Issue 17 November 2020

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No Charge Can Hurt The Gun

Kirk Lubbes on J.D. Dougall guns.

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Guns & Gunmakers|September 2020

“NO CHARGE CAN HURT THE GUN”

So states an original charge card in Lockfast 12 bore, serial number 3175, such was J. D. Dougall’s confidence in his patented design of May 1860, No. 1182. This gun is one of the four Lockfast guns which are discussed in this article

First, a little background on the Dougall family of gun makers. There were six gunmakers in the Dougall family. They were: John Dougall; J. D. Dougall Sr.; and J.D. Dougall’s sons; John Dougall, J. D. Dougall Jr., and Norman Dougall. J. D. Sr. being the inventor of the Lockfast.

James Dalziel (J. D.) Dougall Sr. was born in 1819. His gun making business has its roots in his father’s fishing tackle business. While J. D. Dougall used the 1760 establishment date in his advertising. Boothroyd [1] states that John Dougall (J. D.’s father) started his business in1808 as a fishing and fowling maker, later to specialize in needles and fishing hooks.

The following listing “Fishing & Fowling, Tackle Makers, Dougal John, 83, Tron-gate” appears in The Commercial Directory of Scotland and Ireland 1820-21 & 22. Then moving to 88 Trongate in 1825 [3]. In 1830, again relocating to 52 Argyle Arcade and listed and J and J Dougall Fishing-Tackle Manufacturer and Gunmaker [4].

In 1841, the company name was changed to James D. Dougall, Fishing-Tackle Manufacturer and Gunmaker [4]. Dougall’s newspaper advertisements for the years of 1845, 1847, 1849, and 1850 [5] tell the story of J.D.’s transition from focusing on fishing tackle to gunmaking. Early in the 1845, in his Glascow Post Office Directory (GPOD) ad, there is only a single line related to shooting: i.e., advertising gunpowder, shot and cartridges and gun repair. The rest of the ad is associated with fishing. By March 24, 1845, the Glasgow Herald, Dougall announces that he has “engaged a first-rate Gunmaker and is prepared to execute all orders in that department…” His follow-up 1847 GPOD ad is about ¼ shooting sports related including “Forgings and Gun Materials of all kinds.” By 1849, his ads are promoting his own manufactured guns.

In 1846, J. D.’s gunmakers’ workshop is at 80 Mitchel Lane, Glasgow, with warehouses at 51 and 52 Argyle Arcade. [6]. Beginning in 1850, his growing firm’s Scottish operations have been moved to 23 Gordon Street, in Glasgow where Dougall is employing eight men making fishing tackle and another six men making guns. [7]

On 15 October 1857, he advertises in Glasgow Herald, “New Breech-Loading Fowling Pieces and Rifles are now manufactured by J. D. Dougall”. He also advertises the same in The Field stating, “In addition to the manufacture of the very superior Fowling-Pieces which have gained the Advertiser so great celebrity as a gunsmith, he has now respectively to state that he is preparing to take Orders for BREECH-LOADING FOWLING PIECES…” By 1857, he is a well-established as gunmaker of percussion guns and is changing over to manufacturing breechloaders. The 1857 date pre-dates the Lockfast patent by three years. The type of breech-loading action that Dougall is using at this early date is unknown. However, Dougall was an early proponent of the pinfire.

Dougall introduces his Lockfast action in London at the International Exhibition of 1862 and wins a gold medal. By 1863, Dougall’s business is successful enough to open a second location at 59 James’s Street, London which remains open until 1883, after which he traded as J.D. Dougall and Sons at 8 Bennet Street, St. James’s until 1893 [8]. The London 1881 census notes that Dougall’s London operation employs 10 men.

The Lockfast Action

For those unfamiliar with the Lockfast action, a quick tutorial. Dougall had studied the weaknesses in the Lefaucheux action. He designed a slide and drop action in which a side-lever slides the barrels forward on a concentric cam (Figure 1) and allows them to drop, rotating on the hinge pin to correct these weaknesses. The locking mechanism consists of a boss (a steel disk) attached to the standing breech, aligned with each barrel (Figure 2); and a barrel under-lug. The breech end of the barrels slide over the bosses and the barrel lug engages the action. The action closes by pulling the lever back, which forces the barrels over the two round bosses pushing the cartridges into the chamber, sealing it. The action completely encases the cartridge in steel, eliminating the weakness at the interface between the barrels and the standing breech. It is an extremely strong action design.

