House Style and Technical Overview

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This database is principally concerned with breech loading guns by Blanch, both hammer and hammerless. This should not be taken as a indication of the quality or importance of their muzzle loaders but more a paucity of information and specimens. During my period of research I have been willing to travel as far to view a 'flinter' as a 'box lock' but have seldom been offered the chance with one notable exception of a collection in the north east of England. This goes some way to explain the lack of muzzle loader gun details and photos.
I am sure that there is an untapped reservoir of beautiful Blanch muzzle loaders out there and would welcome the chance to include their details in these lists. I await your calls! I am also very keen to know of any company information, traditions and styles from this period, especially where they may differ from the general run of the contemporary gun trade so if you have information please submit it and I will try and weave it into this database.

A well preserved 7b bar action flint lock, unknown date but
probably prior to the move to Gracechurch Street, ie prior to 1826. >
No visible number.

< A fine double barrel percussion 16b rifle dated between 1826 and 1848, no 1996.

The Gun Trade

It should be understood by any student of the gun trade, mid 19th century to mid 20th century, that the trade was not organized quite as the public thought.

With the exception of one or two of the most prestigious gun makers, guns were generally not 'made' by their vendors but by a host of small, highly skilled, anonymous gunmakers based principally in London and Birmingham. These largely unsung tradesmen could produce everything from a striker to a complete gun and supply the parts in any state from a rough forging to a fully finished gun complete with the vendors name and serial number. Furthermore, although some of the gun trade did specialize in a style or quality of gun, many could produce a product to any level of finish.

The secret behind this fantastic level of flexibility was that most individuals specialised in one skill or another, be it barrel work, actioning, stocking, engraving or whatever, and the gun passed from tradesman to tradesman having the various procedures undertaken by a whole series of experts.

The result was that virtually any gun in any bore, style and quality could be ordered within the trade.

A very fine 12b Purdey 'Thumb Hole' 2nd patent hammergun. >
This gun is superbly finished with exquisite fine foliate engraving and faceted rebounding hammers, no 4736. Dated approx. to between 1868-1887, we hope to date it more accurately from the Purdey patent use number.

< A well finished 16b single bite Jones rotary underlever pin fire, no 3693, from the same period as no 4736.<

As I discuss below, this also means that you can find two almost identical guns that only really differ in the name engraved on the top rib and action. What says a lot about the quality of guns that were being supplied by the trade at the end of the 19th century are the prestigious names that turn up on them.

Many pundits are pretty derogatory about the guns made within the Birmingham and provincial trade and it always makes me smile when they extol the virtues of guns such as Holland & Holland's Dominion back actions, which are arguable mainly of W C Scott origin!

J Blanch and their position in the Trade.

It has been said of J Blanch & Son that, although they undoubtedly sold elegant and finely finished guns, they were conservative in style and lacked the quest for innovation and progress that was apparent in other gunmakers of the time.

Whether this is an accurate portrayal, depends on how you define ‘conservative’. If one was to define conservative as a tendency to stay with a tried and tested design and style and avoid technical embellishments, Blanch do fit the definition. However, if one was to define it as a willingness to conform with the mainstream of the gunmaking ‘establishment’ then Blanch could be considered rather more radical.

Looking back over a hundred years, Blanch guns may seem ‘old fashioned’ when compared with their contemporaries but they still catch the eye as being beautifully finished and out of the ordinary. In terms of conservatism, it is interesting to note that Blanch was one of the first London gunmakers to make the Lefaucheux pinfire, the first commercially successful breech loader. (See Obituary of William Blanch)

An early 12b pinfire with single bite Jones rotary underlever, a direct development of the Lefaucheux pin fire action, no 3576, dating to 1855-1868 (from London proof marks).
< This gun has suffered a poor conversion to centrefire.

A further development of the Jones rotary underlever, now with a >
double bite, in this case a 28b double rifle, no 4399. Date unknown.
Note the silver plated action, maybe a later embellishment.

Why Blanch chose to produce many more back action than bar action breechloaders is a question that can never be answered with any certainty at this distance in time. It could have been on economic, aesthetic, marketing or technical grounds and we will never know for sure. Only a tiny number of bar action hammer guns have come to light and it may be that having identified themselves with the look of the back action Lefaucheux pinfire hammergun, they felt that staying with the similarly shaped back action hammerless lock was a good marketing ploy. It maintained a house style which was noticeably different from the way that most of the London trade was going. Of the rest of the best known gun makers, only Chas Lancaster and Rigby persevered with 'dip-edged' lock plates on their main production guns, Holland and Holland reserving this distinctive shape for their Dominion model other than their early 'Royal' sidelocks.

