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Should I refinish my antique gun ?

A customer shipped a gun to my shop recently. We spoke on the telephone prior to his shipping the gun, and he was fairly livid about the quality of the work of a previous gunsmith. He said the other gunsmith had taken the forearm off his gun and replaced it with a cheap plastic cast part. I was intrigued a bit about this, and told him to send it here for an evaluation.



I opened the box and looked the gun over. It turns out this gun was a single barrel English shotgun. It is a side lock, and the barrel release is of a triggerplate type.  The markings on the top of the barrel read ” Shot and Examined by S. Grant , 67 A St James Street London “



The gun is engraved over quite a bit of the surface, but you can tell that this gun was not one of the higher end guns produced by that company. The breech locks up tightly like the door on a bank vault, as do most English made shotguns.



As to the ” plastic ” fore end the customer wanted me to replace, this turns out to have been made from gutta percha, and yes, it does appear to be a cast part. Gutta-percha was one of the early alternatives to traditional stock-making materials (including wood, ivory, pearl,horn, etc.) and attracted a lot of attention when it was introduced in the late 1830s. While it is sometimes called a “synthetic” due to the manufacturing techniques, gutta-percha, or Balata rubber, is not a synthetic at all. Gutta-percha is a natural product obtained from the “latex”or sap of various rubber trees indigenous to southeast Asia, especially the Malay peninsula.



The barrel appears to be a Damascus twist, but it actually is not. It is a solid fluid steel tube that has been acid etched to give the appearance and visual effect of fine Damascus.



Stephen Grant was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in 1821. He was the son of an Irish grocer and he later was apprenticed to William Kavanagh of Dublin before working with Charles Lancaster and Thomas Boss in London. He later opened his own shop in 1867 in London. By 1888 his company became Stephen Grant & Sons. He was well known for building high end guns fr European royalty. But after WW 1 , many gun makers couldn’t survive the economy and after the death of Stephen Sr in 1898 and other deaths in the family as well as bad trading decisions — the company was sold to William Robeson in 1923. In 1924, Robeson also bought out Joseph Lang & Sons and moved into the old building of the Grant facilty. He named the new company Stephen Grant & Joseph Lang, Ltd.

Based on the fact that this gun has a gutta percha cast fore end, and has a fluid steel barrel, and the markings suggest that the gun was ” Shot & Examined by S. Grant ” more than likely this gun was made by the Stephen Grant & Joseph Land Ltd company, and is NOT an actual Stephen Grant made shotgun. A little more research needs to be done to determine the value.

So should an antique gun like this be refinished ? In a word — NO. Refinishing most antique guns will cause the value of the firearm in many cases to be reduced by half. There are some specialty firms in Europe that do specialize in refurbishing antique English shotguns. The guns are painstakingly disassembled and completely gone through for a thorough cleaning and restoration. This is a process that can be pricey, upwards of $ 5,000. A restoration for a gun like the one pictured here would not be cost effective. The most I could suggest for this gun would be to siimply keep it well oiled to prevent further degradation of the overall condition of the finish.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Robert Hodges September 6, 2013, 5:11 AM

    Hi Jim

    Interested in your Grant article. Presumably there’s no serial number or name on the locks, but are there any marks inside the action? As you may know my gt gt grandfather EC Hodges actioned hundreds of guns for Stephen Grant and left his mark in most of them literally. My website on the Hodges gunmakers shows the marks commonly found I would be fascinated to know if this could be another one of his and what date it is. It looks like it’s from the 1870s which is exactly the period when Hodges and Grant worked together.
    Robert Hodges

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