Hand Carved Thumb Sticks – Your Companion in the Field.

Hand Carved Sticks WestleyRichards (1 of 1)

Stick making is a widely practised art in England, walking and thumb sticks of all kinds are made by craftsman all over the country, each individual maker with a particular style and price point. The county and country shows have demonstrations on technique and it is obviously a satisfying pastime to go out for a walk, harvest the stick and turn it with some hours work into something of use.

My favourites, and the small group I have put together are from this maker who is at the top of his game and carves each stick with individual game, dogs with immense care and attention. They are almost too nice to take in the field and certainly some of them have protrusions that make it difficult to warrant doing so, they are actually remarkably tough though.

These are not an item for the web store as very limited in availability. They do however make a very special gift which is why I am showing them here on The Explora to what I feel is a limited audience. For anybody interested in getting one of these as a special Christmas gift please let me know and I will see if we cannot deliver in time.

How do I Value the Vintage and Used Guns We Sell?

Pair of Charles Lancaster Howdah Pistols

Dear Simon, I have an idea for what I think would be an interesting blog post, that only you can do, and that is valuation in buying and selling of the kind of guns that WR deals in.
A great example would be the recent Lancaster’s. They are a time machine. In fact if you didn’t own them I would be suspect. Single guns, not so hard I know. But more toward unique guns. I know that you must have ready buyers and high volume collectors for a lot of the high end guns.
I think that folks would be interested in how condition, rarity, attribution, etc. is weighted in you thinking to arrive at a price. I play this game all the time in my mind seeing a gun and mentally attempting to price it. I think it would be of great interest.

A vintage leather case containing what?

Presentation.

When taking orders for our new guns it is often quite hard to sell a best quality case to go with the gun or rifle. This is understandable, they are hand made to each gun or pair of guns and as such expensive, they also have no real practical value for todays travel as cannot be checked in to a flight and taken on hunts, they are suited to car, private jet or ocean carriage only, cases to be handled with care.

I think for me, the case is always the cornerstone of the guns of value, the original case play’s a very important part in my whole buying, valuation and selling process. This applies to antique guns as well as what we can term as modern guns, those built since 1900 to the same designs we use today. So if we were to roll on 100 years from orders taken today, I think that then the original fitted makers case will play an important part in the value of the guns and more than return the investment made. I know one large collector who has in recent year stopped casing his new guns, this from a practical reason as much as anything, he has a whole huge shed full of cases and the logistics of finding a case is quite complicated. I do however feel this is a mistake as when the time comes to sell these high end multi barrelled sets of guns, things are going to get in a muddle.

So firstly I believe the presentation of the guns is an extremely important factor in the valuation of the guns. Simply put a pair of mint condition guns in a plastic travel case will not be as valuable as a the same pair of guns in their original case with all the accessories, the whole package patinated with age.

Trio of Purdey Hammer

Condition.

For my part a decision ‘to buy’ or ‘desire to buy’ is normally made within a few seconds of opening a case, it is a time at the gun trade shows, private homes or wherever the item is offered to me for the ‘poker face’. At this point you will first see the make, type and condition of the guns, you may open the case to reveal some heavily and badly restored guns or open the case to what you know are guns that have been sleeping untouched in their baize, velvet or calfskin lined box for many years. The seller will no doubt be looking for a reaction! The make and type for me is unimportant at this point as any gun in great condition has value, it will just be relative, a best name one more of course than a lesser name. The Westley Richards used gun department has always dealt in all makes of guns and rifles, we have never limited ourselves to dealing in our own product alone and over recent years have handled a sold a huge variety of different makes and types of firearms, condition of whatever gun we handle will determine the price.

Pair of Purdey

Would I want this Gun back at this Price?

