Whilst we often associate the sporting gun with the British sportsmen and the great shooting that this country has to offer, it is always worth remembering that the sport of shooting is a truly worldwide affair.
The USA was and still is one of the largest markets in the world for shooting and hunting related products. At one time meat on the table was often through the efficient use of a favoured gun or rifle and the ‘market gunners’ of old kept a very healthy and expanding population fed with what many saw as an endless supply of game birds and animals.
Obviously where there was the need for shotguns and punt guns to take quarry so there was the need for powder and shot to take them. It is therefore nice to see vintage items like the one illustrated here turn up from this now bygone era.
Clearly a salesman travelling companion this very neat case outside inscribed ‘Tathams American Standard’ is a wonderful fold over case that contains inside 20 samples of American shot sizes ranging from the very finest ‘Dust’ to ‘FF’. The quality of workmanship in the whole piece is superb and once again it goes to show the detail that companies once went into with everything they made. The shot itself is perfectly round and was obviously made from a ‘drop’ tower so that the lead shot formed perfectly.
On the edge of the case you can clearly read Patented June 19 1874 which dates the whole thing very nicely. Tatham Brothers was a lead pipe, sheet lead and shot supplier based in 82 Beekman Street, New York. In existence from the 1840’s they appear to have patented many improvements in both the manufacture of shot, bullets and other projectiles, and were heavily involved in supplying the Union Army during the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. It would appear that the manufacture of lead shot with the company ceased prior to 1907 when their own ‘shot tower’ was demolished. The rest as they say is history.
The British Shooting Show has a habit of delivering interesting items for the discerning eye. This year we were lucky enough to come across this very nice leather compact 12 bore cartridge magazine that appears to be of French manufacture.
Such aged items are always a pleasure to find as they remind us of a period of great ingenuity and quality when even the most simple items were made to the very best standard. The attention to detail is outstanding from the lovely brass latches to the quality of stitching found throughout the item. Someone clearly cared about making this item.
With a capacity capable of holding 28 cartridges, split 14 either end, this magazine was clearly never intended for big days, but rather the ‘walk up’ shooter, perhaps woodcock hunter who might only fire a handful of cartridges in a day.
Hopefully next years show will throw up another little gem!
We are always amazed by the diversity of products that seem to have left the Westley Richards factory in the last 200 years. Take for instance this rather unusual .410 over and under pistol.
Completed circa 1935 the pistol is based on a design that was originally patented to Charles Lancaster who used the design for their Howdah and Officer pistols. It was available from them in various pistol calibres up to .577 and came in both 4 and 2 barrel versions all operated with a single trigger. The single trigger could also be extended and when cocked act as a set trigger which was handy for precision shooting.
This Westley Richards version is proofed for the .410 2 1/2″ cartridge shooting a 7/16 ounce load which suggests that it could really only have been intended for use either as a vermin control pistol, or more interestingly a specimen collectors pistol. The idea of facing a wounded tiger with it or some hostile native seems definitely out of the question!
Amazingly it comes presented in a lightweight leather case with cleaning rod and brushes all certainly made at the time it was supplied. Seeing such a case always fills us with anticipation and yet again we were not disappointed. A nice fun item to see bearing the Westley Richards name, one we may even use as a template for a new ‘compact’ .410 over and under quail gun!
My father has been a gun dealer for as long as I can remember. In turn, I sold my first gun when I was only 11 and by the time I was out of high school I had made the gun business my career choice as well. As my career moved on and I was buying, selling and trading guns, I became enamoured with Best English guns, in particular those made by Wesley Richards. Through a mutual friend I met Simon Clode and I was happy to help him with his logistics during the Safari Club show season, help he was glad to accept. More and more I bought and sold fine guns and more and more I found myself calling on Simon for advice. What started as some friendly help became a mentorship that eventually evolved into a job offer, and really the only offer that could lure me away from the family business.
