Hammerless black powder rifles, particularly in the smaller calibres like this .400 Express are always a pleasure to look at and handle as they are so often more delicate than there nitro express cousins. Double rifles built in the period between the box lock hammerless design of 1875 and the first reliable smokeless powder cartridges of the 1890’s can be some of the most elegant rifles built, with slim action file ups and long gently tapering barrels.
Aesthetics aside, this very nice little double rifle by W.W.Greener has some wonderful game scene engraving depicting animals appropriate to European hunting fields. Retaining lots of its original finish the rifle has clearly been well looked after and was a prized rifle to its former owner. It is great to see dogs featuring in the engraving layout as they have always featured heavily in big game hunting traditions, particularly in Europe. It is easy to picture this rifle on a classic driven hunt, once the sport of Kings, nobility and heads of state.
For those eager gun enthusiasts among you the name Donald Dallas should need no introduction. He has almost single handedly written the history of many of the great names in British gun and rifle making including that of Holland & Holland, James Purdey & Sons, Boss & Co., David McKay Brown, John Dickson & Son and now with his latest publication, Alexander Henry.
Alexander Henry was unquestionably one of Scotlands finest rifle makers, posts on this blog testifying to the outstanding quality of the rifles built by him. What makes this book so special is the access Donald had to family archive via the great great grandson of Alexander Henry himself, one Richard Brown. Between the two of them they have put together the most complete history on the maker which is long overdue.
In Donald’s own words:
“It isn’t often that a gun or rifle maker is known to the general public, but Alexander Henry is with the Martini-Henry rifle. Although Henry was in business for a short time between 1852 until his death in 1894, he became a very well-known rifle maker not only in Great Britain but throughout the world. Henry was of a clever, inventive mind with his 1860 rifling and drop block action of 1865 and in addition, he was also astute in promoting this riflemaking ability. He attended all the major competitions, gave his rifles as prizes and was an early enthusiastic founder of the burgeoning Volunteer Movement.
By the 1860s Alexander Henry was the most well-known and pre-eminent rifle maker in Great Britain and the Empire. Orders flowed in from all parts of the world, with the customers in his Dimensions Books reading like a veritable Who’s Who of the period. He received Royal Warrants, unusual for a gunmaker outside London, and was on personal terms with the Prince of Wales.
Such were Henry’s achievements and fame that he featured regularly in The Scotsman and The Times newspapers in their records of shooting competitions, new inventions and military development. This contemporary documentary evidence is quite unusual for a gunmaker and was a great benefit in writing this book. He was a very public figure with not just self-interest driving his ambition, he was very patriotic and was keen to strive towards the greater good for his country.
One fortunate element in writing the Alexander Henry history is the existence of his complete records in the form of two Dimensions Books dating from 1852–1950. These books belong to John Dickson & Son and record in great detail every single firearm he constructed, making it possible to build up a very accurate account of his production.
Yet, for all his undoubted success in business and his contribution to rifle development, his personal life was marred by immense sadness and disappointment. However, he seemed to rise above this despondence and right to the end of his days strove constantly for perfection in all his works. The history of Alexander Henry is one of the most interesting histories of a gunmaker that I have encountered, an amalgam of worldwide success, yet tinged with disappointment and tragedy.”
The book contains around 200 full colour photographs, including the trade labels, patent drawings, photos of Henry’s personal shooting medals, with all 8000 guns and rifles listed by serial number. No gun library should be without a copy!
To purchase Donald’s latest book and for information on his previous publications, please visit http://donalddallas.com/
A couple of weeks back we posted images of a very nice rifle formerly belonging to the Nizam of Hyderabad. Well here is another and it is certainly one of the most unusual percussions rifles that we have seen!
Built in four barrel format, the rifle is in truth a double barrel rifle that revolves once you have discharged the first two shots. There is a very simple sliding top lever that you pull back with the locks on half cock, so allowing you to rotate the barrels and prime them in preparation for the next two shots. Each side by side configuration of barrels has its own set of open sights as well as a sling swivel attachment.
Probably the most unusual feature of the whole rifle package is the fact that it has two stocks and actions. The only discernible difference is that one has a straight hand grip and the other a conventional pistol grip, more common to a double rifle. We have never come across this double stock and action configuration before and can only wonder at the difficult and considerable cost of construction!
