30 August 2023
The Brevis Collection
A Holland & Holland double barrelled ‘Rook Rifle’ in .295 rook calibre, built on a scaled down ‘Royal’ action body
Commonly known as ‘The Royal Gunmaker’ Holland & Holland have had a long relationship with the monarchies of Europe, with many members of the nobility turning to the trusted gunmaker for their sporting guns and rifles. The first formal recognition of this came with the grant of our oldest Royal Warrant in 1893 by HM King Umberto the 1st of Italy.
King Umberto I ruled from 1878 to 1900 as the second monarch of the newly unified Italy. Born in 1844 Prince Humbert as he was then known, was born at a crucial moment in the history of Italy. With most of Europe still recovering from the Napoleonic years, Italy was in turmoil. Having had a military-led education, Humbert fought at his father’s side throughout the wars for a unified Italy. His father King Victor Emmanuel II would rule as Italy’s first king from 1861 till his death in 1878.
In his spare time King Umberto I enjoyed many of the hobbies of the Italian upper class; he was known for his ability as a horseman, way with the ladies and as a skilled hunter. It is the latter that we at Holland & Holland know him best for. Throughout his reign, King Umberto I placed a large number of orders with Holland & Holland, including multiple pairs of shotguns and several large calibre double rifles, though it is the smallest rifle he ordered that I find most interesting.
A Holland & Holland double barrelled ‘Rook Rifle’ in .295 rook calibre, built on a scaled down ‘Royal’ action body, this rifle marks the smallest ‘Royal’ rifle ever built by Holland & Holland (so far). Still in original condition, the scroll engraved side plates still show the majority of their original finish with most of the colour case hardening still visible. The rifle is built to fantastic proportions, with its 26” steel barrels perfectly balanced. The rifle features a treble leaf folding rear sight, that has been rather optimistically cut to shoot up to 150 yds. Weighing in at 6lbs 3oz, this rifle would be perfect for carrying round one’s estate.
‘Rook Rifles’ or ‘Garden Guns’ were hugely popular in the late 1800s. The development of ‘Rook Rifles’ was largely spearheaded by Holland & Holland with the company producing a number of different cartridges and rifle designs. The majority of these guns were built by the Birmingham gun trade, later being finished by Holland & Holland. However, as a ‘Royal Rook Rifle’, King Umberto’s was built solely at our London factory. These small calibre rifles were used for shooting small game and vermin and it would not have been uncommon for the owner of an estate to purchase one for their gardener or gamekeeper. ‘Rook Rifle’ cartridges were soon resigned to history, being quickly surpassed by the cheaper and more accurate .22 rimfire cartridges.
Sadly King Umberto I was never able to shoot this remarkable rifle, as on the 29 July 1900 he was assassinated, mere days before the rifle was completed.
King Umberto’s rifle is the most recent addition to the Holland & Holland ‘Brevis Collection’ having been purchased at Holts Auctioneers in 2022. The rifle was purchased at the request of our then new owners, the Beretta family. It is fantastic to see their commitment to not only preserving but growing the collection. I look forward to any new additions that may be coming my way soon.