Issue 54 December 2023

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Noble Intent

Holland & Holland Lauches a New Model.

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Guns & Gunmakers|August 2023


“We have to remain relevant, Holland & Holland has to make money”. The words of Nigel Stewart, current Director of Operations at Holland & Holland, when he first took control of the, then newly acquired Beretta purchase, in 2021.

That was a statement of intent and the new ‘Noble’ model is the embodiment of that statement. Holland & Holland has pitched a “reinvention of the Sporting model” as auctioneer Gavin Gardiner described it and the public got to see it for the first time at the Game Fair in July.

So, what is it? The 'Noble' is a steel-shot proofed over & under with a non-detachable trigger block, a bolstered action with dummy side-plates, a single trigger and laser engraving. The examples shown had gracefully angled pistol-grip stocks with steel grip-caps and weighed a hefty 7lbs 11oz. The stock shape was elegant, though not universally considered ideal (according to the heads of some other firms I spoke to) and the woodwork finished as one would expect. The lock work is a 'V'-spring operated, trigger-plate system.

A degree of customisation is available, including a choice of stock shapes and minor engraving variations.

The price point is £75,000, plus VAT, with a ‘Noble Deluxe’, which has game scenes on the side-plates, offered for an extra £10,000.

Now, before I get into reporting on public reaction to the new gun, it may be worth reflecting for a moment. Everyone has an opinion, some of those opinions may be worthy of attention. However, many others will be worthless. In this age of social media everyone thinks their opinion is as valid as every other opinion, which is simply not the case.

Holland & Holland (this goes for every other gun maker) do not really care what ‘Dave down the pub’ thinks about their new £75,000 shotgun because Dave is never going to buy one. They care about the reaction of the target market.

The first view most of us got of the gun was on the cover of The Field

What does the man who enjoys shooting and has the cash to spend this kind of money on a shotgun think of it? I guess time will be the judge and sales figures will tell the tale in the kind of detail that the accountants will pay attention to.

Right now, it is at the centre of a marketing campaign and, unfortunately, the ‘Daves’ of this world and their opinions, worthwhile or otherwise, do create a ‘vibe’ around a new model that can filter out of social media into the minds of the actual potential customers. After all, if you spend tens of thousands of pounds on a shotgun, you might hope that all the people who see you with it appreciate it and feel a little envious.

When Holland & Holland was taken over by Beretta, many armchair critics were quick to claim that Holland & Holland would soon be re-badging Berettas with the new brand name and selling Italian guns as English. Many of the same people are already making this claim about the 'Noble'. So, before we go further, let us just be clear what the 'Noble' is not. It is not Italian designed, it is not a re-badged Beretta model and it is not made in Italy.

It is a re-vamp of the original Holland & Holland 'Sporting' model, sans the detachable trigger-block. The 'Sporting' was conceived, designed, developed and made in England. So is the 'Noble'.

The first view most of us got of the gun was on the cover of The Field. A photo only tells you so much and the negative comments that came our way were overwhelmingly directed towards the laser engraving.

The Noble appeared in the Holland & Holland tent at the Game Fair for inspection and, while several commentators appreciated its business-like stance and potential, others were still fixated on the fact that a £75,000 gun is bedecked with laser engraving.

Engraver Joanne Ryall said “ the design is absolutely atrocious and obviously not done by someone who knows anything about scroll work”. Marcus Hunt commented “the fact is lasers are fantastic for lettering but they have chosen to hand engrave that (the name) poorly”.

Ken Hunt, was equally unimpressed, lamenting the loss of aesthetics

The godfather of modern engraving, Ken Hunt, was equally unimpressed, lamenting the loss of aesthetics on a recognisably high-brand English gun.

The key quality for a gun like this is the a manner in which it shoots and for an opinion, we might consider Stephen Nutbeam, who has the pedigree to offer an opinion worth heeding. He described it as ‘great handling and built to handle big ammo loads” (remember it is proof tested for 3” Superior Steel). He also mentioned “I felt very little recoil” and that it handles “way better” than a Beretta SO6.

Another accomplished competitor, Simon Reinhold (of Holt’s) commented: “All of us who have handled it agree it is much better in real life than in the pictures”.

So, we appear to have a very well functioning, thoughtfully put together shooting iron, which is a modified version of a previously tested and successful design.

If aimed at the top class ‘shooter’ rather than the fine gun aficionado, it is going to have to succeed in a sector of the market where British over & unders have traditionally struggled.

Men who shoot a lot of high pheasants and ducks, favouring punchy cartridges and high shot-counts per minute on a busy day in the field, who appreciate reliability and the ability to soak-up hard use without missing a beat all season long, generally do not rate English over & unders as being sufficiently robust and durable.

They appreciate quality but they want that quality to be expressed in good handling and versatility, rather than super-fine chequer and exquisitely-shaped drop points.

If the Noble continues to receive plaudits from serious competitive shooters, it will draw the attention of a certain international, high-volume shooting crowd. If I were Holland & Holland, I’d give one to Ben Husthwaite and see what he can do with it. If he hammers it for a year and rates it, then people will pay attention.

While on the subject of the crowd at which the Noble may be aimed, it would be useful to consider what they use now and how the Noble compares price wise.

I’d give one to Ben Husthwaite and see what he can do with it.

What are the high-grade, proven, volume-shooting over & under equivalents from other makers, with which the Noble will have to compete?

A Krieghoff K80 Parcours is £31,000 in top spec and as little as £16,000 with rather plainer engraving and wood. The Beretta SO6 is £53,000 with fine hand engraving and best grade wood (it is also a proper sidelock). Frederick Beesley's Italian made over & under with side-plates is £17,000.

The 'Noble' was launched at the Game Fair in July.

The most expensive Longthorne over & under you can buy is around £30,000, for which you can also opt for a Perazzi ‘High Tech S’. The Purdey Sporter is a fraction under £45,000 plus VAT, as is a Stephen Grant ‘round action’ over & under. All these guns have something of a following and have had a few years to establish their reputations.

All that means that Holland & Holland have a good deal of stiff competition from proven winners in the sector already and most of them cost at least a third less than the 'Noble'.

The next step-up is into 'best' gun territory. The 'Noble' is not a 'best' gun, neither are any of those listed above. To reach-up to that level, if seeking an over & under, you will need upwards of £150,000 (plus VAT) and your options will include the Purdey, the Boss and the Holland & Holland 'Royal' sidelocks.

With its ‘modern’, purposeful image, the 'Noble' probably hopes to snare the modern, non-nonsense, serious, high bird, big spending game shooter.

Early public reaction suggests that the prospects of that plan succeeding are hampered by the underwhelming laser engraving. That, incidentally, is the easiest thing to alter. If the gun proves to be a winner mechanically, and in handling and durability terms, might we begin to see customers ordering one but specifying that it be sent to a proper engraver before it is finished?

I have deliberately not put in my own personal view of this gun. I’m mindful that it is not the kind of thing I shoot, nor am I am ever likely to buy or indeed covet, a gun like this.

My expertise does not stretch to modern over & under guns of this type but I do have an interest in the development of British gunmaking and a desire to see our great firms succeed.

Holland & Holland, after years of losing money under the ownership of Chanel, has to forge ahead as a viable business now it is part of the Beretta Group. The 'Noble' is the first major signal indicating what that strategy might be. We shall now see how it unfolds.

The 'Noble' is currently available in 12-bore, with smaller bore versions expected to follow.

 

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Guns & Gunmakers|August 2023

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