As with the previous rifle, this one is fully gold washed and comes complete in its case with numerous accessories in an unfired condition. It has to be said that Charles Lancaster really did build some truly outstanding and unique rifles, this one in our humble opinion being one of the finest.
Two stock configuration certainly unique!
Gold washed action parts.
Sliding top bolt to lock the rotating barrels in place.
Last year we were lucky enough to have through our hands some magnificent Charles Lancaster percussion weapons built for the Mahrajah of Jodhpur. Well by another struck of lets say luck, several more items have surfaced, this time built for the Nizam of Hyderabad, once the head of one of the richest families in the world.
Clearly the nobility of India was infatuated by the guns and rifles being built by the great British gun houses and all credit must be given to Charles Lancaster for producing such superb examples of the gun and rifle makers craft. Founded in 1811 in the City of London, Charles Lancaster Snr was renowned as a barrel maker and soon established himself as one of the capitals premier makers. With the expansion of empire so followed the expansion of the company and in particular an association with the Indian continent. Royal patronage both at home and abroad was very much a part of the company’s history from the mid 1800’s up until the 1930’s when the company amalgamated with Grant & Lang.
This particular percussion rifle is a 6 bore single barrel big game rifle with all furniture and lock work gold washed, as much for display of wealth as for protection from the Indian environment. Certainly unfired to this day, the rifle in its original case with every tool necessary to keep the rifle in service, is a wonderful time capsule and probably more valuable today than when it was originally built.
Stunning gold washed lock work and furniture.
Wonderful array of tools to keep the rifle in service.
It is interesting to see that we have now built over one hundred .577 double rifles and that the calibre continues to be a favourite of our clients. This particular rifle, finished last week, was built to complement a .500 3″ droplock double rifle that we completed for the client several years ago, which has seen regular use in Africa.
He always fancied ordering something larger, but initially wanted to start with a calibre that was more manageable. Once he got used to the .500 3″, the .577 3″ seemed a natural progression, although in real terms it really is a step up from the .500 3″, delivering serious horsepower!
The rifle has the more square bodied action file up which was requested by the client. We offer this style and the more rounded body with the scroll back, found traditionally on our droplock shotguns. Featuring scenes of the ‘Big 5’ the rifle embodies all that is classic in a Westley Richards dangerous game double rifle.
The .600 Nitro Express cartridge as released by W.J.Jeffery circa 1900 has always held a certain mystic for those admirers of the British big game rifle. Its formidable reputation as the largest of the original big bore calibres elevated it to a position of authority that remains to this day.
W.J.Jeffery originally built a handful of these rifles on their now famous and very distinctive snap action underlever action all but one of the actions being of fixed lock configuration. A mammoth of a rifle, they were built heavy to absorb the recoil of the 900 grain bullet as it left the muzzle at 1,850 feet per second.
Even in the heyday of British big game rifle manufacture from 1898 to the start of the Second World War, the .600 nitro express remained a rare beast indeed. Original rifles by any of the great makers of the day, built in this calibre are highly sought after and extremely valuable collector pieces. As the originator of the calibre, W.J.Jeffery rifles are certainly the most desired.
It is therefore refreshing to have in our hands today this superb new example of a W.J.Jeffery .600 nitro express, the only one in fact completed since the Second World War. In pristine and unfired condition it was reverse engineered from an original example and demonstrates all of the great features associated with the original rifle including under lever push forward snap action opening, dolls head extension, Jeffery style scroll back action, full scroll engraving, ejectors, weighing in at a sensible 14lb 8ozs with 24″ barrels.
The real beauty of this rifle is that whilst being highly collectible in its own right, it is a modern and totally useable rifle. Complete in elephant skin case it really is an impressive piece and would add greatly to any armoury. Any interested parties should contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org
Well here it finally is. A treat for the weekend. Several years in the making and several thousand hours later and our latest creation is ready to show to you complete in all its magnificent splendour.
Back in January we posted some pictures of this rifle fresh back from engraving with a promise to show you the finished article. Well perfection takes time and when you see the whole package as presented here you can understand why it has taken so long.
Whilst we are sure the rifle and its embellishment will not be to everyones taste, the level and variety of skills necessary to put a project like this together are the real challenge, particularly in this day and age. It is not every day that you get to see rifles completed like this and whilst we are continuing our legacy for such pieces, they are on the whole rare.
