The highly respected Italian family among the world’s connoisseurs of class hunting weapons
by Marco Sebastiano Scipioni – Armi Magazine – September 2020
The decade 1960/1970 was the crucial period that marked the turning point for the Italian production of the higher class hunting shotgun. Since about 1930 there had been – it is true – some factories and single models that had begun to stand out in the flat and rather poor production panorama of the time. I am thinking, for instance, of the Beretta S0 series over and under, which has followed its own personal and specific technical imprint from the very beginning, of the Imperial Montecarlo side-by-side by Franchi, which, starting from a certified copy of the Belgian Thìrifays, then evolved, especially after the war, into a weapon with a strong personality, and of the creations of the Romagna craftsmen, whose leader Fabio Zanotti continued to build his beautiful side-by-sides, the result of the ancient wisdom of his centuries-old family tradition, until his death shortly after the decade we are considering. But it is precisely from 1960 onwards that some companies and industrial realities were born, destined to impose in relatively few years the Italian shotgun on the world scene as “The Shotgun”, with which all the consolidated European and American realities would be forced to confront. F.lli Piotti, Perazzi, Ivo Fabbri, F.lli Rizzini of Magno, just to mention the most famous and well-known companies that were mainly dedicated to the construction of high class weapons, were founded in rapid succession, and they were joined the following decade by F.lli Bertuzzi, Luciano Bosis and Mario Gussago of the Desenzani armory In chronological order, the first of this “elected group” was however F.lli Piotti firm in 1961, to whom this writing is dedicated.
The two brothers Araldo and Fausto Piotti, as is usual for the people of Gardone Valtrompia, came from a family that had already been involved in various ways in the manufacture of hunting shotguns. Their father Giovanni was an expert gunmaker and he was generous with teachings and advice. At the end of the ’50s they were employees of Fabio Zanotti, and this experience certainly helped them a lot. When they decided to set up their own business, they made, indeed, a winning choice with great insight: they immediately focused their production on a side-by-side whose lines were copied from Westley Richards’, just as Fabio Zanotti did at that time for his model on Anson & Deeley mechanics. The Piotti brothers, however, offered two versions, one of which was particularly light and on the actions they also set up models with locks on the side plate, of the type that in Italy is roughly defined as “Holland & Holland”. The Anson models were called BSEE and BSEE Piuma and the “Holland” ones were called PHEL and over time they have been realized in various degrees of finishing and refinement. All of them tended to be lightweight, with English style case colored actions, smooth or with fine scroll engravings, with more attention to wood and general appearance than the average artisan production of those years in Brescia. For their construction they used series bought in white from the usual companies that supplied the mechanical parts to small manufacturers and even though they were cheap in proportion, these side-by-sides stood out anyway for a certain overall distinction. When I was a young university student, I bought a second-hand basic BSE side-by-side without ejectors and used it delightedly for years. It was light and with short 63cm–long barrels, a very unusual length at the time, but since I was a greedy reader of any Italian or English book I could find, I knew it was the measure imposed on the English market by Robert Churchill and adopted by him as standard in side-by-side models called “Model XXV”, in reference to the twenty-five-inch long barrels. My shotgun, bought to the even then very modest price of 50,000 lire, was an example of how Piotti were able to satisfy their customers’ requests, even if they deviated from the usual market standards. I remember, for instance, that their BSEE Anson side-by-side (but I think the “Holland”,too) was available in any caliber, from 12 to 32, including already then outdated calibers, such as the 24. Still drawing on youth memories, I recall that a friend of mine, a lover of beautiful woods with showy veins, had a luxury “Holland” side-by-side built through his trusted armorer (I reckon the model was called PHEB). The gunmaker showed ecstatically the shotgun he had just collected in Gardone: the Piotti brothers had tracked down and found a rare and exceptional briarwood for those times, delighting my friend, who admired the stock as if it was a Raphael painting! This is meant to underline how attentive the two Piotti brothers have been to the desires and inclinations of their customers from the very first years of their activity. In this perspective, there was a rich list of options and variations that allowed to customize each shotgun. Over time, other models were introduced, which we do not list because they were not kept on the catalog for many years and because they were not particularly significant. At the end of the ’60s, better quality shotgun models were developed: the Montecarlo (then discontinued in the mid ’70s), the King (in two versions of engravings) and the Lunik. At the same time they were producing two types of over and under, designed also for shooters, one on Merkel-type mechanics and one on FN-type mechanics. The latter, in the hands of the German Skeet champion Conny Wirnhier, scored many victories in national and world championships, the most important of which was the gold medal won at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The German athlete’s confidence in the goodness of Piotti’s gun and barrels naturally led to enormous publicity and the name Piotti circulated more and more insistently in the most important circles across Europe and the United States. Precisely following this Olympic victory, the new top series of side-by-sides was called Monaco. Another prestigious victory was achieved with a Piotti side-by-side by a great Italian pigeon shooter, who, even if sponsored by a great Italian company, when it came to very important competitions and the game got tough, changed his gun and shot with his Piotti. In this way he won the King’s Cup in 1975 in Madrid, the most important pigeon shooting competition in the world, after Grace Kelly had unexpectedly closed the shootings in Monte Carlo some years before.
