Grampa's Shotgun: More Than Sentimental Value?

In answering thousands of questions on old double shotguns, the author has learned a thing or two when it comes to the safety, history and collectability of "this old shotgun that grampa had ... ."

By John M. Taylor, Contributing Editor

As an [I]American Rifleman[D] contributing editor, I answer dozens of letters each year asking the question,"I've got this shotgun that grandpa had ... and I want to know everything about it." Most are seeking information and the value of an heirloom, while others are seeking a fore-end, buttstock or other long-lost significant component. For the most part, the majority of these shotguns are worth little--save sentimental value--most are unsafe to shoot, and replacement parts nonexistent. But that sounds very dour and bleak, so for those who have grandad's shotgun, here's some of the things I've learned over the years answering the mail.

If a shotgun is a repeater, a pump or semi-automatic, dating and finding repair parts is often easy or at least easier. Millions of Browning Auto-5s, Winchester, Ithaca and Remington repeaters were made, and, for the most part, an informed or at least an educated guess can be made as to age, and repair and replacement parts are often available. Values are impossible to determine without closely examining any firearm. [i]The Blue Book Of Gun Values[d] , orders only] offers excellent reference points for establishing condition, and using them it is often possible to peg down a gun's worth within a few dollars. Whether a collector or dealer will actually pay that price is subject to supply and demand, but author Steve Fjestad's figures can be counted on in most instances. However, when we get into the murky world of side-by-sides the whole thing begins to unravel.

Certainly, it is easy to single out the great names and set them aside. Double shotguns by British makers such as Dickson, Holland & Holland, Purdey, Westley Richards, Boss, E.J. Churchill and others are easily identified, and their values continue to increase. American makes, Ansley H. Fox, Parker Brothers, Ithaca, L.C. Smith, Lefever and Winchester are equally easy to identify, and their values also continue to rise. In general, shotguns from name makers in Great Britain were handmade: American-made shotguns were machine-made and hand assembled. Be aware though that there are many shotguns that bear a London maker's name and address but that were actually made elsewhere in England, mostly in Birmingham. These shotguns are worth considerably less than a shotgun made solely within the London premisses. For example, I own a 21/2" chambered 12-ga. W. J. Jeffrey that was made in 1903 that has Jeffery s 13 King Street, St. James's, London address engraved on the rib. However, this shotgun was, in fact, made in Birmingham by R. Ellis. So even famous British names can be tricky. Fortunately, as many British gunmakers were bought and absorbed by others, their records were carefully preserved, and often individual shotguns such as my Jeffrey can be traced, as can some American-made shotguns. Variations such as good engraving and precious-metal inlays can increase the value of a firearm, but care needs to be exercised, as often these were applied long after the gun was made and serve only to make an ordinary shotgun appear worth more than it is. It should also be pointed out that there is confusion concerning at least one of the great American-made shotguns, the Ansley H. Fox.

In November 1929, Savage Arms, Inc. bought the financially beleaguered Ansley H. Fox Gun Company. While true A. H. Fox shotguns continued to be produced from parts by Savage, Savage and later Savage-Stevens also made and marketed a double-barreled shotgun called the Fox Model B. A serviceable shotgun, but nowhere near a true Fox, yet often confused with the original. While name-brand British-, European- and American-made shotguns are easily identifiable, once we leave those, we descend into a nether world of store-brand and proprietary brand shotguns and general confusion.

From roughly 1880 to 1930, there were several manufacturers and importers in this country that supplied double-barreled shotguns to anyone who would order them. They not only made them under their own name, but for dozens and dozens of hardware wholesalers, hardware stores, mail- order catalogs, sporting goods stores and many other retail and wholesale gun dealers, each engraved or stamped with their individual trade name or names. Add to this various grades, and suddenly there are vast numbers of essentially the same shotgun, all with different names engraved on them. Made largely with Damascus, twist or laminated-steel barrels, virtually none are safe to shoot as they are.

