Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dr. Shorb's Rifle (and shotgun)

Dr. Shorb's Rifle (and shotgun)
by Cal Pappas

As many of you know who read my articles, I absolutely love vintage double rifles from the UK (England and Scotland). Even  more so is when I find a vintage double with the original case and accessories. Then, is the added plus of a rifle with a strong history behind it. Such is the rifle herein.

Born in 1836 to a wealthy, influential, and politically connected family in Maryland, Joseph Campbell Shorb graduated from medical school in 1860 to follow his father in medicine. He was a surgeon during the early years of the Civil War. In 1863 his commission was over and he resigned the army and he and his younger brother, James Debarth Shorb (1842-1896) traveled to California. Only a state for 13 years, California was the promised land for a pair of young men with a sound financial backing. James (an attorney and civil engineer) married Maria Wilson in 1867 who was daughter of Benjamin Davis Wilson (1811-1878), a mountain man during the fur trading era and a prosperous land owner. He purchased thousands of acres of land to add to his in-law's property and developed San Gabriel Winery--at the time, the largest winery in the world, capable of pressing 250 tons of grapes in one day and storage vats holding 1.5 million gallons! He owned or controlled several other businesses including a railroad to bring his wine to market. Shorb Street in Alhambra is named after the family.

(Benjamin Wilson's first wife died and he married again. One of his four children, Ruth, married George Patton. One of their sons was the famous WWII general).

J. Campbell continued in his profession as a surgeon and was known as one of the most in demand doctors in southern California. He ran for the senate unsuccessfully and was married to Sophia Dallas (daughter of the US Senator) of Philadelphia. Their marriage was not a happy one and they lived apart for several years.Unfortunately, the doctor suffered from a nervous disorder making it difficult, if not impossible, to sleep. He used morphine to induce sleep until becoming tolerant to the drug. Then he used chloroform. On October 1, 1889, after five sleepless nights, he fell asleep with the chloroform-soaked cloth still on his face and he died in his sleep. First reports were suicide but a subsequent investigation showed his death accidental. 

About 1878 Dr. Shorb ordered this rifle and shotgun combination from a relatively new company in London: Gye and Moncrieff. Why he didn't order from an more established firm, such as Holland and Holland or Purdey will remain a mystery. 

Lynedoch Needham Moncrieff was born in 1841 in Scotland and when he was 15 he joined the Royal Navy. In 1863 was was a Sub-Lieutenant and was award a bronze medal for saving a seaman who had fallen over board that same year. After he was discharged he went into business with Lionel Gye and opened a firearms shop at 60 St. James St., Picadilly, London in 1874. Gye was a former Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Their business thrived for approximately five years and was dissolved in 1879 when Moncrieff volunteered for service in South Africa. He was killed in battle on November 5, 1883.

The highest G&M serial number I have found is number 1698, for an approximate average of 340 guns and rifles sold per year for the five years the company was in business. Of the G&M firearms seen by the author, all double barrel rifles and shotguns were of the exposed hammer and top lever style. Two .455 revolvers were found, a few double rifles in caliber .577-500 no2, one in .360, several double shotguns in 12-bore, and one single shot rifle in .577 3-inch have been documented. All firearms were for black powder cartridges. The doubles, rather than having an extension of the top rib, had the extension of the lower rib for a third fastener. The quality of Gye and Moncrieff firearms is equal to the best London or Birmingham rifles and shotguns of the era.

This unique set was made in late 1877 or early 1878. Gye and Moncrieff was not a maker of firearms but rather retailed arms made by others with their name, address, and serial number on them, or purchased "in the white" and finished at their premisses. Number 1250, as purchased by J. Campbell Shorb, is a top lever, exposed hammer of the rebounding style, one set of barrels is in caliber .577-500 no2 black powder express and 26 inches in length, fitted with a single rear sight. The additional pair of shotgun barrels are 32 inches in length, choked cylinder and cylinder.  With the shotgun barrels, the balance point is on the hinge pin. With the rifle barrels the balance point is several inches ahead of that. The rifle barrels are the heaviest I've seen for a black powder express rifle--almost heavy enough for a full nitro proof.

The weight with the shotgun barrels is a comfortable 7 3/4 pounds. With the rifle barrels the weight is very heavy for a black powder express at 11 pounds. The rifle barrels alone weight 7 1/4 pounds.

The action is 90% coverage in fine rose and scroll engraving of the period, two triggers, and two forends with a Deeley patented latch. The butt stock has a vacant oval escutcheon, sling eye, hard rubber butt plate, and a plaque inset in the left side of the stock which is now missing. The bores of both barrels are in near mint condition--showing very little use or immaculate cleaning after use. 

This rifle/shotgun combination is fitted in a two-tiered case with a complete set of cleaning and reloading implements for both the rifle and shotgun barrels. Included are a paper patch bullet mould of 300 grains and the hollow point pin, adjustable powder and shot measures, a trim tool for paper shot shells, striker key, chamber brush, turn screws, reloading dies for the rifle cartridges, and two cleaning rods, tips, jags, brushes, oil bottle, striker pot, a sling, and two leather sleeves for each set of barrels. The case is oak and leather with two Wells Fargo shipping labels intact and a brass plaque with "Dr. Shorb" engraved. A very complete and historical firearm.

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