Firearm History

Regrets: The Ones That Got Away!

Holland & Holland.custom rifle with engraving of an elephant and gold inlaid tiger

In a prior article, I expressed regret concerning firearms that I prematurely parted with. So, I thought it appropriate to cover the ones I regretted never getting and any lessons that I might have learned. The first lesson, and perhaps the most important one, is when you see something you want, get it!

If you decide to wait because you think you will get a better price, you won’t! If it hasn’t been snatched from under your nose and by some quirk of fate it is still available, it will almost always cost you twice as much. Waiting or looking for something better is a fool’s errand. Get it when the opportunity presents itself. Period!

Holland & Holland hammer rifle
Spectacular Presidential Lefever “Optimus” quality.

Holland & Holland

I have come to learn that lesson far too late for it to do me any good. Perhaps, it will save you from mistakes such as these. It was 1984, and I was away on a 21-day safari to Zambia. As my previous journeys to the Dark Continent had taught me after South African Airways was barred from its routes to the U.S. due to the Apartheid issues, I broke the trip into legs.

The first leg went from LAX to NY with 3 days spent in the Big Apple. The second leg had me continuing to Heathrow, and a week in London, before the final leg to Lusaka. The reason for the long layovers was to adjust to the time changes. The big change takes place from the West Coast to Europe. Flying South from London, it’s only a 2-hour change, so no biggie. Following this system, I arrived in Africa rested, alert, and ready to hunt the minute I hit the ground.

During my stay in London, I indulged myself with some light sightseeing and decided to add some of the famous London Gunmakers to my itinerary. The first on the list was Holland & Holland at 36 St James St. I must admit my disappointment at first. As I entered the location, I did not see its famous guns. Instead, I found a showroom of fashionable clothing and accessories.

To set the scene, I was sightseeing while enroute to Zambia, so my clothing was limited. I was dressed in a Willis and Geiger safari jacket and slacks but shod in expensive Italian loafers. I was immediately met by a very formal representative, “Can I help you sir?”

I’m sure my confusion was noticeable, but I tried my best to hide it. Somewhat tentatively, I asked whether this was the correct location, indicating that I was interested in a Royal Sidelock Ejector Express Double Rifle in 500/.465. To my surprise, he motioned for me to follow with a “This way sir.” where on he led me to the rear section of the shop that held the gun room.

The Holland & Holland showroom at 36 St James St in London
The Holland & Holland showroom at 36 St James St in London where impulse deserted me, leaving behind a lifetime of regret.

He motioned me to a cabinet where he donned white gloves and with a flourish, or so it seemed. He withdrew from it the most breathtakingly beautiful firearm I had ever seen. It was fully engraved with gold inlays, gold sculpted tigers on the side plates with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds accenting the engraving that was stunning.

He broke the spell by announcing in a very thick and stuffy accent — as if he was speaking to his mentally-challenged relative — “This was originally made for the Maharaja of Yom Kippur (or something that sounded like that or maybe he was a Hind-Jew, I don’t know) for tiger hunting, and we recently reacquired it. It has been… reconditioned.”

Trying not to let my astonishment betray me, I blurted out (in what I am sure was perceived as crass Americanize), “What is the price?” Looking down his nose he answered, “24,000.” That of course confirmed his suspicions of my ‘mental challenges.’ Trapped, I struck back with, “Dollars or Pounds?” “Pounds! Of course, sir!” Game, set, match to Jeeves!

Holland & Holland.custom rifle with engraving of an elephant and gold inlaid tiger
Not the rifle that stole my heart, but an example of the type of work that comes from the esteemed purveyor of “Best Guns” that wears the marque of Holland & Holland.

500/465 Nitro Express

To those who may not be familiar with the 500/.465 3¼″ NE, here is a little background. In 1905, the British Government banned the importation and use of .450 caliber ammunition in both India and the Sudan. It was an effort to ensure that the people who were opposed to British rule would not be able to get hold of rifles or ammunition for a rebellion.

It must be remembered, the primary market for the expensive British Double Rifles was Indian Royalty, such as the afore mentioned Maharaja of Yom Kippur. To circumvent the ban, the British gun trade invented new models of big-game rifle calibers which included the .500/465 Nitro Express, the .470 Nitro Express, .475 Nitro Express, .475 No. 2 Nitro Express, and .476 Nitro Express to replace .500/450 Nitro Express. They all have comparable performance. Holland & Holland’s 500/465 Nitro Express was introduced in 1907 and was designed to fire a 480-grain bullet at 2,150 fps, which is in the same performance envelope as Winchester’s .458 Winchester Magnum.

The Holland & Holland 500/465 Nitro Express was a proprietary cartridge. As such, it was not as common as the non-proprietary cartridges, such as the .470 Nitro Express. Cartridges for those calibers were loaded with either Solid (i.e. full metal jacket) or Soft Nosed bullets. We need to be reminded that the biggest markets for these Holland & Holland rifles was India where they would be used on tiger, gaur, and Sambar deer.

