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#574708 07/02/2020 5:39 PM
by Steve Nash
Steve Nash
There are wonderful threads on this board that follow individual makers, and models. In keeping with the spirit of sharing, and to provide a different distraction in these trying times, I am starting a thread on the pinfire game gun.

When I started researching and collecting British pinfire game guns some 25 years ago, there were few suitable reference books, the Internet was a plaything for University academics, and knowledge was something painstakingly gathered. Now there are amazing print and on-line references on British gunmakers and gunmaking, and sharing and exchanging information on-line is commonplace. While the research part has gotten easier, the gaps in knowledge are still there.

I expect some followers of this board already know quite a bit about pinfires. Many of you will have one or several in your collections, and I hope you will contribute to this thread. To those who are very familiar with the story of the British pinfire, I ask for your patience -- something in these posts will surely be new to you. I will try to cover as many makers, types and features as I can to make this interesting. I will be adding to this thread every few days.

So, here's going right back to the beginning of British breech-loaders.

At the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 an example of Casimir Lefaucheux's pinfire was on display, and Eugene Lefaucheux was on hand to answer any queries about its features. The British shooting press didn't make any notable mention of Lefaucheux's gun prior to the Great Exhibition, despite the gun being in use in France since the 1830s. Perhaps it was believed the British sportsman would stick to the muzzle-loader, and leave the "crutch-gun" to foreigners. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to differentiate a curiosity from a real developmental step, but it was clearly not obvious back then.

British gunmakers could have just copied Casimir Lefaucheux's pinfire, much as the earlier generation of makers copied the French flintlock. The pinfire gun was, after all, a design in working use and not just a prototype. A straightforward copy with recognisable names on the lock plates might have been reassuring enough for at least some sportsmen to try the new system, and to make this possibility easier Lefaucheux did not patent his invention in Britain. This left the door open to anyone copying the gun and the cartridge system. That this didn't happen is an indication of the tremendous reluctance that existed towards this invention, pre-dating the Great Exhibition. Trusted names spoke ill of the French breech-loader, which seems to have deterred even the slightly curious. Who would want to try a gun boldly proclaimed by the experts to be unsafe? The muzzle-loader was also at its highest level of refinement, with quick-firing locks, strong barrels and quality craftsmanship. There would have to be a change to the design to make it palatable to the shooting community.

Giving a British character to the Continental pinfire was indeed the first step towards its acceptance. Not just a respected name, but a design make-over was needed. This is what Joseph Lang accomplished, by having a wooden fore-end instead of an iron one, substituting a discrete lever to release the barrels instead of the long Lefaucheux lever, limiting decoration to tasteful acanthus-leaf engraving and fine chequering, and, most importantly, sticking to the lines, proportions and dimensions of the British double-barrelled muzzle-loader.

The version offered by Lang is believed to have been first built by Edwin Charles Hodges, who convinced Lang to market it. Hodges became the most sought-after actioner of early breech-loaders, and his work was used by the top makers (this is not surprising, few at the time knew how to accomplish this task well). The Lang gun has the lever engaging with a single notch or bite on the barrel lump, relatively close to the hinge pin. This proved adequate but less robust than the later double-bite fastening mechanisms. The original Lefaucheux patent of 28 January 1833 clearly shows a double-bite fastener, and the addendum of 13 March 1833 shows the typical double-bite fastening mechanism found on Lefaucheux sporting guns. The Lefaucheux gun illustrated in The London Illustrated News of July 1851 appears to have had this typical double-bite mechanism, so it is anyone's guess as to why this engineering feature was not copied by Hodges and Lang. Perhaps they surmised that a single bite was sufficient to the task. It was nevertheless a good working design, as guns with this mechanism have survived hard use, and single-bite guns were made by many noted makers well into the 1860s, even after the double-bite fastener (the Henry Jones double screw grip) came into widespread acceptance.

