Special Guns Episode 8 BoxlockQ&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 8 – Rigby Best Chatsworth Boxlock Shotgun, 12 gauge


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 8th 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 those guns that hold an evolutionary or revolutionary place in the world of modern sporting arms over the last two centuries and have since become a classic in some way because of it.

VIRGINIA: And, what do you have for us today?

ROGER: The gun today is a boxlock shotgun, and curiously enough, its maker will relate to two British gunmakers we have already covered, in Episode 2, John Rigby Co, and Episode 6, W&C Scott & Son.  This gun was made by John Rigby of London, but in the lean years where they were using more outsourced actions.  The action that Rigby chose is that of the high-end W.& C. Scott & Son’s Chatsworth model that was briefly mentioned in Episode 6.

VIRGINIA: What is a boxlock shotgun?

ROGER:  Let me sidestep your question for a moment, Virginia, to refresh where we have come from so far in these episodes. That will help us get to the boxlock shotgun and understand how it fits in. Last episode, we looked at the sidelock shotgun.  That action, as we have seen, evolved over the history of the gun sport, with minor changes: in ignition, from wheellock to flintlock to percussion; in loading from muzzle loading to breech-loading, and from hammer guns to hammerless guns.            That rundown is an evolutionary process that got us to the sidelock action.

Now to answer your question: The boxlock double shotgun, as the author Geoffrey Boothroyd stated in his book, Sidelocks and Boxlocks, “was revolutionary, rather than evolutionary.”  The idea of it made a quantum leap forward, turning old ideas upside down, with the birth of a totally new idea that turned out absolutely correct. Instead of the lockwork mounted on sideplates attached on each side of the gun (which is the case for the sidelock and its predecessors), the locks are mounted inside the body of the gun.

VIRGINIA:  Who came up with that?

ROGER: This was the patent of two employees of the gunmaking firm of Westley Richards of Birmingham, an old company founded in 1812 (more on that company in a later episode).  The two men were John Deeley (a manager) and Wiliam Anson (a foreman).

VIRGINIA:  Anson, I’ve heard you mention that name before.

PART 2   {Audio only}

ROGER:  Yes, William Anson was the founder of one of the most common forearm releases, called the Anson push-rod forearm release, and he was a co-founder of another popular forearm release, the Anson and Deeley lever release. Both are still used today.  And that co-founder with him, John Deeley, was also the same Deeley in inventing the boxlock with William Anson. The two men jointly patented No. 1756 in 1875. This is today what we call a boxlock, or sometimes an A& D action in honor of its inventors.

In addition to its revolutionary lock system, it was the first successful hammerless shotgun that cocked by the fall of the barrels.

Both men would continue to obtain other patents independently of each other, but they will be remembered best for this great patent of 1875, the first boxlock.  Soon after its introduction, other gunmakers licensed with Westely Richards to use it.  The author, Boothroyd, stated and I quote:

“…there can be no doubt that the A&D action has been the most widely manufactured type of side-by-side sporting shotgun ever!” (close quote)

We can’t even begin to name all the great boxlock shotguns.  While many are not true A&D actions, it is the A&D action that spawned all the other boxlocks.  Here in America, the great A.H.Fox was a boxlock, as were those by Parker Brothers, the Winchester Model 21, the Ithaca, and the Lefever.  From Sweden, there were some high-grade boxlocks by Husqvarna; from Germany, there were many including best grades by J.P. Suaer & Sohn, and the great Hal Lindner version of the Charles Daly boxlock; and from England and Scotland, there were many British makers that developed their own versions and most were very high-end guns.  And , today, there are great boxlocks being built in Italy and Japan and many other countries… which all goes to support Geoffrey Boothroyd’s claim that the boxlock is “the most widely manufactured type of side-by-side sporting shotgun ever.”

Although outwardly boxlock actions look very similar from one maker to another, Boothroyd points out that inwardly, they each made their own modifications and there are a large range of differences in minor mechanisms, some getting around certain patents, some with actual improvements, but the basic actions are still all boxlock types.

The major complaint is that they “all look alike.”  Over the years, makers have strived to make them look different.  Some of the major ways to give them more elegance and make them stand apart, include: different designs of fancy backs, also different sculptured metal and wood on the sides of the action, and some have inlaid false side plates that give the appearance of sidelock actions.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, camera adjusted for standing}

ROGER: The Rigby boxlock I chose to show today is a very typical version of the boxlock action.  In fact, it is a perfect example of the quintessential boxlock made in England where this action started.

