“Why …?” is a question I ask a lot when looking at guns. Why did Parker use a doll’s head? Why did Greener think a side safety was a great idea?
Another “Why?” I’ve asked many times is “Why did MacNaughton build a 28g Round Action shotguns?”
These guns pop up every now and then, and every time I see one, I scratch my head and wonder what the thinking was behind them. The one’s I’ve seen were made in the 1890s, had 24″-24 1/2″ barrels, and weighed around 5lbs. They also had adult-size stocks dimensions (which kills the whole “made for kids” idea).
People have told me these guns were made for walked-up woodcock shooting in the UK. I’ve also heard these SxS were made for naturalists gathering birds for avian collections. Both sounded like plausible explanations to me.
To learn more about MacNaughtons and their mysterious 28-gauge side-by-sides, check out this post from the John Dickson & Son site:
E.J.CHURCHILL PREMIERE XXV 28 GAUGE: 25″ BARRELS, 007″ AND 010″, 2 3/4″, DOUBLE TRIGGER, EJECTORS, SPLINTER FOREARM, ENGLISH GRIP, MAKERS CASE, MINT ORIGINAL CONDITION, 4LBS 12 OZ, 2 1/8″ DAH, 1 5/8″ DAC, 14 1/16″ LOP. Price:$28,500
Westley Richards 20 Bore Drop Lock Deluxe: This is the early variation that has the removable bottom plate. Engraving is the Deluxe style with dogs and game with deep relief Chisel type scroll. Overall condition is about excellent. Engraving is crisp, checkering is sharp to the touch and well defined. Barrels show the typical early style of London re-black. Bores are mint. Absolutely beautiful gun. Barrels: 28 Inch with 2 1/2″ Chambers. Bores; .624 R & .625 L Min. Wall: .024 R & .026 L, Chokes: IC & Mod. Constrictions: .008 R & .020 L, Engraving: Deluxe Grade Game Scene and Relief, Action: Hand Detachable Lock (Droplock), Stock: High Quality Circassian, Butt: Half Inch Black Pachmayr Old English, L.O.P.13 3/4″, Weight5 lbs. 14.7 oz, Stock Dimensions:1 3/8″ x 2 1/8″ x 13 3/4″ with 3/8 cast off at heel and 1/2 cast off at toe. Price:$25,900
James MacNaughton ~ This is the rare and sought after Skeleton Frame gun which is so beautiful!: Hammerless Sidelocks – This is the highly sought after Scottish round action with the skeleton frame giving it the appearance of a bar in wood. What a joy this would be to carry on that late winter snowy pheasant hunt. Where the metal action-ed double would be nice in your hand, this lovely killing machine with mostly wood in the hand would be warm to the carry. Serial Number: 2087, Ejectors: Yes, Barrels: 28″, Barrel Type: Steel, Action: Trigger plate round action, Gauge: 12 gauge, Stock Comb: 1 9/16″, Stock Heel: 2 3/16″, LOP: 15 7/16″ ( 14 3/8″ of wood), Weight: 7 lbs. 1 oz., Choke Left: .013 IC, Choke Right: .006 Skeet, Proof:Nitro: 2 1/2″, Minimum Wall Thickness Left: .030″, Minimum Wall Thickness Right: .027″. Price:$16,500
James MacNaughton was a gunmaker in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he opened a shop in the city’s center in 1864. In 1879, he patented his ‘Edinburgh Patent Hammerless Ejector’ design, on which this double rifle is based.
With the lockwork mounted on the triggerplate and behind the standing breech, the actions on MacNaughton’s guns were very strong. Because of their strength, they could be adapted to the “Skeleton” design you see here and also used in double rifles, which generate far higher pressures and strain than shotguns.
MacNaughton’s hammerless design evolved over time, and I think this rifle is built on one of the earlier, or the earliest, variation. It uses the opening-motion of its extra long toplever to cock the locks. Later ones had regular sized toplevers and cocked on the drop of the barrels (here’s one in 12 gauge).
EARLY AND RARE MACNAUGHTON “SKELETON” ROUND ACTION DOUBLE RIFLE: SN 1156. (ca 1885 ?) Cal. .450 BPE. 28″ Dovetailed steel bbls are fitted with full length matted rib with one standing, one folding leaf rear sight. Leaves are unmarked and unnotched. Standing leaf has inset “certifiable antique ivory” sighting triangle. Central portion of rib is swamped and rises at muzzle to ramp holding steel bead.
