A Rare and Unusual Westley Richards Magazine Rifle

Just as other British gun makers offered Winchester rifles for sale prior to WWII, Westley Richards & Co. also offered a large variety of pistols, revolvers and rifles from makers all over the World such as Colt, Browning/Fabrique Nationale, and Mauser. In addition, Westley Richards also stocked and sighted various types of barrelled actions like the Martini single shots and magazine rifles based on the Mannlicher-Schonauer, Lee-Enfield and Mauser service rifles. However, as diverse as Westley Richards offerings were in the first part of the 20thCentury, neither myself or anyone else I know has ever encountered a Krag Jorgensen rifle by Westley Richards.

In 1893 a Swedish-Norwegian commission set out to develop the perfect military round and came up with a 6.5mm caliber bullet and a rimless case that was 55mm long. The new cartridge has had many names throughout its history but today is known as the 6.5x55mm and remains a tried and true choice for hunters in North America, England, and Europe. In 1894, after that commission’s findings, Norway’s Army adopted the 6.5x55mm cartridge and the Model 1894 Krag-Jorgenson rifle, designed by Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jorgensen, as its new military rifle. Krag rifles are a bolt action repeating rifle instantly recognisable by the “half-capsule” clam-shell type magazine mounted on the right side of the action. Somewhere around 33,000 Model 1894 rifles were made under contract with Steyr of Austria between 1896 and 1897 for the Norwegian Army and the Civilian Marksmanship Organisation.

Sometime prior to 1906 Westley Richards stocked and sighted this original Model 1894 Krag-Jorgensen barrel and action made by Steyr in 1897. A new stock was expertly shaped and inletted to accommodate the unusual action and it has a checkered pistol grip and forend and the original smooth steel trap butt. The barrel remains the original 27” but was turned down and tapered to a livelier weight and a pedestal mounted front sling eye was added. The rifle was sighted with Westley’s pattern sights including a ramp front sight with protector and an island rear sight base fitted with a standing Express sight regulated for 100 yards, two folding leaves regulated at 200 and 300 yards and a Tangent sight marked to 1000 yards. Each sight leaf is “platina-lined” as our catalogs from the early 1900’s referred to the platinum alloy wire inlay on the sight leaves. The barrel carries 6.5mm London proof marks and just under the rear sight the barrel is engraved “.256 Krag Jorgensen Cartridge”, the commercial name for the 6.5×55 used in England through the 1930’s. Finally, the top of the barrel is named “Westley Richards & Co., London”.

Inside the stock the rifle is numbered 32107 which is no doubt a Westley Richards serial number. Sadly though, we do not have the ledger book containing this block of numbers, which would have just preceded the book we have starting in 1906. While we may never know the whole story on this most unusual Westley Richards rifle, it is a good reminder that there is always something new to learn from a company with such a long and interesting history.

Pair of Westley Richards Percussion Belt Pistols

A rarity for sure, our latest find is this truly outstanding pair of Westley Richards, double barrel, belt pistols, we believe completed somewhere around 1830. Although there is likely to be a serial number present if you were to strip the pistols, sadly there is no number on the external so we can’t trace the history exactly, but what I can tell you, and is plain to see from the images, they are in absolute first class condition and are a marvel of early 19thcentury craftsmanship by this firm.

Built with brown twist, sighted, 3 ¼” smooth bore barrels engraved ‘Westley Richards London’ with a stirrup ram rod and blued steel belt hook. Both pistols retain vivid case colours and are engraved with a foliate scroll coverage, high fences and dolphin head hammers with a slide back safety. Crisp, finely chequered handles with silver escutcheon and engraved grip cap with trap. Weighing 1lbs 14oz they point effortlessly and remain in unmolested condition, even the pins are clean, straight and untouched.

It’s safe to say we don’t get pistols in like this very often at all and the fact that they are made by our predecessors and remain in such fantastic condition is great to see. Sadly they are not cased but nevertheless, they are quite superb in every way.

Westley Richards .22 Rook Rifle

How nice is this?! The latest treasure to arrive at the factory is this simply stunning little Westley Richards .22 rook rifle. Originally built in 300 calibre, it has been Parker rifled to .22LR, as were so many rook rifles over the years and comes complete with an Aldis Bros Ltd scope on Parker Hale rings. The 25” octagonal barrel with matted top is fitted with a standing 50 yard express sight and two folding leavings regulated at 100 & 150 yards.

The action has our classic semi bold scroll coverage, snap lever work, beetle back safety and retains lots of original case colour. The pistol grip stock, which has been pinned at the head, is beautifully figured and has an extended tang, grip cap, silver stock oval and vulcanite stock extension to 14 ½”. The snap forend has the traditional horn tip.

