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.
I’ve seen a lot of Italian shotguns – from basic Berettas to top-of-the-line O/Us and side-by-sides by Bosis and F.lli Rizzini. But almost all of these have been post WW2 shotguns. For some reason, I’ve seen very few Italian shotguns from the first half of the 20th century or the 19th century.
That’s why this 19th century double barrel pinfire shotgun by Alfonso Izzo caught my eye. Not only is it an antique, but it looks like it’s in stunning original condition. Just look at the color on the action and the browning on the damascus barrels — that’s all original. So is the finish on the wood. And check out the engraving – it’s look very English to me. In its day, this shotgun must have been the finest the maker could produce. Today its retains that aura that quality always has.
The pinfire system was one of the first successful breechloading designs. It came into use around 1855 and lasted just a handful of years. Centerfire breechloaders came onto the market about 1865 and withing a few years they had killed off the pinfires.
This shotgun also uses a Jones-style underlever, first patented in 1859. The Jones underlever would go on to be one of the most successful actions ever created. Shotguns and rifles were built on it right into the 20th century.
The 1860s were a decade of upheaval and innovation.
As the Civil War raged (1861-65) and the first transcontinental railroad crossed the US (1869), the percussion era in firearms ended. In about a decade, muzzle loading shotguns were replaced by breechloaders and paper cartridges.
These breechloaders started out as hammer guns. But by 1871,successful hammerless models by Murcott and Needham were on the scene. In 1875, Westley Richards introduced their Anson & Deeley barrel-cocking, hammerless, double barrel shotgun and revolutionized sporting guns.
During this period, thousands of firearms patents were granted in Europe, the UK, and the United States. Great Britain’s Henry Tolley filed for a handful of them. Henry was most likely the younger brother of the men behind J. & W. Tolley Gunmakers (Birmingham about 1858 to 1955) and the shotgun here incorporates one of his innovative ideas: a self-opening, Anson& Deeley boxlock shotgun.
Until I saw this gun, I thought Purdey’s Beesley-patent sidelocks were the world’s first self-opening doubles. But Purdey introduced their Beesley-patent hammerless sidelocks in 1884; this Henry Tolley was made before that, probably around 1880.
From the outside, it looks like a standard boxlock. But when you turn the toplever, you can feel the plungers/springs on the flats of the action pop the gun open. And these plungers function this way whether or not the gun has been fired, making the gun a true self opener. Take a look and let me know what you think. Please let me know if you own, or have seen, another boxlock like this. I love to take one apart and see how it really works.