Ernest Hemingway's .577 Nitro Express Double Rifle by Westley Richards
Ernest Hemingway's .577 Nitro Express Double Rifle by Westley Richards
Even for the larger-than-life Ernest Hemingway, his double-barreled .577 caliber Nitro Express was one big gun. Manufactured by the Westley Richards firm in England in 1913 and weighing in at nearly sixteen pounds, the rifle was meant to stop the biggest beasts in Africa. It accompanied Hemingway on safari in 1953, as recounted in the book Hemingway’s Guns, which devotes an entire chapter to the famed .577. “It’s an absolute masterpiece,” says Silvio Calabi, one of the book’s authors. “The thing you really come away with after looking at it is, man, they really knew how to build these things back then.”
The gun’s colorful history goes even beyond Hemingway’s African adventures. It was also employed by Papa for a wholly different type of big game. During World War II, Hemingway outfitted his fishing boat, Pilar, to hunt German U-boats, which often infiltrated the waters off Cuba. And, yes, the .577 was aboard. Hemingway apparently figured if it was good enough to take down elephants and rhinos, it could likely punch a pretty good hole in the hull of a submarine, though he never actually got to test the theory. On display at the Curry Mansion Inn in Key West, the gun led a quieter life since Hemingway’s heyday.
The much touted Westley Richards, .577NE which had belonged to renowned author Ernest Hemingway went up for auction in early 2011 by the James D. Julia
auction house of Fairfield, ME. The gun was auctioned off on March 14th, and was expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000 and went out at just about $340,000.
Description of this .577 Nitro Express Double Rifle by Westley Richards
SN 17425. Cal..577 Nitro Express. 750 gr. bullet, 100 gr. cordite. The Westley Richards Best quality rifle with hand detachable lock action (droplock) is as highly regarded among rifle connoisseurs as the Holland Royal and the Rigby Rising Bite. To find one of these iconic rifles in the .577 750 gr nitro caliber is very unusual. Added to this is the fact that this particular rifle was owned and used by Ernest Hemingway, a man of great charisma, a Nobel Prize winning, innovative author; war correspondent; uncompromising outdoorsman; hunter, fisherman, and acknowledged Man's man; makes this fine rifle virtually priceless. It features: 26" Steel shoe-lump bbls, with quarter rib and doll's head extension. They are engraved "Westley Richards 178 New Bond St. London Gun Makers By Appointment to His Majesty George V Rex et Imp." on sunken portion of rib, which is also scroll engraved at transitions to sights. Rear express sight has one standing, two folding platinum-line leaves marked for 100, 200, and 300 yards. Westley Richards patent front sight has longitudinally dovetailed silver bead with flip-up porcelain night sight, and folding hood. Top rear of bbl is engraved ".577 Cartridge" and "100/750 Grs." Bbl flats have London nitro proofs for the full 100 grain cordite load. Bottoms of bbls are stamped with provisional proofs, SN, and "H. L" (bbl makers initials). Narrow sling loop is attached to a large base, screwed and soldered to bottom rib. Bottom portion of Westley Richards style regulating wedge has shell and scroll engraving at muzzle. Robust, case hardened, Westley Richards patent, hand detachable action features typical Westley pivoting top fastener, bushed strikers stamped "R" and "L", nicely filed beads, automatic bolted safety (SAFE and BOLTED inlaid in gold), and Westley Richards patent single trigger with selector on trigger plate with "L" and "R" inlaid in gold. Water table is stamped with patent information for single trigger and detachable lock system, with detachable lock use number 2521 and single trigger use number 171. Action is engraved with well-cut, medium sized, shaded scroll with "Westley Richards" in ribands on either side. Charcoal blued, hinged lock recess cover has nearly full coverage of well cut scroll engraving with central oval vignette of rather naively portrayed black rhino running through open woodland. Blued trigger guard has prowling tiger on bow, and SN on grip, which terminates at steel trap grip cap. Dense, darkly streaked and figured European walnut, full pistol grip buttstock measures 15" over Silvers pad. Stock features classic beaded and shadow line cheekpiece for right handed shooter, with ogee transition from bead to shadow line, approx. 22 LPI point pattern checkering with mullered borders, checkered side panels with line borders, and nicely shaped drop points. There is a vacant rectangular gold crest plate with scalloped borders, and sling loop on toe line. Splinter forend with Deeley release and Deeley ejector, has horn forend tip, and checkering matching buttstock. SN is stamped in left bbl channel. Drop at heel: Approx 2-3/4", drop at comb: Approx. 1-7/8". Weight: 15 lbs. 14 oz, LOP 15". Maker's best quality oak and leather case with shaped brass corners, and brass reinforcing plates at corners of oak frame, has typical Westley Richards push-button key lock, and sliding brass bolts, as well as, usual securing straps. Nearly intact "Flandre" "French line" shipping label is on lid, with passengers name: "Mary and Ernest Hemingway", cabin numbers: "Suite 9 - 11" and with final destination: LeHavre, penciled in. Interior is lined in dark green cloth with large Westley Richards paper label and two other Westley Richards labels with "instructions for use", and "instructions for cleaning". Large label has SN penciled in. Case contains wood-covered steel 2-pc cleaning rod with brass trim and swivel head, old pull-through cleaning brush marked "577", various other brushes, and two brass capped tin bottles, one for Rangoon oil (nearly full), and the other for special cleaning