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August 9, 2023

Legacy Arms: The Finest Luxury Shotguns

By Joe Engesser

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True legacy arms are far more than the sum of their parts. Whether displayed as a decorative heirloom or marked with the fingerprints of those who came before, a fine sporting arm can offer both a tangible connection to our hunting heritage and serve as a timeless treasure to pass down through the generations.

An Albino Contessa signed, engraved and gold inlaid Fratelli Rizzini .410 bore R-1E sidelock shotgun with case, one of the finest legacy arms for sale.

Whether displayed at home or abroad, at the club or the cabin, a masterpiece sporting arm makes a defining statement in any gathering, an object of pride for its owner and an absolute standout for every collector, shooter, and fowler who appreciates the best of the best.

A cased pair of game scene engraved and gold inlaid Holland & Holland shotguns from The Tom Selleck Collection leads a superb selection of legacy arms featured at RIAC.

From golden age craftsmanship to the pinnacle works of modern artisans like Diego Bonsi, Ken Hunt, and the late, great Philippe Grifnee, you’ll find the highest level the industry has to offer at Rock Island Auction Company. Click on the images throughout this article to learn more about each outstanding sporting arm.

A Claudio Tomasoni signed and game scene engraved Abbiatico & Salvinelli (FAMARS) sidelock O/U shotgun with case.

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European Shotguns

For hundreds of years, high-end sporting guns were reserved for Europe’s wealthy elite. The introduction of the break open, breechloading action along with the invention of the hammerless boxlock and sidelock actions gave rise to a trove of classic European designs, including legacy arms from storied European manufacturers such as Holland & Holland, Westley Richards, and E. J. Churchill.

A documented matched pair of factory engraved and gold inlaid E. J. Churchill premiere quality sidelock O/U shotguns with case.

The gold inlaid Westley Richards Super Magnum Explora droplock double barrel ejector shot & ball gun featured below illustrates the innovation and variety present in the European sporting market by the turn of the 20th century. Shot & ball guns were once quite popular, giving a sportsman the utility of two guns in one and the ability to take everything from upland birds to dangerous game on the plains of Africa and the jungles of India.

A gold inlaid Westley Richards Super Magnum Explora droplock double barrel ejector shot & ball gun manufactured in 1909.

Few things embody our hunting heritage more handsomely than a premium double gun. The lofty reputation earned by European giants like John Rigby & Co. continues today through their modern offerings, where precision craftsmanship and exceptional engraving sets these legacy arms apart from their mass-produced competitors.

A true pair of legacy arms, this exceptional cased engraved, consecutively serial numbered matched pair of P. Arrizabalaga assisted opening hand detachable sidelock double barrel hammerless shotguns is marked "Made For John Rigby & Co. London."

Holland & Holland Legacy Arms

When sportsmen and gun collectors think of legacy arms, Holland & Holland is a name that quickly comes to mind. A leader in the fine arms industry since 1835, this storied London gunmaker has offered the finest doubles to kings, heads of state, and the wealthiest of the world's social elite. The prestigious pair of Holland & Holland double guns below was custom ordered by Hollywood's Tom Selleck, an avid hunter, Second Amendment supporter, and former NRA board member who assembled a truly elite firearms collection.

A magnificent cased true pair of master Philippe Grifnee signed, game scene engraved, and gold inlaid subgauge Holland & Holland marked "Model De Luxe" self-opening sidelock double barrel shotguns.

The next Holland & Holland shotgun for sale ranks as one of the most luxurious O/U pieces on the market and serves as yet another example of why Holland & Holland continues to define excellence in its industry. With its elegant lines, brilliant finish, and exquisite master engraving, this Holland & Holland Sporting Deluxe exemplifies the shotgun as a canvas for the highest levels of artistry.

An engraved Holland & Holland Sporting Deluxe O/U shotgun with case, one of the numerous fine legacy arms available at RIAC.

Another legacy arm from The Tom Selleck Collection, the Holland & Holland Paradox gun for sale at RIAC is a defining example of an already rare genre. The gun is pictured on page 106 of ‘Paradox: The Story of Col. G. V. Fosbery, Holland & Holland, and the Paradox, Volume One’ by David J. Baker and Roger E. Lake.

The factory engraved Paradox gun includes an oak and leather takedown case, nine rounds of H&H Paradox ammunition in a factory box, a nickel oiler, loading tools, and a letter from Mr. Selleck noting his ownership of the gun and the quality of the refurbishment performed by Master Gunsmith Les Pittman.

A documented factory engraved Holland & Holland Royal hammerless ejector Paradox gun with case.