When Simon broke the news of my new position of manager of the Westley Richards Agency back in July, I was somewhere between Bozeman, MT and Gulf Breeze, FL as I was moving shops. Simon had wanted to keep the move quiet and seamless and announced the move only when we were packed out of Bozeman and on the way south.
The drive was a precursor to the long days ahead as we started to remodel our new space in Gulf Breeze and my training would start on how things get done the Westley Richards way. While new gun making has always been the hallmark of the firms two hundred year history and remains the core focus of the business, the buying and selling of rare and fine guns has also always played an extremely important role in the company’s success. Westley Richards offers a quiet, discreet and personal service for its clients offering a unique ability to acquire and sell fine and rare guns based on many years experience and many ‘little black books’ recording what guns are where.
There are two chapters from our company’s history book “In Pursuit of the Best Gun”, that are most interesting to me, they cover Walter Clode’s and Malcolm Lyell’s tenures with Westley Richards. Each of these chapters highlight their contributions, not only to the English gun trade, but to the American gun market as well, by dealing in high quality firearms, widely from India, to the American gun collector. Today that same tradition is carried on by Simon Clode, who has been quietly selling the World’s finest guns for 30 years.
Here at the Westley Richards Agency, I will be doing what I feel I do best, and that is finding and selling fine guns. I will be available to assist in making new gun orders and answering questions as well as help with receiving orders that are imported from the U.K. But one aspect I am most excited about is the handling of the select and very high quality second hand guns that come through the agency.
The dealing of used guns is an important part of Westley Richards’ history and I’m looking forward to carrying on that tradition to the very high standards set.
Today, I am very pleased to introduce a very nice, small collection of guns and rifles which we have recently received these are new to the market and will be available on our used guns site during the coming week. These guns and rifles are all based here in USA and I would welcome any calls of interest.
James Purdey & Sons .375 H&H Magnum Express Rifle.
James Purdey & Sons. 12g Over and Under 2 barrel set.
Holland & Holland Royal .500 3″ Double Rifle.
Holland & Holland Royal 500/450 Double Rifle.
Holland & Holland Royal .375 Flanged Magnum double rifle.
James Purdey & Sons. A Pair of 20g 28″ game guns as new.
James Purdey & Sons. 12g Over and Under two barrel set as new.
John Rigby & Co. .470 double rifle. (Not Rising Bite)
Holland & Holland Royal .500 Double Rifle, cased and unfired.
Westley Richards Hand Detachable Lock ‘droplock’ .470 Double Rifle.
Holland & Holland Royal .500/450 double rifle.
Holland & Holland Royal .375 Flanged Magnum Double Rifle.
James Purdey & Sons. A .375 H&H Magnum Express Double Rifle.
James Purdey & Sons. A Vintage .369 Purdey Express Double Rifle.
Holland & Holland. A Pair of 12g ‘Sporter’ Over and Under guns.
Pair of E. J. Churchill 12g sidelock game guns.
Westley Richards .300 WSM bolt action rifle built in Kurtz action.
Asprey, London. A 300 Win Mag Carbine rifle.
Fabbri 12g Over Under.
Fabbri 12g Over Under
Fabbri 12g Over Under Shotgun
Holland & Holland .375 H&H Magnum Bolt Action.
John Rigby .416 Bolt Action rifle on Magnum Mauser.
Westley Richards .375 Bolt Action rifle built on original Oberndorf Magnum Mauser.
My thanks to Emma who came over from England to take the photographs and teach me some more tricks with the camera.
The Westley Richards ‘Ovundo’ is a very distinct over and under shotgun that was developed and retailed in various formats between 1913 – 1937. Recently we acquired this vintage 12g version that was originally completed in 1936 which was towards the end of production. The gun has a very lively feel and balance and quite interestingly weighs in at a mere 6lb 8ozs which for a 28″ sideplate over and under is surprisingly light and makes for a great game gun.
The design has been oft-maligned over the years as an often cumbersome looking gun, which is why several years ago we produced a very small batch of guns in only 20g as this appeared the most aesthetically pleasing.
