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AYA – Aguirre y Aranzabal

Although the centre of the Spanish firearms industry has always been the Basque Country, another small gunmaking center existed for many years in Catalonia, near Barcelona. One of the most famous of the Barcelona gunmakers was a transplanted German, Eduardo Schilling. Word of Schilling’s skill spread to the Basque Country, and two young Basque gunmakers, […]

Although the centre of the Spanish firearms industry has always been the Basque Country, another small gunmaking center existed for many years in Catalonia, near Barcelona.

One of the most famous of the Barcelona gunmakers was a transplanted German, Eduardo Schilling. Word of Schilling’s skill spread to the Basque Country, and two young Basque gunmakers, Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal, left their home in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa to work with Schilling and perfect their skills. In 1915, they returned home and went into business together as Aguirre y Aranzabal — AYA.

The first half of the 20th century was a period of turmoil in Spain.

For Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal, however, it was the beginning of their company’s rise to become the largest and bestknown Spanish maker of fine guns.

In 1938, as the war ended, they decided to move on from making components for other companies, and began making complete guns themselves with the AYA name engraved on the barrels.

This market represented a great opportunity for Spanish gunmakers of all types. Unfortunately, Spain was still subject to shortages of vital commodities, and rationing of essential materials such as steel. During this period, there was intense competition among Spanish gunmakers to export to the United States, and the majority of guns exported were low-priced, and low-quality.

This was the situation as it stood in the mid-1950s, when an event occurred which was to change the course of AYA’s history: Two English brothers arrived in Spain on holiday, and visited some gunshops in Barcelona. What they saw gave them an idea, and that idea changed the face of both AYA, and of the Basque fine-gun trade.

At the time, the English gun trade was in a sad state. Those companies that had survived the war were having even greater difficulty surviving the peace, rife as it was with trade unions, Labour politicians, and the demise of many of the old-money landowners who were the trade’s major customers. In that Spanish gunshop, the King brothers saw an opportunity, and when they returned home they called on the Spanish chamber of commerce in London.

A short while later, armed with a list of gunmaking companies in the Basque Country, Andrew and Peter King returned to Spain and began making calls. They visited a number of gunmakers, and in all but one instance, they found a “take it or leave it” attitude: Here’s what we make. How many do you want? The one exception was AYA.

AYA not only had the largest factory in Eibar, but its managing director, Agustín Aranzabal, was warm, welcoming, and open to any suggestion the King brothers might have about how the company could crack the market in the United Kingdom. The British market was then (and still is) the toughest in the world. Every gun sold there, regardless of price, is compared with guns from Purdey and Holland & Holland. No Spanish company had ever made inroads. This was a chance to do so.

The King brothers returned to Spain with two guns for AYA to use as patterns. The sidelock was a Holland & Holland. The boxlock was a Westley Richards with the standard Anson & Deeley action. These two guns provided the basis for four famous models — the Nº 1, the Nº 2, the Nº 4, and the Nº 4 de Luxe. These became the heart of the AYA line.

During the 1950s, AYA made its first efforts to export guns to the United States. While many thousand AYA’s made their way to North America, imported by companies such as Sears Roebuck, and marketed under various trademarks, they had little lasting impact. An exception was the Matador, a massive boxlock made in both 12 and 10-gauge, that was sold in the United States for many years. It left many Americans with the impression that AYA made only utility guns selling for economy prices.

Unfortunately, for AYA and every other finegun maker in the world, tastes were changing, and the 1960s and 1970s saw a general decline in demand for double shotguns. Prices were climbing because of inflation; fewer people were coming into a trade that was widely seen as dying; there was increasing competition from cheaper, machine-made repeating shotguns.

The Basque gunmaking industry was based firmly on the side-by-side double, with a scattering of over/unders and single-shots. Most companies consisted of a handful of craftsmen housed in a small shop. AYA was one exception, with its large factory, 500 employees, and annual production of up to 20,000 guns.

Ater that difficulties arrived into the market, but AYA did its job.

Imanol Aranzabal, was the descendant of the founder and a former executive of AYA. He repurchased the remaining stock of AYA parts, and set up shop on the second floor of a building on the Bidebarrieta in Eibar. With Imanol running the company and a dozen top craftsmen working in the shop, the new AYA reissued the last catalog of the old AYA, and by 1989 the company was back in the business of making fine double guns.

AYA then took the concept a step further, for the rest of the markets, the Nº 1 “de Luxe” is built and finished completely in Spain. Since 1988 the company had steadily expanded its network of dealers and customers in all the world. Each dealer had his own ideas of what guns would sell to his clients, and AYA enthusiastically took to making variations on its standard models to suit individual tastes.

This partnership with its importers, which began with ASI in the 1950s and continues with all importers in the new millenium, has become a cornerstone of AYA’s way of doing business, and a new generation of wingshooters and lovers of fine guns are the beneficiaries.

As business expanded for the new AYA, the company quickly outgrew its shop at the corner of the Bidebarrieta and Urtzaile. In 2001, AYA moved to the other end of town, taking over an entire factory at Number 25, Otaola Hiribidea, the main thoroughfare into Eibar from Bilbao.

The new factory has the traditional long workbench, but it has much more as well. AYA is moving steadily back towards its previous role as a leader in Eibar’s fine-gun industry. AYA is installing new machinery and adopting advanced technology that will allow it to make many of its own basic parts, and also supply raw materials to the smaller gunmakers of Eibar.

In this way, AYA is not only carrying on a long tradition of making fine shotguns, but also working to ensure that Eibar’s fine-gun industry thrives long into the future.

AYA is now entirely involved in its Centenary, and ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century.

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