Holland & Holland "Royal" Ejector .577 NE Double Rifle in Maker's Case, Made for Nathanial C. Nash of Cambridge, MA in 1909, one of the "Miracle Six"
Holland & Holland “Royal” Ejector .577 NE Double Rifle in Maker’s Case, Made for Nathanial C. Nash of Cambridge, MA in 1909, one of the “Miracle Six”

The bullet types mentioned were also well suited for Africa’s thick-skinned dangerous game, as well as thin-skinned dangerous and non-dangerous game. It must be pointed out that most of those rifles were made for Indian Royalty. As such, they exhibit beautiful embellishment in the form of perfectly executed engraving with gold inlays and precious gems.

Even so, Holland & Holland rifles were not just decorative. At their heart, they were working dangerous game rifles made to provide absolute reliability, and excellent ergonomics. Combining the best of Holland & Holland functionality and embellishment, 500/465’s are some of the most desirable examples of the best of London rifle-making one could hope to find. They are things of rare beauty as well as being practical dangerous game hunting rifles.

Mistakes

Now back to my predicament… I quickly did some mental calculations, (always difficult for me past 2×2). The Safari was $2,500.00 a day plus travel, food, lodging, trophy fees, and miscellaneous expenses… In my head it came to $60,000.00 plus or minus — most likely plus. 24,000 in pounds with the exchange rate at the time would be close to another $60,000.00. I could do it, but it would mean some real sacrifice on my part.

Likely, this was the only time in my life that I did the ‘responsible adult thing.’ I have regretted it ever since. I was left wondering, “How could I get out of there and still save some self-respect…” My only option was to lie. “I’ll arrange for the transfer of funds and return tomorrow to finalize everything.” With that, I could not get out of there fast enough. If Jeeves is reading this, all I can say is, “It wasn’t me… Some bozo told me the story and I’m retelling it like it was me… Honest! The other guy was killed on that safari…”

That one moment of adult responsibility and restraint has provided me with a lifetime of regret. BTW, the approximately $60,000 that 500/.465 would have cost back then would be worth well over $200,000 today — if you could find it. So much for being responsible. Okay, let’s call it what it really was…. Stupid. Stay safe, train often, and practice, practice, practice!

What are some firearms you regret passing up on? Why? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (13)

  1. Hello Mr. LaPorta,
    Great article, as we all have a story about “ The One That Got Away”.
    Mine is not so luxurious as the H&H crowd. Mine is a Savage Model 99’. If memory serves, it was a 1921 vintage in 250/3000.
    I was a young man and was still honing my smithing skills. It was a beautiful rifle, but had a slight head space issue. At the time a felt it was well outside of my ability or finances to correct. So, I sold it for $250.
    Decades later, I realize what a huge mistake that was.
    Thank you.

  2. Hello Mr. LaPorta,
    Great article, as we all have a story about “ The One That Got Away”.
    Mine is not so luxurious as the H&H crowd. Mine is a Savage Model 99’. If memory serves, it was a 1921 vintage in 250/3000.
    I was a young man and was still honing my smithing skills. It was a beautiful rifle, but had a slight head space issue. At the time a felt it was well outside of my ability or finances to correct. So, I sold it for $250.
    Decades later, I realize what a huge mistake that was.
    Thank you.

  3. Thank you once again Ed for sharing a memorable journey through your past. My tale ended up with a much happier, albeit “postponed” conclusion. While living In the Southwest corner of Woodland Hills, CA. back in 1970 a Sportsman Neighbor of ours was clearing out their garage in preparation for moving to another State. Amongst the Treasures they left piled up along the curb were stacks and stack of vintage outdoor sports magazines (Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Sports Afield and American Rifleman). Those periodicals All made their way back home with me and it was while immersed in their stories and advertising that I first laid eyes upon an Amazing Creation. A Handgun with elegant “Wood-Look” furniture and a “Bolt Action”!
    I was immediately captivated by this thing called the Remington “XP 100”.
    Times and income being what they were that Prize remained just a dream. It was not until some 30 years later that a co worker of my brother was forced to make a Hard Choice, either to Keep the vast Firearm collection he had amassed over the decades, or to sell it all off in order to Marry the Girl of His dreams.
    That decision on his behalf meant that I would at last obtain that long sought after XP 100 for the ridiculous price of $250!!!
    I hope that fella is happy with His Choice cuz I sure am!!!

  4. Sigh… 303 ‘jungle carbine’
    A real one.
    While i pissed about someone else bought it the morning i decided to buy it.
    I was 20 and stupid. Bought a new 30/30 winchester as a consolation.

  5. Thanks for the memories Ed. I am curious if Holland and Holland made/makes a ‘blue collar’ gun that regular folk could acquire!?

  6. Another fantastic article Mr. LaPorta I found very educational and written in a way that I felt I shared the experience with you. Most of us just dream of handling guns or seeing things that you have and I appreciate you sharing them with all of us.

  7. The Winchester 92 .25-20 take-down with the round barrel, button magazine and the fancy walnut for $135. Of course that was back in 1969.