Tops of bbls are engraved “James Mac Naughton” and “26 Hanover Street. Edinburgh.” Bbl flats are stamped with London black powder proofs, and bottoms of bbls with SNs. A sling eye is screwed into bottom rib. Bbls are fitted with early bail type extractor system, often used by Purdeys on early breech loaders. Round bodied, trigger plate action has wood which extends over bar in a style favored by MacNaughton, in which they referred to as their “Skeleton” action. This trigger plate action was the first (1879) of the famous “round” actions of Edinburgh. This basic design was used by John Dickson beginning in 1880 with resultant lawsuit over the concept. The action on this rifle is patent use no. “66”, and incorporates early long top lever which also cocks hammers. Central area is milled away to access action pin and view hammers through glass window as cocking indicators. Action also features MacNaughton’s toggling safety, pivoting third fastener, and dbl triggers. Large trigger plate has tail which extends to grip cap. Trigger guard is attached to trigger plate at front and back. Metal parts are engraved with near full coverage well cut scroll with Celtic knotwork borders. Top of action is engraved “MACNAUGHTON EDINBURGH”. Finely fiddle figured and lightly streaked, dense, European walnut horn capped pistol grip buttstock measures 14-1/2″ over checkered horn buttplate, and features slim shadow line right hand cheekpiece, and flat top point pattern checkering with mullered borders. A gold oval on toe line is engraved with wild boar in sling held by cleft in oak tree all over motto “Lock Sicker” (Keep Securely) This is the Douglas family crest – either Kinglassie or Sir Arthur Percy Baronet of Carr. This crest plate is behind sling eye engraved with star. Matching splinter forend has forward pivoting lever release. Drop at heel: approx 2-5/8″, drop at comb: approx 1-7/8″. Weight: 7 lbs. 14 oz. LOP: 14-1/2″.
PROVENANCE: Email stating that Dickson records indicate that a rifle with this SN was sold Aug 1895 to Sir A. M. MacKenzie (3rd Baronet), and “A relatively small amount of MacNaughton round actions were made about 400 in total. Of these, a mere handful were dbl rifles around 4 or 5.” (This rifle is most likely from an earlier period, and different SN series. Published records began with SN 110 in 1894. Info on Sir Arthur Percy Douglas and Banglapedia info on Sir Alexander MacKenzie (Not Alexander Muir MacKenzie).
CONDITION: Excellent, original, as found. Bbls retain 80 – 90% orig blue thinning overall, silvering on sides of rear portion from normal hand wear, with some attendant minor scratches and marks. Action retains 70 – 80% orig light case hardening color. Top lever retain most of its orig fire blue, as does cocking window housing. Stocks retain nearly all of what appears to be their orig hand rubbed oil finish, with some fairly deep scratches on the right side of butt, and some minor marks and scratches scattered overall, checkering lightly worn. Bores are very fine, shiny with sharp rifling throughout. There is some pitting toward breech end of right bbl, and a few other scattered light pits. Action has a hint of looseness with forend removed, feels tight with forend installed. Bbls are slightly off face. A wonderful Scottish deer stalking rifle. Estimate: $20,000-$30,000
James MacNaughton Skeleton Round Triggerplate “The Edinburgh”, circa 1907: A very scarce skeleton (bar-in-wood) triggerplate round action from this famed Scottish maker having only approximately 100 ever being made, 12 bore, 2 1/2″ chambers, replacement 28″ fluid steel nitro proved at 3 Tons barrels by the makers in 1972 and choked .006 Skt. and .009 IC, smooth concave game rib engraved “James MacNaughton & Sons, Hanover Street, Edinburgh”, 14 3/4″ LOP over a leather pad, 1 1/2″ DAC, 2 1/4″ DAH, 3/16″ cast off, 6 lbs. 12 oz., ejectors, double triggers, straight grip, splinter forend, automatic MacNaughton “lever” safety, later barrel cocking design with normal top lever length, typical top tang inspection plate and inspection plate screw with cutout, fine typical MacNaughton skeleton grape vine engraving pattern with “MacNaughton & Sons” engraved on both sides of action, triggerplate engraved to match action, originally no. 1 of a pair with “1” in gold inlay on top lever and barrel rib, highly figured European walnut stock, A&D push button forend release, stock gold oval engraved with a rather mystical animal head. Excellent condition gun that is tight and sound and without any cracks, a few spots of thin barrel blue, exceptional bores and walls on the newer barrels and ready for it’s next 100+ years of service. These are very rare guns with MacNaughton making the most at about 100 and Dickson having made only about 12-15 skeleton round actions. Price:$24,950
