Special Guns Episode 7 SidelockQ&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 7 – Arrizabalaga Sidelock Ejector – a Best Gun


PART 1 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, gun in holders}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall 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, Virginia, and welcome, and welcome viewers to my 7th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: 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 this 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.

VIRGINIA: What do you have for us today?

ROGER: The gun I want to cover today is a sidelock shotgun, but not just any sidelock – I have located the premium example that I wanted to show today.

VIRGINIA: How did you develop your appreciation for this gun?

ROGER It was when I was in London in the ‘90s looking up several gunmakers that were still in business and it was when I visited John Rigby & Co. there, that I discovered this gun.  By the way, while I walked to several of these makers that were within walking distance from my hotel, just to experience London, I had to take a taxi to Rigby being across the river. I also had one other gunmaker address that was off the beaten path, Churchill Arms in Kensington.  On my way to Rigby, my driver knew the area for the address of Churchill Arms so we swung off our route and headed there first.  As we drove up, I could see a big painted sign that read “Churchill Arms” with renditions of guns on it.  But what we discovered was not an arms maker; it was instead a pub.  And the worst thing about it, it wasn’t even open!

But back to our gun of the day, when I got to Rigby’s, I was given a tour of the facility by the then-director, David Marx.  I was there primarily to look at their rifle work, which to me, is what they are most known for.  But during the tour, I saw an impressive wall of new side-by-side shotguns all standing vertical shoulder to shoulder, all with that new look of rich polished wood, engraved metal, and shiny blued steel.  I stopped and said to David, “Wow, I didn’t know Rigby was still this much into manufacturing shotguns?”

He said, “These are not Rigbys,” and added, “we still make some of our Rigby shotguns for our old customers that want them, but these are Arrizabalagas.”  He must have been reading the look on my face that I had never heard of them, because he added, “Arrizabalagas are the best guns made in Spain and there is no gun better made in London.  And he added that he could sell them for 16,000 pounds instead of 65,000 pounds.

VIRGINIA: When was that?

ROGER: It was 1993.

VIRGINIA:  What would that be in today’s dollars?

ROGER:  A British pound then, was equal to $1.65 and I looked it up for this episode knowing we were going to cover it.  If I did my inflationary chart right, that would have been the equivalent of $26,000 today and I believe the new MSRP is $27,385, so they have probably increased because of their glowing reputation, which we will cover in a moment.

VIRGINIA: But you had never heard of them?

ROGER: No, I hadn’t. And David Marx had read me correctly, that I hadn’t heard of them. I had heard of AYA and Arrieta, and this name sounded similar to me so I repeated it aloud, hoping to remember it, ARRIZABALAGA, which was hard for this mid-western raised boy to pronounce.  And though I wasn’t much into shotguns in 1993, I had been earlier in my life and so I tried to brand that name into my brain.  Arrizabalaga, Arrizabalaga, noting also it was 6 sylables.

When I returned to the US, I learned that the Double Gun Journal had published a special article on Arrizabalaga in 1990, entitled “The House of Pedro Arrizabalaga” by Don Hardin.

VIRGINIA:  Were you able to locate the article?

ROGER: Yes, fortunately at that time, I had a collection of that very fine periodical called the Double Gun Journal, so I looked up my copy.

PART 2 {Audio only}*SAVE Seagate – Episode 7 – Audio – Episode 7 Part 2********

            The following is an excerpt from the Double Gun Journal, Vol.1, Issue 3, article entitled “The House of Pedro Arrizabalaga” by Don Hardin, and I quote:

“Arrizabalaga is a custom maker, some have termed the house,‘The Purdey of Spain’ due to the conservative approach to the trade.  All guns are sold before they are started. On average, this is less than 200 guns a year with nine artisans plus the head engraver.  The customer may choose from Holland & Holland, Purdey, or Boss engravings.  The style of rib, forearm and action coloring are individually chosen.  The wood is selected for the gun, dependent on color and metal finish contrast. Wood is grown in the Pyrenees Mountains and is the same as the French walnut grown across the border.  Engraving is… extremely well done. (and I am still quoting Mr. Hardin) I got the impression that the worker at Pedro Arrizabalaga felt that the gun he was producing was the best available. I agreed so much that I now own two guns from the House of Pedro Arrizabalaga.”  (close quote)

So that was published about 3 years before I saw those guns at Rigby and at time, I had missed the article and had not known of the gunmaker.

