In a previous entry, I tried to illustrate the folly in comparing machine-made production guns to "best quality" guns. In hindsight, I failed to mention a point that they both share in common: uniqueness, or more accurately, the lack of same. The English (or Scottish) best of 2019 is in fact the same gun that it was in the late 19th century, with each of the major makers using what became their respective "signature" designs. Beyond stock dimensions, barrel lengths and (sometimes) decoration, the core design of the gun remained the same (and continues to do so). Indeed, an apprentice's first tasks are to make the templates and tools required to assure that his work is as nearly the same as his master's as possible, just as the master had done when he was an apprentice. Technology marches ever forward and the materials used by these makers is better than ever. Technology delivers, to the worker at the bench (the nameless men that actually build the name gun), parts that are more nearly finished than ever before. In fact, some of these parts are so nearly finished that the "gunmakers" of today are little more than fitters. Factually, many of today's bests are really little more than highly finished, limited production guns with bespoke dimensions and decoration (that is assuming that the "house style" of engraving was not specified). This is so thanks to the replacement of time-consuming hand work with computer-controlled machining. At many makers, gone are the days of the actioner skillfully chiseling the frame contours with chisels of his own making, that's now done in the CNC programming, along with many other operations which were once performed by skilled, actual gunmakers. With the gun first created in "virtual reality" and so much less hand work involved, one does wonder why the price of a modern best is so high, especially considering that one of the biggest names in best gunmaking now makes guns "for stock", presumably for the buyer who just can't wait for a bespoke gun. It might even be said that the buyer is paying for something that he is not receiving, because he believes that he is purchasing a handmade gun when in fact, that gun is mostly made on CNC machinery. Also, while one can go into any of these makers and order a gun "made to measure", the buyer is still choosing from a very limited menu as far as the actual design of the gun is concerned. At the "biggest names" there is in fact no choice at all and that should further lead one to ask: If this design has been made for the last 100 years (at least) and the production has been streamlined to the nth degree, what justifies the cost?
What to do if our fictional buyer wants a gun that doesn't seamlessly blend into the other bests on the rack at the gun club? What if having something to brag about other than an artificially inflated price tag is wanted by the buyer? What if our buyer actually decides to follow what may be the only good piece of advice in gundom (buy the gun, not the name)? Assuming that our buyer can handle the slings and arrows of his fellows at the gun club, asking things like: "Why didn't you buy a (insert socially-acceptable brand here)?" and: "Are you sure that was a good investment?", he can seek out an independent gunmaker who is willing and able to provide exactly what he wants. That being a unique, best quality gun that actually is hand made. He didn't want a "fill-in-the-blank best" because, let's face it, while they're really nice and well made, there is almost nothing to separate them (within makes, I.E., one Purdey from another) and beside that, he's not a conformist. He doesn't see it as an "investment" because he knows that there are only two kinds of people for whom a gun is an investment with an expected return: dealers and fools. He sees the value in a unique (hand made) gun versus a best (hand finished) gun. While the price will be substantial, he realizes that cost and quality are (and should be) commensurate, while one can hardly put a price on "uniqueness". These individuals, the ones who prize individuality over brand recognition, and careful craftsmanship over slick marketing, do exist but they're a pretty rare breed. After all, it does take a bit of courage to stand apart from the crowd.