The French gave us the Statue of Liberty in 1886, and it remains America's most recognizable national monument. The Eiffel Tower in Paris remains one of the most iconic structures ever built, and it is instantly recognizable worldwide. Achievements in French cuisine put it at the top of any international listing of culinary achievements, and don't forget the older French Bugattis and Talbot-Lagos are some of the rarest and most expensive automobiles ever produced. But how about French firearms and their importance to both collectors and investors?
In my 40 years in this business, I haven't had one conversation or email regarding a U.S. collector who specializes in older French guns. Yet, believe it or not, the most expensive firearms ever manufactured — recently sold for $4.5 million — were a garniture of pistols, accessories and a musket made by Nicholas-Noel Boutet, who is considered one of history's most prestigious gunmakers and was responsible for many of Napoleon's guns.
So why did I choose this Darne SxS shotgun made in St. Etienne, France, for this most recent GOTW? Because it emulates the artistic French flair when it comes to designing a traditional sporting SxS shotgun. Regis and Pierre Darne established their company during 1881, and continued making guns under this name until 1990 when Paul Bruchet, the old Darne plant Superintendent, obtained permission to use the Darne trademark.
Darne SxS shotguns have a distinctive action design not found on other shotguns. The breech mechanism slides rearward on rails to open the action and also exposes the chambers for removing empties and loading. Since the barrels are stationary, the forearm does not have to pivot and helps explain its elongated design. The stock is carefully fit to the bottom of the sliding breech with a full length rod running through the wood.
This unique sliding breech design is important in that the head spaces are extremely tight, and since there is almost no cartridge movement or slap when fired, it helps to significantly reduce recoil due to the convergent obturator discs. The gun is cocked by activating the sears on top of the action when closing the mechanism. The safety is mounted on the lower left side of the breech mechanism, and auto ejectors are standard on this model. Weight is also kept at a minimum with this type of design, and this quick-handling little 28-gauge only tips the scales at 5 ½ lbs.
So what's a gun like this worth? In the 1976 Shooter's Bible, the V22 was listed at $3,500, with the 28-gauge being a special order. Considering this gun's original condition — approximately 95 percent — elaborate scroll engraving and the fact it's a smallbore 28-gauge, its current value is in the $12,000 range. If you ever get the chance to examine a Darne, please pick it up and open the action. It's like glass, and it might remind you why French firearm designs might function a little bit better than they look.
Credits: Images and some information courtesy of Floyd Hightower. Other information courtesy the Shooter's Bible, and www.Darneusa.com.