A Pair of Westley Richards 20g Round Action Sidelocks nearing completion. Engraving by Paul Chung.
When it comes to selling your ‘surplus to requirement’ used guns and rifles, there are 2 obvious choices, sale at auction or alternatively through your gunmaker or gun dealer. Being a gun dealer myself for 30 years I would like to put down my thoughts on who I think does the job best for the seller.
The auction houses tend to get a lot of good press about prices achieved and I readily admit that on many occasions, more often than not predictably, they do achieve some exceptional prices. I say predictably because some very rare guns appear at auction and it is almost as if the auctioneers don’t quite realise the scarcity. In the catalogue the reserve or estimate by no means reflects the value of the lot. After achieving a sale way beyond estimate, the auctioneers then glow with pride at what they have achieved! I don’t believe they should, in reality they were prepared to sell it and often do, for the reserve price, meaning the seller looses out if the right buyers were not attending or bidding on that day.
Ernest Hemingway’s Westley Richards .577 sold at James Julia auctions. Estimated at $150,000-200,000, the final sale price was $339,250 and is an example of an exceptional price achieved. Provenance is always unpredictable!
The Trade (meaning gun dealers) are big buyers at the auction houses and this in itself is a good indicator that best market values are not being achieved at auction. The seller of the lot is loosing out on the sellers commission, the hammer commission, insurance cost and whatever else can be loaded on ( 30% or more being lost on the sale price) but also whatever the dealer will then mark the gun up and sell to a final customer! The trade I can assure you do not go to pay top price for the items, they are there to pounce on the bargains!
Let’s take a simple example from a fictitious auction but with realistic costs, a pair of old 12g Purdey shotguns. They are entered into the auction with a reserve of £10-12,000, the hammer falls at £10,000 to an active member of the trade buying the guns for his stock. The dealer will pay £12,500 including commission and the seller will get about £8550 after all deductions and depending on agreed commission. The dealer then cleans the guns up spending £1000 and makes them fit for a sale he can stand behind, (none of which will be done by the auction house) and sells them finally for £17,000 to an end user. The seller in this case, if working with the dealer on a 20% commission basis will receive £11600 being sale price less commission, repairs and VAT. £3050 better off!
The thought that auctions reach all buyers is false, many people do not like to buy at auction, I would say most don’t. There is no specialist advice on mechanical condition and there is the “bought as seen” term, meaning the responsibility is yours to see if it is working. The English auctions are obliged to make sure the gun is in proof but not that it will go off! Auction buyers therefore tend to be limited to people with the knowledge and confidence to do so, a fraction of the market.
Selling through a gun shop has many benefits. Guns are the life blood of the shop and if you want to be able to take your guns for repair, buy cartridges and accessories, see new products, talk guns etc. the shop needs to stay in business and used guns play a big part in this. The gun shop will advise you of the value of the gun and set a sale price in agreement with yourself along with the commission they will charge on completion of the sale. (This commission will incur VAT). Your gun will be put up for sale, advertised on their website and with a good dealer this will have global reach and hopefully result in a prompt and successful sale.
Don’t be greedy, there is a price at which the gun will sell and one at which it will sit for years, if you can’t agree the value with the dealer you can always try your luck at another shop or the auction. If you want to sell the gun outright there will most likely be a chance for that also assuming you select the right dealer for your type of gun and also allow the dealer the margin to put it in stock.
Finally a shameless plug! Westley Richards has an international client base and we are always looking for high quality guns and rifles by best makers. We have a popular website which features a used gun section and we advertise on 2 other sites with excellent traffic and results. We would be pleased for the opportunity to discuss your gun or gun collection!
A frequent problem encountered with our, or in fact anyone’s make of guns, is that of safely re-cocking the locks if the gun is fired when the barrels and forend are off the gun. Some people prefer to store their guns unassembled and with the hammers let forward or fired, others may just accidentally pull a trigger when the barrels are off.
