The second-hand market offers classic, best guns at an attainable price - but there are certain pitfalls to avoid. Michael Yardley advises as he reviews a pair of vintage Purdey side-by-sides

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Vintage Purdey side-by-sides


This pair of vintage Purdey side-by-sides show that the second-hand market offers fantastic, classic guns at a fraction of the price of their modern counterparts. But there are certain things to look out for when buying second-hand quality guns, says Michael Yardley.

For more on vintage shotguns, read Michael Yardley’s review of a pair of 1930s Purdey side by sides. Buying second-hand can be a risky business, but these tick all of the right boxes.


This month, we are directing our spotlight at a pair of vintage Purdey side-by-sides. These stylish guns come from the stock of dealer Victor Chapman, who specialises in the best London names. They are priced at £19,500 (a modern pair of similar pattern would be about £200,000). They were made in 1890, 10 years after the iconic design was first patented (see below), have 30in, concave ribbed, chopper lump barrels (both sets choked cylinder and half), weigh 6lb 9oz and are presented in what appears to be the original oak and leather case.

Vintage Purdey side-by-sides. Barrels

Barrel renovation may be required.

These best guns, classics of their type, have been chosen to illustrate what may still be bought at attainable cost on the second-hand market and to use as a vehicle for discussion on some of the issues that come up when buying second-hand quality guns. This pair of Vintage Purdey side-by-sides are 2 ½in chambered and nitro proofed, and appear in far better than average condition for their age. They are exquisitely engraved with Purdey rose and scroll on brush polished actions. The latter are well proportioned and slimmer than modern guns forward of the locks. They are equipped with ejectors, which might have been added later; the guns have been proofed twice, which may be a clue to this.

Our Purdey Vintage side-by-sides have well-figured, straight-hand stocks that show signs of expert refinishing and have been shortened to 14¼in but appear otherwise sound and would probably go to a 15in length of pull by the addition of an in-period “Silvers’ rubber pad”. The barrels, made from Whitworth steel, have wall thickness measurements above 20 thou. All vintage, bench-made guns must be carefully examined for cracked stocks (preferably with locks removed), cracked actions and, critically, barrel condition. The issue in the latter case is not just the thickness of the walls but general barrel/bore condition and an assessment of the ribs (which may detach allowing for the ingress of water) and decorative finish. The barrels here have been re-blacked fairly recently, thus the wall thickness measurements are good. If black and barrel renovation had been required, a thou or two might be lost in the process.

Vintage Purdey side-by-sides. Trigger

Crisp trigger pulls.

The test guns, meantime, look surprisingly modern. Their hammerless sidelock action was patented by Frederick Beesley in 1880 and the manufacturing rights were acquired by Purdey soon after. It was, arguably, the final perfection of the side-by-side, building on developments that had been fast and furious since Lefaucheux’s pin-fire had appeared at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Several are worth mentioning. Lancaster and Daw developed central-fire shotguns and ammunition in the 1850s and early 1860s (Lancaster’s “Basefire” providing the seminal idea, Daw perfecting it). François Eugene Schneider’s “snap action”(patented in Britain in 1861) allowed a gun to be closed and bolted merely by bringing the barrel to the action face; it was modified by Daw in 1862 and further improved by Purdey. On 2 May 1863, the famous gunsmith patented its “double bite” action, with a sliding bolt – a system near universal in modern side-by-sides. Two years later, William Middleditch Scott patented the equally important spindle, which allowed the Purdey bolt to be operated by a conveniently placed lever on the top strap of the action. The combined concepts of the Schneider, Purdey and Scott inventions made possible the double-bite, snap action that is seen on most side-by-sides today.


Vintage Purdey side-by-sides. Case

The original case with Purdey trade label.

A modern Purdey side-by-side is almost identical to those tested with regard to its action and ejector mechanics and style. It is, arguably, the most famous and influential sidelock design of all time. Compared to the early hammerless guns that preceded it – with the exception of the Anson & Deeley boxlock (first patent 1875) – the Purdey Beesley was streamlined and mechanically efficient. Apart from putting the tumblers (hammers) inside the locks, the key feature was that one limb of each V-form mainspring is used to power the tumbler and the other the self-opening feature. The Holland & Holland Royal, inspired by the Purdey, is, by contrast, an “easy-opener” with spring power for the feature held in a tube attached to the barrels beneath the fore-end. Note that the Purdey cocks on closing, the Holland on opening.


Vintage Purdey side-by-sides. Fore-end

Streamlined fore-end.

There is a certain magic in a Purdey but also an irrational fear, in me at least, that one might damage them in the field. These guns handled and shot effortlessly. They were pointable and willing with relatively light, concave-ribbed barrels. Balance was a little forward of the hinge pin, as is typical of a Purdey. Felt recoil with a variety of Lyalvale Express 2 1⁄2in/65mm cartridges was significantly less than might be expected for guns under 7lb. Trigger pulls were crisp. Chokes – both guns are improved and half as noted – are a good choice for all-round shooting and performed well. Although I would prefer stocks a little higher and longer (easily rectified), I had no problem connecting with 40yd birds with the open barrels. Overall, I would rate these as near ideal game guns. Forgiving and instinctive to use and beautiful to behold, there is much to learn from their specification.


Price £19,500 for pair
From Victor Chapman, Unit 4, 121 London Road, Marks Tey, Colchester CO6 1EB.
Tel 01206 863537/213068