A fine 12b back action, side lever Blanch hammergun, no. 5012 >
exhibiting all the normal features of the type including faceted
hammers and best fine scroll engraving.

(Courtesy of Christies Images)

And who made their famous back actions?

Spend enough time around English shotguns and you will come across a suspiciously large number of guns with all manner of ‘makers’ names that look remarkably similar to Blanch’s hammerless back actions. They will all display a wide range of Scott and Perkes patents from cocking rods to interceptor sears and ejectors to top lever spindles, not to mention crystal viewing ports, ‘Gas Checks’ and forend catches. They are invariably well finished and, with the exception of the ‘makers’ name, may even carry identical engraving patterns. I have even seen early Adams back actions that carry Scott’s brand name ‘Reliance’ on the right hand side of the action bar or action flats.

< Holland & Holland Dominion non-ejector, no. 21689, with its early Scott lockplates indented both top and bottom and pin pattern match most Blanch back action.

Another H&H Dominion, no. 20579, identical in many respects to >
the Blanch back action.

lthough many ‘lesser' makers undoubtedly retailed Scott guns that were delivered to them fully finished, it has been suggested that the likes of Blanch and Holland & Holland surely had them delivered in the ‘white’. However, I am afraid that this was possibly not so. I have seen too many back action guns, which although they carry a different ‘maker’s’ name are in all respects finished identically. I particularly remember one Blanch back action ejector with unusually shaped lock plates and very fine full bold foliate engraving which I presumed to have been a special order only to come across an identical Holland & Holland Dominion within the year.

Courtesy of Christie's Images

< An early 'Crystal Inspection Port' back action displaying many Scott features, no. 5394

(Courtesy of Christie's Images)


Back action lock work

Blanch were very fond of interceptor sears and examples of all their hammerless guns will be found with them. Furthermore, I have not seen a 'Scott' back action that did not have them and a close inspection of the inside of a few Blanch back actions will reveal two variations of the interceptor sear. In essence one lies behind the tumbler and blocks its fall by being placed between a extension of the lock plate and the breast of the tumbler and the other lies in front of the tumbler and catches its fall with a hook arrangement. These two designs are covered by different patents, the former credited in British Shotguns, 1871-1890 by David Baker and I M Crudgington to Holland & Holland as illustrated in Holland and Robertson's patent no. 5834 of 1887 and marketed by them as their 'Patent Block Safety'. However, WW Greener in his famous book Modern Shotguns attributes this design to W & C Scott. The truth is that the rights to this design belonged to Joseph Needham and George Hinton under the patent no. 706 of 1879.
The latter is to be found in Thomas Perkes's provisional patent no. 3049 of 1883 although it is not mentioned in the full specification.

The two variations commonly found on Blanch (Scott) back actions.

< 'Block Patent Safety' as also found in Holland & Holland 'Royal' side locks, here seen in gun no. 5560. Note that 'Block Patent Safety' is usually engraved on the inner tail of the lock plate, as here. Needham & Hinton patent no. 706 of 1879.

The alternative 'hook' interceptor sear, gun no. 6047, attributed to Thomas Perkes patent no. 3049 of 1883>

Interceptor sears in Blanch boxlocks are also quite common and all the examples I have seen follow the usual boxlock pattern of an 'L' shaped sear, pivoted on a transverse pin located just behind the fence. Pulling the trigger lifts this sear out of engagement with the tumbler as the main sear is pulled out of its bent. If the tumbler accidentally falls without the trigger being pulled the hook catches it. The design of this mechanism seems to derive from William Anson's patent no. 4089 of 1882 which describes a double rocking lever operated by the safety catch which blocks sears and triggers. However, it also includes the interceptor sears as described above which gives a real 'belt & braces' approach! The use of the double rocking levers to lock the trigger blades, the standard Westley Richards safety, is very common in Blanch boxlocks, the use of the interceptor sears as well considerably less so.


As with the back action lock work, Blanch retailed many guns that used other current patents, especially those by Scott. Whether this was because they particularly liked the patents or simply because Scott was their supplier of choice remains a mute point. However, the fact remains that you are likely to encounter many patent acknowledgment on their guns and none that I am aware of refer to a Blanch patent.

