The 1930s saw a fashion for two inch chambered 12-bores. It was short lived but a surprising number of these guns remain as testament to teh strength of their former popularity.
Many shooters were worried then, as now that mixing 12-bore and 20-bore cartridges could be catastrophic. The danger of leaving a stray shell in a cartride bag or coat pocket was something many sportsmen struggled to overcome.
The easiest way to do it was to not have a 20-bore in the house. However, the attributes of a 20-bore as a lightweight gun for a youth, lady or elderly gentleman, or simply when walking long distances in warm weather, such as when walking-up grouse needed to be addresssed.
Making a very light 12-bore and chambering it for short, light cartridges was a solution many gunmakers adopted. This boxlock, bearing the name 'E. Gale' of Barnstaple and marked in contrasting platinum inlay on the rib 'FOR 2 INCH CASE ONLY' is a good example of the type in very original condition.
The two-inch 12-bore fashion was begun by Charles Lancaster with his 'Pygmies' and the load settled upon was 7/8th of an ounce, significantly lighter than the standard 1 1/8" that was the 12-bore standard load of the day. Interestingly, the proof test for a 2" cartridge was 3 3/4 tons per square inch, which is higher than the normal 2" chambered proof test (3 tons per square inch) or even 2 3/4" chambered guns, which were proofed at 3 1/4 tons per square inch.
The Gale is avery neatly made upper mid quality Anson & Deeley action with Southgate ejectors. It retains most of its original case colour hardening, the flat top chequer is as cut and shows no real wear. It is cased in its original case, with a faded black and gold trade label in the lid.
The steel dove-tail lump barrels are 26" long, with a Churchill type raised, narrowing rib and it weighs just 5lbs 3oz. The original stock was short and a 2" extension has been added to give it dimensions more accceptable to a modern adult male.
In 1939, Henry Sharp wrote in Shooting Times; 'The latest issue with its load of 28 grains of Empire powder and 7/8oz of shot will be obtainable as an alternative to the cartridge loaded with the original shooting load of 26 grains of Smokeless Diamond and 7/8 oz of shot.'
He described the 2-inch 12-bore, properly loaded, as giving; 'even and well distributed patterns with good average ballistics'.
The Gale boxlock would have been made in Birmingham. Several makers produced these, including Holloway and Skimmin & Wood.
In 2022, there is a question about the long-term viability of 'exotic' chamberings and gauges, in light of a probable lead shot ban in the medium term and the likely response of ammunition makers.
The worry is that they concentrate on meeting supply for more commonly used types at the expense of things like the 2" 12-bore and the 16-bore.
Owners of these little guns in the past have been inventive, many loading their own ammunition, cutting down 2 1/2" cases and creating a rolled-turnover 2" shell.
At the present time, Eley still make a 25g lead load for the 2-inch gun. They are effective, but quite 'punchy'. The ideal application for the lightweight 12-bore, however, is in situations where there is a lot of walking and not that much shooting, so the acceptance of heavy recoil is understood and traded-off against carrying comfort.
These little guns are still lovely to own and use, they are a window into the inter-war years and the shooting sports of the time. A lovely little gun like this can be bought for a modest cost and it makes an interesting alternative to a 20-bore.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )