In the previous articles about Belgian gunmakers («Brancquaert, Defourney and Others», «Lebeau-Courally: Between Truth and Fiction») I dealt with a number of old, but often repeated misconceptions. Now I have to return to this issue again.
Belgian gunmaking was based on division of labor, which allowed any entrepreneur to become a «manufacturer» of sporting guns, by purchasing parts and outsourcing jobs to homeworkers. That’s why the names of the real masters: barrel borers, actioners, stockers, etc., remain in the shadow of the people who owned numerous big and small companies. In the mass of Belgian hunting guns of the same grade, none stand out by some exceptionally high level of quality; all differences are usually in options and decoration. What’s more, sometimes identical guns come under different brands. There are a few producers whose names have always been associated with high quality: Courally, Francotte, Forgerone, Tonneay, Christoph, Donckier, Duchateau, Masquelier, Thirifays, Defourny, Janssen, Britte, Ronge, Lajot, Cordy, Mahillon, Bernard, Galand, Brancquaert. Jules Bury has always been included in this list.
Liege, 1914. A homeworker and his family. Working for 12 hours making revolver hammers, the homeworker earned 9 francs a day. A family of 10 lived in one room, which served as workshop, kitchen and bedroom all in one. Image by Musee de la Vie Wallonne.
In Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium where the city of Liege is situated, Bury is one of the most common family names. Untangling complicated ties of kinship in large Walloon families is not an easy task.
On March 5, 1811, the wife of Lambert Bury, a miner of Liege, gave birth to a son, Michael. On coming of age, Michael became a gunmaker and moved to Maastricht, where in 1846 he married Marie Joanne van Hoesbruck. Michael Bury died on January 17, 1887, survived by 6 children. Among them was Jean Joseph Bury, born May 16, 1853. Jean became a gunmaker, after his father. In August 1893 he moved to Herstal, a small town near Liege. It should be noted, perhaps, that Maastricht is only 30 km away from Liege.
A firearms manufacturer called J. L. Bury lived on rue Pont des Arches, 966, Liege in 1827. In 1840, the records show another firearms manufacturer, Francois Bury, at the same address. At the same time, a gunmaking company called «Bury the Sons and Donckier» was in business in Saint-Leonard, an outskirt of Liege.
Another Liege gunmaker called Jean Bury was born on August 18, 1840. On September 21, 1861, he married Marie Catherine Guillet, of whom he had a daughter, also called Mary. He died on February 8, 1890.
In 1855, a gunmaker called Jean George Francois Bury was living on St Leonard, 137, Liege.
The family of firearm engravers Bury was well known in Wallonia. Toussaint Bury was born in Liege on July 15, 1849. He was a Renaissance man who left a noticeable influence on Walloon culture. He combined the work of an engraver with interest in literature, and comprised a Walloon-French technological dictionary for engravers. His nephew Jean Bury, born on January 13, 1867 in Liege, was also an engraver. After his uncle’s death in 1918, the nephew updated his uncle’s dictionary and republished it under his own name. Jean Bury died in 1940.
It is common knowledge that the Olympic Games of 1900 took place in Paris, France, as part of the World Fair. A Belgian athlete called Jules Desire Bury, of Liege, born 1862, competed in the rifle shooting events, taking the silver in Free Rifle at 200 meters and the bronze in National Rifle.
Let us now turn to the Registry of Liege Proof House. It lists Nicolas Bury from 1868 to 1890, Jean Bury from 1890 to 1896, Antoine Bury from 1920 to 1939 and Jules Bury from 1896 to 1947. Therefore, the possible line of kinship is: Jean George Francois Bury (father, one of «Bury Sons and Donckier») — Jean Bury (son) — Jules Bury (grandson). It’s interesting that Jules Bury, like his grandfather might have done before him, also formed a partnership with a member of the Donckier family. Whether Bury the Olympic athlete who defended the colors of Belgium was the same person as Bury the gunmaker we shall probably never know, but some facts suggest it is quite probable.
Let us digress from the Bury family for a while. Theophile Britte was born on July 9, 1874. On February 2, 1896, he and his brother Lambert registered a firearms manufacturing company «Britte Freres» (Britte Brothers), which, at first, was a small workshop with about 10 employees. On September 17, 1923, Theophile Britte, Jules Bury, and the Masquelier brothers formed an anonymous limited liability company «Establissments Britte». The new enterprise produced precision mechanisms, sets of gauges, and sporting arms «in the white» (mecanique de precision, outillages calibres, armes des chasse en blanc). The company did not make barrels, purchasing them from well-known and reliable suppliers. They offered «in the white» assembly sets for 12, 16 and 20 gauge shotguns, both Anson&Deeley and H&H type sidelocks, as well as the original «Super Britte» side-opening over/unders patented in 1931. The guns could be supplied in the finished state as well, with the help of outsourcing to houseworkers and smaller firms. The number of over/unders made under Britte’s own brand does not exceed 250.
