Down to Cases

What a century-old Brady case looks like after 35 years in the rafters of a henhouse. The rest of the case was no better.

by Terry Wieland

Clothes make the man, they used to say, and the same might be said of fine guns and guncases.

One is reminded of the famous line from 48 Hours:  The dishevelled cop, Nick Nolte, tells Eddie Murphy, “You got a $500 suit on, you’re still a low-life,” to which Murphy replies, “Yeah, but I look good!”

A Savile Row suit may not turn a monster into a matinee idol, but it can give the impression of importance.  After all, if you can afford—and appreciate—fine tailoring, you must be a somebody.

The same principle applies to guns of all types.  Gunmakers have been turning out masterpieces for 500 years and, to a great extent, the ones that have survived and come down to us in good condition are those in fitted cases.  Why?  Because 500 years’ worth of ham-handed peasants who wouldn’t know a Manton from a molecule see that it is in a case, and conclude it must be valuable.

This restored E.M. Reilly spent most of its life in the above-mentioned Brady case, and is now much happier in this oak and leather trunk-style case from Tony Galazan. It accommodates two sets of barrels, which the Brady did not; the second set were tied to the top of the case with baler twine.

Of course, not every gun in a case is a masterpiece, and not every one gathering dust at the end of a gun rack is a workaday tool, but that’s not the point:  Simply giving the impression of value increases a gun’s odds of survival to an inordinate degree.

Duelling pistols are the best example.  Normally made in matched pairs, they were housed in fitted cases that could be conveniently carried under the arm when repairing to a secluded spot in the chill of dawn.  They came with cleaning equipment, spare flints, various tools, and loading accoutrements, all in fitted compartments.

Newly restocked and restored H.J. Hussey pigeon gun deserved a good home. Another case from Tony Galazan.

Even to the ruffians of Paris in 1789, these artifacts of aristocracy had obvious value and many were preserved.  Today, you see surprising numbers of extraordinary guns by the French masters that survived the various revolutions and sporadic outbursts of French democracy.

The great English game guns almost always were “sent home” in a fitted oak and leather case or, later, leather and canvas—again, with compartments for necessary accoutrements.  This dates from before the Manton brothers, and grew out of the custom with duelling pistols, but it’s a practice that has paid dividends.

The fact that side-by-side and over/under shotguns can be broken down into their component parts, and stored in shorter, handier cases, has worked to their advantage in two ways:  Their cases are less cumbersome, and a gun that has to be put together is less likely to be grabbed for instant use in an emergency.  Similarly, not being obvious to a thief helps their chances of survival.