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AlanD, bushveld, keith, LeFusil
Total Likes: 9
Original Post (Thread Starter)
by bushveld
Recently there was a brief discussion here about a fine boxlock double barreled rifle that was engraved with the name of a builder of very best guns and rifles.

A question was raised-----Did any London gun and rifle makers build any boxlock rifles and guns including the ones that they sold with their names and addresses engraved upon? All of us have an opinion.

However, I think that most of us would want an opinion on this often discussed topic from a person or persons who is an acknowledged premier researcher and whose statement to where these boxlock rifles and guns were built could be relied upon even in a court of law.

The two such researchers (and authors) that came to mind (one of Birmingham gunmakers and the other of London gunmakers) was Douglas Tate, author of BIRMINGHAM GUNMAKERS; and Donald Douglas the prolific author of the definitive books of the history of such London gunmakers as PURDEY, BOSS, HOLLAND & HOLLAND, and Scottish gunmakers DAVID McKAY BROWN, ALEX HENRY and others. Since I am acquainted with each of these gentlemen, I sent to them an email asking them if they had ever encountered any evidence of any London gun or rifle maker building a boxlock gun or rifle? They both responded straight away with the following response:

First from Douglas Tate:

"I have not but then I have never researched London boxlocks. I would ask Diggory Hadoke and Toby Barclay."

NOTE: Since I believe Toby will comment on this post soon we will see what he says and I will contact Diggory.

Next from Donald Dallas:

"Hi Stephen,
The London gunmakers bought in their boxlocks (and many of their sidelocks) either complete, or in the white from Birmingham. There is plenty of evidence for this in their records. For example in the MacNaughton records and the Henry records many state where they were bought from in Birmingham. You will also find evidence on the guns themselves where the Birmingham makers stamped their initials on the barrels and inside the actions. Economies of scale played the major part in this as building thousands of boxlocks in Birmingham was the cheaper option. This in no way implies the Birmingham guns were inferior - they were every bit as good as the London guns. All the Holland guns for example pre 1894, before they had their London factory were made in Birmingham and even after this all their second quality guns continued to be built in Birmingham.
Donald Dallas"

Stephen Howell
Liked Replies
by bushveld
If we look at the title of this post, the original question was not did London "market" boxlocks. Neither was it about ejectors. " Moving the goal posts" in this discussion about UK gun history is not helpful but harmful.

This question at hand has been a topic of discussion for a long time and unfortunately it is not a subject that is easily decided as say a knowledgeable person of UK guns reading proof marks.

Many important issues are so important that they are only decided by empirical evidence by reasonable and knowledgeable individuals in a court of law and in a scientific environment; and this method is an established method that reasonable and knowledgeable individuals decide issues of importance elsewhere. This discussion to date has not decisively established that London gunmakers "made"( ".....that of procuring forged actions and barrel tubes from the trade, then filing or machining. boring, drilling, reaming, screwing and so forth required to "make" or build a gun or rifle during the period of about 1880 to 1950") boxlock shotguns and rifle with the exception of maybe Cogswell and Harrison. The Cogswell and Harrison exception is as a result as a member of the "gun press" of the day (circa 1900) recording what a principal of the Cogswell and Harrison firm stated about their workshop; however, there were no photos illustrating that boxlock gun production was being carried out in the workshop. This leaves the question are we to take what was written to be statements of a principal of the company to be absolute. It is known from the Cogswell & Harrison history published by later principals of the company (copyright 2000 by Safari Press), that Cogswell and Harrison had specific knowledge of boxlock guns through their extensive direct business interconnections with the Birmingham, England gun trade where boxlock (Anson & Deeley guns were developed and made daily); and it could be assumed by a reasonable and knowledgeable person that Cogswell & Harrison could have had employees in their London workshop gunmakrs that were Birmingham trained, qualified and experience makers of boxlock guns and rifles who could and did build/make boxlocks guns and rifles there.

We know that Mr. Harrison established somewhat nonconformist workshop methods in the Cogswell & Harrison that were not desired by the London trade such as less expensive ways of making parts and also the shoe lump barrel method of production on his best quality SLE versus using chopper lump barrels. So that he might also make boxlocks guns in his shop versus buying them directly from Birmingham could be in his business strategy and tactics.

