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    Classic Upland Guns

    The Fowling Piece: Isaac Hollis & Sons London, Muzzle-Loading Sporting Percussion Shotgun

    Cutlines: PHOTO/ Stanley W. Trzoniec
    Cutlines: PHOTO/ Stanley W. Trzoniec
    Every year when the leaves begin to put on their party dresses and the morning dew starts to frost, upland hunters and waterfowlers can be found rummaging through their gun closets looking for their favorite smoothbore gun. For the unsentimental among them, it’s just a tool for the job. But for others, it’s a barreled treasure, perhaps inherited from an earlier sportsman in the family, a shotgun that embodies shared memories of cherished hunting companions and beloved sporting dogs, enjoying beautiful landscapes amidst the ever-changing colors of fall.

    Those who embrace the romance, who have experienced the passion held by hunter and dog while wandering though the uplands or posting in browning marshes, appreciate the special times spent with nature as painted foliage falls from the forest canopy or morning mist rises from a duck-speckled wetland.

    The shotgun that embodies all of that did not spring into the world fully formed from the mind of one inventor; it is the result of a coalescing progression of mechanical innovation, powder formulation and shot/shell design improvements evolved over several centuries.

    During the early 17th century (around 1610), Martin LeBourgeorges of France offered a flintlock design, and he is credited by historians as the inventor of what we now think of as the “classic” flintlock with the S-shaped hammer. European gunsmiths continued to develop flintlock guns, and the first double-barreled designs came into use. The gunsmiths’ main objective was to make smoothbore guns geared to the needs of professional wildfowlers (market hunters). These targeted customers were not sport hunters – they were hunting for the marketplace, and they wanted guns to harvest flocks of “sitting birds” that were easy targets so one shot could harvest several at once. Their guns were large bore and heavy with long barrels (often five to six feet).

    It was not long before shooting game birds on the wing became fashionable, and the landed gentry took to the sport with great enthusiasm. The new, lighter fowling pieces designed specifically for this activity came primarily from France and Italy. As the sporting interest in taking wildfowl on the wing grew, the demand for shorter-barreled, lighter guns increased, and European gun-makers from several countries responded aggressively to the call.

    One of the London makers that participated in the 19th century design and crafting of smoothbore guns was Isaac Hollis & Sons. From 1860 to 1930, Isaac Hollis & Sons made flintlock, percussion, boxlock and sidelock shotguns; and rifles and pistols ranging from inexpensive guns made for the trade to high quality for the elite.

    This single-barrel 8-bore percussion antique circa 1865 with a checkered straight hand grip stock, steel butt plate and 315⁄8-inch barrel, nicely scaled and balanced, weighs just 6 pounds, 4 ounces. The sidelock is nicely engraved with pheasants in an upland setting. The trigger guard’s engraving also has a pineapple extension on the forward strap. The hammer and top and bottom straps are engraved with simple scroll designs. The solid under-barrel rib secures the original wooden ramrod with three rod pipes.

    The upland hunter of prebreech-loading guns went through an extensive course of events to load a powder charge, wad, shot and another wad before capping the nipple to make one shot, unlike the shotguns of today that offer several shots with modern ammo.

    This all-original, functioning wall hanger (still a shooter) with some minor stock dents and a small piece of wood missing just forward of the lock plate should bring $450 to $750 at auction. If only this gun could talk, the stories would be invaluable!

    Wolfe Publishing Group