Bespoke. In the shotgun world, it describes a custom made. A side-by-side or over under for you. Gauge, wood quality, engraving, grip style, barrel length, chokes, weight, triggers, and stock dimensions are a few of the features we imagine “bespeaking”.
The Beesley action is ingenious. But compared to other sidelock designs, it’s complex and a pain to build. That’s why so few makers copied it.
Atkin used the Beesley on their Spring Openers, and Francotte used it on a few of his Best-quality sidelocks. But that’s about it. If other makers used the Beesley action, I haven’t seen these shotguns.
So why did Dickson do it? They created the Round Action, one of the most elegant side-by-sides of all time. Why would they build a shotgun on another company’s design? I suspect it’s simple: that’s what the customer wanted.
Lot 150: JOHN DICKSON & SON. A RARE 16-BORE BEESLEY 1880 PATENT SELF-OPENING SIDELOCK EJECTOR, serial no. 6553: 28in. nitro reproved chopperlump barrels (in 2013, require bluing), rib gold-inlaid ‘2’ and engraved ‘JOHN DICKSON & SON. 63 PRINCES STREET. EDINBURGH’, 2 3/4in. chambers, bored approx. 1/4 and 1/2 choke, wall thicknesses below recommended minimum, incorporating Beesley patent self-opening system, patent no. 31 of 3rd January 1880, toplever gold-inlaid ‘2’, automatic safety with gold-inlaid ‘SAFE’ detail, bold acanthus scroll engraving with decorative borders, the underside with a cartouche engraved ‘JOHN DICKSON & SON. EDINBURGH’, (some wear), 14 1/2in. replacement stock, weight 6lb.
Provenance: The makers have kindly informed us that this shotgun was completed as No.2 of a pair of ‘best sidelock hammerless ejectors (Purdey actions)’ with 28in. barrels in September 1913 for A.M. Spence.
I like the old and impractical: bamboo fly rods…wooden decoys…books…and, of course, double-barrel shotguns — especially hammer guns with damascus barrels.
From about 1866-1875, centerfire hammer guns were the latest-and-greatest thing in the shooting world. Once they were introduced, hunters from the moors of Scotland to the Susquehanna flats tossed aside their slow-to-load percussion guns for the newest thing in double barrels.
William Powell & Son was one of the first British gunmakers to produce breachloading centerfire shotguns. Their side-by-sides were built on Powell’s “No. 1 patent” of 1864 and featured a snap-action, lift-up toplever design. The shotgun you see here is one of those doubles.
According to Steve Helsey at PowellsPatent.com, this one was ordered in 1869 by a Captain Cave. At that time, Powell had five hammer gun grades – Superior, Very Best, Best, Plain and Second. This shotgun is a “best”, or middle-grade gun.
The Russians are not known for shotguns. Even though they’ve made huge contributions to the military arms world, they’ve had little impact on high-quality doubles. But that doesn’t mean the Russians have never made great a great side-by-side. In fact, the two you see are fantastic doubles, and they’re right up there with some the finest shotguns in the world.
These side-by-sides were made by the Tula Arms Plant (Tulsky Oruzheiny Zavod), a Russian weapons manufacturer founded in 1712 by Tsar Peter I of Russia. The company is still around , and they’re still turning out double shotguns, including this model which is the ancestor of the two below.
From what I’ve been told, Tula made side-by-sides int he 1950s to supply the Soviets with shotguns for the ’52 Olympics. The company produced two models, including one based on Purdey’s famous Beesley-actioned side by side. After the Olympics, the company continue making these side-by-sides on a limited basis (the Olympic shooters had switched over to Tula-made O/Us).
Lot 171: TULA. A RARE AND HISTORIC 12-BORE “RUSSIAN PURDEY” SELF-OPENING SIDELOCK EJECTOR GUN, NO. 7340, PRESENTED TO HAROLD MACMILLAN BY PRESIDENT KHRUSHCHEV ON HIS HISTORIC VISIT IN 1959
29 3/8-inch chopper-lump barrels with 2 3/4-inch chambers, about full and extra full choke borings, mid extension, the breeches lined with gold, solid machined rib, the frame, locks and top lever with bouquet and scroll engraving and retaining all of their original hardening colour, with further outline gold inlaid detail, the date “1957” inlaid on the action base, the fences carved with further scrollwork, gold cocking indicators, articulated front trigger, 14 1/2-inch figured stock with inset gold plaque bearing presentation inscription, 7lb. 9oz., Russian nitro proof, in its maker’s presentation case with leather outer cover
The gun appears unused. Built to Purdey specification by the state Tula Armoury, the gun is one of a limited number produced for high ranking officials and presentation to overseas leaders.
The gun was presented to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan by Nikita Khrushchev during the historic 1959 visit to Moscow at the height of the Cold War. It is of superb quality and is exquisitely finished with a presentation gold plaque set in to the stock and it remains unused in its original presentation case. Inscription on plaque reads:
“The gun was presented to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan by Nikita Krushchev during the historic 1959 visit to Moscow at the height of the Cold War,” says auctioneer Gavin Gardiner.
Estimate: £20000-30000 ($30,000- $45,000)
For comparison, here’s a similar TULA that appeared on the market in 2009:
Lot: 1168. TULA ARSENAL MC-11 BEESLEY SELF-OPENING ACTION PIGEON GUN WITH CASE (A RUSSIAN PURDEY). SN 631093. Cal. 12 Bore. 2-3/4″ Chambers. This gun, the subject of an article in “American Rifleman” by Roger Barlow, has 29-1/2″ chopper lump bbls with raised, matted, flat pigeon rib, with 3 gold bands at breech. Bbl flats have Russian proofs, and SN. Robust action, built on Beesley’s self-opening patent, as were most all best quality Purdey hammerless guns since 1880, features non-automatic safety, gold-plated double triggers (front articulated), bushed strikers, and hidden third fastener. Action and lockplates are engraved with background of well cut scroll, with relief vignettes of game animals and dogs; a pair of moose on bottom of action; pair of pointers and pheasants on right lockplate; pair of setters and quail on left lockplate. Fences are high relief carved with grape and grape-leaf design. Top lever has matching grape leaves. All of this work is surrounded and accented by gold inlaid border with scroll terminations. Blued trigger guard with matching embellishment depicts a pair of woodcock in flight. SN is inlaid in gold on tang. Fiddleback figured, light honey blond European walnut straight grip buttstock measures 14-1/2″ over checkered wood butt, and features drop points, and 24 LPI point pattern checkering with mullered borders. Matching splinter forend has Anson release, and contains unusual ejector system. Bore diameter: left -.729, right -.729. Bore restrictions: left -.048, right -.038. Wall thickness: left -.034, right -.037. Drop at heel: 2-5/8″, drop at comb: 1-3/16″. Weight: 8 lbs. 3.5 oz, LOP 14-1/2″. Leather case has leather corners. Interior is lined in wine colored cloth, with Abercrombie & Fitch leather label, and contains a pair of snap caps. Accompanied by an issue of “American Rifleman” dated Feb. 1973; and a copy of “Treasury of Sporting Guns,” both of which feature this fine shotgun.
CONDITION: Excellent. Bbls retain virtually all of their original blue. Action retains 90% of its case color, silvering on bottom beads, and tips of fences. Lockplates retain virtually all of their case color. Trigger guard and top lever are silvering very slightly on sharp edges. Stock retains virtually all its oil finish. Action is tight. Bbls are on face. Ejectors are in time. Bores are excellent, bright and shiny with no visible imperfections. Case is near new. A meticulously crafted and finished gun, workmanship of the highest order. Sold for $17,250.00.