Here’s a cool video from one of the UK’s best-quality, boutique gunmakers: Smith & Torok. Check it out to see some classic, old-school gunmaking technques.
Of all the famous London gunmakers, James Woodward & Sons is the most mysterious. Great examples of their doubles are hard to find. So is reliable information about the company.
We do know that James Woodward opened his business in 1874 and that his company was bought by James Purdey & Sons in 1948. In its 74 years, Woodward may have built around 4,500 guns or so — no one is sure about the exact number. The company introduced its famous Woodward over & under in 1913.
The James Woodward & Sons side-by-side you see here is one of the nicest Woodward SxSs I’ve seen on the market in years. It made around 1930, and according to the seller it’s in minty condition. It’s a big gun, and its weight, broad, file-cut rib, sideclips, and 2 3/4″ chambers make me thing it may have been made with live-pigeon shooting in mind.
The deep cut, arcaded fences on this gun are one of Woodward’s signature features. So is this gun’s T-shaped safety.
Read this article from Gray’s Sporting Journal to learn more about James Woodward & Sons: The enduring influence of the gunmaker’s gunmaker.
Go here to see from great OUs: James Woodward & Sons. A pair of 12g over and under guns.
JAMES WOODWARD BEST SXS 12 GAUGE: #6952, 30″ BARRELS, CHOKES .008″ AND .027″, CHAMBERS 2 3/4″, DOUBLE TRIGGER, EJECTOR, SPLINTER FOREARM, ENGLISH GRIP, MINT, MAKERS CASE, 7LBS 11 OZ, 2 1/4″ DAH, 1 1/2″ DAC, 14 3/4″ LOP. Price: $39,500
I love old Purdeys, and when I take a look at the one you see here, I remember why. When this side-by-side was made around 1869, centerfire, breechloading shotguns like it were the latest-and-greatest thing. Even though its Henry Jones Screw-Grip Action looks primitive to us today, it was cutting-edge back then.
But even though this Purdey was built with the latest features from its era, it retains the understated, elegant looks that had made James Purdey’s firearms famous and that would define them throughout the 1800s and up to today.
The back-action, island locks on this gun are one of the features that make it special. So is the engraving, probably cut by Purdey’s house engraver at that time: James Lucas. The chiseled fences are also nice, and so is the teardrop shape to the triggerguard. What a gun!
To a lot of people in the gun trade, “Best gun” is fighting words. Traditionally, it’s a handmade sidelock side-by-side shotgun or double rifle built to the highest standards by one of the major London makers like Holland & Holland or James Purdey & Sons.
But today, as some of these famous makers are relying more and more on CNC equipment to build their guns, is it fair to still call these “Best Guns”? And do they still justify their incredibly high prices? Find out what one person thinks.
“With the gun first created in “virtual reality” and so much less hand work involved, one does wonder why the price of a modern best is so high, especially considering that one of the biggest names in best gunmaking now makes guns “for stock”, presumably for the buyer who just can’t wait for a bespoke gun. It might even be said that the buyer is paying for something that he is not receiving, because he believes that he is purchasing a handmade gun when in fact, that gun is mostly made on CNC machinery.”
Here’s something I’ve never seen before: it’s a Peter V. Nelson shotgun for sale on the open market.
Peter Nelson is one of the world’s greatest gunmakers. He also a gunmaker few people know anything about.
Nelson started his career in the 1950s as an actioner at James Purdey & Sons. From there, he worked on guns for Hartmann & Weiss. In 1989, he went out on his own and built guns under his own name. I think he retired from gunmaking in 2012. This Queen’s Golden Jubilee Gun was one of the last firearms he built.
According to Vic Venters, Nelson built around 84 guns in all. Nine clients commissioned these guns; two clients ordered around 60 of them. I believe a few of these guns have changed hands over the years, but it was always done with just a phone call. These guns were not advertised anywhere or on display at a gunshow or in a gunshop. Take a look at the craftsmanship of the SXS show here, you can see why.
