Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dating a Double-Barreled Hammer Gun

I recently acquired a hammer shotgun of uncertain age in bad repair because I thought I could learn more about antique shotguns by hands-on examination of a real one.  Given its crudely replaced stock, the price of this one was so low that I didn’t think twice about the expense.  

It had several features which I had never seen before, and those in turn led me to ask:  How does one begin to date an old shotgun?

After some research, the answer is: First, look at its proof marks, which can reveal country of origin and possibly a range of years; second, observe its features to establish a range of possible dates for its manufacture.  This shotgun does have English proof marks, but because there were (and are) no proofing houses in the United States, I’ll start with the gun’s observable features.
The gun in question is a double barrel hammer gun with “C. K. Weston” on the outside of each lock.  At first glance, it appears to be a 10 gauge breechloader with 30” Damascus barrels and bar action rebounding locks.

The scroll engraving is moderate but well executed, suggesting the gun may not have been top-quality but it was some distance above a utility grade. 

It also has extractors, a thumb hole opening lever in front of the trigger guard, and a fore end held by sliding wedge, the barrel bolt.  The (probably horn) tip of the fore end is missing.  The butt stock is a hopelessly crude replacement that's also split.

The rib is marked “LONDON LAMINATED STEEL."  Taking off the fore end and then removing the barrels from the action reveals the following stamps.  On the underside of the barrels, an “F” is on one barrel flat, “CW” on the under-rib, and an “11” on each barrel--which means it is not a 10 gauge as I had assumed but an 11 gauge.  Each barrel is also lightly stamped “C.G.S.,” perhaps the initials of the barrel maker or the person who proved it.

Taping the barrels shows that their length is not 30” but 29 ½” (the two tubes touch at the muzzle, so they do not appear to have been shortened).  In addition, each barrel has proof marks, which I’ll return to shortly.

The two earliest features of this gun are holdovers from the muzzleloading period.  The fore end is held by a captive wedge:

Its buttplate is iron, which protected the butt when it had to be placed on the ground for loading from the muzzle.  The next are the extractors, which were designed by Charles Lancaster in 1852  and date from the pinfire era (Burrard, I,104).  Following close on its heels is the snap-action (the gun locks the barrels to the breech as soon as the shooter swings the barrels closed).  Following the French patent by Francois Schneider in 1858, Westley Richards built the first English version as a pinfire in 1858 (McIntosh, 141).

Like a pinfire, the Weston is a breechloader, but it takes centerfire cartridges, so it has to date after 1861, when George Daw introduced what was essentially the centerfire cartridge (Akehurst, 72).

The Weston has rebounding locks, which means that the hammers do not stay down on the firing pins when the gun is fired but rebound to half cock.  As a result, the shooter did not have to place the hammers on half cock before being able to open and reload the gun.  This feature was introduced about 1863 by Stanton (Hadoke, 72).  According to Donald Dallas, they began to appear with regularity in the late 1860’s; by the 1870’s, the older form of half cock/full cock had all but disappeared (Dallas, 126).

The development of the rebounding lock also meant that the hammer position could be varied.  The early centerfire hammers followed the position of the pinfire and percussion hammers:  they sat up proudly, with their cocking spurs protruding well above the top plane of the barrel.  In the 1870’s and following, hammers became smaller and rather than sitting up proudly, seemed almost to crouch.  Indeed, some gunmakers began to boast in the 1880’s that their hammers were out of the line of sight (Dallas, 126).  On this gun, the hammers are in a medium position, neither high nor low:


The thumb hole or “Purdey” opener in front of the trigger guard was patented in 1863; it was the original lever that operated the Purdey bolting system (Hadoke, 135).  Like the Jones underlever and the side lever, the Purdey opener eventually gave way to the top lever, but it persisted well into the 1870’s (Hadoke, 175).

The barrels seem not to be choked, an innovation popularized by W.W. Greener in 1874.  Of course, not everyone wanted this new invention.  As the old saying goes, “Choke lengthens your reach and lightens your bag.”

Damascus barrels continued to be manufactured into the 20th C., so their presence does not tell us as much as would the presence of fluid steel barrels.  The “LONDON LAMINATED STEEL” stamped on the rib may or may not have anything to do with that city:  given that London was synonymous with quality, its appearance may be no more than advertising.  English “Laminated steel” was of high quality, however.  Hadoke quotes Greener praising its hardwearing qualities as better than any other:  “Steel barrels, even of the best quality, will not stand heavier charges than the best barrels of English laminated steel.”  A minor drawback was that laminated steel did not display the intricate patterns of other kinds of Damascus barrels (Hadoke, 117), and indeed the Damascus pattern of Weston’s barrels is quite subdued.

