Words by Simon de Burton – a journalist and author based in Dartmoor, South Devon, specialising in heritage and luxury living. He writes for the Financial Times, Country & Townhouse, Daily Telegraph, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among many others.
Welcome to Purdey Pieces, where each month we’ll hone in on a historical highlight from the Purdey archives. This time, it’s all about our favourite set of scales.
The longevity of our products is a particular source of pride at Purdey; the expression ‘quality never goes out of style’ could almost have been created with Purdey in mind. And, a look around our Mayfair headquarters soon reveals that the appreciation of quality is not restricted to items carrying the Purdey name – but also applies to the equipment used to create them.
One example of this can be found in the famous Long Room, home to the gun room scales that may well hold the distinction of being the oldest piece of equipment still in regular use by any gun manufacturer today. They date back almost 200 years to when they were originally purchased by James Purdey in 1826, the year Purdey moved from Princes Street – where it had been established a dozen years before – to new premises at 314-and-a-half Oxford Street.
A bespoke commission
Purdey didn’t have to go far in order to find a set of scales by a suitably prestigious maker, because Princes Street was only a short stroll away from Bear Street, home of Young & Son. Although the company was only founded in 1811, it had already earned a royal warrant as a result of supplying scales to the household of King George III. It was also a preferred manufacturer of scales used by organisations ranging from the Royal Mail to the Jockey Club and had developed an unimpeachable reputation for the accuracy of its products.
The quality of the Young & Son scale acquired by Purdey all those years ago certainly can’t be called into question today: it has been in constant use for the best part of two centuries and can be seen in many photographs of the Long Room dating back to the early 1900s. It is likely, however, that the scale was specifically commissioned by Purdey rather than being an ‘off-the-shelf’ item, because it is of a type particular to gun makers.
“The scale takes the form of a pair of Y-shaped forks, which are designed to hold an entire gun,” says Gun Room Manager, Dr Nick Harlow. “Alternatively, a dish can be fitted between the forks so that the barrels, the action or other individual components can be weighed without the stock.”
Worth their weight
“The scale is a very important piece of equipment in gun making, because it gives the ability to weigh everything when it’s broken down, with the aim of engineering individual components in order to achieve a target gross weight,” Harlow explains.
The gun room scale is still equipped with its original brass dish and cast iron weight platform, while the gilt-painted ‘Young & Son, Bear Street’ nameplate stands out as freshly as ever on its black enamelled background. Also present is the correct set of nine weights: comprising, seven, four two, one, one-and-a-half and one quarter pound – all with lifting rings on top – and two ounce, one ounce and half-ounce weights in the form of discs.
“We know for a fact that the scale and weights have been together for at least a century, because there are photographs dating back to then that show them all together in the Long Room,” says Harlow. “Like a Purdey gun, the Young & Son scale is testament to the long-term value of investing in a quality item.”
Although it’s difficult to imagine that James Purdey could ever have believed when he ‘nipped to the shops’ back in 1826 that the object he came back with would still be giving sterling service well into the 21st century.
Next month, Purdey Pieces will hone in on an exquisite example of micro-engineering and some of the smallest pieces in our collection…