The ‘Finest Double’ Up For Auction

When author Terry Weiland wrote about this W.J. Jeffery .450/400 NE (3-inch) rifle in his book “Dangerous-Game Rifles,” two noted experts said it was the finest double rifle they had ever seen. The same W.J. Jeffery .450/400 NE (3-inch) is Lot No. 483 in Rock Island’s Premier Auction on May 19.

The Rock Island Auction Company recently posted the catalog for its Premier Auction in May. As is my wont, as soon as I saw this, I set up a list to note any guns I particularly wanted to see. I began going through it, item by item.

When I came to Lot No. 483, I scanned it hurriedly, moved on…and then moved back. “I know that rifle,” I thought to myself. “There can’t be two…”

It was billed simply as “Engraved W.J. Jeffery & Co. Sidelock Ejector Double Rifle,” with its caliber — .450/400 Nitro Express — noted beneath. The only hint that this is a rifle out of the ordinary was the estimated price: $35,000-$55,000.

I cast back into my library of photographs and sure enough: 14 years ago, I was given temporary possession of it to photograph and include in the second edition of my book, “Dangerous-Game Rifles.” And what made it special, and noteworthy, was the fact that two acknowledged experts stated, for publication, that it was the finest double rifle they had ever seen.

At the time, it was owned by Johnny McCharen, an Oklahoma City collector and authority on doubles. He bought it some years earlier from George Caswell at Champlin Arms. George introduced me to Johnny and insisted he owned three rifles I simply had to see. One was a Rigby rising bite (.450/400 3¼-inch), one was a Charles Boswell .500 NE that had belonged to J.A. Hunter, and the third was the Jeffery.

At that time, 2009, the market for double shotguns and rifles was hitting its fevered peak, and even the rattiest London double was commanding big money. 

For double rifles of all ilks, and especially anything chambered for a reasonably available Nitro Express cartridge, the floor was $20,000. It has since retreated, and now you can get a nice double for $10,000, although the big names still command big money.

The double-rifle market went through its own fads and fancies. For years, through the 1980s and into the ’90s, anything chambered in .470 NE commanded the “.470 premium” — usually 10 to 20 per cent above the same rifle in another caliber. This was simply because .470 ammunition could be obtained, whereas most others could not. 

This was followed by a .500 NE premium (early 2000s) and a .577 NE premium (2010); in fact, in 2010, one dealer had a H&H double .577, a rather plain Dominion model, for which he was asking $180,000! Whether he got it, I don’t know.

This made the Jeffery something of an anomaly. The two .400s — the .450/400 NE (3-inch) and the .450/400 NE (3¼-inch) — have never been as desirable, because they are not considered real “elephant” rifles, in spite of the fact that Karamojo Bell used one as his back-up. If anything, there was a .400 discount.

W.J. Jeffery is numbered among the elite of the double-rifle world, along with Holland & Holland, John Rigby, and Westley Richards. Among Jeffery’s notable accomplishments was the introduction of the .600 Nitro Express.

But what makes this particular rifle noteworthy? Essentially, everything about it. The workmanship is, as might be expected, superb. It’s in perfect condition, and the traditional scroll engraving is such that you just want to set it in good light and admire it. By today’s inflated standards, the walnut stocks are not extraordinary but — essential with a double rifle — the grain is perfect for strength and stability.

Rock Island describes the rifle as “a piece of artwork that exudes class from the glory days of hunting in India and Africa.” Can’t argue with that. They add that the rifle has been “masterfully restored.” My recollection is that, 14 years ago, it was all original and all gorgeous, but memory is a tricky thing.

At any rate, I will be at Rock Island to renew my acquaintance with the Jeffery, and when Lot No. 483 comes on the block in the afternoon of Friday, May 19, be rooting for it to go for at least the high estimate of $55,000. Just knowing such a rifle is a privilege.

Terry Wieland is a writer specializing in fine firearms. He has hunted on four continents, including 14 trips to Africa, and has written for Safari Times for 26 years.