VIRGINIA:  And is this also in 12 gauge?

ROGER:  It is 12 gauge with 28” barrels with 2 ¾” chambers, choked Modified and Improved Cylinder.

But before we get into the specs of our special shotgun today, let me tell you my first experience with it. When I first got it, like any new gun, new to me, I wanted to take it out to the skeet or trap range at my club and find out how it shoots and how it handles.

My daughter-in-law had inherited a Colt 357 Mag in 6”, the predecessor to the Trooper.  Since she had never fired the gun, and knew I was a member of my club, she requested to go with me sometime.

So, with my new “old shotgun” I planned the day and included her.

When we got to the range, I gave her some basic safety instruction, we both were wearing eye and ear protection, and then we went to the pistol range. There, I showed her how her gun works and some basic shooting techniques.  It was a pleasure for me to shoot her Colt as well and we shot .38 Specials instead of .357 Magnum cartridges since it was her first day of shooting any handgun.  She actually surprised me and after a few early rounds, started hitting the target well.

From there, we went up to one of the trap ranges; ours are voice activated. I shot one round of 25 with this Rigby boxlock while she watched.

After I shot, she said, “That looks like fun.”

So I naturally offered, “Do you want to try it?”  She is small and probably weighs 100 pounds wet.

She shot it six times if I remember right. I know she missed the first couple, and I really had given her no instruction. She had only watched me.  Of the next 4, she hit 3 targets. That must have been enough of a reward, because she turned around, smiling big, and said,”How much does one of these trap throwing machines cost?”

I said, “No, you don’t want one of these on your property, you’d have clay pigeon chars all over the pasture. You’d be better off just joining the club.”

But from that time, she liked this shotgun.

Anyway, getting back to it.  Let me pick it up and cover a few things:

{Stand up, Pick up the gun}

It has a smooth concave rib fitted with a small brass bead front sight.  Let’s check to see that it is unloaded.

{Open action and note snap caps}

This one is called a boxlock ejector gun because it has automatic ejectors rather than extractors.  If you will remember, when you open the action, automatic ejectors sling out the fired shells while just lifting up the unfired shells, keeping the unfired shells ready to shoot when you close the action, or allowing you to pull them out if your shooting session has ended.  Whereas, the other type, extractors as opposed to auto ejectors, merely set up either empty shells or unfired shells for the shooter to pull out by hand without kicking either of them out of the gun.

I’ll pull the trigger for one barrel and leave the other one cocked.

{Close action with snaps caps, take off safety, pull trigger, open action  to see ejectors}

                        You can see the shell that I fired is ejected and the one I did not fire, is just set up ready for me to pull out, or ready for me to close up the action again.

VIRGINIA:  How old is this gun?

{Continue standing and holding the gun}

ROGER: Rigby built this shotgun in 1975.  But, instead of using one of their own older-pattern boxlocks, they chose to purchase the highly respected boxlock action from W.&C. Scott & Son used for their Chatsworth model.  According to the Blue Book of Gun Values, by S.P.Fjestad, the last listed manufacture’s-retail-price for the Chatsworth Model was $14,000 in 1991.  The Blue Book describes the Chatsworth Model as “top-of-the-line” boxlock action, with ejectors, deluxe checkered walnut, and extensive scroll engraving.

While this gun is not the W. & C. Scott & Son’s Chatsworth model, I only mention these details to emphasize why Rigby chose this already-proven English-made boxlock as a great starting point to build this shotgun.  Remember, this was in the period of the lean years for English hand-made guns, and it was already standard practice for them to outsource rifle actions and Rigby had commenced outsourcing shotgun actions as well, especially when the action they chose was a top of the line one like the W & C Scott & Son’s Chatsworth action.

Knowing that it is unloaded and safe, let’s look at everything a little closer.

This boxlock has a fancy back, called a scalloped back action.  Notice how the steel of the back of the action is mated to the wood with a shape we call a “brace”, or in this case a “reverse brace.”  In the industry, this is known as a “scalloped” back, one of several types of what the English call, in general, a fancy back.