There are many gun writers out there that label either the London-made Purdey double gun or the London-made Holland & Holland Royal grade double, as the best double gun in the world.  I would say that of all the articles I have read, the edge might go to Purdey, but even those folks who list Purdey first, usually list the Holland & Holland Royal second.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table}

ROGER: What I discovered from reading about the Arrizabalaga, is that they only build one grade of gun, a best gun.  And, mechanically they build all of their guns as a traditional Holland & Holland Royal type sidelock with an H&H self-opening mechanism, H&H hand-detachable double seared sidelocks, H&H Southgate automatic ejectors, and like H&H, all the other best quality internal components, which include: intercepting sears, bushed strikers, gas escape valves, auto safety, and chopper lump or demi-block chrome-lined barrels.  These are features generally found only on Holland & Holland Royals, and similar features of quality are found on Purdey and Boss double guns, all of which cost 4 to 5 times as much.

VIRGINIA: So this example we have today is like a Holland & Holland Royal?

ROGER: The odd thing about this gun here today, is that we have one of these Arrizabalagas which is a virtual copy of a Holland & Holland Royal in mechanism and quality, yet it has been engraved in the renowned Purdey style.

This gun could not be a better example of a best sidelock double barreled shotgun for our purpose here today. It fits in perfectly.

If you watched our last episode, you know that William M. Scott, son of the founder of W. & C. Scott and Son, was the designer and patent holder of the first hammerless sidelock shotgun in 1878. And, to make it easy to understand for those who did not know what a sidelock shotgun is, I made the comparison that the shotgun with two hammers in the last episode would be like a sidelock if you removed the locks with the hammers and replaced them with locks that had their own internal strikers.  Easier said than done, but that’s what William M. Scott worked out.

VIRGINIA: I remember him, he was a very clever guy.

ROGER:  After his initial invention of the hammerless sidelock, some companies paid him royalties to use his patent, and then those companies went on to modify and make improvements for their own designs.  By 1880, with the improvement of Frederick Beesley’s patent for the self-opening action for Purdey, as one of the premier companies if not the most, their sidelock had evolved to its glory.

And I mention Purdey here specifically, because it was their gun that set the standard for the others.  The author, Geoffrey Boothroyd, from his book Sidelocks and Boxlocks, expressed this same sentiment when he wrote, and I quote:

“…Purdey established the traditional style and finish which has become the pattern for the side-by-side double sporting sidelock shotgun.” (close quote)

On the other hand, the maker of the Holland & Holland Royal, which this Arrizabalaga emulates, was more into rifles in the early 1880s, going on to develop their famous cartridges with “belted” cases.

In 1885, however, for their shotguns, they registered the name, “Royal” but that early gun was much different from the later Royals.  In 1908, Holland patented the detachable lock, but it wasn’t until 1922, that Holland patented their version of a “self-opening mechanism.” This was another 42 years after Purdey’s sidelock had reached its pinnacle, that Holland & Holland’s Royal sidelock would then begin competing, and finally raising the question “which one is the best?”

This Arrizabalaga here today has all the mechanics of the Holland & Holland Royal, including detachable locks (unlike the Purdey), but with the looks of the Purdey which, as Geoffrey Boothroyd summed up, is the “traditional style, finish, and pattern for the side-by-side double sidelock today.”

Let’s just look at the style he’s referring to:  This gun has the English or straight-hand stock with no pistol grip and with classic comb and no cheek piece.  The forearm is the English or splinter forearm instead of the larger wrap-around-the-barrels beavertail forearm.

Still discussing this style, per all best English doubles, it is stocked to the fences.

{point this out and explain}

That means the wood on the stock goes all the way up to the back of the action balls.

Behind the locks, there are carved tear drops or drop points in the stock.

As another part of the English style, there is a long inlaid lower tang.

Finally, the metal is full coverage engraving with a very conservative English rose and scroll. This engraving pattern is like that of a Purdey shotgun made over 100 years ago. As part of the aesthetics, the fences are beaded, another touch only found on the best guns.

PART 4 {Adjust camera for standing position, but remain sitting}Virginia practice demo*

VIRGINIA: Is this a 12 gauge gun?

ROGER: Yes, thank you Virginia for catching me again, our example here today is 12 gauge with 2 ¾” chambers and with 28” barrels, choked Skeet and Skeet and weighs 6 lb. 13 oz.  The rib has a nicely cross-hatch pattern with the proper taper for the sighting plain and terminates with a single silver bead sight.

It has double triggers.

As to the mechanics, this gun is all Holland and Holland with the H&H type self-opening mechanism, the H&H Southgate ejectors and the H&H hand-detachable double seared sidelocks.

{Stand up, pick up gun – Do NOT OPEN IT}

Notice the little lever for the detachable locks.  The way it works, is, first you have to make sure the gun is cocked. Then you disassemble it into its three main components.  Then you unscrew the detachable lever on the left lockplate which goes through to the lockplate on the right side. Once it is unscrewed, you then gently push the lever as a pin while applying a sharp blow with your hand on the right side and the right lock will come out.  Then, you can push through to the other side to remove the left lock.  I am not going to perform that operation here as this is virtually a new gun and it is easy to damage the wood around locks when taken in and out often. I will turn the little lever so you can see how that unscrews.

