We interrupt this blog to bring you breaking news concerning the ongoing saga of storied English gunmaker John Rigby & Co. The picture is a John Rigby boxlock .470 NE made in 1920—the real deal.
Insider broke the story in August of how two companies, both named John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers), are building guns under the Rigby name. With some new information, we can now make a more definitive decision on which is the real John Rigby.
John Rigby & Co. was sold to Texan Neil Gibson in 1997 by Paul Roberts of London. Gibson then sold a license to produce Rigby-branded guns to California gunsmith Geoff Miller of Rogue River Rifleworks in Paso Robles, Calif.
Later, a man named Mark Neal of London, made the stunning discovery that the English trademark for John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. had been abandoned! When the sale was made to Gibson, he only filed for a U.S. trademark.
Neal was issued a Rigby trademark in England and has opened a shop there.
Accusations flew across the Atlantic, but despite a lot of bluster from “California Rigby,” the trademark it owns is valid only in the U.S.
So which is the real John Rigby? Without any other ties, the answer must lie in the guns.
Rigby was known for making several grades of double rifles, including a boxlock on a "trade action," but Rigby's rising-bite action, otherwise known as the Bissel action, is the signature action that Rigby built during its zenith. It turns out that "London Rigby" took on the task to make the Rigby rising-bite action using modern manufacturing methods.
Well-known author and expert on fine English guns Terry Wieland recently visited the premises of “London Rigby” and had this to say about what he saw:
"I met with Mark Neal and spent two days with him in his shop. I saw the first rising-bite frame that had come back from the CNC shop, and I looked at the CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) computer model in the company of an American CNC expert, who confirmed that it is the genuine article,” Wieland said. “I also saw the chopper-lump barrels for the first rising-bite rifle, which will be a .450 Nitro Express. They were ready to be soldered together in the traditional method of regulating barrels by hand."
"For specialist operations, such as barrel-making, engraving, and final finishing, Mark Neal has lined up some of the very best people in the English gun trade, and they are all enthusiastic about helping to rehabilitate the Rigby name.
"Altogether, my conclusion is that the new London Rigby is very much for real, and they are making genuine products,” the author of six books and an expert on the English gun trade concluded.
As journalistic fortune would have it, Wieland also visited “California Rigby” so he could make a comparison. "I was shocked," Wieland said. "There was a total lack of traditional gunmaking."
What he found was a couple of laborers cobbling together doubles rifles on Merkel shotgun actions (complete with German proofmarks). Instead of regulating the barrels by hand, like skilled gunmakers, the California workers clamped the barrels in some Rube Goldberg contraption and "regulated" them.
“I was appalled,” Wieland said. “Geoff Miller actually bragged to me that he does not employ traditionally qualified gunmakers. Instead, he had hired a guitar maker to fit the stocks on the theory that wood is wood, and an auto mechanic to fit the barrels. Miller's contempt for his products, his so-called craftsmen, the gunmaking trade, and his customers is almost palpable."
Wieland is in the final stages of updating the second edition of his best-selling book "Dangerous Game Rifles" which will include details of his visits to the two Rigbys.
"I really believe this may be the beginning of the road back for the Rigby name from the disgrace of the Paso Robles years,” Wieland concluded.
UPDATE: Read Managing Director of John Rigby & Co. Geoff Miller's response to this entry.