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Griffin & Howe

The Fine Firearms Find of the Century

Guy Bignell
President
2012
In the words of the immortal Michael McIntosh, "call this a tangled web with a happy ending, a story that unfolds like the plot of a Russian novel toward a conclusion in which one of the most venerable Belgian gunmakers and the most venerable American gunmaker undergo a renaissance and in the process bring back to life one of the more visionary guns of the twentieth century - invented by a Belgian maker whose relative obscurity belies his genius".

More recent history has been brutally hard on the Belgian trade.  The country has been twice overrun in the twentieth century, it's gunmaking resources converted perforce to military arms, and its once-flourishing trade in sporting guns all but subsumed by competition from England, Italy, and Spain.  Until these ravages of the 20th Century, the Belgian city of Liège was one of the most important gunmaking centers of Europe. Even the most chauvinistic London makers are willing to admit that a best gun built during, "Liège's Golden Age", represents quality beyond reproach. The royal families of Europe certainly patronized the British trade, but more often their gunmakers of choice were Belgian, most notably Lebeau Courally. Of the makers who built reputations for the highest quality, only Lebeau Courally has so far ultimately survived but few young people have chosen to enter the gun trade.

1896: Such fertile ground naturally attracted craftsmen, including two brothers named Britte. Théophile and Lambert set up in business together in Liège on the 2nd February 1896 as Britte Fréres, Gunmakers to the Trade. Théophile Britte was about 22 when he created the company. He was the undisputed kingpin of this small workshop. The proof in our possession is a picture, dated April 1897, of a group, where we find the two Britte brothers in the center with 10 employees. Among those, Jean Lhoest, Théophile Britte's brother in law; this employee was hired by Britte Fréres on February, 2nd 1896. The workshop was exclusively creating and manufacturing gun parts and hunting guns.

Many shotgun actions were built, side by side boxlock Anson systems, sidelock Holland & Holland systems and the classic over and unders. Unlike their colleagues, who relied almost entirely upon the hand-craftsmanship of outworkers, the Brittes installed the most highly sophisticated machinery then available and at the height of the company's fortunes, employed as many as 300 workers, each with his own specialty. The tubes for the barrels were purchased from various suppliers in the area; some of whom were enjoying worldwide recognition.

Germany and France were large customers. In order to facilitate deliveries in France, they created a factory, Court-Fauriel in St Etienne, between the "Manufacture d'Armes de St Etienne" and Verney-Carron, close to the St Etienne train station. Britte specialized exclusively making high quality gun parts and luxury guns of outstanding quality. That their customers included Lebeau Courally, Francotte, Dumoulin, Westley Richards, Dixon and other "Best London & Birmingham", makers of high repute, speaks well for the quality they were able to achieve.

1923: Etablissements Britte, as the company was by now known, still marketed barreled actions. In 1923, (coincidently the same year Seymour Griffin founded Griffin & Howe), "Jules Bury" and "Masquelier" (Fine firearms manufacture and dealer in Liège) formed a partnership with Théophile Britte, (Master Gunsmith & founder of the "Etablissements Britte"). Together the 3 gunsmiths created a company, "Etablissements Britte Atelier de Mecanique de Precision, Armes en Blanc" which basically means, "Manufacturer of Firearms in the White", the company was incorporated on the 17th September. Jules Bury and Masquelier needed parts and gunsmiths to manufacture hunting firearms and as we know Théophile Britte was a genius in machining and tooling.

1931: Théophile Britte himself had a keen appreciation for unconventional engineering.
Britte earned a patent for a side opening over and under design in 1931, and announced it to the world the following year as the, 'SuperBritte'.  The "Super" part of the name derives from the French word 'superpose' (over & under) but the word fits Britte's gun in more ways than one. It is an over/under, but instead of a conventional drop-down, the SuperBritte opens to the side.

He wasn't the first to think of this. W.W. Greener patented a side-opening over/under in 1873 - but his Wedge-Fast was a side-by-side action turned ninety degrees. John Dickson later did essentially the same thing with his famous round action - rotated it a quarter-turn to make a side-hinge over/under.  Dickson's built fewer than ten examples altogether.