A quaint and very rare little rifle, it weighs 6lbs 13.5oz with the scope on and the rifle comes in the original case with some interesting accoutrements. Completed on the 22ndMarch 1907 for ‘Twyford’, it was, for many years, the property of Major Ernest & Mrs. Vivian Ambler, of Branton Court, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.  Major Ambler of the West Yorkshire Regiment passed away in 1958 and Mrs. Ambler, who lived to be 94, passed away in 2002, which was when this rook rifle was acquired by its latest  owner, another passionate collector. Their house was said to be a treasure trove of fantastic art work, antiques and arms. And clearly this little rook rifle had spent many years in a fine gun collection being well looked after.

 

The last time a rifle like this arrived back at the factory was in 2002 and was fortunately caught on camera. For those who don’t know, Clarissa & The Countryman was series of TV programmes in the UK which followed TV chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and her friend Johnny Scott, involved in hunting and all things country pursuits related, a show which now would be the thing of nightmares for mainstream media bosses.

The TV crew paid Simon a visit at the Bournbrook factory and below is a short video of Simon inspecting a very similar rook rifle and an interview with barrel filer Roy Hall and mater engraver Rashid El Hadi (with a small clip from the proof house half way through).

A Winchester Model 1886 for Boss & Co.

At Westley Richards, when it comes to dealing in second hand guns and rifles, we obviously focus on firearms from English makers. However, while we rarely mention American made guns on this blog, that certainly doesn’t mean we have any less appreciation for firearms from U.S. makers. I suspect most of our readers feel the same way and will find the Winchester rifle Trigger and I recently acquired just as interesting, and relevant to this blog, as we did.

For those of you not familiar with Winchester, a brief history on the company and their lever action rifles.

Oliver Winchester was an American industrialist, early venture capitalist and, in the mid to late 19thcentury, was a driving force in firearms development. His first success in firearms was in 1860 with his newly formed New Haven Arms Co. and Benjamin T. Henry’s patent Henry Rifle. The Henry rifle won much acclaim in the American Civil War and it is this rifle design that is the basis for the lever action format most of us think of today. Following on the success of the Henry, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. was founded and the first gun the new startup produced was an improved version of the Henry, the Winchester Model 1866.  Seven years later and the introduction of the firm’s second rifle, the Model 1873 colloquially known as “the gun that won the west”, solidified Winchester’s place in gun making history.

Each of these new rifles were based on a design first developed by Walter Hunt for a breach loading repeating action operated by a lever with a tubular magazine under the barrel. When the lever is dropped, it ejects the spent case and cocks the hammer. When the lever is closed it lifts a round pushed from the spring-loaded magazine, closes the rifle’s bolt and chambers the loaded cartridge. These rifles became known Worldwide for their reliability and increased firepower and were adopted by both domestic and foreign armies as well as part and parcel to the U.S. expansion westward.

Much of Winchester’s success was due to the cutting-edge firearms designs the firm was producing. Always in search of the next big thing, it was not long until a young Mormon gunsmith and his newly designed falling block single shot rifle caught the company’s attention. In 1883 that young inventor, John Moses Browning, sold the company the rights to the design for what would become the Winchester Model 1885 High Wall. This would be the first of 44 patents the Winchester Company would eventually buy from Mr. Browning over their almost 20 years of collaboration. John Browning would go on to become one of the most important and prolific firearms designers in history. In turn, and due in part to Browning’s gun designs, Winchester remains one of America’s greatest gun makers to this day.

Of all the guns that this historic partnership produced, it is the Model 1886 that I think was the best. The Model ’86 was the second design Winchester contracted from Mr. Browning and, like many of Mr. Browning’s designs, some version of it remains in production today. While the ’86 incorporated design fundamentals from the Henry and the Models 1866 and 1873, the action is heavier and has a modified bolt and the addition of a locking-block bar. Strengthening the lock up and beefing up the action allowed the ‘86 to handle the most powerful black powder centerfire cartridges of the day, such as the .45-70 Gov’t, the .45-90 WCF and the .50-110 Express.

By the late 19thcentury, Winchester rifles were in use around the World by foreign armies as well as by adventurers and explorers such as Henry Morton Stanley. A few British Firms such as Watson Bros. (who imported Stanley’s Winchester rifle) imported Winchesters to serve the small but growing demand for the reliable and powerful repeating rifles. The firm Boss & Co., famous today for its O/U shotguns, also ordered what is believed to be 49 Winchester rifles prior to WWII.

