Friday, September 3, 2010

Contemporary Purdey Shotguns

2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles, in association with Bernard and Associates, proudly presents Sporting Classics. Widely recognized as the premier outdoor magazine, with award-winning photos, paintings, and graphics and the country's top writers, Sporting Classics focuses on the best hunting and fishing throughout the world.

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Please enjoy the following advance publication of their Shotgun Column.


The Shotguns Column
by Robert Matthews

One of the perks of my job is that I get to go a lot of places and meet a lot of interesting people. Just before Christmas last year I went to London, where I spent some time with a grand and gracious Englishman named Richard Purdey. Richard is a direct descendant of James Purdey, the founder, and is a former chairman of James Purdey and Sons. He is also a fine fellow, thoroughly English, and a thoroughly nice guy. The kind you’d like to go to a pub with, perhaps have a bit of lunch, maybe an ale, and talk about guns and birds and football, and even the strangeness of politics and politicians. All of which we did.

We were in a small establishment called The Dove, just down the street from Purdey’s Hammersmith factory and only a stone’s throw from the River Thames. We had just finished a factory tour and decided to take a break for lunch before continuing.

The conversation was free-ranging, but as you would expect, it was dominated by guns and gunmaking. I was in awe of what I had seen at the factory, because what I had seen was not what I expected. Apparently my mind’s eye had been blinded by the stereotype. I had envisioned rows of wizened old men hunched over workbenches, filing and scraping in the wan light of ancient oil lamps. I certainly saw marvelously talented craftsmen working over lumps of steel and wood. And they were, if not so old or very wizened, certainly accomplished and enthusiastic. We spent some time with stocker Mark McCarthy and finisher Tom Nichols. As you would expect from any maker of Best-quality guns, all of the guns I saw were exquisite.

The story took an unexpected turn, though, when I met Ian Clark, foreman of the machine shop. Ian showed me an incredible assemblage of ultra-modern equipment. Purdey makes use of the latest, most advanced CNC machines, spark eroders and wire eroders, that are capable of amazing precision. They also have the capability to reverse-engineer almost anything. Should they find themselves in need of an extraordinarily rare and obsolete widget, it can be made. With the use of lasers and computers, they can convert an object into a data image that’s incorporated into a computer program, which then allows them to replicate virtually any object with extreme precision. This advanced technology enables them to create things that would tax the capabilities of other makers.

In recent years we’ve seen Purdey produce such marvels as scaled-frame guns in .410 bore and classic hammer guns in 12 and 20 gauges. While I was there, I saw a 12-gauge side-by-side being made entirely of stainless steel. I also saw an over/under that was being constructed entirely of Damascus steel. Not just the barrels! All of the metal work was of Damascus. The barrels, action, locks and trigger guard, all of it. The net result of this new technology is a remarkable ability to adapt. And in today’s marketplace, adaptability may well be the key to survival.

As in the past, Purdey still produces Best-quality guns that are paragons of the gunmaker’s art. They produce over/under shotguns, as well as side-by-side rifles and shotguns. They also build side-by-side hammer guns, bolt-action rifles and a slightly lower priced Sporter for sporting clays shooters. The Sporter is built in co-operation with Italian maker, Perugini & Visini. They also build Best-quality guns under the Woodward name, which Purdey owns. That being said, it is impossible to completely define the Purdey “line.” In Richard’s words: “Almost anything is possible if the client is sufficiently well-heeled.”

Later, Richard and I walked along the Thames to the nearest tube station, and after a short ride, emerged at Hyde Park, just down from Audley House, which has served as Purdey’s London showroom since January 1883. There, in the hallowed Long Room, I found myself awed again by its historical significance. The room was crowded with the ghosts of potentates and presidents, kings and poets, statesmen, writers, heroes and celebrities of all sorts who have stood in this room before. Men who were drawn to this place because it is one of the world’s great monuments to excellence.

Ian Andrews, senior Gun Sales Manager, got down the ledger books and carried them into the Long Room where the three of us thumbed the yellowed, hand-scribed pages. I ran my fingers along the faded lines and touched history itself. There, hidden among the pages of the past, I found the entry where it was recorded that my beloved hammer gun was delivered to its original owner. The date was August 18, 1888.

Considering the date, it is entirely possible that the scrivener was none other than James Purdey the Younger.
In the end, how do you sum up Purdey? What can anyone say about Purdey that hasn’t already been said? Purdey is Purdey, no one else is. In all the world, no name carries more prestige. No name carries more tradition. All of the superlatives in the language have become shopworn from referencing the Purdey name.
Considering its name and tradition, you might expect the company would be content to let the name carry them, but that’s not what Purdey is doing. The gunmaker is in many ways a reflection of London itself. London stands at the nexus of East and West, an enchanting amalgamation of cultures and traditions, with a surprise around every corner. One corner reveals the rich history of England and the western world. The next reveals the new, the strange, and the exotic.

In the same way, Purdey stands at the very nexus of past and future. I had expected them to be hidebound worshipers of the past. And I was wrong. Yes, they have the same obsessive attention to quality and detail they’ve always had. They have the same obsessive desire to produce only the best. But Purdey is a modern company that knows where it has been . . . and knows where it is going. They are as classic as a Best-quality hammer gun, and as modern as the space shuttle. As illustrious as Purdey’s history is, perhaps the real story is that the future looks bright for Purdey. And the best of the story is yet to be told.

Editor’s Note: For more information
visit or Griffin & Howe at


Next Week!
A Growling in the Rain
Tanzanian PH stalks Lion during a downpour

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.


Bob S said...

Wish I could afford a few of those... I remember some of the old timers carrying them along with the Winchester 21s, and the Foxs... Don't see very many of them now though...

Big Bob

Michael Spinelli said...

An excellent read Mr Rasch, thank you.

Mike S.
Mike's Travels