By Guy Bignell, Shotgun Life
In the late 1890s, Boss & Co. Proprietor John Robertson dedicated himself to perfecting the single trigger for sporting guns. History would prove that, in fact, it would take someone of Robertson’s singular genius to commercialize the advancement we now take for granted.
Robertson’s undertaking to refine and market the single trigger confronted more obstacles than one would expect. Of course there’s always the technical challenges, but at the time double-trigger side-by-sides were the gun of choice among the sporting gentry and London gun trade. Robertson needed to prove to them that the single trigger, along with the definitive over/under to come from him in 1909, were superior to the norm. After all, Boss & Co. was growing its reputation by actually upholding its dictum “Builders of Best Guns Only.” In the mind of Robertson, a triple-barrel sporting gun with a single trigger from Boss & Co. would surely rally the confidence around his disparaged trigger.
As a promotion for his single trigger, Robertson engineered among the most important shotguns to emerge from the Boss & Co. London workshop in the company’s 205-year history: the triple-barrel SxSxS that incorporated a single trigger. Although a marvel of ingenuity, the shotgun actually reveals the lengths that Robertson went in order to demonstrate the feasibility and safety of the single trigger to a skeptical marketplace.
Robertson certainly wasn’t the first gunmaker to experiment with a single trigger. Single-trigger sporting guns had been tinkered with by various gunmakers as far back as the late 17th century. An array of patents had been filed for them in England. Between 1893 and 1895, however, Robertson had applied for three single-trigger patents, each more sophisticated than the previous. By 1894, he had successfully demonstrated the single trigger on a side by side to the sporting press in London.
Still, Robertson must have felt that he needed to do more in order to validate his single trigger. Thus, over a two-year period, he set about building a 12-bore prototype, triple-barrel, SxSxS shotgunthat relied on the single trigger.
Understandably, it is extremely difficult and expensive to make such a gun. Nonetheless, it was Robertson’s way of “cocking a snoot” at the London gun trade who had been trying to verbally undermine the flawless operation of the Boss single-trigger system.
The first SxSxS prototype of the Boss & Co. was a 12-bore built in 1898 with serial number 4605. Since it was never actually ordered, no reference appears in the Boss Order Ledgers. Number 4605 was subsequently sold to a Mr. Herbert Lawton on July 3, 1922 (24 years later). Mr. Roy Lyu, former General Manager of Boss & Co., reports it was lost in a house fire while in the custody of Lawton.
On July 3, 1899 Boss & Co. was commissioned by Signor W. Baldi of Florence, Italy to build a 16 bore SxSxS shotgun that fired with the famous, patented single trigger design concomitant with the Boss & Co name. This gun was completed on June 21, 1901 bearing serial number 4690. The length of delivery time confirmed the complexity of the build process.
With the loss of number 4605, 4690 is the world’s only known enduring example. It has been entrusted to Griffin & Howe for sale, marking the first time the only 16-bore SxSxS has become generally available. It is offered at $333,333.33. The overall condition and considerable amount of case color remaining belies its 117 years of age.
The left and right barrels are fired by conventional sidelocks; the center barrel has a trigger-plate action. The trigger is non-selective. The firing sequence is: barrel 1, barrel 2, barrel 3. If barrel 1 and 2 are fired, opened and reloaded, then barrel 1 fires again first.
Weighing a mere 6 pounds, 14 ounces, I can tell you that when shouldered and presented it feels like a magic wand in ones’ hands; as light and maneuverable as any small-bore, side-by-side game gun.
Of the gun’s total weight, the 28-inch steel barrels are amazingly light at 3 pounds, 7 ounces. The three barrels combined are barely wider than a standard 12-bore side by side. The SxSxS barrels were re-nitro reproofed in 1979 at .677 inches. The current barrel measurements are:
Right: 2½” chamber, bore .680″, choke .004″, minimum wall thickness .015″
Center: 2½” chamber, bore .674″, choke .015″, minimum wall thickness .020″
Left: 2½” chamber, bore .675″, choke .021″, minimum wall thickness .019″
The shotgun has been engraved by John James Sumner. Four generations of Sumner family have engraved for Boss & Co. It is cased in the original green velvet lined oak-and-leather case with ornate oil bottle, tools and accessories with a label from 73 St. James’s Street. Three spare firing pins in different sizes are included. Following recent inspection by Mr. Steve Alexander, the comment passed on the condition of 4690 was, “Otherwise much original finish on the action body and locks, cased with accessories, and overall an absolutely stunning Boss & Co shotgun”!
On June 6, 2016, the gun received a refresh from Master Gunsmith Walter Eisserer for minor cosmetics and returned four days later.
The 16 bore Boss SxSxS possesses extraordinary provenance. In 1979 it was discovered in a private collection in California by the late William ‘Bill’ Moore Sr.
In 1979, prominent U.K. fine firearms collector Jonathan Jones purchased it from Moore. Jones then passed 4690 to the famous British sporting and military gunmaker, Giles Whittome, who was noted for building a 2-bore rifle, the most powerful sporting rifle in the world. Whittome only carried out minor ejector work to the center barrel of 4690, refurbished the original case and re-proofed 4690 at London Proof House during the same year.
Come February 2, 1981, the gun changed hands from Whittome to noted fine firearms collector Jonathan Lawrence of Banbury in Oxfordshire, U.K. Lawrence passed on custodianship of 4690 to Monsieur Alain Cheneviere, a Swiss investment banker.
In turn, Cheneviere passed ownership of the gun to Walter James Lopp II, founder of Financial Security Assurance. Lopp helped create municipal bond insurance and the concept of tax-exempt financing for pollution-control projects. Lopp was an adviser on water-pollution control to presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. In August 1990 at age 51, Lopp died from a heart attack while playing tennis at his house in the Auribeau-sur-Siagne region, near Mougins, France.
Circa 1999 Lopp’s wife Karin passed 4690 to department store heir, Marshall Field VI, who bestowed custodianship to a Southern sportsman and fine firearms collector, who for the last 17 years has been current custodian of 4690.
An extraordinary and rare firearm like the Boss 16-bore SxSxS scarcely ever surfaces for general procurement. I urge you not to let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass.
Guy Bignell, Email: [email protected], Guy Bignell is the President and CEO of Griffin & Howe.
Better yet: Click here to follow Shotgun Life on Facebook.