Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1681: Queen Victoria Presented Alexander Henry Express Hammer Rifle

Auction Date: December 3, 2016

Well Documented and Historic Cased Alexander Henry Black Powder Express Double Barrel Hammer Rifle Presented by Queen Victoria to Her Personal Attendant and Confidant John Brown

Estimated Price: $80,000 - $130,000

Well Documented and Historic Cased Alexander Henry Black Powder Express Double Barrel Hammer Rifle Presented by Queen Victoria to Her Personal Attendant and Confidant John Brown

Manufacturer: Henry Alexander
Model: Double-Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 450 Express
Barrel: 28 inch solid rib
Finish: brown/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 2857
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 328
Class: Antique

Offered here is an extraordinary piece of British history: the only Queen Victoria presentation rifle known to exist. This rifle was a Christmas present from the Queen to her personal attendant and confidant John Brown in 1873. The presentation is documented in the included May 2016 dated letter from noted firearm historian and prolific author Donald Dallas. As confirmed by Dallas, this rifle, serial number 3210, is listed in the Alexander Henry ledger as being completed on December 20, 1873, for "Her Majesty the Queen (For John Brown)" and verifies the barrel length of 28 inches. A gold shield shaped presentation escutcheon is located on the left side of the buttstock and reads, "FROM/V.R./TO/J. BROWN ESQR/CHRISTMAS/1873." The story of Queen Victoria and John Brown is tantamount to a royal scandal, which continues to fascinate scholars to this day. Born in 1819 to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of the reigning King of the United Kingdom, George III and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from June 20, 1837 until her death on January 22, 1901. She gave herself the additional title of Empress of India in May 1876. Lasting on the throne for 63 years, seven months and two days, Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch and longest reigning queen until the record was surpassed by her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II in September 2015. During the age that bears her name, Victoria oversaw the creation of an empire measuring some 40 million square kilometers occupied by 387 million subjects. She was the ruler of Britain at its height of world power. In 1840, Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The marriage has been viewed in history and popular culture as one of the greatest love affairs of the British monarchy. Albert died in 1861, leaving Victoria heartbroken. For the rest of her life she mourned his death by wearing only black clothing. John Brown was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to a family far removed from European royalty. He went to work as an outdoor servant known as a ghillie or gillie at Balmoral Castle. The castle was leased and later purchased by Victoria and Albert, and it was at the castle where the famed relationship between gillie and Queen began. In 1851, Brown became Prince Albert’s personal gillie and often found himself teaching sporting education to the young princes. Brown also frequently encountered the Queen. In a letter to her uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians, Victoria spoke highly of Brown, writing, "We have had a most beautiful week, going out everyday and taking luncheon in a basket on the back of a Highlander, and served by an invaluable servant I have who is my factotum here and takes the most wonderful care of me, combining the office of groom, footman, page and maid, I might also say, as he is so handy about cloaks and shawls etc…He always leads my pony and it is quite a sorrow to leave him behind." In the aftermath of Albert’s death, Brown became a close confidante to the Queen, a constant companion attending her wherever she went. Writing in 1865 Victoria explained, "Have now appointed that excellent Highland servant of mine to attend me always…so unlike an ordinary servant and so cheerful and attentive." Brown saved the Queen’s life on two separate occasions: once by rescuing the Queen from a carriage accident in 1863 and the second time outside Buckingham Palace by foiling an assassination attempt on her life in 1872. The latter incident earned Brown a gold medal and annuity. This rifle could quite possibly be an additional gift in response to Brown’s actions during the assassination attempt. Given the social standards of the day the relationship between royalty and a perceived uneducated, drunken, tactless Scottish Highlander received criticism from both family and government. Scathing articles and unflattering cartoons about the couple were published in the press. Brown died in 1883. Victoria erected a memorial to Brown at Balmoral. The memorial inscription read in part, "This stone is erected in affectionate and grateful remembrance of John Brown, the devoted and faithful personal attendant and beloved friend of Queen Victoria in whose services he had been for 34 years." It has been revealed that the Queen’s casket contained keepsakes from Albert and John per her wishes. Items