The Lost Ideal Manufrance
By: Geoffroy Gournet
The late 19th
Century was known as the “Golden Age” of invention and represented a time of
rapid technological advancement in the development of the modern side by side
shotgun. Sadly, most of
today’s emphasis on these early makers and their contributions seems to be
with the better known British makers. But
there were also creative and innovative gun makers in other parts of the world;
This study begins with the year 1887 when the firm Manufrance commenced
production of a unique round action box lock known as the IDEAL.
Its round frame profile seemed a perfect choice, and was nothing new at
the time. Round frame guns had been
the standard for years, as this was the traditional profile given to the
earliest back action hammer guns. As
acceptance of new innovation is often a slow process, a round frame gun may
have, in fact, been more appealing to those shooters who might not have adjusted
to the “squared” shape of the new-fangled self cocking hammerless guns.
The exact thinking at the time may never be known; but it is said that,
although look may be a matter of taste, feel remains a matter of experience.
The simple fact is that a round frame gun naturally fits the contour of
the hand; and is therefore comfortable to carry and provides a secure grip when
called into action.
Some might say the IDEAL is just a French version of the round action
Dickson or MacNaughton. In
actuality, it is a completely different design utilizing a vertical bolting
mechanism and an under lever that opens the gun and cocks the hammers.
This unique design was developed in 1881, slightly later than the
MacNaughton round action, patented in 1879; or the Dickson, which received
patent protection in 1880. A little
known fact is that the IDEAL did not receive letters of patent until 1889, eight
years after its invention and two years after it had been placed into
production; but although the patent award process may have been excessively
slow, it was not at all unusual in this era for a new product to be placed into
production in advance of official patent protection.
The barrels came in different grades of
This one has a kind of doll head. On earlier
models the rib had been raised then flat.
Length 92 mm
Width 40 to 41 mm
Width at fences 51 mm
Height at table 19 to 20 mm
Height triggerguard-top of the fences 51 mm
Breech block surface to center of hinge pin
Similar PS proof mark on the table and "EPROUVE
FINI POUDRE PYROXILEE" meaning than the gun went to the proof house
assembled for smokeless powder.
On this model, the fences are deeply chiseled
as many French guns, and they are doted of loading indicator. Between the firing
pin holes is stamped the serial number, 21934, year 1903. The average annual
production those was 1500 to 2000 Ideal models. The top tang with a heart shape
and to screws side by side will not stay unnoticed.
There is a bolt with vertical ascendant
movement to lock the doll head on this model and a Purdey type bolt on the two
lugs. The movement of the bolt being of 9mm (.38 inch), the front lug wide of
10mm and the second of 9mm are giving a good surface for a solid looking system.
The cocking mechanic, hammers and locking system are in the receiver. The
hammers with coiled springs have a sliding horizontal movement, parallel to the
barrel. The coil springs are the same one used on the military Lebel, since the
manufacture was involved in this production it was probably a warranty of
quality for the public. The opening under lever is at the rear of the
triggerguard. Squeezing with the index or medium finger will compress the hammer
spring and open the action. So while opening, the fire pin will retract before
the barrel is moved avoiding friction between fire pin and primers. Interesting
too, the hammers can be released slowly by pulling the trigger while the opening
lever is up in open position then releasing down the lever. No snap caps are
When releasing a loaded gun, the gun is on
safety position and can be cocked in a fraction of a second by squeezing the
lever with the medium finger while the first is already on the trigger. This is
why the first models came out without any safety. When the gun was doted of a
safety button, this one went through the triggers on each side; fitting left as
right handed shooters with a perfectly symmetrical action. It was an ideal
solution. But back to more orthodox concept, in 1909 the manufacture gave up
this strange "eyeglass-triggerguard" for a more conventional one but
kept everything the same regarding the opening lever. What is a good thing!
People could have had problems to adapt to this double trigger guard. The use of
gloves, on already big fingers, is a definite "no". It is quickly very
pleasant to open this round action-under lever and going back to an Anson &
Deeley, should have look like at the time, as going back 20 years in time, since
it was patented in 1875.
Locked with a quarter of a turn with a nice
little lever under the forend, later models doted with extractors will have a
more conventional Anson fastening push bottom. So just by taking a look on the
forend, it is possible to tell about the extractors or ejectors. At the tip is a
piece of Bakelite.
The wood is a 15 inch piece and the distance,
the distance butt plate to first trigger is 14 1/4 inches. The drop is 2 1/2
Semi pistol grip with a very thin basket or
plaid style checkering said to be Scottish (quadrillage ecossais) was not enough
for the engineer of the manufacture. So they doted the stock with an automatic
adjustable sling rotative feeder inlayed in the stock. There is only a little
metallic part hiding under the stock when not in use. When used, the leather
sling is pull and fastened to an open ring under the barrel. At the time, a gun
without a sling seems to have been inconceivable!
The gun handles nicely, the balance point is
one inch behind the hinge pin, so the barrels are easy to point up.
I have been shooting 2 3/4 inches length
shell with loads not exceeding 3 drams-1 oz. A bag of old boxes of cartridges
Dynamit Nobel Rottweil 12ga 67.5mm 32g 1 1/0oz were given religiously with the
gun. I never figure out what load it was. I kept them as the only cartridge to
use in this 65mm chambered gun and I waited for to be out of ammo while shooting
clays to use it." Sacrebleu! It really kicked like a mule." That is
the inconvenient of a light gun.
The very similar model No 3 was sold 280Fr in
1894. That is 14 Louis or 14x6.45 grammes of .900 gold, a total of 90.3 grammes
of gold about 54 us dollars in gold. Change was a simple and stable thing those
days. The manufacture closed in 1984, a frightening sign, at the time I was
student at the Belgium School of Gunsmithing and Engraving at
The engraving did not escape the English
fashion, which became a standard. Although some were engraved with typical
floral pattern remembering the art nouveau. I often think than if the Ideal
would have been manufacture with a top lever, it would have been more popular.
Did it come to late or in the wrong country? It is definitively a good gun which
does not look like your neighbor.
Many Ideal are still in the closets, waiting
for better days.