WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
Most side-by-side enthusiasts are familiar with the collossi of vintage American hammerless double guns: Parker, who made more guns of this type than any other maker; Ansley Fox, whose guns fetch marvelous prices today; L. C. Smith, maker of the only true sidelock in the group; Ithaca, whose dainty doubles are still affordable; and Lefever whose guns are neither sidelock nor boxlock and, like the paintings of an artist who passed on in poverty, are only recently appreciated by collectors.
Many of us forget that one of America's greatest and most successful gunmakers of all time, a famous name that goes back to the earliest days of the nation, an icon of gunmaking and in particular of rifle-making, a company that is still very much in business today, made a fine side-by-side double as well. No, not Winchester, whose 21 commands a great deal of respect in certain circles.... but Remington, the only American maker which has successfully adapted to the vicissitudes of a maturing market and urbanization without suffering the ignominy of bankruptcy or "reorganization". Remington's legacy to enthusiasts is a pair of guns which are so similar as for all intents and purposes to be the same model: the 1894 and the economy version of the same gun, the 1900. Ironically, Remington was born as a maker of revolvers alongside Colt, then ventured into the doubles market with their hammer and then hammerless guns, finally evolving into a highly successful maker of pump and semi-auto guns, by which time the company made no handgun nor any side-by-side shotgun. While dominating the modern shotgun market, Remington also become the most successful sporting rifle maker in the world via their model 700 and derivatives, a rifle especially prized for its inherent accuracy.
So when most of us think "Remington", we consider the 870 and 1100 single barrel shotguns, and of course the 700 bolt rifle. We don't associate this name with vintage doubles. This is good news for those of us who know a good gun when we see one. For 1894s and 1900s can be purchased for a fraction of the price of comparable vintage guns. A field (A) grade 1894 in sound condition with ejectors can be found for $750 today; the 1900 for $500; and both for even less in extractor configuration. Why?
Markets become "irrationally exuberant" from time to time, to wit the tulip bulb frenzy of the 19th century, and the internet bubble of more recent times. But it's unusual for good value to go unrecognized. So one has to consider the reasons for the relative bargain prices of these guns. Note, we are talking about field grade guns here...anyone who has seen one of the few EE grade guns made will know that this end of the market is quite exuberant. There are several factors that contribute to the bargain status of these guns. First, the field grade guns are exceedingly plain. They lack even the slightest embellishment, apart from the unremarkable roll-stamped name on the sides of the action. The Fox Sterlingworth (the equivalent of the 1900) at least has a border; and the lowest of Fox's graded guns (the A grade) is positively fancy, when compared to an A grade 1894. Second, the guns all have a good 3" of drop, typical for the period but very much out of fashion today. (Actually the F or trap grade is an exception and a good buy if you can find one). Third, these guns were offered in 10, 12 and 16 gauge only, which puts them in the "pack" and out of the area of avid small gauge collector interest. And finally, the guns are quite common in the lower grades, as they sold well during the relatively short time period they were made, so there is little "scarcity" factor, as there is with Lefever guns. Over 40,000 1894s, and almost 100,000 1900s were made in the relatively short period of time Remington ran these two models, from (not surprisingly) 1894 to 1910. Lefever, in contrast, made a total of 72,000 "Sidelock" guns in all gauges from 8 to 20, from 1885 to 1916.
These factors notwithstanding, the Remington guns are well-made, surprisingly so in certain respects. The action is a faithful copy of the proven and very simple Anson and Deeley design. It is so similar, that one wonders how Remington evaded a patent infringement suit. There is no acknowledgement of the use of the A&D patent on the action, something which is quite commonly seen on English guns. The quoted patents are American and purchased from two local inventors. A conical cocking lever protrudes from the knuckle, and acts on the hammers which are powered by leaf springs and released by conventional sears. This design requires 3 pins through the action, one for the cocking levers, one for the hammers, and one for the sears. If there is anything remarkable about this unremarkable action, it's the fact that the apex of each mainspring also protrudes through the knuckle, and the movement of this apex, when the hammer is released, is used to unlock the ejector hammer (for those models so equipped) in the forend via a dogleg lever that is uniquely Remington. Otherwise, the ejectors are a loose interpretation of the Southgate system, with dual protruding hammers that impinge on the ejector blade when the gun is opened past a certain point, assuming the hammer has been unlocked by the movement of the mainspring when the gun is fired.
The bolting system started out as a dead-standard Purdey double underbolt, assisted by a simple third fastener on the rib extension. This then evolved to a single ;ug/single bite design, and finally back to a double but with a web between the two lugs requiring a split bolt. This split bolt design is also unique to these guns. I believe this evolution is due to the fact that the barrels are not of chopper-lump design (meaning that the lumps are brazed on rather than being forged as an integral part of the barrel blanks). I have seen an early gun with its rear lump torn from the barrels. The evolution of the design would compensate for this weakness while retaining the second underbite.
Another evolution in the design was the use of floating firing pins on later guns, held in place by a hidden bushing. Earlier guns had fixed pins. At first glance, one can't tell one from the other as the appearance of the breech face is identical, but the floating pins can be pushed in and out when the gun is cocked.