The idea of making high quality assembly sets «in the white» proved a big success. To satisfy the demand of customers in France, a division in Saint Etienne was founded. The quality of Britte’s assembly sets was so high that even British firms bought them. However, the world economic crisis played its part, and in 1936 the French division was closed. Then gunmaking stopped in Liege as well. Theophile Britte took into his company his son George (October 4, 1900 – September 13, 1949), and son-in law Lois Dessart (June 25, 1898 – April 12, 1932). The latter had a son, also called Lois, born 19.05.1924. Lois Dessart Jr joined his grandfather’s company on August 22, 1941, and headed it on September 13, 1949 after the death of his uncle, George Britte. Theophile Britte died on October 6, 1945, aged 71. Nowadays the Britte company, headed by Vincent Pissard, the son-in-law of Lois Dessard Jr., works for the aerospace industry, and is part of the international Mustad group. Before the Nazis occupied Belgium in 1940, the workers carefully packed the finished guns, assembly sets and spare parts in boxes, and hid them in the basement of Dessard’s family mansion. There they stayed until 1999, when Guy Bignell of Griffin and Howe learned about their existence. Bignell purchased the lot, and also the rights for the Jules Bury brand name. He got 17 finished Super Brittes, and 16 more «in the white», 17 finished H&H type side-by-sides and 155 more «in the white», and five boxes of parts. This treasure was called — probably in the name of marketing — «Jules Bury’s collection», although, of course, Bury himself had nothing to do with it. The guns from this «collection» sell for a pretty penny, including the «in the white» sets finished by such American gunmakers as Steven Dodd Hughes. The interest to the new guns from «Bury’s collection» led to an increase in prices for older Bury guns, not only in the USA, but also, somewhat surprisingly, in Europe and even Russia. Precise attribution of these guns becomes, therefore, an urgent problem.
It is well known that Jules Bury had two styles of barrel inscriptions: «Jules Bury F-ant A Liege» and «Jules Bury Arq-sier A Liege», meaning, respectively, «a manufacturer» or «a gunmaker» of Liege. With these words on the barrels, identification is usually not a problem. However, on some guns there is the trademark stamp «JB under crown», which is often attributed to Jules Bury. It is worthy of note, that guns on which there’s both the inscription and the trademark do not exist. At the same time, there are numerous guns featuring the «JB under crown» stamp and signed by such names as Charles Masquelier and Louis Christophe.
There are guns on Purdey by Beesley’s Patent self-opening system stamped with «JB under crown». At the same time, there are guns on the original Belgian self-opening system (see my article «Self-Opening Breechloading Systems») without this trademark, but with «Jules Bury» on the barrels, or without any maker’s mark or stamp whatsoever. Apparently, Jules Bury was not the inventor of that system, because no patents were ever granted to his name in Belgium or anywhere else. As for the trademark itself, it exists in numerous variants, both stamped and engraved.
Actions of three different guns stamped «JB under crown»: top left Louis Christophe made before 1922; bottom left 1925 vintage; right 1929 vintage.
Purdey-by-Beesley’s-patent type self-opener signed by Louis Christophe with «JB under crown» trademark, 1933. Engraved by H. Leukers. Image by Jan Bliki.
The experts on Belgian guns marked down another interesting feature. On most sidelocks signed by Jules Bury or stamped with «JB under crown» trademark, the bottom part of the action, where it meets the stock, has a furrow, and the stock is made with a bolster which fits it (see pictures below). However, this way of stock inletting was used by many makers, that is why I think the claim that this is a characteristic feature of Bury’s guns is unjustified.
