T. Logan Metesh
Engraved Big Game Guns Go for Big Money
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Rock Island Auction Company just finished up their May 2019 Premier Gun Auction, and as always, they sold some remarkable items. Two such guns were big game double rifles from Holland and Holland. I call them remarkable for two reasons: 1) caliber. 2) engraving.
The smaller of the two double rifles is chambered in .600 Nitro Express. The larger rifle is chambered in .700 Nitro Express. Each of those rounds clocks in with a muzzle energy of almost 9,000 foot-pounds. For comparison, the standard US military 5.56 round has approximately 1,300 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Heavy-hitting cartridges require heavy guns. The .600 NE rifle weighs 13 pounds 3 ounces, but it is dwarfed by the .700 NE rifle, which weighs a whopping 17 pounds 13.7 ounces! These guns are designed for the biggest of the big game in Africa, which brings me to the second reason for them being remarkable.
Belgian engraver Philippe Grifnée (1952-2012) is widely regarded as one of the finest master engravers of the 20th century. His work is instantly recognizable and undoubtedly inimitable. Both of these double rifles bear his distinctive style of engraving.
The .600 NE, completed in 1998, is engraved with scenes of rhinoceroses - 4 on the left, 3 on the right, 2 on the top, 1 on the bottom, and 1 on the trigger guard. All told, there are 5 different species represented on the gun. Rounding out the gun, it is housed in an equally impressive alligator skin case.
The .700 NE, completed in 2000, features elephants - lots of elephants. More than 20 of them, actually, on all sides of the receiver and the trigger guard. Some of the scenes depicted show families, and the trigger guard shows an entire herd on the move.
If these guns look familiar, it's because you may have seen them before, either in person, online, or in print. The guns were part of the estate of publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen, who had donated them to the NRA. The guns had been on display for the past handful of years at the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri, before heading to auction in Illinois.
This is the capacity in which I saw the guns, while working for the NRA Museums. I've been up close and personal with them and can attest to their exceptional quality and craftsmanship. They were some of the finest guns in the museum.
Numerous videos have been made about these guns while they were still part of the NRA Museums' firearms collection, and they're also featured on pages 252-255 of the book, Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum.
The guns' provenance from the Petersen estate and the NRA Museums collection certainly helped set the stage for their prices. The .600 NE had a pre-auction estimate of $200,000-$300,000; it sold for $276,000. The .700 NE had a pre-auction estimate of $225,000-$325,000; it sold for $299,000.
I don't know if they were purchased together or separately, but either way, the buyer(s) now own the nicest big game double rifles ever made by Holland and Holland - hands down.
For more on the guns, check out the video RIAC produced about them:
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(Philippe Grifnée photo courtesy GRS. All other photos and video courtesy RIAC.)