Shrouded in Mystery, The Only 16-Gauge Dickson Round Action Over-Under Finally Becomes Available

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After 20 years as U.S. Operations Manager with Holland & Holland, David Cruz has amassed more knowledge, wisdom and gut feel about fine shotguns than most of us. But he recently came across a shotgun that has mystified him – a uniquely engraved, one-of-a-kind, 16-gauge, round action over-under from the legendary Scottish gunmaker, John Dickson & Son.

As it turns out, Mr. Cruz parted ways with Holland & Holland in 2017 when their U.S. store moved to Dallas from New York City. A few months later he started Country Pursuits & Outfitters in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The company works in the sale and repair of used consignment or purchased firearms and shooting, hunting and fishing trips.

On their web it’s easy to find site beautiful shotguns from Boss, Purdey, Holland & Holland, Famars, Beretta, Flli Rizzini, William Evans, Joseph Lang and Westley Richards. 

IMG 7906 002David Cruz

Recently, though, a client entrusted Mr. Cruz with an unusual and rare Dickson to sell. 

Vintage shotguns always have a story to tell. This particular Dickson, however, raised more questions than usual. Was this exceptional gun, in fact, made by B. Rizzini of Italy, who is also known for stunning round-action over-unders? Or was it a pure Scottish pedigree? 

Priced at $64,900, any suspicions about its origins have unexpected and sobering implications – especially since the current owner purchased the shotgun believing it to be made entirely in Scotland by Dickson.

The shotgun was consigned to Mr. Cruz in January 2020, in time for Country Pursuits & Outfitters to display it at the Safari Club International Convention the first week of February in Reno, Nevada. Based on his own personal research, Mr. Cruz had decided that the shotgun would be sold and priced accordingly as a Scottish-made Dickson.

IMG 3233The sensuous lines and zoomorphic engraving on the only 16-gauge Dickson Round Action Over-Under.

“The owner fully believes it’s a 100-percent Dickson gun,” said Mr. Cruz. “If Dickson was getting guns made by Italians, then it wasn’t a Dickson, but an Italian-made Dickson.” 

He pointed out that the shotgun has not been disassembled for deeper scrutiny.

John Dickson & Son was established 1820 in Edinburgh. By 1880 the round-action patent had been filed, and the company subsequently gained renown for mastering the trigger-plate, round action side by side. The iconic Dickson Round Actions were prized for their balance, elegance and liveliness. Writer Donald Dallas has reported that fewer than 2,000 Dickson Round Actions had been produced. 

So the question arises as to why Dickson – synonymous with trigger-plate, round-action beauties – would turn to B. Rizzini for development of the 16-gauge over-under?

dickson16boreOU 002The 16-gauge Dickson Round Action Over-Under in the white.

In a way, the move by Dickson shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Over the last decade best gunmakers in the U.K. have gravitated toward their European counterparts on assembly and design. There was the Purdey Sporter, a collaboration with Italy’s Perugini and Visini. When German-based Blaser acquired John Rigby & Co. in 2013, the Blaser subsidiary of Mauser supplied barrelled actions shipped to London to be assembled into a hand-finished rifles by Rigby. England’s E.J. Churchill says their Continental collection of shotguns is “built to our specification by our French, Italian and Spanish partners.” William Powell of Oxfordshire sells their own branded shotguns made by B. Rizzini and Arrieta of Spain. And of course, there are other U.K.-European hybrids cloaked under non-disclosure agreements that we may never know about with certainty.

An interested party of the 16-gauge Dickson over-under started due diligence on the shotgun, until his consulting gunsmith detected an Italian influence. Mr. Cruz had already spoken about the gun with Jean-Pierre “J-P” Daeschler, Managing Director of John Dickson & Son in Dunkeld, who assured him that the gun had been made in Scotland with some consulting work by B. Rizzini. 

triggerplate action diagramA blow-up diagram of the famed Dickson triggerplate action.

The prospect’s gunsmith contacted B. Rizzini to get answers about their involvement. According to Mr. Cruz, the gunsmith related that B. Rizzini told him they made the shotgun.

“Rizzini said they built it?” recounted Mr. Cruz, “I find that hard to swallow. Dickson would not allow some other manufacturer to say such a thing.”

Finally, Mr. Cruz put the buyer in touch directly with Mr. Daeschler. On February 24, 2020, Mr. Daeschler emailed the buyer:

“We did indeed work with B. Rizzini on the design and manufacture of the triggerplate and action moving it from the side-by-side-gun to the O/U gun. The actions and lockwork were then assembled here in the UK, including the barrels, stocking, engraving and finishing all here in the UK…. I am more than happy to provide a letter of provenance covering the gun’s manufacture by John Dickson & Son and the craftsmen involved in building it. Please look at the picture attached of the 16 gauge in production at our workshop.”

John Dickson Son 8029 2The 16-gauge Dickson Round Action Over-Under in its leather and oak presentation case.