With the gun in a fired position and apart, assembly can occassionally be awkward, the barrels will go on easily but perhaps the forend will not and you are worried about breaking something. If you assemble a fired gun and carefully align the forend and close it you will perhaps to use a little more pressure than normal to get it to seat. Once the forend is locked in position when you open the gun the gun will cock as normal.
If the above does not work with your detachable lock gun or if you’re afraid of breaking something follow this method.
In order to assemble the gun the lockwork will need re-cocking meaning the hammers being put back in the ‘ready to fire position’, with a detachable lock gun first open the cover plate as above and rest on the edge of a table or similar, something that will not scratch the steel.
We use a rounded piece of copper but a thin piece of hardwood, plastic or brass will also work. You do not want to use steel on steel as it will scratch. Put the end of your tool in the position shown on the foot of the cocking dog.
The process of regulating a double rifle is one that we are doing on a very regular basis here at Westley Richards. With over 45 double rifles currently on order in the factory, it equates to nearly one rifle a week. The task of regulating the rifles falls in the safe hands of Stuart Richards who was himself taught the process by both Keith Thomas and Ken Halbert. Both were past foremen in the factory who undertook our regulating during their time here.
Regulating the barrels of a rifle means adjusting/regulating the 2 barrels of a rifle to shoot to the same point of aim at a given distance. This is acheived by a repetitive process of shooting the rifle and then making minute adjustments to individual barrels in a specific jig, ultimately moving the barrels to the correct the point of impact.
At Westley’s we shoot our rifles on our range, this is equipped with both a chronograph and an electronic target system. The chronograph measures the individual velocity of each shot, a consistent velocity is required to judge the shots and this way we are able to pick up any ‘flyers’ meaning low or high velocity shots and these can then be discounted in any adjustments. I would emphasise, that without very consistent loads, regulation is impossible, and this is an area we have invested a considerable amount of time and money on here over the years. The electronic target system provides an accurate history of all the shots taken during the regulation process.
Having shot the rifle with 4 shots to confirm accuracy the rifle is then disassembled, front sight removed and the barrels are placed in a regulating jig as seen above. This jig supports the barrels and allows individual adjustments through the use of 9 hex head bolts. There is a wedge in the muzzle of the rifle which aides in the barrels being drawn either inwards (draw wedge out) and apart (push wedge in).
Having set the barrels firmly in the jig, the muzzle ends are heated up to a point where the solder holding the barrels together begins to melt, at this point the barrels can be independently moved in any direction to obtain the correct convergence and point of aim. This is done by relieving the opposing bolt and tightening the other side. Adjustments are made in small movements of about .0010″ a time although this is where the process becomes one of feel and knowledge rather than pure measurement. The barrels are then allowed to cool down completely after which they are cleaned and the process begins again and is repeated until the desired result is achieved.
A series of 4 targets showing the movement of the shots after regulating in jig.
I can say without hesitation that in all my years here with the company, the regualtion process has not been done as efficiently and accurately as it is being done now in the careful, young and enthusiastic hands of Stuart Richards who tells me his fastest regulation was in 8 shots and the longest over 100 shots, and also points out that the large calibre’s are so much easier than the small ones. I know there is a sincere sense of pride every time he produces a final target which are always exceptional.
This weekend I attended and exhibited our guns at the Southern Side by Side championship, organised by Bill Kempffer (above) and held at his Deep River Shooting grounds near Sanford, North Carolina. After an opening day which reminded me of the CLA game fair, with tropical style rainstorms, we enjoyed 2 further days of uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures in the 80′s.
The Event which was started some 8 years ago, is sponsored by, amongst others, English gunmakers Atkin Grant and Lang and Charles Boswell who were founding sponsors and were both represented this year by their owners Francis Lovel and Chris Batha respectively. Also making the trip from England were Heritage Guns, Holland & Holland and myself.
