L.C. Smith has long reigned supreme as the only American-made hammerless sidelock. The company was started in 1884 by Lyman Cornelius Smith, and while his well-built side-by-sides attracted hunters, they failed to hold the attention of Smith, who became captivated by a new-fangled device that would become the Smith-Corona typewriter. In 1888, Smith sold his company to John Hunter, Sr.
From 1889 until 1943, the Hunter Arms Co. built some of America’s finest shotguns, ranging in “Qualities,” as the company called them, from 2 through 7 (or A to F and AA in subsequent catalogs) and priced from $55 up to $450. In 1913 the grading system changed to the names Field, Ideal, Olympic, Trap, Specialty, Eagle, Crown, Monogram, Premier and De Luxe. Although the guns differed externally, internally they were all mirror-polished and hand-fitted equally well.
The Hunter Arms Company went bankrupt in 1917 and was sold to the Simonds Saw & Steel family of Fitchburg, Mass., in 1920. Financial problems again led to the company’s failure in 1945. Hunter Arms was rescued by Marlin Firearms Co., which tried to keep America’s only sidelock alive through the years. Today the L.C. Smith sidelock is no more, and the current “sidelock” is actually a boxlock made overseas with false sideplates. But pre-1945 “Elsies” are highly coveted.
This 16-gauge Ideal Grade, the next step up from Field Grade, features factory oak leaf engraving. When found, it was a wall-hanger, unsafe to shoot, but still sold for $750 —indicative of the high esteem in which these guns are held. In a decision some might question, it was sent to Briley Mfg. (www.briley.com), where it was expertly restored to factory-new condition for a cost of $2,120. Were it all original, including a 33 percent premium for 16 gauge, according to the Blue Book of Gun Values it would be worth $3,105. But even with a 50 percent reduction for restoration, this classic has been gloriously brought back to life.
Gun: L.C. Smith Ideal Grade
Condition: NRA Antique Excellent (as restored)