linked to Albert such as his dressing gown and plaster casting of his hand were place on the floor of the casket while items related to John such as a photo, lock of his hair, letters and his mother’s wedding ring were kept close to her body. The ring given to her by John was worn on her third finger of her right hand and the photograph and lock of hair was held in her left hand. This rifle expresses the devotion and love between a queen and her servant. But how far did the relationship actually progress? It is a question that is still debated within scholarly circles. So outraged by the relationship the Queen’s son and heir to the throne, King Edward VII, ordered the destruction of personal papers and mementos such as photos, diaries and letters that connected his mother to Brown. In the absence of a historical record, conjecture and wild theories always fill in the gaps. Rumors were abundant, suggesting that Brown and Victoria were romantically involved and even married. To this day there is little proof that Victoria had a second marriage or that their relationship was anything more than platonic. The rifle was once part of the famed Clay P. Bedford collection and is documented in the book "Early Firearms of Great Britain and Ireland from the Collection of Clay P. Bedford" published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art on page 103. The book accompanied the Met’s exhibition of the Clay P. Bedford collection in the early 1970s, and the rifle was the largest firearm of the exhibit. The fact that this rifle has survived is astonishing. At the time of Brown’s death, Queen Victoria ordered Brown’s possessions to be sealed in rooms, serving as time capsules that saved the memory of her beloved confidante, but when the Queen died in 1901, her son King Edward VII ordered the removal of Brown from memory through destruction of personal papers and mementos that connected his mother to Brown. Not all was destroyed. This rifle happened to be among the personal items returned to the Brown family. The rifle was later purchased by Bedford. The rifle has Damascus barrels fitted with a beaded front sight and two leaf rear sight (one fixed and one folding) for 100 and 200 yards. The matte barrel rib is marked "ALEXANDER HENRY, 12 SOUTH ST. ANDREW ST. EDINBURGH. PATENT No 2377./MAKER TO THEIR ROYAL HIGHNESS’ THE PRINCE OF WALES AND DUKE OF EDINBURGH." The barrel flats and water table are marked with the serial number "3210" and "AH" for Alexander Henry. The underside of the barrels under the forearm are marked with three British "crown/letter" proofs, "PATENT/2673" and "HENRY’S PATENT A&T 1356." Additional "crown/V" proofs are stamped on the water table. A fine foliate scroll engraving is featured on the hammers, the action, and furniture, and the lock plates are marked "ALEXR HENRY" in a banner. The serial number is repeated on the trigger guard tang. Sling eyelets are mounted on the underside of the barrels and buttstock. The action has hammer safeties. The handsome pistol grip stock features multi-point checkering, cheekpiece, horn grip cap and checkered bare butt with scalloped steel plates at the toe and heel. The original brass mounted, leather bound oak case has fitted pig skinned lining and is stamped in gold letters on the exterior of the lid "JOHN BROWN ESQ./H.M.P. ATTENDANT/BALMORAL." The inside of the lid has a paper Alexander Henry label. The accessories include leather bound W. Bartram powder flask, bullet mold and case trimmer numbered to the gun, capping/decapping tool, oil bottle, wad cutter, screwdriver, cleaning rod (no attachments) and other tools. The books "Leave from the Journal of Our life in the Highlands from 1848 to 1861" (first edition, 1868) and "More Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands from 1862 to 1882" (third edition, 1884) written by Queen Victoria are included. The former was the first book published by a British monarch, dedicated to Prince Albert and views Brown as a hero who is mentioned 21 times, and the latter was a tribute to Brown. A third book, "John Brown: Queen Victoria’s Highland Servant" by Raymond Lamont-Brown (2000), is also included.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The barrels retain 70% of the Damascus pattern with a smooth gray patina showing traces of original brown finish in the protected areas. A few scuff marks are present on the left barrel. The action retains 30% of original case colors in and around the protected areas, otherwise a smooth gray patina with a crisp engraving. The wood is also fine showing some minor pressure dents and scratches and some blemishes in the checkering (mostly on the forearm). Mechanically excellent. The case is good showing overall wear and handling/storage marks and typical high spot wear on the lining. The handle is missing. Do not miss your chance to own a high quality British express double rifle documented to Britain's most powerful ruler, Queen Victoria! This rifle, which has already gained the attention of a renowned American museum, would find a place in the most advanced antique British or European sporting arms collection!

Customer Product Questions

There are currently no customer product questions on this lot