Over the last few years, I’ve walked into more gun stores than I can remember. Tiny shops and big box stores, from Fairfax, Virginia to Portland, Oregon. But the moment I stepped into Holland & Holland’s gun room in New York City, I knew that I’d stepped into a whole different class of gun store, one where I would be lucky to ever be able to buy even a used gun off the rack . . .
I took the same train into the city that had brought me to work every day since I could land my first internship, but instead of hopping on the subway and speeding off to some run-down office building, I stepped out onto Park Avenue and started walking south. Just two blocks down from Grand Central terminal, I took a right on 40th street and kept walking until I hit Madison Avenue. Buried deep in the heart of that posh section of New York is a nondescript office building, 10 East 40th Street, squeezed between two larger more modern structures. Nothing about the building’s exterior betrayed the jewel that resided on the 19th floor — no sign, no awning, only a small brass name plate on the directory behind the security desk that bears the name Holland & Holland.
Holland & Holland started making firearms in London in 1835, and just a few short years later the company swept the field in the “rifle” category for the best firearms in the world. Ever since then, H&H has been known for making “bespoke” firearms, a fancy way of saying that all of their guns are hand-made and tailored to suit the buyer. Naturally, H&H has a warrant from the Crown to produce firearms for their usage.
The company’s philosophy has changed little since those early days, and while H&H is best known for their magnum safari cartridges (.375 H&H Magnum being the most popular) they long ago expanded into shotguns as well.
As the elevator doors opened on the 19th floor, I still wasn’t entirely sure that I had the right address. Nothing on the door leads you to believe that you were walking into anything but another law firm’s offices. But turn the corner in their vestibule and you are instantly greeted with the most beautiful looking gun store that I have ever seen in my life. Two glass cases, tastefully lit, showcased lines of stunning shotguns and rifles. And in the center of the office were two leather-topped tables with H&H shipping cases. It felt like I had stepped back in time, to a point before high-tech polymer was the king of the firearms accessory market.
David, one of the salesmen who staff the store, greeted me at the door and welcomed me. I had emailed earlier in the week on the off-chance that I would be able to poke my nose in for a quick peek at how the other half (well, 1%) buys guns, but what I got instead was a personal guided tour of H&H’s entire line of firearms and accessories. It would be over two hours before I stepped back out on 40th Street again.
While H&H has traditionally been known for their safari rifles, the most popular firearms these days are their shotguns. According to David it goes back and forth every once in a while as to which sells best, but shotguns are leading at the moment. I asked David to walk me through the product line, starting at the shallow end of the pool. Their definition of “shallow end” is about $35,000. Plus or minus, depending on the the dollar’s strength against British pound, that is.
All of H&H’s firearms are hand crafted, as far as something can be hand crafted and remain accurate these days. The internal parts for all of their firearms start out as a solid block of metal and are CNC machined into the rough shape of the finished part. Then one of their craftsmen hand-fit each and every part to ensure that it’s as snug and reliable as possible. I asked David about getting replacement barrels for their shotguns, and apparently the tolerances are so tight that the parts are no longer interchangeable between guns. If you want a new barrel, you need to have one specially made for your particular firearm.
Speaking of hand crafted, I was admiring the rib on one of the shotguns when David pointed something out. “See these marks?” He pointed to a series of parallel grooves that ran perpendicular to the barrel for the entire length of the tube, which reduce glare in the sunlight. “These are all hand engraved, starting farther apart at the breech and becoming more fine and closer together at the muzzle. Someone sat down and engraved each one freehand.” The same treatment was given to items as seemingly insignificant as the thumb safety, with the ridges hand-engraved and the word “SAFE” embellished with gold lettering.
David wasn’t done showing off. He grabbed a side-lock shotgun off the rack and disassembled it on the table, revealing that even the internal parts had been engraved with intricate scrolling. Really brings new meaning to the phrase “spared no expense.”
For each model of shotgun, there are two distinct levels of quality. The lower level is the standard or “Royal” feature set, with case-hardened metal (for that Damascus steel look), straghtforward engraving and fine wood. That’s not to say the “standard” engraving is isn’t impressive, but why stick with just “impressive” when you can have “astonishing?”
The higher grade is their “Royal Deluxe” model, which features distinctly superior looking wood and much more intricate engraving as the standard fare. There’s a leather-bound book on one of the tables where you can select which engraving style you want, and for a little extra dosh even have it personalized just for you. After all, custom firearms are their stock in trade.
I asked David about the kind of people who work behind the scenes, whether they come from a family of gun makers or if they simply apply out of the blue. Apparently the majority of the talent is recruited straight out of high school, and after a five year internship they’re given a 10 year contract to work for H&H. Master craftsmen teach their skills to the next generation of gunmakers, and the cycle repeats itself for another fifty years.