The Winchester Model 1886 pictured here is one of those rifles imported to England by Boss & Co.

On the top of this rifle’s barrel it is engraved between the rear sight and the receiver, “Boss & Co. 73 St. James’s St., London” and under the company’s name and address the number “4541”. The Boss & Co.ledgers shows entry “4541” as a “Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Model 1886 in .45-90 fitted with a half magazine” and shows it was imported in 1897. On the barrel, the bolt and an annealed spot on the color hardened action, the gun is stamped with the period’s London proofs.

The rifle’s original serial number is 110455 and according to Winchester records was shipped from the factory in 1896 and made with a 26” round barrel, a half magazine and a shotgun butt and chambered for the black powder cartridge .45-90 WCF. Most commonly, the standard Model ’86 had an octagon barrel, full magazine and a crescent shaped butt. The standard configuration was heavy though and the crescent butt was quite uncomfortable for shooting such powerful rounds. This Model ‘86 shipped to Boss & Co. was a special order with its round barrel and “button” style magazine that was “half” the length of a standard one. The round barrel and shorter magazine made the rifle a bit lighter and handier than most Model 1886 and the “shotgun” butt is flat making the rifle’s considerable recoil more manageable. All Model 1886 receivers were color case hardened until 1901 and this rifle displays almost all the original case colors. The barrel has a perfect bore and retains probably 98% of its original rust blue finish. The original factory varnish on the stock remains just as strong as the rest of the rifle and even the fragile Nitre blue on the loading gate is still wonderfully bright.

While I am anything but an expert on Winchester firearms, I think anyone can easily recognize this Winchester is one helluvarifle, no matter where it was made.

Pre-Season Preparation

As I sit and write this latest blog the UK is currently in the grip of a heatwave and the mercury is due to hit 88°F here in Birmingham today, which is hot for England! With weather like this, thoughts of last winter’s sport are a distant memory and it’s hard to image that in just over 6 weeks’ time we will be putting back on our tweeds, dusting off our shooting kit and heading north for the start of the grouse shooting season.

While most people are thinking about the beach rather than the shooting season at this time of year, estates all over the UK have been busy preparing for this coming season’s sport from the moment the final horn blew on the last drive back in February. Relying on purely wild numbers only, moorland keepers are taking stock of what grouse they have on the ground from their spring and summer counts and are planning drives and days accordingly. Lowland keepers are beginning to welcome this year’s birds to the woods and over the next few months will be feeding them into the various drives of the shoot. Equally as important will be the job of pushing back straying birds from the boundaries with their dedicated team of dogs.

We’ve been busy preparing guns for the coming season. We have recently completed an engraving job on a pair of droplocks for an American client who asked us to polish out the old scroll engraving and re-engrave a Cock Pheasant and Hen Pheasant motifs on the cover plates. Beautifully executed by Bradley Tallett, the iris of each bird is gold inlaid along with a gold ring border. The surrounding space is tastefully engraved with scroll work to match the rest of the action. Next step is to case colour harden the plates and brush and ink the motifs.

The client and his team are regular visitors to our shores to hunt driven pheasant and partridge and these guns are now a fitting homage to their chosen quarry.

Wishing all of our American readers a happy Fourth of July!

A Vintage Holland & Holland .30 Super Magazine Rifle

One of my personal favourites in the magazine rifle calibre realm is the tried and tested Holland & Holland .30 Super or .300 H & H Belted Magnum cartridge as it is also known. A forerunner to the later .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Weatherby Magnum, the original was a devastatingly effective rifle for long range shooting and more than capable of taking medium to large soft skinned game.

Introduced in 1925, various bullet loadings were available from 150 grain through to 220 grain. Most settled for the 180 grain load as the most generally effective, but the heavier loads were very good for tackling heavier African plains and North American big game where deeper penetration was required.

The cartridge came to fame in the USA when it won the 1000 yard Wimbledon cup in 1935. It was a great favourite with famous American gun writer Elmer Keith who shot some super North American sheep and other big game with it pre World War II. His book ‘Keith’s Rifles For Large Game’ is a great reference on the calibre in the USA and is an otherwise interesting read on big game rifles and calibre’s in general.

Whilst often overlooked today, I can vouch for its outstanding abilities having used one in both Africa and Alaska over the years. My rifles have always been slightly beat up examples like the one shown here which tend to show the rifle has been put to good use rather than consigned to a gun cabinet. In today’s world of stainless steel and synthetic stocks there is a real pleasure to be derived from using one of these vintage rifles. If ever you get a chance to hunt with one take it, you’ll be surprised by how much fun it is whilst safely reassured that it still packs a deadly punch.

