My Rigby co­nun­drum

Dig­gory finds a gun he re­ally likes, but some­times the num­bers just won’t add up

Sporting Shooter - - Classic Guns -

Find­ing de­cent and in­ter­est­ing ham­mer guns to re­store is a tough task these days. So, when one turns up, I try to make it work one way or an­other. How­ever, if you don’t buy the gun in at the right money, you can find your­self ham­strung with a gun you will strug­gle to get out of with any kind of a profit. On these oc­ca­sions, if you can’t make the job work, you just have to be hard­headed and walk away.

At first glance, the old Rigby I came across this month would have looked, to most peo­ple, like noth­ing very special. It was, in­deed, very dirty and plain. The che­quer was all worn away on hand and fore-end, the bar­rels were black and rough and it had hardly any en­grav­ing. But to me, it was more al­lur­ing than it might be to most peo­ple!

The gothic script on the rib read: “John Rigby, Dublin & Lon­don” and the locks car­ried the Rigby name as well. Open­ing was achieved by push­ing the slightly pro­trud­ing tab on the slim un­der-lever, which fol­lowed the con­tours of the trig­ger guard. This acted in the man­ner of a Daw lever, to open and close as a snap ac­tion.

The ac­tion, though plain, was of ex­cel­lent qual­ity, with re­bound­ing bar locks and, though dirty, had not been pol­ished or al­lowed to go rusty dur­ing its long life. In­ter­nally, the locks were clean and crisp, show­ing re­mark­ably lit­tle sign of hav­ing been en­cased in a piece of wood for over a cen­tury.

I men­tioned the ac­tion was plain, but the shapes were el­e­gant and the fit of one metal part into an­other was very well ex­e­cuted (look at the way the trig­ger plate fits into the ac­tion when you pick up a gun, as that is of­ten a good in­di­ca­tor of how much time and what level of qual­ity has been put into it).

There were also lit­tle in­di­ca­tors that this was not just an­other plain wild­fowl­ing piece. The lock pin, for ex­am­ple, had a very care­fully en­graved Tu­dor-style rose on the small end, for ex­am­ple. Pins and screw slots were un­dam­aged and aligned cor­rectly, sug­gest­ing the gun had rarely, if ever, been stripped. Though dirty and worn, the straight-hand stock showed it would have a very nice level of fig­ure and colour, if cleaned up. The wear was ‘hon­est’, there were no signs of it hav­ing been re­fin­ished and, while used, the gun had not been abused or overly ne­glected dur­ing its life­time. Age was easy to es­tab­lish by way of Rigby’s or­der books. The gun was made in 1875, around a decade af­ter John Rigby III opened his Lon­don shop.

As to what the gun was made for, we can ob­serve that it tips the scales at 8lb 12oz, has 30" bar­rels with a con­cave rib and has a feel­ing of be­ing very ro­bust yet, in the hands, not un­wieldy or club-like. The set of the stock and the fin­ish of the gun sug­gested a qual­ity wild­fowl­ing piece, rather than a live pi­geon gun.

Snap un­der-levers are some­times called a ‘Daw lever’ af­ter the gun­maker Ge­orge Daw, who used one on his first cen­tre-fire gun in 1861.

‘While the che­quer and drop points would need some skilled at­ten­tion, the im­por­tant ar­eas all looked very tight and clean’

The bar­rels were blacked but they were Da­m­as­cus. Un­for­tu­nately, they were out of proof, the bores be­ing en­larged two or three thou’ over the limit of ten thou’ above the last proof stamp. On the bright side, they mea­sured 36 thou’ min­i­mum, even al­low­ing for a few pits. The right tube was a lit­tle bulged, they ap­peared slightly bent and there were nu­mer­ous dents and pits; the ribs and loop prob­a­bly needed strip­ping.

These bar­rel issues were go­ing to be the ex­pen­sive ones. To put the gun back into ser­vice would re­quire a lot of bar­rel work and sub­mis­sion for re­proof. This is al­ways a risk. The cham­bers looked long and if it tran­spires that we need to re­proof for 3" (76mm), the proof houses now of­ten in­sist that the higher proof test for that cham­ber­ing be ap­plied; it would also in­volve re­cut­ting the cham­bers to meet the lat­est CIP di­men­sions.

On the cos­metic side, I was con­fi­dent that we could bring the gun up to stan­dard, and the me­chan­ics were in good or­der. It did need re­joint­ing, which is typ­i­cal for a gun like this and not a prob­lem. While the che­quer and drop points would need some skilled at­ten­tion, they were doable and the im­por­tant ar­eas of wood-to-metal fit around the locks, top strap and fore-end iron all looked very tight and clean.

My co­nun­drum was now ap­par­ent. I was faced with an 1875 John Rigby wild­fowl­ing piece of good qual­ity, with 30" bar­rels, long cham­bers, heavy weight and solid pro­por­tion: a very de­sir­able gun. But the amount of work re­quired in­volved the lot­tery of sub­mit­ting it to re­proof, af­ter car­ry­ing out some very ex­ten­sive and ex­pen­sive bar­rel restora­tion. If it failed, the cost would be ir­re­triev­able. The over­all ex­pense of a care­ful restora­tion, if re­proof was suc­cess­ful, was go­ing to ap­proach £1,500.

Fully re­stored, my estimate of re­sale value was £2,800 to £3,000. To make it worth the time, money and risk, the gun would need to be bought in at £500. Un­for­tu­nately, the ask­ing price was £1,350. Much as I liked the gun, I just could not see a way of mak­ing the project work with these fig­ures.

Had I the lux­ury of an un­lim­ited bud­get, my in­stincts would have urged me to re­store the gun. It had the po­ten­tial to be some­thing quite special. I would ap­pre­ci­ate it, though not ev­ery­one would see past the ap­par­ently plain ac­tion. It was, there­fore, with some­thing of a heavy heart that I packed the Rigby back into the wooden box in which it had ar­rived from Ire­land, where it had spent its work­ing life, and sent it back to the chap who had of­fered it to me.

This was a case of head rul­ing heart. I shall think about this Rigby of­ten, I ex­pect. There should have been a way of mak­ing it vi­able but, if you start with a num­ber that is too high, you can quickly find a project runs up a tab that the re­sale price will not cover.

I hope some­body finds the Rigby who likes it enough to fi­nance a proper restora­tion and, as an end user, is not so wor­ried about the fi­nal cost. As a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion, this one just didn’t work for me.

This proper, heavy wild­fowl­ing gun has spent its work­ing life in Ire­land

The Rigby 12-bore was made in 1875 as a heavy wild­fowl­ing gun

Che­quer on the fore-end had al­most been worn off

The locks may be plainly fin­ished, but qual­ity is very high

Inside, the Rigby was dirty but in­let­ting was very nicely ex­e­cuted

The ‘TB’ mark in­di­cates the gun was made by gun­maker Thomas Bis­sell

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