The following is a good example of the early design, a 16-bore forward-underlever pinfire sporting gun by John Blissett of London, number 3742, possibly made before 1860. This is an early Lang-type single-bite forward-underlever action with the assisted-opening stud, and the action is signed by Edwin Charles Hodges. When the lever is opened fully, a rising stud on the action bar lifts the barrels slightly and makes it easier to fully open the gun and load/remove the cartridges. Curiously, Hodges or Lang never patented this feature. The 29 7/8" damascus barrels, signed "John Blissett, 322 High Holborn, London," still have mirror bores, despite the gun showing signs of great use and period repairs. The gun has thin fences typical of pre-1860 gun, and the hammers have prominent stylized cap guards, a carry-over from percussion guns. The back-action locks are signed "John Blissett London" and have foliate scroll engraving, with dog and game scenes. The stock escutcheon is vacant, but it is in gold instead of the usual silver.

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The IGC Database tells us that John Blissett was the son of Isaac Blissett, a gun maker and jeweller. John's father set him up in business as a gun maker and jeweller at 74 High Holborn, around 1834. In 1835 John Blissett moved to 321-322 High Holborn as a gun maker and repository for guns (selling second-hand guns), but his principal business address was 321 High Holborn. The 322 High Holborn business address started to be used in 1851. In the 1861 census John was recorded living at 322 High Holborn with his son William, also a gunmaker. In about 1866 the firm was re-named John Blissett & Son. John Blissett died in 1872, and William died in 1876. William James Tomes took over the business re-naming it Blissett Son & Tomes. In 1883 he moved the business to 98 High Holborn where he changed the name to Tomes & Co., and ceased trading in 1885.
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#591434 Feb 4th a 10:47 PM
by Steve Nash
Steve Nash
It was a minor annoyance that the update to the board did not like my use of quotation marks, assorted punctuation, currency symbols, and the occasional French character, leaving in their place tiny black squares like so much black powder residue sprinkled over the texts... This detracted from the reading experience and as some may wish to re-read the pages someday, or others may come across this thread for the first time and might otherwise be deterred by the texts' appearance, I'm happy to say that my 100 or so posts on this thread have now been cleaned up.

Thanks again to all who have contributed to the thread and, of course, I hope it will keep going.
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#595416 Apr 12th a 08:29 PM
by AaronN
Welcome, ivanhoe. There are at least a few of us!

I just picked up a couple neat excavated English pinfire shotshells:

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#597994 Jun 9th a 07:04 PM
by Steve Nash
Steve Nash
When I first started researching the pinfire game gun, the few available mentions and illustrations in print gave me the erroneous impression that only a select handful of makers had made them. In a book that might illustrate but one pinfire, not surprisingly, it would be an exquisitely preserved example from a top maker that would be chosen.

Ivanhoe’s research might offer raw data, but it is data nevertheless, and the more names that can be acknowledged as makers of pinfire guns, the better. In his latest post, he lists a 20-bore pinfire marked Durs Egg. An unusual size for a British pinfire, to be sure, but I hadn’t realized guns under his name were sold as late as 1865 (and possibly 1874), as Durs Egg died in 1831. His nephew’s son, Henry, is the usual Egg I associate with pinfires. I know a little bit more today than I did yesterday!

If anyone knows of examples of pinfire game guns, a mention in this thread is good; pictures even better. I have a wholly selfish reason to see more pinfire maker's names listed here, as anyone looking up the names on the Internet is more likely to end up reading this thread.
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#601168 Aug 10th a 03:05 PM
by Steve Nash
Steve Nash
It must be time for a new pinfire post...

In studying the origins of the breech-loading game gun in Britain, the same questions keep popping up. Were French and other continental guns competing with British ones at the same time? Were some British makers importing continental guns or actions? Was there diversity in the types available, and if so, what were they?

