The Trans-Atlantic battle for Rigby’s name

No doubt J. Rigby did not for a moment think that hundreds of years into the future a battle would be brewing for control of his name, reputation and proud legacy.

416 Rigby
The famous .416 Rigby cartridge, named after the company that invented it.

This story begins in the late ’90s when John Rigby & Company, who presumably were having financial problems, closed down. Geoff Miller, a Californian, purchased the trademarks and intellectual property of the now defunct John Rigby & Company. He subsequently started the firm John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers), Inc. operating it out of the same premises as his Rogue River Rifle Company business. I am not sure if the latter firm still exists.

Double Rifle enthusiasts were not altogether keen on having a Californian firm take over the name of a famous London double rifle manufacturer. California is often associated with the glamour of Hollywood, the technology of Silicon valley and sun bleached surfers of Long Beach. What it is not associated with is the the romance of the olden age of dangerous game hunting during the heights of the British Empire.

Much to the continued chagrin of enthusiasts, Miller imported shotgun actions make by Merkel of Germany to build their Rigby branded double rifles. According to Dangerous Game Rifles (Terry Wieland, 2006), Miller did this because wages in the former East Germany, where Merkel was located, had still not caught with the rest of the West since reunification and so the actions could be produced very cheaply.

Fast forward to 2009. A group of investors start up a company based in London and name it John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. (henceforth referred to as Rigby-London, and the Californian company as Rigby-Cali). Rigby-London plan on offering the same types of guns as Rigby-Cali (double rifles, shotguns and Mauser-style bolt action rifles) in a similar price range (approx. US$10,000 – US$100,000). Notably their “A” and “Best” grade double rifles will use the Rigby Bissel Rising Third Bite action – a very strong but expensive to manufacture action designed by the original Rigby & Co. back in the early 1900’s.

A Rigby-London shotgun.

As you can imagine, Rigby-Cali was not at all happy to learn about this new Rigby. To add insult to injury, Rigby-London posted a message online offering to replace any Rigby-Cali double rifle for just the net-cost of a replacement.

We are cognisant of the fact that the few of you who have over the past years purchased a “Rigby” double rifle, made in California, may now feel that your investment has been devalued.

We here, are not desirous of a situation where the shooting and collecting public are harmed by our insistence on a quality hand built product. Quite the opposite.

We would like to extend the following offer to the few owners of these guns.

We will by private treaty, on an individual basis, supply you with a replacement equivalent John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd., gun for a sum representing the net cost of production of the replacement gun.
If you have had bespoke engraving, we will arrange for the duplication of that engraving, again at net cost.

You may retain your John Rigby&Co. Inc. gun and dispose of it in any manner you feel appropriate.

All such transactions will be strictly confidential agreements between such parties and ourselves.

The Board of Directors,
John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd., Jno.Rigby & Co.

Rigby-Cali responded with a strongly worded press release that leaves no doubt as to their intentions in perusing legal action against Rigby-London.

John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers), Inc. is the only company that has legal right to use the JOHN RIGBY trademarks and logo worldwide. We are advised by our legal counsel in both the UK and in the U.S. that the London based company’s unauthorized use of our JOHN RIGBY name is a clear infringement of our registered trademark rights and is clear grounds for a passing off claim as well. We intend to initiate legal action forthwith seeking an injunction, damages and attorney’s fee for this wilful and egregious violation of our intellectual property rights. We are absolutely confident in our legal position and we have the legal right, the ability, the economic strength and the will to support this position.

On the other hand, Rigby-London told me that they also feel that they occupy the legal and moral high ground.

John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. is a correctly constituted and legally registered UK company. It has no connection what so ever to any company bearing the same or similar name that may be registered in the US. We do not have the rights to nor have we used any trade marks that may be registered to any US company. You will note that our guns are engraved Jno.Rigby & Co. as they were in the past. This company, is also owned by this board of directors.