Before we moved on from the shotguns, David wanted to show me something rather interesting. I had never heard of a “paradox” gun before, but it’s something that Holland & Holland had cooked up years before. It was massively popular when India was still part of the empire, but after Ghandi kicked the Brits out, the gun fell out of favor. H&H had started offering it again recently and it was doing pretty brisk business.
The idea behind a paradox gun was that it’s a standard side by side shotgun, until the last two inches of the barrel. Instead of continuing the smooth bore, the last few inches were rifled. For slugs, it means higher velocities than standard slug barrels but with the same glorious accuracy. And for standard shot it’s like having an improved cylinder or “IC” choke in the gun with none of the ill effects of a slug barrel on the shot pattern. In short, the perfect shotgun for hunting.
At that point, I felt that I needed an answer to the $64,000 question. “Who actually buys these things?” There’s no doubt that they’re exquisite, but what’s their market? According to David, buyers are typically older gentlemen who are finally rid of their children and have a little disposable cash to throw around. Mix in some stock brokers and investment bankers (the same guys who wear $8,000 watches and run up bar tabs that require reporting to the IRS) and you have their typical client.
Then again, some of their clients don’t fit that mold at all. One guy to whom David has sold a firearm was a sanitation worker for his entire life. He scrimped and saved enough that he could finally afford his dream gun. If that isn’t the definition of the American Dream, I don’t know what is.
The relatively advanced age of the clients also has an effect on the popularity of certain calibers. In shotguns, David said that the most-wanted bores come and go. Some years the 12 gauge is more popular, other years the 20 gauge is supreme. These days, it’s a toss-up between the 20 and 28 gauge guns. I asked David why, and his theory is that the older clients simply don’t want to carry that much weight around. Plus, the guns seem to balance better in 20 gauge. He handed me a 12 gauge side by side round lock shotgun, and the gun felt like I was holding a bolt of satin cloth. Well, a bolt of satin around a tube of lead. Then he swapped out the 20 gauge, and it felt light as a feather and more responsive to my movements. I could see his point, it just felt better.
Their caliber of client aren’t the type they’d pull into the store with street-level retail operations, although they tried that in New York for a while. They ran a standard street access showroom, but the signal to noise ratio was simply too high to justify the number of man hours it took to keep the doors open. So when they were offered a good bit of change in exchange for their existing location, they took it and bought the stunning view they now enjoy. From their windows, you can see the Empire State Building towering in the foreground, and the Freedom Tower finally taking shape downtown. In fact, they take full advantage of the view, encouraging sometimes reluctant customers to point the rifles out the window to test optics — sometimes having to reassure them that the glass means that while they can see out, no one can see in.
While the days of being able to window shop at a Holland & Holland storefront may be gone, there was a good story that David passed along about one memorable experience. They were used to random people walking into the store to check things out, so when an older man in a track suit wandered into the shop while David was setting up for a cocktail party, he wasn’t surprised. David offered to help the man or get him something to drink, but he replied that he was “just looking.”
After a few minutes the man turned and announced, “Okay, I’m ready.” David thought that this meant the man was ready for his cocktail, but the man shook his head, pointed to a couple guns on the wall, and said “I’ll take them.” David confirmed that the man realized how much these guns cost, and the man pulled a checkbook out of his sock and wrote a personal check for the full amount. Another reminder that it’s never a good idea to judge a book by its cover.
While buying off the rack is rare, it still does happen. David told me that some clients have walked in needing a couple shotguns for an upcoming safari. And that’s the only time they really run into any problems with New York’s onerous gun laws. Holland & Holland don’t sell any firearms that the State of New York finds particularly objectionable, and the gun room is indeed a licensed FFL holder, so most transactions are cash and carry. But New York, in its infinite wisdom, has a “one gun every 90 days” law that went into effect with the SAFE Act and according to David, that’s the first regulation that has impacted their ability to hand clients guns.
As one can imagine of bespoke items, walking in off the street and buying a gun off the rack isn’t exactly standard procedure. Holland & Holland keep a supply on hand as display models, and if you’re really in a hurry to drop $100,000 then you can certainly buy one. But for the real experience, it takes a little more time and patience than buying a silencer. Once the details of the firearm are worked out (which model, what barrel, what caliber, which engraving pattern) the fitting process begins. That involves working with a shooting instructor to get just the right measurements to ensure that the gun feels absolutely perfect for the shooter.