There is very little information concerning the earliest years of the pin-fire game gun in Britain, the space in time between Joseph Lang’s gun of 1853, and the Field trials of 1858 and 1859. One might presume that the guns of Lang, along with those of the earliest London-based proponents of the pinfire system, John Blanch and Edward M. Reilly, would have dominated the market at that time. The Field trials of 1858 and 1859 indicate what was available to sportsmen of the day, showing various patterns on the market.

In the 1858 trial, there were pinfire guns by Christopher Penryn Aston (Birmingham), Moore & Harris (Birmingham), Ladmore (Hereford), E. M. Reilly (London), Fletcher (Gloucester), and Adolphe Jansen (Brussels). However, the guns are not described, though reportedly all were of the forward-underlever type. In John Henry Walsh’s 1859 book, The Shot-gun and Sporting Rifle, written under the pen-name ‘Stonehenge,’ he illustrates two guns from the 1859 trial, a forward-underlever gun by Reilly and a ‘lever-over-guard’ mechanism from Prince and Green (the latter being novel enough to rate a mention). At least two other action types were present in the 1859 trial, a Joseph Needham side-lever and an Auguste Francotte gun with a Bastin action with sliding barrels. What is not helpful is that anything other than patent systems was referred to as “Lefaucheux Breechloaders.”

John Blanch obtained a Béatus Beringer (Paris and St Etienne) gun in 1855, not long before he started offering pinfire guns from his London shop, presumably for study and analysis. I’ve not found evidence that Blanch copied the action, but the classic ‘lever-over-guard’ design was probably inspired by Beringer, if not directly copied.

My earlier post on the Robert Ringer gun got me thinking about Norwich, Norfolk shooting grounds, wealthy patrons, and the fact that in the 1850s, it might have been faster to trade with the continent than overland to London. If continental guns weren’t appearing in London, could they appear elsewhere?

So I was curious when a query about a pinfire game gun turned up on another forum, concerning a 16-bore signed Robert Marrison of Norwich, which looked to have a typical Beringer action. Correspondence ensued, and I’m happy to report the gun is now part of my collection.

The IGC Database gives part of the history. The Marrison gunmaking family started with Samuel Marrison, born in 1796 in Norwich. In 1821 he established his business in St Benedict’s Street, and by 1843 the business had moved to 50 Great Orford Street. In the 1851 census records, Samuel described himself as a gunmaker employing one man and one boy. This may refer to Samuel Ray Marrison, 24, and Robert Marrison, 20, recorded in the census as an engraver. Benjamin Marrison, 17, was listed as a gunmaker’s son. Around 1855 Samuel died, and Robert continued the family business in his name. The 1861 census records Robert as a gunmaker and ornamental engraver. On 17 December 1863, Robert Marrison registered patent No. 3185 for a forward sliding and side opening breech action, so he was a capable inventor, too. The 1871 census records Robert employing three men and three boys. In the 1881 census, Robert was a gunmaker and manufacturing chemist employing two men and two youths. The 1891 census recorded Robert as a gunmaker, but the 1901 census records him as a 70-year-old cement manufacturer and Benjamin as a retired gunsmith. The Orford Street business had closed in the 1890s.

The press of the day records a much more entertaining history. In 1855, Samuel’s widow published an advertisement informing the public that all stock was being sold off "at a very small per centage above cost price." She further recommended her sons Samuel and Robert “as being fully qualified to carry on the business" and that the firm would continue under the name Robert Marrison. I wonder what the elder son Samuel thought of being passed over. Also, in 1855, Robert Marrison took out several newspaper advertisements announcing his father’s death and that he would be continuing the business. He assured customers that “orders would be attended to with the utmost punctuality, and the work executed in the first style of the trade.”

However, in July 1858, Marrison was bankrupt. His entire stock was sold off at less than cost price, including ‘very superior Breech Loading Double Guns, made upon the newest and most approved principles.’ The business continued, but in late 1860 Marrison suffered another setback when his shop blew up, possibly from a gas leak, an error concerning a large quantity of black powder, or both. Tragically a young man was killed, and walls and part of the street were demolished.