THE PURSUIT OF TOTAL QUALITY
After this dutiful historical overview, it is now essential to address the heart of the matter: when can a weapon be truly considered of the finest quality and what are the parameters on the basis of which to judge the excellence of a shotgun? First there‘s the choice of materials. Only the best steels must be chosen, suitably selected and alloyed with other metals (nickel, chrome, vanadium, silicon) depending on the type of use that each individual component of the gun is called to perform, so as to ensure functionality and durability. What matters here is the knowledge of the gunsmith and the historical experiences of the company, which have assessed the strength and success of the different materials over time. Then comes the choice of the mechanical system, which type of actions, grips, sidelocks, automatic ejectors, trigger system and other various components to adopt. Other crucial elements are the barrels, their construction, drilling, internal geometry, jointing and ribs soldering. In the first line of the chapter dedicated to the technical examination of the shotgun in his 1888 golden booklet „Modern Shot Gun“, the great William Wellington Greener, inventor, among other things, of the choke, writes: “The modern standard shotgun is composed of 95 pieces, the most important of which are by far the barrels”. And it is still true today. Light, well balanced perfectly demi-bloc jointed barrels, splendidly finished and chased both inside and outside, are the essential business card of a weapon that wants to be of higher class. Just like the barrels, all the other components must be of the right proportions, very well finished and interconnected. For the true enthusiast, it is a joy to contemplate the external chasing of the actions and the sidelocks the way Fabio Piotti builds, finishes and signs them. Finally, all the various parts, from the stock to the tip of the front sight, must be harmonized with each other, creating a balance of masses and a perfect line, so that the eye does not see any unbalance or disharmony of any kind. Lastly come the engravings and essences used for the woods of the stock and of the forend. I know perfectly well that most people are attracted by these aspects of great visual impact and that they are very important when choosing and buying a gun. But they are, so to say, just the dress, the external appearance. They are not the ones that “make” the gun, that decide whether or not a shotgun is of the highest class. It’s everything else, all that long, laborious and expensive process that I’ve tried to outline here, that makes all the difference. Just to give an example, since nobody knows perfectly how the veins come out on a finished stock starting from the solid wood, it is perfectly feasible that a shotgun of a less ambitious manufacturer is extremely beautiful, the same way an engraver of great skill can well perform a splendid engraving on a medium quality gun, but even if we consider the two things together, they will not increase at all the true quality of the weapon.
MONACO MODEL SIDE-BY-SIDE
Precisely in order to achieve the total quality indicated above, in the mid 70s the Piotti family decided to build in house all the components of their side-by-sides, starting with the actions and the barrels. This involved an important investment in machinery and personnel, but it was necessary in order to make that leap in quality, which allowed them to confront themselves with the most qualified production at European level (I say European, because even today there is not actually a manufacturer outside Europe that produces double-barreled shotguns which can be compared to the production of the old continent). The side-by-sides of the Monaco series, realized in various degrees that differ from each other only for the type of engraving, are a great classic. Of perfect and harmonious line, with mechanics and sidelocks above any criticism, they have such a sturdy and resistant action that the Piotti brothers currently offer them not only in the usual calibers 12 – 16 – 20 – 28 – 410, but also built on actions designed for a lower caliber. That is, you can have a 12-gauge or a 16-gauge on a 20-gauge action, a 20-gauge set up on a 28-gauge action, and so on. These “hybrids” give birth to very light shotguns in relation to the actual caliber and with a particularly fluent and elegant line. It was precisely the Monaco side-by-sides that attracted the interest of the famous Holland & Holland House in London in the 1980s. After getting in touch with the Piotti family through the Casciano armory in Rome, its only representative for Italy in those years, and being convinced of their quality, it sold them to its customers in its prestigious shops for years. It was in those years that the epithet of „highly respected gunmakers family” originated, which has often been reported in English books and magazines and gave me the cue for the title of my writing.
”EXPRESS” SIDE-BY-SIDE, SAVANA MODEL
With a bolstered back-action sidelock, derived from the Monaco action but conveniently reinforced so as not to weaken its side with the otherwise necessary breaches, there is also an Express side-by-side in production since the early ‘90s, which has gained good reputation, so much so as to be regularly produced, mostly in large African calibers, such as the .470NE and the .500NE. Special care is devoted to the coupling of the barrels and the regulation, which is carried out with the traditional classic method of the wedge positioned between the two barrels near the muzzle, which is moved during the rib soldering phase until obtaining the desired centering and shot pattern.