Part of that fitting process involves determining if the shooter is left or right handed, as not only do they fit the controls to suit the dominant hand, but also curl the triggerguard to provide a smoother feel to the trigger finger. Then, over the course of a year or more the gun is manufactured at Holland & Holland’s facility just outside London. When the gun is nearly ready, it’s sent out to have the delivery box manufactured, an (amazingly) optional step.
When you think of a Holland & Holland gun, you inevitably picture them in their leather and felt case with all the trimmings. But in reality, the cases come separately — and at an additional cost.
As David put it, they’re a gun maker. The price is for the gun only.
I handed back the $180,000 shotgun that I had been fondling, and David locked the case. “Most people these days only know us for our shotguns,” he said as he moved to the next case down, “so I’m glad you know a little about our history with rifles as well.” He reached for a double rifle in the first slot, with a Swarovski scope mounted on top. The juxtaposition of the cutting edge polymer-encased scope and the hand-crafted finely engraved double rifle was a little jarring. I asked if they worked with any other scope manufacturers besides Swarovski, and David replied that whatever scope you choose, they will build rings for it. Yes, I said that right. You hand them a scope, and they will custom machine rings for that specific scope.
It makes sense, since even the scope mount itself is custom machined. H&H uses a proprietary dovetail on their barrel ribs, and then attach a scope mount that they say can return to zero no matter how many times the scope is removed and replaced. It’s a neat trick, and a necessary one for those looking to take a trip to Africa and keep their scope safe and sound in the first class cabin while the gun rides cargo.
The double rifles were nice, but the real jewels of the collection (in my opinion) were the bolt action rifles; specifically one very nice example in .375 H&H Magnum.
I’ve felt some nice bolt action rifles in my brief time as a gun writer, but I have no doubt whatsoever that this one takes the imperial cake. It looks like a modified Mauser action, but it has been hand-fitted and polished to the point where there is no play whatsoever in the bolt. Working the action feels like slicing into a stick of butter with a very sharp, very hot knife. Smooth and effortless would be the two words I’d use to describe it, definitely desirable if a lion is charging your way and you need to reload quickly.
As my visit was winding down, I started wondering why anyone would drop that kind of change on a bespoke shotgun over one, say, one of Beretta’s very nice under/over models. Is there something that makes the H&H inherently better? “I have a Beretta,” David confided, “and in terms of accuracy, it’s about the same. But it [the Holland & Holland] just feels so much better.” And that’s the selling point. It’s like the difference between a Ford Focus and a Maybach. They’ll get you to the same place just as fast, but one is most decidedly more comfortable than the other.
One of those cars will also retain its value better than the other. While a normal production shotgun will probably never be as valuable as the day it comes in the box, a Holland & Holland is an investment. According to some people, while the gun will drop in value in the years immediately after it is built, give it 5 to 10 years and you’ll start to see somewhere around a 5% appreciation rate every year over the original sticker price.
As soon as I handed back the rifle, I knew that my time in that rarefied air was growing short. I had spent a blissful afternoon fondling beautiful shotguns and rifles that cost orders of magnitude more than my car, and I finally understood why someone would want to spend that much money on a bespoke firearm. Everything — from the rib on the shotgun barrel to the polished trigger — was hand crafted to perfection. And best of all, the shotgun is fit to your specific features and needs. For those who have the cash and the inclination, there really is nothing better.
As I discovered, that’s the difference between a normal firearm and a Holland & Holland. It doesn’t shoot any better or function any better than a factory fresh Remington, but the look and the feel of the guns is far superior to anything I had ever touched.
Back out on the street, life continued as usual. Taxi cabs trying to run down pedestrians, people flocking to the nearest Starbucks and business executives walking around talking on their cell phones. All oblivious to the wonders that were housed in a nondescript building right above their heads.
Some years ago I was tutoring (recommending interesting books to – he freaked over Stephen Hunter) a friend’s 13-year old gun-nut son. This was a kid whose idea of fashion was old jeans and a t-shirt, and he was amazed when I told the little anti-fashionista that the coolest gun store I had ever been to was the old Abercrombie & Fitch store in New York just before the old safari outfitter went bankrupt and was reborn as an expensive brand of trendy clothing. This was late 1977, when I was in submarine school and took weekend liberty for my first trip to New York. The gun section of A&F was just an amazing large room – very museum like, except you got to handle the exhibits – filled with beautiful British and continental double guns (rifle and shotgun) and express bolt-actions. Absolutely nothing in the room that was even close to affordable on E-3 pay, but the staff was very tolerant and courteous as long as I could refrain from drooling on the gold-inlay engraving.