P.V. NELSON BEST SIDELOCK SXS 20 GAUGE WITH EXTRA BARRELS: KEITH THOMAS ENGRAVED, MADE 1991, ROUNDED ACTION, 28″ 006 AND 006 2 3/4″, 26″ 009 AND 009 2 3/4″, SINGLE TRIGGER, EJECTORS, BEAVERTAIL FOREARM, ENGLISH GRIP, CHECKERED BUTT, EXCELLENT WITH HANDLING MARKS IN THE WOOD, 5LBS 10 OZ, 2 1/2″ DAH,1 1/2″ DAC, 14 1/4″ LOP. Price: $57,500
When people talk about the very best shotguns, this is what they have in mind. The Purdey SxS you see here is one of the finest I’ve seen, and it’s in superb condition.
This gun is a great example of what a true Best-quality shotgun should be. Overall, it has a distinct look — handsome and proud, but not gaudy or ostentatious. Metal-to-metal and metal-to-wood fit is as perfect as it gets, all around. The action and little things like the toplever are filed up beautifully. And the stock and forend are shaped and proportioned perfectly. And check out those drop points.
Because it’s all original, this SxS is also a great example of how a gun from that period was finished. Look closely. See how the hinge pin, safety, and screw in the toplever are all a bright blue, while the toplever itself, as well as the triggerguard and forend iron are an inkier blue to almost black? Now see how the blueing on the barrels has turned a purplish hue over time. This mix of finishes is a big part of what makes these old, original shotguns so beautiful — and desirable.
Also, check out how the action looks a bit dull and dirty overall. That’s because it was varnished when new to protect the color-case hardening. Much of that original varnish remains, and over the last 80+ years, it has yellowed a bit, picked up some grime, and lost its sheen.
Made for live-pigeon shooting, it was built in in the 1930s — one of the best periods for British shotguns. As crazy as it seems, it’s gun #3 of at least a trio. Perhaps that’s why it was never used — the owner had two others just like it to go to first.
JAMES PURDEY & SONS BEST PRE-WAR PIGEON GUN 12 GAUGE: #24XXX, 30″ SELF OPENING, CHOKED .041″ AND .041″, CHAMBERS 2 3/4″, DOUBLE TRIGGER, EJECTORS, SPLINTER FOREARM, ENGLISH GRIP, MAKER’S CASE, MINT ORIGINAL CONDITION, 7LBS 6 OZ, 2″ DAH, 1 9/16″ DAC, 14 3/4″ LOP. Price: $47,500
I’ve gushed about Boss shotguns before. Now I’m going to do it again. Boss & Co. has built some of the finest shotguns in the world. The two you see here are about as rare and fantastic as they come. They’re both coming up in James D. Julia’s March 2014 auction.
These guns are a consecutively serial numbered set (9018 & 9019), and both were ordered on the same day in 1955. They’re all original and they match their original specs 100%.
The Boss O/U was patented in 1909. To date Boss & Co. has made just over of five hundred of them. Around twenty have been 28 gauges. The other gun is just as rare. Of the 3,975 or so side-by-sides Boss & Co has built since John Robertson took over the company in 1891, around twenty-five have been 28 gauges.
That means the two doubles you see are some of the rarest shotguns ever made by Boss. As a true set, they’re spectacular and one of kind.
Pics courtesy James D. Julia Auctioneers.
Merry Christmas to everyone and your families. I hope you’re having a good great day. Here are a few of the things I was hoping Santa would bring me this year:
-More time to hunt
-More places to hunt
-More patience, so I can enjoy all of it.
