I bought my first hammergun 10+ years ago, and I’ve been a nut for them ever since. Breechloading hammerguns were a major step in the transition from percussion firearms to modern hammerless double barrels. Unfortunately, the breechloading hammergun period peak quickly and then fell off just as fast.
Breechloading hammerguns came on the scene in the 186os, first as pinfires, then as centerfires. But by the late 1870s, these shotguns were falling out of fashion. That’s because new side-by-sides like Anson & Deeley’s boxlock and W. & C. Scott’s sidelock were coming onto the market.
These “hammerless” designs caught shooters’ attention, and then a bigger and bigger chunk of the new-gun market. Even though most makers offered hammerguns into the 20th century, the numbers of them ordered would never surpassed their progeny again.
That bring us to this very nice vintage 12 gauge J.W. Tolley hammergun. Made in the early 20th century, it’s what I would call an late-era hammergun, and it was delivered towards the end of the gunmaker’s career.
James William Tolley was born in 1832 he started his business in Birmingham around 1858. His company was successful and by 1879 they had a reputation for large bore double barrelled guns and rifles. In about 1883 the firm opened a shop in London and around 1894 they even had a shop in New York City. Around 1919, J & W Tolley seems to have merged with Holloway & Naughton and by 1955 guns were no longer being made under the J & W Tolley name.
The 12 gauge you see here has a “New Bond St. London” address on it, so it was made around 1905 or so. It looks to me like it’s a medium-grade hammergun in very nice original condition. I especially like the color on the action and the original blueing on the Sir Joseph Whitworth’s Fluid Compressed Steel bbls. Overall, it’s a heck of a nice double, and a great way to start your own obsession with hammerguns.