The Holland & Holland Flagship Store

IMG_2642-1

Walking along the streets of south west London, just north of Buckingham Palace, a person will take a step into glamour and glance at the official store fronts of such luxury brands as “Louis Vuitton”, “Gucci”, and “Rolex” to name a few. It is among these prestigious titles on 33 Bruton Street that a very unassuming single floor store front has taken up residence for the past 31 years. On the banner is simply “Holland & Holland, Established London 1835”.

To understand the history and prestige of Holland & Holland, an American must take a step back and first examine the culture and tradition associated with the company before passing judgment. Try convincing an ordinary duck hunter to purchase a 90,000 dollar traditional side by side 12 gauge shotgun and see if he doesn’t ask if you’re part of a comedy routine. No bells or whistles, no competition accessories such as a set trigger, titanium receiver or Benelli recoil system. Just a simple side by side with fancy carvings on the stock and elaborate scenes of the hunt inlaid in the metal.

You see, Holland & Holland is not the same as our historic “Winchester” or “Colt” companies so ingrained in our national history. Holland & Holland is something much more to a British shooter; it’s a lifestyle, an unbroken tradition, a bond of man and weapon that simply doesn’t exist in the United States. Extravagant? Posh? Insane level of upper class? Indeed it is. But if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a Holland & Holland.

How can a simple gun company achieve such heights? Founded in 1835 by Harris Holland (later partnered with nephew Henry Holland in), the company started out from modest roots making simple percussion shotguns for bird and target shooting. It goes without saying that the shooting sports in Britain were more of an upper class pastime, unlike in America where it is very much ingrained in the national culture. Holland & Holland continued to grow until it received a breakthrough with a series of tests by the British outdoors magazine “The Field” in which some of their rifles scored first in the firearms trials. This launched the company into it’s heyday of the extravagant safari hunts of the early 20th century. Ever since, Holland & Holland has been the mark of quality and perfection within the British firearms business and sporting field.  Today the company still maintains its “Royal Warrant”, meaning that is was commissioned by the Crown to provide products to the monarchy of Great Britain, a very enriching crest to keep.

What exactly makes a Holland & Holland firearm? To call a Holland & Holland firearm custom is an extreme understatement. When we talk about custom work in the United States, it might entail some trigger work, refinishing of the stock or receiver, maybe an aftermarket bolt or barrel. When a customer decides he wants a Holland & Holland shotgun or rifle, he visits the gun room and decides the type of caliber, action and receiver. Then his body measurements are taken in relation to the gun, height, weight, arm length, cheek diameter, etc. An appointment at one of Holland & Holland’s shooting centers is in order and here even more measurements are taken as the customer is observed while shooting. With the customers’ requests also added, the design is finalized and is sent to the work room. From here a gun can take months to years to complete. Everything on it is handmade and meticulously assembled. Parts are worked on until their symmetry with connecting parts is flawless. There are no outsourcing, sub-contracting, or third party manufacturers. Everything is made in house and in Britain. What does this cost? In upwards of £60,000 for a single shotgun or rifle NiB.

Did I mention doubles yet? To speed up the rate of fire while bird hunting, the British do something called doubles. A hunter will have two guns built exactly the same and have an assistant hold on to the other during the hunt. After the two shells have been expended with one, he will hand it off to the assistant who will hand a loaded gun to the shooter and commence loading the recently fired gun. This concept is very alien to American shooters who will argue why not just use a pump or semi-automatic shotgun and have an even faster, more efficient method of fire. This is where the divide between British and American shooting is clearly shown; Holland & Holland is a part of an upper class life style, much more than just a gun company. These “Pairs” of shotguns usually run £100,000 to £120,000 for a pair.

Holland & Holland isn’t the only company of this type though, and to be fair this post should include some of the other companies out there. All are considered to produce a gun of “London Best” quality, so named because throughout history such fine shotguns have come from Holland. Companies such as Boss, Purdey, John Rigby, and John Wilkes are a few other British companies to make such “bespoke” guns. Spanish Grulla, German J.P Sauer, and Italian Perazzi are a few international companies that also make such fine shotguns. But where are the American “Best” shotguns? There have been a few; Parker, Ithaca, and L.C Smith. Most of these are out of business but when they are operational, they represented some very well made shotguns in the United States.

Included in this Holland & Holland life style is also an entire luxury fashion line.  In fact there is more to do with hats, coats, ties, suits, and vests than with shooting or guns in the 33 Bruton Street store. These items are not as custom made as the firearms but they are extremely high quality and made of the finest materials. In addition to fashion, the store is also stocked with various interesting trinkets and jewels made from precious metals and a selection of books on the company, safari, and shooting.

When I toured London in August of 2013, one of my priorities was to visit the flagship storefront (the company prefers it called the Gunroom) at 33 Bruton Street. After following the maze of streets leading away from Buckingham Palace and into the Mayfair district, passing through all the high end luxury shops, opposite a pub that opened in 1744. I finally found Holland & Holland with its glass storefront window and unassuming sign board in green with white lettering. Walking into the gunroom I was faced with a clerk at the register and explained I was an American gun enthusiast who wanted to explore the shop. I didn’t want to mislead them thinking I had the funds to actually purchase anything in the place!

