Buying a Boxlock
I am often asked how I approach a gun for sale in order to determine whether it is worth buying. I was recently offered an interesting boxlock and the process I went through may be of interest to readers considering a purchase of their own.
The gun is an E.J Churchill, Anson & Deeley action, ejector, cased with two sets of barrels. The barrels are 30” long and one set has 2 ½” chambers (marked ‘GAME’) and the other 2 ¾” chambers (marked ‘PIGEON’).
The gun is what would have been the best quality boxlock offered by Churchill at the time of manufacture. We know it was made in 1902 because the serial number can be checked against the records. Further investigation shows that it cost £60 when new; about 80% of the cost of a best sidelock. This model had no name but was the precursor to the Hercules. The full coverage fine scroll engraving and the quality of fit and finish show it to be a very high quality boxlock.
Brand value is a much-debated issue. There persists in the market the idea that some makers were ‘better’ than others. Therefore their guns are more desirable and worth more. Although factually inaccurate, the ‘brand value’ idea is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If everyone thinks a Stephen Grant is worth more than a Charles Hellis, because Stephen Grant is a ‘better’ maker, then put two identical guns on the table at identical prices and the Grant will sell quicker and is also likely to sell if the price is higher. If we place Purdey, Holland & Holland, Woodward and Boss at the top tier (which demand suggests is the case) and a second tier of Grant, Atkin, Churchill, Lang, Greener, Dickson, MacNaughton, Westley Richards and Lancaster, a third tier would include Beesley, Hellis, Watson Bros, Boswell, William Powell, Pape, Gibbs and W&C Scott. Every other gunmaker currently fits into the fourth tier.
The pricing calculation is that identical guns carrying the name of a maker in the top tier to the fourth tier will graduate downwards in market value (not quality). Therefore, the Churchill will have a good brand value. The firm was, and remains, well known and respected as a maker and someone will find being able to say “I have a Churchill’ an attractive proposition; more so than “I have a Midland Gun Co” but less than “I have a Purdey”.
For its age, the Churchill is in decent shape, having undergone some refurbishment in the recent past. It was owned from new by one family and not been abused or radically altered . Being critical, the chequer has been re-cut and not to the standard I would deem satisfactory (a common problem). The stock finish needs re-applying and the gun needs re-jointing. Otherwise it is in good shape.
Blacking is acceptable on barrels and furniture. The original case is a very good oak and leather one, fitted for both sets of barrels, with excellent interior and maker’s label. This alone would make £500. The engraving remains sharp with a good deal of original finish.
A careful inspection of the stock shows it is not cracked and the fitting of stock to action is sound. Wood to metal fit is very good and the gun shows no signs of rust damage around the edges. The dimensions are original (it fits the case) and there are no unsightly extensions to the 14 ¾” stock.
Barrels are equally weighted and both have been bored out (no doubt to remove pits) and re-proved. Bore and barrel measurements are well within the preferred limits I like to see, which means over 23 thou minimum walls and bores no closer to needing re-proof than 5 thou of tolerance. Thinner barrels will undoubtedly serve well and the Trade considers 20 thou the minimum for there to be sufficient ‘life in the gun’. The Churchill’s barrels are free from dents or bulges and the bores are clean. Ribs are sound, as are the lumps and loop.
As a 12-bore, the Churchill is ‘normal’. Because 12-bores were made in larger numbers than any other gauge, they set the benchmark for pricing today. Smaller bore guns carry a premium. For example, if our gun were a 20-bore of identical quality and condition, the value would be perhaps 30% higher than it is. The smaller the bore, the more this is true. Holt’s sold a Greener FH25 in 28-bore this year for £10,300. I bought a 20 bore version of the FH25 in similar condition two sales later for £2,000.
Does it work? A set number of tests can be carried out inside. They include using snap caps to feel the quality of the trigger pulls, the function of the springs, tumblers,safety and ejectors. Opening the gun after firing onto snap caps will test the cocking mechanism. The Churchill passed in all respects.
In summary, we have a best quality, relatively early Churchill boxlock, built on the Anson & Deeley system at a time when it was largely perfected and the style looks modern. Ideally the chequer would have been left alone so I could re-cut it properly but otherwise the gun is very attractive, functional and has lots of life in it. This is the type of gun that I would be interested in taking into stock. With a little work it can be visually improved significantly and with the unusual nature of a two-barrel set, fashionably long at 30”, lovely case and single family history to complement its best quality and functionality, this will find a good home relatively quickly. Time to strike a deal.