One final and important part of my valuation process is asking myself if the price I have set would lead me to wanting to buy the guns back in the future or would this be a sale that I would have to hide from the remainder of my life. I have built my business on a relatively small customer base, one to which I have provided an excellent service including finding best and unusual guns for their collection, items never seen on our used gun sites. The pool of very good guns is not deep, there are many average guns in the market, sporting guns which have now tired with age and whilst seemingly cheap are now in the breaking down stage, extremely expensive to maintain with new parts, assuming you can find the gun maker to effect the repair. Knowing that the really great guns are few and far between means that at some point in my career I will be wanting to buy the guns back so I can repeat the deal with a new collector. My clients are very familiar with my constant nagging about isn’t it time you sold me back this or that gun, you must be fed up with it by now!

When I value a gun I never go over the top, I always charge what I feel is a good fair market price and this price will have come from my knowledge of the market for the type of gun, the presentation, condition and finally my rule will this price allow me to make a further deal some years down the road.

Many of the prices asked now on guns for sale are what can only be called ‘pie in the sky.’ I see so many guns with quite extraordinary prices on, totally unjustifiable and they just tend to sit and sit for years unsold getting in worse and worse condition as they are hauled from show to show and handled badly. These guns have either been purchased badly and the owner is adamant about not making a loss or in order to win consignment sales high tempting prices are given the owners and they are unachievable. The Peterson collection of recent years is a typical example of highly overpriced shotguns and rifles, items at $150,000 which should be more like $70,000 which is what they would perhaps fetch on the open market.

Valuation is an important aspect of the business, quite frankly we need to be selling the guns to remain in business and turn our stock like any other business. None of us want to leave money on the table but in order to get deals working on a constant and regular basis  I think it is best when valuing guns to leave some incentive as a knowledgeable buyer will know he is being well looked after and return to do more business, which after all is what it is all about.

Pistols-2850

The Hammer Guns of Westley Richards.

First WR Breech Loader

The breech loader got its real introduction to England in 1851, when Casimir Lefaucheux exhibited his breech-loading pin-fire at the Great Exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace. Legend has it that Edwin Hodges, a multi-talented ‘gunmaker to the trade’ with Islington workshops, made an adaptation of the Lefaucheux gun for the established West End firm of Joseph Lang.

Lang’s gun is widely credited as the first proper sporting gun in Britain that successfully combined pin-fire cartridges with a usable, forward facing, under-lever locking mechanism with barrels that drop in a hinge. The idea stuck and breech-loading pin-fires were to dominate the scene for the next fifteen years.

While this step-change in technology was instigated by a London gun maker developing a continental idea, as with so much else in the history of sporting gun development, Birmingham firms, including Westley Richards, were at the forefront of perfecting new concepts and devising better operating mechanisms.

Pin-fire ammunition, though quicker than muzzle loading, was imperfect and the quest to improve upon it was quickly underway. However, in tandem with ammunition developments, the other challenge was to provide a quick, efficient and safe method of locking barrels to breech face. Many sportsmen were afraid that the new breech-loaders would come apart in their faces. Others claimed no breech-loader would ever ‘shoot as hard’, to use a then common phrase, as a muzzle-loader.

The development of Westley Richards Dolls HeadThe development of the Dolls Head. From Bottom, Pull back lever, Rotating with developed Dolls Head, short lever rotate over extension, Top the first breech opening gun sold by Westley Richards

Among the first and most influential improvements on the rather flimsy Lefaucheux locking mechanism was the Westley Richards ‘doll’s head’. This is based on a projection from the breech ends of the barrels, extending from the rib. It has a rounded ‘head’ with a slot and the whole is drawn into a corresponding cut-out in the standing breech. The slot is engaged by a sliding top-bolt, preventing gravity from pulling down the barrels once the gun is closed.

Very early guns built with doll’s head rib extensions had a simple, long turning lever, which blocked the path of the doll’s head when closed. The first of these was made in 1858 as a pin-fire.

The first version of the, now familiar, system employed on Westley Richards guns features an 1862 patent sliding top-lever, rather than one that pivots. It most closely resembles the more commonly encountered Horsley of 1871 in the way the lever is operated. When the lever is pulled back with the right thumb, it slides the locking bolt out of the slot in the doll’s head.