Marrison went bankrupt again in 1867. He declared ‘losses arising from the bursting and in the manufacturing of guns, and in the invention of a breech-loader, and other losses in my business, and badness of trade.’ Marrison was again before the courts in 1870 for selling fireworks without a license. In 1873 Robert Marrison published a notice in the Eastern Daily Press claiming his skill, knowledge and inventiveness, and that ‘all the Patterns and Principles of the various BREECH-LOADING INVENTIONS in GUNNERY were made by himself’ and whereby ‘it is left to the Public to form their own conclusions as to the value of the unjust references by which his brother attempts to injure the reputation of Robert Marrison.’ I could not find out if this referred to slander emanating from Benjamin or Samuel Ray.

But the final chapter is the most bizarre, when in 1891, Robert Marrison was convicted for fraud, involving several lurid bait-and-switch schemes about hunting dogs, and guns, using advertisements in The Field. Quite the history, all in all.

But let’s go back to this most interesting gun. In outward appearance, it looks like a typical Beringer gun, with a short wooden fore-end and a rearward under-lever that doubles as the trigger guard. By the 1850s, the Beringer patent appears to have run out. This particular action was made by ‘M. Godin,’ presumably Jean Louis Mathieu Godin, of Herstal, Belgium. The action bar is marked “M. Godin 1865” and “brevete 603”, which I presume to be patent no. 1865, and patent use no. 603. I have tracked down photos of a few examples of Godin-marked guns, all of which have the “M. Godin 1865” patent stamp. I do not know what the patent refers to, as guns with this mark are found with both Beringer-type underlevers and ‘lever-over-guard’ actions. The gun has grip-safety variation, where a small stud behind the triggers has to be depressed by the returned underlever before the triggers can be pulled – clever! I thought the patent might have been for this variation, but other guns with the mark don’t appear to have grip safeties.

The top rib is signed “R. Marrison, Great Orford Street, Norwich, No. 2281,” though no records have survived against which the serial number could be compared. The 29 11/15” damascus barrels have a Liège provisional proof and bore size in mm (17.2), but no Perron mark. There is an unknown barrel maker’s mark, a crown over ‘HV.’ The barrels have London proof marks and bore size (15), and a London view mark on the action bar.

The fore-end is permanently attached, similar to a Belgian-made Gustave Masu gun illustrated early in this thread, and the wood is left unchequered. Sadly, like all early doubles with fixed fore-ends, the delicate edging to the sides has been damaged by attempts to pry off the fore-end by persons unfamiliar with the design. The Lefaucheux-style double-bite barrel locking mechanism is of typical form. The combined rearward under-lever and trigger guard bow is identical to Beringer guns, locking in place with a stud on the distal end of the grip finial. The back-action locks are of Belgian form, inset to the scalloped action back, and are signed “R. Marrison.” The rounded hammers have stylized cap guards, the action and fittings are decorated with simple border and open scroll engraving (similar in pattern to the Masu). The stock has a sling swivel attachment, though the matching barrel attachment is missing. The bores are moderately pitted, and the gun weighs 6lb 10oz.

Dating this gun is a challenge. It would have to be 1855 or after, but I can’t imagine the demand for such a gun would have been high once more typically British guns were available. The fact that so few of these guns appear to have survived supports the theory of their limited appeal. I can’t find any mention in the shooting press of British sportsmen using Beringer-action guns (though obviously, some did!).

Was it sold in the early experimental years before the Field trials? Was it sold off in Marrison’s first bankruptcy sale? Did it survive the blast? Did it linger, unsold, until the second bankruptcy? While these questions remain unresolved, at least the gun provides evidence that provincial British makers were importing continental guns for re-sale, and there were more action types available to the British market than previously supposed.