Lockfasts were built in at least the following gauges: 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 bores. The 4-bore was a single barrel punt gun with an oarlock forend. The others were double guns. He also built Lockfast double rifles in a wide number of calibers, including gauge rifles, and howdah pistols.

Figure 1

 

Based upon surviving examples, most Dougall Lockfasts were high quality guns. I have only seen two field-grade guns in my 14 years of collecting. Lockfasts were expensive guns. A Dougall advertisement in an Australian newspaper (9) lists four grades of Lockfast guns: Highest, First Special, Second Special and Minor. Prices range for a 10 bore range from £54 to £29; for the 12 bore, from £50 to £17. Cases were available for all grades, except the Minor. The average wage for a London laborer in 1870 was just under a British pound a week. A highest-grade Dougall Lockfast would be about a year’s salary for the common man. Of course, Dougall’s customers were gentleman.

Figure 2

The Lockfast Conversion Shotgun

The first gun we shall investigate is the aforementioned Lockfast, serial #3175. This is the gun that sparked my interest in collecting Dougall guns. I discovered it at the Vegas gun show 14 years ago and was taken by the fact that it was designed to be used both as a muzzle loader and a cartridge gun and the braggadocios charge card that stated that “no charge can hurt the gun.” [I have always wondered what J.D.’s lawyer must have thought about this statement.]

Lockfast #3175 was built about 1877. It has 31 inch Damascus barrels, cylinder bored. Its Damascus barrels are stamped “Best”. Length-of-pull (LOP) is 14 ½ inches. The gun weighs 7 ¼ pounds and balances on the hinge pin. The locks are signed Stanton non-rebounding locks. The buttstock is well-marbled and retains heal and toe plates to protect the butt when it is being loaded as a percussion gun. Engraving coverage is about 75%. The forend is attached with a cross-pin, a late hold-over from earlier guns, and unusual, for a gun built this late.

In 1870, Dougall was appointed Gun and Rifle Maker to HRH Prince of Wales. As with this gun, most Lockfast guns afterwards, have engraved on the rib, “J. D. Dougall Gun and Rifle Manufacturer to HRM The Prince of Wales, 59 St. James St. London” and the top tang is engraved with the three Price-of-Wales feathers.

The original, as found (Figure 3), gun case contained tools to convert the gun from a cartridge gun to a percussion muzzle loader. These tools include:

Two special brass “cartridges” numbered to the gun and designated for the right and left barrels (Figure 4). Each cartridge has a hole in its base through which the muzzle-loaded charge can be ignited. The interior of these brass inserts are tapered from the ignition hole, to funnel the percussion cap’s flame to the powder charge. Dougall patented a “conical tapered base for cartridge head to reduce powder space,” No. 3746 of September 1876 which is reflected in this “cartridge” design.

Two special nipples with tubes to vent the percussion cap ignition flame into the rear of the special cartridges (Figure 5).
A Bartram nipple wrench to remove the firing pins and replace them with the percussion nipples. The wrench also serves as a socket wrench for insertion of a turn screw bit and striker disk tool.

Powder measure marked Dougall and Bartram. The powder measure is marked for a 12 bore dispensing 3 to 4 ½ drams of powder. W. Bartram and J. D. Dougall patented this and the shot measure below, “variable powder and shot measure with funnel and cut off lever,” patent number 1984 of September 1869.

Shot measure marked Dougall and Bartram. The shot measure is marked for a 20 bore dispensing 1 to 1 ½ oz of shot. One can only imagine the amount of shot in the 12 bore measure. Also, a Bartram nickel-plated capper/decapper tool, a Bartram nickel-plated roll/crimper tool, Cleaning rod and various other small tools.

The case, therefore, contains examples of all three Dougall’s patents, from the Lockfast gun to the tools.

To convert the gun from cartridge to percussion, the nipple wrench was used to remove the firing pins and replace them with the specially designed percussion nipples. The numbered brass “cartridges” were inserted into the breech and the action locked. The gun was then loaded like any muzzle loading shotgun. The bosses on the standing breech sealed the chamber to prevent and potential gas leaks.


