We’ve all seen the well intentioned attempts of some to restore a gun to its former glory, and all so often with rather sorry results. Perhaps we need to consider several points and also consider what it is that we hope to achieve. We wouldn’t, for instance, take a 4” emulsion brush to re-paint a 1930s Bugatti, over the rust, and so by the same token, if we’re going to set about the proper restoration work of a gun, then we need to consider that only work of the original standard will suffice.
A few years ago there was a Hertfordshire Gunmaker who bought up suitable guns and restored them to their former glory. The results were often quite exceptional and for the very simple reason that the attention shown to detail was precise and thorough. All so often the only retained part of the gun was the action body, the forend iron (complete with ejector work) and the lockwork. In short, the barrels and the stocks were replaced. That wasn’t until the lockwork had been stripped and any parts which were showing signs of wear, along with the ejector system, were re-made and replaced. Presumably, the ideal candidate would be a gun which retained a degree of original colour because it would follow that the engraving would have still been sharp. Were the gun to be in need of annealing and then re-engraving then the chances of doing it, economically, would be slim.
The secondary iron work; The lever, the guard and probably the forend iron work could easily have the engraving work polished and then re-cut and then be blacked, and similarly, all the slotted pins will probably need replacing and engraving to match the originals, where the less than cautious, over the years have mangled them. The same would apply to the lockwork pins, if they’ve been abused. There’s no need for such work to be desperately expensive.
The tricky bit is when we come to the barrels. If we accept that full restoration is only feasible with those guns which were made to be the very best, so sleeving is probably not going to help the eventual integrity and so the value of the gun. Similarly, anything but the maker’s name on the barrels will equally do little to help, whatever the quality of the work. The aforementioned Gunmaker owned the ’Names’ of those guns which he bought in for restoration, and that in itself gave the guns a most certain credibility. Sadly however, and what ever the former glory of a Purdey sidelock gun, then handing it over to Mr. Purdey for a new pair of barrels, and parting with £20k for the privilege will not in a lifetime, see the gun have its value enhanced by a figure which will make the project viable. For the ‘lesser’ makers, and specifically those who produced the odd and exceptional gun, so they may be approached to either carry out the work or have them inspect the new barrels once completed, give them their seal of approval, enter the work in to their records, and you will have to pay them for that privilege, and rightly so. Importantly, you will have the right to put the maker’s name on the barrels. A pair of barrels today will cost between £6-8k, dependent upon who you go to, and then the owner of the name on your gun (if they haven’t carried out the work themselves), will need to accept the barrels as being satisfactory.
A ‘Best’ gun with acceptable barrel dimensions regardless of the need for other work, will hold its restoration work, for obvious reasons.
Now we can consider the stock. If the wood, through either wear, repair or abuse, has sunk below the level of the top strap, the lock plates or the guard, then we’re looking at re-stocking. If however, the wood is still proud of the metal work, or possible even level, then if we’re pleased enough with the wood quality, then careful and sympathetic finishing is a possibility. Very often the wood which was used from 1880 to perhaps 1940, originated from France. Though not as figured as is the modern walnut from Turkey, certainly the colours, after polishing, were quite delightful with beautiful dark lines and all so often a glorious honey coloured base. Such French timber is no longer available, search though I have!
Generally and to consider a stock and forend re-stock, the labour costs tend to be at between £3-5k. at the upper end this should include a best oil finish. With such an amount of money spent, it would seem to me to be a pointless exercise to fit a plain piece of wood with a material cost of £300. Better I think, to spend double that and have a truly attractive and highly figured piece of wood.
For full renovation to be a viable proposition, the weapon concerned needs to be of a manufactured quality which warrants such expense, and we can easily blow £10-20k on such a project, and a full heart transplant, though in theory a temptation, is rarely justifiable.
The Head Keeper.