Those most commonly encountered are as follows:

W & C Scott & Baker Action, No. 761 of 1878
The essence of this patent is the idea of having a cocking rod that runs upwards through the action bar, linking a hook on the flat of the barrel that runs transversally through the front lump with a hook on the bottom of the tumbler. As the barrels hinge down for loading, the rod pulls the fired locks to full cock.

Action flats showing the hooked cocking rods described by Scott & Baker's Patent, > no.761 of 1878. Gun no. 5249

'Crystal Inspection Ports', No. 3223 of 1875
As hammerless guns began to replace hammer guns, it was thought necessary by some to be able to demonstrate whether a lock was cocked or not. The 'Crystal Inspection Ports' were Scott's answer to this need and provide an elegant and easily identifiable detail.

< Gun no 5249 showing its 'Crystal Inspection Ports' through which the gold washed tumblers may be seen.

Thomas Perkes and John Deeley Ejectors, Nos. 1968 of 1878 and 14526 of 1884 respectively.
Both the Perkes and Deeley ejector mechanisms operate on the same principle: a V spring powered tumbler and sear released by a tooth on the cocking rod or dog. This similarity prompted the famous court case in 1891 between Westley Richards, for whom Deeley worked, and Thomas Perkes where the former tried to enforce their patent. Perkes was eventually to win the battle but maybe not the war as he was declared bankrupt in 1898.

At least two Blanch gun that I have inspected, 'Scott' back actions nos. 5702 & 5812, credit both the Perkes & Deeley patents on their action flats which suggests that they may date from the period when these two gun makers were locked in their legal tussle. It is interesting to note that later numbered guns only credit the Perkes patent.

The action flats of gun no. 5812 showing both the Deeley and Perkes ejector patent numbers. This gun's proof marks date it to before 1896 and the two patent numbers might suggest a date contemporary with their legal battle. >

W & C Scott 'Gas Check', No. 617 of 1882

Cartridge primers of this period were extremely corrosive and the brass used in the caps was not as strong as the plated steel used today. The resulting split caps resulted in corrosive residue from the primer finding its way on to the breech face and, via the striker holes, into the lock work with highly detrimental results. Even a cursory look at the breech face of most well used guns from this period will show extensive pitting.
To counter this, Scott patented their 'Gas Checks' which were channels cut into the breech face to direct the corrosive gases away from the delicate lock work.
As an advertising exercise, Scott made a gun with the 'Gas Check' channels on only one breach face and proceeded to fire a number of shots through both barrels. When the locks were stripped some time later, the side with the 'Gas Check' was found to be spotless while the side without was showing considerable corrosion.
The 'Gas Check' channels are almost universal on Blanch hammerless back actions and on most of their best hammerless bar actions and a 'Pat Gas Check' stamp with use number is nearly always found between the striker holes.
The absence of either part or all of the channels and/or use number stamp infers that major work has been performed on the breech face(s) and should prompt further investigation of the integrity of the action.

< An example of the Scott 'Gas Check' on 12b back action no. 6047. Note that you may see both double groove and single groove examples. There does not appear to be any pattern to this.

Cocking Rods

Most later Blanch back actions are made on the Thomas Perkes patent, No. 1968 of 1878, that among other details uses a cocking rod that runs downwards through the action bar from the breast of the tumbler to bear on, in the case of non-ejectors, a narrow roller or, in ejectors a leg of the ejector box, located in the forend knuckle. In both cases, retaining pins will be seen on the action flats and in some cases these will also retain a second smooth headed pin.
In the case of non-ejectors, this smooth headed pin will be seen to rise when the gun is opened as it is lifted by the cocking rod. When the gun is closed, the barrel flats depress these pins which in turn move the cocking rods away from the breasts of the tumblers so ensuring the tumbler's unimpeded fall when the trigger is pulled.

A Holland & Holland Dominion non-ejector displaying Scott's 'Gas Check' (single groove) and its patent use stamp between the striker holes, the 'cocking rod returning pins' retained by threaded pins, the Perkes patent cocking rods on the knuckle and their Patent number and use number stamp. These features will be found on many Blanch back actions. >

On most ejectors models the cocking rods are linked to the tumblers by a hook arrangement and move to and fro in concert with the tumblers so these 'cocking rod returning pins' have no purpose. However, one does occasionally find ejectors with these vestigial pins and on removal this smooth headed pin will appear to serve no function or it may be the cocking rod retaining pin which is in turn retained by the threaded pin.
The occurrence of these variations appears to be fairly random with the two alternatives appearing at least once in consecutively numbered guns well after the cam pin was generally obsolete.