Agree with you JIM 100% on A&F. Warm memories of that place. 🙂
Nick, if any of you guys have a chance, would love to see you review the upcoming Vintagers Cup over in Rhode Island. I know that RF probably couldn’t be dragged back there after his move, but the tents for the vendors hold some of the best examples of bespoke firearms in the entire world. True works of art. Plus it is open to the public and you can sign up for the various shooting competitions.
+1 for the old Abercrombie’s. I used to spend time there drooling over the fine guns, the Bimini Rods and Fin Nor reels. The store was spectacular quality all the way. No wonder it failed.
Oh yeah, the 7th (guns only) floor of Abercrombie & Fitch when they were still a safari outfitter. I used to go there on lunch breaks from a summer job in NYC, back in 1966 or so. I still wish I’d robbed a bank so I could have bought the cased set of flintlock dueling pistols.
I thought I was the only one old enough to remember the old A&F – still have their original charge card – it’s good to hear from some other old timers who still remember that wonderful spot.
Another great old place was Griffin and Howe, at first down in Soho and later across from the Yacht Club at 44th.
Another elegent refuge, much like the one described for H&H but additionally, with more affordable – but always top quality – guns as well. They bought and sold both old and new, as well as operating their on-site fitting and custom shop.
I spent many happy hours there just browsing, shooting the breeze, at times buying, selling or having some alteration or refinishing done. They’re gone from NYC now but are still thriving in NJ and Conn.
Thanks for bringing up the memories – so different from today.
I’m surprised but happy to hear mention of the old A&F. Most of my shotguns are Italian (Renato Gamba or Benelli), but my favorite was once my grandfathers, a 28 gauge quail gun marked and sold by A&F, furnished and engraved by a well-known gunsmith on a Greener cross-bolt action, with the sort of frivolous gold inlays you’d expect. It’s fully worthy should one need to shoot back at Cheney in the quail brush. It’s pretty, weighs almost nothing. I have a box of old A&F hunting clothing in the attic, a museum of grandpa stuff. Melancholy.
Why do gun people talk about tight tolerances when they mean tight clearance?
It is in-group jargon. How else can we tell if you are a true gun nut or just a wanna-be?
Fair enough, but being a true gun nut myself as well as an engineer, I have some inner conflicts created by this jargon. 😉
You will probably have to overcome your engineering deficiency and learn to accept group speak.
Yes, one has to do so.
When gunnies want to become pedantic, I lapse back into engineering-ese, and that sends ’em running.
Well,, it’s a tough decision: gun nut or engineering geek? You might want to adopt protective coloration – gun jargon with gun nuts, engineering jargon with engineers.
Dual personality when dealing with engineers and gun nuts in the same social setting.
Thank you for the excellent review! Maybe one day you could do a full review on their different models like the paradox.
I honestly do not get it. There is absolutely no way i would ever pay $180k for a gun. Even if i had the coin to drop, there are so many better ways to spend it. Perhaps 180 different one thousand dollar guns. Or one really nice pistol in a 911 turbo carrying case.
Remember, all thos $180k guns are in New York.
Actually *selling* them was never the point.
To each their own.
Many of the very highest end guns are only very rarely shot.
The market in really nice guns starts in the range of $8 to $10K and goes up from there. When you have a piece made by H&H, it’s like it used to be in the 80’s and 90’s for having a piece of electronic test equipment made by HP: You’re paying, in part, for the name.
The highest end guns made by any notable maker invariably become very highly valued collector pieces. I’ll give you an American example: Parker made only three of their highest grade shotguns, the “Invincibles.” The first was made to mark their 200,000th shotgun shipped in 1922 (if I recall correctly), and then two more were listed in Parker’s catalog in the late 20’s for, oh, about $1250.00 each (in 1929 dollars).
$1250 in 1929 (before the crash of October) would be worth over $17K today, if we use the CPI-U inflation rate to adjust. Let’s say that today, those guns would have cost the equivalent of $30K.
Today, those three Invincible shotguns are worth over $1 million each.
Meaning: The value of those guns has more than kept pace with inflation.
People who have the money to invest in these guns are doing just that: They’re investing. There aren’t many made, and besides being a gun, it’s an asset class – like buying art, rare cars, highly desired land, etc.
And you can even display it. And compared to a piece of really good art. it’s a steal price-wise, I happen to think it looks better than most modern art, AND it goes bang if you pull the trigger.
This is just like buying the million dollar classic cars. Rarely driven and kept in a climate controlled facility. You buy it to own it. Nobody else has it, only you. It also is an investment.
I must say, with all my love for fine guns, watches and other spiffy stuff I do agree with you that everything of that sort reaches a point of diminishing returns – where no additional expense will make it any better.