The second version quickly followed in 1864 and became the basis of a classic. While examples of the first version are rare, those of the second version are legion. They span the pin-fire and centre-fire eras. In this second version, the lever rotates to the side when pressed with the right thumb. This rotation operates the removal of the top-bolt from it’s slot. This is still the sole means of securing the barrels to the action. To modern eyes it seems flimsy but it works and many guns built this way are still in regular use. It was employed on both shotguns and double rifles.

Dolls Head and Bottom `bite'

The third version of the Westley Richards action retains the doll’s head with its top-bolt as an effective third bite. However, the main holding mechanism is Purdey’s patent double under-bolt of 1863. The combination of the Purdey bolt and the Westley Richards bolted doll’s head is retained to this day in the firm’s double rifles and shotguns.

The Westley Richards treble-grip bolting system was used by other firms in the wider gun trade but far less commonly than the combination of top-lever, Scott Spindle, or Greener lever-work, operating a Purdey bolt. The wider trade favoured simplicity and the doll’s head concept was often imitated in the form of similar looking devices without a third bolt or grip. Third grips became a feature of Birmingham guns, while many London makers preferred the cleaner lines of a gun without a rib extension, preferring to rely on well-made actions and a Purdey bolt alone.

Greener’s rival ‘Treble Wedge Fast’ concept consists of a simple vertical slot in the breech, accommodating a rib extension that drops in, drilled with a hole to accommodate a round-section bolt, which slides into place horizontally, thereby bolting the barrels to the action through the fences, as well as via the Purdey under-bolt. The wider gun trade adopted versions of this system in all grades of gun. When made well, it is very secure but in lower grades, where the fit of parts is not perfect, the benefits of the Greener top-bolt are dubious.

Some firms even adopted a version of the doll’s head without any kind of bolt. The concept persisted with designers and the doll’s head extension became a key part of the Webley & Brain screw-grip action that was so widely used throughout the gun trade in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Westley Richards hammer guns of the 1860s bridged the development in ammunition from pin-fire to centre-fire. After Daw introduced the centre-fire to the British market in 1861, it began to gain traction. Today it is possible to find Westley Richards hammer guns, as described above, made as pin-fires or centre-fires and a number will be conversions from pin-fire to centre-fire.

Westley Richards hammer

The aesthetic norms for hammer guns developed along with the mechanical improvements. Early Westley Richards guns will typically be of bar-in-wood form, with most of the metal of the action covered by a veneer of stock wood, extending to the knuckle. The forend wood is similarly shaped, with wood enveloping the forend iron and looking somewhat like the hinges in the exoskeleton of a crustacean, hence the widely used term ‘crab joint’ to describe this style of gun.

As the 1870s progressed, hammer guns gradually lost their wood coverings and became the familiar pattern of exposed locks and actions with stocking limited to the areas behind the action and forend wood reducing to the, now familiar, ‘splinter’ style, with an exposed iron fitting into the knuckle.

Anton & Deeley Cut away Westley Richards

Westley Richards were early to the party when hammerless guns began to gain favour. As patentees of the Anson & Deeley action in 1875, the firm were quick to favour this simple, brilliant and reliable hammerless gun as their house style, while many other firms continued to make hammer guns and experiment with various styles of hammerless action. I think that in the minds of the Westley Richards directors at the time, the hammer gun era was over in 1875.

My thanks to Diggory for this short article on our hammer guns which I asked him to write when he visited last week. Diggory has just released a new book “Hammer Guns in Theory and Practise” The book is available here and provides a very comprehensive account of this model gun.

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Essential Kit – The Westley Richards ‘Deeley Shotgun Slip’

The Westley Richards Deeley gunslip in the field

For any destination you travel to shoot a gun slip is an essential piece of kit with which to protect and carry your gun or rifle during the non hunting periods. What you choose to put your gun in at this time comes in a multitude of varieties and options from very basic and cheap to exotic models made in clients own game skins.