Many of the larger American dealers were present amongst exhibitors and this venue must now certainly have the largest showing and selection of best guns at one time on the East Coast. I have only seen larger gatherings of best guns at the Las Vegas Antique Arms and the Safari Club shows in Dallas and Vegas.
In the past we used to attend the Vintagers show but only for a couple of years. I found this show to be much better, a pleasant and friendly atmosphere amongst the exhibitors and visitors, the warm and sunny weather was a delight and the show comes after a good break since the major shows in January so I think well timed. The organisers I think could improve the catering and the floods of Friday which affected the main tents on lower ground will no doubt have caused concern amongst those exhibitors and their millions of dollars of stock.
For anyone who has considered going to visit the show I think you will enjoy it, there is plenty to look at and of course there is the shooting as well, I didn’t get to try a round as I had to guard my guns!
It takes up to two years, sometimes more, to get one of our shotguns or rifles made, stocked, shot, highly polished and ready for the engravers work. Up to this point everything we make has been bestowed with the same levels of skill, craftsmanship, time, and infinite amount of attention to detail. It is at this point that each individual product will take on its own look, the look desired by the client and executed by the engraver of choice. Whilst the feel, balance, silhouette and character of the gun will all be Westley Richards, the individual engraving will set each gun apart. I typically get very nervous with the whole engraving process, especially the large commissions which take 6 – 12 months of an engravers time. Nervous because it is not until the work is delivered back, perhaps many months later, that you can decide how it really looks, if the idea has worked and is a success or perhaps not quite meeting expectations, whichever, the responsibility ultimately lies with us, we hedge our bets with drawings!
The engravers who work with us are accustomed to making drawings which are especially relevant and important in the larger commissions. Many times these have thrown up problems and changes can be made in advance rather than regretted later. The drawings themselves are very nice indeed, I have always liked Rash’s loose and imaginative designs, some of which I am pleased to share with you now along with some by Vince Crowley and Peter Spode.
When it comes to project guns I don’t think there is anything that I have ever come across personally, better than this 4g Hammer Rifle made by John Millar of Canada. John made every single bit of this rifle with his own hands except the engraving and it is a quite remarkable job. Every single detail has been considered, besides the rifle which has 2 pairs of barrels (Rifled and Shot) and 2 pair of locks (A spare pair for the African Bush), John made a full compliment of cleaning and loading accessories, an elephant hide oak and leather case, a set of leather goods for taking the rifle on Safari and of course a pile of ammunition for shooting with it.
John is a machinist by trade and he moved from Ontario to the Yukon to set up his own business. Here his business worked primarily for Caterpillar servicing the large type of earthmoving equipment and other heavy machinery but also for the gold miners of Dawson City. It was after this move to Yukon that he met Neil Cross and a fascination with guns, rifles and everything shooting started having been shown Neil’s collection of big bore rifles.
The 4g took John 10 years to make and when I said he made every bit, I did mean that. He drilled, bored and rifled the barrels from solids, he machined the action and all the internal parts, actioned the gun, filed it up, stocked it and regulated it. The late engraver Heidi Hipmeyer from Ontario was the only other person to have a hand in the production, she executed a simple design copied from an old Holland & Holland 10g Paradox from Neil’s collection.
Not satisfied with making the rifle alone, John then embarked on making a very full and complete set of accessories, both loading and cleaning, for the gun, these were turned from brass and mastodon ivory and also engraved by Heidi. Each one of these tools has been made with the same care and attention given the gun itself and are faithful to the old Dixon tools many of you may have seen in vintage rifles and guns.
During the years it took to make the rifle John was a frequent visitor to our old factory, he would show the slow but steady progress with pride and tell me that the ambition was to complete the rifle and take it to Africa. He did just that and whilst he was not able to shoot an Elephant which had been his ultimate desire, he was able to take a large Cape Buffalo with which to Christen the rifle and ‘proof’ his work.
I think any of you with even a little understanding of gunmaking will admire this outstanding example of craftsmanship made by a person who only studied the vintage guns closely and who never had any training in gun making itself.