Just before the Gunroom, is the records section. Here the company has a book of records for every year of operation that records every gun Holland & Holland has made. Customers can inquire about their own guns and receive a certificate of researched authentication. It was here that I encountered one of the Gunroom’s representatives, James Hart who patiently showed me around and explained all my questions about Holland & Holland.

Stepping into the actual Gunroom is quite an experience. For one, it is a raised platform and at the rear of the store, as if to implicate that the true treasure lies beyond all the other products. The guns themselves are locked behind glass cabinets with bright spot lights all around, focusing the glare on every intricate part of the firearms. And intricate they are! I admired the handcut detail in the metal and the elaborate hunting scenes carved upon the stocks. Professing my mere mortal being, I tenderly asked if I could personally examine one of the side by side 20 gauge (20 bore in English terms). Mr. Hart gingerly pulled out a gun from a pair and matter of factly told me the pair was worth £120,000 together (they are only sold together). Handling it was superb, the action opening and closing like a charm. The individual detail on every single part was simply astounding for the quality, I handed the gun back to Mr. Hart and he ever so carefully placed it back in its velvet cradle.

IMG_2644 copy

My quest complete, I proceeded to exit the store but felt the urgent need to not leave without something of material value from the most extravagant gun maker in the Western World. So I looked through the books on sale and settled upon a coffee table history of the company and several of the current catalogs. I also picked up a Holland & Holland gun cleaning cloth for a measly £8. Had to walk away with something directly related to their shotguns!

So why the fuss over a posh gun company that me or anyone in my social group will probably ever be even able to purchase from? In an age of aluminum AR15s, caseless ammunition, and polymer pistols, it is very easy to lose sight of what we have previously placed our utmost admiration upon. A time when the very best firearms were truly works of art, in function, purpose, and aesthetic value. When the stuff of safari legend and romantic ventures on the savannah weren’t fairy tale and actually took place. Well, this timeless epic isn’t about to die yet. Not so long as there is still Holland & Holland.

Related

V Kenneth

I’m an Infantry Marine at Camp Lejeune and went on a combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. We’re getting ready to go back out later on this year. The Kriss Vector in the profile picture is the original prototype used in the Discovery Channel’s Future Weapon’s series.


Advertisement

  • Michael

    Loved the write up. H&H firearms arnt my cup o’ tea (as the brits might say) but they are truly the pinnacle of craftsmanship and artistry in firearms.
    Also, just wanted to add that its nice to see articles actually being written on TFB again. Seems like lately there have been a lot of copy and past articles with a stock photo slapped on and a sentence or two of cometary for a TFB writer. I am happy to see some more well written pieces popping up on my feed.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      We really haven’t dropped or reduced the number of full reviews. Steve tries to supply news on products you guys would be interested in.
      There are several very good articles coming out shortly. In fact you might want to watch tomorrow.
      This time of year we are also up to our ears in work getting ready for SHOT.

  • Blake

    That…

    …was an awesome article :-)

  • John

    I used to work right next to William Evans on St. James street. Just as nice as H&H and worth a visit .

  • Vhyrus

    Gun ownership in Britain is the textbook example of an armed ruling class. The rich get guns, the rest don’t. They flaunt this disparity by buying guns such as these to show off their superiority over the unwashed hordes, not unlike nobles of of the feudal ages carrying exquisitely crafted swords. Shoot someone with an H&H and the police are liable to look the other way… unless it was stolen, in which case you will be summarily hanged in the town square. Very classy.

    I appreciate the level of work that goes into them, but I don’t much care for the elitist aristocracy it is marketed towards.

    • John Kelly

      I’m sorry, but what you are saying is absolute nonsense. if someone is shot and killed in the UK, the police investigation is always thorough and unbiased. the press coverage however, is not. Holland & Holland are items to admire, and while out of reach of most people, gun ownership in Britain is not only for the ruling class. I am a 21 year old currently unemployed student, who proudly has a shotgun certificate and I am certainly not ruling class. I find the vast majority of gun owners in britain are people who work outdoors (the vast majority of owners i know are landscape gardeners or tree surgeons, and pest controllers) or people whose livelihoods depend on their ability to keep pest species off their land. all of these shoot recreationally as well.

      • Nick

        I thought about posting something very similar to this,

        its a shame that (some) Americans seem to think the UK still operates under some sort of feudal system.

        • Guy Fawkes

          Run that theory by the people in Cornwall who just got letters from Prince Charles telling them that he has the right to mine under their houses.

          The UK remains a quite feudal country. A handful of useless royals lead lives of vast wealth and privilege. Just because they no longer insist on deflowering young brides or billeting soldiers in peoples’ homes doesn’t mean the parasites of the monarchy don’t still have their snouts in everyones’ pockets.

        • Dan

          Not feudal. But judging by the camears and surveillance, rather a police state.