A search of the Intellectual Property office in London, will reveal that John Rigby&Co.(Gunmakers) is not a trade mark owned by anybody, although Rigby Inc of California have made a belated attempt on 11.June.09 (06.11.09 US) to register that name following the publication of our website, it has yet to be gazetted and we have 6 months to lodge an objection..

It should be noted that “Jno.Rigby & Co.” is not a spelling mistake. The original Rigby company did indeed use this odd abbreviation to mark their weapons.

Picture 6-33
The markings on a original Rigby .470 NE double rifle made in 1911.

I looked up the term “Rigby” in the UK Intellectual Property Office trademark database and found that Rigby-Cali did indeed attempt to trademark the name “JOHN RIGBY & CO. (GUNMAKERS)”, although they did previously own the trademark “RIGBY’S” as well as the original Rigby logo.

Rigby Logo
Rigby-Cali’s registered trademark logo.

Picture 7-1
The logo being used by Rigby-London.

I did not look up to see what trademarks are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) because it has no bearing on this case. A common mis-conception is that there are international treaties regarding trademarks. Unlike copyrights or patents, no such agreements exist and a trademark needs to be individually registered in any country where a corporation wishes it to be protected.

So do Rigby-Cali have a legitimate case against Rigby-London? I think only a judge will be able to authoritively say one way or the other. My understanding of trademark law does not extend past my research for this article. Saying this, I understand there to be two issues at stake. The first issue is whether or not rifles branded “Jno.Rigby & Co.” are an infringement on the Rigby-Cali “RIGBY’s” trademark.

The second issue is if Rigby-London, operating under the same name as Rigby-Cali, is guilty of what is known as Passing Off (using an unregistered trademark in order to pass yourself off as the original user of the trademark). If Rigby-Cali were based in the UK, Rigby-London would likely lose the case.

What I do know is that there is sure to be more drama to follow in the coming months and years before a winner emerges. I also know both sides will be more than a few Pounds and Dollars lighter by the time the dust settles.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • AB

    In all joking and satire possible, I think we should have a shoot off with lawyers that have apples on their heads.

    Personally, I feel the Cali company has the rights because they got there first and registered first. The investor company happened to be a distant second, and involving itself in shaming a perfectly well done piece of machinery by saying it is a knockoff when their own product could be considered a knockoff is just silly.

  • Heath

    Sounds to me like this may turn into a long and expensive battle for both parties. Morally I’d say the London guys are clearly in the wrong and should be ashamed. If they have the skill to produce such a fine rifle or shotgun they should do so under a new name to the industry.

  • Freiheit

    They’re both marketing firearms to a genteel sort of consumer, they both have scads of firepower, they hearken back to days when men were men.

    I propose they settle this like men, go out into the wilds of Africa with just the companies rifle and namesake ammunition. First one back with the bigger/better/more dangerous kill gets the trademarks.

  • Erik

    As mentioned who knows about the ultimate legal result, but seems pretty clear the UK group is infringing on the US company’s name/trademark. Since it is an international legal matter common sense will have little to do with it.

    How big is the market for these guns, anyway? I know doubles have made a come-back, but I am curious how many $10,000+ rifles are sold in a given year.

  • georgeh

    Re: Jno. Rigby.

    Jno. was a common abbreviation of Jonathon for hundreds of years. Jonathon may have been the original Mr. Rigby’s legal name, as John is a diminutive of Jonathon.

    • georgeh, ah, thanks makes sense!

  • There are in fact international treaties regarding trademarks, but they mainly are oriented around ways to get one’s trademarks registered. See the Madrid Protocol.

    • SPQR, I meant in regards to enforcement and recognition. There are no treaties that I am aware of that will allow the holder of a USPTO registered trademark and enforce it in the UK.

  • Simon_The_Brit

    Naturally I side with the UK firm 😉 The very idea that a bunch of colonials are using the Rigby name is enough to put one off one’s Vension Pie, the bounders will be wanting independance next 🙂

  • Matt Groom

    I think the London company should lose their shirts for this, and believe me, I have no sympathy for California.