There are 3 screws that hold the bottom plate on to the action. The bottom plate and the trigger plate are one integral piece. The triggers are mounted to the bottom plate and have two separate springs...a hair spring to hold the triggers up against the sears, and a leaf spring to provide resistance to movement when the triggers are pulled. Both are superfluous as the sears have their own leaf springs in the conventional A&D manner. The leaf spring was dropped in later models but the hair spring persisted.
Disassembling this action is very easy, as long as you remember to relax the mainsprings before you start. Just unscrew the screws as you get to them, and drive out the pins. Put a rag over the action when you drive out the hammer pins, so the springs don't eject parts into your face (or onto the floor where they seem to be programmed to find the trickiest hiding places.) Reassembly is impossible, unless you know the "trick". First put the cocking levers in place. Then insert the mainsprings and push them forward through the knuckle, so that the apex protrudes at least a 1/2". The hammers are then pinned in place, and the whole action is then compressed in a vise, pushing the mainsprings into place. The rest of the assembly (of the action, that is) is straightforward. The vise trick can also be used to compress the ejector hammer springs when reassembling the forend.
Like many makers, Remington used the same action for their 12 and 16 gauge guns. They did not offer a "scaled" action and thus it was not practical to offer a 20 gauge gun. Fox used the same action for their 16 and 20 gauges. However, there was a beefier version of this action, with all the beef being in the form of thicker sidewalls. This action is a full .100" wider, i.e. .050" thicker walls on each side. 12 gauge guns are found in both versions, and it is assumed that all 10 ga guns were made on the stronger action. (The author cannot confirm this due to the rarity of 10 gauge examples). Suffice it to say that of all the American guns, the "beefy" version of the Remington action has the thickest sidewalls and can therefore probably claim to be the strongest. (A howl will probably emanate from the Winchester 21 corner - we welcome letters to the editor explaining the author's error in this regard.)
The forend latch of the 1894 is of the Purdey "pushbutton" type that is also quite common on Belgian guns such as the Francotte. This is nice to look at but expensive to manufacture. Hence, the 1900 model is a snap-on type that requires no latch at all. Externally, this is the only real difference between the two guns. Serial numbers on the 1894 all start with a 1, the 1900s with a 3.
The barrels are well made. Many guns are of attractive (and high quality) damascus construction. There were two types of steel, "normal" Remington steel, which sold for the same price as a damascus gun; the other type being "Ordnance" steel, which is especially strong and commanded a price premium in the lower grades. Barrel lengths from 26 to 32" are found, with 30" probably being the most common length. The ribs on some guns are flat, while others have concave ribs. The barrels are uniformly quite stout, unlike the Fox gun which was available with 4 distinct barrel weights. On the rear barrel lug, there are two numeric stampings. These indicate the actual number of #8 pellets that fell within a 30" circle at 30 yards when the gun was test-fired. Only the last two numbers are noted, the first number is assumed to be a 3. So the number "32" indicates that 332 pellets were inside the circle, which is 65% of the standard 1 1/4 oz load (511 pellets) of #6 shot. This is another unique and interesting feature of these guns.
The good news, with beefy barrels such as these, is that we latter day users can safely remove pitting and that will lighten the gun up a bit. Normally, backboring to .740 is all it takes to remove moderate pitting, and this bore will leave plenty of wall. Note, chokes should be opened up as well, as many of these guns are choked quite tightly when they were made, too tightly for modern plastic wads.
Turning our attention to the wood, American walnut of a fairly straight grain was invariably used on these lower grade guns. The vast majority of these guns have a "Prince of Wales" grip, another English influence. I have seen one example of a Trap (F grade) gun with an English grip. The lower grade guns have bakelite buttplates bearing the maker's name or initials. Checkering is hand cut and of moderate 22 lpi pitch. High grade guns could be ordered with any style of stock and the buttplates were horn.
An interesting aspect of the stock on these guns is the wooden "dogbone" reinforcement that is inletted into the head of the stock of later guns. This is designed to prevent vertical cracking due to the wedge effect of the upper and lower tangs. No other gun, to my knowledge, was made this way. Early guns lacked this improvement. This same problem plagues Parkers but that company did not see fit to copy Remington's solution. There is a similar inletted reinforcing gusset near the tip of the forend on the 1894 guns. Neither are visible externally. Both these modifications are absent in the very early guns, indicating that the Remington engineers implemented this fix to remedy a weakness that became evident with field use.
Modern replacement buttstocks are available from Northwood's for those who can't live with a generous amount of drop, or who want a higher grade of wood. Wisners makes replacement ejector hammer springs. Firing pins, main springs and toplever springs are available from Bob's Gun Shop.