Damascus or twist-steel barrels are made by layering alternate strips of steel and iron then welding them together. The strips are then twisted until they resembled a screw, three of these wound strips are then welded together, wound around a steel mandrel, then welded and hammered into a barrel tube. Laminated steel barrels are a bit different. They start with a ball of steel and iron that is then hammered into long strips and twisted, then, like their Damascus cousin, wound around a mandrel, welded and hammered into a barrel tube. Inherently, these barrels are quite strong, and many best-quality Damascus barrels pass nitro proof. However, because of the iron content and welded manufacture, twist barrels have a propensity for rusting within the barrel material. Added to that is the fact that these guns were primarily used with non-corrosive priming, and are therefore potentially honeycombed with weak spots. While there are first-quality Damascus Parker and Purdey barrels that can be shot with modern ammunition, most if not all are not up to the task. Briley Manufacturing [(800) 331-5718] can either make full-length tubes of a smaller gauge--20 ga., 28 ga. and .410 bore in a 12 ga.; 28 ga. in an existing 16 ga., etc.--or, provided the barrels are good condition, install steel chamber sleeves of one gauge smaller--12 ga. in a 10 bore, etc.--enabling the use of smokeless-powder ammunition. Shooting these old hammer guns is real fun. Organizations like The Vintagers [(413) 339-5347] are devoted to shooting and keeping alive the tradition of these old guns through clay-target competitions. As much fun as shooting these guns is, safety is the prime consideration, and one should never, ever consider shooting a Damascus, twist or laminated-steel barreled shotgun without first having it inspected by a truly competent gunsmith, and, if necessary, altered by an outfit such as Briley.

Prime among the shotguns readers and members inquire about are those made by two long- defunct, companies: Crescent Fire Arms Company once located in Norwalk, Conn., and H.∓D. Folsom in New York City. From 1888 to 1899, Crescent made shotguns on its own. Sometime around 1900, the company merged with N.R. Davis and H.∓D. Folsom, becoming Crescent- Davis. Crescent made shotguns for many, many companies under many names. Once amalgamated with H.∓D. Folsom, the list exploded. [The following is an excerpt from my recently published [i]The Shotgun Encyclopedia[d] (2000, Safari Press) that may help identify an heirloom.] H.∓D Folsom was located at 312-14 Broadway, New York, N.Y., and imported and distributed firearms from about 1890 to 1930. At some point they merged with Crescent-Davis, and were finally sold in 1954 to Universal Tackle and Sporting Goods Co. Far from complete, the following list includes brand and trade names of Crescent-made and Folsom-imported shotguns: American Gun Co., Bacon Arms, Baker Gun Co., T. Barker (for Sears), Carolina Arms Co., Central Arms Co., Cherokee Arms Co., Chesapeake Gun Co., Compeer, Cruso, Cumberland Arms Co., Elgin Arms Co., Elmira Arms Co., Empire Arms Co., Enders Oak Leaf, Enders Royal Service, Essex, Faultless, The Field, F.F. Forbes, C.W. Franklin, Harrison Arms Co., Hartford Arms Co., Harvard, Henry Gun Co., Hermitage Arms Co., Hermitage Gun Co., Howard Arms Co., Hummer, Interstate Arms Co., Jackson Arms Co., Kingsland Special, Kingsland 10 Star, Knickerbocker, Knox-All, Lakeside, J. H. Lau ∓ Co., Leader Gun Co., Lee Special, Lee's Munner Special, Leige Arms Co., J. Manton ∓ Co., Marshwood, Massachusetts Arms Co., Metropolitan, Minnesota Arms Co., Mississippi Valley Arms Co., Mohawk, Monitor, Wm. Moore and Co., Mt. Vernon Arms Co., National Arms Co., New Rival, New York Arms Co., Nitro Bird, Nitro Hunter, Norwich Arms Co., Not-Nac Manufacturing Co., Oxford Arms Co., C. Parker ∓ Co., Peerless, Perfection, Piedmont, Pioneer Arms Co., Quail, Queen City, Rev-O-Noc, W. Richards (not related to the British gunmaker Westley Richards), Richter, Rickard Arms Co., Royal Service, Rummel, Shue's Special, Sickel's Arms Co., Southern Arms Co., Special Service, Spencer Gun Co. Sportsmen, Springfield Arms Co., Square Deal, Stanley, State Arms, H. J. Sterling, St. Louis Arms Co., Sullivan Arms Co., Ten Star, Ten Star Heavy Duty, Tiger, Triumph, U.S. Arms Co., Victor, Victor Special, Virginia Arms Co., Volunteer, Vulcan Arms Co., Warren Arms Co., Wilkinson Arms Co., Wilmont Arms Co., Wilshire Arms Co., Wiltshire Arms Co., Winfield Arms Co., Winoca Arms Co., Wolverine, and Worthington Arms Co. Most of these were store-brand shotguns, all of the same style, and no repair parts exist for these guns. Certainly a skilled gunsmith can make parts, but given that none of these guns can be considered valuable, the cost is hardly worth it. This is not to say that Grandpa s Nitro Hunter doesn't have great sentimental value, but in dollars and cents to a collector or even someone manning a table at a gun show, of little value. Certainly, it might be fun to try to collect some of these shotgun, say those from one particular hardware company, but they just don't rank with the big names in value.