    But $10,000? Seriously? Do people really pay that much for nostalgia? There was a time when a serious double rifle was extremely difficult to produce and state of the art technology combined with high art, but now, even if they’re made in the old way, that’s just ridiculous. There’s no conceivable reason why a double rifle should cost more than a motorcycle.

    • Matt, they *start* at $10,000! That gets you the most basic gun. $100,000 gets you the top of the line.

  • Reed

    I agree with Freiheit, a hunt-off is obviously the way to settle this dispute.

  • Dave

    The “London made shotgun” for 10k£ ?
    There’s one born every minute eh?

  • As a former engraver on Rigby’s I have seen the quality. The cali firm is lacking somewhat in it’s mechanical approach (nasa style cad. lathe machines) and the fit is definately not as tight. Their engraving has suffered as the search for a cheaper way, cheaper engravers (of which there are, you get what you pay for) was sought. The UK firm and workers undoubtably make a better product. And….if you have to ask the cost you probably can’t afford it. The original name is distinct and clearly different than Rigby’s California, which leaves a bad cup of tea taste with me. Thanks Bruce

  • To expect a firm from the colonies who put tomato catchup on everything, to make a proper fitting gun is a bit like pi***** in the wind. Lets call a spade a spade you may buy the name but you cannot put workmanship into it if you only have money and no history. This idea of asking the price as well when you walked into the old King street shop in Covent garden is also rather an indiscretion, engravers and fitters must care and not work for less for a California firm or you won’t get the quality. It’s like not appreciating steak and kidney pie or soggy vineger soaked chips wrapped in newspaper. It is just not done and not expected from the “bargain hunter” no pun intended. No offense but they may have part of the name but it’s not a Rigby gun.

  • Steven

    I can see a very easy fix to this hole problem. Let the California Co. use the name; John Rigby&Co.(Gunmakers) Ltd and the London Co. use; Jon. Rigby&Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. The public could then tell them apart. It has been a dream of mine to own a Rigby double rifle for most of my life (at least the last 30-35 years). When the firm opened in California and I was able to look at their offerings I felt that the dream of a new Rigby was over. They did not come close to the Rigby in my dreams. With the London Co. the dream is alive again.

  • Francis

    By his own admission Carl Erikson in a recentl article in the Gun trade News admitted that he has imported a pair of shotguns bearing the name John Rigby & Co made ny Le Beau Courally. The guns shown on other forums definitely are not made in England, so what is the hope for an English made double rifle

  • Mr. Bradshaw has never engraved one of our guns, although he solicited work from us we felt he was not up to our standards….sour grapes….

    We use the finest engravers in the world…I would refer you to the newest DOUBLE GUN JOURNAL which has an article on our superstar engraver LISA TOMLIN who we feel is perhaps the best engraver that ever lived…our clients think so too..some of her Rigby guns have sold for over $150,000..
    She is back-ordered for over two years and has done guns for President GHW Bush, General Chuck Yeager, General H Norman Schwartzkopf and will soon be working on guns for George Bush and Vladimer Putin…

    In addition we use Gil Rudolf, Charles Lee (20 years at Purdey’s) Cecile Flohmont ( Holland and Purdey’s) and we will have some Guns done by the GRAND MASTER OF ALLs’ Daughter Francessca Fraccasi

  • Ashok

    I am from New Zealand and born in India – so I feel I can be quite objective. Firstly, the London firm has registered a company with a name that was abandoned in the UK. I own a business with brand, trademark & logo registered. If I abandon it, I should not whine if someone else takes it over. Secondly, the quality of the guns is critical. The Cali Merkel is not equal to a best quality London gun. To make that claim is blatant falsehood. It is an insult to the intelligence & character of the public to make such a claim. We are not dumb to accept a Merkel as equal to a Best London Gun. So what if Bush or Putin own Cali Merkels – that just shows their lack of taste and understanding of a true Best London gun or even a best Birmingham trade gun or even a best Schul guild gun. The German Merkel is a good working gun of standard quality & Merkel do not claim anything more. The Cali company has assembled this action and finished the gun in a typically American taste for the US market. To claim “Best in the World” is hot air & stale fa*t. “World series Super bowl” is fine as no one else plays the game anywhere else in the world. But to claim John Rigby with a Merkel action as “best gun” is offensive. That is like claiming a tarted up Dodge to be a Rolls Royce or even a refinished VW to be a Rolls Royce. Thirdly, I love American rifles such as the Winchester Mod 70 and scopes like Leupold. I love visiting the US & hunting there too and I have many friends there. Please do not lay claim to others’ glory. Merry Christmas.

