column By: Ernie Foster | January, 21
Long after my grandparents passed, the guns were stored away, and it was some time before they found their way into my possession. The beautiful waterfowl 10-gauge W&C Scott & Son hammer gun was one I shared with The Upland Almanac readers a few issues ago, but I never warmed up to the Baker Batavia Leader, Grandpa’s upland gun.
My research of the maker William H. Baker (1835-1889) showed that at the age of 24 he was listed as a gunsmith in Greene, New York, a maker of percussion rifles, telescopes and pistols. He continued his gunsmithing trade, receiving patents in 1863 and 1875. In 1877 he moved to Syracuse, New York, and began manufacturing shotguns. It was around this time that he formed a partnership with the Smith brothers, Lyman and Leroy, and established W.H. Baker & Company for the purpose of manufacturing shotguns. The partnership lasted two years, at which time Lyman C. Smith bought out the partnership shares and renamed the company L.C. Smith Maker of the Baker Gun. W.H. Baker moved to Ithaca, New York, and established the Ithaca Gun Company with several partners. For reasons unknown, W.H. Baker’s business arrangement with the partners of the Ithaca Gun Company was terminated, and he returned to Syracuse to work for his brother, Dr. Ellis Baker, who owned a small forging company. There they manufactured carriage parts and hammer shotguns. A fire at the Syracuse location caused them to move their operations to Batavia, New York, where the Baker Gun and Forging Company was established.
It is fair to say that William H. Baker is responsible for the start-up of the L.C. Smith and Ithaca Gun companies that went on to be recognized as quality side-by-side manufacturers in the American gun trade.
As I traced him through his involvement in gun-making history, it became evident that he was destined to start his own gun business and compete with the best American side-by-side shotgun makers. He eventually achieved that goal when he teamed up with his brother Ellis in 1887. Together they built a highly respectable line of hammer guns, box locks and sidelocks in 10-, 12- and 16-gauges in basic models to the highest grades made in the industry.
Once in Batavia, the Bakers manufactured a number of models that were equally as good as the well-known grades of Parker, Lefever, L.C. Smith, Remington and Ithaca “Bests.” A metric of these makers’ price range for high-end, quality side-by-side shotguns shows that around 1915, Baker had Deluxe grades in the $1,000 range. William H. Baker passed away in October 1889, and Ellis Baker, with the help of Frank Hollenbeck, continued manufacturing guns until the company was sold to H.D. Folsom in 1919.
The Batavia Leader model, 1903–1919, was the most common shotgun that the Baker Company made and was one of the “blue collar workhorse” guns of the time period. The Leader model came with twist steel barrels, Damascus barrels and “fluid” steel barrels, ejector and non-ejector.
This 12-gauge, circa 1913, non-ejector Batavia Leader has 28-inch barrels, 2¾-inch chambers and twist steel barrels made by Arther-Delvaux-Heuse de Fraipont of Belgium. The beautifully tooled classic concave game rib extends into a cut out on the standing breech. The slotted rib extension provides the locking bolt that is activated by the top lever. The frame and sideplates retain 90% of their case color. The walnut stock semi-pistol grip with faint tiger-grain striping has the original Baker checkered hard rubber butt plate and shows field use. The snap on the forend has a decorative toe insert.
These well-built, lower priced “field” grade shotguns came from a maker of some of America’s best shotguns. The Batavia Leader model, with the beautiful appearance of old twist steel barrels that bring a delight to the eye, should bring $500 to $650 in today’s market. If it were one of Baker’s Deluxe grade models in excellent condition, it could bring $10,000 or more in the collector market. What a nice surprise.