guns, unless in hunting tales. But because ergonomics, form and function, all work harmoniously together, I realized once again, while photographing my vintage Smith and Wesson revolvers, that they are artful constructions too. No one could have done the amount of handwork they required back in the day without having an aesthetic sense (the blue .22 is almost as old as I am and has a barrel of odd length; the stainless .38 “J frame” is newer but not new).

Of course the figured walnut custom grips by Herrett help. They make them to a tracing of your hand, and it takes a few months, but it is worth it.