  8. The late John Ross of “Unintended Consequences” writes of looking for a 4-bore dangerous game rifle, and his character, Henry Bowman, finds one and takes it on safari. He never got to finish UC’s sequel, that he was working on when he passed away.
    My “grail guns” are few: the Marlin 7000T semi-auto .22 w. laminated stock and access. rail and the
    S&W CM1 Customs Model 686 in 3″ which were mostly destroyed by Janet Reno.
    Best bargain for teaching target shooting (rifles) is the CMP used Daisy 853 air rifle @ $125 plus shipping… 177 pellets are the only (still) inexpensive ammo for sale…
    Excelsior,
    mad

  9. The late John Ross of “Unintended Consequences” writes of looking for a 4-bore dangerous game rifle, and his character, Henry Bowman, finds one and takes it on safari. He never got to finish UC’s sequel, that he was working on when he passed away.
    My “grail guns” are few: the Marlin 7000T semi-auto .22 w. laminated stock and access. rail and the
    S&W CM1 Customs Model 686 in 3″ which were mostly destroyed by Janet Reno.
    Best bargain for teaching target shooting (rifles) is the CMP used Daisy 853 air rifle @ $125 plus shipping… 177 pellets are the only (still) inexpensive ammo for sale…
    Excelsior,
    mad

  10. It was the spring of 1963 when I bought, or should I say my Dad bought me a rifle that I had been dreaming of for many years. We got in the car, a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle and drove a few miles north of the State Line to Wilmot, Wisconsin. Our destination was a small gun shop located on the south side of town on County Highway W. It was a storefront, in someone’s house, the gun shop’s name was nicely painted on a four inch pine board to the right of the front door. The sign read, “Gander Mountain.” This of course was before GCA 68 so the sales requirements did not have any background checks or other bothersome requirements that power hungry politicians have since shoved down the throats of the American people. I had a paper route that I ran after school and on weekends. It didn’t pay a lot, If I remember correctly around 5 cents a day and 10 cents on Sundays. We lived in a small town that was mostly a summertime retreat for wealthy Chicago residents. During the summer the population swelled to almost 300. During the off season the population dropped to around 80 year around residents. At the time the road, which more or less followed around the lake was about a mile long. The paper route was not very profitable during the winter, weekly income during the off season was around $2 a week, swelling to almost $4 during the warm weather. I had been shooting since I was 8 years old when my Dad, a state cop gave me a Daisy Red Ryder for my birthday. Of course it came along with all the warnings (so I wouldn’t shoot my eye out) and shooting lessons conducted in our back yard. Little did he know at the time that he had created a shooting monster. Anyway at 10 years old I graduated to a Winchester Model 74, 22 caliber semi auto rifle. At 12 to a Stevens 258A 20 ga shotgun. With dreams of going Deer hunting in Wisconsin, which lay a few scant miles north of where I was I started looking at deer rifles. After much study of the different models and associated prices I settled on every girls dream, a Marlin 336T lever action, chambered in the powerful and deadly 35 Remington. I told my Dad what I wanted, he said once I had enough paper route money to buy the rifle we could go get it. I scrimped and saved and in May of 1963 we made the trip to Wilmot and bought the rifle. When we walked out the door, I had a brand new rifle and two boxes of Remington 200 gr ammo. I was $85 poorer but my first rifle richer when we walked out the door. I had that rifle for many years. It reliably took many deer over the years. Eventually I ended up trading it for a Remington 600 in 243. The person I traded with was a State Trooper. He carried the Marlin in the trunk of his Patrol car for many years. Long since retired he still has that rifle but refuses to part with it. So there is the story about one girls first rifle of her very own.

  11. Not got away but taken away.

    Holland and Holland made a
    Line of ( for them) inexpensive bolt guns in the 1920s. I inherited an HH 300’super express number 1047 in 1979 and used it to good effect as a “pot shooter”. When moving to the US in the 1980s, i had a premonition and shipped the bolt separately. Together with a m1910 MS bolt 7103. A couple of months later, I got bad news from an uncle. They had been seized by Zimbabwean customs. I kept the bolts as a momento.

  12. Oh WOW! This one is SO easy! At local range the Sig representative was in, and introduced the all new Sig Sauer MPX, with 13″ barrel with a 3+” flash can pinned and welded to make it legal (well maybe) 16″ barrel, and the hand guard just barely let the flash can stick it’s nose out, giving it a very intimidating look. It had a Sig Romeo 5 red dot mounted on top. He was explaining to someone about the 2 MOA red dot, which peaked my interest, so he handed it to me. While looking at it, I notice an oddly placed lever on the right side, below and behind the ejection port. Naturally I pressed it, and the bolt slammed home. I immediately looked at the left side and exclaimed the thing is AMBIDEXTROUS! Obviously I am of the correct-handed crowed. He said it sure is! How much? I believe he said $1,300. Went home to think about it, and next I heard the ATF didn’t like the setup, and they were pulled until a 16″ barrel was put on them. Darn, but probably a blessing I didn’t buy it, and get a visit from the ATF gang. LOL. To this day it is still my dream machine.

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