By Vic Venters
Authors Donald Dallas and David J. Baker are heavyweights in writing about the history and development of the British sporting-gun trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dallas is best known for his meticulously researched histories of prominent gunmakers, Baker for his comprehensive three-volume set on the technical development of the British shotgun from 1850 to present day.
With their latest books—Dallas’s British Gunmakers of the 21st Century and Baker’s Twenty Thousand Shots—the broader topics remain familiar but their focus differs from that of their prior works.
British Gunmakers of the 21st Century
Quiller Publishing, 2018, 136 pp., £40
British Gunmakers of the 21st Century is a glossy, large- format treatment of 20 contemporary British gunmakers, with micro-histories of each and color photos of current-production guns and rifles. As expected, the big boys are present—Purdey, Holland & Holland, Boss and Westley Richards—along with established independents like David McKay Brown, A.A. Brown & Sons, Watson Bros., and W.W. Greener; but also newcomers are covered such as Longthorne and Smith & Torok. According to Dallas, the book was commissioned by Nicholas Holt, of Holt’s Auctioneers (who writes the foreword), as an introduction to most (though not all) of Britain’s remaining gunmakers. Students of Dallas’s voluminous single-gunmaker histories should not expect new ground to be plowed here with familiar names, but this is a good introduction to the lesser-known makers. Photo quality is superb to oh-so variable, as each gunmaker supplied its respective images; but those from Boss, Greener, A.A. Brown, Smith & Torok and Westley Richards show off those makers’ guns to very best effect—proving that a gunmaker’s public image is only as good as the images it presents of itself and its work.
Twenty Thousand Shots
David J. Baker
Coch-y-Bonddu Books, 2018, 260 pp., £19.95
“20,000 Shots” was the pseudonym of Arthur J. Lane (1816-1906), forgotten now but in his day a well-known and prolific correspondent to English sporting journals such as The Field and The Sporting Mirror.
In 260 pages Baker brings Lane to light after more than a century in the shadows in this well-edited compilation of published letters and “sporting reminiscences and anecdotes,” which is complemented by Baker’s supplemental text that provides biographical detail and historical context of Britain’s 19th Century sporting world. Lane was notable in that when he began shooting, sportsmen still went afield with flintlock muzzleloaders; by the end of his life he was armed with hammerless breechloaders little different than those produced today. Lane was an amateur gunmaker and an innovator, and his experiments with barrels, powders and shot will be of interest to ballisticians of historical bent. In the “reminiscences” section we meet a host of colorful characters, from poachers and country ruffians to a faithful English setter (“Sancho”) capable of fetching groceries held in a basket in its mouth to its owners a half-mile distant. Such was the grist of England’s colorful country life in the 19th Century, which today, as Baker notes of his increasingly crowded homeland, “scarcely seems credible that the events described happened less than 200 years ago.”