Winchester Model 21 Skeet Grade Field gun in 16 gauge: With 28″ matted rib barrels and choked M&IM ( Chokes measure .012 & .020 ) Beautiful pistol grip stock with 14 1/4″ LOP over checkered butt . Hard grip cap. Beavertail forend . Single selective trigger, Auto ejectors. An outstanding model 21. Price:$7,995
W & C. Scott and Son 12g Premier grade double – barreled SxS shotgun: With patented crystal indicator windows. 12 gauge with two sets of original Damascus barrels remaining in near fine original condition . The first set of barrels measure 30” in length with 2 ½” chambers choked .20 for modified left and 0 for cylinder right. The second set measure 30” and are choked modified and modified and show almost no use with 95% to 98% bright original tobacco brown finish and serial numbered to match with near fine bores. The stock measures 14 ½” to the end of a English type pad and nearly 14 inches to the end of the wood. There is a 3 ¼ inch drop at the heel with a 2 inch drop at the comb. The wall thickness measures .26 left barrel and .33 right barrel. The barrels retain 90% to 95% of their original light brown finish with some minor scratches and just beginning slight aging. Approximately 95% of the Damascus pattern shows well and there is some very vivid tobacco colored brown finish remaining. The frame shows 85% to 90% case hardening that is just drifting and toning slightly. The action is profusely engraved with bank note scrolls and profuse game bird scenes. The gun locks tight and the bores are still bright. Price:$5,900.
ITHACA NID, GRADE FOUR 12 GAUGE, HEAVY FRAME 3″ MAGNUM, 26 ” BARRELS: EXCELLENT BLUE, MIRROR BORES, TWIN IVORY SIGHTS, BRILEY STEEL SHOT CHOKE TUBES, FORCING CONES LENGTHENED. AUTOMATIC EJECTORS, SINGLE SELECTIVE TRIGGER, TYPICAL ENGRAVING PATTERN, PHEASANT ON RIGHT, MALLARD ON LEFT, PLUS SCROLLWORK AND FINE BORDERS. STRAIGHT GRIP STOCK, BEAVERTAIL FOREARM, FINE FLEUR DI LIS CHECKERING, GORGEOUS HIGHLY FIGURED WOOD, GOLD INLAY IN BUTTSTOCK. GREAT DIMENSIONS 1 1/2″ X 2″ X 13 3/4″, ORIGINAL ITHACA SUNBURST PAD. ITHACA PRODUCED A TOTAL OF 87 12 GAUGE HEAVY MAGNUMS, ONLY 14 GRADE FOURS WERE MADE. ALL ARE SERIAL NUMBERED OVER 500,000. 8 POUNDS 6 OUNCES. THE PERFECT WATERFOWL DOUBLE SHOTGUN. AN EXTREMELY RARE GUN. Price:$4,850
Charles Hellis & Sons Ltd. 121 & 123 Edgeware Road. Hyde Park. London W. 2″ game gun built in 1939: 26″ Cyl/IC extractor barrels with makers name and adress and “FOR 2 INCH CASE ONLY” inlayed in platinum on the rib. Gun is totally in proof with original 2″ chambers. Bores measure .732 right and left. Choked .002 on the right and .008 on the left. Minimum wall thickness is .026 Reciever retains 60% original case colors with border engraving only. Barrels retain 96% blue with 60% blue on bottom of reciever and trigger guard. Stock and forend completely solid with some fairly nice figure in the buttstock. 14 1/2″ LOP to checkered butt. DAC 1 1/2″ DAH-2 3/8″ Checkering has been recut and a light refinish on buttstock and forend. This gun remains in excellent mechanical condition. It is tight and on face. Barrels ring like a chime. Weighs in at 5lb 9oz These 2″ game guns are few and far between with many not in proof or in poor condition. This is a real gem for the avid woodcock or quail hunter. Price:$4695
James MacNaughton opened his gunmaking business in 1864 and in 1879 he introduced his Edinburgh Patent Hammerless Ejector – the world’s first “round-action” shotgun. The first MacNaughton round actions were lever cockers, and the locks cocked when you operated the gun’s top lever to open the breech. Later models, like the on you see here, switched over to a barrel-cocking design.
