5 Holland & Holland Shotguns by Master Philippe Grifnee
By Joel Kolander
Let’s be honest. A shotgun made by Holland & Holland is not an “every man’s” gun. While certainly anyone who has raised an arm to take a waterfowl or upland bird could appreciate the fine craftsmanship and superior feel of one, they are seldom priced in the realm of the average wallet. As of this writing, the most modestly priced used shotgun on their website is listed at $62,500. It should then come as no surprise that these guns are of the highest quality. They bid farewell a long time ago to being the Cadillac of the shotgun industry. These are the Maybach. The Rolls Royce. They define excellence in their industry and so it is no mystery that they found their way to Rock Island Auction Company.
Artistry and firearms have walked side-by-side for centuries. Kings, noblemen, and great military men of their era have all desired something to set their weapons apart. They required the finest craftsmanship and appreciated the artistry that could match it. Today is no different: embellishments make a gun unique, personal, and admirable among peers. To satisfy this desire for quality and aesthetics Holland & Holland has a history of working with a number of artisans to create beautiful and elegant firearms. One of those deserving artisans is Belgian engraver Philippe Grifnee.
Grifnee was largely considered one of the world’s finest engravers who left the firearms community far too soon when he passed in May 2012 at the young age of 59. After receiving his instruction at the internationally acclaimed engraving program at L’Ecole d’Armurerie de Liege under the hand of Rene Delcour, he graduated in 1970 and further honed his craft with Auguste Francotte. He instructed for several prestigious engraving institutions such as the Grand Masters Program at the GRS Training Center before returning to his former school to teach, the latter of which posthumously named a room in his honor. Grifnee set new standards in engraving excellence, though his work shone brightest in his expertly rendered deep relief engravings. After he began working for Holland & Holland in 1988, he was eventually persuaded to work for them exclusively from 1992 – 1997, resulting in some of the world’s finest work on the most excellent of canvases.
“…one of the finest engravers the world will ever likely see…”
– Holland & Holland discussing Philippe Grifnee
It is Rock Island Auction Company’s great privilege to offer five incredible Holland & Holland shotguns engraved by Philippe Grifnee in our 2017 December Premiere Firearms Auction. Please take some time to truly appreciate the photos below of Grifnee’s work. They often take hundreds of hours to produce and can easily double or triple the value of the firearms that bear them.
Extraordinary and Fresh Bespoke Pair of Philippe Grifnee Master Engraved, Gold Inlaid and Fantasy Themed Holland & Holland Royal Deluxe Over and Under Shotguns in Desirable 28 Gauge with Case, Full Complement of Accessories, and Factory Letter from the Collection of Noted Publisher, Sportsman, and Firearms Collector Robert E. Petersen
From these two pictures the remarkable detail and astounding intricacy of Grifnee’s work become readily apparent. It is a web of mythical beasts, dragons, phoenixes, hell hounds, and worse, all with glowing golden eyes. Grifnee has taken the traditional shapes of vine and scroll and seamlessly transformed them into feathers, scales, and demonic wings. Most engravers would focus on perfecting the difficult circles, lines, punches, and cross hatching of the designs one is accustomed to seeing in firearms engraving. It is as if Grifnee was so proficient in those fundamental arts that he began to experiment and used them in his own sensational vision. For others, such techniques are a destination. For Grifnee, they were building blocks.
The next several photos show that no detail was spared in this lavish pair of 28 gauge shotguns and show the work on the head, the receiver’s underside, and the trigger guard. Note in the previous photos how even the release lever has been transformed into a tiny crouching dragon.
As if the quality of Holland & Holland and the mastery of Grifnee were not enough, this cased pair of Royal Deluxe shotguns once belonged to Robert E. Petersen. A former serviceman in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, Peterson began the magazine “Hot Rod” after he was discharged. This was the cornerstone of what would become Petersen Publishing, a business that when sold by Petersen in 1996 included 39 monthly periodicals such as “Guns & Ammo,” “Sports Afield,” and “Motor Trend.” However, Petersen was far from all business. He was an avid hunter and a consummate outdoorsman. He hunted on nearly every continent and is believed to be the first person to shoot a polar bear with a .44 Magnum handgun. During the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Petersen was honored to serve as the Commissioner of Shooting Sports. In addition to his passion for hunting and the outdoors, it should come as no surprise that Petersen was also a prolific firearms collector. Upon his death, his lifelong collection of 425 firearms was donated to the National Firearms Museum, which is now housed in a permanent 2000 square foot exhibition known as the Petersen Gallery. Opened in 2010, it houses the largest collection of double rifles and Gatling guns currently on public display, as well as guns owned by such notable persons as John F. Kennedy, Annie Oakley, Hermann Goering, Elmer Keith, and Robert Stack. Known for its high quality as much as its celebrity pieces, the Petersen Gallery is considered to be one of the finest sporting arms collections in the world with very few pieces avoiding the NFM to find their way into private collections.
