The world’s first self opener??

The 1860s were a decade of upheaval and innovation.

Tolley Self Opener
Tolley Self Opener

As the Civil War raged (1861-65) and the first transcontinental railroad crossed the US (1869), the percussion era in firearms ended. In about a decade, muzzle loading shotguns were replaced by breechloaders and paper cartridges.

These breechloaders started out as hammer guns. But by 1871,successful hammerless models by Murcott and Needham were on the scene. In 1875, Westley Richards introduced their Anson & Deeley barrel-cocking, hammerless, double barrel shotgun and revolutionized sporting guns.

During this period, thousands of firearms patents were granted in Europe, the UK, and the United States. Great Britain’s Henry Tolley filed for a handful of them. Henry was most likely the younger brother of the men behind J. & W. Tolley Gunmakers (Birmingham about 1858 to 1955) and the shotgun here incorporates one of his innovative ideas: a self-opening, Anson& Deeley boxlock shotgun.

Until I saw this gun, I thought Purdey’s Beesley-patent sidelocks were the world’s first self-opening doubles. But Purdey introduced their Beesley-patent hammerless sidelocks in 1884; this Henry Tolley was made before that, probably around 1880.

From the outside, it looks like a standard  boxlock. But when you turn the toplever, you can feel the plungers/springs on the flats of the action pop the gun open. And these plungers function this way whether or not the gun has been fired, making the gun a true self opener. Take a look and let me know what you think. Please let me know if you own, or have seen, another boxlock like this. I love to take one apart and see how it really works.

Tolley Self Opener
Tolley Self Opener
Tolley Self Opener
Tolley Self Opener

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3 thoughts on “The world’s first self opener??

  1. Hi,

    I own a self opening 20 gauge shotguns. I don’t know if it is the same as the one you describle. I have it up for sale in North August, SC IWANA right now. When I get it back I will check it out and let you know.

  2. hi,i just perchased a henry tolley 16 gage self opener.looks just like the one pictured in your article,im getting the wood redone to brand new and getting a leather recoil pad put on it.the engraving is as nice as a d grade parker i think.e mail or call me.817-845-0066

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