Not all of these shotguns are hammer guns. Many were offered as hammerless guns, and indeed, some could be ordered with steel barrels, Damascus barrels being considered an upgrade. Within these brand names were numerous models and variations, namely in the pattern of the Damascus barrels--the more strips of wound steel and iron that comprised the strips wound onto the mandrel, the higher quality the barrel--and engraving. Although higher-quality guns had better wood, it wasn't the factor that upgraded wood is today.

With the increased interest in hammer guns and side-by-side shotguns in general, fostered by organizations such as The Vintagers, the Parker Collectors Ass'n and others, many are taking another look a their old shotguns with an eye to shooting them again.

Unless you have a shotgun in absolutely pristine, unfired condition, there is no reason not to take it afield, but care must be taken to ensure that it is up to the task. Inspection by a really qualified gunsmith is the place to start. If you have any doubt, send it to an outfit like Briley. They can not only evaluate its condition, but also repair it if practical. They can re-joint a loose set of barrels, TIG-weld broken hammers, make new firing pins, etc. Once given a clean bill of health, it's off to the clay range, uplands or duck blind. One of the greatest breakthroughs of the past decade has been the development of alternative nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunting. Led by Bismuth Cartridge Co., Kent's Tungsten Matrix and Federal s Tungsten-Polymer have come on lately, and any of the three are acceptable for shooting in any old double judged safe with modern ammunition; some can even be altered to shoot steel shot. I bought a 1924-vintage HE-grade Super Fox, one of about 300 shotguns made by the Ansley H. Fox Gun Company that was "overbored" and choked specially for hunting waterfowl. At some time in the 74 years since it was made and I bought it, someone shortened the barrels from 32" to 30" , making it a prime candidate for screw-in choke tubes, which Chuck Webb at Briley Manufacturing installed. With Briley's VX-series of choke tubes in place, I can shoot steel or any of the alternate nontoxic shot.

Whether it's grandad's shotgun or something that said, "Buy me," at a gun show, these old shotguns from the last of the 19th century or the first third of the 20th century are fun to own and shoot. If they are by one of the name makers identifying them can be easy, if not, a real puzzle. For the most part, many if not most fall into the store-brand category, and maybe yours is among those. In any case, they are yours to enjoy, and if they could just talk, might speak of gray dawns, huge flights of ducks and geese or quail and prairie chickens, and of a less frenetic time of riding horseback or driving a horse and buggy to the field, or of a time when there was just time without jangling cell phones and all the rest we consider necessary, but somehow our forefathers did very well without.


Sidebar

Shotguns & Black Powder

Some early shotguns can be shot with black powder or Hodgdon's Pyrodex. While Hodgdon does not recommend firing shotguns having Damascus and other twist barrels, if in the opinion of a competent gunsmith the shotgun is sound, then it's probably safe. One would be advised to wear a heavy leather glove on the leading hand, since when barrels fail from other than obstructions, they tend to split and the danger inherent is to the leading hand. Of course everyone participating in or observing any of the shooting sports should be wearing both hearing and eye protection, and good shooting glasses are even more important when shooting older shotguns.

