John Dickson & Son
The Round Action Gunmaker
John Dickson was born in Canongate, Edinburgh in 1794, the son of John Dickson and Margaret Henderson.
In 1806, at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to James Wallace, the great gunmaker who had premises on the High Street in the ‘Old Town’. Wallace made guns of the highest quality and also on the Forsythe detonating principle and was appointed sole manufacturer of these for Scotland.
Along with Wallace’s contemporaries, Francis Innes and John Thompson [Gunmaker to His Majesty], young John Dickson was working under some of the great gun making innovators of their time.
1813 - 1838
John Dickson completed his apprenticeship in 1813 and stayed with Wallace to become his foreman. He married during his apprenticeship at the age of 17 and had six children the eldest of whom, also John (II), came into business with him and thus laid the foundation of a firm that spanned three generations.
In 1820, John started his own business as a gunmaker in the same premises as Wallace and eventually opening the business of John Dickson and Son in 1838 at 60 Princes Street.
1838 - 1880
The listings of Gunmakers for 1840 show Thomas Bryce in Carlton Street, John Dickson & Son at 60 Princes Street, Joseph Harkom at 31 West Register Street, William Laing in the Cowgate, McLauchlan at 24 Frederick Street, Mortimer at 97 George Street, Pratt in Hanover Street, Alex Thomson in St Andrew’s Street and Wallace at 63 Princes Street.
John (II) married in 1842 and had nine children. The two eldest boys, John (III) and Peter, were apprenticed to their father and both became Gunmakers.
In 1848 came the move to 63 Princes Street, perhaps the best known address for Dicksons with the lion in the window.
In 1859 Dickson made the first pinfire breechloader under Brazier’s patent followed by guns on Westley Richards, Thomas Horsley and later Lancaster’s patents.
By the 1870’s other famous names, Alexander Henry, Daniel Fraser and James MacNaughton all had premises in the city and Edinburgh was truly a centre of Gunmaking excellence with great competition between Gunmakers and ancillary trades.
All businesses need customers and between 1875 and 1906 Dickson had a very special one.
Charles Gordon, a collector, was as much a benefactor as a customer and over this 31 year period Dickson made 231 guns for him - flintlocks, percussion, pinfire and centre fire rifles, shotguns and pistols all cased and finished to a high specification. He never fired the guns and they are now the object of modern day collectors attention.
His obsession almost bankrupted him and, ultimately, some of his family obtained an injunction restraining him from purchasing any more Dickson guns.
1880 - 1927
1880 saw the arrival of the first ‘Round Action’ gun under the design and development of John (III). The concept of the locks being on the triggerplate of which the design principles are incorporated into the Dickson guns still made today.
This year would also see the death of John (I) at the grand aged of 86, his son and grandsons already running the business.
Five years later John (II) died aged 66 with his share of the business going to his son Peter. The partnership between the brothers lasted until 1892 when Peter drowned at sea on his way to Australia. John continued in his craft until 1923 when, having no heir, he sold the business to Alexander Prain, a local business man.
John (III) died in Edinburgh in 1927.
1927 - 1995
In early 1928, John Dickson & Son moved to 32 Hanover Street, and here they would briefly remain until they moved in 1937 to Frederick Street. The firm of James MacNaughton and Sons were practically next door neighbours at 36 Hanover Street.
1938 brought two significant changes to John Dickson & Son. Firstly a change in ownership combined with the merger with Mortimer & Son, gunmakers (incorporating Joseph Harkom & Son Gunmakers).
In 1940, John Dickson & Son acquired the gun business of Forrest & Son, in Kelso. This shop remained open until it was sold off in 1988.
An acquisition of great importance occurred in 1947 when John Dickson & Son took over the business of their old rival, James MacNaughton & Sons. Once the remaining MacNaughton guns were completed in Hanover Street, the stock, materials and workmen were transferred to Dickson's premises in Frederick Street.
In 1960, John Dickson & Son acquired the old established business of Alex Martin (incorporating Alexander Henry). The firm well know for their fishing tackle, ribless guns and long range target rifles. The Alex Martin shop in Edinburgh was closed down but the Aberdeen shop would remain open until 1985 and the original Glasgow shop remained open until 1988.
In 1968, John Dickson & Son purchased William Garden (incorporating Charles Playfair & Co.), gunmakers of Aberdeen and moved into Belmont Street, taking over the premises of J. S. Sharpe Fishing Tackle Manufacturers. This shop was closed in 1985.
1995 - 2019
1995 would see another reshuffle of the various gunmakers under John Dickson and Son and again new ownership in the company. The name of Daniel Fraser Rifle makers now being added to the increasing list.
In 2001, a new workshop and showroom was established in the grounds of Dunkeld House in Perthshire. The Steading providing a tranquil space for gun making operations and complimented with a shooting school set against the beautiful Perthshire hills.
2017 sadly saw the closure of Dickson's shop in Edinburgh, leaving the capital after nearly two hundred years, but it allowed the business to flourish again with customers being able to easily visit the established premises in Dunkeld.
2019 - Present
2019 brought a milstone change to the operations of John Dickson & Son, as a new owner arrived in the form of J-P Daeschler. It would be the first time that Dickson's would be solely owned and run by an established gunmaker since John Dickson (III) sold the business in 1923.
The business is now under new leadership, direction and gunmaking practices being reinvigorated with the delivery of new Round-Action guns by John Dickson and Son, new Skeleton guns by James MacNaughton and Sons and new bolt-action stalking rifles by Daniel Fraser.
If you would like to keep up to date with the activities of John Dickson and Son you can do so here.
Names under John Dickson & Son
James MacNaughton setup business in Edinburgh in 1864 and won acclaim for the 'Lock Fast Breechloader' and the 'Edinburgh Patent Hammerless Ejector', patented in 1879. This trigger plate action shotgun was similar to that of John Dickson's.
Alex Henry setup his business in 1853 in Edinburgh. He developed the rifling for the Martini-Henry rifle, first used by the British Army in 1871, and was acclaimed for the high quality of his single and double rifles.
A name long associated with high quality sporting single and double rifles. The firm was established in Edinburgh in 1873. In 1917 it closed down, with some of the stock and equipment being taken over by John Dickson.
Established in Paisley in 1837, the distinguished firm recently became incorporated with John Dickson. Its most famous speciality was the ribless shotgun and the regulation of .303 Lee Enfields and other rifles.