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Famous British Gun Makers | 19th & 20th C.

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Published on Jun 14, 2012

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The sport of shooting birds on the wing developed in Europe in the 1600's, after the invention (in France) of the flintlock action. Muzzle loading flintlock fowling pieces developed slowly in various parts of Europe, culminating with the superb double-barreled shotguns of Joseph Manton, who set up his shop in London in 1793. Manton's guns were light, trim, well balanced, fast handling, and impeccably fit and finished. Stocks were slender and of fine English walnut with a hand rubbed oil finish. The actions were filed in graceful curves, and made as light as possible; all excess metal was removed. They were tastefully engraved in fine scroll patterns. The overall effect was of restraint, elegance, and perfection. These guns set the tone for, and established the superiority of, British shotguns for wing shooting that has lasted to this day. The guns of Joseph Manton epitomized the emerging concept of the best gun.

Alexander Forsyth, a Scot, patented the percussion lock in 1807. Percussion systems soon replaced the flintlock ignition system. Technical development continued, and by the mid-eighteen hundreds the percussion double had reached its zenith, using the copper percussion cap still used today by most muzzle loading guns.

The breechloader was perfected in the 1860's, and the British game gun as we know it today developed from that point. The early breach loading external hammer guns (often sporting features like underhammers and side levers) rapidly evolved into the fully developed sidelock hammer guns of the late 1800's, with low profile rebounding hammers, underbolts to lock the gun closed, and top lever opening, all British innovations. Fully developed hammer guns were produced until the First World War, and a few are still being made today.

Hammer guns began to be replaced by new hammerless (actually internal hammer) designs from the leading British firms in the last 20 years of the 19th Century. British gun makers used the movement of the barrels to cock the hammers on opening, and developed safety intercepting sears, automatic ejectors, assisted opening, and single selective triggers. The barrels were built on the chopper-lump system, the most difficult and expensive method of attaching two barrels. This method of barrel construction, however, allows the narrowest and lightest possible gun.

British gunmakers developed the hammerless boxlock and sidelock actions still used in almost all double guns to this day. World famous London gun makers like Boss, Holland & Holland and Purdey brought the modern hammerless side-by-side double gun to perfection. Other London makers like E. J. Churchill, John Rigby, James Woodward & Sons, Charles Boswell, William Evans, Atkins Grant & Lang, and John Wilkes also turned out superb best guns. Most of these firms are still in business today. These British gun makers set the standards for best guns; to this day a "London best" is treasured as the epitome of the gun makers' art. A new London best is just about the most expensive shotgun in the world, and their used prices are also very high.

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