Notice also the convex relief curve in the steel on the side of the action midway under the chambers and how the line flows along the bottom of the action meeting the stock and that line continues up the sides of the stock, called the panels, emulating the shape of a sidelock.  This one even has drop points, or tear drops, carved at the back of the panels, as do only the best of sidelock shotguns. Still looking at the action, this one, like our sidelock of the last episode, has beaded fences.

VIRGINIA: Tell me again, what are beaded fences?

ROGER: Where the balls of the fences meet the frame, there is a small raised border of steel, a decorative beaded edge surrounding the fences.  That small raised border is referred to as a bead, and the description is commonly referred to as beaded fences… and they’re only found on best guns.

The action is fully engraved with very delicate scroll work.  This engraving continues on other parts: the top lever and upper tang, the trigger guard and the long nicely shaped lower tang, the metal diamond midway in the forearm, and the metal escutcheon of the Anson push rod at the end of the forearm.

The automatic safety is checkered steel and the word SAFE is gold filled.  The top lever is engraved on the right side; and as a real custom touch, it is checkered on the left side since that’s the side you depress to open the action.

Finally, there is a small amount of engraving on the rib and a border of engraving around the breech end of the barrels.

For inscriptions, the right and left sides of the action are inscribed “John Rigby & Co.” and the smooth concave rib is inscribed “John Rigby & Co. 13 Pall Mall, London S.W.1” exactly as was the Rigby rifle we looked at in Episode 2 of Special Guns with Roger Rule.  And because I went into much depth about Rigby’s various locations and the dates of them in that episode, it is only significant here that we recall when Rigby was at the premises of 13 Pall Mall.  I went back and looked that up and it was from 1969 to 1985.  So, this gun, being made in 1975, would have been built about 6 years after they moved into that location.

I’ve already talked a lot about the exterior of the metal work, but I haven’t mentioned the finish, and yet, for most of us, that’s the feature that jumps out at us because the finish on most of the action and top tang, is this finish we call color case hardening.  We covered that in Episode 3, but you can watch a You Tube demonstration on how it’s done. Just refer to the tag on our sidebar.

Color Case Hardening tag: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9ExouQ21

VIRGINIA: That’s where the colors look like gasoline floating on water?

ROGER: That’s precisely the finish I’m talking about.

For those who didn’t see Episode 3, just briefly, I explained that a common process for doing this, consisted of disassembling the parts to be colored, then polishing them, packing them in a mixture of 1 part bone to 1 ½ parts charcoal, and then heat treating the packed parts to 1300 degrees, then cool to 1100 degrees and quench in oil. Not every maker uses the same formula and I have no idea what Rigby’s process was in 1975 as those types of processes are usually proprietary intellectual property. However they did it, the parts come out with these nice colors.  My description of them is what Virginia just referred to, that they resemble the rainbow-like colors of gasoline sitting in a puddle of water.

The colors do fade over time but these on this shotgun are still strong.  A special point about the colors, the British never go for as much color as many American makers try to achieve.  The British, like everything else they do, are more conservative about the colors.

Most of the other parts on the gun are rust blued: barrels, forearm metal components, action floorplate, trigger guard, top lever and safety. Rigby even went to the trouble to color case the action trigger housing which contrasts with the blued trigger guard and is a rich look when the gun is standing in your safe or your gun cabinet.

I will have to say this is my favorite finish, and I think because of the color case hardening here, this shotgun to me, is outstandingly looking.

VIRGINIA: But Holy Cow, how about that wood!

ROGER: Yes, let’s take a good look at this wood.  Today, it is not too hard to find nice wood, even great wood, if you want to pay through the nose.  But, in 1975, when this gun was built, wood like this was very rare.  And this is the stockmaker’s favorite wood, English walnut.  Usually we try to give the figure some type of description; this would not be marble-cake to me. I would call this a combination of the dark streaks, which in itself makes the grade fancy, but this wood figure also has a lot of fiddleback figure.

{turn stock showing fiddleback in the light}

The combination of these types of figure makes this wood very high grade.  I also look to see if the forearm wood matches, with the same color and figure.  In this case, it couldn’t match better.  I would guess both pieces are cut from the same blank, which best gunmakers usually seek to do.

The checkering is cut perfectly.  The forearm checkering is wrap-around and is a point pattern terminating with six points. The grip checkering is also a point pattern with two points each panel and is wrap-around: both underneath at the toe line and over the wrist – a pattern consistent for a best gun. The borders are a combination of double and single borders, very well planned and executed.