Westley Richards has always taken the view that the gun slip should match the quality of the gun it will look after, it should also be capable of doing that job for the life of the gun. We achieve this brief by using a very expensive organic tanned leather which has deep absorption of natural fats that will keep the leather in fine condition for many years with only a small amount of annual attention to reintroduce wax to the grain. The leather we use  will patinate and mature quickly becoming unique in its own way. I can always recognise my gun slips at a distance, the colour and distinct burnish marks gained over many years use of travel and use make them unique.

Hand made in our workshops using traditional saddlery skills the range of slips we offer is very comprehensive and each model can be found ‘off the shelf’ at popular lengths or made to order at specific lengths. We only use premium leathers, solid brass fittings, RiRI non scratch Swiss made zips and premium fleece lining to protect the guns. These fine components are stitched together using a combination of machine and hand sewing skills utilising strong waxed threads designed to last. The muzzle box is hand blocked for a perfect finish complete with hanging tag.

Why am I throwing this product into the pile just now? It is because each year as we approach Christmas the Deeley Slip is a very popular item and is often one that people want personalised as a gift. A variety of leather or shape or special length may be asked for and of course the initials, crest or name of the future owner. Our leather shop is a small department and we want to handle all our holiday orders in good time so this is an open hint to order early if this is a gift you may have been considering for yourself or someone else! The full range of standard gun slips can be seen here and we welcome discussing any special orders or requests you might have.

Deeley-Shotgun-slip

Westley Richards & Co. – A Company and its Character.

American troops, Buna, New Guinea Campaign, World War II.

My Father, a Veteran of WWII combat in the Pacific Theatre had a few sayings and was not one to suffer fools. He could best be described as a very gentle man. Four amphibious combat assaults will apparently teach one much about themselves. At thirteen, I lost him too early. It is a strange phenomenon that we continue to learn from our parents long past adulthood, and even after they have gone ahead. There seems to be to be a certain imprinting that takes place and endures.

Hunting in the great depression

He had many sayings, which were as a practical matter his philosophies. He lived by them without much, if any, variation or discussion. One of these sayings I often think of and find can be applied to business dealings and the contingent relationships. “When all is said and done, let more be done than said”. I never met my Grandfather, he had passed early as well, but my Father spoke of what he learned from him in tough days during the American Depression. They fed themselves and family, gardening, hunting small game, and fishing. I hope that I have those qualities in my character.

Character can exist in many things and manifest itself in many different ways. It can make up and distinguish an individual, group, or nation as to how they conduct themselves and behave; it can separate distinguishable things into categories; identify a nature. It can separate things by its essential elements or traits; it can be a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things.

A good friend of mine for some thirty five years and a knowledgeable gun lover of the highest order just recently returned from a three week tour of Scotland, Ireland, and England. He had reserved a good part of the last week of the trip to visit London Gunmakers and a few dealers he was familiar with. In our conversation I expressed to him that I would like to make that exact trip. His response was, “Don’t. Instead see the tourist things in London, the famous Gunmakers are a waste of time, and no fun. I felt like I was at my in-laws”. This statement did shock me just a bit. He went on to tell me that he went into one of the most famous makers, at a most famous location and of three employees, not one, spoke even a single word to him. He is a good sport and can find humor in almost anything, and left the subject alone after the comment, “I suppose they would have taken cash, but they didn’t ask for it”. I actually found this hard to believe yet he assured me his account was accurate. He went on to tell me about his experiences at a couple of the other famous makers and felt it was a little better, but not by much and he just did not feel welcome. He came away with the impression that because he was dressed comfortably for a full day of activity that he was somewhat disqualified at a glance. He tells me that his experience at some of the dealer shops was an altogether the opposite experience, telling me what he saw and may follow up on. This man does not have a pretentious bone in his body nor any “chip on his shoulder”. If he is right, that he was dismissed just on his casual appearance a big mistake was made. This gentleman can impact an order book in a serious way if he so chooses, and likely has time for the wait.

PurdeyThe magnificent facade of James Purdey & Sons. 