fluid, both with John Rigby & Co labels, one loaded Kynoch 577 cartridge, and one fired Eley case, as well as the original key. Accompanying the lot are a copy of the original factory ledger pages, and the fascinating, newly released hard cover book HEMINGWAY'S GUNS by Silvio Calabi, et al, in which an entire chapter is dedicated to this very rifle. To paraphrase passages from the book: 'Before coming into Hemingway's possession it was owned and used by international sportsman Winston Guest (a Churchill relative)in Kenya while hunting with Bror Blixen during the 1930's. Hemingway, while hunting with Philip Purcival, met Guest and the two became lifelong friends. As he had for many of his close acquaintances, "Papa" had a special name for Guest ... "Wolfie". Guest still had the rifle when he settled Cuba in 1942 to oversee family business. He reunited and rekindled his friendship with EH and wound up second-in-command of the "Crook Factory", Hemingway's makeshift "FBI approved" counterintelligence ring charged with keeping an eye out for Axis agents. Never one to think small, Hemingway soon conceived of a new and more aggressive sort of clandestine warfare. The Caribbean was infested with German U-boats that were picking off tankers delivering fuel from refineries in New Orleans and Aruba to Britain. Up and down the Atlantic seaboard, American yachtsmen were answering the call to assist the US Navy in patrolling for German raiders. With diplomatic connivance, Papa armed his sportfisher "Pilar" with light machine guns, satchel charges and, according to Patrick Hemingway (Ernest's son), Wolfie's trusty Westley stopping rifle. (One can imagine the conversation over a few rum drinks about the penetration of the .577 solid and how it might be just the thing to hole a German submarine). U-boats sometimes bought or seized fresh food from small boats. Hemingway's plan was to pose as fishermen and to lure one to Pilar's side, then sweep its deck with gunfire while Wolfie lofted a satchel charge into its conning tower. Fortunately for all concerned, and for American literature, Pilar never encountered a submarine and the Westley was put away until summer 1953 when Ernest and wife Mary departed NY for Africa on the French steamship Flandre bound for Le Havre, then Paris, Pamplona and eventually Mombasa; a safari which was richly chronicled in Look magazine the following year. Most interestingly just prior to EH's departure, in his New York Post column of June 26, 1953, Leonard Lyons wrote that he had accompanied Hemingway to the basement shooting range at Abercrombie & Fitch, where Papa wanted to test-fire some old .577 cartridges in this rifle. Papa induced Lyons to shoot too: "... the recoil hurled me back against the back of the cement booth and the gun fell from my hand. 'You OK?' the salesman asked. Only a wrenched shoulder. 'Lucky,' he said. 'They usually break a collar-bone.'" This may account for some of the battle scars on the stock's right side. Factory records indicate the rifle was built in 1913 for British Cavalry Officer Stephen Henry Christy who died in France 3 Sept 1914, less than a year after the rifle was finished in the days preceding the first battle of the Marne. How the rifle came into the possession of Mr. Guest is unknown. Additional Information: Also accompanying this lot is an original copy of January 26, 1954 Look Magazine which features a fascinating 16 page chronicle of Hemingway's African safari on which the Westley Richards .577NE was used. PROVENANCE: Handwritten note from the owner of the Curry Mansion Inn in Key West, where the gun has been on display, relating how the rifle came into their possession in the early 1970's. CONDITION: Very fine, as found. Bbls retain better than 70% orig blue, thinning at carry points, with areas of silvering from contact with case, and also with a few minor pinprick pits. Bbl flats and breeches show nearly all of their orig polish with some minor staining and marks. Bores are excellent, sharp, bright and shiny, with just a hint of frost in left bbl. Action retains 50 - 60% orig case hardening color, fading to silver on fences, to silver brown at bottom of action, and is quite vivid in protected areas. Top lever retains 90% orig bright charcoal blue, browned on thumbpiece. Safety retains most of its orig blue, and safety bolt most of its orig fire blue. Lock cover retains 70 - 80% of its orig charcoal blue, pleasingly silvered on high points of engraving, with a few minor marks. Trigger guard is somewhat silvered on bow, but retains most of its orig blue. Detachable locks retain nearly all of their orig damascening with some areas of cleaned discoloration. Stocks retain their orig finish with numerous knocks, marks and scars, some of which are quite deep, especially right side of buttstock toward comb. Checkering remains fairly sharp with numerous deep compressions on forend to right of latch. Orig Silvers pad has crystallized with areas at toe and heel where rubber has chipped off. Action is tight. Bbls are on face. Ejectors are in time. Single trigger works. Case leather is dry with some cracking and spalling of grain, and water discoloration. Orig straps and handle are good. Shipping label is missing some bits at bottom. Penciled in information is faint, but readable under black light. Interior cloth is good, with areas worn through, mostly from contact with sights and bbls. Labels are deeply foxed to brown. Large makers label is intact, other instruction labels are wrinkled, somewhat compressed, and torn, but readable. Accessories are fine. Brush is detached from pull-through. Cleaning rod brass is tarnished. Cleaning container labels are foxed, brown, and have patches of discoloration. This is certainly one of the most desirable rifles in the world. If only it could speak - the stories it would tell!