Sunday, 17 April 2011

Bhutan - A King’s Gun

17 April, 2011 - A Holland & Holland gun is considered as among the finest of modern times. It is known for its brilliant craftsmanship and today is one of the world’s most expensive handcrafted sports gun.

There is one such gun in Bhutan. It is a .458 double barrel. With engravings of the big game animals of Bhutan, it is the only of its kind and now worth more than £ 80,000.

The fourth king received it as his coronation gift in 1974. The managing director of the gun company, Malcolm Lyell, travelled from London to personally offer it. Lyell’s handwritten notes says, “The official day for present giving was Tuesday, June 4th but the King couldn’t wait! We were summoned the day before and presented it to him in the Royal Cottage.”

The third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, had ordered the gun two years earlier in 1972, before he passed away. The third king first met Lyell in 1949, in London at the Westley Richards’s gun showroom where, as Crown Prince, he had gone to buy hunting rifles. Ever since, the two gun enthusiasts maintained their friendship.

The doyen of the London gun trade visited Bhutan as the guest of the king. He first came in 1970 and was one of the earliest to trek extensively in our northern mountains. Using hand-drawn maps of botanist Frank Ludlow, Lyell and his family made four such expeditions into the then largely unknown northern mountains. Lyell was a game enthusiast and keen on wild animals and, during his treks, saw and recorded many of these wild animals namely, the blue sheep, blue bear, wild yaks, takins, and snow leopards.

The Gun
In 1972, after returning from one such trip, Lyell had the gun of our king engraved with the large game animals that he saw during his treks in Bhutan.

For example, the right lock plate has an engraving of a group of takins - the national animal. The fore feet and body of the lynx are also just visible on the “fence” (standing breach at the left hand end of the barrel).

The left lock has an engraving of the Indian rhinoceros, which are found in the foothills of Manas. The tail and back of the snow leopard are scarcely visible on the “fence”. A Tibetan antelope, found along the Chumbi valley border, is engraved on the trigger guard, and the grip cap has an engraving of a blue sheep or bhurel.

Crafting a Holland & Holland gun took a long time and this became a setback as the soaring inflation of the 1970s cut into the company’s profit.

To sustain the business, Lyell started to craft presentation guns. These guns were fully functional but, because of the intricate artwork, enhanced its costs, and hence inflation did not affect its value.

Inspired by the gun makers of the 18th century, Lyell came up with the rococo gun, with deep engravings in gold and silver of classical motifs, such as Diana the huntress.

In 1966, the Shooting Times described it as the finest gun of modern times and, from then, Lyell produced a series entitled “Products of Excellence”. These included such guns as the Set of Five; beautifully matched shotguns in every gauge from 12 bore to .410; the African hunters series of big game rifles; and finally the Saurian four bore, decorated with scenes of prehistoric life.

Almost two decades later, after the launch of the “product of excellence”, in 1972, our late king ordered the .458 double barrel gun, which he never saw. In the memory of the late king, Lyell had it engraved with the big game animals of Bhutan and presented it to our fourth king during his coronation. Malcolm Lyell died early this year.

Contributed by Tshering Tashi

Tag : bhutan,king,gun

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