Grant's Side-lever

The side-lever is addictively pleasant to use and has a strong following.

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Guns & Gunmakers|June 2018

Stephen Grant was an Irishman and served his apprenticeship with William Kavanagh of Dublin. In 1843 he went to London to work for Charles Lancaster, then to Thomas Boss, in 1850. After succeeding Boss, as managing partner, seven years later, he then co-ran the company until leaving to start his own business, in 1867.

I have long admired the quality of the guns Stephen Grant turned out between 1867 and 1898, the years in which the founder of the firm traded from 67A St James’s Street, first styled as ‘Stephen Grant’, then, from 1889, as ‘Stephen Grant & Sons’.

Though Grant built all manner of guns and rifles, like many Victorian gun-makers, he developed a particular style that set him apart from his contemporaries and became instantly recognisable as his work. If the round action makes one think of Dickson, the Beesley self-opener of Purdey and the Gibbs falling block of Alex Henry, then the side-lever hammer gun is a style that conjures the name of Stephen Grant in the minds of most enthusiasts.

Of course. Grant did not make the only side-lever guns of the period, many firms did. He did not stop with hammer guns either, Grant continued his side-lever style into the hammerless era, both with side-locks and trigger plate guns. However, for many, the classic Grant is a graceful hammer gun with damascus barrels and a side-lever.

Back in the days of the founder, a best Stephen Grant gun would cost you around £37. Today many of his guns still appear at auction, in showrooms and in the field. I thought it would be interesting to compare two Grant side-lever guns and see how the model and the style developed.

Most people are familiar with what one would consider the classic Grant side-lever. This is built on a patent (No. 251) sealed in 1871 and devised by Edwin Charles Hodges. Universally known as the ‘Grant & Hodges Patent’ this is a triple-bite action recognisable by the twin lateral projections on the rear lump and the cut-out in the breech face, into which the lump extends.

These guns are usually made with back-locks, rebounding hammers and fine scroll engraving. It is widely boasted that Boss styled his business as ‘Makers of Best Guns Only’ and Grant held the reigns there for ten years. The attention to style and detail was clearly ingrained and if you can show me a Grant hammer gun that suffers in any way by comparison with a Boss, I’ll buy you a pint.

The first gun is a back action side-lever, very much in the classic Grant & Hodges style. It is serial number 5154 and it has back locks, rebounding hammers and scroll engraving. Barrels are damascus with a swamped rib and the lever runs down the right hand lock plate. From the photos you can see the lateral projections on the rear lump and its backward extension.

A game gun in style and characteristics, this was the Grant gun that solidified his name through the 1870s as a top gunmaker. It was the natural successor to the 1866 patent guns he built with Jones screw-grip actions, again usually with back locks, which were non-rebounding in early guns.

The second gun I have selected to examine was built in 1882. The Grant records are, in places, rather brief in what they record. In the case of gun No. 5254, all we are told is that it was No.2 of a pair made for ‘D.Todd esq.’as a 30” 16-bore. As for other detail, it just records ‘snap’, meaning a snap action gun, rather than a manually closed lever, like the Jones. Interestingly, the barrels actually measure 30 1/4”.

Rather than adopting the Hodges action for this gun, Grant has used a simple arrangement of a side-lever operating a Purdey double bolt. In this respect, the gun is a precursor to later Grant side-lever side-locks, which are bolted in the same manner. There is no third bite. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, London firms increasingly eschewed the third bite, while Birmingham gunmakers, Like Webley, Scott and Greener continued to market the strength advantages of guns featuring one of the many available patterns.

Could there be another contributing factor? Purdey had patented the double bolt in 1863 and seen it serve on a huge variety of styles of gun and rifle. Pleasingly for him, every time another gunmaker used it, Purdey got paid a royalty. Once teamed with the Scott spindle in 1865, the combination became hugely popular and lucrative, Scott taking the Birmingham royalty and Purdey the London one. Being a canny gunmaker of Scottish roots, Purdey made sure he protected this valuable patent for as long as possible, which was fourteen years, taking it to 1879.

Could the avoidance of royalty payments have been a factor in influencing Grant’s preference for the side-lever and the Hodges patent for so long? We can only speculate but it seems that by the 1880s he had started to favour the simpler Purdey bolt to the Hodges action, though the side-lever remained in favour.

This gun has the most beautiful quality Stanton locks. They are of bar-action style, rather than the more common back-action of the earlier Grant & Hodges guns. I probably see ten back action Grants for every bar action I encounter. It has dolphin hammers, fine scroll engraving, shouldered bar, drop points on the very well figured straight-hand stock and flat top chequer.

Though neglected and with very pitted and dented barrels, externally, the gun has been surprisingly unmolested. Despite the patina of years of accumulated dust and dirt, there is very little evidence of a gunsmith tampering with it and it appears little used. A broken mainspring in the right lock may be a reason it was laid aside and not used.

I especially like the feel and style of this gun. Though the pitted barrels rule it out as a prospect for commercial restoration, I think I can get it into good enough shape to add to my collection of usable shotguns. The barrel walls remain relatively thick.

Between them, these two Grants characterise the restrained, classy lines and wonderful attention to detail that this maker delivered to his customers during the brief heyday of the hammer gun. An old dealer once remarked to me “You just don’t see a bad Grant hammer gun”. Indeed you don’t.


Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Guns & Gunmakers|June 2018

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