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!
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.