As of March 1, approximately, John Rigby & Co. was acquired by Blaser of Germany, lock, stock and barrel. All connections with its raft of American owners and investors have been severed, and Rigby itself is being moved back to London.
Here’s how it will work: Rigby will become one of the group of gunmaking names owned by Blaser, which includes J.P. Sauer and Mauser. While those companies and their production facilities are located in the town of Isny, in Bavaria, Rigby will have a small custom shop in London.
Blaser is in the process of building a new factory just for Mauser, in the Blaser complex, and there they will begin making genuine Mauser 98 actions. Mauser will supply barreled actions to Rigby in London, where they will be stocked, proofed and finished.
Marc Newton and Patricia Pugh will run the London operation.
Bernhard Knöbel, CEO of Blaser, said last week his company intends to return Rigby to its roots, producing fine hunting rifles in traditional patterns. This will include both bolt-action rifles and, eventually, double rifles. As of right now, there are no plans to produce double shotguns, but given Blaser’s manufacturing capabilities, anything is possible.
“The real Rigby rifles from a hundred years ago were not overly fancy,” Knöbel said, “They were first-quality hunting rifles, made to be used. Mauser supplied the barreled actions, and Rigby finished them to their own high standards. We are going back to that method.”
Marc Newton, the new director of Rigby in London, told me they hope eventually to be able to make both the trademark Rigby/Bissell rising-bite sidelock double rifle, and also the Rigby boxlock rifle based on the long-bar W&C Scott frame with a doll’s head third bite.
The Blaser acquisition includes the company’s 82 volumes of original records as well as an assortment of company memorabilia from two centuries of gunmaking. This will be housed at the new operation in London.
Blaser is a relatively young company in gunmaking terms, founded in 1956 to produce a range of innovative new designs in rifles. It has grown to become one of the world’s foremost riflemakers, producing everything from single-shots to doubles to a variety of bolt-actions, as well as a superb over-and-under shotgun, in an ultra-modern facility in Bavaria.
Its subsidiary, Blaser USA, based in San Antonio, Texas, serves the American market, providing full-time gun servicing as well as warehousing and sales. In other words, this is a substantial company with the resources to back its products. Not that they need much backing: Every Blaser product I’ve used has been beautifully made and functionally perfect.
However, Blaser also has long experience with the hand-made, custom side of the rifle business, operating a custom shop at Isny with an extensive stock of fine walnut blanks, engraving capability, and qualified gunmakers who can create unique pieces. So they are not going into the Rigby venture with any illusions about what’s required to make it work.
It will be a while until we see the first new Rigby/Mauser rifle. Although the site is selected and the plans are in place, ground will not be broken for the new factory for a few weeks yet, and it will be some months after completion before the first action emerges from the CNC. However, Blaser has as firm a grasp of manufacturing processes as it does of rifle design, and they are not going to let any grass grow under their feet.
Both Bernhard Knöbel and Marc Newton were reluctant to offer any specific dates–honesty that is refreshing in itself–but it will be measured in months, not years.
It’s difficult to say which is the better news–the acquisition of Rigby and its restoration as a London company, or Mauser once again making real 98 actions.– Terry Wieland