Special Guns Episode 2 RigbyQ&A8-31-16

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 2 – Rigby rifle

PART 1 – {Video, Roger and Andrew sitting at table}**************************

ANDREW: My name is Andrew Todd and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Andrew, and let me welcome you, the viewers, to our second episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ANDREW: Roger, let me ask you first, what is your definition for Special Guns?

ROGER: For this series, special guns are simply guns that a gun enthusiast may have heard of, but never encountered. And for my selection, I narrow my focus down to arms that hold an evolutionary or revolutionary place in the world of modern sporting arms over the last two centuries and have since become classic guns in some way because of it.  I would like to add  that while my earliest expertise in guns was recognized for the Winchester pre-64 Model 70, that was 40 years ago.  During the last 30 years or so, I have been involved in all makes and grades of rifles and shotguns, including those strange 3- and 4-barreled guns called drillings and vierlings.

ANDREW: What do you have for us today?

ROGER: For today’s episode, I want to introduce you to a rifle made by John Rigby & Co. of London, the oldest English maker still operating today. But before we get to the rifle, let’s look at a little history of this maker.   And before we get to the maker, you should know that gunmakers in the UK and gunmakers in America are very different animals.  Most commercial gunmakers in America build all their own parts, use their own designs or those of others whose patents have expired, but basically build the guns totally in-house.

In England, gunmakers have always been smaller businesses, much like our custom gunmakers here, and many of their key parts for their guns are outsourced from specialized makers.  For instance, actions intended for bolt action rifles by a British maker, have always been outsourced.  The most common action is an 1898 Mauser action, either the commercial version by Mauser in Orbendorf Germany, or the FN version made by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.  Another popular one used by many different British makers was the Mannlicher Schoenauer action made in Austria.  And over the years, I have seen Rigbys made with Sako actions, with Winchester pre-64 Model 70 actions, and even with military Mauser actions.

ANDREW:  But if they are considered the gun maker, what is it that they do?

ROGER: Well, just like our custom-gunmakers in the American Custom Gunmakers Guild, the British firms then refine the action and build the rifle entirely by hand. If engraving is involved, most of that is outsourced today with many of the makers using the same engravers.

ANDREW: You said John Rigby & Co. is the oldest British maker?

ROGER: In the heyday of the gunmaker period in Great Britain (1850 to 1925), you could find gunmakers in scores of towns and villages all over England, Ireland and Scotland, but I have chosen Rigby especially today, because of their longevity.  Their date of foundation is 1735, long before anyone ever heard of the United States of America.

Part 2  {Audio-only} ******************************************************

The company was founded in Dublin Ireland.  While the Dublin location was renowned for their firearms workmanship, it was their excellent dueling pistols in the day of the percussion pistols that put them on the map.  Rigby had developed these pistol locks with an additional notch to let the cock be raised slightly above the percussion cap to allow the weapon to be safely carried with the cap in place.

In 1860, John Rigby devised a method of forming cartridge cases from coiled sheet brass; and in 1866, the company opened their location in London. From that time, Rigby’s match rifles were used in the great rifle competitions throughout second half of the 19th Century. When one thought of shotguns, there were many competing makers all over London, but when one thought of rifles, Rigby was the house. The first Creedmore Match, a 1000-yard match, took place in 1874.  The world record holding Irish team was challenged by an American rifle team made up of 6 Americans shooting 3 Sharps and 3 Remington Rolling Blocks. The six Irish members shot Rigby target rifles. The rolling blocks turned in the best scores of the day with John Bodine shooting his rolling block in the winning round and the Americans won barely 934 to 931.  By the way, one of the Irish shooters in that match was Daniel Fraser. We will be discussing much about him in a later episode.

In 1879, John Rigby and an employee, T. Bissell, patented the iconic rising-bite action for their double rifle. It had a unique 3rd locking system adding a vertical bolt in addition to the 1863 Purdey double underlug system, making it one of the strongest double rifles ever devised.

Then near the end of the 19th Century, Rigby’s reputation expanded, becoming renowned for manufacturing best quality sporting shotguns in addition to their extremely fine rifles.


That first London address became quite prestigious – 72 St. James’s Street, W1 (one of the more famous streets in London associated with many VIPs including Sir Isaac Newton earlier).  From 1898 to 1912, Rigby held the exclusive British distributorship for Mauser actions and was responsible in getting Mauser to build the large Magnum action for their now-world-famous proprietary cartridge, the .416 Rigby (something we will discuss at depth in our next episode).