I do feel that this is an extreme example and at least hopefully not the norm. In full disclosure I have not made the trip, so have not had this experience personally at the London locations. This was not the first time I have heard this, but this time from a most reliable source. I have experienced it in a different environment at the large shows of SCI and DSC in the United States, admittedly not so extreme. The very nature of these shows is a little more relaxed. The puzzling thing that has occurred to me on many occasions is that I have looked at a maker’s guns and walked away without having either been taught anything about their particular guns nor have they solicited any questions or business. Maybe I am just lucky to get to see their guns or need to wear a suit.! They are not doing anyone favors by letting them look at their goods. Isn’t the purpose of being at these shows, for lack of a better description, an attempted outreach to new customers? This approach is baffling to me.

This seems to me to be a relationship model, maker to customer, which is completely inverted. It is at minimum in my opinion an organizational character problem. If in the previous account of my friends experience the front line sale force will not make contact, certainly there is little hope of anything more. The periodicals that I read which are both American and English are full of very well done, slick ad copy. These ads do give you a sense of what a company can do, at least for someone! This perceived ‘stuffiness’ is I am convinced at least one of the reasons there is a healthy used or secondary market in English guns. Of course there is the favorable pricing, immediate delivery, but I am suspect that it is also to avoid this stuffiness!

There are exceptions in my experience;

rigby-heritage-rifle-marc-newton-of-rigby-with-the-sci-donation-rifle-stock-blank-in-the-rigby-workshop-where-the-gun-will-come-to-lifeMarc Newton in the Rigby Workshop.

I believe over the last three years at DSC that Mark Newton, MD of John Rigby & Co. has recognized me, if not by name, and made an effort to answer any and all questions and go as far as to sit down and take a few minutes to have a friendly visit. They set their space up in a manner that facilitates, and invites this. This seems to me to be the purpose and value of being there. From what I can see they are on to a good thing, and I for one wish them well and greatly appreciate the way that I have been approached. I believe that they, “get it”.

I do believe, and this from personal experience, that Westley Richards is the standout in all phases of service and customer care and I hear this consistently from friends of mine who are clients. They also have great advertising content, with excellent photography, but this is not the end of it. They show a diverse catalog of new and used guns, along with restoration services, traditional in-house made leather goods with custom one-off capability. There is also a comprehensive retail side of clothing, foot wear, etc. It is approaching impossible to thoroughly cover all of the in-house capability that Westley Richards currently have. Even with this large offering of goods and services this is still not the end of it.

While this is all outstanding, it goes much deeper than this. There is a transparency that you will not see anywhere else and much of it displayed on The Explora. I think Ross Seyfried said it best in a previous post, “those in the workshop understand old things and their history”. Westley Richards staff know and understand the historic legacy and standards that comes together to form the character of the company. Because the folks working there gain an understanding of the company’s history and where it came from they gain an insight into its character. Those in leadership know that this understanding is just as important as the technical and trade skill competency. Should a project’s complexity require it, advice is available to a client not only from experienced and qualified manager of a particular department but from the owner of the company. I am sure it could be found at the smaller boutique makers as well. This same advice may exist at other makers and I am just not aware of it. If so and you find this opinion offensive; my apologies. I do not think though that so much knowledge across such a broad spectrum of products, guns, and rifles exist anywhere else. Not to mention used guns and restoration capability. It goes beyond sales, yes that is an element, but it manifest itself more in the manner of consultation and a way of doing business.