The key difference between these guns and the SuperBritte is that while Greener and Dickson adapted existing side-by-side actions, Théophile Britte designed his from scratch - and in doing so, perfected the side-opening action. The completed guns engraved with stocks mounted were entirely built in the Britte workshops and delivered, ready to shoot, after proofing in Liege and testing at the shooting grounds.



Because it does not require a frame in the conventional sense, this side-opener is inherently the shallowest over/under action possible.  Because the action bar is on the side, there's no need for the deep, U-shaped frame that a drop-down action requires.  So, the height of the action is exactly the same as the height of the barrels - and you just can't make an over/under any slimmer in profile than that.

Britte's action is also about as narrow as an over/under can be.  The cocking system works directly from the side-lever; push it down with your thumb to open the action, and you cock the locks at the same time.  The degree of mechanical leverage is such that you don't notice any unusual resistance or stiffness. The fastener is a double-bite bolt on the left and a rib extension on the right. The lump, moreover, extends completely through the action bar, lending additional support resulting in incredible action strength.

Most of the Britte Company guns produced were marked Masquelier or Jules Bury so if you should run across a reference to a "Britte gun built by Masquelier or Jules Bury," be aware that it's actually the other way around.
 
Abercrombie & Fitch imported quite a few SuperBrittes to America when Griffin & Howe was their gun department. "Quite a few," however, can be misleading, because total production only amounted to about 250 guns. 

1936: The SuperBritte came along at a bad time, just as the effects of the depression were starting to be felt in Europe and as the inexorable progress toward war gained momentum.  Seeing what was coming, Etablissements Britte ceased gun parts and sporting firearms production in June 1936 turning to other areas of manufacturing. The unit in St Etienne was closed and they gave up gunsmithing. This desire to diversify was also motivated with the availability on the market of low priced sporting shotguns.

All completed firearms, barreled actions and parts were immersed in cosmolene, wrapped in wax paper, packed in wooden cases and stored in the Dessart's family cellar. Louis Dessart's children were to inherit all firearms and remaining spare parts from Louis Dessart's sister.  Britte remains in business to this day.  After the war, Théophile Britte's grandson, Louis Dessart, at 26, took over the management of Britte. He was not a gunsmith and decided not to restart the manufacture of gun parts and sporting firearms but to concentrate on high-tech mechanical manufacturing. Dessart has owned the company since 1949. Their business evolved to high tolerance manufacturing, supplying companies such as Philips, FZ, Ford, Belgo, Fabrique Nationale and Caterpillar.

Since 1995: Britte has evolved even further into aéronautiques, aero-space, défense and other high-tech industrial manufacturing.

September 1999: Griffin & Howe, had been waiting for a newly finished SuperBritte to arrive in the USA, a barreled action in the white had been found and finished exclusively for Griffin & Howe; We took it immediately and tested it. It was the first SuperBritte we'd had in our hands and to put it simply, we all enjoyed the hell out of it.

Mr. McIntosh had this to say about it. "The side-opener initially feels fumblesome to one accustomed to simply thumbing a top-lever and letting the barrels drop.  But after a few shots, you fall into the habit of rotating the gun anti-clockwise as you push the lever, and then it feels as natural as any.  Because the action doesn't have the wide gape of a drop-down over/under, the gun is as quick to eject (the ejector mechanism is in the left-hand side of the forend) and reload as any side-by-side.

As for handling quality, it's as dynamic as any over/under we ever shot.  An over/under not built on the traditional frame is unique. It is also inherently lightweight and thus highly dynamic, but much more controllable. Handling qualities are truly appealing. For sheer pointability you will find this to be a delightful shotgun.

For shooting that puts a premium on the ability to make haste and still maintain control - in a woodcock covert for instance - it would be deadly. At just over six and half pounds its light without being jumpy, responsive without jitters".