In 1908, Rigby moved to 43 Sackville Street and remained there until 1955.  During this period, the company was under the management of Ernest John Rigby (grandson of the founder).

In 1925 and 1926, Rigby used the much sought-after Mauser square bridge magnum actions.  Those Mauser actions made before Oberndorf closed the doors the first time, number only about 127,000 and more than 82,000 were sold prior to World War I, with most of them going to the British trade.

For a long dry spell during the two wars, Oberndorf Mauser actions were not available and during that time the British makers turned to surplus military Mauser actions, and later to other commercial Mauser actions, the FN Mauser and the Zastava Mark X.

From 43 Sackville St., they moved several times and the addresses and dates are important to gun collectors because their address was inscribed on their rifles and shotguns and knowing the dates of each address clearly helps pinpoint the manufacture of a gun.  For example, in 1955 they left the Sackville address and moved to 32 King Street, St. James’s.  In 1963, the shop moved again back to Sackville street but this time to 28 Sackville St., then moved again in 1969 to 13 Pall Mall, London.

In 1984, J Roberts & Son Ltd. bought the company and in the following year, moved them to the premises of 5 King Street, Covent Garden, London. Three years later, in 1987, the factory and shop moved again, to 66-68 Great Suffolk Street, Southwark, London.

PART 3 {Video, Roger and Andrew sitting at table}****************************

It was at the Great Suffolk Street address when I first visited them (1993) and found that their address was on the other side of the river from the other London gun makers still in existence  (Purdey, H&H, Boss, William Evans, and John Wilkes).  Being on the other side of the river, I had taken a taxi to get there.  When I arrived I found a factory-looking building – but the entrance was obvious.  There was an intercom at the door.  I pressed the button and a voice asked if I had an appointment.  When I identified myself and explained I was gathering information for an article for a gun magazine, there was a short delay and then I was admitted and introduced just inside the door to David Marx, the director. David took me upstairs and escorted me around the facility explaining operations and I remember specifically walking by several work benches with a handful of Rigby gunsmiths working on different stages of guns… one in particular was a bolt action and David said that it was a pre-ordered .416 Rigby.

After that very courteous meeting that I had, without an appointment, I was given a beautiful brochure of their guns, and as I turned to leave, I turned back and asked a woman at a nearby desk if I could use a phone because I had come by cab and I needed to call another one.  We were in a light industrial area and I was sure there wouldn’t be any cabs around to hail down. She responded with a friendly smile and said the London Taxi Co. was headquartered across the street. I opened the door and, duh! …to my surprise I could see what I hadn’t noticed when I first arrived, a huge taxi facility just diagonally across the street with a big number of black taxis running in and out.

PART 4 {Audio only}*****************************************************

A few years after my visit, the goodwill and rights to the Rigby name were purchased in 1997 by Rogue River Rifle Works and a new company, John Rigby & Co., Inc., was formed and commenced their activities under the Rigby name in the U.S. in Paso Robles, California.  Curiously enough while in Paso Robles I visited them again in 2003.  A master gunsmith friend of mine went with me and we flew in and arranged a limo-type cab service from the small airport to their address. The local driver had never heard of John Rigby and Co., Inc., which surprised me since they had been there for six years or so, and because Paso Robles is not a very large community.  This time though, they were expecting us and we were met at the door by Geoffrey Miller, who gave us a pleasant tour of their operation.  When we left their premises, my gunsmith friend told me that he thought they were outsourcing much of their work and, as it turns out, the amount outsourced seems to have been much more than we even suspected.  Eventually, we would hear that they developed some real problems during that ownership.

However, on March 1, 2013, just winding up this history, John Rigby & Co. was purchased again, this time by the very established gunmaking firm of Blaser of Germany. The re-structured Rigby company is now back in London and under the direction of Marc Newton and Patricia Pugh and they are attempting to rekindle the great name of Rigby and continue to make best guns. Their showroom and museum is now located at 13-19 Pensbury Place, London.

PART 5 {Video, Roger and Andrew sitting}***********************************

ANDREW: That is one long history with a lot of moving around!