Holland & Holland is also the gunmaker most associated with the double rifle thanks to larger-than-life hunters like Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. The Holland & Holland double rifle has represented the adventure of the African Safari for over a century and continues to embody the golden age of big game hunting with appearances in films like ‘Ghost in the Darkness’ and ‘Out of Africa,’ and Taylor Sheridan’s recent 1923 Yellowstone prequel series,

A Ken Preater engraved Holland & Holland sidelock ejector double rifle in .458 Win Mag, from the Petersen Museum Collection.

Beretta Shotguns

The oldest active gunmaker in the world, Beretta, has remained competitive in the ever-changing marketplace by continuing to update its roster, including its coveted sporting arms lineup. Possibly Beretta’s most famous shotgun, the Beretta SO sidelock, was designed in 1935 to compete with the English Boss O/U shotgun.

The SO line became a popular option for both field use and clay shooting. The exceptional game scene engraved Beretta Model SO4 two barrel set pictured below is an elite example of the longest-produced iteration of this historic model, a true legacy arm with exceptional engraving.

A masterpiece M. Gobbi engraved and signed Beretta Model SO4 O/U shotgun two barrel set with case.

Until 1990, the SO shotgun line was exclusively manufactured in large gauges. To meet demand, Beretta began to offer the SO9 in 20 and 28 gauge, as well as .410 bore like the impressive example below. These gauges came with a considerable premium compared to their larger-bored siblings and are considered the rarest Beretta SO shotguns.

Another one of the head-turning legacy arms for sale, a Diego Bonsi signed and game scene engraved P. Beretta .410 bore SO9 pinless sidelock O/U shotgun with case.

Fabrique Nationale

Founded in 1889 as Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, the Belgium-based company started as a military supplier before they began plying sportsmen with shotguns like the Auto-5 and Browning Superposed. Designed in 1923 by legendary gun inventor John Browning and released in 1931 by Fabrique Nationale, the Belgium Browning Superposed kick-started a developmental renaissance for the O/U shotgun.

An Angelo Bee signed and engraved Belgian Browning Diana Grade Superposed shotgun four barrel set with case.

With the Superposed shotgun, John Browning saw an opportunity to develop a quality production-made O/U that could be priced to compete in a crowded market. Browning’s longtime partner Fabrique Nationale produced the model in Belgium and the gun went on to become one of the most popular O/U shotguns in the world. Top-quality examples like Exhibition Grade Superposed below have become desirable legacy arms for today's collectors.

A factory engraved and gold inlaid Belgian Browning Exhibition Grade Superposed shotgun with case.

American Legacy Arms

In 1880, New York native Daniel Myron Lefever patented the hammerless shotgun and ushered in a golden age for sporting arms development in America. The classic shotgun pictured below, manufactured in 1903 by D. M. Lefever, Sons & Company, demonstrates some of the finest craftsmanship of the era.

An outstanding factory game scene engraved Lefever Grade B double barrel shotgun, a great opportunity for a hard-to-find high-condition Lefever.

Many sportsmen today look fondly back at the legacy arms produced during this high point in American shotgun making, and for good reason. That hallowed tradition can still be found with gunmakers like Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing. Operating out of New England's “Gun Valley”, the cradle of American arms development, Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing combines the aesthetic of golden age craftsmanship with the precision of modern manufacturing, illustrated by exceptional pieces like the A-10 American sidelock O/U below.

Another fantastic legacy arm from The Tom Selleck Collection, this factory Engraved Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co. A-10 American Sidelock O/U shotgun is a two barreled set that includes its factory takedown case.

Parker Brothers Shotguns

As America’s most famous pre-WW2 shotgun manufacturer, Parker Brothers holds a special place in the hearts of countless hunters across the Land of Stars and Stripes. “The Old Reliable,” as the company dubbed their guns, referenced the hand-assembled precision and quality craftsmanship offered by these iconic legacy arms. These traits are skillfully exhibited in the gorgeous shotgun pictured below, an engraved and gold inlaid “Invincible” Grade Parker Brothers two barrel set that would serve a new owner well both out in the field and as eye candy in the gun room.

An outstanding engraved and gold inlaid Pachmayr upgrade "Invincible" Grade Parker Brothers shotgun two barrel set.

Next, we have one of the rarest Parker Brothers shotgun configurations ever produced. According to page 279 of ‘The Parker Story’ by Gunther, Mullins, Parker, Price, and Cote, the .410 bore GHE Grade Parker Brothers was one of only 27 built manufactured in this combination of grade, gauge, barrel length, and barrel steel, making this already rare 1926 produced Parker a true treasure in sporting arms collecting.

A Parker Brothers .410 bore GHE Grade shotgun, a fine example of one of America's classic legacy arms.