So, should you lose your head and rush in when you see «Jules Bury» or the «JB under crown» trademark on a gun? I don’t think so. Not only because the guns so branded aren’t any superior to others made out of Britte assembly kits…
«Pandectes périodiques: recueil de jurisprudence, de législation et de doctrine» is a collection of legal data including sample court decisions, regularly published in Belgium since the late XIX century. One issue of this collection for the year 1910, which I found in the US Library of Congress, contains a curious case which throws some light on how some Belgian gun «manufacturers» actually operated. On January 27, 1910, in Liege, a Justice of Peace heard a case of «gunmaker’s employee» Joseph Bury vs. «La Zurich» insurance company. The case states that the plaintiff, Joseph Bury, accidentally shot himself in the gun store belonging to his brother, Jules Bury, while unloading a Browning pistol which he was demonstrating to a customer. The plaintiff claimed it an accident at workplace, and demanded the insurance payment liable to him as a manufacturing industry worker with salary under 2,400 francs a year under a Belgian act of 1903. The insurance company, however, denied the claim, stating that the case does not fall under the act. This is what it argued: While it is true that Joseph Bury was injured at work, however, his employer Jules Bury does not have a gun making facility, he only sells guns, ammunition and related products, and controls the performance of his orders by homeworkers. Apart from that, Jules Bury sells long guns and pistols by other makers. There is a gunsmithing shop for repairs of hunting firearms at the store. The whole workforce of the company is limited to the two Bury brothers and an apprentice. The accident happened in the showroom, not in the gunsmithing shop.
Guns signed by Jules Bury on the barrels (without «JB under crown» trademark), top to bottom: a 8x60R double rifle № 8225 калибра 8 x 60 R, a 9.3x74R double rifle № 8044 калибра 9.3 x 74R, an 8-gauge shotgun № 78
Nevertheless, the court decided for the plaintiff, justifying it by the following: According to the list of trades and professions published by Belgian Ministry of Labor in 1902, a gunmaker is defined not only as one who makes firearms or parts of firearms, but also as one who makes a profit by buying and selling firearms. According to Item 2 of the above-mentioned work accident compensation act, gunmaker’s employees fall under its jurisdiction. Besides, Jules Bury takes orders for making hunting guns under his own brand. He is a licensed gunmaker, purchases parts and materials, places orders, personally patterns and sights in the guns he sells, and submits these guns to Liege Proof House in the established order. The precedent statement runs: «A merchant who sells hunting guns and related equipment, as well as partly makes the firearms he sells, is de facto practicing gunmaking, and therefore falls under the provisions of the compensation for work-related accidents act. This act is applicable to employees hired at daily rates, acting under supervision of his employer, and engaged, directly or indirectly, in manual labor, and therefore exposed to the same risks as regular employees». This is, as a matter of fact, the answer to the question if Jules Bury was a gunmaker. By Belgian law he was; however, he didn’t actually work at the bench, didn’t wield a smoke lamp, file or chisel. At least, not in 1910. Probably it was not because he couldn’t or wouldn’t, but because he didn’t have to. Could some crisis make Jules Bury resort to manual labor? Probably yes. Could the «JB under crown» stamp belong to his firm? It could. Don’t forget about Joseph Bury, who was in charge of gunsmithing, and whose attempt to replace his brother for the sale of the handgun almost ended tragically. Jules Bury traded and took his orders from a shop in Passage Lemonier, the biggest and most prestigious department store in Liege, resembling modern GUM in Moscow.
Bury’s shop was No 11. Next door, No 13, was the shop of Marcelle Donkier. In 1938 Bury and Donkier merged under Bury’s brand. In 1947 a new company, Bury-Donkier was established. It existed until 1964 and was then purchased by Charles Masquelier.
Guns engraved for H.Mahillon (top) and Jean Duchateau (bottom) by H. Leukers
«A typical Bury», or, to be precise, a Christoph. With «JB under crown» trademark; engraved by Schoffeniels. According to littlegun.be (who provided the image) it was proofed in 1955. Perhaps, the gun was shelved for some time.
What conclusions can and ought to be made, aside from the eternal «do not make an idol for yourself»? First, Jules Bury was NO DIFFERENT from dozens of other entrepreneurs — who called themselves «makers» — of Belgium. Second, it was hard to go wrong with the high quality Britte assembly kits, and so no matter what name they were sold under — whether Bury, or Christoph, or Masquelier, or Donckier, or Mahillon, or Duchateau — it is (at least after 1923) the same gun, and there were other makers for the trade in Liege apart from Britte. This is why the auctioneers single out Francotte and Lebeau and put the rest of Belgian gunmakers under the same heading, and that, I believe, is mostly due to inertia and reluctance to see the obvious, an maybe only to give credit to the founders of the companies and their past merits. To end with a bit of advice: if you are after a vintage Belgian gun, it’s not worth it to chase famous names. Look at condition, fit and patterns, not the stamps and inscriptions on the gun.