I am happy to pass any questions regarding this rifle to John or please post them in comments below.
I have waited many years to get hold of a nice version of our Highest Possible air pistol, today finally one has been found! As always timing plays a part, Trigger heard someone being told on the phone that we were not interested when he had called in to sell it, ‘no get it was called out’ and the deal was done!
The Highest Possible has been a very elusive item, perhaps because so few were ever made which then had to survive the next 100 years. I have no exact records of the production figures but the Collectors Guide to Air Pistols by Dennis Hiller suggests that the highest serial number known is 1052 suggesting only 1000 odd were ever made.
Engraved on the L.H.S of the air chamber “WESTLEY RICHARDS HIGHEST POSSIBLE – AIR PISTOL”. On the frame near the sear is stamped the serial number, 369, which also appears on various other parts. On the left side of the frame is engraved “WESTLEY RICHARDS & CO. – LONDON W” and near the action latch appears “PATENT 24837 1907″. The pistol has black chequered vulcanite grips and a 9 3/4 inch rifled barrel. Rear sight appears to be adjustable for elevation only. Length from tip of barrel to base of butt is 12 1/4 inches. The above design was patented by E. Anson, a relative of W. Anson of the well known partnership Anson & Deeley. The “Highest Possible” was also available nickel plated. Highest serial number seen is 1052. Inside of grips are usually scratched with the serial number of part of it and the rifling appears to be anticlockwise. ( From Air Pistols by Dennis Hiller)
Whilst we were building the India Rifle I never put too much mind as to who would end up engraving it, too many years of gunmaking to worry about that detail. For me the project started when I bought a Webley & Scott 600NE Sidelock double rifle. The rifle was to my mind, the most perfect 600 sidelock rifle I had ever seen, it was large, the right weight and had big locks which gave it presence. The rifle was made for purpose and was masculine, just what a 600 should be, not a 577 with 600 barrels. Like everything I buy I ended up selling it, this time to one of my most avid elephant hunting clients. He in turn dropped it and broke the perfectly shaped stock. It has never looked the same since, a shame.
Prior to selling the rifle, we took all the key measurements from it, had it drawn up and the India and Africa rifles were concieved . Like most things in the gun trade this all took time, especially as it was at the time an ‘in house’ project, I was in effect the customer, and the least important one on the order book at that! Some years later however the first rifle was ready and the decision on the engraving came about. In the factory everyone knew that this was to be a big engraving commission, sort of like what we had done with the Boutet gun in the 80′s, something different, something extravagant, the rifle had to reflect the heady days of the Raj.
I had a meeting with 2 of my regular engravers about the engraving commission and they came to my office with no drawings or anything, no ideas or suggestions just a price for the work and a very large one at that. I decided immediately to decline and called Paul Lantuch in USA who was working on another rifle for us at the time and offered the commission to him. I described the project, that it must reflect the gift giving of the Raj with tiger hunting scenes, opulance, elephants and howdahs, Paul was immediately enthused and excited, firing back ideas, he said he would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the morning, do some research and send his sketches, which he did. Some weeks of discussion followed as the design developed before the work began. It took Paul almost a full year to complete this job, but having shown this rifle at 5 exhibitions now in UK & USA I can safely say I have never had so many generous and favourable comments on a gun in my 27 years. Some people may not like it, perhaps the design is not to their taste, but even so they all admire it for the quality and unique work that is involved.
A fellow gunmakers owner in the USA comes up to me every year and tells me with a touch of jealousy how amazed he is I allow Paul to engrave my guns saying ‘he uses a Dremel to shift the metal you realise’. Frankly I don’t care if he uses a road drill as long as the unique and creative work continues to flow!
Below you will see a short timeline with the sketches as the design for the rifle was passed back and forth across the Atlantic. These are accompanied by some new photos of the rifle which I took today and have already called Paul this evening to apologise for, they don’t do his work the justice it deserves.