This post is not about W. W. Greener's The Gun and Its Development, first published in 1881 and commonly available in the 9th edition of 1910. That book deserves to be in every gun enthusiast's library because it contains a truly extraordinary amount of information, all readily accessible because of its index.
Instead, this is about William Greener, the father of W. W. Greener, and the rather smaller book he published in 1835, The Gun; or, A Treatise on the Various Descriptions of Small Fire-Arms, now available as a reprint of 240 pages from that wonderful firm Cornell Publications for the bargain price of $19.95. I won't say that every enthusiast should own it, but it does offer some intriguing insights into the early percussion era. (If you buy it and decide to try some of Greener's recommended loads, do please note the errata on the title page!)
William Greener had worked in London for the legendary Joe Manton but then went back to his home town of Newcastle to set up as a gun maker, eventually moving to Birmingham in 1844. Although the tone of The Gun is at times exasperated, its arguments are always rational, the outcome of Greener's involved and prolonged experiments. Apparently, once he had arrived at an opinion, he was not easily induced to change his mind: he and his son so disagreed about the value and future of breechloaders that they were estranged for some time (it probably didn't make it any easier for Greener Senior that his son turned out to be right).
Again and again, William Greener condemns the shoddy practices of contemporary gun makers. According to him, lots of workers were unemployed after the Napoleonic wars came to an end, wiping out the demand for military muskets (about which he also has some forthright opinions, most of them highly critical). "These men," he declares, "now make a living by manufacturing guns of the most rubbishly and dangerous description."
Greener believed not only that the proof houses were not rigorous enough, but when even those low standards could not be passed, it was a common practice to forgo or to forge the proof marks on the very cheapest guns. And the markets for these shoddy guns? There were two major ones. One was Africa. To his credit, Greener waxes indignant about these practices: "These guns were manufactured for the dealers in slaves, by whom they were carried to Africa; and there a gun untested, and without strength, was given in exchange for a man! Numbers of mutilated wretches were to be seen in that country; and we have the testimony of travelers, that multitudes have lost their lives by the explosion of these worthless guns, the victims of the avarice of men denominating themselves Christians" (p. 77).
The second market for these shoddy guns? The other major market was America. So if you find a bargain English muzzleloader by an unknown maker and want to shoot it, lashing it to a tire and testing it yourself with proof loads at a safe distance might be in order!
Several other topics are interesting. Greener goes into the deceptive versus the proper way of "staining" ("browning") gun barrels and why someone ordering a gun almost certainly will be cheated unless he insists on the proper way. "For the benefit of amateurs," he lucidly explains how to make "alkanut" ("alkanet") oil to color walnut and how to use nitric acid (aqua fortis) and iron filings to darken maple stocks. Finally, for anyone shooting sitting ducks or geese, he describes a method that will produce better results--but for that information you'll have to read the book.