Where does this come from? It comes from knowing the company’s history. It comes from a family’s investment, dedication, and toil in a company through good and bad times. It comes from Walter Clode knowing the company’s history, where it came from, all the way to the turn of the last century and beyond and spending time in the land where many of the companies guns were sold and lived, repatriating those guns to be given a new life. This knowledge and experience being passed on to Simon to steward this legacy and at the same time moving the company forward as conditions require yet not forgetting the past and acutely understanding the character of the company. This cycle of work, failure, success, adjustment, and work builds character. The character of Westley Richards is one of perseverance, doing the best work that they are capable of doing, and being in a position to consult clients in a manner that gives the customer confidence. The strength and competency of the individuals who understand the history of a company, when in a collective creates a company whose core competency as a company then becomes one of character. When the day to day work and customer contact is being conducted in the context of a constancy of purpose, “to build the best gun that we can build”. When the leadership is making decisions in a cycle of continuous improvement, not forgetting the history and hard won character of a company. All of this separates, distinguishes, and creates a window of transparency into a company. I believe that knowing who they are is the strength of Westley Richards.

I believe they are very much a company that exhibit, “when all is said and done, let more be done than said”.

A Classic Westley Richards .425 Bolt Action Rifle.

_425 WR Bolt Action-5563

The Classic .425 Westley Richards rifle has become a scarcer and scarcer item to locate. The distinctive style and performance make it a desirable rifle for both collectors and hunters alike. The rifle has a totally distinct look which is, like the hand detachable locks, unique to our company. The .425 round is a match for the .416 Rigby, Rigby would say their round is more powerful and we would of course claim our is. Both use a .410gr bullet. The .425 is certainly more comfortable to shoot and being built on the standard size Mauser action is also faster to feed and load. The drop magazine was designed to take ‘at speed’ the contents of the 5 round clips of ammunition by which it was sold.

Finding a .425 rifle like this in its original specification and without having been through poor restoration or repairs is a very welcome surprise these days, it is a rifle I would like to be able to sell frequently but rarely get the chance. This particular rifle has been ‘sleeping’ in South Africa ‘has done a little work’ and is now home here at the factory and will be up on our used gun site shortly.

The rifle was built in 1937 and has the original 28″ barrel ( 27 3/8″ from front ring of which many of which have been shortened to 25-6″) stock length of 14 3/8″ and weighs 9lbs 15oz. The rifle is not cased and the accessories shown are from my collection of bits and do not come with the rifle. We do make in our leather shop a replica of the sling with hooks and also the belt and ammo holder.

Charles Lancaster – A Pair of Rare and Unique Howdah Pistols.

Elephants with Howdah Pistols.

I am afraid this will be a general, visual post rather than a technical one, I took these photos just before I left the factory on Friday and I didn’t note down any of the details of the pair of pistols, the main and obvious question being the bore size. I was slightly (actually very) overwhelmed by the quality and condition of the whole package and the details seemed irrelevant at the time.

The Howdah pistol was the ‘last line of defence’ for a hunter high on top of an elephant whilst hunting tiger. If a Tiger was to charge the elephant and climb up to attack the people occupying the Howdah there was little room in which to defend oneself at the last moment, it was likely that the muzzle loading long arm had been discharged by this time.. Hence the Howdah pistol the short barrel, large bore firearm that could be drawn and manoeuvred in tight space, providing a killing blow, or in the case of this pair 4 barrels, 4 killing blows.

I have always liked very much the whole concept of the Howdah pistol and it was always something that I wanted to make a current version of, a large bore rifle cased together with a matching double barrel Howdah pistol. Our laws on barrel length and pistols has prevented that project from ever happening which is a shame.

Whilst I have seen a small amount of Howdah pistols in my years dealing, they are certainly  not common and they have normally been single and quite plain models. I had a pair of Holland & Holland .577 Howdah pistols many years ago at Las Vegas and I remember them selling in a flash.

This pair is quite unique and the condition is remarkable, all the accessories down to spare springs numbered for each lock. One of the oil bottles even has the seal unbroken and contains the very oil filled with 150 years ago, quite remarkable!

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (1 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (2 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (3 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (4 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (5 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (6 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (7 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (8 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (9 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (10 of 11)

Charles Lancaster Howdah Pair (11 of 11)

untitled (1 of 1)This sculpture is at the Royal Armoury in Leeds where the National Collection of Firearms is held. It depicts very well the drama of the tiger hunt and the moments leading up to where a Howdah pistol would be useful if the shot he has held is a miss!