Regardless of price, you just can’t get a better car than say a BMW or such for $60-80M or a better lighter than a $16 Zippo.
In guns I think it’s around $8-12M for really labor-intensive items such as fine double shotguns or maybe $18M for double rifles and much less – $1200 to $3800 – for most common items – the rest is just so much fluff.
It’s not all bad though, it provides lots of income for these skilled craftsmen and the outlets that sell their traditional wares.
Note: This excludes various collector, artistic and historically significant or rare items which are a whole different story.
Funny, but just yesterday I was thinking that TTAG could benefit from broadening it’s focus. It seems apparent that the main focus of most of us reading here (aside from political and social questions) is guns and equipment for self defense, or the defense oriented target disciplines, but the firearms world is a big one. I don’t hunt, but I can enjoy hunting guns. You might not care for history but would really like to see some original Civil War pistols. You know, even if I had the money, I couldn’t own a gun like those. What would you do if it started to rain on it? I really can however, enjoy the beauty, history and craftsmanship of these H&H pieces.
So TTAG flew you to New York to browse the H&H store, and decided it would be a good idea to take these pictures with a HTC smart phone rather than a DSLR?
I was in New York anyway visiting family, and emailed them on the off chance that they’d let me poke around. Wasn’t expecting them to say yes, hence the crappy phone pics.
I like the “paradox gun” idea. Do they make barrels like that for the 870 or 500/590?
Yes. At least I assume they still make them. I have two so-called Paradox barrels. One really is: shotgun with a bit rifled at the end. The other has extensive rifling, more than a little. I only use them with sabot slugs and don’t believe that “David at H&H” was quite accurate about their use. Mine are made by Verney-Carron to fit an 870. Most are sold under the Hastings name, same company.
I have a Hastings Paradox with a built in muzzle brake and cantilever for my 870 I got as payment for installing some hardwood stair treads. I don’t much about it, other than it loves Hornady sabot slugs and is super accurate, if a little heavy.
x2. Thanks Nick.
Ditto. A nice write-up on nice guns.
Loved the article, looking forward to more like it.
While reading the article I recalled a statement from about British manufacturing back when British goods were the top of the heap.
When asked why a new part for an automobile required laborious and expensive hand fitting, the reply was that high quality required it.
This is where Dick Cheney buys his Whittington-whappers, right?
Cheney bought his quail gun from Perazzi.
In the age of hustling for ammunition, mags and wondering what the next leg of social collapse has to do with gun control and why that’s always relevant…sometimes you forget that any single thing made by a machine was hand made to start. That anything can be art crafted by an artisan.
I have never seen art like that in the firearms world. Only in this article did learn the origin of the .375H&H (always sounded like an odd caliber). And frankly, picturing that sort of craftsmanship gives me a sense of joy. Like my grandfather, a carpenter who built the only hammer he ever had, making something for someone by hand cannot be substituted.
One more tidbit on the .375 H&H: It is the “parent” of every other belted magnum cartridge out there today. When bolt action rifle makers refer to a “magnum length action,” they’re talking about an action long enough to take a .375 H&H. The .375 was the second “belted magnum” cartridge made for box magazine rifles like the Mauser by H&H, but their first successful one.
The reason for the belt on the .375 was that it was a way to enable H&H to put the .375 into either a double rifle, or a bolt action rifle.
Most rimless bottle-necked cartridges without belts headspace off the shoulder of the case. If you’ll look at the .375’s cartridge drawing, there’s not much of a shoulder, and the entire case has a pretty good taper to it. So it wouldn’t headspace reliably on the shoulder. They didn’t want a rim on the case, because that’s a pain for box magazine bolt guns.
Here’s where the belt came in. The belted magnums headspace off the front of the belt. The belt serves no other function, BTW.
OK, back to the rather large taper on the .375’s case: Double rifles don’t have the extraction camming force of a bolt action rifle. When you crack open a double rifle, they usually have only a little “finger” that lifts the case head clear of the rear of the barrels, and most double rifles used to use rimmed cases. This little lever can’t exert much force without breaking or wearing out quickly – and also making your break-action rifle difficult to open. On a dangerous game rifle, a problem in case extraction could mean your life.
So the dangerous game cartridges designed for the double rifles had an aggressive taper compared to cartridges like the .30-06, 8×57, 9.3×62 (made from the 8mm Mauser) and so on, cartridges that were designed with the extraction force of the bolt action in mind. A steeper taper allows the cartridge to break free with very little extraction force, even when it was stoked up to very high pressures.