ROGER: Yes, the second half of the 20th Century had been lean years for the finest handmade guns, but over the years, moving or not, Rigby has become world famous.  They are one of few British gunmaker firms with a trademark – a logo with back-to-back R’s.  They led in the race to supply double rifles to the British “gentry” for safaris in their commonwealth of India and Africa, introducing the .450 Nitro Express rifle followed by those chambered in 470 Nitro Express in their great rising-bite double rifles. In 1911, they introduced the great .416 Rigby for magazine rifles and got Mauser to build the Magnum Mauser action to handle it.

According to Frank Barnes in his book, Cartridges of the World, he stated and I quote:

The .416 Rigby is probably the best magazine cartridge for big game ever offered.” (close quote)

The .416 Rigby has lasted well, not only because it is the original one, but also because it has a non-belted case which allows it to feed smoothly through the action.  The other .416s are belted cartridges.

And, according to Geoffrey Boothroyd about John Rigby & Co., in his book, Sidelocks and Boxlocks, and I quote:

“It is for their work in connection with the manufacture of sporting rifles, both double and magazine, that, the firm is perhaps best known.”(close quote)

ANDREW: What is a magazine rifle?

ROGER: A magazine rifle is a British term for what we call a bolt action rifle.  The London trade built great single shots, usually called stalking rifles, and great double-barreled guns, just called double rifles, and since their only repeating actions that most of them built were bolt action rifles, having a magazine as opposed to not having one for the single shots and double rifles, they just adopted the name for them as magazine rifles to differentiate from their other rifles.  This is pretty consistent from maker to maker.  And that is exactly what I have for us today, not only a best quality magazine rifle by John Rigby & Co., but a special custom order one built with such extras, that Rigby referred to it as their Light Deluxe model.

ANDREW: With that long history, how old is this rifle?

ROGER:  This rifle was built by John Rigby and Co. in 1984, some thirty-two years ago, but as you can see, it is nearly in mint condition.  Marketed as a Light Deluxe model, this one is chambered in .30-06 caliber which you can see, is clearly stated in gold on the floor plate.

Part 6 {Roger standing up, demonstration}************************************

            {Stand up, pick up rifle and show floorplate gold inscription}

            {Open bolt, check safety, remove bolt, show extractor, demonstrate control feed, replace bolt, load snap cap, extract snap cap, open magazine, close magazine}

            {Put rifle back on holders, Sit down}

Part 7 {Andrew and Roger sitting down}***************************************

Looking at the barrel inscription, we see the address “13 Pall Mall, London which would tell us this rifle was made during the period when Rigby was located at that address, from 1969 to 1985.

At this point, I should tell you that I have had communication about this rifle with Rigby’s current gunroom manager, David Miles, and discovered that this Light Deluxe Magazine Rifle, serial number 6395 was built on a true Mauser action for John Kessler in April, 1984. Another year or two later and the street address would have been the King Street address.

So from Mr. Miles’ report, we can see that this action is the commercial large ring Mauser action.  Commercial as opposed to military because there is no thumb cutout in the receiver bridge for military loading and the floorplate is the one-piece straddle hinged floor plate with center bow release, the commercial type, instead of the military non-hinged floor plate.

And being custom-made, one of the first things I notice about this altered Mauser action is that it features a three-position side swing safety fashioned after the Winchester pre-64 Model 70. We talked about the function of that safety in my first episode.  The reason for this change is that the old Mauser safety, while an excellent safety, operated very awkwardly when manipulated under a scope.  This new redesigned safety by Winchester, worked smoothly under a scope and I see where even Mauser now is including this change on most of their current production of big bore rifles.  Also altered, is the shape of the bolt handle, instead of being straight down, it has been lowered for scope clearance and curved to the rear, similar to those found on FN Mauser actions.

ANDREW: What makes this rifle the Light Deluxe model?

ROGER: Several features Andrew, and to understand them, we need to know the differences between this model and the standard or Sporting Rifle model. I don’t have a Sporting Rifle here today, but it is easy to show the differences as I point them out on this rifle.

Part 8 {Roger stands up, keep video of me standing if you can Andrew}************

1). First of all, the overall stock is different.  This one has the Monte Carlo comb and I find that the Deluxe model was offered more with this comb than with the classic comb of the Standard  Rifle. (A Monte Carlo comb is a high comb for a scope sight and then steps down so the butt plate stays positioned correctly for the shoulder.)