One of the modern pairs of 20g Ovundo with elaborate scroll engraving.
One of the modern pair with full case colour hardening.
People have often questioned why Westley Richards opted for the deep action design of the under hook lump as opposed to the bifurcated system so typical of the shallow bodied Boss and Woodward design. Well you have to go back to the time this gun was being designed and considered that Westley Richards as a company had introduced in side by side format both the fixed lock gun design and then shortly afterwards the hand detachable lock (droplock) design. Both models were absolute signatures of the company and remain so to this day.
Now if you put these designs into an over and under gun, matters become a lot more interesting! Clearly the company was trying to work out its own way of building the over and under format gun in both a fixed lock and droplock format and quite simply the under hook design was the only way they saw fit to do so, allowing for the respective firing mechanisms.
What really amazes me and is so often forgotten is the actual number of variations built in ‘Ovundo’ format. There are fixed lock actions with square back, scroll back and side plates, there are droplock with scroll back, side plates and side plates with inspection ports. Some fixed lock versions have hinged cover plates as in the example shown here. Obviously there were single and double trigger versions and they were built in 12g, 16g, 20g and a multitude of rifle calibres from .425 WR down to .240 Flanged. The are even rifle/shotgun combo’s in one set of barrels and we have a Super Magnum Explora here at the factory.
From left: Vintage 12g Super Magnum Explora, .240 & .350 Rifles, Close up of .240 Rifle.
Much maligned? Well clearly not at the time as it was unquestionably one of the most produced British over and unders. Interestingly the recent 20g examples we built continue to create lots of interest and we are always asked when will the next generation of ‘Ovundo’ be released. With the modern move towards heavier guns shooting bigger loads I am certain it is something in our not too distant future.
If a notch were carved into the pellet gun’s stock for every dove, rat or plum-raiding mousebird it had shot, there wouldn’t be any wood left. To say it is a working gun would be an understatement.
The old BSA has been in the family for as long as anyone can remember, but neither my mother nor my uncles could recall exactly when it was acquired. They told me that as kids, it was as much a tool as a source of recreation to them when they lived on a farm in Natal. There was no need to lock firearms away back then, so it stood at the ready in one corner of the kitchen. Apparently, this turned out to be handy when the cat dropped a mouse under the kitchen table while my grandmother was preparing dinner one evening. Still extremely alive the rodent made a dash in her direction. With an ear-piercing shriek that sent the cat diving for cover, she wielded a broom with abandon and succeeded in upsetting the stew pot, but failed to stop the mouse scuttling under the hem of her dress and up between her petticoats to wriggle against her thigh. By then the rest of the family had rushed to the scene and were splitting their sides laughing, but they had to assist when my grandmother fainted. After my mother winkled the mouse out, Pat got it with an instinctively aimed pellet as it was speedily exiting the kitchen door. He said it was probably his finest shot ever.
Apart from plinking at cans, despatching pests and stocking the larder, the gun was also used to shoot my uncle Bob when he was about 8 years old. Exactly how this happened is shrouded in some mystery, but a friend of Bob’s was visiting and my mother had just returned from school with a cake she had baked in home economics class. Just then Bob ran in white-faced, to say he had been shot. His friend had disappeared never to be seen again and with Bob sitting on the handlebars wanting to know if he was going to die, my mother tore off on a bicycle to fetch her father. Bob was taken to hospital where the doctor took an hour to dig the pellet out of his chest and he carried a large scar for the rest of his life. During the drama Denise, Pat and Allen scoffed every last crumb of the cake, which cheesed Bob off no end. To my grandparent’s credit they did not ban the use of the gun because of the accident, recognising that it was a human, not the gun that made the mistake. If anything, it made everyone more safety conscious.
Pellet guns invariably experience intervals of inaction when their owners grow up and graduate to rifles and shotguns. Although the BSA was lent to family friends occasionally, it eventually lay dormant for the long periods between our family holidays, when I would covetously carry it around and be allowed to use it for a few short days on the farm. It was hard to leave it behind when we had to go back to the highveld. I was told I was too young to have it then, but one day it might be mine.