{ Demonstrate turning lever}

But, you can see a complete demonstration for this by Dan Moore on You Tube. We’ll put up his YouTube tag on our sidebar here.


We are going to check the gun to see if it is unloaded and you can see that by turning the action top lever to the right, the gun pops open by itself.

{Open Action}

That’s the self-opening feature.

Now that it’s open, I can see the H&H automatic ejectors, the chopper lumps with their bites, and the bushed strikers.  We’ll show these closer to the camera in a few moments.

When I close the action…

{close action}

…the way it closes gives away the fact that it is a best gun.  There is a particular feel to the way this feels when you lock it up.

I experienced this the first time when I was at the House of Purdey in the early ‘90s.  After I removed my rings from my fingers, a Purdey associate, noting that gesture, handed me a new Purdey and invited me to open and close the action.  I did.  The closing of the action had a solid feel like shutting a vault door, or the tight tolerances of the way a Rolls Bentley door feels when you shut it.

The Purdey agent then pulled out a tissue, and told me to open the action again. While I held the gun in my hands, he inserted the tissue in the action and instructed me to close it. I did, but it would not close; it would not lock up.  He was demonstrating the tight tolerances of the Purdey, and it was amazing to me, and enlightening.

So, I have tried that test on many other guns without getting the same result.  However, when I tried it on this gun, I found that it did have the same result, as I had discovered with that Purdey some 25 years ago. Virginia, let’s try it again.

{Demonstrate, Roger opens gun, Virginia inserts tissue, Roger closes}

As you can see, the gun will not lock up.

{Open gun, remove tissue, close action}

Just listen to the solid sound of the closing of the action. It’s not just the sound, it’s a feel, which I’m sure gives me more pleasure experiencing it, than it does you watching.

Let me open the gun again and insert two snap caps, close the action again and show you another feature.

{Open action, …insert two snap caps,… take off safety}

When we close the gun…oh I love that feel… the action is cocked and we can see that it’s cocked by the gold-line cocking indicators.  The gold line is oriented in a slanting position from about 8 to 2 on a clock when the gun is cocked.

{Show it to Virginia}

When I pull a trigger, which is not harmful with the snap caps in place…

{pull trigger}

…notice now the gold line has changed and is no longer slanted, but is level or oriented from 3 to 9 on a clock indicating this lock is NOT cocked now.

{show to Virginia}

VIRGINIA: Yep, I see that one moved, wow, those are tiny.

ROGER: Also when the gun is closed, the safety is automatic and the gun is in the safe mode.  For an automatic safety, the safety must be manually slid forward covering the word SAFE (in gold) to enable the gun to fire.

Finally, still examining the action, the front trigger is articulated. That means the front trigger is hinged, built to cushion its impact on the shooter’s trigger finger as the gun recoils when the rear trigger is pulled.

The overall metal finish has nice contrasting colors here: with the polished coin finish of the receiver and lock plates contrasting with the rust bluing of all the other parts.  The gold-line cocking indicators and the gold filled Safety are the only gold on the gun showing from the outside.

We also mentioned that the engraving is in the Purdey style, but I should add that it is full coverage English rose and scroll and no part is omitted from the engraver’s tool. The three screws on the underside and the two screws on the top side are all engraved and indexed, meaning all screw slots are aligned… another touch required for a best gun.

VIRGINIA: The color of the wood is sort of Burgundy.

ROGER:  Okay, let’s look at the wood.  We’ve already talked about the style of the stock, being an English straight-hand stock with a splinter forearm.  This wood is French walnut and because it has a lot of dark streaky figure and some light fiddleback, it would be a fancy grade.

Like you, Virginia, I particularly like the beautiful burgundy color of the wood. I once saw an original Stradivarius violin in Chicago, and the color of this gun reminds me of the color of that Stradivarius.

The hand checkering is executed flawlessly in the traditional point pattern.  It wraps around the grip, both over the wrist and under the toe-line, and it wraps around the forearm.  The diamonds are cut at 24 lines per inch.

It has the traditional tear drops or drop points, but these are faceted in two planes with the high edge centered, another feature only found on best guns.

The butt end is checkered as well, instead of having a buttplate or a recoil pad.  The length of pull for this gun is 14 9/16.”

The toe-line is fitted with an oval for the owner’s initials and is vacant, meaning that there are no initials on this one.

The forearm release is at the forearm tip, which is a release designed by William Anson and patented in 1873. This is the most popular forearm fastener ever created.

Looking at the stock work, gives away the fact that this is a best gun, with the delicate and elegant inlaying of wood to metal fits: the upper tang at the wrist carrying the safety and top lever: and for the underside there are three places: the trigger bow’s long pointed tang, a diamond-shape of metal in the center of the forearm, and the intricate forearm release in the forearm tip.

Now, let’s move to the sideboard and examine the disassembled components.