The .375 allowed H&H to put the cartridge into either their classic double rifles, or into those awful modern turnbolt actions that had recently been made popular by those Germans from Obendorf…
H&H created several “magnum” and dangerous game cartridges in their time. The .375 is just their best known.
LC Judas: If you love what you saw of fine guns with excellent furniture, take a look sometime at the auctions of James D. Julia. They’re online, too, as well as catalogued. They often feature a large auction of very high-end collectible British guns. Sometimes they’ll do a Western auction.
Holland & Holland is known in the US for their rifles – and in the Europe for their shotguns. Where H&H made their name in rifles was the double rifle, a very high-end rifle in cost and execution. Getting the barrels regulated so that they shoot to a very small, consistent sidewards deviation from the point of aim takes some skill and patience.
Here’s a point of distinction for Americans when reading European writings by people with some knowledge of firearms: The word “gun” in the UK is used by writers to refer to shotguns. When they mean rifle, they say rifle. The “gun trade,” in the UK, used to mean the business sector that built shotguns. And they had a bunch of companies building very nice shotguns, with the two hubs of concentration in Birmingham and the other in London. London gun makers were known for years to favor side-lock guns, whilst the Birmingham trade favored the Anson-Deeley boxlock action, which allowed for a slimmer, straighter grip that had a stronger recoil-bearing interface to the back of the action.
The H&H sidelock lockworks with the intercepting sear is probably the most copied sidelock now, with the Spanish (actually, Basque), Italian and German fine gun makers all producing clones or only slight variants of it. You can crack open many Aya shotguns and, but for the lower level of finish, see that you’re inside a H&H design.
Sadly, H&H is one of a very few companies that are what remains of the “London Best” gun trade, and much of what supports the gun company are their sales in what I call “lifestyle” products. H&H was owned (last I looked) by the Chanel Group, out of France. They’re the people who do perfumes and such…
Thanks Nick and Dyspeptic: James Purdey & Sons, now run (for decades) by Nigel Beaumont, still makes excellent guns. Their best guns are valued above H&H by collectors, I would say. I will also note that I was surprised RF didn’t stop in and take some snaps at Audley House during his recent London adventure. As for the .375 H&H Magnum, it might also be noted that the pronounced taper of the case was designed for ease of extraction when, as happened, tropical heat caused over-pressures due to the sensitivity of cordite. I only keep three rifles, a 5.56, a .30-06 and a .375 H&H. “For everything else there’s a shotgun.”
Regarding the Mauser action rifle: Nick, that’s a British or Belgian made sporting Mauser action. The sporting actions had the single or double “square bridge” (what you pictured there is a “double square bridge” action), and they’d be missing the cut in the top of the rear of the action for the stripper clip, and there would be no relief on the left side of the action for your thumb as you crammed the rounds down into the magazine from a stripper.
The sporting rifles also adopted a swinging safety, as you see there, which is more adaptable to a scope. The typical sporting Mauser will have the front sling mount on the barrel. I can’t tell from your picture, but the stock profile on the right side hints at a “drop box” magazine, so named because the bottom of the magazine box comes down further on the front of the trigger guard than the military-style Mauser action, to allow for holding four or five fatter cartridges.
You can see these types of Mauser actions on hunting rifles, made by H&H and other British gunmakers (as well as Mauser themselves) between the two world wars.
DG: you have that FN pistol contest locked up, if you desired.
Expend effort on a deadline for a European Wunder-Nine?
Gunsmith, that clinches it. You are the Fonze of the TTAG crowd.
Bah. I never seek or sought to be “cool.”
Which is a major reason you have the title. Posers seek what comes natural to you. Respect.
If DG is The Fonz, does that make Ralph Potsie?
+1 on that, jwm. Dyspeptic, the stuff you write on here blows my mind. Thanks for the knowledge.
Nothing’s cooler than actually knowing what you’re talking about. So you’re cool. Get over it.
Outstanding article, as well written as some of the guns are made. No akward transitions and flowed well!
And the story about the guns was cool too!
I know, don’t say it, who comments on the writing at a Gun Blog right!!
I’d love to be able to afford an H&H, but it would end up as a safe queen. I would be so afraid of nicking it that i would probably shoot it only rarely. If you can afford to actually use one as a field gun, i salute you.
How do the good folks at H&H feel about the gun haters hating them for the simple reason of being gun manufacturers/retailers/owners?? H&H is hated as much as anybody else……….
If Bloomberg gets his way, all guns in NYC will cost that much.
One error I found:
Case hardening doesn’t result in a finish that looks like Damascus. Case hardening can look like pretty much nothing (eg, Garand or M14/M1A) or “color case hardened” such as what the classic gun makers used to turn out (which included Winchester, Remington’s rolling blocks, the better US-made double guns, Sharps rifles, etc), or modern color casing can produce some really wild color patterns, such as what Doug Turnbull is turning out.
