Cogswell & Harrison, and particularly Edgar Harrison, always prided themselves on maintaining meticulous records of the thousands of guns that have found their way to every corner of the globe. When they return for regulation or restoration as they regularly do, their history can be retold from the stock books. Despite the destruction of so much source material in the various disasters which befell the company, most of the archive record books giving details of the handmade shotguns and rifles have, amazingly survived to the present day.
If you buy a handmade London gun you can usually find out a lot about it by contacting the maker. Company records describe, often in considerable detail, the original specification of the gun. By quoting the serial number the company can usually tell you the year your gun was built, to whom it was sold and for how much. If you are considering buying a pre-owned gun you can check if it is original by comparing its weight and dimensions with the recorded ones.
Well-kept records usually indicate whether the gun has been returned for repair or has been re-sold by the company. Each gun has its own pedigree and the records are valuable provenance. However company policy differs and some makers are loath to reveal this provenance, taking the view that the information is the private affair of the original owner. Some other makers take the view that the principle of provenance should be applied to handmade shotguns and rifles like the deeds of a house or the logbook of a classic car. This is the position taken by Cogswell & Harrison.
The Cogswell & Harrison records are accessed via four index volumes indicating on which page of which archive book the original records are to be found. The archive books consist of fifteen huge volumes each containing over 1000 pages. The books are fragile and in a distressed condition and only consulted when the owner of a Cogswell & Harrison shotgun or rifle requests details under a particular serial number.
It has unfortunately been necessary to refuse requests from interested parties to study the books as they must not be opened more than necessary. They still bear the marks of a flood in the office prior to the turn of the last century. A fire destroyed the records of some double rifles but in general the specification of most rifles and shotguns exists.
The information is partially coded but once deciphered is very comprehensive. The date on which work commenced, the model, details of the action, the ejectors and the forend fixing mechanism are all included. The stock length with the bends at the comb and the heel together with the three points of cast-off (or cast-on) are all usually recorded.
The more expensive guns from around 1885 were regulated or at least tested for a particular size and load of shot. Where no shot size or weight was given, it was a lVs oz load of no. 6 shot. Two figures were given: for example, 139 on the right and 172 on the left indicated the average number of pellets delivered into a 30 in. circle at 40 yds. When on the other hand the figure on the right was greater than the figure on the left, it indicated the reverse chokes of a driven game gun. The front trigger fired the right barrel as usual, but in this case it was more heavily choked than the left one fired by the back trigger.
The length and weight of the barrels when struck up and ready to fit to the action are given as is the overall weight of the finished gun. Sometimes, separate records indicate in greater detail the form and extent of engraving and whether this had been customised for the requirements of a particular order. The original purchaser, the date of purchase and the price paid would likewise be stated. They also show if the gun was one of a matched pair, composed pair or trio.
Every Cogswell & Harrison gun produced since 2012 comes with an application form for a “certificate of authenticity”. This is an after sale service available to the customer. On receipt of this application Cogswell & Harrison will issue the customer, through their local stockist, with a certificate of authenticity. They will also include the customer in the archives of Cogswell & Harrison. As we approach the 250th anniversary of Cogswell & Harrison producing guns, this is an elite club to be in.
Owners of all Cogswell & Harrison guns are welcome to apply for “Certificates of Origins”. Over 90% of the time information is available. The applicant will be advised, and a certificate is issued for an administration fee of £50.00