Thursday, April 22, 2010

Which double rifles are more desirable?

Dear Cal:
What makes a double rifle famous or desirable over others, thereby increasing its value?
D. Karjala, USA

Dear D.

I can think of three things that increase a vintage rifle’s value: a famous owner, a letter of origin that substantiates the original specifications, and a documented history of use.

From personal experience, a few examples. I once owned a hammer under lever light nitro rifle in the rare caliber 20-.577. This, an invention of Alexander Henry, was the 20 gauge brass shot shell 2 3/4 inches long and necked down to accept a .577 bullet. My rifle was originally made by John Dickson as a 12 bore rifle in the 1860s. In 1900 it was re-barreled by Alex Henry and purchased by Malcolm McNeill. McNeill had a career in the army and was the recipient of numerous awards. He was also a noted big game hunter, had a museum in his home town of Oban, Scotland, for his trophies, and wrote of his hunting adventures in Somaliland in 1902. He killed a pair of man-eating lions with the .20-.577. He was one of the fifty + sportsmen who chipped in some pounds sterling and donated the .500-450 Holland and Holland to Teddy Roosevelt and is mentioned in TR’s African Game Trails. There you have it--an original owner of notoriety. (Did I write I ONCE owned it? Damn!)

If your double rifle was made by a current maker, it is most likely you can get a letter of origin. The letter will state the serial number, stock dimensions, barrel length, weight, sight specifications, extractor or ejector, caliber, and cordite regulation. It may also give the name and address of the original owner. This letter will tell you if the rile of your dreams is to original specifications or if it has been altered in any way. Some records are not available due to the destruction during WWII bombing or perhaps the company is out of business.

With luck, you may be able to trace the life of the rifle if you know the original owner or, at least, an owner of the rifle’s early years. My .450 no2 was owned by an army officer who left the military to farm in Kenya. He became a professional hunter with White Hunters Africa. Between the letter of origin from Joseph Lang and his biography from the Scottish Military Museum I am able to trace the rifle from its making in 1904 to when it left Kenya in the 1950s to be returned to the factory for repairs and alterations.

A friend owned a .577 single trigger Westley Richards drop lock double rifle. At my suggestion he wrote for a letter and discovered his rifle was owned by Andy Anderson, an elephant hunter of some fame and a friend of James Sutherland. His hunting exploits are documented in his book and he is also mentioned in Sutherland’s work.

The above adds a romance to owning a fine double rifle--a romance that a new rifle can’t have.

Good shooting,


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