It would appear that 'Scott' back action guns, although identical in many respects, could be specified from a range of ‘extras’. For example, all the Blanch back actions that I have seen have had a Perkes type sear and tumbler ejector mechanism. These are reliable but are composed of a huge number of intricate parts. Holland & Holland Dominion guns, on the other hand invariably use the Southgate ejector mechanism with its mere two components, a spring and tumbler.

The three most common ejector mechanisms utilized by Blanch, Left to Right 'Southgate' no. 6723, 'Perkes' no. 5702 & 6047 and 'Deeley' no. 6241(detached from forend iron)

Elsewhere in their range of guns, Blanch seemed fond of the Southgate ejector and I have yet to come across a bar action hammerless side lock with anything but a Southgate ejector mechanism. Box locks are fairly evenly split between the Southgate and Deeley ejectors, the former being used more in later guns.
The same can not be said of the ejector trip mechanisms and a wide range of different types will be encountered in Blanch box locks.

Component parts of ejector trip mechanism, boxlock ejector, no. 6319. >

(Ejector mechanism itself is a Southgate)

The one example of a pair of ejector hammer guns that I have seen were fitted with a Perkes patent mechanism.

Courtesy of Andrew Orr, Holt & Company

A fine, and possibly unique, pair of 12b hammer ejectors fitted with Perkes patent ejectors, nos. 5537/8

(Courtesy of Andrew Orr, Holt & Company)



There were very few makers that utilized the Bold Foliate style of engraving as their house style after the turn of the century, Holland & Holland being a notable exception. The ubiquitous engraving style of the time was Bouquet & Scroll with a huge range in quality from the sparse and ordinary to the profuse and fabulous. However, Bold Foliate, when well executed, did carry a significant cache and was often used by lesser known makers to lend an air of quality to their more highly finished guns and I think Blanch exploited this perception to make their guns ‘stand out from the crowd’. To cite an example, I have in the database a Blanch A&D box lock that is profusely engraved with very fine Bold Foliate and finished overall to a high standard yet it is a Webley action non ejector with BSA barrels. Most other makers would have relegated this gun to border engraving and a plank for a stock.

< A relatively rare example of Bouquet & Scroll engraving on a back action ejector, no. 57475 The best Bold Foliate engraving > on back action ejector, no. 6047
< The alternative style of back action engraving sometimes described as 'Creeping vine border around a bold foliate panel' seen here on no. 5703

There are undeniably some guns by Blanch that do carry fine Scroll or Bouquet and Scroll engraving, in particular more than 50% of the hammerguns that I have seen, and these fall into two fairly distinct groups. Firstly you have the ‘trade’ guns which were most probably bought in completely finished from either London or Birmingham outworkers with J Blanch & Son slotted in to a vacant space on the action and top rib. These would have been scroll engraved simply because that was what most retailers wanted.

< A 12b back action hammergun showing exhibiting 'trade' quality scroll engraving, no visible number.

Then you have the better quality guns, maybe made up by the trade but to a very high level of finish. Here Blanch could have specified the quantity, style and quality of the engraving and some very fine looking actions have resulted. Some of the back action hammer guns, eg. gun number 5150, have fine scroll engraving of superlative quality along with beautifully faceted and engraved hammers.
Another instance of house style can be found in the styling of the action bars on Blanch’s hammerless back actions. These Scott actions were retailed by many gunmakers, including Holland & Holland as their Dominion model, but Blanch’s display a stylized ‘bar’ extending from the bottom of the lock plate towards the knuckle. This is presumably intended to suggest a bar action but does not seem to intend to mislead unlike some of the much later ‘bar action back locks’.

< The 'straight bars' generally seen on later back actions, here on no. 5703 The 'drooping bars' generally seen on earlier back actions, here on no. 5587 >

These have been described as a ‘bolstered’ action by some although the 'bar' has virtually no depth to it and would offer no serious additional strength. Early versions of this stylized ‘bar’ are rounded on their bottom edge and curve some way round the bottom of the action bar whilst later versions have a straight bottom edge and are rather more reminiscent of the real bar action side lock.