The color case hardening was functional as well as decorative. The action needed to be tough, which implies a softer steel. But you also didn’t want the action to peen out, be easily gouged or scratched. So the response was to use a relatively low-carbon steel (or malleable iron) for the frame/action, then “case harden” it, which leaves an outer layer of much harder, much higher carbon steel, but an internal steel body that isn’t that hard, and was “tough.”
Color case hardening is accomplished by putting the parts into an air-tight box or container (usually made from steel itself), then packing pure bone, or a combination of bone and wood charcoal around the parts. The box or container, loaded with parts, charcoal and possibly little bits of leather or minerals for better coloration, are then heated to between 1400 to 1650 degrees F for a time (higher temps mean shorter times, lower temps can require several hours) to allow the carbon from the charcoal packing to migrate into the surface of the steel.
The red-hot part, safe within its airtight container, is then removed from the oven and dumped into a water tank that is being bubbled by injection of compressed air. You want the part to not be in free air for even a little bit – you need to be able to open the packing container at the point you dump it into the water, and have the charcoal, part, lid, everything plunge into the cold water quench all at once. The exposure to carbon monoxide and dissolved air in the water, coupled with the trace mineralization in the bone charcoal, is what gets us the colors.
Here’s an example of color casing on the right, and a set of re-etched damascus barrels on the left:
Plenty of high-end firearms makers color case actions today.
There were several common patterns for damascus barrels in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Here are some of them:
One more note:
To my knowledge, only barrels were made from Damascus or wire-twist steels, not actions. The reason for this was that drilling a deep hole was a very time-consuming process, and in the old days of lower pressures and cheaper labor, you could have a crew of four guys slaving over a forge, beating twisted billets around a mandrel, hammering out damascus barrel blanks at a couple/three an hour. They’d then be spill-bored to the specific bore diameter, lapped, struck (ie, filed down) to fit the profile, then the ribs would be soldered on, polished, fitted to the action (which would require a bit more filing to get a set of barrels to be “on face”), finish polished, etched and blued.
While that looks vaguely Damascus, it ain’t.
Damascus patterning is an artifact of the precipitation of manganese carbides within a hot matrix, not the layering or twisting dissimilar metals.
These things Matter.
Edit: Mayhap I shoud change my handle to peripatetic blacksmith…
Yes, that’s true. I didn’t invent the term “damascus barrels,” I just use it.
What kind of solder would one blue? Silver solder responds poorly to lye, which is why re-bluing a shotty is seldom a good idea.
Well – hot caustic bluing, anyway.
Typically, one blues, scrapes a bit and then solders.
Fine firearms are rust blued.
You’re correct that the hot salt blueing attacks “soft solder” that is composed of tin, lead and maybe antimony.
“Silver” solders are more akin to brazing, and are sometimes now used in making the latest double guns or O/U’s. These solders have melting temps from 850 up to about 1200+ degrees F. At the high end, you’d be removing too much heat treatment from the steel if you just did it in the open. The latest barrel methods have the ribs, some brass or silver brazing dust, flux, etc, clamped together as the manufacture wants the tubes to be, put into an atmosphere oven and heated/cooled in a controlled manner. The formulation of some of these brazing compounds allows for hot salt blueing.
Classic double or O/U guns were soft soldered, and you’d have to have the barrels struck, rough polished, fluxed/tinned, then the rib tinned, then you’ll wire up or clamp up the barrels and start heating up the rib/barrel joint and adding some solder.
After the excess solder is removed and polished away, then the barrels are cleaned, excess rosin flux removed, then a final polish is done – to between 320 and 400 grit paper.
Then the rust blueing begins, and this is a distinctly slow, but very gentle blueing procedure. You can find the rust blue solutions in Brownells or MidwayUSA, or make your own.
You make sure the barrels are clean, de-greased (use acetone or washing soda in hot water, followed by a distilled hot water rinse), then evenly apply a coat of the rust blueing solution. No drips, runs or sags allowed.
Hang the barrels (baling wire through the lump hook, typically). Allow the solution to work for, oh, 20 to 45 minutes. You’ll need an environment that’s warm (80 to 100F is nice) and humid (~50 to 60% humidity). If you live in the west, where it’s very dry a significant part of the year, you might need to build a “damp box.” You can search for this term “damp box” or check Howe’s or Vickery’s books on gunsmithing for drawings.
After 30 or so minutes, you’ll notice that your barrels are covered with a fine red rust, a very conventional scrap-iron looking rust. Do not panic, this is as intended.
