The very earliest ledgers are now lost. But from 1818 onward we have a complete record of the daily transactions of the firm. These include James Purdey’s comments on customers who failed to honour their debts, noted alongside the main entry as ‘BAD’ in a fine copperplate script .
From the very beginning James Purdey’s business thrived. His reputation, established at Manton’s and Forsyth’s, meant he attracted the most discerning of customers. Purdey’s specialized in the ‘best’ bespoke guns. They were sold in every conceivable bore size, from 10 to 22. There is even a record in the ledgers of a 17 ½ bore, which must have belonged to James Purdey himself, as there’s no record of it at the London Proof House.
Just like today, Purdey in 1814 not only made best guns, but also serviced and repaired them, not to mention selling shooting equipment and accessories. As well as cartridges, wadding and powder flasks, you could find daggers, cutlasses, and razors. Cast iron targets in the shape of rabbits, salmon hooks and “the best cigars”. Purdey even sold live sparrows.
With success came expansion and on 1 August 1826, James took charge of 314 ½ Oxford Street, the premises of his former master, Manton. This was the most famous gun shop in London, supplying orders to everyone from English aristocracy to Indian princes. In 1831 Charles Darwin paid a visit, ordering guns and supplies for the voyage of HMS Beagle.
In 1838 James Purdey’s most famous customer placed her first order. In the year of her coronation, Queen Victoria commissioned a pair of double-barrelled pistols from Purdey, for presentation to the Imam of Muscat.