Breaking 23 out of twenty five targets, out of the box with the choke constriction at full and extra full indicates that this is truly a most versatile sporting shotgun to own.

It is interesting to note that in Ned Schwing's book, 'The Browning Superposed John M. Browning's Legacy', it is reported that in early 1930 Val Browning, Walter Warren and Ben Galliger won the Team International Pigeon Shooting Championship held that year in Spain. A picture of the winning team shows Val Browning, Walter Warren and Ben Galliger with the trophy and their shotguns, the caption reads, "Val and Walter shot Superposed guns. Galliger is holding an unidentified over and under, (Picture, courtesy of the Browning Firearms Museum, Union Station, Ogden, UT). The unidentified over and under was of course a SuperBritte. This account of, "Griffin & Howe's Fine Firearms Find of the Century" does not end here........................ remember, "Etablissements Britte Atelier de Mecanique de Precision, Armes en Blanc". Alongside the manufacturing of the SuperBritte, Britte had been manufacturing barreled actions in the white, particularly the Holland & Holland style, side lock ejector action and supplying them, not only to the finest European gun makers, but to Best London & Birmingham makers.

2001: Griffin & Howe, with the aid of European Major Domo Luc Vander Borght, uncover the origin of the whereabouts of the remaining barreled actions in the white of the O/U SuperBrittes and the remaining original finished guns which during WWII were put in cosmolene, wrapped in waxed paper and crated in original wooden crates and placed in hiding in the cellars of Dessart's family's house in Liège, Belgium. There were seventeen, completed SuperBritte shotguns and ten SuperBritte barreled actions in the white. But now for an even more interesting historical biography. In addition to the seventeen SuperBrittes, seventeen, Holland & Holland style side lock ejector side by side completed shotguns, proofed in Liège in the early 50's were discovered, together with one hundred and five Holland & Holland style side lock ejector side by side barreled actions in the white complete with thousands, (5 pallets), of spare parts all stored in impeccable condition since the start of WWII. All originally built "during Liège's Golden Age" of gunmaking between WWI and WWII.
 
Jules Bury H&H Style Sidelock Round Action
Jules Bury H&H Style Sidelock Round Action Photo
The Jules Bury Collection acquired by Griffin & Howe can arguably be described as
"The Fine Firearms Find of the Century"
Within the purchase agreement "Griffin & Howe, Inc." acquired the name

"Jules Bury Armurier, Fabrique D'Armes, Maison Fondée en 1840"

The name synonymous with the manufacturing of the
finest shotguns and double rifles since 1840
Despite the comment from the head of one of the top three Best London gunmakers, after close inspection of one of the 105 barreled actions in the white and a finished gun,

"This is one of the finest actions I've seen and I would doubt that even we could replicate this type of quality today".

In order to initiate an investment grade marque, Griffin & Howe introduced the original completed examples of the H&H style, side by side, sidelock ejector at $15,000US. From this price platform the guns built today by Europe's finest gunmaker, the Belgium firm of Verrees & Cie, are offered at slightly more but enjoy a higher grade of wood and finish, thereby creating a truly investment grade marque. Matched Pair in inventory is offered cased with accessories at $42,000US. Future examples to be built are offered by quotation based upon grade of wood, type of engraving and finish.

Original completed examples of the over and under side opening SuperBrittes were offered at $25,000, they now trade @ $30,000US. The six 12 bore barreled actions in the white are offered by quotation based upon grade of wood, type of engraving and finish.

Griffin & Howe has had completed, by arguably Europe's finest Belgian maker, the first 4 matched pairs and 6 single examples from the original pre-WWII Holland & Holland style actions.

These sporting shotguns represent the finest in Belgian materials and workmanship with hidden third fasteners, bushed firing pins, articulated front triggers, gold washed internal parts and all feature the renowned Siemens Martin steel barrels.

Once the original completed guns and the barreled actions in the white are sold the opportunity to acquire one of these fine examples of European craftsmanship from a bygone era, custom made and finished to your own specifications, will be lost forever.

