Check out this interesting article from yesterday NYTs: Furniture Restorer’s Allegations of Deception Shake Antiques Trade.
Reading this reminded me of the stories I’ve heard about similar deceptions in the shotgun trade. While we’ve had a handful of high profile forgeries, like the phoney Czar’s Parker profiled a while ago in the Double Gun Journal, we haven’t had a shotgun dealer caught in a scandal like the one described in the NYTs article.
(BTW: don’t confuse this phoney Parker with the “real” Czar’s Parker that James D. Julia Auctions sold in their spring 2007 gun auction for $250,000).
Is it going on?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that this kind of stuff doesn’t go on. I’ve heard lots of stories about forgeries and fabrications. Most of these schemes involved “upgrades” or undocumented “restorations.”
Before the internet, information about double barrel shotguns was hard to come by. Unless you spent all your time at gun shows, or worked at a shop that handled large quantities of fine guns, learning about grades, condition, and correct finishes was hard to do. This gave dealers an incredible amount of power. Unfortunately, some of them abused it.
When original is “original”
We all know that when it comes to side-by-side American shotguns like Parkers and Foxes, condition is king. A small number of dealers responded to this fact with accurate, well executed restorations. Others dealers went into the business of upgrading low-grade guns to higher-grade models – a plain jane Winchester M21 into a Grand American.
Here’s an excellent example of a 16g Lefever upgraded to an Optimus grade gun. This gun started life as an EE grade, serial #62058, with Krupp steel bbls.
Lefever’s are prone to upgrades because the manufacturer’s records are not available for them. Check out the gun’s altered serial #, too:
Here’s another upgraded 16g Lefever Optimus that appeared on the market just days after the gun above did:
Steve Barnett has this gun and it’s listed as an upgrade. It’s serial #62059.
BTW: Images of Lefever 60,000/62,058 are from Jaqua’s Fine Guns, Inc. I’ve bought a couple of guns from these guns and all my transactions have gone real well.
Illegal there, perfectly legal here.
On English stuff, a few dealers used to buy out-of-proof double barrel shotguns at UK auctions and then import them into the US. These guns sold at a huge discount in England. But because we do not have proof laws here, these guns could be imported into the US. Dealers then sold to unsuspecting American collectors for full retail. Of course, the seller’s did not tell them that the guns were “out of proof.”
This scheme became quite a problem. So much so that the auction house started cutting the bbls on out-of-proof guns (some houses cut grooves in them near the breach end, preserving the ribs). This made the bbls useless and forced buyers to sleeve them or have new ones made.
Mumm’s the word
Condition is always a problem with English and European stuff, too. Just like American guns, English guns have been refinished, restocked, and modified over their lives. When these guns make it to the US, people are not always able (or willing) to tell a buyer just how original the gun is.
This best-quality Purdey is an excellent example:
Compare the gun above to this stunning, all original Purdey from Atkin Grant & Lang. See how the stock on the gun above is missing drop points (the little tear drops in the wood at the back of the lockplates)?
I’ve never seen a best-quality Purdey shotguns without drop points. I would bet a lot of money that the first one has been restocked (probably in Belgium) even though the seller does not mention this in the gun’s listing.
How to protect yourself
Unfortunately, the double barrel shotgun world is full of upgrades, restorations, restocks, and less than honest (or real knowledgeable) sellers.
That’s why it’s so important for buyers to enlist the services of an experienced ‘smith or finish expert when they’re purchasing a fine shotgun.
Whenever I guy a gun, I have my gunsmith take a long, close look at it. I’ve seen a lot of guns, but there are still plenty of things I miss. If you’re not having you purchases looked over by a real expert, chances are pretty good that you’re missing things, too.
Collector’s clubs are another good resource for information and second opinions. Clubs like The Parker Gun Collectors Association, The L.C. Smith Collectors Association, and the A.H. Fox Collector’s Association, along with the Lefever Club’s Forum, are all places where you can find out more about these American guns and post pics for second opinions from knowledgeable collectors.
You can also try posting questions about other guns at the forum for Doublegunshop.com.
If you have any other questions about double barrel shotguns, or about where you can find a gunsmith or a collectors to help you with them, drop me a note at the email address. I would happy to help you out.