Gunning for royalty

Jul 06 2014, 15:26 IST
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SummaryPurdey, considered the Rolls-Royce of sporting guns, celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. To mark its bicentenary, it has produced a commemorative trio of guns

Despite their elaborate jewels, ornate palaces and luxury cars, for most of India’s erstwhile maharajas, their most prized possession was a pair of matched Purdey shotguns and rifles. Our former royalty may have been anglophiles, but even so, among seasoned hunters, as they were almost to a man—and woman (the late Gayatri Devi was no mean shot)—Purdey was widely considered the Rolls-Royce of sporting guns. Even today, vintage Purdeys sell for huge amounts in India. This year, it celebrates its 200th anniversary and to mark its bicentenary, it has produced a commemorative trio of guns. The Purdey Bicentenary Trio comprises two shotguns and one double rifle: a 12-bore Side-by-Side Game Gun, 20-bore Damascus Over and Under Game Gun and a .470 Nitro Express Double Rifle. The guns come in an oak and leather travel case, and a custom-built glass case for display.

Each historic model has been carefully chosen to represent design, innovation and craftsmanship milestones in the company’s 200-year history. Each gun features engraving representative of the era it was made in, the Purdey bicentenary logo and a special serial number. It is a fitting tribute to James Purdey & Sons, which has been making high-quality guns, rifles and shooting equipment in London since 1814 when James Purdey the Elder opened a small shop at Princes Street off Leicester Square. His reputation for making the very best guns soon spread and he moved to larger premises on Oxford Street. By then, Purdey had become the sporting gun of choice for royalty all over the world. Queen Victoria ordered her first Purdeys in 1838. Since 1883, Audley House in Mayfair has been home to James Purdey & Sons. In the famous Long Room, the high and mighty from the past two centuries have been custom-fitted for their guns. Every Purdey gun is handmade in west London by some of the most talented gunsmiths living today. Yet it took years for James Purdy to be mentioned in the same sentence as Joseph Manton, considered England’s greatest gunmaker. Manton had transformed the sporting gun into a thing of exquisite beauty. James Purdey learnt the art of gunmaking at Manton’s back in 1808 and, in 1814, having mastered his skills, he set out on his own, building single and double flintlock guns, duelling pistols and rifles.

His reputation, established at Manton’s, meant that he attracted the most discerning of customers. Purdey’s specialised in bespoke guns sold in every

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