Two alternative styles of carved fences.
< On gun no. 5977, a 12b boxlock ejector, we have 'ribboned' Webley fences and a rounded, fully chequered safety catch while the 12b Scott & Baker back action non ejector no 5249 exhibits stylized leaf fences and a 'double ramp' safety. >

Finally, hammerless guns can generally be divided between early guns which have the rounded ‘ball’ fences and later guns which display ‘Webley’ fences. This is not a hard and fast rule and many exceptions will be found. However, it is my experience that in the back action guns, ‘Webley’ fences are generally associated with concave ‘beetle back’ safety catches and ‘straight’ action ‘bars’ whilst ‘ball’ fences are associated with ‘button’ safety catches and ‘droopy’ action ‘bars’. This same fence and safety catch connection is also often exhibited in Blanch box locks. Whether this is a reflection of source, date or specification is a matter for conjecture.

< 'Ball' fences and 'button' safety on 20b back action ejector, no. 5543 'Webley' fences and 'beetle back' > safety on 12b back action ejector, no. 6195


Blanch barrels generally follow the conventions of the day. However, it should be noted that their back actions, especially those that can be attributed to Scott, were usually only 28", not 30" which was the norm at that time. Most box locks were 30" whilst their best bar action side locks were generally fitted with 29" chopper lump Whitworth steel barrels. Other than these best guns, barrels almost invariably had 'dovetail' lumps .
2 1/2" chambers and Improved and Full choke were the normal specifications across the range.
Top ribs are almost invariably the ubiquitous, smooth, concave game rib. However, I have noticed that most of the more unusual hammer guns, ie. those with ejectors, bar actions or bar in wood, have 'sunken' game ribs. Raised, file cut ribs do occur on some wildfowling guns.
The damascus used by Blanch was generally of a high quality with an excellent figure and I have come across guns that have passed proof at very low wall thickness'. When they moved on to steel barrels, they seem to have sourced them from a multitude of suppliers including BSA and Videx. I have also seen several hammer and hammerless guns that were apparently made, or rebarrelled, with dovetail or chopper lump Whitworth steel barrels, perhaps as an optional extra.

Top Rib Extensions

As regards the high frequency of top rib extensions, I think the answer partly lies in the source of many of Blanch actions. The origins of their hammer gun actions is not known for sure and here top extensions are rare but given the frequency of the 'J Blanch & Son Improved Snap Bolt' forend catch, a modified Scott patent, Scott seems a good bet. However, once you move on to the hammerless guns, top extensions become the norm and I believe that a very large number of these guns came from the Scott and Webley workshops. As already discussed, the hammerless back actions were almost without exception Scott guns as they display many Scott features and patents while the box locks and bar action side locks often carry the Webley ‘horseshoe’ top lever. Both these makers often used a simple square top rib extension that passed under the top lever and acted as a third bite. This would appear to be a simplification of Scott's patent no. 1902 of 1875 which protected a top extension of complex shape.
However, Holland & Holland back action Dominion guns rarely, if ever, had these top extensions so perhaps they were an optional extra selected by Blanch as a house style.

Two types of top extension found on Blanch guns.

< Normal square 'Webley' type here seen on boxlock non-ejector, no. 6430. Note the Webley 'horse shoe' top lever.

More unusual slotted type here seen on boxlock ejector, no. 6723 >

Other forms of top extension will be found. I have seen several examples of a Westley Richards type ‘dolls head’ extension but these have always been supplemented by a Purdey bolt.

Bolting & Opening Levers

Blanch hammerless guns almost universally used toplevers with the ubiquitous Purdey bolt and Scott spindle to secure actions to barrels, often supplemented by a top extension. However, while most early breechloading guns utilized the Lefaucheux and Jones underlevers, what is perhaps a little unusual is the predominance of side levers in their later hammer guns, especially the higher quality guns. In fact a best quality, top lever Blanch hammer gun is fairly rare. It has been pointed out that these sidelever guns bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Stephen Grant who was well known for his side levers.


A fine example of a side lever hammergun, no. 5517. Note the bar action sidelocks, a very rare feature in a Blanch hammergun. >


Forend Catch

One point of interest is the forend catch found on nearly all the hammerless sidelocks and many of the hammer guns. This is a snap action lever catch apparently of a ‘Deeley’ type but moved to the end of the forend and often engraved ‘J Blanch & Son’s Improved Snap Bolt’. However, closer examination will show that it is more closely related to the ‘Anson’ type catch as the pivoting lever operates a sliding bolt. This mechanism was patented by Scott, no. 615 of 1876, and demonstrates one more connection with the Scott gunmaking concern. The ‘Improved’ seems to only refer to the more slender and elegant dimensions as in all other respects it is the Scott catch.