This cased pair is a trifecta of superlatives with regards to its manufacturer, embellishment, and its provenance – each one in respective discussions of being “the best.”
Magnificent and Fresh Bespoke Philippe Grifnee Master Game Scene Engraved Holland & Holland Royal Deluxe Over and Under Shotgun in Desirable .410 with Case, Full Complement of Accessories, and Factory Letter Made for Noted Publisher, Sportsman, and Firearms Collector Robert E. Petersen
In another outstanding opportunity for collectors and admirers of fine arms is this extraordinary cased Holland & Holland Royal Deluxe over and under shotgun. This example being chambered in .410, it was created especially for Mr. Petersen and is an absolute showcase of Grifnee’s talent. Flowing down from the fences is the deep relief work that Grifnee made his specialty. These delicate vines wrap themselves down and around sideplates, which will be discussed shortly, and onto the forend shoe. Looking briefly at the shoe, one would notice the tendrils of vine that continue to curl up and around as well as a third chukar (or partridge for our British friends) that has flown off of the side plates. However, the chukar is not merely engraved. Its very shape has been included in the relief engraved vine and acanthus scroll work, allowing it to appear “over” the scroll work and completing the illusion that it has broken free of the side plates. The same effect is achieved on the opposite side with a quail.
All this detail, and we have not yet even discussed the subtle gold inlays, the bright nitre blued pins, the brilliant fit to the stock, or the remarkable detailed bullino style panel scene portraying two hunting dogs. Like the first pair noted in this article, this single shotgun enjoys all the shining and rare attributes sure to raise its stock among collectors: Holland & Holland manufacturing, an accomplished artisan, and the rare provenance of a museum-worthy collection. This shotgun was made bespoke for Mr. Petersen.
“Everything that Philippe Grifnee engraved is a Masterpiece.”
– Holland & Holland
This exquisite cased pair is the sole Grifnee engraved selection offered in this sale chambered in 12 gauge. These Holland & Holland Royal Deluxe side-by-side shotguns are handsomely presented lying atop a hunter green liner inside their tan, leather-bound takedown case – as British a color combination as there is, especially for those who appreciate British sports cars. The action of the gun is again an exhibition of artistry by Grifnee. It depicts Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, on each of the sideplates and its underside. She sits crouched with a drawn bow and aimed arrow in front of such an abundance of acanthus scroll that it is not difficult to imagine her poised among the foliage of the forest; likely Grifnee’s intended effect. To further put Diana in-scene, the right and left sides show the obverse and reverse of her image among the full coverage engraving. Understated gold inlays can be found throughout.
While not housed in the Petersen Collection, its 12 gauge chambering makes this pair much more practical for a hunter who would actually use this lovely pair of shotguns in the field. Finished with wonderfully figured and finely checkered stocks (with tools to match), this set is sure to impress whether it’s seen on the hunt or in a collection.
Hopefully, this article has shed some light on the abilities and reputation of Philippe Grifnee. Even as one of the most sought after modern engravers, his work is truly deserving far more accolades. To have his guns documented to such a notable collection is a discovery sure to have collectors readying their bidding cards. It is no surprise to find work of Grifnee’s quality in an accomplished collection as Petersen’s, but to have any pieces of Petersen’s collection available to the public is quite another matter.
They are all part of a marvelous selection of high end sporting arms in our upcoming December Premiere Firearms Auction. Examples abound from the world’s finest manufacturers. The variety showcases highly decorated arms, quality traditional pieces, and a large number of “big bore” rifles chambered to fire exotic and powerful rounds. Hunters and collectors will have many a common interest in this exciting sale.