A fact of gunmaking life is that a makers name makes a difference. It always has and I imagine always will. The name or brand will be reflected in the price and we have all seen guns and rifles that don’t live up to either their name and the price asked. This particular rifle I believe lives up to both.
For the hunter who wants a good looking rifle, made very well in England and South Africa by maker B. Laubscher, here is what is in my opinion is a very good value .470 sidelock double rifle, built by what must be South Africa’s most respected makers. We at Westley Richards finished the rifle for our client a few years ago and our contribution was regulating, UK proof, case hardening, shaping of stock and the overall finish, namely the stock finish, blacking and coin finish. The rifle has not been out of the factory since, so is ‘as new and unfired’.
Built on a English machined H&H style reinforced action, with chopper lump barrels and everything else you would expect from a best rifle, this 24″ barrel, 14 3/4″ stock rifle is itching to go on a hunt!
This particular J. Rigby .470 is used for illustrative purposes only.
When we were active buying rifles in India between 1965 and 1995 the product we brought out all had a common feature, it was in an original unmolested condition. Some had been maintained well, and some not so well, but none had been messed about with by amateur or incompetent gunsmiths. We were able to bring the guns and rifles back to the factory to restore and revive in a subjective and considered manner, to make the gun look its best but not ‘over restored’. We felt any restoration work we did should not be noticeable.
One of the rifles I recall buying in India was an excellent J. Rigby .470 sidelock, I was eager to get it back to England for sale but had to endure the 6-8 month export process. The rifle had colour, condition, a long and good looking stock, it even had its case. A quick sale was a foregone conclusion as these rifles were and remain, a rare find.
When the rifle did finally arrive I had it taken immediately onto the range to test shoot in the safe hands of Ken Halbert. Ken our foreman was regulating our rifles at the time. To my horror the stock snapped in half on the first shot, we were (stupidly in hindsight) using some new shooting assist device which was thrown angrily in the bin immediately after the shot. In a millisecond my perfect vintage rifle joined the ‘restocked and refinished category gun’.
Last week I was sent some photographs of another J Rigby .470 sidelock, it was in a tatty oak and leather case with a missing lock and rudimentary canvas cover. The rifle had an old squashed recoil pad, overall the look of a rifle discovered in a small armoury in India. It looked to me as if transported in time from just before we pulled the trigger that last time many years ago!
I now have another chance and another great rifle to offer shortly, no shooting contraptions this time, just a steady standing shot. This is obviously a rifle that came in from India years ago and had no work done on it ever, this for us, is the perfect place to start from.
For those Rigby ‘rising bite’ fanatics I will state now that the rifle I have is not that model rifle, it is a late 1920’s vintage rifle and utilises (IMHO) the much better and stronger dolls head type fastening system the company turned to with the advent of nitro powders.
We completed this .505 take down this week which is heading down to a client in South Africa. This rifle is specified for big game hunting with a ‘no frills’ approach. Strong straight grained figured wood with blacked parts with makers name only engraved. All the very best functional features of a Westley Richards, no decoration!
As I think I have said before, it is always a pleasure to build these’ working style PH rifles’ as we know they are going to see action plenty of times in their life!
Our used gun department handles all makes of best guns. We regularly sell guns by Purdey, Holland & Holland, Boss & Co. McKay Brown and J Rigby. A common service we offer is finding a customer exactly what he is looking for. Many guns and rifles are available to go on the market when asked for, but the people who own them like to keep hold of them. This is down to the fact that over exposure can spoil a guns chances of selling. A good example of this is the Peterson collection guns in USA which have been laying exposed, highly priced and unsold for years now. My gut feeling is they will lie for many more years to come!
Over my years at Westley Richards I have developed a very deep customer base of collectors, through this I know where many different guns and rifles are sitting many of which are ‘quietly for sale’ they are awaiting a call. This pair of Boss & Co. guns are a case in point, a client wanting a good pair of English London game guns by Holland, Purdey or Boss for high bird shooting in UK ( I am making him a pair of ours!) and I was able to offer quite quickly 2 pair of Boss guns, a 90% condition, vintage pre war pair or a recent pair I also offered and alternative, a pair of very nice 20 year old Pair of unused Purdey guns. None of these were actively on the market.
Should you have a special requirement for guns or rifles that you cannot findplease do let me know as we keep a database of ‘guns wanted’ and can use our extensive knowledge to locate what you are looking for.
When I had Paul Lantuch and Vince Crowley for supper last week, one of the conversations we had was around the time taken to engrave their respective .600 sidelock rifles. Vince was shaking his head at what Paul had achieved in the same time frame he was working on. When I showed him this rifle, that had also been completed in that time frame Vince shook his head even harder in amazement.