< Forend catch displaying the normal engraving 'J Blanch & Son Improved Snap Bolt', in fact a modified Scott patent, seen here on no. 6047

The slightly less common fully engraved forend catch on no. 5703 >


Although lower grade guns had wood to match, most Blanch stocks were originally of very good quality with fine figure. However, a large proportion have been replaced over the years often with inferior wood and poor fitting. It is my personal belief that Blanch tended to make very elegant stocks which were perhaps a bit too thin at the hand for their own good and I have seen more than one original stock where the grain did not run straight through the hand as it should for maximum strength.
Stocks are nearly always straight hand though occasionally you may come across a half pistol or 'Prince of Wales' grip especially on early back actions and heavier wildfowling box locks.
Chequering is usually fine, 22+ lines per inch, and forends fitted with the 'J Blanch & Son Improved Snap Bolt' were always originally fully chequered with just a narrow border around the edge.

A lovely figured stock on a 16b single barrel side lever hammergun, no visible number. >


One of the original purposes of this database was to try and go some way to replacing the Blanch records lost in 1942 as a casualty of the 2nd World War. The hope was that given enough gun records, I should be able to give Blanch owners an idea of when their pride and joy was built and where the gun fitted in to Blanch’s range. Unfortunately this was not to be as simple as I thought.
The main method for dating guns when the maker’s records are lost is by proof marks and to an extent this is possible but, for instance, between 1904 and 1921, when a date stamp was introduced, Birmingham proof marks are un-dateable and the same can be said of London’s marks from 1904-1925, 1925-1954 and 1954-1972 when London finally introduced a date stamp.
Granted, Blanch did date their ‘best’ bar action sidelocks with Roman numerals on the trigger guard but this seems to have only started after the turn of the century and was not applied to their back actions nor box locks.

Trigger guard of Blanch best bar action sidelock ejector no 6313 showing >
date in Roman numerals 'MCM111' within banner, ie 1903

It has been said that the number 6000 was reached at the turn of the century but I think it was somewhat earlier than this. Many of the hammerless back actions can be dated by their proof marks to before 1896 yet they number as high as the 6100’s. Furthermore, as has been discussed, many guns were probably bought in for stock fully finished and numbered and some exhibit dateable proof marks that do not agree with their numbering. This may be explained by rebarreling to steel from damascus.

Nigel Brown, in his book London Gunmakers, says that number 4381 dates from circa 1870, 6000 was just before the turn of the century and 7000 from just before the 2nd WW. After the 2nd WW a number of guns were bought in from trade sources, including abroad, ‘in the white’ and these may carry the maker’s serial numbers rather than Blanch’s. As an example, guns purchased in the white from Cogswell & Harrison are known bearing serial numbers in the 70,000 range.

To further muddy the water, Blanch sold many of its less prestigious guns unnumbered, especially ‘trade' quality top lever hammer guns, single barrels and small bores. These often carry numbers in concealed places such as inside lock plates, on the barrels between flats and forend loops etc and most are patently not Blanch serial numbers. Finally, it must be said that some of the later guns were of continental origin, very possibly Spanish, and are not of the same quality as the home grown variety. They usually are numbered in the 6900’s and although they are usually perfectly sound and exhibit high specifications, they often lack the elegance and finesse of earlier guns. There are exceptions to this and a good example is a very fine pair of 20 bore bar action side lock ejectors apparently once owned by Sir Joseph Nickerson which I had the privilege to handle.

It should perhaps be mentioned that Blanch case labels often had the gun's number written on them in ink or pencil, perhaps when returned to Blanch for servicing. Although this does enable one to match case with gun, the calligraphy of the scribe often leaves much to be desired and cannot be said to enhance the Blanch label design!

A typically numbered Blanch case label, in this case for 5703 >



Two of the very few names Blanch accessories that I have come across in 10 years of research.
< A box of copper percussion caps and one of only 3 snap caps >

In all the time that I have been researching Blanch, I have come across very few named accessories. In fact I have only seen two primer/cap boxes and three, yes three, snap caps. Given the commonness of case accoutrements and tools that turn up with other maker's names, I can only assume that Blanch did not subscribe to this particular form of self advertisement and used mainly unnamed items supplied by the trade. I would be delighted to be proved wrong in this assumption so if anybody has any named items, I would love to hear of them.

