Among the stunning sporting guns and rifles exhibited at this year's shows in the US, notably Dallas Safari Club and Safari Club International in Nashville, this Rigby stands out, even among the show-stoppers.
Engraved so that every part of visible steel looks as if made from the hide of an elephant, it took seven years to build and engrave.
Not only is it a stunning exhibition piece that will never be replicated, it is built on the biggest action that Rigby make, with their famous Bissel-patent vertical bolt (commonly known as a Rising Bite) in the monstrous .600 Nitro Express.
Every surface is unique. This is not merely a pattern repeated from a block. Real elephant hide was provided to the engravers so that every pore, blemish, hair follicle, lump and bump could be replicated on the action, locks, barrels and furniture.
The inspiration for the rifle came from an earlier commission for a bolt-action .450 Rigby. That was ordered by a collector who stipulated that it could be the only one of its kind.
When it was displayed at a show, another collector wanted to commission one but was unable to do so. However, the restriction did not extend to double rifles. Marc Newton, Rigby's Managing Director, suggested that if a "psycho" existed who would commission such a project, Rigby could build it. The customer replied without missing a beat "I'm your psycho".
The elephant rifle was ordered, a deposit paid and work began. It was a massively ambitious project to undertake. The carving of the steel to give the texture, as well as the appearance, of elephant hide was daunting. It required hours of dedication, application, hard work and artistic sensibility. Without all these elements the danger was that the rifle would be a pastiche, not a work of art
Three engravers from the same family worked in rotation to keep work progressing as the months passed. Just how long it would take was impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy. That meant that the final cost of the rifle was also unknown.
The customer was content to allow the engravers to keep working towards their end and to keep the costs climbing upwards as the clock ticked. Being a patron of the Arts has never been an inexpensive hobby. Art is what this rifle is. Marc Newton likens such projects to Haute Couture in the fashion industry.
These commissions stretch the gunmakers and engravers to the edges of their ability and experience. That makes them better. It also creates wonderful things. Things that will be marvelled at in decades to come, much as we marvel at the guns and rifles created for Indian princes in the last fifty years of the Raj.
Commissioned in 2016 and delivered in 2023, the Rigby .600 NE is not just a marvel to ogle. It is a perfectly crafted hunting rifle that will pole-axe a charging elephant.
That is just what the customer intends. He is already planning a hunting trip with it. In fact, he has made the acquaintance of the owner of the original elephant rifle; the .450 Rigby magazine rifle that insipired this one. They intend to hunt together.
That should make a story. We look forward to hearing all about it and seeing the photographs.
In the meantime, Rigby have some new ideas and you can expect to be surprised and delighted as each new project emerges from the Pensbury Place workshops.
London rifle-building at the edge of reason is alive and well.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on