The firm was founded by Harris Holland (1806-96) in the year 1835. He may have had a wholesale tobacco business in London. Whatever his source of income, he was often seen at live pigeon shoots around London, as well as shooting grouse on a moor he leased in Yorkshire.
Recognised as an accomplished shot, he was convinced to start his own gun-making business. At first the guns bore the inscription "H. Holland". It is not known when Harris started his own manufacturing operation, but it is believed to have been in the 1850s.
Having no children of his own, he took on his nephew Henry, also a Holland, as an apprentice in 1861. In 1867, Henry became a partner, and in 1876 the name of the firm was changed to Holland and Holland, although his uncle still kept a tight rein on the running of the company.
The company's guns and rifles were made in the trade and by Birmingham makers up till the year 1898 when they established their own factory in London.
In 1883 Holland and Holland entered the trials organized by the magazine The Field, and won all of the rifle categories. This set a new standard of excellence for the competition among English gunmakers. In 1885 patents were granted to Holland and Holland for their Paradox gun, a shotgun with rifling in the front two inches of the barrel.
In 1908, they patented the detachable lock feature with small lever, for sidelock shotguns. The last major development in the evolution of the sidelock side-by-side gun occurred in 1922, when the H&H assisted-opening mechanism was patented. This gun, the famous self-opening Royal side-by-side, has been hugely influential in gun-making throughout the world.
Prudent business decisions helped the company through lean times in the gun industry in the early 20th century. During the depression years, Colonel Jack Holland, son of Henry, sold valuable school property in Wembley and bought land in Northwood, which is still in use by the H&H shooting school today.
In the period after World War II, under the leadership of new owner and Managing Director Malcolm Lyell, the company made sorties to India, where guns from the famous collections of the princes and maharajahs were bought back, developing an important market for secondhand pieces. In 1989, all remaining shares in H&H were bought by the French cosmetics group Chanel. Since then, the factory building, in use since 1898, has been extensively renovated and equipped with modern technology. Guns such as the Royal Over & Under or side-by-sideDouble-barreled shotguns were improved and reintroduced, and they are available in 12, 20 and 28 bore and .410 inch. A hand-built gun from H&H can cost around 60,000 pounds for a shotgun and close to 100,000 pounds for some rifles, with prices roughly doubling with luxury engraving, and there is a waiting period of 2 - 3 years between ordering and delivery.
In the 1990s, Holland and Holland started on a major program of expansion. The company has stores ("gunrooms") in Paris, New York City, inside Harrods London department store and at Heathrow Airport near London. The company's London flagship store on Bruton Street has been completely renovated and expanded.
The company celebrated its 165th anniversary in 2000.
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