< Perhaps not an accessory as such, this wooden box for 16 gauge cartridges turned up on eBay in March, 2005.


Innovation? What Innovation?

If you read British Shotguns, 1871-1890 by David Baker and I M Crudgington you will find not a single entry in the index for a patent taken out by Blanch and this at a time when the entire gun trade seemed bent on achieving their little bit of immortality. I do not believe that this was due to a lack of ingenuity or skill on their part, after all William Blanch held a patent for the first rifle vernier sight in this country. It would appear that they believed in using mechanisms that had been proven by the test of time and others’ development work and where necessary they paid the royalty costs involved in using current patents.

Much has been made of the ‘conservatism’ of J Blanch & Son and this is very apparent in the book A Century of Guns by HJ Blanch published just after the turn of the century. The author makes it very clear that he was not keen on unnecessary complexity. For example, he had no time for single trigger mechanisms and I have only come across one example of a single trigger, a pair of back actions sleeved by Boss, and they may well have been a later conversion. However, it is amusing to note that the the first patent that HJ Blanch obtained (see below) was for a single trigger mechanism. Maybe 10 years on when he came to write his book, he had had enough of this famously unreliable embellishment!

H J Blanch obtained at least two patents himself and also one with G J Stevens and one with A L Chevallier . These were no. 8967 of 1899, the single trigger design; 12426 of 1906, a Lee Enfield rifle modification; 25538 of 1909 with Stevens, a sighting accessory, and finally 101018 of 1916 with A L Chevallier, a muzzle grenade launcher.

A fine pair of single trigger back action ejectors, sleeved by Boss, no's. 5895/6 >

(Courtesy of Christie's Images)

Courtesy of Christie's Images

Novel bolting methods, safeties, forend catches or actions apparently held no appeal for them and instead they appear to have concentrated on elegant rather than innovative guns. The only other unusual feature that I have come across is a pair of side lever hammer guns with a Perkes patent ejectors. These were finished to a very high standard and, although sleeved, were very desirable. Perhaps Blanch was only prepared to indulge their customers’ whims when the bill was going to be substantial anyway!

As the ‘exception that proves the rule’ there is at least one Blanch 12 bore over & under which the vendors dated to the 1920’s and was apparently in very good order. If the current owner reads this and would contact me, I would be very grateful for further details.

< The sole example of a Blanch over & under that has come to light to date. unknown no.

In these days of constant innovation and rampant obsolescence, it is tempting to condemn a company that did not move with the times nor appear to push out the envelope of technical innovation. However, I think this is to misunderstand the nature of the shooting public of the turn of the century. The gun trade had been through a half century of unprecedented change from black powder, flint lock muzzle loaders to nitro hammerless breech loaders. It would appear that no sooner had the shooting person acquired his ‘state of the art’ weapon than it had been superseded by another innovation. Of course this is overstating the case but, with the background of hundreds of years of positively glacial progress, it must have appeared similar to the development of computer technology in the last decade. It no sooner hits the shelves than it is obsolete.
In this, relatively, rapidly changing world many people yearn for some stability and tradition and I believe that this is where Blanch fitted in to the gun trade between the late 1800’s and the 1st WW.

In conclusion, I see J Blanch & Son as a gunmaker who did what they did with a quiet elegance and style in keeping with their conservative ethos and relatively unfashionable location. Occasionally they produced guns to order which compare favorably with those from the very best gunmakers in London but the core of their business lay with the sportsman who valued good solid quality rather than newfangled ideas.


London Gunmakers, Nigel Brown, 1998.
The British Shotgun, Volume II, IM Crudington & DJ Baker, 1989.
A Century of Guns, HJ Blanch. 1909
Boothroyd's revised Directory of British Gunmaker, Geoffrey & Susan Boothroyd, 1997
Modern Shotguns, WW Greener. 1888
Sidelocks & Boxlocks, Geoffrey Boothroyd. 1991
The Shotgun History & Development, Geoffrey Boothroyd. 1985
Shotguns & Gunsmiths The Vintage Years, Geoffrey Boothroyd. 1986
Lock, Stock & Barrel, C Adams & R Braden. 1996
Game Guns & Rifles. R Akehurst. 1992

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