PART 5 {Video disassembled gun in case on sideboard, Roger off camera}

Here we have our Arrizabalaga 12 gauge best gun disassembled into its three main components and displayed in its fitted leather case.

Looking at the leather case, it has the maker’s label and is fitted with many accessories: a two-piece cleaning rod, a nickel oil bottle, two nickel snap caps, and a leather pouch containing several cleaning components that can be screwed onto the cleaning rods.

{Pick up the barrels}

Looking at the barrels, we see the automatic ejectors which surround a small extension on the face of the chambers that actually fits into the breech face when the action is closed. This is a 3rd lock as there is a moving bolt in the breech face that rides over this extension creating a 3rd top lock (serving the same purpose as a Greener crossbolt or a dolls head extension). And surrounding the Holland & Holland style ejectors, we see the Holland & Holland self-opener mechanism that is fitted up against the locking lug for the Anson push rod release.  Protruding from the barrel flat, we see the two Purdey-style locking underlugs or chopper lumps.  Notice the square cutouts or bites on the backsides of the lugs which lock up with the underbolt, and notice the semi-circular C cutout on the face of the front lug which fits around the action hinge pin.

The left barrel flat is marked with the serial number 14905.  Both barrel flats have an oval with 12-70 stamped in them.  This is the indication that they are 12 gauge with 70 mm chambers, which in English is 2 ¾”.  Both of them are stamped with three Eibar (Abar) proof marks and 900Kp/cm, which is a European proof designation for Kiloponds per square centimeter, the Spanish proof pressure test. The proof marks are very faintly stamped, attesting to the quality of the steel that Arrizabalaga has used. On the right barrel flat are some markings that I have not been able to identify: N*2 1350 (Nstar2).  In front of the barrel flats on the underside of both barrels, we see the traditional English proof tests, stamped 18.5 for Tons with the accompanying proof marks.  Also, near these are a series of marks representing the maker’s code for the chokes.

{Set down the barrels, pick up the forearm}

Looking at the forearm, we see how the Anson push rod works. Notice the delicate edges of the wood that come up to the contour of the barrels.  Also the serial number 14905 is marked into the wood. Notice also that the forearm iron is blued and engraved.

{Set down the forearm, pick up the stock and action}

Now looking at the stock and action assembly, right off we see the strikers have bushings and register marks. The bushings have two holes each, for a bushing removal tool. These are best-gun features.

When we move the top lever, we see three locking points: The two for the underlugs on the barrels and the third toplock between the strikers that engages the extension on the breech of the barrels and actually locks up by sliding over the top of the extension.

On the water table, again we see the serial number, 14905, and under that the makers name and town, Arrizabalaga and Eibar.  Again, both right and left sides of the flat are marked 12-70 indicating both barrels are 12 gauge, 70mm chambers.  The barrel flat also is stamped with the same three Eibar proof marks that are stamped on the barrels.  There is a stamping of PA in an oval that I have not been able to identify, as it is not on the list of Spanish proofs or British proofs.  I have an idea it is an inspection mark from the maker, but I don’t know that for sure.

{Place the stock and action back in the case}

PART 6 {Audio-only} Seagate – Episode 7 – Audio – Episode 7 Part 6*(listen to it)***

                        Finally, while we are calling this a copy of an H&H Royal, it should be emphasized that the maker here, the House of Pedro Arrizabalaga, is one of the world’s premier gun makers itself.  Their entire line of fine shotguns are top-of-the-line, best guns.  They don’t make lower grades. They are located in the Basque country of northern Spain in the Eibar region, which has become THE gun-making capital of Spain. And of those, there is no better Eibar-made gun, and that includes AyA, Grulla, Garbi, and Arrieta.

This special standing with the other makers in Eibar has led to the larger company of Arrieta purchasing the small operation of Arrizabalaga, but the press release has laid claims that Arrieta had no intention of creating any change that would affect the quality or the reputation that Arrizabalaga has built.

From the Director of Arrieta and I quote:

“Arrieta bought Pedro Arrizabalaga, with the idea to continue producing the finest Spanish sporting guns…Special mention needs to be given to the history standing behind the name Pedro Arrizabalaga in the shooting world.  We are going to continue with the name Pedro Arrizabalaga, and selling the same models as the past.” (close quote)

PART 7 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table}

ROGER:  So, we have just reviewed one of the finest sidelock ejector shotguns ever produced. Virginia, did you learn anything today?

VIRGINIA: Too much to take it all in.

ROGER: That’s the advantage of YouTube, you can watch them more than once if you want to.

So, to sum this up, this gun is a perfect representative of the sidelock ejector shotgun with every feature in the highest level of quality and one that exemplifies the pinnacle of the most evolved gun of its type. I hope you have come to appreciate it as much as I have.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule. We’ll be looking at an example of an English boxlock best gun.