      • Vhyrus

        Gun ownership itself is not based solely on wealth, but try getting a cert if you live in the wrong part of town or have the wrong last name. As far as police work goes, it is much more subjective in the UK than you would like to believe.

        I am certainly not saying we don’t deal with the same situation in the states, it is just slightly more subtle here. Our former vice president nearly killed a man with a shotgun while reporters watched, and he wasn’t even formally questioned by police. If I had accidentally shot someone on a quail hunt, I would still be doing time.

    • The Forty ‘Twa

      Load of bollocks. Shooters in the UK come from all sorts of backgrounds. I own a few firearms and I’m about as far from upper class as it gets. As for invented claims of police corruption, what a load of tosh! I missed have skipped that lesson when I was training as a police officer.

    • FourString

      Good lord, it doesn’t sound like you’ve ever visited Britain because everything you posted here you simply pulled out of your ass. I’m currently living in Britain, and EVERYTHING you wrote is total bullshit.

    • Graham2

      Why have you typed such an ill-informed load of rubbish? Have you ever been to Britain?
      I for one have been shooting all my life, well, from the age of 8 anyway and currently own .22 Long Rifle and centre fire rifles, as well as shotguns. I’m a member of the NRA and regularly compete in Civilian Service Rifle competitions at Bisley. I don’t doff my cap to any man and I doubt there are many who expect me to!
      Have a look at http://www.gunmart.net and see the sort of gear we can shoot over here, you idiot.

      • FourString

        whoa 25 round .22lr magazines are legal in England?? (just checked the link you provided and the Sig 522 review mentions a 25 rounder option o.o

  • HJ

    The ultimate experience would be to gun to all the great London gun makers and compare their products. Then purchase all the firearms, clothing, etc for an African Safari and then go on that safari. One day I will own a Classic Double Rifle.

  • Nick

    Unfortunately these days the upper class types and those that would have once been the aristocrats, can’t afford these guns either they have enough trouble heating the stately home, so spending 100 grand on shotgun is probably not on the cards for them, the truth is H&H guns that are sold these days are sold to Saudi oil men. as for the clothing line i really wonder who thats aimed at (metaphorically speaking) as if you go to H&H’s site and look at its clearly selling a ‘lifestyle’ that hasn’t existed since the 1920s.

  • John Kelly

    Great article. a return to form for the firearm blog. always interesting to read about my own country too, even if it is down south in London :)

  • Mike

    For those in the US, the Holland & Holland store in Manhattan is absolutely unbelievable. Their gun room is filled with beautiful shotguns and rifles, and their coat & tie-attired staff was unfailingly polite and solicitious to me in my jeans & fleece jacket.

    I remember being invited to hold and examine a shotgun, one of a pair, which together cost more than I paid for my house. I also saw a double rifle with “TR IV” engraved on the stock; apparently Teddy Roosevelt’s great grandson and namesake took it with him to Africa and subsequently placed on consignment at H&H.

    In the end, my wife bought me a small cardboard box bearing the H&H logo with shotgun cleaning patches in it. That (and an embossed H&H paper towel I nicked from the restroom) was all we could walk away with that day.

  • iksnilol

    Not quite my cup of tea. I will argue for using a pump or semi auto instead of two (or some patience and duct tape). I really want to like them but I can’t, I would rather buy CZ’s classic hammer shotgun and get it engraved in my home country or an Ithaca 37 and get it engraved (most likely both one day). Though I have always had a desire for a SxS elephant gun, something in .577 or .600 nitro or something.

  • mike

    If you go to there website and check out the company video it certainly shows a whole different world in terms of firearms, craftsmanship and lifestyle.

  • Ckh

    http://forums.nitroexpress.com/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=210476&an=0&page=1#Post210476

    I recommend you read this, quite an experience. As a double enthusiast myself I’ve always admired H&H quite a bit.

  • nester7929

    While I certainly admire the beauty of a Holland & Holland gun, I’d have a hard time shelling out 120,000 pounds for a pair even if I could afford it.

  • DieHard-Hans

    so its essentially a gun that you would never shoot…boring.

    Great craftsmanship though.

    • The Forty ‘Twa

      People really do shoot with these things, they aren’t fireplace firearms by any means. I remember almost getting my head blown off by a drunken toff with a shotgun from H&H whilst grouse beating as a teenager. The gentleman (ahem) proceeded to tell me it was all my fault and that his shotgun was made by Netherland and Netherland (sic) and cost more than I would earn in my entire life. Funny what you remember!

      • Guy Fawkes

        So the Lords do in fact get away with anything, and you tug your forelock and take it.

  • Adam

    I went in March of this year, curiously enough I -also- bought the cleaning cloth for as a souvenir. I certainly was impressed with the shotguns, but of more interest to me was the 5 Mauser’s they had in the room off to the left. The attendant told me that right after WW2 Holland and Holland scooped up 50 original Mauser actions to build bolt action rifles from, and those were the last 5 left in existence. I was really impressed by the whole place.

    • Adam

      Actually, I just noticed they are over your right shoulder in that picture.