I first saw a Giles Whittome shotgun, as a teenager, in a book of Geoffrey Boothroyd’s compiled articles from the Shooting Times. Little did I imagine all those years ago that, one day, my words, observations and photographs on the same subject would feature in the same magazine.
Geoffery Boothroyd is in no small part to thank for this being so. I never met him but he was by all accounts a friendly, entertaining and pioneering lover of all things old, British and gun related. His regular column treated readers to the weird, wonderful, odd and sublime. The full breadth of British gun-making history, when information was hard-found, research painstaking and information transmitted by letter and photograph.
I was fifteen years old and wondered why someone would build a new gun with Damascus barrels.
The Giles Whittome gun he featured was a new build back then, in 1982. I was fifteen years old and wondered why someone would build a new gun with Damascus barrels. I wasn’t sure about the gold leaf engraving but even then I could appreciate the quality of the piece, the skill that went into making it and the care that was lavished on the presentation: its case with, what I assumed were, ivory handled turn-screws and matching striker pot.
I have seen the gun at least twice since I first read about it, as a wide eyed teenager. I wasn’t expecting to see it again but here it is; Lot 96 in Gavin Gardiner’s September auction. As a labour of love, created by a wealthy man who was more enthusiast than gun trade professional, it left no detail un-addressed. It is not Whittome's only creation, he has also built 2-bore rifles based on Alex Henry type harpoon gun actions!
It was made as it stands today, built on a pair of Damascus tubes found in the workshops of Thomas Bland. Former Holland & Holland actioner Brian Gibbs built the heart of the gun as a pin-less lock, round-body self-opener and it was engraved and inlaid with vine leaves in gold, reminiscent of Charles Lancaster rifles built for Indian princes, with the addition of a lone woodcock in flight. The sixteen-inch stock is of Prince of Wales configuration, with an ivory grip cap. The bead is a tiny labrador’s head with diamond eyes!
It is impressive without being vulgar, lavish without becoming tacky. It is beautiful but looks like it would feel at home in the hands on a smart shoot. It would be a shame to see it languish in its wonderful case forever but the thirty eight years it has been in existence have been kind, the gun shows little-to-no wear and tear, which makes me a slightly sad.
With its 2 3/4” nitro proof and cylinder barrels, it would work well today as an all-round game gun - you could even put standard steel loads through it. It carries an estimate of £18,000-£24,000, which is a fraction of what it would cost to build today, even if you could find some decent Damascus tubes. I admit, this is not my usual kind of ‘thing’ but I could make an exception. Someone needs to buy this and enjoy shooting it. I hope someone does. Next time I see it in an auction, I want it to have a few blemishes from honest use in the field.
William Ford bored Greener’s barrels for the Field Trials which proved choke-bore guns were effective.
If you are at Gavin’s sale and you want a bargain - try to buy Lot 121, a William Ford boxlock ejector with 3” chambers. At 7lbs 2oz it is a bit light for a three-inch gun but it is a quality action with barrels by one of Birmingham’s specialists.William Ford bored Greener’s barrels for the Field Trials which proved choke-bore guns were effective and safe. A first-rate boxlock, with pretty wood, in excellent condition, it could solve your steel-shot dilemma. Get the left barrel opened out to Half Choke and you have yourself future-proofed. This is a gun that would cost £25,000 to make today and it will probably sell for less than three thousand.
Elsewhere in the sale Gavin has a fair mixture from the banal to the unique, the bargain bucket to international collector quality. I always notice T.T. Proctor rifles, I shoot deer with a 7x57 custom Mauser he built a decade or two back. Gavin has a Proctor .22 rimfire based on a BRNO action. I was curious to know if it is just a ‘tarted-up BRNO’ or a proper custom rifle.
Viewing is by appointment, at Gavin’s Pulborough headquarters. E-mail him for a slot. Bidding can be done on-line from the comfort of your desk or sofa.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on