Oh, and I thought this shotgun would be nice, too:
Boss & Co., London. Magnificent 12ga. OU game gun with rising-bite third-fastener and two original sets of barrels. Ordered from Boss in April, 1937. Rare Boss single-selective trigger. Automatic safety. Incredibly rare, hidden, rising-bite third-fastener. Interesting “finger rest” on right lock plate specified in the original order records. Flawless fit and finish with action and locks retaining most of the original hardening colors. Barrels, forend iron, and mounts retain most of their original brilliant black finish. Highly figured original straight-grip stock with checkered butt and splinter forend retain all the original finish. The whole set cased in original maker’s case with trade label and a complete complement of original Boss accessories just as it left the maker in 1937. Overall mechanically perfect, lightly used, and remaining in near-mint, original, condition throughout.
Two of the world’s finest doubles? The ultimate shotguns for quail hunting? A collector’s dream? Yes, certainly, and absolutely.
What you see here is an amazing set of double barrel shotguns: A 28 gauge Boss side-by-side and a 28 gauge Boss over-under, both ordered after WW2, never used, and stored away in their original case ever since.
These Bosses were ordered on March 18th, 1955, by an American visiting Boss & Co’s Albemarle Street shop in London. They’ve been in the same family since day one, and they’re consecutively serial numbered, 200% original, and in in mint condition.
James D. Julia will be auctioning them off in their March 2014 sale. Boss has made very few 28 gauge shotguns – around 25 side-by-sides and 20 over-unders to date. A brace like this is unheard of and probably one of a kind.
Boss & Co is famous for being one of the world’s finest gunmakers, and when you see these doubles you’ll understand why. Simply stunning is the best way to describe them.
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.
The Boss O/U is one of the world’s finest shotguns. It’s also one of the most revolutionary double barrels ever made. Patented in 1909, it was hardly the first shotgun made with stacked barrels. But Boss’s O/U was the first one able to compete with best-quality, London-made side by sides. To find out why, check out my post about the very first Boss O/U.
The Boss O/U you see here is from the 1930’s, a period when London gunmakers built some of the finest firearms ever made. It has superb 28″ barrels, top-notch Sumner engraving, beautifully detailing on the action, and the most desirable Boss-features — patent ejectors, patent single trigger AND an extremely rare rising-bite action.
Rigby & Co. was famous for using the Rigby-Bissell rising bite action on their finest rifles and shotguns. It’s an amazing piece of gunmaking and extremely difficult to build. In the late 1920s and into the ’30s, a version it made it onto a handful of Boss O/Us. No one is quite sure how (I have a theory).
Since 1909, Boss has made very few 20g O/Us — around 85. How many have rising bites? No one knows for certain – but 2 or 3 is a fair guess. The last 20g with a rising bite action to hit the open market sold at auction for $190,000. This one could do just as well.
SUBLIME “GOLDEN AGE” BOSS 20 BORE HEAVY PROOF SINGLE TRIGGER RISING BITE OVER-UNDER GAME GUN: SN 8482. (ca 1937) Cal. 20 ga. 2-3/4″ Chambers. 28″ Demi-bloc bbls with broad, flat, matted rib, fitted with two red beads, are engraved “Boss & Co, 41, Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, London. W.” and “Made in England” on either side of top bbl. Right side of top bbl and damascened bbl flat are stamped with London nitro proofs for 2-3/4″ chambers and 1 oz. of shot. Case hardened, uniquely Boss, O/U action is beautifully sculpted at breech ends of bbls, with well filed beads at bottom. Action features hidden rising bite third fastener, bushed strikers, automatic safety (SAFE inlaid in gold), gold band tumbler end cocking indicators, Chilton locks with intercepting sears, and Boss’s unique and excellent single trigger. Action is engraved with exceptionally well cut, small, shaded scroll with 14 rose bouquets, and additional roses front and rear of forend cut in bottom of action (by Sumner). “Boss & Co.” is on each lockplate. “Patent No 3307.1909” referring to the over – under system, is on each side of the action. “Boss’s Patent No 22894” is on trigger plate, referring to single trigger. Forend iron is engraved “Boss’s Patent No. 3308.1909″, referring to ejectors. Blued top lever and single beaded trigger guard, are also scroll engraved. SN is on trigger guard tang. Nicely streaked and well figured, dark, European walnut round knob, semi-pistol grip buttstock measures 14-1/2” over leather covered Silver pad, and features drop points, classic point pattern checkering with mullered borders, and a gold oval on toe line engraved “G. P.” Matching, small, one piece, Boss ejector forend has Anson type release. Bore diameter: top -.615, bottom -.615. Bore restrictions: top -.007 (IC), bottom -.013 (Mod). Wall thickness: top-.027, bottom -.029. Drop at heel: 2-3/8″, drop at comb: 1-7/16″. Weight: 6 lbs. 6 oz. LOP: 14-1/2″.