The label and charge card are original to the gun and numbered to the gun. Both are mounted in a case which appears original to the gun.

Charge card in case.

These “conversion” guns may have been made for Englishman stationed in colonial areas where cartridges might be difficult to come by, thus and allowing the hunter to change over to percussion, if need be.

Figure 4

During my research for this article, I discovered that Dougall had also made an earlier onversion gun that “can be used as pin or central fire and extracts cartridges, 12 bore, 6 lbs, 13 oz weight” [Glasgow Herald,19 July 1867]. This gun was for sale by Dougall as a used gun. Note the gun has extractors, which would not have been necessary on a pinfire.

Figure 5

The Lockfast 8-Bore

The next gun that we shall investigate is an 8-bore Lockfast. It was purchased from Cabella’s after nearly two years of negotiations. The wait was worth it because these large bore guns were often used by market hunters and, as such, are generally in poor condition. This gun is, however, an exception. It has seen little use. It retains most of its original case colloring and browning.

The gun was made for export, probably to the US. It lacks a definitive proof mark required by British law, and not required for guns being exported. Thus the reason for its lack of use may be the 1913 Weeks-McClean Act which made the use of 8 bore for hunting migratory water fowl illegal in the US.

Now to the 8 bore gun’s stats. It serial number is 3055, built probably about 1872. It weighs in at 12 pounds, the barrels alone weighing 6 lbs., 6 oz. Barrel length is 36 inches. The chamber length is 3 inches. The barrels appear to have a small amount of constriction, measuring at .827 inches at the muzzle, the standard 8 bore being .835 inches.

It has a rather straight stock with a drop of only 2 inches. While it is somewhat difficult to tell through the darkened, original finish, the stock appears to have significant pattern. The gun has a steel butt-plate, reminiscent of a muzzle-loader. The LOP is only 14 inches. Its balance point is 2 inches forward of the hinge pin. The gun swings easily belying its weight. Engraving is limited to boarder engraving. While the rib states “J. D. Dougall Gun and Rifle Manufacturer to HRM The Prince of Wales, 59 St. James St. London,” it lacks the Prince of Wales feathers engraved on the top tang found on most Dougalls of this period. Even though this gun was intended for hard use, the quality is evident.

Lockfast 8-bore

The Lockfast Hammerless Shotgun

The second Lockfast that we will consider is hammerless pigeon gun. Unlike Lockfast hammer guns, hammerless Lockfasts are relatively rare. While strong, they were, compared to snap actions, slow and awkward to use. In all but a few applications, where strength concerns trumped reloading speed, snap actions were preferred and the Lockfast lost popularity.

I had been searching for an example of a hammerless Lockfast for some time. I found a strange link to a Chevrolet Camero discussion website asking for any information on J.D. Dougall shotguns and had attached a picture of a Dougall hammerless Lockfast.

After three years of e-mail exchanges unsuccessfully attempting to buy the gun sight unseen, I decided to take a trip to Pittsburg, PA where the gun was located. I would at least have a chance to actually inspect (fondle) an example of a hammerless Lockfast. After actually seeing the gun, I made the owner an offer to buy the gun that he couldn’t possibly refuse. He did refuse it.

After I returned home, I wrote the owner a letter thanking him for allowing me to inspect the gun and shipped him a box of low pressure 7/8 oz. hand-loads that would be safe to shoot in the gun, should he ever decide to shoot it.

Much to my surprise, two weeks later, I received an e-mail from the owner. He had found a motorcycle that he wanted to buy and could use the money from the Dougall sale. It was mine.

When I had inspected the gun, it felt unusually heavy. The barrels were unusually thick at the muzzle. It also had an unusually wide, unmarked rib. All signs of a pigeon gun. There were no proof marks on the barrel flats. The gun was an export gun and therefore did not have to be proofed. The gun had probably been in the US, its entire life.

The gun itself is basically and Anson and Deeley boxlock which has been modified to cock using the Lockfast sidelever and lock up using the bosses on the breech face. The action is marked “J. D. Dougall and Sons”. The serial number is 4755. The last serial number in Nigel Brown’s British Gun Makers, Volume 1, is the 4400 series in 1894. Extrapolating using Dougall’s yearly production rate, serial # 4755 would have been produced about 1898. This may be one of the last Lockfasts made since both J. D. Dougall Sr. and Jr. had died by 1894. The firm of J. D. Dougall & Sons, Gun, Fishing Rod and Tackle Makers was officially dissolved on 21 February 1905.