All the metal to wood inlays that I mentioned earlier are excellent wood-to-metal fits with even borders and perfect symmetry.

The final touches are a gold oval in the toe line for the owner’s initials, which this one is vacant, and a ¾” leather-covered recoil pad, with the leather dyed to match the dark colors in the wood.

For the specs, this has a 14 ½” length of pull and weighs 6 lb. 4 oz.

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

PART 4 {Gun disassembled in case at sideboard, Roger off camera}

Here we have our Rigby Chatsworth 12 gauge best gun disassembled into its three main components and displayed in its leather fitted case. The original maker’s label has the Pall Mall address, which matches the address on the barrel. There are several accessories that include two Rigby-marked nickel snap caps, a Rigby-marked nickel oil bottle and a two-piece cleaning rod.

{Move the barrels out the way and 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 around the contour of the barrels.  We can see the forearm iron is blued and engraved. And particularly, notice that there are two serial numbers, the first one is 144170, which is W. & C. Scott & Son’s serial number, and near the push rod is number 18351 which is Rigby’s serial number.

{Set the forearm down, and pick up barrels}

                        Looking at the barrels, on the bottom side, the part that mates to the action is called the barrel flat. On the barrel flat you can see the two chopper lumps, sometimes called Purdey underlugs.  The facing curve cutout goes around the hinge pin.  The two square cutouts or bites are for the action’s locking bolt to engage in locking up the action. About 4” forward, you can see the forearm lug.  On its base is inscribed Made in England. On the flats, we see .729 on both barrels, meaning that was the barrel bore diameter when it was proofed. It shows it was also proofed for 12 gauge, with 2 ¾” chambers and for 3 ¼ tons per square inch. These are important markings if you buy a used British shotgun as many of them were chambered for 2 ½” chambers and proofed at 3 tons per square inch.

And there’s the British Crown proof mark on both flats. The automatic ejectors are part of the barrel system.

On the left barrel, we see Rigby’s serial number again, 18351, but no W.&C. Scott & Son’s serial number.  The latter serial number may never have been inscribed or most likely polished off during Rigby’s finishing stages as we know the barrels must have been supplied by W.&C. Scott & Son  or the forearm would not have carried their serial number.

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

Picking up the stock and receiver, on the water table we again see W.&C. Scott’s serial number, 144170, and Rigby’s, 18351.  Also, there are two British proof marks on each barrel side of the water table.

Several sources give us a list of the different British proof marks showing when and where (Birmingham or London) they were used. The Blue Book of Gun Values is a good reference source.

The ones shown on this gun are the Crown with the letters BNP under them, which mean they are the definitive nitro (modern powder) proof marks, used in Birmingham since 1954.

Finally, notice the square cutout in the bottom of the receiver that mates up with the front barrel locking lug, and when it shows on the bottom of the receiver it is called a platform lug.

We have already covered the exterior, inscriptions, engraving, and finish but while we have this close-up, look at the nice case-coloring of the action sides contrasting with the blue action bottom cover.

PART 5 {Audio only}

Lastly, I did a price comparison between the W.& C. Scott & Son’s Chatsworth model and the Rigby Boxlock Ejector using the Chatsworth action.  I had to use 1991 for the date of comparison because that was the last year Holland & Holland made the gun and the last year we have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which, according to the Bluebook of Gun Values, was $14,000.

In 1975, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the Rigby was 2100 British pounds.  The pound was worth $2.28 then, which would convert the pound value of the price in 1975 to $4,788.   Using an inflation calculation, $4,788 in 1975 would equal $12,138.00 in 1991.  That would have been the retail price of the Rigby in 1991, still a couple of thousand less than the W&C Scott & Son’s Chatsworth, as made by Holland & Holland, the then-owners of W&C Scott & Son brand.  If H&H had to charge the equivalent of $2,000 more for their Chatsworth action using the W.&C. Scott & Son name, than what Rigby charged for this best gun with the same action using their name, then that might explain why Holland & Holland discontinued the line. And, there must be something to that since one of these brands continues and the other does not.

Part 6 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, gun in holders facing other direction}

ROGER: For me, even if they were the same price, I would rather have had the Rigby; at least in this country, because Rigby has a much stronger name here today than W.&C Scott & Son, but it was probably not that way in Great Britain at the end of the 19th Century.

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.  I am planning to get back to a very special rifle that you don’t want to miss.