You just need to know what you're looking for
- If you are looking for an individual, well balanced side-by-side that is good to shoot, then inexpensive English boxlock shotguns always represent value for money.
- They represent a great way of owning a good quality English shotgun by a recognisable name for a more reasonable sum of money than might be asked for a best sidelock.
- Many people look upon the boxlock as the poor relation to the sidelock, whether in style or shooting characteristics, but this need not be the case if you select your gun carefully.
Unwanted, unappreciated and cheap
The Birmingham boxlock was once the Beretta Silver Pigeon of the shooting world. Every father bought one for his son, either new or second-hand. He would learn to shoot with it, perhaps get a smarter sidelock once he was older and wealthier, and the old boxlock was kept for wet weather or rough shooting.
Today, he might get a Yildiz small-bore when he’s 13 that has to last until he stops growing, at which time he’ll get a basic Silver Pigeon or a Guerini. That will last him until he gets a decent job and wants to splash out on something better which, having got used to an over-and-under, probably means a Beretta Diamond Pigeon or a high-end Browning.
What that means is good British boxlocks are unwanted, unappreciated and cheap. You can buy a first-class British boxlock from the early or mid-20th century today for £3,500. A Webley & Scott Model 700 can be had in almost unused condition for £2,000 and good used ones can be had for as little as £500. These represent the best value for money in guns anywhere today.
What to look for in a used gun
When looking for a used gun, be realistic about what you want and expect it to do. If you need a gun for your boy or girl to learn to shoot with, perhaps breaking 50 clays three times a month and a bit of rough shooting in between, the gun really only needs to be good for three or four years until he or she outgrows it.
People will pay for the cachet of a well-respected name on their gun. Wouldn’t you rather tell your friends you had a Browning than a Lanber, or a Purdey than a Pape? The market agrees, so Brownings and Berettas resell better than anything else in that sector, and good Purdeys never hang around for long.
- Original quality: A gun that cost £5,000 when new will be worth more today than one that cost £2,000 when new.
- Current condition: A clean, original gun will command a better price than a battered, modified or repaired one.
- Configuration: Fashions and trends make some very good used guns very hard to sell. If the fashion has moved to long barrels (which it has), the same gun with short barrels will be very hard to sell and the price has to be reduced accordingly.
- Mechanics and reliability: Some mechanisms become unfashionable or prove unreliable or awkward. These become hard to sell once they develop a reputation. Some reputations are deserved, others are not. However, the market is harsh and prices will be affected anyway.
English shotguns: Here, we go on a mission to find an English shotgun, in excellent condition, at a reasonable price.
“I would dearly love to be able to afford a sidelock O/U from a prestigious maker, but I can’t afford…
To do well in the second-hand market you have to be different
If everyone wants a Beretta Silver Pigeon with 32in barrels and a 15in stock with pretty wood, you are not going to buy one cheaply. It is simply supply and demand.
However, if you want a Browning Black Duck and only have £2,500 to spend, you can probably get a good one, if you can live with 26in barrels, because most people won’t consider it. The upside at purchase has to be weighed against the downside of resale because you will hit the same problems as a seller that worked to your advantage as a buyer.
Webley & Scott Model 700 £1,500
- These guns are the closest you can find to a mass-produced side-by-side gun, but they still have the individual feel and balance you would expect of an English shotgun.
- A good secondhand gun will cost around £1,250 – £1,500 for the standard Model 700.
- This really does represent remarkable value for money, especially when considering the price of Spanish guns of an equivalent quality.
- For example, the boxlock AYA Number Four now costs over £3,000 when new.
William Ford boxlock £2,150
- A 12-bore boxlock with its original 28″ barrels and 2½” chambers and a fine gun.
- It has a well-figured stock with an elegant straight-hand grip.
- The fit between the wood and action is excellent, and the gun features finest scroll engraving on the action, fences and barrels, which retain much of their colour.
- This gun comes with the tried and tested Southgate ejector system, which is most commonly found on best London guns.
- The gun mounts easily and the weight is slightly biased towards the front hand, giving a good heft and allowing for a smooth, deliberate swing without being unbalanced.
- These guns really do have a very individual feel to them, being extremely well built and presented.
- It is a lovely gun to shoot and is well-priced, costing much less than a new equivalent European boxlock. It will happily provide good, reliable service for another lifetime.
Westley Richards Droplock £4,000
- Unique to Westley Richards, with the bottom plate on the action body opening to reveal the locks, which can easily be removed and replaced in the field by hand.
- The workmanship on these guns is second to none among guns from both Birmingham and London, which makes them very sought after and collectable.
- They come with the Westley patent lever, which, like the removable locks, is unique to their guns and which gives a most desirable individual finish to the gun.
- Barrel lengths of 28″ and 2½” chambers are not unusual in guns built around 1920.
- You should expect fine scroll engraving across the action, and these earlier guns will feature the Westley box ejector system.
- This is slightly different from the more well-known and widely used Southgate ejector, but is still very reliable and efficient.
- You can regularly find these guns in good condition, complete with their own cases and all accessories. They tend to sell for £4,000 – £6,000 depending on age and condition.