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Which are the best prestigious English guns to choose when buying second-hand?

A reader writes in: "I would love to own an English gun with a prestige name, but unless I win the Lottery I can't afford a new one. So what would be my best second-hand buy?

Frankly, even if I won several million I don’t think I would buy a new Purdey, Boss or Holland & Holland. It’s not that I don’t hugely admire the finest craftsmanship in gunmaking, but I would be frightened of damaging the gun every time I took it out.

However  some of our most famous gunmakers are lending their names to guns built by, or with the help of, prestige Italian gunmakers. I can’t say I really like the practice, but I am sure it helps the best of British gunmakers to remain solvent and in business, and for that it must be a praiseworthy exercise.

Such guns, when they filter down on to the second-hand market, will go for reasonable prices. So how “reasonable” is that? Well, at the time of writing a lightly-shot Purdey sidelock O/U was being advertised by the maker at £80,000, while I would estimate that a second-hand Purdey Sporter, built in conjunction with a prestige Italian firm, could be bought for less than a third of that.

Purdey Sporter

Purdey Sporter

1. Purdey Sporter – Mike’s top choice

  • This gun is a true joint effort between Purdey and its partner, Perugini & Visini in Italy. P&V is not that well known in Britain, but its guns are of the very highest quality. The company was founded by Vincenzo Perugini and Darko Visini in the late 1960s, and they set up shop in the community of Mazzano, just east of Brescia, in the gunmaking region of Lombardia.
  • Some parts of the O/U Sporter are made by Purdey in London, while others are made by P&V in Italy. Purdey supplies P&V with the boxlock action body, barrel monobloc, top lever, bolt, safety thumbpiece and safety parts, while lock work and barrel tubes are made by P&V. The Italian company also makes the barrel tubes and does the jointing between the tubes and the monobloc because it is well experienced in the operation, which is so typical of Italian guns. The barrels are welded in rather than hard-soldered, thus giving an invisible joint.
  • Actual assembly of the gun is done in Italy, with stock wood sourced by Purdey’s walnut experts, and they also laser-cut the engraving.
  • Then the operation moves to London, where the engraving is fine-finished by hand, and the gun is treated to the polished excellence typical of a Purdey. If the customer specifies multichokes, the gun is sent to Nigel Teague to be fitted with his invisible tubes.
  • Finally, the gun is proofed in London.
  • What does a second-hand Purdey Sporter cost? Very few have come on the market so far, but a gun sold in 2011 was valued by the auction house at between £25,000 and £30,000.
  • Last time I dared ask, the price of a new gun started at £38,000, but it could be delivered within six months, as opposed to the long wait for a completely London-made gun.
  • As a point of interest, 20-bores are nearly as popular as 12s.

William Evans Pall Mall

William Evans Pall Mall

2. William Evans Pall Mall

  • Target price: £10,000+
  • William Evans was a Purdey-trained gunmaker who set up his business in Pimlico in 1888. Later the company moved to Pall Mall,  (hence the name of this gun), where it remained until 1944.
  • St James’s Street is an ideal location for a prestige maker of fine guns. Along the street, as well as buying an excellent gun, you can spend more than £1,000 on a pair of hand-made shoes, buy a bottle of wine to grace the finest dinner table, or visit one of the finest gentlemen’s clubs in London.
  • The William Evans Pall Mall is sourced from Grulla of Spain, with 
some finishing work performed in the UK.
  • All of the 
guns are made to measure, so when buying second-hand be aware that the original owner may have specified dimensions which are not suited to you.
  • The gun is a sidelock built on Holland & Holland principles, and the engraving is particularly attractive.
  • Stock styles can be traditional English straight-hand, Prince of Wales, or full pistol grip.
  • New prices start at £16,500, so expect to pay at least £10,000 for a good example.
Cogwell & Harrison Windsor

Cogwell & Harrison Windsor

3. Cogswell & Harrison Windsor

  • New the Cogswell & Harrison Windsor costs around £1,250, so a second-hand example is likely to cost around £1,000.
  • In the days when Britain made value-for-money guns, “Coggies” were always reasonably priced.
  • In its day, the company made shotguns, rifles and pistols, and it is thought that more than 100,000 guns were made.
  • The company is now owned by the Brennan family from Ireland, but they have an office in Hatfield and the gun is made in Italy.
  • It’s a typical Italian value-for-money gun with a shallow action and barrels hinged on stub pins.
  • It is made in 12, 20 and 28-bore, with 28 or 30in barrels. Chambers are 3in, and the gun carries steel-shot proof.
  • Stocks, in rather plain walnut, are available in right and left-hand configurations, and each gun comes with a set of multichoke tubes.
  • Finally, not all modern Cogswell & Harrison guns are aimed at the “starter” end of the market, so if your numbers win you millions this week, you may consider one of their bespoke guns costing £59,800.