To be fair there are 2 very different styles engraving involved here, each engraver has a very different style and finish to their engraving. Later this will become apparent when I show Vince’s latest work and the attention to polish and detail become evident all which is a very time consuming detail.
Tomorrow this rifle goes down to St Ledger for case colour hardening and once again the decision will have to be made ‘colour on or colour off’. I always liked the deluxe R. B. Rodda rifles which were carved engraved and left with colour on, so I am possibly biased. We will judge when it gets back!
The rifle is a Westley Richards .500 3″ NE hand detachable lock double rifle, 2 triggers, automatic selective ejectors, manual safe.
Belgian 9mm Rimfire shotgun of unknown manufacture with an Eley No.3 cartridge. The very simple breach mechanism is locked by the hammer on firing.
On a blog that deals with the most exquisite rifles and guns that money can buy, you may wonder why I am writing about an old ‘garden gun’.
The answer is very simple. If you’re a regular reader of The Explora you probably own or aspire to own a beautiful hand made British gun. Either way, I’m sure many readers have an old gun in their cabinet which for sentimental reasons they would never part with. This old 9mm rimfire shotgun is that gun to me.
When I was 15 my father and I were invited to try clay shooting by a gentleman called Ronnie. Ronnie was well into his eighties and a true old Norfolk boy. No one in our family shoots, and this was my first exposure to shotgun sports. A few years later during my gap year I applied for a shotgun certificate and bought my first gun. Ronnie was always very good to me and introduced me to various small local shoots. When the time came to go away to university, I eyed up corners of my small room in halls, wondering if bolting a gun cabinet to the wall would void my security deposit! However with no shooting club at university I left my guns at home and made up for it by shooting as much as possible during my holidays.
During my final year at university Ronnie fell ill, and one day whilst on the phone to my parents I asked after him. There was a short silence and I knew what had happened. I was in the middle of exams and so I did my best to put it out of my mind, but I came home for a weekend shortly afterwards. Dad told me he had something to show me, and produced a small garden gun. “Why did you buy that?” I asked. He told me he hadn’t, but that it had been Ronnie’s and that his family had asked that we have it.
Old Eley No.3 Long Shot 9mm Flobert cartridge next to a 2½” 12 bore for comparison.
I know nothing about its provenance other than it has Belgian proof marks dating it from between 1924 to 1948. Cartridges come in boxes of 50 where you can find them and it is surprisingly effective at keeping the garden safe from little ‘helpers’! More recently I found a full box of Eley 9mm Flobert cartridges loaded with black powder at the British Shooting Show. These have taken pride of place in my book case next to my modest collection of antique shooting books.
So that’s how I came by this old gun, and why it means the world to me. Using it reminds me of the generous man who introduced me to the world of shooting sports. An introduction for which I will always be thankful.
Thank you Edward, I am sure this is a story that will ‘resonate’ with many of us!
This is a selection of new work from the factory this week, photographs that have been on Instagram and now in a larger format here. In this instance I will let the photographs do the talking and I hope you enjoy these new rifles which are on their way now to their new owners!
Vince Crowley and Paul Lantuch in conversation about all things engraving.
It is always a privilege to bring together 2 very talented people in the same occupation together, today was such a day here at the Westley Richards factory. Paul Lantuch is over from USA to complete the finishing work and patination on the Africa Rifle as well as discuss and design of the next projects that follow. Vince Crowley kindly came in to Lacquer the rife for Paul after his work and also show us the .600 sidelock rifle he has now been working on for over a year himself.
So in the factory we had two similar size and style Westley Richards .600 sidelock rifles, two distinctly different styles of engraving, two exceptional projects and two extremely modest engravers who quietly demonstrated a huge amount of mutual admiration of each others work, both of which I can only say is truly exceptional in every respect. You have seen the Africa Rifle and Vince’s rifle will come before you in a few more months, no taster here yet! Paul was saying to me quietly, Wow, fantastic, amazing, I wish… when a man of his talent is so generous with his praise of another you can expect to see some exceptional work. In return Vince was also in awe of the work done by Paul, certainly the pace at which he executes his work so precisely and the variety of techniques used creating coloured inlay metals and other age old techniques, all generously and openly shared.
We finished the day with Trigger and I hosting long conversation and a barbecue upstairs, I did all the cooking and washing up and Trigger served the drinks, did most the eating and held court with the talking!
It gives me great pleasure to put a face to these talented engravers names for you!