For more information about this unique collection contact Griffin and Howe, Inc. at:

33 Claremont Road, Bernardsville, NJ  07924 -         Tel: 908-766-2287
340 West Putnam Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830 -     Tel: 203-618-0270

Website: www.griffinhowe.com            Email: info@griffinhowe.com

Jules Bury H&H Style Sidelock Pair Case Colored
Jules Bury Sidelock Shotguns
 
B53                 Built for Griffin & Howe by Marcel Thys in 2002    
Square Action,            Case Color Hardened                         $16,500US      Sold WK
                                                           
D1026             Built for Griffin & Howe by Francotte 1 5/8 x 2 3/8 x 15 1/16 x 1/8 to 3/16 Off
Square Action Case Color Hardened                                     $18,500US      Sold MN/TL          
                                               
2000                Built for Griffin & Howe by Lebeau Courally
Round Action Case Color Hardened                         $18,500US      Sold PJ                                                    
2001                Built for Griffin & Howe by Lebeau Courally
Square Action Coin Finished                                      $18,500US      Sold RH                                 
2009                Jules Bury G&H Case Color Engraved                      $24,000US      Sold FM
 
2010                Jules Bury G&H Game Scene Coin Engraved           $28,000US      Sold TP
 
2011                Jules Bury G&H Prince Albert Coin Engraved          $24,500US
 
2012                Jules Bury G&H Prince Albert Coin Engraved          $24,500US
 
 
Jules Bury Sidelock Shotguns Matched Pairs
 
2003 – 2004    Built for Griffin & Howe by Lebeau Courally          
Square Action,            Case Color Hardened                         $39,200US      Sold MM*                                                           
2005 – 2006    Built for Griffin & Howe by Lebeau Courally
Square Action,            Coin Finished                                      $38,500US      Sold SS/JEB
                                                                                   
2007 – 2008    Built for Griffin & Howe by Lebeau Courally
Square Action,            Case Color Hardened                         $38,500US      Sold GN
 
2013 - 1014     Jules Bury G&H Prince Albert Coin Engraved          $45,000US      Sold BN
                                               
0221 – 0222    Built for Griffin & Howe by Marcel Thys
Square Action,            Case Color Hardened                         $42,000US      Sold TM
                                                                       
 
Limited number of Jules Bury H&H style
sidelock ejector barreled actions in the white remaining
Jules Bury H&H Style Sidelock Pair Coin Finished

Jules Bury H&H Style Sidelock Pair Coin Finished*

 Original completed Holland & Holland style Jules Bury shotguns
Actions built between the wars, proofed & finished in the early 50’s
52        Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             EW
 
89        Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             WW
 
125      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        $15,000US
 
173      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             JS
 
838      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        $15,000US
 
344      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             MT
 
684      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             PK
 
848      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        $15,000US      @HF
 
852      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             EG
 
853      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        $15,000US
 
864      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             DN     
 
869      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             DD
 
871      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             DN     
 
879      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             FK
 
882      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             PD
 
884      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             GS
 
885      Jules Bury Best Quality H&H Sidelock Ejector                     12        SOLD             GS
 
2291    Jules Bury Extra Finish Anson Boxlock Ejector                    20        SOLD             JR
 
Only 4
Original, completed Jules Bury Best Quality H&H
Sidelock Ejector shotguns remaining
Original completed Holland & Holland style Jules Bury shotguns  

Original completed Holland & Holland style Jules Bury shotguns
Actions built between the wars, proofed & finished in the early 50’s

SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun
 

Original completed SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun

 
249      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       12                    SOLD
 
253      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       12                    SOLD
 
220      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
188      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
205      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
222      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
187      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
5068    Britte   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       12                    SOLD JW
 
189      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
229      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
214HF G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
225      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
221      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
190      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
262      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       12                    SOLD
 
198      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD [Smets engrv]
 
194      G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       16                    SOLD
 
D1031 G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotgun       12                    SOLD
No
Completed Griffin & Howe SuperBritte Over & Under shotguns
available in 16 bore

