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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is always nice to see when one of our guns or rifles returns back to the factory after many years of service in some distant place. They often come back bruised and battered with many a great story to tell.
The rifle illustrated here is not particularly old by our 200 year standard, having been completed in 1990 for a Swedish businessman who’s passion was moose hunting. His calibre of choice was the trusted .30-06, a calibre of great versatility and with the heavier 200 grain loadings a capable calibre for Europe’s heavier game.
An interesting part of this story is that the rifle was acquired by a client of ours who we recently built a .505 Gibbs bolt action rifle for. This rifle came up for sale in his native Sweden and being a Westley Richards fan he jumped at the opportunity to own it and pair it up with the .505 Gibbs. Quite a combination!
This particular rifle was engraved with a Norse theme in mind and amongst other things depicts in raised gold the former clients favourite quarry. These more unusual and very personal engravings are always nice to look at once again, even though no-one can quite remember the story behind them.
The rifle was returned to us for a gentle refurbishment of the wood, a good service and a test for accuracy with modern ammunition. We have left where possible all the original finish on the metalwork as the client (quite sensibly) wanted to maintain as much originality as possible, as much out of respect for the former owner, as for his own benefit. The wood will certainly age back nicely over time, developing its own unique patina with the odd scar to remind the client of a day (hopefully successful!) in the field.
The rifle will shortly be returning to Sweden where without question it will have the opportunity to hunt moose later in the year, a sport we are told is not for the lover of sunshine and warmth!!!!!!!
Norse theme engraving throughout the rifle.
Original wear showing on the metalwork.
Westley Richards patent combination foresight with flip over protector.
Every now and then you get one of those great guns come through the door that you just have to stop and admire. This week we had the opportunity to look at a fabulously original Westley Richards 12g ‘Pigeon’ gun that retains nearly all of its original factory finish. Guns in such condition really are hard to find these days and one in this configuration even rarer still.
Completed in 1931 this Westley Richards was built as a ‘special quality’ gun intended for the live pigeon circuit, a pursuit still undertaken in hushed corners of the world. The Anson & Deeley fixed lock action has a wonderful depth and presence that genuinely and perfectly puts the weight at an impressive 8lbs 7ozs. The gun is supremely steady in the hands with a muzzle forward pointability that makes the gun swing with ease.
Vivid case colour hardening dominates the action.
The large breech ends, side clips, cross bolt and high shoulders add a real distinctive look to the gun which is only enhanced by the 30″, 3″ chambered barrels with distinctive flat top ventilated competition rib. Choked 3/4 and Full the gun packs some serious ‘out there’ capability!
The 14 3/4″ pistol grip with horn cap continues the flowing lines of a formidable gun that has wonderful engraving of pigeons, the metalwork itself retaining all of the original vivd case colour hardening and charcoal blueing of the furniture.
Here in the UK, it would make a fantastic ‘high bird’ gun capable of handling some of the more punchy cartridges favoured for this discipline. Alternatively it could just as well return to the live pigeon arena, the environment for which it was originally intended.
Fresh into stock at our UK factory are these two Westley Richards boxlock ejectors. Firstly we have a classic ‘Heronshaw’ model, built on a fixed lock, double trigger action with all the usual Westley Richards features; snap lever work, model C dolls head extension and beetle back safety catch. Ordered by Mr. A. FitzHerbet-Wright and delivered in 1926, the action is engraved with the usual Heronshaw style basket weave and retains some lovely original colour. Original 28” barrels which have recently been reproved, with 2 3/4” chambers and are choked 1/4 and 3/4. The well figured, straight hand stock measures 14 7/8″ to the centre of the butt, with drop points, silver escutcheon, horn heel plate, splinter forend with a horn tip and Deeley catch. The gun weighs 6lbs 8ozs and is offered for sale in a leather case. This is a fine example of the Heronshaw model which has proved to be popular with shooters and collectors alike.
Secondly we have a Westley Richards boxlock ejector, completed in November 1933, that was built for a Major W.H.Taylor as the No.2 gun to pair with the No.1 gun that we built for him in 1912. Built in very much the same style as the Heronshaw, it has a fixed lock, double trigger action with all Westley Richards features. The action is engraved with a bold scroll, very typical of the boxlocks we built in this era. 28” barrels with original proof, 2 1/2” chambers and choked 1/4 and 5/8. Straight hand stock, lighter in colour, measuring 15 1/4” with a horn heel plate, gold stock oval, splinter forend with horn tip and Deeley catch. Number 2 is engraved on the top rib, lever and forend iron. The gun weighs 6lbs 6½ozs and is cased in a compact green canvas case.
The boxlock gun is often overlooked but it represents fantastic value for money, is a strong and reliable action and still has all the style and handling that you’d expect from a best quality sidelock or droplock. Both guns will be on the used gun site shortly.
At Westley Richards we take real pleasure in displaying rare and unusual guns for the readers of the Explora and we certainly handle more than most gunmakers. Sadly not all of these guns are for sale and it’s more of a case of ‘you can look, but don’t touch’. Luckily though, from time to time, we do get those rare and interesting guns come through that are for sale and you can by all means look, touch, shoot, own, admire and adore.
One such gun is this very special and neat little single barrel 20g non ejector shotgun, a model we very seldom see. Completed on the 17th of December 1926, built for stock and sold through our Bennetts Hill, Birmingham city centre shop, it features a 28” ribless barrel with a 2 ½” chamber, choked 5/8 and proofed for 7/8oz loads. Built on an Anson & Deeley fixed lock action with a tang top lever, automatic safety, with name and border engraving, it retains some lovely original case colours. A highly figured, straight hand stock measures 14 ¼” to the centre of the chequered butt, complemented with a silver oval, snap forend and horn tip. The gun weighs 5lbs 10oz and is a real beauty to handle.
This gun would bring a different type of enjoyment to hunting. It’s not about how many you can shoot, or how high, it’s the simplistic, no frills, bare roots of the single barrel and action coupled with its rarity, classic looks and quaint demeanour which would make for some very special and memorable hunting.
A similar gun which featured in our pre-war catalogue was the Single Barrel Top Lever Pigeon Gun at a cost of £25.
I couldn’t think of a more fitting Christmas present for your son, daughter, wife or more likely, yourself. The gun will be advertised on our used gun site shortly.
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/