You now need to convert the “red” rust (FeO2) into “black” rust (Fe2O3), and you do this by getting a long, thin tank, filling it with distilled water, bringing it to a boil, then putting the barrels into the water for, oh, 10 minutes. You’ll see the red rust convert to black rust right there.
Pull the barrels out, then “card” the fuzz off the barrels. You do this with a .005″ wire carding wheel (also in Brownells) on a 6″ grinder or buffer (it’s best to run it far slower than most 3600 RPM grinders do), or you can get some 0000 steel wool, de-grease/oil that (acetone wash-out) and use that gently to wipe the fuzz off the barrels.
You will then re-coat with the blueing solution (evenly, again), damp box (or let sit) again for 30 minutes, then back into the boiling water, lather, rinse repeat.
You need 4 to 8 coats of rust blue and boil-out to get a good blueing job. This takes several hours. Looks better than hot salt blue when done by someone with experience, and is the preferred blue method for high-end firearms.
When done, you dunk the barrels in water-displacing oil for 30 minutes, drain, then let sit unmolested for a day or two before cleaning and putting on a gun.
Cool! Thanks or the info on how things are done now.
As an aside, I was referring to corrosion of silver alloys, rather than soft solders. Again, though, that’s only a problem with caustics.
Rust bluing is a wonderful thing, when one has the metal to spare. As is browning.
I remember when I bought my first Holland & Holland. I was at an expensive private gun show in the south and I spotted one that struck my fancy. So I walked up the the vendor and declared, “I’ll take it!” and I even paid with cash! – Nicest hat I ever bought.
I’ll take by beaver-felt Homburg, though…
Fascinating, though a thought that will chill you to the bone: Holland & Holland’s is the future of guns if Bloomberg gets his way – guns becoming available only to the super-rich and those they deem worthy to own them.
Sadly, I agree, this is the very notion that you hear Crazy Joe espouse when he’s recommending women go buy a double-barrel shotgun.
Good (not nice, merely good) double guns aren’t cheap. A Remmy 870 or Mossy 500/590 are extremely reliable, and much less money than any reliable/good double gun.
But Crazy Joe love his double guns… giving us a clue what he thinks about gun ownership: “Civilized people own double guns, and I support gun ownership by only the civilized people of the world.”
I liked that, more than I should. It’s like a review of a restaraunt at which I’ll likely never dine, but written by someone who knows my world.
I’ve worked on a few Bentleys and Ferraris, quite a few Packards and on one each a mid-30s Mercedes and an early Auburn. Like that, kind of; to touch even a brake line was sheer bliss.
I might now have a reason to go to New York. Damn you, Leghorn!
All very nice, of course…. but….
What Have They Done To Help the Gun Owners of New York Fix the Blatantly Criminal Laws There?
There is nothing they could do. Holland and Holland finally left New York City and moved the Gun Room to Dallas.
The comments above about similarities between H&H Paradox guns and the Hastings and Verney-Caron paradox barrels for Remington 870 shotguns are sadly mistaken. Holland & Holland stopped making Paradox guns in the 1930s but restarted in 2003. In the meantime, Hastings trademarked the name Paradox in the USA for their barrels. However, the Hastings barrels and the barrels of H&H Paradox guns are very different. It does cause some confusion.
Hastings barrels are rifled for accurate shooting of shotgun slugs. Shooting shotshells through a Hastings paradox barrel results in a very widely spread uneven pattern. To effectively shoot shotshells the user must replace the rifled barrel with a smooth bore barrel.
The Holland & Holland Paradox guns have smooth bores up to about 2-12″ from the muzzles. At that point the barrels transition into a rifled choke. The rifled choke is fixed and uses “ratchet” rifling. The bore of the 12 gauge Paradox gun is not 0.729 inches in diameter. It is made overbore and is around 0.35 inches in diameter. The Paradox gun shoots shotshells and patterns the shot quite well. It also shoots a Paradox bullet of about 750 grains to more than 100 yards with the same accuracy as a well regulated double rifle. The bullet is of a special shape and design, often referred to as a Fosbery bullet because of its inventor, George Vincent Fosbery. The Fosbery bullet, overbore barrels, ratchet rifling, and rifled choke work together as a system. The result is that the H&H Paradox gun can shoot shotshells and bullet equally well. To shoot shotshells, flip the rifle sight down. To shoot bullets, flip the rifle sight up. Nothing more is required and the transition from shotgun to rifle and back to shotgun is more a matter of loading whichever cartridge you want to shoot than anything else. The gun’s success as both shotgun and rifle is the paradox and thus the name.