PROVENANCE: Abercrombie & Fitch green hang tag with specifications of this gun.
CONDITION: Excellent. Action retains 85 – 90% orig case hardening color, silvered on sharp edges and beads, thinning slightly around bottom, from normal carrying wear. Lockplates retain nearly all of their vivid orig color. Orig blue of forend iron/ ejector housings is at about 90%, thinned and browned around bottom. Top lever is silvered at thumbpiece. Trigger guard is silvered on bead. Tang has been re-darkened. Stocks retain most of what appears to be their orig rubbed oil finish, maintained over the years with some extra oil rubbed into butt, with a number of very light marks and scratches. Checkering is very fine, with slight wear, and is dark. Bores are excellent, bright and shiny throughout. Action is tight. Bbls are on face. Ejectors are excellent, and in time. Lock screws show some use. An exceptionally fine, and lightly used, svelte little gun, with barrels that measure perfectly. Twenty-gauge Boss O/Us with single triggers and rising-bite style actions are exceptionally rare and among the most desirable British shotguns ever made. Estimate: $50,000-$80,000
Boss O/Us are impressive shotguns. As one of the most influential designs in shotgun history, they’ve had an incredible impact on modern over unders. In fact, most of the O/Us made today owe a debt to this British design. But that’s not all that makes these O/Us special.
BossS over & unders are also beautifully made. John Robertson was a gunmaker and artists, and the sweeping lines of the stock, the exposed forend iron, and the unique sculpting on the action, make these guns in stunning. The experience and skills that they put into their doubles — especially the SxS and O/Us from 1920-1930s — represent the apex of the trade and are almost extinct today.
Boss made around 450 of their “Vertical Guns,” so handling and inspecting one is a memorable event for a shotgun fanatic like myself. Having the chance to do this with four of them, including two that have never been fired, is extraordinary. But that’s exactly what I had happen a couple Saturdays ago.
A friend of mine invited us over to view part of his collection. Along with a couple minty 12 gauges by Purdey & Woodward, he also showed us his Boss O/Us. At one point, we had Boss O/U in 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge, and .410 lined up in front of us. That’s a once-in-a- lifetime site, and the I’m grateful for the chance to see it.
This little Boss was one of the highlights. Being a 20 gauge Boss O/U from the 1930s, it’s a rare shotgun. Add in the 28″ barrels, Boss single trigger, and Boss rising-bite style action and you have an insanely rare double. The fact that I had the chance to take a long, close look at it and raise it to my shoulder many times made the weekend incredibly special.
This fantastic Boss O/U just hit the market. It’s #6838, a 28 gauge with 26″ barrels. According to the seller, it’s the first 28 gauge over-under that Boss & Co. made.
An outfit called Etherington Thorpe & Company in Denmark has the gun. I’ve been told that the asking price is $500,000 — aka a 1/2 million friggin’ dollars.
Boss over-unders are special shotguns. Almost every modern O/Us owes a debt to their design (learn why: Bow down to this Boss O/U…). The 28 is one of the rarest gauges Boss made and this one appears to be in spectacular original condition.
It’s also from Boss’s best time period – between the wars – and beautifully made. I’ve seen a bunch of Boss O/Us, and this one is up there with the very best of them.
Here’s more info about this double from the seller:
Extremely rare 28 gauge Boss & Co over and under shotgun made 1920. This gun was the first of only eight 28 gauge over and under Boss’s ever made, and is probably the finest example of them all, being totally original, in as new condition and perfect in every detail.
