Shotgun barrels – how thin did makers really make them?

Shotgun barrel wall thickness gauge, from Connecticut Shotgun
Barrel wall thickness gauge

I was up at the James D. Julia Auction Company a few weeks ago looking over the shotguns in their March 11 & 12 sale. A lot of doubles caught my eye – from this great 16 gauge Woodwards O/U to this fantastic, 12 gauge J.P. Sauer Deluxe.

There were lots of nice American shotguns there, too, and I spent a while looking over the 20 gauge Parker and the 12 gauge Lefever shown below. Both guns impressed me with their crisp, original condition. Wanting to know about them, I looked them up in the auction catalog and I was shocked to see how thin the barrel walls were on both side-by-sides.

20 gauge Parker AAHE Double Barrel Side-by-Side Shotgun, owned by Fred Gilbert
20 gauge Parker AAHE Double Barrel Side-by-Side Shotgun, owned by Fred Gilbert

INCREDIBLE, ATTIC FOUND, 20 GA. PARKER BROS. AAHE WITH CASE. SN 161999 “It is absolutely original..Cal. 20 ga. 2-9/16” Chambers…Bbls retain 70 – 80% orig blue….Bore diameter: left-.617, right -.616. Bore restrictions: Mod, Cyl. Weight: 5 lbs. 14 oz…Wall thickness: left -.018, right -.020.

12 gauge Lefever Double Barrel Side-by-Side Shotgun, Special Order
12 gauge Lefever Double Barrel Side-by-Side Shotgun, Special Order

EXCEPTIONAL SPECIAL ORDER EARLY STYLE LEFEVER HEAVY GAME GUN. SN 16438. “Cal. 12 ga, 2-3/4″ Chambers… has 30”. Excellent, as found.  Bbls retain 80 – 90% orig blue. Bore diameter: left-.732, right -.732. Bore restrictions: left – Full, Mod. Weight: 7 lbs. 9 oz. Wall thickness: left -.020, right -.016.”

Afterwards, I went back to both guns and took a long look at the barrels. After a lot of close looking, I couldn’t find any signs of repairs to the barrels. They had to be original. That means the barrels left the factory with those thin spots.

To learn more about bbl wall thickness and it’s importance, check out this article: Thoughts on Barrel Wall Thicknesses from the Parke Gun Collector’s Association. It’s interesting to see what people think today, and what the gunmakers thought back when they were putting these shotguns together.

Good guns at Julia’s! First up, a Special Order Lefever…

Good news for gun nuts: Julia’s spring firearms auction is March 12 & 13. Like always, they’re selling some nice double barrel shotguns.

12g Lefever Special Order Double Barrel Shotgun
12g Lefever Special Order Double Barrel Shotgun

One of them is this Special Order Lefever. Judging by some of the peculiar Lefevers I’ve seen, customers could chinese-menu a shotgun from Uncle Dan, picking details from different grades, and creating unique guns that are hard to categorize.

Today, collector’s call these guns Special Orders. The only thing consistent about them is the quality that went into making them.

12g Lefever Special Order Double Barrel Shotgun
12g Lefever Special Order Double Barrel Shotgun

Here’s the complete description of the gun from Julia’s online catalog:

EXCEPTIONAL EARLY LEFEVER SPECIAL ORDER A-AA GAME GUN. SN 17776. Cal. 12 ga. 2-3/4″ Chambers. This obviously very high grade and early Lefever gun exhibits many of the qualities and engraving style of a gun of grade AA or higher, and has obviously been back to the factory a number of times to be fitted with some of the latest updates, which is not unusual for this highest quality American company.

30″ Dovetailed bbls with matted, concave game rib, are engraved “Whitworth” and “Fluid Steel” on tops. Bbls are fitted with early style ejector lugs. Lumps have been retrofit with typical Lefever in-frame ejector. Early ejector hammers mounted in forend have been retained to actuate extractors instead of the normal crescent shaped cam cocking hook as seen in late Lefevers.

Bottoms of bbls are stamped with SN on right, and the left with a second serial no. 16441. Action is fitted with typical ball and socket hinge joint, doll’s head extension and locking bolt with normal pivoting top lever, Lefever 3-position safety, with adjustable lock-out screw on tang, double checkered triggers, cocking hook without keel, and in-frame ejectors. Slots on water table which housed old cocking rods and ejector mechanism, have been neatly filled in. There are no grade markings on water table, which is stamped with SN. Lockplates have early style attached sears, cocking indicators and sear adjustment screws.

Action and lockplates are engraved with beautifully executed shaded scroll. Beads of action have floral engraving and a woodcock is on bottom. Fences have very well done raised carved fleur-de-lis with cloverleaf floral devices at either side, as is often found on AA and Optimus grade guns. Lockplates have rebated tails and with excellent, nicely shaded renditions of dogs, game, and hunters within ovals. A pointer is watching a grouse run away on left lockplate, and setter on point with hunter approaching in background is on right. “Lefever Arms Co” is in diagonal slashes across fronts of each lockplate. Trigger plate is engraved with patent dates, the latest being 1891

The quality of this engraving is beyond compare, out-classing anything found on guns by any other American maker. Trigger guard extends to horn grip cap with SN at tang. Bow is engraved with gold inlaid setter flanked by scroll. Very finely marbled and slightly figured European walnut full capped pistol grip buttstock measures 14″ over hard rubber buttplate with “L. A. Co.” logo. Stock features vacant gold shield on toe line, horn grip cap, arrowhead drop points, and 28 LPI point pattern checkering with 36 LPI fancy bordered flanking panels extending into buttstock. Matching splinter forend has push button release, button of which is inlaid in gold with intertwined monogram, “K I J”. Checkering mimics that of buttstock, except is more elaborate. Finely checkered flanking panels surround horn inlays at back and tip, as is found on other guns of the same period

Consignor reported this fine shotgun to the Lefever Arms Collectors Association. This guns history and comparison with another gun of similar grade, three numbers earlier, were written up in the newsletter in July/ August 2009 with heading of “The Hunter Family’s “Keeper””. Similarities and differences between these two guns are interesting to note. Bore diameter: left-.731, right -.731. Bore restrictions: left -.034, right -.009. Wall thickness: left -.029, right -.030. Drop at heel: 3-3/16″, drop at comb: 1-7/8″. Weight: 7 lbs. 11.5 oz. LOP 14″.

PROVENANCE: Lefever Arms Collectors Assn. Newsletter July August 2009. CONDITION: Fine. Bbls retain nearly all of a nice quality re-black. Action retains traces of orig case hardening color in protected areas, and is mostly a very pleasing mottled silver gray. Trigger guard is nearly all silver, but with some orig blue inside bow. Stocks retain most of an older varnish refinish. Checkering re-cut on butt, but is untouched on forend. Bores are excellent, bright and shiny, with one or 2 minor pings. Action is tight. Bbls are on face. Ejectors are slightly out of time. 4-44902 MGM19 (15,000-25,000)