The 1860s were tens years of change for James Purdey & Sons. The impetus was the breechloader, and at end of the decade, Purdey would step into the modern era of shotguns with the two patents which would changed sporting guns forever.
Breechloaders were introduced to the UK at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and after several years of refinements by makers like Joseph Lang, these revolutionary doubles started to catch on with shooters throughout the UK.
Slowly, London’s famous gunmakers followed this trend. According to Donald Dallas’s book Purdey: The Definitive History, the James Purdey sold their first breechloader in 1858. The following year, 68 of the 205 firearms the firm made were breechloaders (the rest were muzzloaders). By 1862, this ration had flipped. Of the 193 guns Purdey made, just 51 were muzzleloaders.
The three shotguns you see here were made in 1866, just months after Purdey made their first centerfire, breechloading shotgun (#699s, delivered in late 1865). In these guns, you can see just how quickly Purdey’s shotguns evolved, and how some shooters were reluctant to embrace all the changes going on in the shooting world.