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Design innovation vs mine is better than yours

Anyone who has read such eminent titles as ‘The Gun and its development by W W Greener’ will note that despite the author’s attempt to remain subjective, he cannot help but infer that his guns are better than all others. I’ll concur that this is a tongue in cheek personal observation and I do not disparage this tome which is essential reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in guns and gun making. Greener’s pride in the company’s product and his credibility as a skilled artisan of the first order are beyond doubt. He was a learned fellow and rightly gained an unassailable reputation with peers and clients as a result.

You may gain a great insight as to the ‘character’ of the man and to a degree the company by the various designs they take forward to patent. For example, the great names of gun making such as Southgate, Baker and Anson & Deeley among others created innovative solutions which improved the safety, handling and reliability of guns which were essential in the evolution of the modern weapon. Along the way, some of these innovations served the market well by reducing the cost of manufacture and thus bringing a reliable gun in reach of the aspirant ‘middling types’ which aspired to shooting game in all its forms. This for me was very typical of Birmingham, provincial and Scottish makers as a very general rule. The pragmatic Brummie will always be primarily interested in ‘how many you want and when you want’em’, the equally canny Scot must convince himself that the customer can afford his services before alighting from his chair. It doesn’t always play favourably to these tongue in cheek rules though, with makers such as Edwinson Green pioneering his over and under, you can see he had cost of production very seriously on his mind. The main driver for our own Oliver Horton (being an adopted Glaswegian) in creating the first drop out trigger mechanism being as simple as ‘just coz he could’.

Great makers such as Grant, Boss, Holland & Holland and Purdey really pushed the envelope in terms of the ‘mine is better than yours race’. For example, the great play around the development of the sidelock/backlock actions made it seem as if the more pins you could somehow stuff into a lock plate the better it was! Many folk have debated the benefits of a 9 pin over a 7 or 5 pin lock, but really there is no benefit other than to demonstrate the ability of the makers. Even the pinless sidelock, which aesthetically you’d be forgiven for thinking is a sideplated boxlock at first glance, is still continued today and isn’t confined to just the UK makers from whence the sheer aptitude for ‘showing off’ was honed to an art form. Makers such as Fanzoj et al are all producing ever more aesthetic offers for your delectation and temptation. The ‘complicated’ has always trumped the reliable, for the shortest time however. In the long run, the real dazzle is in the combination of understated beauty and supreme reliability. All things are relative.

If I confine my summary to Birmingham/Provincial versus the main London makers, Birmingham guns were so often the guns that built the British Empire, where bought by adventurers, colonists, those brave souls that didn’t know where they were going, but knew they’d need something they could depend on when they got there and who traveled to far flung corners of the Empire and the globe. As for the London guns, they mostly stayed at home, delighting their owners by looking very pretty indeed. So, perhaps the analogy I would use is that the London gun is the sensible wife in an expensive frock and the Birmingham gun is the reliable, fun loving mistress that’s happy to play away and in any weather.


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