The Holland & Holland quick detachable scope mount system.

Completed in 1934 this rifle has been back to Holland and Holland for upgrades over the years, adding to the character and history of the rifle.

Refurbished Pair of 20g Droplock Shotguns

Although the primary focus of the factory is new gun and rifle production we do have a small amount of repair and refurbishment work taking place. Mostly on used guns that we have sold that need a service, alteration of stock measurements or a general freshen up before being delivered to the successful buyer.

One such pair that has just been completed is this very beautiful pair of 20g droplock shotguns. Completed in 2000, built for an American gentleman, they were kept here in the UK and shot every season. The guns were returned to us last year to be sold and the new owner, another American gentleman, has decided to also keep them here in the UK for his annual pheasant and partridge shooting trip.

The guns are a matched pair of best quality 20g droplocks with 27” barrels, scroll back, double trigger actions with elaborate scroll coverage and stunningly figured 14 ¾” stocks. Choked ½ in all 4 barrels they are the perfect all round guns, from early grouse through to late season pheasants. The guns are perfectly balanced and are quick in the hands like a 20 should be.  Cased in their leather case with canvas outer they are very presentable and attractive pair of guns.

The stocks have had all the handling marks removed and have been gently refinished with our high gloss finish. The barrels have been best re-blacked and both actions and lock work have been completely stripped, cleaned and checked over, ovals have been polished and engraved and the leather shop have made a new lightweight canvas outer with initial patch. The team have done a superb job on the refinish of the guns and they are now safely stored and awaiting the arrival of their new owner.

 

Holland & Holland .577 Black Powder Double Rifle

Sourcing pre-owned guns for sale is as varied and unpredictable as the British weather. From a vintage Boswell .303 single shot rifle to a pair of as new .470 droplock double rifles and everything in between, we are lucky enough to get them in all shapes, sizes, calibres and conditions.

One particular rifle that proves my point is this interesting Holland & Holland hammerless ejector double rifle in .577 black powder. Completed in 1895 and made for C.C. Branch Esquire, the rifle remains in excellent original condition. Built with a sidelock, Jones under lever action with full elaborate scroll coverage and clam shell engraved fences. Full pistol grip stock measuring 14 ¾” to the centre of the Silvers recoil pad with a strap over comb, cheek piece, plain gold oval and splinter forend with lever release. 26” barrels with mint bores and crisp rifling, rear express sight and ramp foresight with folding moon sight. The rifle weighs 11lbs 5oz and is an impressive thing to handle. It’s easy to admire the workmanship of this piece and one can only image the adventures that Mr. Branch had planned when he collected this rifle back in 1895.

Extract From Holland & Holland’s Ledger

The image above shows the development of the Holland action from the back action with external hammers circa 1887, to the rifle in question, through to the hammerless Royal from 1938 with a modern tang top lever. Spurred on by Beesley’s hammerless action which was bought by Purdey’s in 1879, Henry Holland began working on a hammerless action of his own. A collaboration between Henry Holland and John Robertson led to patent No. 23 on 1st January 1883, a hammerless action which became Holland’s most famous and best gun, the Royal.

 

A Brace Of Rare Big Game Rifles Sold Through Westley Richards Agency

Undoubtedly two of the most iconic cartridges to ever come from the British gun making trade must be Rigby’s .416 and Gibbs’ .505 Magnum. Steeped in safari legend, the mere mention of these two big bore rounds evokes images of big tuskers, old dagga boys and the larger than life characters that used them. Both cartridges have been around for well over a century, and remain two of the most popular cartridges among dangerous game hunters today. It goes without saying that the original rifles chambered for these rounds are among the most coveted rifles out there.

The first rifles chambered for these cartridges were ground breaking developments for Big Game hunters. The rifles themselves were built on the new magnum length Mauser ’98 bolt actions that were very well made, extremely reliable and far more affordable than double rifles. Secondly, these big rifles shot cartridges that matched the ballistics of cartridges like the .470 3 ¼” NE or the .500 3” NE.

This was power previously only available in a double rifle and these new big bore bolt action rifles could carry up to 4 rounds. Furthermore, the two cartridges were similarly shaped and their “big” designs offered ample case capacity that made for low chamber pressure. The cases also had long necks for tightly holding the big bullets, a benefit for the rounds in the magazine of heavy recoiling rifles. All these characteristics were, and still remain, reliable combinations for pursuing the World’s most dangerous game.

Original Gibbs .505 Magnum built in 1927.