Barrels: 26″, stock 14 1/4″, double trigger, full filed rib, fine traditional rose and scroll engraving with gold inlaid monogram on the toplever, 100% original as new condition, with original makers case.
The gun was originally commissioned in by Mr. Henry Graves Jnr. who ordered the gun in 1919 through Von Lengerke and Detmold in New York, to be delivered in 1920. Mr. Henry graves Jnr was a man of impeccable taste, an ardent collector, and a perfectionist who demanded the highest quality in everything he purchased…having a reputation for owning the very best of the best, including the most expensive watch in the world “The Supercomplication” made by Patek Philippe in 1933.
If I won a bazillion dollars tomorrow, one of the first things I would do is build a collection of kick-butt British doubles. And this 12 gauge Purdey sidelock would be one of the first guns I would buy.
It looks like it’s in fantastic original condition, and it’s definitely from one of gunmaker’s best periods. If it’s all good, it’s one of the finest Purdeys I’ve seen on the market in the last 5 years.
J. Purdey shotguns have always been custom made, and for the most part, if you could afford it, they would build it. It’s obvious that the gentleman who ordered James Purdey #10532 could afford an awful lot.
This 12 gauge, bar-in-wood hammergun is coming up at Sunday at this auction in Italy, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who is looking at it and wondering what the original owner was thinking when he ordered it.
It has three sets of barrels (two damascus, one fluid), two original stocks and forends, but only one set of locks. I guess you could call it a “Half a Pair, Plus One.” The case is odd, too. You don’t see a lot of Purdeys in French-fitted cases, or with such a wide array of accessories. This one even has ivory-handled tools.
Here’s more info on the gun from the auctioneer’s site:
A Purdey double-barrelled centerfire gun in its original case Provided with a set of three different pairs of barrels: the first one, damascened, with rib marked “J. PURDEY & SONS. 314 1/2, OXFORD STREET, LONDON”, stamped with Victorian marks at the lower part and the writings “13 IV”, “12 B” and “NOT FOR BALL”; the second pair, identical to the first one, but stamped “JP” at the lower part on top of the writings; the last pair, blued, with blue finishing, rib with same mark followed by “MADE OF SIR JOSEPH WHITWORTH’S FLUID-PRESSED STEEL.”, with remains of Victorian stamps and number “12” at the lower part. All smooth, 12 gauge barrels, 76 cm long. The locks and the receivers finely engraved with racemes and small floral motifs, hammers and trigger guards en suite; plates signed “J. PURDEY & SONS”, opening levers with blue blueing and mark “PATENT”. Also provided with two butts of different briarwood, both checkered at the neck and decorated with a gold plaque at the bottom, engraved with same monogram. The gun is complete with two fore-ends, one marked “STEEL BARRELS”. All components (butts included) marked with serial number “10532”. The metallic parts keep most of the original blueing. Kept in its original, wooden case, lined with red velvet and covered by leather, with transportation handle (damaged); complete with Purdey label and two more labels, one marked with the gun serial number. Complete with original tools, having ivory handles. The owner commissioned a research at the Purdry archives and found out that a double-barrelled gun cal. 12, number 10532 was made in 1879 for “Mr. Park”, with 30 inch barrels and a set of extra barrels.
dimensions: length 117,5
James Purdey & Sons has made a lot of shotguns. Since Purdey the Elder started the business in 1814, his company has turned out 30,000+ shotguns and rifles. This is one reason why you see so many Purdeys on the market today.
While this one looks like many of ones on the market today, there are a few things that set it apart. First, it’s an original two-barrel set. Next, it’s a heavy proofer with side clips, 2 3/4″ chambers and a third fastener. Up third is its condition: this double looks very original. And lastly, there’s the price. t $28,499.99 this Purdey could be a deal. If I had that kind of dough to spare, I would have already bought it.