Barreled Actions in the White Available for Completion
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        [Work in progress]
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        [Work in progress]
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        [Work in progress]
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        [Work in progress]
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request      
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request      
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request
 
---        G&H   SuperBritte Side Opening over & under shotguns     12        Price upon request
 
Only 6 Griffin & Howe SuperBritte Over & Under
12 bore Barreled Actions in the White remaining

THE ORIGINAL JULES BURY PRICE LIST
Hunting Guns
 
Over and Under
 
  • Anson action, over and under in 12, 16 and 20 bore. Automatic ejector, double lock, Holland Action with automatic ejector, sidelock, double safety triggers, hinged forend. Regular work, 12 and 16 bore barrels not included. ($128.38)         700fr                                                                                                                                                                            
  • SuperBritte, with automatic ejectors, wood mounted, barrel included in 12, 16 and 20 bore.  ($550.24)         3000fr                                                                                                                  
 
Holland & Holland Action
 
  • Holland Action, 12 and 16 bore. Lock sliding Purdey, sideloc   k with double safety triggers, hinged forend, large extractors, gas screw, wood mounted, exhibition grade walnut.   ($275.11)         1500fr                                                                                
  • Holland Action with automatic ejector, sidelock, double safety triggers, hinged forend, regular work, 12 and 16 bore. Barrel not included.          ($155.90)         850fr                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Holland Action, but boxlock, non hinged forend, simple trigger, 12 and 16ga. Holland Action with automatic ejector, double safety triggers, hinged forend, regular work, 12 and 16 bore.  Barrel not included ($132.98)  725fr                                                                            
  • Holland Action with automatic ejector, sidelock, double safety triggers, hinged forend. Large extractors, gas screw, nice work, barrels not included, 12 and 16 bore. ($201.75)         1100fr                                                                                                                                                      
  • Holland Action, automatic opening in 12, 16, 20 bore. With ejectors, Extra finish, barrel not included.     ($412.68)         2250fr                                                                                              
 
Anson Action
  • Anson Action 12 and 16 bore, sidelock with Holland ejectors, Purdey forend, barrel not included.    ($100.88)         550fr                                                                                          
  • Without ejectors, barrel not included.                                                      ($ 73.37)          400fr
 
Evolution of “Jules Bury” Stationery since 1900
1902


1919


1936


1945
EXTRA INFORMATION TO BE AUTHENTICATED:
 
“This association worked until 1952 when Louis Dessart, grandson of Théophile Britte and now sole owner and President of the Britte Company changed the name of the Britte Company into its present form of corporation “BRITTE SA” which means “BRITTE Ltd”.
 
But really the “Britte” decision to stop making hunting firearms happened in June 1936 when they won a contract for military parts that filled factory capacity 100% until 1938 when WWII started”.
 
THE FOUR GENERATIONS OF THE FAMILY SINCE FEBRUARY 2nd, 1896
 
Théophile Britte (Gunsmith)               Born 09.07.1874         Died 06/10/1945 at 71
 
Louis Dessart (Gunsmith)
Théophile Britte’s son in law              Born 25/06/1898         Died 12/04/1932 at 33
 
Georges Britte (Gunsmith)
Théophile Britte’s son                         Born 04/10/1900         Died 13/09/1949 at 48
 
Louis A. Dessart (Technician)            Born 19/05/1924
 
The son of Louis A. Dessart and Théophile Britte’s grandson was employed by Britte on August, 22nd 1941. He became the CEO of Britte on September, 13th 1949 at the age of 25 upon the death of his uncle Georges. He retired on August 23rd 1996 after 55 years.
 
Vincent Pissart (Civil engineer)
(Louis A. Dessart son in law) Born 19/01/1959
Became Director on May, 28th 1993 and Executive Director on January, 30th 1995
 
The name “Etablissements Britte Atelier de Mecanique de Precision, Armes en Blanc”
was incorporated on the 17th September, 1923
 
Extended for 30 years on August, 26th 1953
 
Extended ad libitum in 1983
 
Finally becoming Britte S.A. on March, 27th 1983


 


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