By John Hackett:
Sam Holt? Never heard of him? Ever hear of a guy named Sam Colt? That’s right, most well versed arms aficionados have heard of the famed Samuel Colt. And that’s exactly the point for the manufacturer marking this month’s “This Old Gun” in such a devious manner.
This side by side shotgun comes from an era in American history known in many circles as “The Golden Age of Shotgunning”. This is the time period from circa 1870 to the1920‘s. At this time feathered game seemed almost inexhaustible, limits were high and many Americans enjoyed plenty of leisure time to pursue wing shooting.
This was also the time in history when market hunting reached its peak in Midwestern America. Many more hunters were driven to the field out of financial necessity, to cash in on the huge numbers of waterfowl and upland game. With the huge increase in the number of hunters came the need for more shotguns. The style of shotgun in favor at this time was the side by side.
To meet the demand American companies imported huge numbers of shotguns from Europe. Like marketing today, in the 1880’s retailers found they could sell far more inexpensive, or cheap, guns than quality ones. And like today, the cheap gun market was present due to economics and the sensibility of the American sportsman. Many hunters just simply couldn’t afford a high end Parker Brothers shotgun. And still others just wouldn’t take their high end firearm into the marsh to get beat around. Not when a lesser quality arm will kill birds just as dead.
The desire for cheap guns fueled an era of “trade” or “brand” name guns. In an effort to gain favor of their cheap gun, makers would mimic the names of quality manufactures to sway the “unlearned” sportsman. Hence the “Sam Holt Arms Co.” At the time manufacturers would also stamp any brand name a retailer wanted on the gun. This would give the illusion that that particular retailer actually manufactured the gun. Sears, Roebuck & Co. of Chicago IL was one such retailer.
This brings us full circle on our featured Sam Holt Arms Co. shotgun. It was manufactured in Belgium and sold in the Sears’ catalog in 1902 for $9.40. One heck of a bargain as opposed to an L.C. Smith that sold at the same time for around $35.00! Today these “brand name” guns don’t garner a whole lot of collector interest. Most are bought to be used as wall hangers. They generally bring around $50 as a wall hanger, and upwards of around $200 if a collector needs the particular gun.