Mr. Daeschler also assures the potential buyer that this 16-gauge over-under “carries the unique Celtic style of Zoomorphic creatures of the sea, land and sky figures that transition from the base to the top of the action by Dickson's preferred engraver, Peter Cusack. This gun is the only 16 bore Over & Under we have built and the only gun to carry this type of engraving in Dickson’s 200 years of business. The client collected his prized gun and travelled to Morayshire where he successfully shot a number of grouse over dogs.” 

John Dickson Son 8029 1The leather’s patina on the Dickson’s presentation case enriches it with history and adventure.

From Mr. Cruz’s perspective, “The gun was assembled in Scotland, but in gunmaking terms assembled does not mean the same thing as built. I saw photos of the action. It’s Dickson’s patented action, it’s their trigger-plate action.”

On March 7, Mr. Daeschler wrote in an email to Mr. Cruz: “Just reassure them [buyer] that you are dealing directly with the manufacturer on this. I get really frustrated with all the misinformation from gun guys who think they know better. Please be assured that I would not set you up to sell something that we couldn't stand behind.”

John Dickson Son 8029 16The highly figured walnut stock on the 16-gauge Dickson Round Action Over-Under.

In my conversations with Mr. Cruz, the crux of the shotgun’s authenticity centered on an interpretation of “cooperate, collaborate, worked with…” Hoping to get more clarification, I emailed Mr. Daeschler, and on April 15, 2020 he replied:

“In 2005 the firm of Dickson & MacNaughton (as the company was known back then during a collaboration period) was looking to add a bespoke Round-Action Over & Under gun to their portfolio by one of the Scottish manufacturers that they already owned. Dickson had already built four side-opening Over & Under guns using the Dickson Patent Triggerplate design from their side-by-side gun (the first gun made in 1888, long before other British gunmakers had even thought about an Over & Under design) and so it was decided to build a set of conventional-opening O/U's on the Dickson Patent Triggerplate design.

“At the time, Dickson & MacNaughton’s Sales Manager already had relationships with Batista Rizzini and Ivano Tanfoglio, specialist gunmakers in Italy, and so turned to them to help assist with the design and manufacture of a new action and the mating of the Dickson Triggerplate design to this action. Development work started in 2006 in parallel with the orders of five bespoke guns for clients. One pair of 12 bores, one 16 bore, and three single 12 bores. The manufacture of the actions and lockwork was started in 2007 by Rizzini. The guns were ready for 'making up' in 2008 and the kits supplied to Dickson's in Dunkeld, Scotland where it took a further two years to build them into finished guns. (This process is not dissimilar to the supply of Purdey Sporter actions from Perugini & Visini in Italy and finished in London) The first guns to be delivered were the pair of 12 bores closely followed by the 16 bore in 2010. All five guns were assembled, barrelled, proved, stocked, engraved, hardened and finished in the UK, the building and finishing completed in the Dickson workshop and specialist British outworkers used for the barrels, stocking and engraving and case making.”

When completed, the 16-gauge Dickson over-under arrived with 29-inch barrels choked improved modified/modified and chambered at 2¾ inches. The rib was solid topped by a single brass bead. A deluxe-grade walnut stock is finished to a 15½-inch length of pull with a checkered butt. There’s a Prince of Wales grip with grip cap. The barrel selector is on the single inertia trigger. A game-style forend holds an Anson & Deely release. The shotgun weighs 7 pounds/9 ounces, and is presented in a weathered oak and leather case bearing the initials G.S.N.

IMG 3248Detail of the Dickson’s zoomorphic engraving.

In person, the shotgun’s zoomorphic mythology is haunting. Zoomorphism is derived from the Greek zōon for “animal” and morphē for “form,” or “shape.” Marry the etymologies and suddenly animal personas can inhabit humans, gods and objects. Englishman Peter Cusack’s zoomorphic deep-relief artistry conjures Scottish folklores of griffons, boar, stags, sea serpents, rams and fish entangled in thistle and Celtic knots thrashing for survival and dominance. The engraving isn’t the fantasy-style photo-realism you see from the Europeans, but more like the tribal tattoo of a Celtic warrior.

A gold oval in the stock depicts a Scottish wildcat on a clasp and encircled by a strap and buckle with the words “sans peur,” which translates from French into “without fear.”

John Dickson Son 8029 13The Dickson’s gold oval that reads “Sans Peur.”

I had an opportunity to try the Dickson on sporting clays targets here in South Georgia. Out of respect, I only put 10 shells through it – enough to give me impressions of how the shotgun would perform in the field. The idea was to shoot a pair of targets at five different stations.

Obviously a cabinet queen, the shotgun was somewhat stiff to open and close. On soaring outgoing targets, low quartering-aways and 15-yard crossers the Dickson swung with ease, grace and purpose. Trigger resistance represented field values, yet proved smooth and authoritative. It shot a bit high, offering an ideal sight picture for a plump ringneck on the rise.

Returning the Dickson to its case, I imagined for moment that it wasn’t a collectible or an investment-grade asset but a powerfully unique and empowering firearm. If you can step into the realm of this shotgun, nothing else about it matters.

Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Helpful resources:

The web site for Country Pursuits & Outfitters

Irwin Greenstein

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

https://www.shotgunlife.com