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#604068 Oct 4th a 10:07 PM
by Steve Nash
Steve Nash
I have not written much lately, but this thread still seems to attract readers – though not much discussion of late. Here is a new post on a best-quality game gun from Thomas Horsley, with a story attached – you can glean a lot from a stock escutcheon! As to the sparsity of photos, the gun was incorrectly ‘restored’, with hot-blued barrels and furniture. I will cover this gun in greater detail once I’m able to address the incorrect finishing.

Henry Walker's Horsley

What are you to do if you are a Gentleman who is a distant sixth in line to the family title? A life in the military is a good prospect, and Papa can afford to buy a good commission. This appears to have been the case for Henry Stephen Walker, son of Sir James Walker of Sand Hutton, Ryedale District, North Yorkshire. Sir James held various posts as High Sheriff of Yorkshire, Deputy Lieutenant, and Justice of the Peace, and would later become 1st Baronet of Sand Hutton (the Baronetcy would be passed on to his first son, James). Henry would have to make his way in the world, albeit with a helping start.

Choosing a regiment would have been difficult, but Henry and Sir James chose the 13th Hussars, purchasing in November 1863 the rank of Cornet. Cornet was the lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop, the modern equivalent being a second lieutenant. As the 13th Light Dragoons, the regiment performed well in the Peninsular War and later at the Battle of Waterloo. In the Crimean War, the regiment was part of the light brigade under the command of Major General the Earl of Cardigan, first at the Battle of Alma. Then the regiment was the first line of cavalry on the right flank during the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. Not entirely done with that, the regiment also took part in the Battle of Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol. In 1861 the regiment was renamed the 13th Hussars. After the Crimean War, Henry joined, and the regiment moved around Ireland, Scotland and England. In 1866 the regiment happened to be stationed in York, about 5 kilometres from the Sand Hutton estate.

This point is where the story becomes relevant to this thread, when in 1866, Henry purchased a best-quality 12-bore bar-in-wood pinfire game gun from Thomas Horsley, number 1507, from Horsley's shop at 10 Coney Street. The gun is signed "Thomas Horsley Maker York, Patent 2410" on the top rib, the 30 1/16" damascus barrels have London proofs, and the action bar has an unnumbered "Horsley's Patent No." cartouche. The non-rebounding bar locks are marked "Thos Horsley Patent," and the pull-top-lever snap-action is Thomas Horsley's patent No. 2410 of October 1863. There is fine foliate scroll engraving throughout, a well-figured walnut stock, and the silver stock escutcheon is marked "HSW XIII Husr" in Old English script. Take note of the very thin breech face.

Whether Henry had a chance to use his new gun on Yorkshire pheasants is unknown, as the regiment was ordered to embark for Canada to defend the country from a Fenian uprising, sailing from Liverpool on three steamships on the 11th and 12th of September 1866. Two troops were posted to Montreal, and the rest went to Toronto. The 13th Hussars' time in Canada was mainly spent establishing a cavalry school to instruct Canadian Mounted Volunteers. Moving up in rank, Henry purchased his Lieutenantcy on the 12th of October, 1867.

The regiment departed for England in June 1869, arriving in Liverpool on the 13th of July. However, before returning, Henry visited the studio of the famed Montreal photographer William Notman to have some portraits made, shown below. Back in England, Henry retired from the army and sold his Lieutenantcy in June 1870. He returned to Canada, settling down in the town of Cobourg along the shores of Lake Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Kingston. He married Emma Mason in 1870 and raised two sons and a daughter. Whether Henry's prized Horsley returned to the UK and then back to Canada, or remained in Canada the whole time, is unknown.

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How great it is to be able to put a face and history together with an interesting gun.
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#604294 Oct 8th a 01:26 PM
by lagopus
I've never seen one nitro proof but I do have two factory loaded cartridges; one with Shultz and one with Smokeless Diamond according to the top wad. Lagopus....
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