By Douglas Tate
Photograph Courtesy of Frederick Beesley
If you wanted to know what interested British gunmakers—and their clients—during the shotgun’s golden era, you could do worse than look to Frederick Beesley. His 21 patents for everything from hammerless ejectors to an over/under called the “Shotover” earned him the title “principal inventor for the trade.” One design that W.W. Greener called “ingenious” stands out: the self-opening mechanism Beesley patented in 1880 and sold to James Purdey & Sons. It still is being made.
Today Beesley is back in business, not with the side-by-side built by Purdey or even the Shotover but with two new over/unders called the Fenice and the Eleganza. The Fenice has a triggerplate action and is available in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge with coil springs and a choice of a round or square body. It features classical floral scroll by Beesley’s in-house engraver, “Perlotti.” A range of Fenice guns are available in Beesley’s Kings Road, London, store for £32,000 a pair, or about $40,000 (including 20% VAT). The Eleganza is a made-to-order triggerplate gun available in the same gauges and with coil or V springs and a round or square body. It features all of the variants suggested by the term bespoke, including custom engraving. A pair costs £82,000, or about $103,000.
To my anglophone ear, the names don’t sound very British, so I asked Beesley Sales Director Louis Mondesir about their origins. “The guns are made in Brescia, Italy, by Perugini & Visini,” he said. (“Fenice,” by the way, means “phoenix” in Italian, and “Eleganza” means “elegance.”) “We decided to go for over-and-unders rather than side-by-sides, as we feel this is where the current market is for shotguns in the UK. People want reliability, pointability and control-ability and, from our shooting experience, we believe this is more achievable in O/Us. We can make side-by-sides, if clients wish, whether it be sidelock or boxlock; but again this will be made on P&V’s own action. We do sell some guns as standard, or ‘off the shelf,’ as they say, but generally all of the guns are custom orders, so they can be perfectly fitted to the client and also meet the aesthetic needs of the client.”
Armi Perugini & Visini was founded in 1968 by Vincenzo Perugini and Darko Visini. No greater testament to the quality of the company’s guns is that Purdey offers a sporting shotgun by P&V under its own name. According to Mondesir: “We are very proud to be producing F. Beesleys again, and in the ethos of innovation that Frederick Beesley pioneered we thought a modern over-and-under to be the best option.”