I love Boss shotguns – yeah, I know, I just said that in this post about the 20b Boss O/U coming up at Julia’s.
Of London’s big three makers, Boss & Co. made the fewest doubles. But the ones they did make are some of the finest side-by-sides and over-unders you’ll ever see.
Here’s a little piece I just wrote about Boss & Co for James D. Julia’s auctioneers. Check it out:
Best Gun. These two words have a magical meaning to gun collectors. First used by British gunmakers in the 19th century, a Best Gun was more than just the finest firearm a company produced. It was the maker’s interpretation of what a fine shotgun could be and the basis for everything he hoped to achieve.
At the end of the 19th century, shooting was the past time of the wealthy. A Best Gun was the way to secure the patronage which could make a gunmaker successful — and even rich. As makers competed for this attention, a handful of them earned a reputation for building the finest shotguns in the world.
The finest materials and flawless craftsmanship have always been a given on a Best Gun. To reach the pinnacle of the trade, a gunmaker needed to bring more to his craft, including an impeccable reputation, patented designs, and a look that set his guns apart. To stand out, a gunmaker needed to reinterpret what a Best Gun could be.
This is just what Britain’s top makers did. In London, the big three — James Purdey & Sons, Holland & Holland, Boss & Co — created shotguns that were uniquely their own.
But while James Purdey & Sons had the Beesley action and Holland & Holland had their Royal-model side-by-side, Boss & Co. had John Robertson. And it was because of Robertson that the shotguns made by Boss & Co are so revered by collectors today.
Robertson took over Boss & Co. in 1891. He was already one of the trade’s top craftsmen; his new firm was well regarded, but not famous. Right away, Robertson applied his genius to reinterpreting what Boss’s Best Gun could be. First, he updated it with refinements like bar-action sidelocks and a sleeker look. Then he added his own patented features: The world’s first reliable single trigger in 1894 and a unique ejector system in 1898.
By the time the twentieth century opened, Boss’s shotguns were cutting edge and beautiful. People noticed and business boomed. But even as the fortunes the company rose, Boss’s most famous creation, and one of the most sought after shotguns in the world today, was still to come.
Firearms with stacked barrels have been around for hundreds of years, and before World War One, center fire over-under shotguns made in continental Europe showed up on the British shooting scene.
John Robertson liked the idea of a shogun with stacked barrels. What he didn’t like was how the Europeans designed their guns. Heavy in the hands, awkward looking, and cumbersome to use, the European O/Us were good ideas that failed to achieve their promise.
Robertson recognized this, and being who he was, he worked with his top craftsmen to create a revolutionary new over-and-under. In 1909 he patented his design, and the innovations he introduced still appear in almost every over-under shotgun made today.
Boss’s new O/U was as lightweight, dynamic, and beautiful as their side-by-sides. It was also more difficult and time consuming to build. In a shop where everyone was exceptionally skilled, only a few Boss gunmakers had the talent to build the over-and-under.
This made the Boss O/U one of the world’s most expensive shotguns, a fact Robertson made no apologies for. Boss & Co, was committed to best quality work, and top-quality work cost top dollar. There was no way around it. Robertson knew this, and he expected his customers to know it, too.
Fortunately for Boss & Co., the beauty of the gunmaker’s new O/U shotguns entranced customers. Shooters around the world recognized the tremendous quality built into every one. Up until the Great Depression and fears of a coming war stalled the world economy, Boss & Co.’s new over-and-under shotgun was a tremendous success.
Today, Boss O/Us from this period attract the most attention from collectors – especially ones in the smaller gauges. Boss made very few small bore over-and-unders before the ‘50s, and the 20 gauge shown is probably one of fewer than 30-40 examples made before World War Two. Built in the 1930’s, and featuring a Boss-patent single trigger, Boss-patent ejectors, superb 28” barrels, a genuine rising-bite action, and generous amount of original finish, it’s an exceptionally beautiful, and exceptionally desirable, shotgun.
John Robertson passed away in 1917, and in his lifetime he created some of the most beautiful shotguns the world has ever seen. In a catalog from 1920, Boss & Co. introduced their guns with a paragraph stating “The owner of a Boss gun has the satisfaction of knowing that he has the best gun money can buy…” The same is true today When you own a shotgun by Boss & Co., you own something people will always value: The absolute very best.