In the late 19th century, most 12-bore sporting guns weighed about 7lb and had 30in barrels. A fashion evolved for lighter guns. Thomas Turner developed hammerguns that weighed 51/2lb and built guns on the new Anson and Deeley boxlock action that were well under 6lb. In both cases, he reduced weight by using a shortened fore-end and a skeletonised stock. These guns achieved some success but weren’t big sellers because of their eccentric looks.
Other gunmakers recognised a demand for lighter guns. As fluid-pressed steel began to replace Damascus in the 1880s and 90s, more weight could be removed from barrels without great difficulty. Overall gun weights beneath 7lb became the norm. WW Greener, author of The Gun and its Development, suggested circa 1890 that a gun should weigh 96 times the weight of the payload of its cartridge. According to his formula, a 12-bore firing 28g of shot should weigh 6lb, one firing 30g just under 61/2lb and one firing 32g 63/4lb. A pigeon or wildfowling gun firing 36g should weigh 71/2lb.
By the dawn of the 20th century the classic British game-gun tended to weigh something around the 63/4lb mark (although the supremely well-balanced products of James Purdey could be a little heavier, many still tipping the scales near 7lb circa 1900). As guns became lighter and faster-handling, a fad for shorter barrels became evident, led by Robert Churchill with his XXV 25in guns. It was also encouraged by the adoption of quicker-burning smokeless powder (long barrels were no longer necessary for good ballistics). Another development was the appearance of the 2in-chambered 12-bore, as offered by a number of London gunmakers for ladies and others wanting a light gun. These were often made at or under the 6lb mark.
In the Twenties Charles Lancaster triumphed with his elegant “Twelve-Twenty”, in essence a 20-bore scale action with 12-bore barrels. Such guns were routinely produced around 6lb and became a great commercial success with Stephen Grant, Churchill and Powells of Birmingham all marketing a similar product. The age of the lightweight 12 had arrived. Holland & Holland offered the “Royal Brevis” 261/2in gun and Cogswell and Harrison made much of the merits of a light 27in gun. Even Purdey made a significant number of guns in the 6lb 2oz to 6lb 8oz range in this era.
By the Thirties a typical best-quality 12 might have been 1/4lb to 1/2lb lighter with barrels 2in or 3in shorter (more in the case of the Churchill XXVs). The 61/2lb, 28in-barrelled game-gun emerged as the modern ideal. Light 26in and 27in guns were popular post Second World War. The move to longer-barrelled, heavier, over-and-under guns for game-shooting is comparatively recent.