Holland & Holland is one of the best-known names in the gunmaking, world with a reputation for superb products embracing many years of tradition.
The problem that arises is how to evaluate such guns. By what yardstick can they be judged?
My view is that, as with any gun, there are several criteria to meet.
These include quality of materials and manufacture, handling and balance, lines and styling and, most importantly, performance.
Without these, any gun is little more than an expensive ornament.
There is also something indefinable with a really special gun that lifts it above being a mere mechanical device.
So, when the chance came to test a Holland & Holland Sporting Model, I must confess to a little trepidation.
The Sporting Model is produced in two forms; a game gun and a version biased more towards competitive shooting.
It was the game gun that I tested, which is also the more popular.
The first impression when assembling the gun is one of amazing lightness, in spite of the 29in barrels and rather long stock.
To produce a 20-bore of these dimensions which weighs barely 6.1⁄4lb is commendable, but remarkably, it feels even lighter.
This is, of course, to do with the balance which, with a good gun, is the careful matching of dimensions and weights of component parts to make a superior whole.
This 20-bore is a good example in that respect of the gunmaker?s art, and it manages to give the impression that it has a life of its own.
There is no doubt that this gun qualifies as a bit of a looker. The lines flow beautifully from the half pistol-grip stock through the sideplated action and deep fore-end, and along the slim barrel tubes with the delicately tapered but solid top rib.
This is a gun that as a whole appears to have been designed with the eye of an artist.
As for some of the individual parts, the stock and fore-end appear, as one would expect, to be made from the same walnut blank.
It is quite beautiful and finely grained; what a stocker might call a ?kind? piece of wood ? meaning it cuts nicely and you do not need to sharpen the chisels too often.
It is the sort that one can study for ages, finding a fascination in nature?s patterns and seeing subtle differences each time it is turned between the hands.
Equally eye-catching is the engraving; a modified form of acanthus leaf, bold but classy, though I must confess I have a preference for this sort of work.
No steel part is left untouched by the engraver?s tool and the sideplates bear the maker?s name.
Under the action body it carries the legend The Sporting Model, presumably in case you forget what you have spent all your money on.
Adding to the looks are the deeply carved fences, wide tapered top-lever and an interestingly shaped and practical safety button.
Another nice touch is the barrel selector indicator, which simply shows over or under.
Though the trigger-guard is fairly small, it matches the rest of this gun?s proportions and the trigger has a simplicity and elegance of form that is delightful.
This may seem only to be a small matter, but if you want an indicator of how well a gun is made, look to the trigger or triggers.
If they exhibit a lot of attention to detail and finish it is likely that the rest of the mechanism will be the same.
The Sporting Model has a trigger-plate action which is detached by pulling a lever that forms part of the rear of the triggerguard (see below).
The mechanism is beautifully finished and held together with domed-head dowel pins and blued screw pins that give it the quality of a work of art.
The Sporting Model has a trigger-plate action which is detachable by pressing a lever that forms part of the rear of the trigger-guard.
Finely finished and held together with domedhead dowel pins and blued screw pins, it qualifies as a mechanical work of art.
The action body is wide to accommodate the side lumps, and the barrels open on hinge discs, or what are traditionally named trunions in the London trade.
The lock-up is quite high, almost at the top of the bottom barrel, which is technically a good feature and allows for a fairly shallow action body.
The barrel bores are immaculate and both gauged exactly the same, with chambers for 70mm (2.3⁄4in) cartridges.
The choke, as a mechanical measurement, came out at just over half in the top barrel and midway between half and a quarter in the bottom, though choke is finally determined by the results produced when shooting.
The blacking and the striking-up of the barrels on the outside is of the Best quality.
A THOROUGHBRED IN ACTION
Testing was carried out on a variety of clays, including crossers, driven and going away, with lots of time spent on the pattern plate as this gun proved sensitive to the choice of cartridge.
I achieved good results with a 28g Eley Hi- Flyer. Surprisingly with these, which equate to a traditional 16-bore load, the recoil was not noticeable, even though the gun handles so quickly and lightly.
However, it makes sense for anyone purchasing a shotgun of such high quality to consult with the maker on the ideal choice of cartridge.
Everything worked as it should, with crisp trigger-pulls and clean ejection from the sprung ejectors.
You did not have to think about anything but the target; just put the gun up and shoot. Yet there is a small catch.
The Sporting Model is a true thoroughbred, but it is unlikely to flatter your shooting on an off day.
Like all thoroughbreds, it is superb when everything is going right but, with its lightweight and ultra-quick handling, the user has to achieve a degree of competence to really appreciate and make the best of it.
What this means is, in the right hands, on the right day, it will be quite wonderful and exhibit that indefinable quality that makes it something special.
So, how does one relate cost to value on such a fine piece of gunmaking, considering that it is also so obviously beyond the wildest dreams of most shooters?
As a guide, it is one of Holland & Holland?s most popular models and depreciation is quite low.
Therefore one has to conclude that, in a world market, it is regarded as good value.
It is certainly a very fine example of British gunmaking.
Holland & Holland Sporting Model 20-bore shotgun