A wise gunmaker once told me that a necessary element for any successful business is keeping overhead costs down. This was a man who remembered the bad days of the 1930s and early 1950s. His business principles were keeping control of costs and budgeting for the market while still producing fine quality guns. This is a philosophy Purdey seems to have taken to heart with its new Sporter. Each element of production has been analysed and, where it is efficient and cost-effective to use specialist-approved outside workers, that has been done. At the same time, those elements that make a Purdey unique remain in the parent factory. This is nothing new to much of the London gun trade. All that has changed is that the work is being spread further afield than Birmingham.
Class in classic decoration
First impressions are of glorious wood, classic decoration, that indefinable London style and old-world elegance. Though the gun on test was essentially a pre-production model, it exuded quality and character. It also felt good, had a fairly neutral balance, swung smoothly and displayed confidence-boosting pointability, which is a great aid to success in the field.
There is no doubt that Purdey large scroll-engraving is becoming a trademark, though the term large is relative. At one time, Purdey was noted for its fine, small engraving, so this signifies a change in style. It is very becoming and nicely in proportion to the action body. On examination, the engraving proved a bit of an enigma, as I could not find any evidence of layout lines. It turns out that, to ensure uniformity, the layout is set by laser, but the pattern is cut by hand about a months work.
A delicate work of art
What I find fascinating is the detachable trigger-plate. At the touch of a button, the lockwork pivots out to sit in the hand, like a delicate work of art. Hammers, trigger, sears, springs and inertia changeover are all there in a compact package. Details such as the clean, polished finish on all the component parts, the curved backs to the hammers and the roller ends to the mainsprings can be admired at leisure. Even better, from a practical point of view it makes maintenance of the locks a doddle. Take things a bit further by putting the lock in ones pocket and the gun is rendered completely useless potentially an effective security arrangement.
Devilish modern devices
It still comes as a bit of a surprise to find that possibly the most traditional of gunmaking names is dabbling in devilish modern devices such as removable chokes, but Purdey has certainly not drifted from its basic principles. The barrels have Teague chokes, which are almost invisible. For dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, fixed chokes are a no-cost option. Each choke is matched to the barrel bore and identified most clearly with the degree of choke and the serial number of the gun to which it belongs.
The barrels have flawless bores and are externally struck up without a blemish. The ventilated top-rib has the foresight bead almost at the muzzle end very much a Purdey feature. At the breech end, the almost invisible joint between the top barrel and the monoblock does not feature a decorative band. This is a wise move, as fine workmanship should stand alone, not be covered by unnecessary adornment. It is interesting to note that, to achieve the best jointing when completely assembled, the top barrel is not only a tinned precision fit, but also screwed into the monoblock.
The block has integral lugs on the sides that engage into the action body. These follow the principles of the side-by-side, where the lugs lock into the action bar with curved shapes such as the draw, run-up or circle, depending on whether your affinity lies with the London or Birmingham trade. Combined with the hinge discs, it has the dual benefit of providing a strong lock-up with a desirably shallow action body.
The art of choosing a stock
Next to engraving, one of the most eye-catching features of a fine gun is the stock. Something of a new venture for Purdey is that it is fixed with a long draw bolt. This, while most common on mass-produced over-and-unders, is a feature that originated in the 19th century. What is vital with this type of assembly is straight, close-grained and very sound wood at the head of the stock following through to the hand. However, this being a Purdey, we need something more dramatic in the rest of the stock, and to select a stock blank with all the necessary attributes is in itself a work of art, requiring both great depth of knowledge and experience.
To say the quality of the stock on this gun does not disappoint is something of an understatement. There is wonderful dark veining, almost burr in places, mixed in with subtle fiddleback. It is the equal of wood used on even more expensive guns.
A little heresy
Chequering is typically fine at 28 lines per inch, and the drop, or what in London they call bend, is 13⁄8in at the tip of the comb, running to 21⁄8in at the heel. At first this seems to be a recipe for a gun stocked to shoot rather high, but combined with the low action body it works well. For me, with the 15in stock and ¼in right-hand cast (cast off) it threw killing patterns that put the bird a good third of a way into the bottom of the pattern while viewing it just on the tip of the bead. I used a variety of cartridges from the mixed bag good-quality cartridges matched to the gun would produce even better patterns.
The finish is, of course, the world-famous Best London, a glossy aspect that it is hard to imagine was achieved by human hand. Here I shall indulge in a little heresy: I do not like this finish, beautiful as it is. It is not Purdeys fault, as it is trapped by customer expectations and tradition but from my point of view, the shiny finish hides some of the beauty of the walnut.
Needless to say, the gun performed flawlessly. I think it is more important to examine other aspects, rather than go over the obvious. The first question posed by some will undoubtedly be Is it a real Purdey? The answer is a resounding yes. All the major parts are made at the London factory, including the action body, trigger-plate, monoblock and small parts such as the top-lever, safety work and so on. Assembly of barrel tubes and lockwork is done by one of the very best Italian companies. The rest is completed in-house at Purdey, proofed in London, inspected and shot prior to delivery.
Brave new venture
Cleverly, this model can be purchased with a number of no-cost options, as well as extra cost options in the bespoke manner. It is a Purdey made with an eye to good quality and business principles for a new market. This is the sort of thinking our gun trade needs.