God shoots with a Stephen Grant Side-lever.
We all know that everyone wants a Purdey. A good percentage of my clients, when they first come to me and express an interest in adding a hammer gun to their collection, ask for a good Purdey. And why not? Purdey hammer guns can be fantastic. Beautifully made, often with an aristocratic heritage; and they are a household name that cannot help but impress your friends. Good ones also hold their value, even in a difficult market.
However, perhaps my second most-requested hammer gun is a Stephen Grant side-lever. For some reason this iconic combination captures the imagination of some sportsmen and collectors, who peer beyond the obvious but demand the best. Stephen Grant provides the class. His guns in the latter part of the 19th century were second to none in quality. The mechanism, in this case, was provided by E.C Hodges.
Edwin Hodges was a wonderfully gifted gunmaker and a pretty astute businessman, who forged excellent working ties with many of the higher end London gun makers. Where they required extra capacity, Hodges provided the skilled craftsmen, the premises and the quality control to make the guns to the required standard. He was also a clever inventor and adapter of patents. It is believed that Hodges was the man who made the first pin-fire breech-loader of a modified LeFaucheux type, after seeing one at the Great Exhibition in London. Selling it to Joseph Lang, he thereby prompted the adoption of the breech-loader into the British gun trade in the early 1850s.
Hodges collaborated with Stephen Grant to create what has become a classic alternative to the top-lever hammer gun that was the norm in the 1880s. The ‘Grant & Hodges’ patent (251)of 1871 was probably the work of the practical Hodges, while Grant, the wealthier man, likely paid the costs of patenting it and keeping up patent payments. He also made good use of it in his guns.
Two key parts of the patent cover the bolting of the barrels to the action. There is a recess in the breech face and a bolt, which emerges from it to engage with a rearward projection of the lump. The forward part of this sliding bolt also engages with two lateral projections from the same lump, holding it down.
A nice example of a Grant side-lever arrived on my desk this month, and it proved to be an interesting, late variant, of the patent, with a solid breech face. It retains the lateral projections for rear-lump bolting but has a conventionally sliding Purdey-type bolt securing the front lump. The gun was made in 1882, by which time the Purdey patent for his 1863 bolt had become freely available and, therefore, no patent infringement would be filed, nor a royalty demanded. While ‘Patent’ is engraved on the top of the action, behind the fences, there is no ‘ECH’ stamp to indicate the gun was made by Hodges, as is commonly the case.
Like 90% of the Grant side-levers I see, this is a back action, rather than a bar action, gun. It has 30“ damascus barrels, now re-proofed for 70mm nitro ammunition with a sunken rib. The action retains a patina of age and has never been polished, which is nice to see. Likewise, the worn chequer has never been re-cut, nor the woodwork re-finished.
This originality makes it a nice candidate for gentle restoration. The barrels are fine damascus but they need re-browning and polishing to remove a little external pitting. The stock is characteristically short, like many men of the period, when the average height was around 5’ 5”. For modern tastes, this does not work: most of the guns I sell require a length of pull of 14 3/4” or more.
Extension work can be achieved with a 1/4” ebony spacer and a 3/4” leather-covered Silver’s pad. This is a good-looking and practical modification that makes the gun shootable by the average six-footer, like me.
I enjoy taking on ‘best’ guns like this; they reward good work and their inherent quality emerges as you renovate each part. They are as beautiful inside as they are outside. While working on the restoration, preserving as much of the original finish as possible, I shall explore the Grant records to see who it was made for. This is a worthwhile exercise, as you never know what interesting provenance you might uncover.