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The “Holy Trinity” of London gunmakers

Mike George has decided to go for a gun made by one the “Holy Trinity” of London gunmakers – but who will he choose?

Boss over-and-under created by London gunmakers

The famous Boss over-and-under, possibly the most copied gun in the world. This is the prototype of 1909, which sold at a Gavin Gardiner auction for £19,200

In reviewing my progress so far in stocking my fantasy gunroom with fine guns I have never owned, I note that I have made an important omission: I have not yet nominated a British-made “best” gun.

And note that I say British rather than English, because I am tempted to include a Scottish gun – maybe a Dickson Round Action. But not this time, because I am going to really spend my money and go for a gun by what American writers refer to as the “Holy Trinity” of London gunmakers – Boss, Holland & Holland, and Purdey.


All three makers have guns that attract me. For Boss, it would have to be its famous over-and-under. The first such gun came off the master gunsmith’s bench in 1909, and that very gun sold at auction a few years ago for £19,200.

That’s not very much money for what must be the most copied classic gun in the world, although it was well worn because it had been used as a demonstrator for many years. For a top-class example I have seen British auction prices of up to £114,200, while relatively recently a similar gun sold in America for $217,000, which at the time of the sale translated as £130,000.

Holland & Holland

If I was to pick a Holland & Holland, it would have to be the superb H&H Royal. There was a superb second-hand gun for sale in the maker’s London gunroom for £35,500. H&H can trace its history back to 1835, when the company was formed – not by a gunmaker but by a (presumably well-heeled) tobacconist who also happened to be an ace live pigeon shot.

Holland & Holland Royal

Holland & Holland Royal

The first guns named “Royal” were produced in 1885, so there’s plenty of history associated by the marque, and a good selection of all ages to go for on the second-hand market. I’ve only ever shot one H&H Royal, a fi ne example from the 1960s, and I’ve never picked up another side-by-side which handled quite as well, so I’m tempted. But, I’d better explain why I have picked a Purdey.


James Purdey & Son went into business in 1814 and were great favourites among the ace game shots of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Queen Victoria herself was a customer for a pair of pistols intended as a gift for the Imam of Muscat. Purdey has built sporting guns for every succeeding royal including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.

pair of Purdeys

A well looked after pair of Purdeys like these is likely to cost more than £30,000

The workmanship, needless to say, is always superb, and the company has the wisdom to be proud of the fact that it uses modern, computer numeric controlled machine tools. Too many top gunmakers would have you believe that their products were made entirely by men sitting at benches with files and chisels. Of course, the fine fitting and finishing of a Purdey is a hand operation, and the engraving is the work of highly-skilled artists.

Now it’s a question of which Purdey. I’m going for their classic side-by-side self-opening game gun in 12-bore, and while I’m at it, I think I will go for a pair. And, because I can’t wait the many months it takes to have a new pair built, I’ll scour the secondhand racks and the auction catalogues.

The self-opening feature was perfected by Purdey gunmaker Frederick Beesley, and uses the residual power in the compressed mainsprings to help open the gun for reloading. Just the job for when I’m on a hot peg with my trusty loader.

How much will I pay? Well, the guns would have to be immaculate, and they would also have to be sold in a fine, leather-on-oak motor case. The best one I can find currently on the second-hand shelves is priced at a very reasonable £34,000. I’m just thankful I didn’t pick a pair of Purdey over-and-unders, because I’ve just found an immaculate pair at a mere £165,000…