Holland & Holland was founded by Harris Holland (1806–96) in the year 1835.
At first the guns bore the inscription H.Holland, without an address, and it is probable that these were built in the trade to his design. It is not known when Harris started his own manufacturing but it is estimated to be in the 1850s. This start makes him very unusual among the London Best makers, as others such as Purdey, Boss, Lang and Lancaster had apprenticed with Joseph Manton, while others such as Beesley, Grant and Atkin apprenticed with Purdey or Boss.
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 self-opening Royal side-by-side, has been hugely influential in gun-making throughout the world.
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 second-hand 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-side double-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 GB£60,000 for a shotgun and close to GB£100,000 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 New York City and Moscow. The company's London flagship store on Bruton Street has been completely renovated and expanded.
Harris Holland was born in 1806 in London. Although accounts of his background are somewhat sketchy, it is believed that his father was an organ builder, while Harris had a tobacco wholesale business in London. Obviously he was successful, as he was often seen at various pigeon shoots at important London clubs, as well as leasing a grouse moor in Yorkshire.
Having no children of his own, he took on his nephew Henry Holland as an apprentice in 1861. In 1867 Henry became a partner and in 1876 the name changed to Holland & Holland. Although Henry was a full partner, Harris kept strict control and was the only one who could sign a cheque until he died in 1896.