  • John

    I think it is important to note that Geoff Miller does not and has not ever owned any of the Rigby companies. He puts the Rigby name on guns with permission of the real owner(s). Maybe he will enlighten us as to who the real owner(s) is.
    This is a complicated matter. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • Rajaram

    Long ago, 50 years and more, I used to shoot my father’s pre-war Rigby .416. I now live in the U.S. and have owned several U.S. made bolt actions. None of them can match my old Rigby for appearance, handling or shootability.

    I have also used a Manton double .470 made by Manton of Calcutta. It was superb. So, best quality weapons can be made in the ‘colonies’ but you need knowledgeable users and customers, which I don’t find to the same degree in the U.S. today as in India before 1960. Like art conoisseures you need conoisseures to get the best quality. Otherwise you get moneyed people who buy by brand name because they can afford it.

    By the way, Hollands and Purdeys coming out today are not as good as their pre-war versions.

    N.S. Rajaram

  • Rajaram

    This is a followup on my previous comment (September 14, 2010 above).
    It is no big deal for a great company like Rigby to move from one country as the did more than 150 years ago from Dublin to London.

    The bottom line is quality. Rigby’s reputation as arguably the greatest rifle maker ever was made after the move to London. So there is hope for the California Rigby if they are uncompromising in their pursuit of quality as John Rigby was.

    I have never owned a Rigby double rifle but have handled and shot one (a pre-war .450) though not at game. I have not seen or handled a California made Rigby but will try to visit them when I next visit the area.
    I have seen examples of Lisa Tomlin’s engraving. It is superlative. But there is more to a double rifle than engraving like balance, handling, crisp action, and, above all regulating the barrels. All I can say is I wish the best to both companies as long as they produce the best.

    Incidentally, I found my Browning shotguns to be more shootable than the Purdey I used in India. So there is no reason why U.S. gunmakers cannot match or surpass the best British guns.

  • Bob

    press release on this earlier today

    DALLAS, Jan 27, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — John Rigby & Co.(R) today announced the resolution of its trademark and intellectual property dispute against a London, UK-based entity that was operating under a confusingly similar name and trade dress. As a result of the settlement, “John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd.” and affiliated entities have agreed, in part, to cease operations under any Rigby(TM)- related trade name; to permanently close their website; to change their corporate names; to discontinue application for, or any use of, registered trademarks held by the parent of John Rigby & Co. LLC; and to not infringe on the John Rigby & Co.(R), and related, trademarks in the future. London-based J. Roberts & Son is the authorized agent for John Rigby & Co. in the United Kingdom.

  • jerry poparad

    If I were well heeled enough to own a Rigby rifle or shotgun it would have to have been made in London. To me personally, anything less is not a Rigby but someone simply riding on the Rigby name. Few purists would want a Rigby made with imported parts from East Germany and then assembled in the Silicone Valley. This is simply a blasphemy of the Rigby tradition which made guns from start to finish “in House”. Rigby-Cali is kidding no one. They simply do not make an “Authentic Rigby” period.

  • terz

    The simple solution is this.
    Mr. Miller and associates legally purchased John Rigby and Company
    period. And Iam sure for a great sum of money.

    The fact is the London based group are scoundrels and thieves.

    If they were honest men they could have put a proposal together
    to purchase John Rigby & Co, from Mr. Miller and his group, or invested
    in John Rigby& Co. they chose not to, they decided to steal .