2) The butt on this Deluxe has a skeleton butt plate with checkered wood in the background patterns.  Also note the four screws are “indexed.”  This means the screw slots are all aligned, a very custom feature only found on best guns.  If a customer wanted a recoil pad instead of a buttplate, or instead of this arrangement, Rigby had several options for them to choose, including the high-end leather-covered recoil pad.  The standard buttplate on the Sporting Rifle, and sometimes found on Deluxe Models, was a steel butt plate, sometimes with a trap door to house cleaning tools in the hollow of the stock.

3). Looking at the left side of the stock here, we see a large cheekpiece with a quality sculpted shadowline around the cheekpiece.  This shadowline is also referred to as a bead around the cheekpiece… or a beaded cheekpiece.  The Sporting Rifle rarely had a cheekpiece.

4) In the tow line, there is an inlaid gold oval for the owners monogram or initials (and this one is gold).  These are not furnished on their best quality Sporting Rifle.

5) Moving forward, we see the horn pistol grip cap.  The Sporting Rifle rarely had one of these, and did not have any of the other features mentioned so far, unless special ordered. The typical Sporting Rifle had plain wood and a round knob pistol grip.  But for a period, the round knob pistol grip fell out of favor and Rigby included the horn pistol grip cap on the standard Sporting Rifle.

6) Moving forward to the forend tip, this Light Deluxe has a buffalo horn tip. Rigby seems to have used ebony and horn interchangeably, probably based on availability.  Today, horn is very hard to get.

7) The hand-checkering patterns are more elaborate on the Deluxe Model as opposed to the Sporting Rifle, not better executed, but more generous and making a connection at both sides of the pistol grip panels, and fully wrapping around the underside of the forearm.

8)  Overall, the biggest single difference in the stocks between the models would be the grade of wood.  On the Sporting model, Rigby would use very plain grade walnut but usually with nice dark color and with an even grain but with little or no figure.  On the Deluxe, the grade of wood, would be much better and show significant figure.

This one has nice dark streaks and shows some fiddleback grain on the right upper half toward the comb and through the wrist extending through the forearm showing on both ends of the checkering pattern.  On the left, the pattern of dark streaks and fiddleback closely match the right, with a bit more intensity of the fiddleback figure. This would have been very exceptional figure for what was available in 1984.

PART 9 {Audio only}******************************************************

For the metal work, from my observations of several guns in the past, there is no difference in the bluing between the Sporting Rifle and the Deluxe Model.  The bluing for either is the slow rust blue process that requires several baths and polishing and yields the highest quality soft blue.

The barrel length is 24 inches.

The bottom metal is a steel one-piece straddle hinged floorplate with center-bow release.  You press the release and the floor plate swings out with the magazine spring and magazine follower to unload unfired cartridges. But the bottom metal on many of the Standard Sporter’s was the military Mauser’s unhinged floorplate.

The front sight is a 6.5 mm silver bead mounted on a barrel banded short ramp, with a folding hood to protect the sight. The folding hood operates with a push button release.

The rear sight on this rifle is a typical express sight which offers a choice of two leaves: one standing and one folding, mounted on a block, commonly called an island in the industry.

Focusing on some of the inscriptions:  Besides the gold-filled maker’s name and caliber designation on the floorplate and the serial number engraved on the trigger guard, we see a proof mark on the right side of the barrel over the chamber.  It is the symbol of an arm holding a cutlass with the letters NP under it.  This is the London definitive nitro proof mark for all guns since 1904, according to the proof mark listing in the Blue Book of Gun Values. Underneath the proof mark it is stamped with what was proofed, the caliber, .30-06, the length of the chamber, 2.49”, and under that, the proof load tested, 18 Tons. And under that, the word LONDON.

PART 10 {Video, Roger and Andrew sitting at table}***************************

All of the metal work discussed so far is similar between the Sporting Rifle and the Deluxe Model.

