General Advice on the Purchase of a Gun - Part IV

Shotguns and Shotshells

Cheap v. Best Guns, With General Advice on the Purchase of a Gun 
By Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey

Part IV

To any one who cannot afford to give more than a small sum for a gun, and who yet must have a gun of some sort, I would say: Purchase a secondhand one by a good maker, as being the cheapest and most satisfactory arrangement; provided that, on showing it to the maker, he speaks favourably of its history and state of preservation.* And bear in mind that, as most people rush open-mouthed after hammerless guns at the present day, many hammer-guns have been sold and discarded for no reason other than a change of fashion; and that there are numbers of excellent weapons to be had at a very moderate price, secondhand, which would each outlast a dozen cheap hammerless ones.
* The stock can, if necessary, easily be altered to suit your eye and figure for a small sum.
Regarding the cost of guns we hear and read a great deal of nonsense. It almost seems, at times, as if the owner of a cheap gun abused the more costly one merely because he could not afford its purchase, and was too proud to admit it. And perhaps there is a little, too, in the principle of the 'grapes being sour'; for no amount of argument will make bad workmanship on an equality with good. Yet the old, trite statements are daily made, and many shooters still inquire, in injured tones, 'What is the use of going to a first-class gunmaker and giving a high price,, when a gun every bit as good can be obtained from a second-class maker at a low figure?'
What is the position of a first-class maker? It is this: he will not—in fact, he dare not—sell a gun that is not as perfect as modern science can make it; or where would his reputation and custom be? These would soon crumble to pieces. The result is that shooters, though they pay such a tradesman 20£ more than they do a comparatively unknown maker, receive the full value of the extra cost in the satisfaction of knowing they have as good a gun as money can buy, or it would not be sold to them.
I have made many and careful inquiries as to the actual cost a good gun puts its maker to before he offers it for sale. I have gone into and considered every part of a gun—the cost of material and wages of workmen, and the outlay expended in all details of filing, boring, fitting, stocking, screwing, and finishing —and I can state that, on every gun sold by a really good maker at 45£, a much smaller profit than is generally supposed is his perquisite. I can also assure the young sportsman that the profit on a 16£. gun is about the same as on the more costly one. Which is the better bargain I leave him to conjecture.
If a shooter cannot afford to give more than a moderate sum for a gun, it cannot be helped; and I have endeavoured to advise him on that point. If, however, he cannot hear of a good secondhand gun, I should recommend him to procure his new gun straight from Birmingham, where cheap goods are the fashion, and where this class of article is made stronger and better than in London. Or, to put it plainer, a fairly good weapon is sold at a lower price in that town than it is in London, for a London maker is loth to recommend a second-rate article. In Birmingham, a shooter should obtain a safe, useful gun for 20£ to 25£, which may prove a faithful servant, if not a very polished or accomplished one; and he will find it well worth his while, if within reasonable distance, to choose the gun himself, and see that it fits him—the expense of the journey will not be thrown away.
If the shooter can afford 45£ for a gun, London is the place to purchase it; for the very best class of Birmingham work is decidedly inferior to the very best class of London work. It is a general, though erroneous, idea that all London gunmakers have their guns sent to London from their Birmingham factories in a finished state and ready for sale. It is true a large proportion of so-called London guns are made and finished in Birmingham, even down to the name of the seller of the gun in London, and his address. Yet, though they may be few in number, still the best—that is, the elite—of the workmen in the guntrade, or any other trade either, from tailors to tinkers, live and work in London, whatever may be said to the contrary; and hence the fine work of that city, when done in that city, as compared with other towns. Without being invidious, I may say the 'Emperor of the gunmakers ' is still Mr. Purdey * ; and that he, Mr. Grant, Mr. Henry Holland (who is very justly winning fame every day for the great excellence of his guns and his practical knowledge of how to build a gun to fit a customer, whatever his figure or eyesight may be), Mr. Boss, Mr. "Woodward, Mr. Lancaster, Mr. Baker, Mr. Dougall, Mr. Rigby, and Messrs. Cogswell & Harrison, do all their best work in London or its district. 
* What particularly distinguishes Mr. Purdey in the gun trade, is the exquisite and unrivalled finish and fitting of every part of his work, and the consequent smoothness in action and ability to undergo ' wear and tear' that his guns are so deservedly noted for.
Note. — Shooters are always on the growl about the price of best guns. All I can tell them is that the cost of these is more likely to increase than the reverse, for the reason that highly-skilled workmen in the different branches of the gunmaking trade are becoming scarcer and more difficult to manage every day—a fact this, that will no doubt delight the cheap gunmakers of Birmingham, as it will cause sportsmen with badly-lined pockets to be more willing to lend an ear to their blandishments, and their time-worn assertions that a cheap gun, ' for all practical purposes,' is as good and useful an article as a costly London one.

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