We have spoken mainly of the plain guns, the 1900 and the A grade 1894. These guns are the perfect canvas custom engraving. If you want a quality vintage gun personalized to your taste, you can do a lot worse than starting with a Remington 1900 or 1894 A grade ejector gun. For those looking for some original engraving, the B grade gun is quite elaborately and very tastefully engraved, and can be bought for less than $1000 in sound condition, closer to $1250 if nice. This has to be one of the great sleepers of the vintage gun world. The F (trap) grade has slightly less engraving but what engraving there is, is superbly executed. Another great buy if you can find one, as these guns are quite scarce. They sell for about the same money as a B grade. Anything above a B grade ceases to be a shooter, and prices escalate rapidly for these rare guns. High grade Remington guns are superbly engraved indeed and can hold their own against the best American and English guns.
When evaluating one of these guns for purchase, look closely for cracks in the stock head and wrist area. If possible get permission to have your gunsmith remove the stock from the action to look for hidden cracks. Remington put the “dog bone” there for a reason! Other things to look out for are broken leaf springs (hammers and ejector hammers) - not common but leaf springs do break and should be factored into the negotiation as they can easily be replaced; ejectors that are out of time (fixable by a qualified person); broken forend latch springs (on 1900s only, and another easy fix); and oversized barrels. The lower grade guns were not generally accorded the same care that more expensive guns enjoyed, so many were neglected leading to pitting in the bores. These can be reamed once, maybe twice thanks to the thick walls, but certainly not three times. Guns with sound original butt plates are a little harder to find, but of dubious value in a lower grade gun that is not collectable. Use the lack of a butt plate as a negotiating point. Installing a decent pad will allow you to adjust the length of pull to your liking, and protect the stock head from cracks as well as your shoulder from bruises!
In terms of models, the ejector versions seem to command very little premium so look out for guns so equipped. It’s probably a good thing to purchase a later gun with all the little improvements, especially the floating firing pins, which are easy to replace. The earlier integral hammers are not. F and B grades are very pleasing in appearance, but do command a moderate premium over plain guns. If you can find a 16 or a 10 gauge, realize that you won’t see another one for a long time so if the price is right, by all means buy the gun. You will find plenty of 12s! If the gun seems heavy, it probably has the beefier action…buy if you want a bomb-proof action, pass if you want something a tad lighter. And if you come across a C or higher grade gun at what seems like a reasonable price, then you have probably struck gold so try not to grin when handing over the cash.
To what use does a 7 1/2 to 8lb gun with plenty of drop and tight chokes lend itself in today's world of steel shot? A couple come to mind. One would be sporting clays. A heavy gun swings smoothly and absorbs recoil, not a small factor considering that many sporting clays courses present 100 birds. The author took a recently restored BE on such an outing, and found the gun to be enjoyable and effective on clays. His score would have been higher if the extra-full chokes in each barrel were opened up a notch or two! One observation is that, for me at least, drop and cast offset one another. A gun with little or no cast, but with a lot of drop, comes up as well as a gun with less drop but more cast. These Remingtons seem to fit this pattern. So don't go by drop alone when considering the purchase of a gun. If the gun fits, shoot it! Many shooters are rediscovering vintage doubles on the sporting clays range. The gun is less useful on the trap range, where a gun with less drop is required to shoot rising birds. Tight chokes don't work too well for skeet or five stand, but these can always be opened up for a modest charge.
Another obvious use for one of these guns is pass shooting at pigeons, doves, or even ducks (if your wallet can stand the cost of bismuth shot). I wouldn't hesitate to take such a gun to Argentina for doves. In fact, I would suggest buying two of them, both ejector guns, and having your bird boy load. This also gives you a backup should one of the guns fail in any way. Argentinian doves are the torture-test of the gun world.
You could use your Remington on late season pheasants, where pricier vintage doubles fear to tread. The weather can be inclement, and most doubles are best spared such treatment, but a plain gun is made to be used so go ahead and use it. Carrying a heavy gun over hill and dale is not everyone‘s idea of a fun afternoon but if you are used to it, why not? You will be wanting to use heavy loads, something that old wood and mild steel generally aren't comfortable with, but a stout gun such as these Remingtons, particularly one with Ordnance Steel barrels, will soak up the recoil and can take the punishment much better than a lightweight Fox or a Parker with a fragile stock head.
So next time you see a "plain Jane" Remington, look twice. It’s a close relative of and English A&D gun at an American price.
(Pick the best pic where more than one shares the same caption).
A0012 and 0013: From top to bottom, BE grade, A grade, 1900 ejector are quite similar and offer the vintage gunner great value for money
A0014. The principal difference between the 1894 (middle and right) and the 1900 is the forend release
DEOGrade: C and higher grade guns are exquisitely engraved and priced out of the “shooter” range
P0221: Three variants of the locking mechanism evolved, starting with the double bite at bottom, then the single bite, and finally the double bite with split bolt at top.
P0221_3: Stock head reinforced with “dog bone”
P0222_3. Forend tip reinforcing inlay.
P0226: A BE grade action apart - pure Anson & Deeley
P0227 and 8: The heavy and light versions of the same action…note sidewall thickness. The lighter action also has floating firing pins, requiring a bored passage for insertion of the pin bushing.
P0245,6 and 7: The F (“Trap”) grade engraving pattern is simple but elegant.
P0249-258: Author engaging sporting clays with a very early 1894 BE grade choked extra full in both bores!