Cartridges for use with Pyrodex or black powder can be regular plastic hulls. Hodgdon has data for loading Pyrodex in the form of two pamphlets Pyrodex and Cowboy Action Data [Hodgdon (Dept. AR), P.O. Box 2932, Shawnee Mission, KS 66201; (913) 362-9455; www.hodgdon.com; www.pyrodex.com). If you prefer, brass hulls, including odd gauges such as 24 and 36, are available from Old Western Scrounger (Dept. AR), 12924 Highway A-12, Montague, CA 96064; (800) UPS-AMMO; www.oldwesternscrounger.com. Card and felt wads are available from Ballistic Products (Dept. AR), 20015 75th Ave. N., Corcoran, MN 55340-9756; (612) 494-9237; www.ballisticproducts.com, or Precision Reloading (Dept. AR), P.O. Box 122, Stafford Springs, CT 06076-0122; (860) 684-5680; www.precisionreloading.com]. The data is easy to follow, although one needs to be sure he uses a powder measure designed for black powder, not smokeless powder.--John M. Taylor


Sidebar

I"ve Got This Shotgun

There are numerous reference books and organizations that can help identify specific brands of old double-barreled shotguns. Please note that organizations and individuals who offer gun traces will answer inquiries only on specific makes of shotguns. In addition, there is frequently a charge for researching shotguns. It is absolutely necessary to supply the gun's serial number, as researchers cannot canvas thousands of day-book entries looking for a purchaser s name. Bear in mind though, that the serial numbers of shotguns by H.∓D. Folsom and Crescent and others described in the main text are essentially meaningless, as no factory records exist for these guns.

Parker Gun Collectors Ass'n, 8825 Bud Smith Road, Wake Forest, NC 27587; www.parkergun.com. Membership $25 a year. For a fee of $25 for members, $40 for non- members they can research individual Parker shotguns provided the serial number is supplied. You will receive a letter on reproduction Parker factory letterhead outlining the original specifications of the gun and the date of manufacture.

Ansley H. Fox shotgun information contact: John Callahan, 53 Old Quarry Road, Westfield, MA 01085. For a fee ($15 in 1999) Mr. Callahan will research an individual gun provided the serial number is supplied.


Books

[i]The Shotgun Encyclopedia[d], John Taylor (Safari Press, Long Beach, CA, 2000) ISBN: 1- 57157-165-5. Covers all aspects of shotgunning, and includes information on several manufactures.

[i]Side By Sides Of The World[d], Charles E. Carder Out of print (Avil Onze Publishing, Delphos, OH, 1996, 1997) ISBN: 0-7880-0930-3. Contains a wealth of information on many side-by-sides. Can perhaps be located by a used book shop or Internet site specializing in out-of- print book.

[i]The Golden Age Of Shotgunning[d], Bob Hinman (Winchester Press, New York, NY,

1971) ISBN: 0-87691-043-6. Everything you ever wanted to know about the years, guns, ammunition and personalities of the transition from black to smokeless powder and hammer to hammerless guns. Includes an extensive section on American shotgun makers of the golden age.

[i]Boothroyd's Revised Directory Of British Gunmakers[d], Geoffrey and Susan Boothroyd (Sand Lake Press, Amity, OR, 1997) Virtually every British gunmaker is listed here, most with informative biographical information.

[i]A. H. Fox "The Finest Gun In The World,"[d] Michael McIntosh (Countrysport Press, Traverse City, MI, 1994) ISBN: 0-924357-24-X. Everything you ever wanted to know about Ansley H. Fox and Fox shotguns.

[i]Best Guns[d], Michael McIntosh (Countrysport Press, Traverse City, MI 1989) ISBN: 0- 924357-02-9. Covers all of the great American-made doubles with informative sections of British and continental shotguns.

[i]Spanish Best[d], Terry Wieland (Countrysport Press, New Albany, OH, 1994) ISBN: 0- 924357-44-4. Everything about the Spanish gun trade, although the section on manufacturers is dated, as many have ceased production or moved since publication. However, the list of manufacturers is quite complete and provides a guide for researching a particular shotgun.