Highly embellished from muzzle to butt, the rifle depicts various hunting scenes from the great continent of Africa along with an assortment of flora and fauna. The execution is breathtaking, exhibiting carving, gold inlay, raised gold work and fine scroll, the actual finishing process after case colour hardening, adding to the character of the work. Strikingly the stock is inlaid with solid silver scenes of White Rhino and a pod of Hippo below a thundering waterfall.
Complete in a black alligator skin case with silver fittings, full complement of ivory handled tools french fitted into blue goatskin, with a pure gold leaf detailed lid interior, it certainly makes a statement. The lid is actually fitted with slide off hinges so that the rifle can be displayed in the lower case section only, should the new owner wish.
Not only are such pieces a credit to the craftsmen in Westley Richards very own workshops, but all those smaller tradesmen who contribute in their own unique way to the finished package that you see before you. The rifle and case embody all that makes British craftsmanship so special,and why patrons from around the world travel to these shores to commission such fantastic pieces. More importantly consider that such quality is still being produced here in the City of Birmingham.
Well we just keep having to raid the vaults to find those little items of interest that keep you interested in the world of best guns and rifles. Once again we have a gem of a rifle built by another of the great Scottish gun and rifle makers, in this instance Alexander Henry.
Famous primarily as a rifleman and rifle maker Alexander Henry set up his business in Edinburgh in 1852, at 12 South St Andrew Street. As an avid competition shooter and member of the Edinburgh Rifle Volunteers he was to see the transition from muzzleloading to breechloading firearms and was responsible for many innovations of the time. His first significant patent was no. 2802 of 1860 which was for his famous ‘Henry Rifling’, this was followed by patent no. 1701 of 1865 for the first of his falling block action designs. Most famously it was the Martini action with Henry’s rifled barrel that really made his name, when it was adopted by the British Army as the standard service arm in 1870.
Alexander Henry passed away in 1894, and the business was subsequently taken over by his two sons. Sadly the business fell into decline and eventually ended up as part of the group of famous Scottish gun and rifle makers acquired by Dickson & MacNaughton.
The rifle shown here is based on patent no.1776 and built on the miniature version of the falling block action in .360 black powder. As with other Scottish makers, the quality is simply outstanding with no attention to detail passed upon, from the engraving, to the stocking, to the final casing with all of the accessories.
As a modern gunmaker we appreciate just how hard it must have been for these great gun and rifle makers of old to maintain the unbelievably high standards that they did. In an age well before modern machining and computer design they were way ahead of their time and a credit to the industry.
Now well into their 70’s the great gunmaking pair of Gerhard Hartmann and Otto Weiss continue to produce some of the finest guns and rifles in the world. Whilst double guns and rifles only materialise in small quantities, bolt action and single shot rifles tend to come around on a slightly more frequent basis.
The two rifles shown here have all the fine hallmarks of Hartmann & Weiss. Built in 7mm Winchester Short Magnum and .300 Wincester Short Magnum the makers have utilised their own short or ‘Kurz’ action which comfortably holds three rounds in the magazine. The rifles feature strap over combs, extended guard tangs, peep sights, heel/toe plates and the makers own distinct take down mechanism. Stocked with exhibition Turkish walnut they make for a wonderful brace of rifles with very elegant lines.
The engraving was executed by maestro Alain Lovenberg and quite obviously has an Arabic theme. The geometric pattern has an etched background with wonderfully inlaid white and yellow gold throughout. The sheer accuracy and cleanliness of the work a definite hallmark of his.
Long may the gentleman at Hartmann & Weiss continue to produce such masterpieces.
Just arrived in Zambia this last week was this new Westley Richards .500 droplock double rifle built very much to our traditional format. Whilst super high grade work graces our factory on a regular basis these days, it is always nice when one of these ‘originals’ finally leaves for the hunting field. The client made subtle additions, like the carved fences and gold naming, but otherwise left to us the task of building him the perfect hunting rifle.
Perhaps we have become a little too blasé in recent times, as this is the type of rifle that helped build Westley Richards reputation as a dependable and formidable rifle maker over a century ago. In recent years our rifles have hunted all over Africa and accounted for some truly wonderful big game trophies. This rifle is set to continue in that vain and will in the coming decades have many stories of its own to tell. Most importantly a new generation of young clients are the ones embarking on those adventures.