I love old Purdeys, and when I take a look at the one you see here, I remember why. When this side-by-side was made around 1869, centerfire, breechloading shotguns like it were the latest-and-greatest thing. Even though its Henry Jones Screw-Grip Action looks primitive to us today, it was cutting-edge back then.
But even though this Purdey was built with the latest features from its era, it retains the understated, elegant looks that had made James Purdey’s firearms famous and that would define them throughout the 1800s and up to today.
The back-action, island locks on this gun are one of the features that make it special. So is the engraving, probably cut by Purdey’s house engraver at that time: James Lucas. The chiseled fences are also nice, and so is the teardrop shape to the triggerguard. What a gun!
Gavin Gardiner is an expert on British and European sporting arms, and he holds some of the world’s best gun auctions. Check out this video to see some of his insights into engraving patterns and styles. (BTW: The intros to all of Gavin’s videos always make me smile).
Keith Thomas is one of the world’s top engravers. Check out the P.V. Nelson shotgun you see here to see why Thomas’s rose & scroll patterns are considered to be some of the finest ever cut.
Thomas began his engraving career in 1964 as an apprentice with Holland & Holland. In 1975, he went out on his own and since then he engraved guns for most of the world’s top gunmakers, including Boss & Co, W. W. Greener, Hartmann & Weiss, and A. A. Brown.
Last April at the 2017 Southern Side By Side Spring Classic I had the good fortune to meet Keith Thomas, one of the world’s top gun engravers. Thomas began his engraving career in 1964 as an apprentice with Holland & Holland. He stayed with that famous London firm until he went own in 1975.
Since then, he has worked for most of the work’s top gunmakers, including, including Boss & Co, W. W. Greener, Hartmann & Weiss, Asprey, Peter V. Nelson, Watson Bros, and A. A. Brown.
The Hartmann & Weiss you see here features his work and is a great example of why Thomas’s rose & scroll patterns are considered to be among the finest ever.
A best-quality shotgun with minimal engraving is a bold creation.
Engraving can make or break shotgun. Done right, it adds to a shotgun’s overall beauty. Done wrong, it calls too much attention to itself by garish, crude, or just plain ugly.
Engraving can also hide the crisper details of a gun, Like a sheet tossed over a chair. The proud roundness of the fences and the curves of the action — stuff like this gets a little lost under bouquets of flowers and the swirls of scrollwork. Less-than-perfect craftsmanship can also be obscured with by the same flourishes.
When you take away the engraving, you take away all these possibilities. That’s why this Piotti Monaco caught my eye. If you take a looks at it, you’ll see what I mean. Here’s more info about the gun from the seller:
PIOTTI MONACO SIDELOCK SXS 12 GAUGE: MADE 1994 CREATIVE ARTS BORDER ENGRAVED BEST QUALITY GUN 30″ HOLLAND SELF OPENER 010 AND 027 WITH FACTORY 3″ CHAMBERS SINGLE TRIGGER EJECTOR SPLINTER FOREARM ENGLISH GRIP INCREDIBLE WOOD MAKERS CASE NEW CONDITION 7LBS 9 OZ X 2 1/2 X 1 5/8 X 14 3/4 TO LEATHER COVERED PAD 1/2 REPLACEMENT COST. Price: $27,500.00
Engraving on top-quality doubles is unusual. While it’s one of the least functional features, it’s also one of the most important. Done right, engraving can make a gun (and a gunmaker); done wrong it can ruin both. London’s top firms realized this early only. To ensure that their best-quality guns featured equally impressive engraving, gunmakers paid their best engravers top wages.
James Lucas was one of these top engravers, and at the peak of his career he was earning one of the highest salaries in London gunmaking trade. He was worth it, too. From 1855 to 1915, Lucas was Purdey’s head engraver, and during that time worked with another Purdey engraver named J. Mace, Sr. to develop the fine, tight scroll work that went on to be come the “rose & scroll” pattern that defined Purdey’s doubles.
The shotgun you see here is one of James Purdey & Sons first breechloading centerfire shotguns. Made in 1867, You can see how the engraver (proably Mr Lucas himself) was working out the tight, densely-packed scrollwork that would become Purdey’s famous house style.
Engraving is one of those things that can make or break a shotgun. When it’s done right, it add to a double’s overall elegance, and pushes it to the level of a real Best gun.
Lisa Tomlin is an engraver who is a master engraver who’s an expert at doing it right. She started engraving in 1983 when she was hired by Ken Hurst. Eventually she went out on her own, working on custom knives and then firearms.
Today, she has engraved firearms for everyone from former President George H.W. Bush and General Normal Schwarzkopf to movie director/screen writer John Milius.
“Constrained by trigger and bolt and breech, the gun engraver’s canvas is hardly the size of a playing card. A few square inches with possibly another stamp-size space or two. That’s where she is asked to express the surprise flush of a pheasant, the quiver of a pointing dog’s flank, the thunder of an elephant scenting danger…”