Pigeon Gun

The gun weighs 7 ¾ pounds but feels much heavier because it is very barrel heavy. The balance point is nearly 3” in front of the hinge pin. The barrels measure 31” in length. The chamber is 2¾”. The nominal bore diameter is .743”. The chokes are .037” in the right barrel and .045” in the left barrel. (How about that for tight chokes?) The wall thicknesses measure .053” and .050”, for the right and left barrels respectively, when measured nine inches from the breech. The barrels are still .045” at the muzzle. Since the barrels are not proofed, it is impossible to know what the original barrel internal measurements were, but I suspect that they are close to, if not the original, based upon the current very thick barrels and tight chokes. The rib is a ½” wide, flat, raised, and machined to reduce glare. The barrel weight, chambers, chokes, and rib dimensions bear out the fact the hammerless Dougall Lockfast is a live pigeon gun.

The barrels are typical of high-grade Dougall guns. The Damascus wire is extremely fine and therefore very difficult to bring out the pattern when browned, but Buck Hamlin of Pevey, MO did a great job on them.

The only proof marks on the gun are the London View proofs on the left and right arms of the action flats. The action flats also contain the serial number and “Patent Lockfast” in an oval. Split across the left and right action arms is stamped “Dougall’s Highest Quality”. At least with Dougall guns, one does not have to guess whether a given gun is a “best” gun.

The action is fully covered with tight scroll work. One unique action feature is a thin platinum arrow head about ¾” of an inch long and whose point is at the center of the standing breech. The arrowhead runs down the top tang, the base being about 1/16” in width. Its purpose is unknown to me.

The stock is of well-figured walnut with a Prince of Wales grip (Figure 3). Length of pull is 14” to a checkered horn butt plate. The checkering appears to be 22 lines per inch. The drop at the heel is a full three inches. I suspect that the gun was originally made for the American market where a head-up style of shooting was popular. For the modern shooter, the drop is excessive.

The Lockfast Double Rifle

The third Lockfast is a double rifle in 500 3 ¼” BPE. The rifle weighs in at 9 ½ pounds. The highly-figured, pistol-grip stock has a 15” LOP and 2” drop at the comb with flat-top checkering. The locks retain their original case hardening with about 50% scroll engraving coverage, signed J. D. Dougall.

The 28” long barrels are of fine Damascus. The ½” wide-matted rib reads with the identical inscription of our 8-bore example above. A two-leaf express sight with 150 and 250 yard markings is mounted on the rib, 7” from the breech. The barrels weigh just under 5 ¾ pounds making the rifle very barrel-heavy compared to a shotgun.

The Lockfast double-rifle action is very svelte compared to his shotguns. It has a longer tang running down the top of the wrist for additional strength in this weak area of the buttstock. Again, like the Conversion Gun above, it has the Prince-of-Wales feathers on the top of the action.

This rifle is, of course, a stalking rifle. Because silence during the stalk is critical, the gun is carried fully cocked to avoid the audible “click” when the hammer was cocked. To assure safety, the locks are equipped with slide locks with could be engaged then the hammers were cocked. These could be slid back in silence when ready to shoot. There is also a slide lock to secure the Lockfast sidelever.

Rifle

Conclusion

J. D. Dougall’s invention of the Lockfast was an important contribution to the evolution from muzzle-loading guns to cartridge guns. The Lockfast action was probably a case of over engineering at a time when early breech loaders were shooting loose. He invented an action that “no charge could hurt the gun.” The Lockfast proved that a breech-loading action could be developed that was reliable and safe. It remained for others to prove that a less robust and faster action could be developed which met those requirements.

J. D. Dougall, Sr. died on 28 February 1891. The firm of J. D. Dougall & Sons, Gun, Fishing Rod and Tackle Makers was officially dissolved on 21 February 1905, ending the Dougall family’s participation in J. D. Dougall and Sons. Charles Ingram Annan was to continue doing business under the same name and at the same address [10].


I would appreciate anyone who has further information to contact me at captrkirk@yahoo.com.

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