|Trulock & Harris - Gun Reviews - COGSWELL AND HARRISON AVANT TOUT USED GUN REVIEW
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COGSWELL AND HARRISON AVANT TOUT USED GUN REVIEW - 18 AUGUST 2003
Cogswell and Harrison Avant Tout. 18 August 2003
The name of Cogswell and Harrison is very well known throughout shooting circles and so it should be. They are not known historically as a best gun maker, though they have certainly made some guns that would be classed as best. And under the new regime of gunmaking at Cogswell and Harrison, the guns that are being produced today are certainly nothing if not of best quality.
Perhaps the reason why the name is so familiar is that without doubt, C&H were one of the largest manufacturers of guns in this country, and certainly the largest in London.
The company can trace its history back to 1770 making it also one of the oldest gunmakers. Over the years or even centuries C&H have manufactured in mass terms, revolvers, air-rifles and pistols, rifles and even signal pistols. Though perhaps most prolific has been the number of shotguns produced.
The history of C&H is in itself a fascinating story, and far more involved than can be told in a single article. The story has been well documented in a book and makes very interesting reading.
C&H made many different madels of shotguns over the years. Perhaps the best known were the “Avant tout” range.
The name “Avant tout” means in this context, the foremost gun or in front of the rest.
The name “Avant tout” was originally applied to a range of hammer guns with ejectors. But from 1896 the name was applied to a range of boxlock ejector guns. Broadly speaking the name “Avant tout” was a generic term for the ejector mechanism employed on the guns.
The range evolved and at its peak there were eight guns. Over the years some models were dropped, but were then relaunched.
Some of the range were as follows:
There was the Konor. Which was a side-plated boxlock ejector with sideplates and drop points on the stock. This gun was finished to a high standard and had a covering of fine engraving, including rose and scroll.
Then the Sandhurst. Again a side-plated gun, but without drop points. And whilst with a good covering of engraving, just bold scrll work.
The Rex was in effect a non side-plate version of the Sandhurst.
Then there was the Markor. A more basic gun, described by C&H as their knock-about gun. Still with engraving.
There was a plainer still version of the Markor that was non-ejector.
The common feature to the “avant tout” was the ejector work. As well as being used on this range of boxlock guns, the system was also used on a number of sidelock guns as well.
This was the invention of Edgar Harrison. Edgar was the man above all others in the history of C&H who expanded and moulded the firm into the largest gunmaker that London has ever seen. He had vision ahead of his time and through inspiration from American mass producers employed the use of machinery to manufacture parts as close to form as possible. This ensured that the craftsman of the highest order were still required to finally fit and regulate the parts together. But this far greater use of machine tools and techniques meant that guns could be made much faster and in greater quantities, but with no sacrifice to quality.
Edgar Harrison is quoted as saying,” it is the last cut of the file that requires the most judgement, and the last cut still remains.”
The benefit of this was that C&H were able to make guns that were more easily affordable to a far wider variety of people. Much like today few people could afford a best London gun. So whilst still making best guns C&H were able to offer much cheaper alternatives.
The basic mechanics of the gun are based on the simple and proven Anson and Deeley mechanism. This is where we have a hammer powered by a vee spring. A sear to hold the hammer back in the full cock position. And a cocking lifter or lever that engages in the forend iron and pivots as the gun is opened, with its other end lifting the hammer back into the full cock position once the gun has been fired. Most boxlock guns work on these principles.
The ejector work, however, is something much further from conventional. Although due to the shear numbers of Avant tout produced, it set its own conventions.
The ejector work is actually very simple but often misunderstood. And often by us gunsmiths as well.
The extractors have long legs and are directly powered by two mainsprings and followers which are housed in a box between the lumps and forend loop on the barrels.
The coils springs and design bring the added benefit that as they provide constant spring pressure to the extractor legs, the gun is semi self opening as the extractors push against the action face.
The avant tout is quite a long action. And as such has long mainsprings. In all boxlocks, because of the way the mainspring engages with a notch on the hammer, when the gun is fired the mainspring moves forward slightly towards the front of the action.
This movement is used in the avant tout to push down and engage the ejector sear in a notch the end the extractor leg or the end of the follower depending on the age of the gun.
This sear holds the spring down and as the gun opens, the back end of the sear engages in a step on the knuckle. This causes the ejector sear to pivot as the gun is opened further until the extractor is released and ejects the cartridge.
It looks complicated because it is different. Yet it is very simple in principle.
The Avant tout is the range of guns most commonly associated with C&H and over the years many thousands in fact tens of thousands have been produced, and have been sent to virtually every corner of the globe. They are almost certainly more wide spread than any other British maker.
As well as all the models in the range, most were available in 12, 16 and 20 gauge and in barrel lengths: 25, 28, 30 and 32”.
Also particular to C&H was the 27 1/ 2” barrel which was used extensively throughout the entire range of guns. The benefits were put down to the length being mid way between 25 and 30”, but with a much reduced weight than that of the longer barrels.
These are difficult guns on which to put definitive values as the range has had so many slight changes and over such a long period of time each gun must really be taken as an individual.
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