The decoration of weapons is as old as weapons themselves and Westley Richards, along with the Birmingham gun trade in general, has a long history of producing highly embellished firearms. Today, Westley Richards & Co. enjoys a lot of publicity for the modern exhibition quality firearms produced, seemingly routinely, under Trigger’s watchful eye. The consistently high quality and unique firearms Trigger is producing, I know he will agree, has its foundation on what was started during Simon Clode’s tenure as Managing Director.
Through his wonderful photography, first shown in his groundbreaking advertisements of the early 1990’s and later showcased on this blog and social media, Simon was able to show in vivid detail what Westley Richards & Co. was capable of making.
Ultimately these beautifully engraved guns and rifles were the result of the impeccable tastes and demanding standards Simon remains famous for. Luckily, having guns beautifully made is something Trigger is damn good at as well.
Recently, I had the privilege of selling two hand detachable lock Modele De Grande Luxe double rifles that, coincidentally, happened to be the first and last Exhibition quality rifles Simon produced.
The first is simply known as 'The Rhino Rifle’ and is a .600 NE with hand detachable locks. Originally made in the late 1990’s for a very close friend of Simon’s, the rifle recently showed up on the second-hand market and we were able to help broker it to a prominent collector. The engraving celebrates the 5 species of rhino that were identified as still living, namely White Rhino, Black Rhino, Greater One Horned Rhino, Sumatran Rhino, and Javan Rhino. Fully carved and in exquisite detail, the engraving was executed by Peter Spode, who engraved many guns and rifles for the firm over the years.
Used throughout Westley’s literature and advertising at the turn of the 21st Century, this rifle was just the beginning of Simon’s forays into exhibition quality weapons, including the “Hummingbird Gun” and the “Africa” and “India” rifles.
This rifle’s case colors have been brushed from the action as to highlight the details of the carving, like folds in the rhinos’ armour. In addition, instead of using scroll to fill space on the action’s surface, thorn bush and other typical foliage are depicted representing the rhino’s natural habitat.
The incredible rhino on the bottom is done in 3-dimensional relief, a unique feature Westley’s has done even on some recent guns. When I first saw the rifle, I thought the rhino’s horn depicted on the bottom was exaggerated, but the client who originally commissioned the rifle had also hunted a world record white rhino many decades before; in fact, the very beast depicted on the bottom of this rifle. I can wholeheartedly confirm that the size of that horn is not exaggerated!
Coming full circle, the last exhibition droplock Simon was able to oversee before his untimely passing was also a .600 NE Modele De Grande Luxe featuring carved game scenes of elephant, Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, crocodile, and hippo.
Not surprisingly, this rifle was also engraved by Peter Spode and features a bold scroll pattern on the sides of the action along with the big cats on the barrel breeches, a charging elephant on the cover plate, a rhino on the guard bow, a crock on the strap of the butt plate, a buffalo “looking for his money” on the grip cap, and my favorite, a “yawning” hippo on the steel butt plate.
This rifle also has a brushed finish to enhance the engraving detail, save for the case colors left in the vignette of the butt plate that give the same effect as the colors in the sky at dawn or dusk.
Certainly not the only two exhibition rifles Simon produced, but interesting how the two bookend an incredible portfolio of high-art guns produced under his watch.
In truth, there are few English firms who have produced as many exhibition quality guns and rifles as Westley Richards & Co., a tradition our firm carries on, remaining an innovator and trendsetter over two-hundred years after its founding.