THE LEGEND BEGINS IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, WHEN MIGUEL AGUIIRE AND NICOLAS ARANZABAL, TWO YOUNG GUNSMITHS FROM EIBAR, THE CENTRE OF SPANISH GUNMAKING, DECIDED TO PERFECT THEIR SKILLS UNDER THE TUTELLAGE OF EDUARDO SCHILLING, A GERMAND IMMIGRANT WHO HAD SET UP HIS BUSINESS IN BARCELONA AND HAD SOON ACQUIRED A REPUTATION FOR HIMSELF EQUAL TO THAT OF THE BEST LONDON GUN MAKERS. IN 1915, MIGUEL AND NICOLAS RETURNED TO EIBAR AND JOINTLY FOUNDED ‘AGUIRRE Y ARANZABAL, AYA’
THE FIRST FEW DECADES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WERE A TROUBLED PERIOD IN SPANISH HISTORY. NOTWITHSTANDING, THEY WITNESSED THE BIRTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF AYA, WHICH WOULD EVENTUALLY BECOME THE BEST KNOWN BRAND OF SHOTGUNS IN SPAIN.
In 1938, AYA was making a straightforward range of shotguns, mainly side-by-sides in boxlock and sidelock configurations, with a few single-barrel guns thrown-in. While their guns were well made and reliable, they could not be classed as ‘best’ guns. They were entry-level and middle-market guns which sold at competitive prices, both abroad and domestically.
In the mid-50s and event took place which would change the course of AYA’s fortunes and future: two English brothers, holidaying in Spain, happened to visit one or two of the gun shops in Barcelona. The guns they were shown impressed them by their honest quality and they saw in them great potential in the British market. Armed with a list of gun making firms in the Basque Country, Andrew and Peter King returned to Spain and started making calls. They visited the majority of the gun makers and, with one exception, they were met with uncompromising ‘take it or leave it’ attitudes, along the lines of ‘this is what we make, how many do you want?’ The sole exception was AYA.
AYA not only had the largest and best equipped Factory in Eibar, but its Chairman, Agustín Aranzabal, was an incomparable host and was prepared to listen to all the suggestions from the King brothersconcerning a possible development of the British market.
The Kings agreed to help AYA design and produce an ‘English range’ of shotguns specially made for the British market. During the course of that meeting, a relationship was formed which was to transform the firm from a provincial gunmaker, known mainly in Spain, into one of the best-known gun making names in the world.
The Kings Brothers came back to Spain with two shotguns on which the ‘English range’ would be based. The first was a ‘Holland and Holland’sidelock and the second was a Westley Richards boxlock with an Anson &Deely action. Both guns were considered to be among the finest examples of their type at the time. These became the basis of four classic AYA models – the Nº 1, the Nº 2, the Nº 4 and the ’Best Quality Boxlock’ and they were the core of the AYA range.
In the 1950s, AYA took its first steps in exporting shotguns to the United States. One of the most successful models in the North American market was the ‘Matador’, a hefty boxlock made in 12 and 10 bore, and which sold for many years in the United States. During that decade, another model also received well-deserved recognition – the Model Nº 37. This sidelock over-and-under shotgun, based on the famous Merkel action, was described by Colonel Charles Askins, at the time military attaché in Madrid, as “the best over-and-under shotgun to be made in Europe”.
In the 60s and 70s, the Basque gun making industry concentrated principally on the production of side-by-side shotguns, interspersed with a few over-and-unders and some single-barrel guns. The majority of firms consisted of handful of workers working at a bench in a small workshop. AYA was very much the exception, with its imposing factory, a workforce which reached 500 at one point and an annual production of up to 20,000 guns.
With input from ASI, the firm founded by the King Brothers to import and distribute AYA shotguns in the UK, the Model Nº 1 ‘de Luxe’ was developed; this English finished sidelock offered a level of finish comparable to best English guns at a fraction the price and it caused a sensation.
Since 1988 the firm has been constantly expanding its network of distributors and clients across the globe. Every market has its own preferences and AYA has enthusiastically embraced all the many variations which makes its guns popular in different countries.
This close working relationship with its distributors, which began with ASI in 1958 and continues into the new millennium with its other importers, has become the corner-stone of AYA’s way of doing business, and new generation of shooters and lovers of fine guns have been the beneficiaries.
AYA espouses an ethic based on excellence in craftsmanship, where guns and made and put together by hand in a way which elevates each piece to that of a work of art, and more than that. AYA has taken on the mantel again as the leader in gun making in Eibar. By judicious investment in machinery and technology, AYA has not only become self-sufficient in the manufacture of parts for its own requirements, but it has also become the main supplier to the other firms in the area.
In this way, AYA is not only continuing a long tradition of gun making excellence, but it is also working to ensure that the whole of the Basque gun making industry can flourish in the future.
Since 1945, AYA has produced in excess of 600,000 shotguns of types and grades. At the present time, AYA is celebrating 100 years of gun making and positioning itself to face the challenges of the 21st century.