BTW: if you would like to have a new one, Dickson/MacNaughton will be happy to build one for you. Prices start at £38,775.
12 gauge J. MacNaughton & Sons, Edinburgh, #3558, Double Barrel Shotgun: This is the “Edinburgh Gun”. A Superb Conditioned and Very Elegant Hammerless Round Action Triggerplate Bar-In-Wood (Skeleton-Action) Double 12 Bore Nitro Made about 1933; This very gun, #3558, is the last recorded gun of the original MacNaughton business and their records, The record of this gun is undated and it is believed to have been delivered either during or shortly after WWII, The current owners have confirmed this fact, It has 28″ Ejector dovetail lump barrels with hidden third bite at .733″ .007 & .027″ (Open Imp.Cyl. & Imp.Mod.), 2 3/4″ chambers, Wall thickness on the right and left at .0275″; Original London Nitro Proved at 1 1/8 ounce and then London proved to 3 1/4 tons when the chambers were lengthened to 2 3/4″ from 2 1/2″ & marked with the proper reproof, The safety is a turning top lever on the top strap, Double triggers, The receiver top tang with the MacNaughton trap door, Splinter forend with an Anson release, Straight hand stock at 14 3/4 x 1 1/2 x 1 7/8″ over a 5/8″ removable leather pad with plugs, It will go 15 3/16″ with a 1″ pad, Cast-off for the right hand, Great game gun weight at 6 lbs. 11 oz., Very nice wood with excellent black/brown contrast, Good bite remains, 95% coverage of classic scroll engraving, 40% original case colors, 98% case colors remain inside the forend, 60% original case colors on the breech face, A professional reblack on the barrels and now remain at 97%, The stock & forend are at 95%, The checkering is at 98%, The bores are 100% bright and shiny and remain like new.
This is special stuff from one of the most famous Edinburgh Gunmakers of the 19th century. It is estimated that about 100 bar-in-wood MacNaughton actions were made and roughly about 200 solid bar actions. James MacNaughton was the patentee of the first round action similar to Dickson’s own later design. His round action triggerplate lockwork was patent #2848 of 1879 which included a falling block as well as this SxS. This patent is certainly the forerunner of all the round actions that are still made to this day. This classic MacNaughton system also carried a U. S. patent #264,723 of 1882. The firm became James MacNaughton & Sons at 36 Hanover in 1905 and remained there until 1940. In 1999 the owners of James MacNaughton bought John Dickson & Son Ltd and formed the company trading under the name of Dickson & MacNaughton to this day. Price: $27,750.00
I often think of Birmingham and London as the centers of the UK’s double-barrel shotgun trade. Of course, both cities did make significant contributions to the history of gunmaking, but Edinburgh also played a important role.
MacNAUGHTON 303 NITRO ROUND ACTION TRIGGERPLATE DOUBLE RIFLE: DISTINCTIVE, ELEGANT & RARE, #2430, James MacNaughton & Sons, 36 Hanover Street, Edinburgh: A Distinctive, Elegant & Rare Hammerless Round Action Trigger Plate Double Rifle in .303 British Nitro Made in 1905 with 26″ Ejector barrels, The safety is a turning lever on the top strap, 1/4 rib with 1 standing & 1 folding rear sights, The 1/4 rib and front ramp in the pure MacNaughton round action style with split barrels from the rib to the front sight, Nitro Proved, Double triggers, No cheekpiece, Ideal for the right or left hand, No sling eyes, 14 5/8″ LOP over the original checkered butt, The proper and correct 303 weight of 8 lbs. 1 oz., 90% coverage of very nice period scroll and border engraving, Nice wood that remains stout with a lifetime of use left in both the butt and forend.
