Anyone wanting a new double rifle today can be forgiven if he feels like a plump young cottontail negotiating a dark forest infested with wolves.
In the last 20 years, double rifles have become immensely desirable, with fine names from the past like Alexander Henry and W.J. Jeffery selling for huge money, and the few remaining great English names – Holland & Holland and Westley Richards – having long order lists and escalating prices.
In any field of human endeavor, when the money mounts up, the rogues emerge. That is exactly what has happened with double rifles, especially large-bore doubles for dangerous game, which command the highest premium.
We should say immediately there are quite a few solid, reputable makers of double rifles, not just in England, but also continental Europe. In France, there is Chapuis, reputed to be the largest (in number produced), there are Krieghoff and Blaser in Germany. The remaining makers in Austria, Belgium, and Italy are small custom outfits, most of whom are hardly heard of in the U.S.
Still, the United States is, by an overwhelming margin, the largest market for big-money doubles in the world, and the Safari Club Convention is the largest single venue for selling them, new and used. As such, it is where the money goes in search of rifles, and where the rogues go in search of money.
It is one thing to hand over a wad of cash to an established company like Hartmann & Weiss (Germany) or Holland & Holland (U.K.). It is quite another to do it with someone who has been in business only a year or two, who may or may not have legitimate credentials showing he is qualified in the trade, and has no real track record in business.
Unfortunately, many new-money buyers of double rifles know little more about guns than they do about the animals they intend to spend their new money on hunting. If they have one common trait, it is the modern desire for instant gratification. They don’t understand that it takes months, if not years, to produce a fine double rifle, and feel that this problem is just waiting to be solved by offering more money, in order to be given priority and grease the wheels (and palms).
This is where the rogues (the favorite English term) can really score. Along with alleging quality to rival Holland & Holland, at considerably lower prices, they promise to deliver the finished rifle, not in a year, or even in six months, but three months down the road, well in time for you to take it to Africa on that buffalo hunt you just booked with the guy across the aisle.
This is an almost irresistible lure, but it is one that no one should fall for. Double rifles cannot be produced at the drop of a hat. As with any custom gun, they are made in stages, and each stage must be carried out carefully and completed to perfection before the next one is started. Obviously, this is not true with double rifles that are mass-produced to standard specifications in just a few calibers, but those you can buy off the shelf anyway.
All this was brought on by the recent news that a new English maker, who was prominent at shows in the U.S. for the last couple of years, has gone into receivership.
Now, American clients are left to deal with the insolvency accountants and lawyers, having heard nothing from him in six months, and resorting to Googling him to find out about the bankruptcy.
We should add one more thing, however – a bit of good news upon which to end. John Rigby & Co., now safely ensconced back in London, owned by the German company that includes Blaser and Mauser, is in the final stages of producing their first rising-bite rifles in many years. With such backing, they should return the Rigby name to greatness.—Terry Wieland