AYA, Aguirre y Aranzabal
The era of fine gunmaking in the English tradition began in the Basque Country during the Peninsular War, when Napoleon’s troops were driven out of Spain by Spanish guerrillas and British forces under the Duke of Wellington. Wellington’s officers took home gun barrels of Spanish steel (Spanish steel was renowned for its strength) and had them made into fowling pieces by London gunmakers such as the Manton brothers.
This gave birth to a strong bond between London, the commercial capital of the world, and Bilbao, the Basque port and center of banking, shipping, and iron mining.
The Basques shipped iron ore to Britain, and sailed home with cargos of British coal. The close commercial ties between London and Bilbao throughout the 1800s naturally led to exchanges of technology and technique; as the English perfected the game gun in the late 1800s, the passion for fine guns crossed the Bay of Biscay and established itself in the Basque Country.
If John Manton was the father of English gunmaking – making artists out of blacksmiths, as James Purdey described it – then Victor Sarasqueta was the father of the Basque fine-gun trade. Sarasqueta established his company in 1881, and for the next hundred years set a high standard for Spanish “best” guns. Although Sarasqueta was the oldest, however, his company was not the largest, nor was it the most famous.
That honour belongs to a firm founded in 1915 by Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal – Aguirre y Aranzabal, known around the world as AYA.