My mother and Pat must have had some discussion about the right time to let me own an air rifle and had settled on ‘after I had turned ten’, but the exact time was not specified. I had however, overheard a telephone conversation and I knew Pat planned to stop over en route to Northern Rhodesia a few months after my 10th birthday. Nothing had been said about the gun but maybe, just maybe, he would bring it along and the uncertainty and anticipation was almost unbearable. At night I kept having dreams where a distant treat kept appearing and then melting away as I reached out for it. During the day I minded my manners, washed behind my ears and ate all my peas.
My uncle Pat arrived very late one night after I had fallen asleep, despite valiant efforts to keep awake. He was known for a long morning lie-in and his ability to consume oceans of tea before rising, so I had to be restrained from bursting into his room the next morning. Eventually the door opened and I hurtled in only just remembering to say hello politely before asking if he had brought his rifle with him. A slightly cruel smirk appeared on Pat’s face and he scratched his head saying that he was in such a rush he had left it behind. My face fell and all joy had gone from the day. “I did bring you some trout flies and a book” he said. My thanks were hollow and insincere and the weight of disappointment made my shoulders sag as my voice rose tremulously demanding to know how he could forget the pellet gun. “Oh”, he replied. “I thought you meant my .22rifle. I think I might have remembered to pack the pellet gun”. He pulled out a soft canvas bag and suddenly it was in my hands; lightly oiled, gleaming and smelling of ‘adventure’.
Despite having used the gun under supervision before, I again had to endure a long lecture. Bob’s accident was recounted and dire predictions were made about my fate should I ever shoot anyone. Discovering that my mother had a very creative imagination when it came to punishment focussed my attention and most of what they said sank in. Next, a list of allowed quarry was recited. It included Indian mynas, mousebirds, fiscal shrikes (because they terrorised the weavers nesting in the garden), rats and mice. Outside town, doves were fair game and finally I was told that in the case of birds, ‘If you shoot it, you eat it’. So began a new era for that veteran old gun.
I wish I knew how many shots of ‘various calibres’ I fired through that barrel. I was alternately John Wayne or a Red Indian Chief or a famous war hero or explorer depending on what movie we had seen at the drive-in and in my imagination, the BSA was alternately a Winchester, a shotgun, a double rifle and sometimes even a machinegun. Cans and various other targets were set up and engaged in the back yard and none of the neighbours ever complained. I must also admit that many birds met their fate and I’m not totally proud of all of them, but nearly every one was eaten. I earned a rare hiding after crippling a thrush, which was not ‘on the list’ after my father noticed it hopping around the lawn on one leg. My backside recovered and so did the thrush because it was still around the next year.
The day my friend next door was given a ‘Gecado’ air rifle, the safaris really began and we cycled to the nearest open spaces to hunt doves or field mice and collect bird eggs. The hunt that remains clearest was sparked when my father remarked that in a book he’d read, an early explorer had recorded a herd of over fifty elephant crossing ‘Linksfield Ridge’. This was long before gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand and before the ridge got named and although its rocky spine is now covered in suburban sprawl, it was still pretty unspoilt when we were young. Most importantly though, we knew guineafowl still ran wild on its slopes.
It was a dawn start, because we planned to detour via some dams on the ‘Jukskei River’ to visit an old hamerkop’s nest before making for ‘Gillooleys Farm’ where we would leave our bicycles. The Egyptian geese had decided not to use the nest that winter so we hunted striped field mice on the dam walls for a while and brewed some tea over a fire that smoked pungently from the ‘khakibos’ kindling we used. Youthfully confident in our shooting skills, we had taken tea, two apples, matches, pocket knives and salt. This was adventure in its purest form. We could get where we needed to be on our bikes and we weren’t expected home till late. By 9.30am, we had ‘tethered’ our trusty steeds in some long thatch grass at Gillooleys. We carefully selected only perfectly formed pellets, keeping a few in our mouths and the rest wrapped in a handkerchief. I checked my rifle because prior to being soldered back on, the catch that locked the cocking lever against the barrel would sometimes slide out of its recessed groove. You could still shoot by clasping the lever tightly against the barrel while sighting, but then you could not ensure that the other small lever to open and close the loading aperture was pressed tight shut with your left thumb. We needed no distractions when hunting where elephant had walked.