Q: Simon, I appreciate that the making of these rifles required the utmost attention to detail and clearly display an unbelievable array of gun-making skills. I am curious to know what was the most difficult element in the making of these guns (I know every craftsman will say their part!)? Neil.
Inspiration can come from a simple old cufflink box.
A: Neil, thank you for your comment on the previous post on the Africa rifle where I said I needed more space to answer and be able to take some credit for the most difficult element, blow my own trumpet for once! I will try and justify that claim!
There were 30 or so individual craftsmen involved with completing this project over a period of 7 or more years, they were separated by the Atlantic, with gunmaking in England and embellishment in USA. Each and every craftsman, as you rightly said could claim ‘their part’ was the most difficult and certainly they could claim that without their individual skills, the project would never have come to completion.
My claim would be that the hardest part is first having the idea or concept for the project and then bringing all these talented people together, over a period of years, to see the idea through and the projects execution.
The starting point for the Africa & India rifles was the gunmaking and in this instance the inspiration came from a Webley & Scott .600 sidelock rifle I bought, and then sold on the used gun side of our business. It was for me the perfect .600, it had both the scale and perfect dimensions for a rifle of this size, one which I often see too small and light when made in sidelock format. The Rodda .600’s were always a perfect size and I am sure based on this same design. We copied the dimensions of this rifle, incorporated the Model C bolting and dolls head and built the 2 rifles. It was a completely new calibre model rifle for us and in itself, a large project of design through delivery. We were of course in familiar gunmaking territory but the execution relied on the whole of our gunmaking team getting their part correct and perfect. People do not realise today how few double rifles of exceptional quality are actually built and that putting a whole project like this together takes more than just idle promises and talk!
The engraving aspect of the Africa and India rifle project started with a desire of mine to ‘trump’ my fathers project of the ‘Boutet Gun’ engraved by the Brown Brothers, which was completed as a speculative gun in 1985. This gun remains the single longest project executed by the Browns and I recall they took a year or more to engrave and embellish the gun. I certainly remember my father sweating to get it back, to be able to sell it and recoup his costs, an expense I am sure he could ill afford at the time. Efforts to get them to do another similar length project 30 years later fell on deaf ears, a shame, but understandable, their place in gun engraving history required no further justification….’at that time’ I will add as I believe gun engraving is getting better and better by the year and believe that the ‘King or Queen’ of the modern era of gun engraving is yet to be crowned, on that point I am sure.
There is some amazing new engraving talent to draw upon now, engravers who just need the commissions and time to show what can be done. Exceptional engraving takes time and money, realistically very few engravers are ever given this time in their careers. The ‘heroes’ of the ’80s, Ken Hunt, Brown Bros, Coggan have had most of the modern money thrown at them by the recent (1990-2015) period collectors and much of this work remains unseen. I have seen a lot if it and feel much is repetitive and indifferent, engraved for a very small group of clients who led their own design.
Paul Lantuch is one such engraver, immensely talented with classical drawing, engraving and jewellery making skills to his credit. I had offered the India project to Rashid Hadi and Vince Crowley and they came to me with a huge budget and no design. I declined and offered the commission to Paul by telephone 10 minutes later accompanied by an email folder of images I had selected for the design style, he accepted in principle and sent me an email the next day “am in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York researching India project, designs to follow shortly”. I knew at that point I had made a very good decision and one that has led to many fine guns in the years since and I hope to come!
Personally, I am very passionate about gun engraving, it can either ruin or enhance our guns, I have experienced both shock and surprise on a guns returning from engraving in the past and now firmly control that emotion with discussions and drawings during the process with the engravers.
I have always liked having large, long engraving projects running, Rashid Hadi, Peter Spode and Vince Crowley are amongst the engravers who have done many major carved and elaborate works for Westley Richards. I enjoy giving opportunity to new talent and in this I have been fortunate in having the patrons to support this desire over my years here, patrons who have allowed me the freedom to work directly with the engravers, which is important.
On the whole I believe as owners or managers of the company we have a wider knowledge of firstly what ‘has and what has not been done’ but more importantly, what works on our individual style guns and I think it is almost a duty to show off on our guns what can be achieved at any one time.
Thus Neil in this instance I will take the credit for the hardest part, making it actually happen!!
A quick update on the little .410 droplock which has featured in a few posts recently. The final stage has arrived and the gun is assembled after case colour hardening. Shot and tested, the barrels will now go to the barrel blackers after a final polish. On return in a few weeks it will be final fitted in a VC case and then off to the USA to do the job it was made for – giving pleasure – busting clays – hunting quail! We sincerely hope it will do each of these equally well!