OVER AND UNDERS
The best-selling shotgun is currently the luxury over and under which the Piotti brothers wanted to call by the name of their father Araldo, who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. It is built as a mechanical system along the lines of the Boss, however, it enjoys variations and simplifications to make it more modern and reliable. It has chopper lump barrels, with a patented system that greatly increases the contact surfaces between the two barrels in the breech, where it is essential that the castolin (the silver-based welding metal alloy) can achieve the strongest possible union. In the tradition of Piotti, it is possible to have the Araldo model in different calibers and for each caliber with variable weight according to the wishes. For this model the Piotti brothers have also designed a selector that acts on the single trigger, so that you can quickly choose which barrel to shoot first. Recently they have been successfully selling a “Sporting” over and under with locks placed above the trigger group and designed for skeet shooting, even though it is still being studied and perfected. The Piotti family expects a lot from this project, so much so that they speculate that it could become their best selling model in the future.
In the catalog we find the great classic of Piotti’s House, the Anson BSEE Piuma side-by-side (the first model to bear the name of the company, since 1961), which is now built with much better materials than in those distant times, with actions and barrels worked in house; the same goes for the King model, the “Holland”-type side-by-side, which is placed below the Monaco series. The hammer side-by-side, which has recently been redesigned by Fabio Piotti, is still being sold successfully. It can also be equipped with hammers self-cocking, self opening, automatic ejectors, auto safety and sidelocks with double safety sear. Practically the most complete possible mechanics for a side-by-side with sidelocks and outward hammers! The latest creation of the dynamic and imaginative Fabio is the droplock side-by-side made on Westley Richards’ mechanics with hand-detachable locks. Here an ingenious safety lever has been added, which is always active (and therefore the gun is always protected from accidental impacts, even strong ones) and which disengages only when the trigger is pulled. Since Westley Richards’ side-by-side and its hand-detachable lock are absolutely one of the creations I prefer, both in terms of line and of mechanics, I can’t but compliment the excellent idea of giving new life to this design jewel. Finally, there is a product that I found a bit extravagant when I first saw it, but it’s actually getting quite a big success, especially on the richer foreign markets. It is the deep customization carried out on the semiautomatic Benelli Executive, which is aesthetically embellished, made easier to handle thanks to an articulated retractable and more comfortable bolt control lever, and with a sliding button safety on the back, like in double-barreled shotguns, which proves to be more intuitive and functional than those normally found on standard semiautomatic guns. It shows super quality woods and luxury engravings and it is sold directly by Piotti with their serial number, while an even more exceptional series as regards woods and engravings, the “Magnifico” model, is set up for Benelli, which sells it, at a very high price, with its own brand and serial number, signed “Benelli By Piotti”.
THE FUTURE HAS AN ANCIENT HEART
The three Piotti brothers work in the company, assisted by seven skilled gunmakers, who have been assigned different tasks according to their specific skills and competences. Fabio (58 years old) is the designer and developer of the new products, he is the expert lock maker who creates the wonderful and highly appreciated sidelocks, and he also takes care of marketing and customer relations. Sergio (53 years old) is responsible for the workshop and all the equipment and mechanical part. Rudi (49 years old) coordinates the work of the employees, takes care of the final assembly and testing of the shotguns and carries out repairs on weapons of all brands which customers and dealers confidently bring them, certain of the perfect job they will get. Over the years, several projects and prototypes have also been developed for other companies, both Italian and foreign. As I have endeavoured to illustrate above, the construction of a double-barreled shotgun of the highest class is a long, difficult and expensive job, involving hundreds and hundreds of hours of accurate and precise work. All components, down to the smallest and most insignificant one, must be free of any defect, obtained from a solid piece of the best and most suitable steel for the job they will have do to, and must be so well finished and refined that surfaces and edges are chased as smoothly as if they were pieces of ice. Every working process, from the stocking to the operation of the trigger system, of the sidelocks, the cocking levers, the automatic ejectors and the closing system must be coordinated and interact with each other as if they were born by magic from a single seed. It is an ancient art, refined in over three centuries of history, the technical and cultural heritage of generations of gunmakers, which requires skill and passion to be best fulfilled. Here, the Piotti brothers have this ability and this passion. In their weapons modernity and tradition meet and merge at the highest level. When the great artists, painters, sculptors and architects of the past centuries received a commission from a client, they committed themselves in writing to perform the work “according to the rules of Art”. The buyer of a Piotti can be sure that also his shotgun will be made with the utmost care and scrupulousness, “according to the rules of the Art”.
(BOX) short guide to Piotti serial numbers
years 1961 / 1969 1 5017
years 1970 / 1979 5018 7523
years 1980 / 1989 7524 8977
years 1990 / 1999 8978 9602
years 2000 /2009 9603 A189
years 2010 / 2020 A190 A501