I feel this gun is totally original with the barrel blue still at 95%, it still has 40% original case colors and it remains super solid in every respect. Then to top all that off, the bores are excellent plus and look like new, if they were a 10 when it was new they now remain at a 9. A very solid double rifle that has a bunch of its mechanical life left in it. It has a spare set of 20 Bore 28″ ejector barrels that were fit to this gun by B.S.A. without any alteration to the original gun. They appear to have been fitted after 1925 based on the proof marks. The whole is cased in the original canvas trunk after the 20 Bore barrels were added and fits the two barrels. It has a very neat original MacNaughton trade label with the 36 Hanover address and not the former 26 Hanover address. It was possibly made for Mr. K. R. McAdams from Fredericton, New Brunswick as the trade label is marked accordingly.
This is special stuff from one of the most famous Edinburgh Gunmakers of the 19th century. James MacNaughton was the patentee of the first round action similar to Dickson’s own later design. His round action trigger plate lockwork was patent #2848 of 1879 which included a falling block as well as this SxS. This patent is certainly the forerunner of all the round actions that are still made to this day. The MacNaughton ejector system is patent 37759 of 1890. This classic MacNaughton system also carried a U. S. patent #264,723 of 1882. The firm became James MacNaughton & Sons at 36 Hanover in 1905, the address of this gun and remained there until 1940. Price:$31,000.00
Boss & Co. 20 bore SxS double barrel shotgun: Best side by side, 26″ barrels with file cut flat tapered rib, original 2-3/4″ chambers choked tight improved cylinder and modified .010/.016, bores measure a perfect .615/.615, and fabulous wall thickness of .035 minimum both. With a perfectly proportioned action, engraved in the traditional Boss style, this little gun weighs just 5 lbs, 10 oz. Fitted with Boss single trigger and automatic ejectors. The slender English grip and splinter forend make for a elegant look to this racy little Thoroughbred! Stock measures 1-3/8″ comb, 2-1/8″ heel, 14-1/2″ to a checkered butt. The wood features a rich deep red color with black smokey figure finished with a wonderful original patina. The action retains about 75% case colors of muted browns and blues which provide a background to showcase the delicate engraving. At 50 years old, this gun is in excellent condition overall and less than half today’s replacement cost. Cased in a lightweight VC with maker’s label. Price: $57,500
MacNaughton 12 gauge side-by-side game gun: Round body Game gun,12 gauge, 28″ barrels choked .003&.015 with 2 1/2″ chambers. Total weight is 6 3/4lbs with a LOP of 14 1/2″-1 1/2″-2 1/4″ With leather covered pad. Overall condition is 95%,barrels have been re-blackened at some time. Smooth handling and well balanced. Price: $15,900
Pedro Arrizabalaga 20 ga. double barrels side-by-side shotgun: 27-1/2″ barrels with flat file cut rib, choked modified and full, 2-3/4″ chambers. A best quality, hand-detachable sidelock with sideclips, and hidden third fastener. Self-opening coin finished action engraved in an early Holland & Holland acanthus pattern. Double triggers with articulated front trigger, splinter forend, straight diamond grip of well-figured European walnut measures 1-3/8″ comb, 2-1/8″ heel, 15-1/8″ over a full leather fitted pad. Weighs 6 lbs, 6 oz. This is Spain’s top class gunmaker and this fine little 20 is a fabulous example! A tremendous value! Cased. Price: $8,750
PRYSE & REDMAN, LONDON 500 3 1/4″ BPE Double Rifle: Circa 1870’s. An excellent, tight, London proofed, 500 3 1/4 BPE double rifle with BA locks and stalking safeties. The caliber favored for tigers in India at the time of the Raj. The 28″ re-blacked barrels with excellent bores, crisp markings, Henry rifling, PUN’s #’s 222 & 223. Action with 85% coverage of fine scroll engraving and mostly silvered, shadowy remnants of CC. Darkly streaked circ. walnut is in excellent condition, proud to metal, with excellent checkering, engraved steel BP, horn PG cap, vacant silver oval and sling eyes. Weight 8.75 lbs, LOP 13 7/8″. Bolted fore end with horn tip. Price: $5495