Unlike American shotguns such as Parker, L.C. Smith, and A.H. Fox, the critical aspect of finish originality is not of premier importance with English shotguns. There are many English gunsmiths in both Britain and the U.S. who are capable of refinishing English guns on a level with the Old World masters. Of course, original guns with 100% original finish have the greatest desirability, but, when done properly, restored guns closely approach the same value of original guns. Do not confuse this with restored American guns, which are only worth a fraction of their "original" finish value.
Percentage of case colors on receivers and blue on barrels is not as critical in determining values, which diminish less drastically than with American guns. Tremendous fluctuations in value do occur in smaller gauges (20, 28 ga. and .410 bore). The rarity and value of gauges, as they descend, are prodigious in English shotguns. However, the opposite is true in regard to double rifles, where bigger is better. A vintage English double with the original inside labeled trunk style case increases the gun's value $1,000 - $5,000+ depending on style, inclusive tools and accessories, and case materials. Cases with exotic leathers such as crocodile, elephant and ostrich are also very valuable.
A fine old English double, tastefully engraved and stocked with exhibition Turkish walnut by a master craftsman, is a work of art that is highly treasured by collectors, and should be appropriately valued. The same application can apply to American guns, but again, is subject to narrower limitations.
Also unlike most other shotguns, English guns are more delicate and sleek in design, eliminating any excess metal and wood, resulting in minimum weight and better balance. Because of this, there is far less margin for error in retaining necessary strength after modification such as chamber lengthening and back boring of barrels. Therefore, the importance of proof or reproofing after modification is a serious consideration. In Britain, it is serious enough to be a matter of law.
After years of hard use and sometimes neglect, rust pits appear in the bores which require back boring to restore them. Barrels can be cut and back bored to simulate chokes which are actually cylinder bore. This back boring must not result in more than a .015 in. increase in bore diameter from that of the original. Barrels more than .015 in. over original are considered "out of proof" and potentially dangerous. In any case, the barrel thickness should always exceed a minimum. Most authorities consider the minimum to be no less than .022 to .025 inch in wall thickness w/o a British reproof. The foregoing only applies to fluid steel barrels. Many consider "nitro proofed" damascus barrels safe to shoot - however, this is a dangerous crapshoot.
The above limitations are critical to overall value and their presence or absence must be established to buyer satisfaction prior to purchase. Bore micrometers and barrel thickness gauges are relatively inexpensive compared to the purchase of a $25,000 Purdey that has a true market value of only $10,000 because its aesthetically beautiful barrels are dangerously out of proof. New best English made chopper lump barrels currently cost at least $10,000, and original Purdey made barrels are about three times as much. Remember, the most important criterion for purchasing an English shotgun is the barrels.
Somewhat of a paradox is the later serial numbered guns. Albeit generally of lesser quality than early guns, they are generally more valuable on a sliding scale due to the ever increasing cost of currently manufactured guns.
The publisher would like to thank Mr. Larry Baer for providing the above information.
Shotguns manufactured by various British makers.