Guineafowl are cunning and with pellet guns, we knew we would have to get really close. It was noon by the time we located a small flock and commenced our ambush. They always trotted off uphill if slightly disturbed, so we retreated out of sight and took a wide, circular route to position ourselves higher and far above them. After peeping over some boulders to spot the flock below us, the leopard crawling started. Actually, the slope made it easier and it was more of a slow, slither that took us over dry grass and around rocks towards the prize. After what seemed like hours, a soft ‘chink’ kick-started my pulse. Parting the grass, I saw what looked like the biggest guineafowl in the world ten meters in front of us and I could see the light in its eye. My friend nodded and aiming carefully, I squeezed the trigger. The gun went ‘thwap!’ and there was a corresponding sound from the guineafowl, then I clearly remember seeing the pellet bounce back off it’s wing before it flew off cackling with the rest of the flock. It was much later and with growling stomachs that we managed to shoot a ‘little brown job’. It was so small we ate it bones and all before cycling home.
That was all a long time ago and the BSA has of course, got older too. One day a friend gave me the contact details of a person he said keeps the historical records for the ‘BSA’ company. I wrote giving the details of my air rifle, asking if he could supply any information on the old girl. A few weeks later, I was delighted to find a hand-written reply in the postbox:- “Your old air rifle is a BSA standard No1 model, light pattern, made between 1919 and 1939 in various forms. Your particular rifle No5541 was despatched from the BSA factory on 19th February 1920. Yours sincerely, John Knibbs**”.
Last night I gave the old veteran a gentle rub with a lightly oiled rag and put it back in the safe, always ready for new adventures.
** John Knibbs is the official historian for BSA Guns (UK) Ltd and has published a book entitled ‘The Golden Century’ about BSA rifles.
This story is dedicated to my uncles Pat, Allen & Bob, my aunt Denise & my father Jock, but especially to the memory of my mother, Penny who ensured that little boys had fun while growing up.
The Nizam of Hyderabad’s Armoury was the largest single armoury that my father, Walter Clode, purchased during his times in India. The size and expense of the armoury led to a joint venture between his old friend and former manager of Westley Richards London, Malcolm Lyell. Malcolm went on to combine his acquisition of the Westley Richards Agency London with Holland & Holland. The joint venture between Holland & Holland and Westley Richards was a financial split and my father taking care of all the purchase and logistics getting the armoury home from India with which he was much more capable than the other party involved.
Over the weekend I was talking to my father about various times past and this little catalogue was brought out of some cubby hole and given to me. I had seen it many years ago but forgotten about the display cabinets which it represents. I have no idea how many were ever made and sold but I have never seen them appear on the market since.
I am sure that many of you who follow the market and auctions will have seen in recent months various collections being disposed of which were made at the time of this deal taking place. Hyderabad weapons featured quite strongly in these collections and were all magnificent items. I hope that the content of the catalogue will provide the information on the cavalry pistols so I have not repeated it.
For me this catalogue reminded me the attention to detail that Malcolm Lyell applied to the work he did at Holland & Holland. Rather than just sell the pistols individually he created and had made these displays which keep a group of the pistols together, a very nicely considered piece of marketing.
Every year Malcolm would have some special exhibition piece to draw attention to the company and sell, the carved guns by Alan Brown, Saurian 4g, Herculean 4g, the Rococco .410 gun, cased sets of rifles and sets of guns. These items went under the term “Products of Excellence” an annual offering which was immediately stopped by Roger Mitchell when he took over from Malcolm. I have always thought that a very, very stupid move!
At home discussing the ‘old times’ including Hyderabad with my father last weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.