The metal work that is different for the Deluxe Model from the Standard Rifle comprise two main areas:

9) The Gold filled maker’s name and caliber designation on the floorplate; and,

10) Saving the best for last, the most significant difference of the Deluxe Model over the standard Sporting rifle, is the engraving.  The Standard Rifle may, at most, have Rigby’s name, the barrel address inscription, and the caliber designation engraved.  But the Deluxe models, like this one, will have much more metal engraving.  Over the years, several options have been available and I have seen significant differences among the few Deluxe Models I’ve encountered.  On this rifle, the most noticeable engraving that catches the eye immediately we’ve already discussed: It is the floorplate’s contrasting gold-filled lettering showing the maker’s name Rigby, and the caliber designation, 30-06.  There is really no fancy engraving on the barrel, other than the address which we’ve already covered.

The bolt and bolt assembly have no engraving.

But for the bottom metal, besides the gold-filled lettering, the trigger guard and floor plate have scroll engraving very nicely done.  The screws for the pistol grip cap and the bottom metal are also engraved and indexed.

And for the remainder of the receiver of the action, there are six patterns of nicely sharp scroll-work engraving: 1) at the rear where the bolt meets the receiver when raised, 2) a large pattern on the left side in the center of the receiver between the bridges, 3) and 4) two small linear patterns of engraving on each top-side edge of the rear receiver bridge and finally 5) and 6) two full size engravings on both sides of the front receiver ring.  Interestingly, the engraving on the right front receiver ring surrounds a London proof mark with the word “London” under it.  And on the left front receiver ring, under the engraving is the inscription, “Made in England.”

Common to both the Deluxe model and the Sporting Rifle are sling eyes which are usually found on either model in this arrangement: the front sling eye mounted on the barrel and the rear sling eye on the toe line located about 2 ½” from the toe.

Speaking of measurements, the length of pull or LOP of this rifle is 14 ½” about an inch more than the factory Winchester Model 70 and Dakota rifles. The weight of the rifle is 7 lbs, 3 oz. without scope and 8 lbs.14 oz. with the scope.

PART 11 {Video, Roger will stand up}*********************************

The scope on this rifle is a fine Austrian-made Swarovski 3-10×42 Habicht with Butler Creek scope covers mounted with the German EAW quick-detachable scope rings. There are no after-market holes in the receiver as this EAW system was made to fit the factory holes on the Mauser action.  Let me demonstrate how the scope is removed and re-attached. {Demonstrate removal and re-installation of scope}{Roger sits down}

Part 12 {Andrew and Roger sitting}************************************

Finally, while this rifle is chambered in .30-06, I’d like to mention a little about the cartridge. Most of you are familiar with it, but for those who aren’t, I want to point out that it originated as a U.S.military cartridge, a 30 caliber cartridge adopted in 1906 – hence the name – for our Springfield rifle clear back in WWI.  It was still with us in WWII in the great M-1 Garand rifle.  Many hunters and gun-writers over the years found the cartridge, with the right load combination, to be adequate for any game in North or South America. And with so many ex-soldiers familiar with it, so many surplus rifles available, it became so popular that the commercial makers built rifles for it soon after WWI. At that time, in bolt actions, there were the Winchester Model 54, the Remington Model 30 and the Savage Models 40 and 45.  Winchester also chambered it for their lever action Winchester Model 95 and before long, there were pump actions and semi-autos available for it.  While very common now worldwide, for Rigby, in the list of common calibers chambered by them, it falls into the list as not that common: from most common to least, here’s the list: .275 Rigby (7 mm Mauser), 270 Win, .300 H&H Magnum, 375 H&H Magnum, 7×61, .303 British, .30-06, 416 Rigby, 350 Rigby Magnum and others.

This rifle is accompanied with a hard case.  There are several issues about the case that make me suspect that it is not original to the gun.  For one thing it is very new.

For another, it has a combination lock and although that lock was invented in 1978, I’m not sure it was available for Rigby cases by 1984.  Since the case is large enough for the scope, that makes me think the case was purchased after the scope was selected and installed.  Usually Rigby cases are made without the provision for a scope.  However, there is one thing that would support its originality: the label is not a copy, it is original.  When you rub your finger over the lettering, you can feel the letters are embossed in the label.  All label copies I have seen, are just desk top printed copies without the embossing.

If you want to check out Rigby, they are still in business, now back in London, as our historical account showed, and you can find them on https://www.johnrigbyandco.com

Their website shows some beautiful guns including their pricing.

That’s it for today, thank you Andrew for joining me, and thank you viewers for watching.  If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel and share it with others.  I hope you can join me next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.  We will be looking at a beautiful Magnum action bolt rifle.