The barrels are relatively heavy, weighing five and a quarter pounds, and that robust weight, together with the 11 bore, slightly larger than the 12, suggest that the Weston perhaps was made for water fowling.  W. W. Greener says that an ordinary pair of 12 gauge barrels (which would be a bit lighter than ones for the larger 11 gauge) would weigh only a little more than three and a half pounds (231).  The standard gun for water fowl was a double 8 bore with 30-32” barrels; even in its “Light” configuration it would weigh 11-12 pounds.  For duck shooting, Greener likes the 10 gauge weighing 10 pounds; he argues that it will shoot heavier loads with better effect than a 12 gauge, while it can also shoot larger-sized shot better than a 12 gauge (298).  In these terms, the 9+ pounds of the Weston 11 gauge seems quite moderate! 

Proof marks:  fortunately for the purposes of dating an English gun, both London and Birmingham changed their proof marks periodically throughout the 19th Century.

Diggory Hadoke's Vintage Guns has illustrations of 19th and 20th Century proof marks from London and Birmingham.

The proof marks on the barrels look most like the Birmingham ones used from 1868-1875.

What is not here provides some useful, if negative, evidence as well.  The barrels do not have “NOT FOR BALL,” a proof house warning which began in 1875, let alone “NITRO PROOF” for smokeless powder, which began in 1896.

Tentatively, therefore, it appears that the gun was proofed in Birmingham sometime after 1868 on the early side (given the Purdey opener and rebounding locks) but before 1875 (given the lack of choke boring and the absence of the “NOT FOR BALL” warning that began in 1875).  The mid-positioning of the hammers suggests the early 1870’s.

As for C. K. Weston, he may have been the maker, the retailer, or the owner.  I would like to hear from anyone with more information about him.

[For another post on a Scott hammer gun, see my http://gerardcox.blogspot.com/2014/03/dating-another-double-barreled-hammer.html .]
Sources Consulted

Akehurst, Richard.  Sporting Guns.  London:  Octopus Books, 1968.
Baker, David J.  Heyday of the Shotgun:  The art of the gunmaker at the turn of the last century.  Long Beach, CA:  Safari Press, 2000.

Burrard, Major Sir Gerald.  The Modern Shotgun.  3 vols.  New York:  A. S. Barnes, 1961.

Dallas, Donald.  The British Sporting Gun and Rifle:  Pursuit of Perfection 1850-1900.  Mechanicsburg, PA:  Stackpole Books, 2008.

Greener, W. W.  The Gun and Its Development.  9th ed. [1910].  New York:  Bonanza Books, 1967.

Hadoke, Diggory.  Vintage Guns:  Collecting, Restoring & Shooting Classic Firearms.  New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.

McIntosh, Michael.  Shotguns and Shooting.  New Albany, OH:  Countrysport Press, 1995.


  1. An 11 bore proof means 10 Gauge. An 8 Gauge would be marked 9, 12 Gauge marked 13 and so on...

    1. Interesting comment. What have you read that makes you think that?

  2. This has been an interesting read, thank you.Just wondering, I have an old double barrel shot gun stamped "Field London" and the proof marks say 1904-1925 from the Birmingham Proof House , but the barrel is stamped 1776. Is the 1776 a serial number, or an old set of black powder barrels that have been modified to take cartridges as they apparently did back in the old days?? Any idea's??

  3. Hi, Tony. I'm not an expert, but I suspect the 1776 is most likely a serial number. That supposed date used to be found quite often on guns faked to look like Revolutionary War ones, but that seems unlikely in your case. If the barrels did date from 1776, they would have had to be altered from flintlock to percussion to--what? Centerfire? Pretty unconvincing, I'd guess.

  4. Gerard, I've read both of your articles on gun dating and they are both interesting and very helpful. I recently was handed down two side by sides that were owned by my grandmother's father. With the help of this article I was able to get a tentitive date on one of them, how ever the other one looks to be Belgian proofed and I do not know as much about this one. I would love to know more about this gun (and could use a little help). If you would be interested, a gun dating article of a Belgian-made gun would be very helpful to me and most likley some other readers. drue.vernon@yahoo.com

    1. I've now written a post on Belgian proof marks, Drue. See "Deciphering Belgian Proof Marks", June 13, 2014.

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