For most hunters, there’s a romance in legacy arms, the appreciation of tradition and heritage, the exhilaration of shouldering a shotgun with a story to tell and a history to share. Parker Brothers represent classic Americana at its finest. From Ernest Hemingway to Zane Gray, from Annie Oakley to Gary Cooper, Parker Brothers shotguns were the choice for a generation of upland hunters and clay shooters and came to define an era of outdoor adventure.

A Robert P. Runge engraved Parker Brothers Larry Del AHE Grade upgraded double barrel shotgun.

Ithaca Shotguns

A household name today for many firearm fans around the globe thanks to the widely popular Model 37 shotgun, Ithaca has produced some luxury sporting arms as well. Fewer than 500 Ithaca Classic Doubles were produced, including three consecutively serial numbered examples featured at Rock Island Auction Company.

Three consecutively serial numbered Superlative Grade Ithaca Classic Double Shotguns in three different chamberings. Available this August.

Each of these Ithaca shotguns was assembled and finished in the United States using Italian-made parts by a litany of the most skilled men in their crafts. The engraving was carried out on the standard grade guns by the famous father-son engraving duo John Sr. and John Adams Jr. as well as John Pease, with the high grade guns, such as the three offered for sale, engraved by Creative Art Studios of Brescia, Italy.

A factory engraved and gold inlaid Ithaca Classic Doubles Superlative Grade Double Barrel Shotgun in 28 gauge.

This trio of Ithaca shotguns exhibits some of the finest gunmaking ever carried out on this side of the Atlantic. Each Ithaca double gun includes an oak and leather takedown case with a canvas cover, nickel snap caps, a nickel oiler, an Ithaca Classic Doubles pamphlet, and a copy of the March/April 2002 issue of “Shooting Sportsman” in which there are two advertisements and an article featuring Ithaca Classic Doubles.

One of three legacy arms from Ithaca for sale, this factory engraved and gold inlaid Superlative Grade double gun is chambered in .410 bore.

The Winchester Model 21

The name Winchester embodies American gunmaking at its finest, and the Winchester Model 21 is widely hailed as one of the most elite American boxlock double guns ever manufactured. Although technically a production gun until 1960, each Winchester Model 21 was custom-crafted in terms of workmanship, configuration, and attention to detail, and every one of these classic shotguns has a story as unique as the sportsmen and shooters who shouldered them.

An engraved and gold inlaid Winchester .410 bore Model 21 Grand American-style double barrel shotgun three barrel set with case.

One of America’s finest legacy arms, even the most basic Model 21 was a costly investment, but the owner was rewarded with a double gun built to last. Higher-end Winchester Model 21 variants like the exceptional shotgun below were lavished in full coverage scroll engraving that stands out against the laser engraving found on many of today’s production guns.

Engraved and gold inlaid Winchester .410 bore Model 21 Grand American-style double barrel shotgun two barrel set with case. Provenance: The Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The spirit of Winchester’s magnificent premium double gun lives on today with examples produced by Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company. One of the most intriguing sporting arms for sale at RIAC, the deluxe custom Winchester gold inlaid Royal Grand American double rifle featured below chambered in .45-70 Government was finished by Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company on an original Winchester manufactured Model 21 action. The deluxe engraving and gold animal inlays were designed and executed by master engraver Nick Kusmit, a long-time employee of the Winchester Custom Shop.

A rare and exceptional Royal Grand American-style Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co. Model 21 double rifle in .45-70.

Legacy Arms for Sale

For the shooter, collector, and gentleman sportsman, true legacy arms are one of life’s finest treasures. The precision craftsmanship of a premium shotgun or double rifle is evident in everything from its clock-like workings to its exceptional engraving and finely checkered walnut, and the variety showcased here touches on just a few examples featured at Rock Island Auction Company.

An exceptional and rare Burgess Gun Company "Folding Gun" slide action shotgun with Waist Holster.

From subtle elegance to lavish luxury, from sterling condition examples to guns with touches of wear that speak to their experience, all tastes and aspirations are well-represented at Rock Island Auction Company.

An exhibition quality, factory engraved Spencer slide action shotgun.

For more gun blogs and gun videos on both historic and modern sporting arms, subscribe to the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter, where we cover classic names like Abercrombie and Fitch, Marlin, and Savage, as well as unique and unusual historic curiosities like the Punt gun, the Howdah pistol, the Ithaca Auto & Burglar, the 10 gauge shotgun, the .950 JDJ Fat Mac, the SPAS-12, the M30 Luftwaffe drilling, and more.

Two exquisite legacy arms. (Right) A Giovanni Steduto signed and engraved J. Rigby double rifle in .600 Nitro Express. (Left) A Ken Hunt signed, engraved, and gold inlaid J. Rigby & Co. sidelock double rifle in .577 Nitro Express.

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