The Malin Hoax Revisited

by Terry Weiland

Some stories you just can’t resist.  At least I can’t.  And this is one of them.

The name “Frank E. Malin” means little to anyone these days.  In fact, it never meant much to anyone (except, perhaps, his mother) at the best of times, but in the ‘70s it caused a stir in the shotgun world.

Malin, an Englishman, announced he was setting up a fine-gun operation in Canada, staffed by craftsmen and gunsmiths from England.  They would, Malin said, import the basic parts from traditional suppliers in Birmingham, and make both boxlock and sidelock side-by-sides to “best” gun standards.  These would sell in America for a fraction of what you would pay for a Purdey or Holland & Holland in London.

Had it all worked out that way, it would have been good news for shotgun lovers, but of course it did not.  The operation foundered on several shoals at once, all of Malin’s own making.  Some gunmakers did, in fact, immigrate to Canada (and moved on to the U.S. when the Malin operation failed).  And while he may have brought in British parts initially, they either proved unobtainable or too expensive, because Malin then turned to Spain, buying locks, barrels, and actions from AYA.

I got involved in this in 1987, around the time of my first trip to the Basque Country to visit the remaining fine gunmakers there.  These included AYA, which by that time was the cornerstone of the ill-fated Diarm gunmaking consortium.  Then a large company, AYA provided parts to other gunmakers, just as Brazier provided locks to Holland & Holland, or Chilton to Boss & Co. in the old days.  Alas, at the time, the widespread calumny about the quality of Spanish steel was being promulgated by any importer of Italian or Belgian guns that could not compete on price.

The problem was not so much that Malin used Spanish parts, as that he’d stated categorically they would be “English-style guns, made of English parts, by English gunmakers.”  As with politics, it’s not the crime so much, it’s the cover-up.

Malin established his business in the small Ontario town of Melbourne, which is just down the road from London, Ontario.  In the best English tradition, he engraved his name and address on the rib, which read “Frank Malin, London & Melbourne.”  Technically, perhaps, true, but grossly misleading, given the exalted reputation of genuine “London” guns, such as Purdeys.  A judge might not call it fraud, but gun afiçionados certainly would.  And, I might add, did.

I was living about 200 miles from London at the time.  After the company’s demise, I drove down to interview Nick Mackinson, one of the Birmingham lads who moved to Canada to work for Malin.  Nick was a machinist by trade, and very highly skilled.  When I met him, he was in the process of building a matched pair for Jack Morris, the ace of the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff.

Nick told me the sad story of Frank Malin’s gunmaking operation, and I wrote a piece about it for Sporting Classics.

How many guns did the company produce?  Impossible to say for sure, but certainly not many.  Fewer than a hundred?  Maybe only a few dozen?  I had never seen one surface for sale until last month, when one appeared in the Rock Island catalogue (Premier Auction, September, 2021, Lot #3456.)

The gun was a 12-gauge boxlock in a case, with two sets of barrels, and displayed good, if not exceptional, workmanship.    I figured the proofmarks would tell the tale, and they did.  On the action flat were standard Spanish marks of the 1980s (a new system was introduced in 1995).  Rock Island was coy about the proof marks in its description, nor did it explain what, exactly, “London and West Melbourne” on the rib might denote.  In fairness, maybe they just didn’t know.

Inexplicably, the gun brought $2,875 — more than some lovely English boxlocks, and some very nice Basque sidelocks, have sold for recently.

Search for Malin’s name on the web and you’ll find quite a few references, some lauding the quality of his early guns, others condemning him as a fraud.  He certainly had some good English craftsmen working for him for a time, but it all fell apart — not unlike some similar operations set up in England in recent years, often sporting old, respected names to which they bought the rights.

According the Nick Mackinson, Frank E. Malin was last seen running a tattoo parlor in London’s east end.  London, Ontario, that is.

______________________________________________________________________________

Gray’s shooting editor’s serious education in fine guns began with that trip to see Nick Mackinson.  His education in the vagaries of gun buyers continued with the sale of the Malin at Rock Island.