To my way of thinking Cogswell and Harrison likely built some boxlock guns and rifles in their London workshop, but I have not in hand absolute proof that cannot be empirically disputed--which is what is desired.
2 members like this
by Toby Barclay
Toby Barclay
Frankly I can not see any reason why the London makers would bother themselves with the 'filing or machining. boring, drilling, reaming' of the component parts of a boxlock. I am sure that if the profit margin allowed, they would polish (int & ext), engrave, black, CH, stock and regulate but I really can't think why they would bother with the raw material. They knew that, if the right supplier was contracted, the metalwork (with or without stock and barrels) would be perfectly good for their purposes and they could take it from there.
If I could take Blanch as an example (although Evans and several other well known names would do just as well) I doubt they bothered to do ANYTHING to their main stock lines. They knew the Birmingham trade very well and could specify whatever they needed. Why have a dog and bark oneself?
I grant you that H&H, Boss (Robertson) and Purdey may have had different criteria but I have yet to see a 'London' BL that is any better that a Westley Richard or William Powell (and some a lot worse!).
I have several 'London' boxlocks and I love them all but the difference between them and a 'Birmingham' BL is non-existent.
ATB Toby
1 member likes this
by bushveld
Originally Posted by LeFusil
What’s really fantastic is one can actually learn about the craftsman that worked at Wilkes…like stockmakers, jobbers, actioners, finishers, even apprentices, etc. Tradesman that actually put tools to metal and wood to make guns. They had names that you can put a face & history to.

Unlike the 300+ employees at EM Reilly’s.
Who was Reilly’s version of Ebenezer Hands & Dickie Bolter???? (Two of the best names in the gun industry ever btw :-)


Your comment about Ebenezer Hand puts to my mind back in 2008 when I went down stairs at William Evans in St. James to see what treasures they had hidden in the gunroom (they had a matched pair of Stephen Grant sidelever damascus barreled guns in storage for the owner), but in my observation of guns they had for sale was a gun that was stocked by Ebenezer Hand--it has Ebenezer trade mark little acorn like "bump" on the butt stock.

1 member likes this
by SKB
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

Here is the rifle that inspired this thread, a Wilkes 470 ble. It turns out it has Birmingham provisional proofs and London final view marks. Likely sourced through the trade but finished up by the Brothers is my feeling.
1 member likes this
by LeFusil
Let’s be honest….Who really cares what was desired by the “London trade”….if anything else, looking at the history of British shotgun making, and what we know now to be true and correct….the “London trade” has been found out to be a rather hypocritical bunch of snobs haven’t they? There were some absolutely amazing London based inventions, inventors and tradesmen, nobody is disputing that. Especially prevalent in the public domain (gun writers based in London) and in certain London based gun company brochures, a lot of them always looking down at the Birmingham trade as if they were inferior but all the while getting almost of their trade materials and complete functioning guns from the makers in the midlands of the isle. All on the hush hush. Pretty funny stuff.

I don’t think ANY of the Reilly “stuff” posted on this thread added anything of any real substance to the discussion.
1 member likes this
by Steve Helsley
Steve Helsley
The late Larry Shelton spent a decade plus, and many thousands of dollars, researching and then publishing
J.P. Clabrough: Birmingham Gunmaker. Larry wasn't playing to a big audience, as I suspect all living
Clabrough collectors could fit in the back seat of a Yugo. He wanted to learn, share and then preserve what
he had learned. I am proud that he asked me to assist him. His research is now housed in the Cody Museum
collection. For true 'students of the gun" Larry's work or Jim Cate's books on Sauer, Kopeko's Hunting and
Sporting Guns of the World series (in Russian) or Aaron Newcomer's extraordinary knowledge of the pinfire
era may not be of interest to most, but it is very interesting to many and advances our knowledge in important
ways. Much that has been written about British sporting arms is incorrect and endlessly repeated by writers
who choose not to do their own research. I have co-authored five books on firearms - the most significant of
which is Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway. Our motto was "Don't be wrong!" Sounds
easy enough but it is extremely difficult. In spite of our best efforts - errors crept in. I know Argo 44 only
through what he publishes on this website. I am not a Reilly collector and have never owned one - yet I applaud
him for what he's doing - correcting the record and expanding our collective understanding of the British
gun trade.
1 member likes this
by AlanD
The figure of 300 employees for Reilly in 1881 seems a very high figure especially in relation to 140 for WW Greener. I cant help but wonder if there is some puffery in this self reported figure. If he really did employee 300 workers he would have had to have made thousands of guns a year to cover this overhead. Perhaps he had other manufacturing business and lumped all his employees under one banner for some reason?

If we take the figure of 300 as correct the evidence of the output will be found in the day proof ledgers of Worshipful Company of Gunmakers proof house. These ledgers and archive of the London proof house can be viewed in the Guildhall Library in Central London. I have spent a many days there myself looking at the period from 1914 to 1945. If Reilly made guns in London the evidence will be in these day books. If Reilly did not make guns there will not be any entries under his name.


1 member likes this
by AlanD
I wonder if a maker had to be a member of the Worshipful Company to have his guns proved in London.Others will know more about this than me. I noted a number of Scottish makers who sent their guns to London
for proofing, when Birmingham would have been closer, no doubt for the perceived cachet. For a London maker to send guns to Birmingham would have meant extra expense and administration plus increased risk of damage or loss.
Even if Reilly did not make the actions he would still have to proof the gun when the barrels were fitted, if he intended to sell the gun. With 300 employees you would think he would have been delivering guns for proof each week and picking them up to bring back to the factory for careful cleaning, as the London proof house did not clean the guns after proof, according to some records concerning the Colt Agency in London prior to 1913.


1 member likes this

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