Safe to say the British trade hasn’t made “many” of anything, but even when put into perspective, original .416 Rigby and .505 Gibbs bolt action rifles are not only some of the most desirable, they’re also some of the rarest. Less than 200 .416 Rigby rifles were produced between its introduction in 1911 and the beginning of WWII. In the case of the mighty .505 Gibbs, somewhere between 70 to 80 were only ever produced. Low production numbers by any standards and, in rifles that were very much intended for hard use, one must wonder just how many survived much less stayed original?

Being that the rifles are so rare, I’ve encountered very few in my career, and to have one of each offered for sale at the same time, is an even rarer moment still.

The J.Rigby & Co. Mauser Sporting Big Game rifle in .416 calibre shown here was shipped in 1913 and must have been among some of the first made. It is built on the original magnum length action made for John Rigby and his new .416 cartridge. The rifle has a 24” barrel with a sleeved front sight and sling swivel and Rigby’s pattern quarter rib, a cocking piece flip up peep sight, two folding leaf rear sights and the classically shaped Rigby stock. Even though the rifle is 105 years old, I am sure it feels as sturdy and sound today as it did the day it was finished.

The George Gibbs rifle chambered in .505 Magnum was made in 1927. A hulk of a rifle also built on an original magnum length Mauser action with a 26” Vickers barrel, island rear sight and banded front sight with a folding sight hood. The massive size of the action and barrel are appropriately scaled for the equally large cartridge that propels a bullet, one-half inch in diameter, at 2200 fps. This rifle was built for one purpose and it serves this purpose very well.

Original .416 Rigby built in 1913.

The long single square bridge magnum length Mauser ’98 action of the .416 Rigby.

These are two rifles that are not only an iconic representative of a bygone era but they still remain very useful tools for the pursuit of dangerous game or as a cornerstone of a fine gun collection.

Post Script:

Both rifles have been sold prior to the posting of this blog. These are indeed rare and desirable guns and, as it goes with items like these, they are quickly sold. Our method of selling such guns is much more discreet than most other dealers. If these are the types of investment grade firearms you might be interested in, please contact us. We would like very much to know you and add you to our list of discerning clients.

In the U.S. please call “L.D.” McCaa

+1 850 677 3688   ld@westleyrichards.com

U.K. and other International Clients please call Ricky Bond

+44 (0)121 333 1900   ricky@westleyrichards.co.uk 

Rare Westley Richards 20g Droplock Shotgun

The word nice can be a pretty boring word to describe something you like but sometimes a gun arrives at the factory and the minute you open the case and first lay eyes on it, you think to yourself ‘yep, this is a nice gun’. More often than not you take it out of the case, inspect it in closer detail, spend 10 minutes pretending to shoot driven grouse with it in the showroom and the ‘nice gun’ quickly turns into a ‘damn nice gun’. When Trigger phoned me to ask about the latest preowned gun that had just arrived, before I’d even had chance to take it out of the case, handle it, or enjoy some imaginary grouse shooting, my immediate response to him was ‘this is a damn nice gun’.

That damn nice gun I’m talking about is this rare Westley Richards droplock 20g shotgun. Completed in 1906 for C.S. Somervile Esquire, it’s a fine example of a best quality shotgun, featuring our patent hand detachable locks, single selective trigger, snap lever work, Model C dolls head extension and a removable cover plate. The scroll back action has our classic Westley scroll engraving, which extends a couple of inches down the barrels and the trigger guard is engraved with a dog on point. The beautifully shaped and scaled action retains some lovely case colours and the engraving is superbly executed and crisp to the touch.

The gun was returned to us in 1988 for a full refurbishment and we rebarreled the gun with new 28” chopper lump barrels with 2 3/4” chambers, choked 1/2 in the right barrel and 5/8 in the left. The stock is stunning and has a lovely straight grain through the hand which then flows down to the toe. Rich and dark in colour the original length of 13 7/8” was extended to 14 3/4″ by a leather covered recoil pad. The splinter forend matches the stock perfectly and has the usual Deeley catch release and horn tip. The gun weighs 6lbs 4ozs and is well balanced. Weight in the barrels encourages a steady, controlled swing, which is often an issue with lightweight smaller gauges. The gun comes in a lightweight green canvas case with accessories.

The gun is really in superb condition and I can’t stress enough how rare it is to find a best quality 20g droplock, in this condition, from this era. I’m probably doing the gun an injustice by simply calling it a damn nice gun and there are numerous superlatives one could describe this gun with, but I feel this is a gun that speaks for itself and from the images, I think you’ll agree.