The Boss family have their origins in Leicestershire. William Boss began his gunmaker’s apprenticeship in 1773 around the age of fifteen. This apprenticeship, with the gun and pistol maker Thomas Ketland in Birmingham, marked the beginning of the Boss family trade in gunmaking.
William Boss would eventually move to London, where the finest guns were being produced. He worked under Joseph Manton, a leading gunmaker of the time who employed only top-rate journeymen, of whom William Boss was considered one. During this period of refining his craft, Boss had three sons, who in time would follow in his footsteps and each be apprenticed to their father.
William Boss died during the apprenticeship of youngest son Thomas Boss. Usually this would have meant the end of his son’s training with that firm, however Manton decided to make an exception, which spoke volumes for the nineteen year old Thomas.
At this point the Boss name does not yet have widespread recognition in gunmaking. Thomas Boss pursued many avenues in order to make money during this period. One such venture was truss making - a medical harness for the relief of ruptures or hernias. Gunmakers were sought after for this task due to their experience as spring-makers.
Truss noun. An apparatus consisting of a pad usually supported by a belt for maintaining a hernia in a reduced state.
This was a sideline to the primary business of course, which found Thomas simultaneously establishing his reputation as a top gunmaker. He worked mostly as outworker finishing guns for the established gunmakers of the day.
The business was successful in this manner for some time, and the quality his work assured Thomas of a place in the industry as a gunmaker of esteem. With this experience, reputation and enough capital behind him, it was time to start making guns that would bear his name.
The firm had an extensive list of competitors and the right image was just as important as the skill of the craftsmen. A move to the West End of London sent out exactly the right message to the moneyed people Thomas aspired to have buying his guns. Occupying various addresses, it would be 73 St James’s Street that would become the iconic home of Boss & Co.
The reputation of Boss guns grows requiring the employment of around ten top-class journeymen and two apprentices. amongst these men were two nephews of Thomas Boss who would go on to play an important role in the future of the firm.
In 1851, the firm was invited to participate in Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition with other renowned British gunmakers. This invitation demonstrates the status of Boss in gunmaking during this period. On the death of Thomas Boss in 1857, Boss & Co is a well established firm - their guns are sought after and orders increasing.
The death of Thomas Boss deprived the firm of its gunmaking leadership. His wife Amy, tasked with running the business, had no practical gunmaking experience and so would seek the support of her employees to oversee this area of the firm.
An ageing Amy turned to her nephews Edward and James Paddison to assist her, eventually bequeathing the firm to them upon her death in 1872. The Paddison brothers had trained with and worked for the firm for many years, and so were capable stewards. However, their partnership would not last long as James died within a year.
Edward continued to produce best quality London guns of excellent regard for the next seventeen years, concentrating on high quality rather than innovative improvement. In 1890, failing health and personal financial circumstances prompted him to seek a partner. The man he chose was John Robertson.
When Edward Paddison succumbed to illness, the man he had recruited as his partner a year earlier, would go on to steer the firm during its most successful period. Prior to his ownership of Boss & Co, John Robertson was a first-class gunmaker to the trade, working for the established gunmaking names. He was also an innovator and taking over Boss gave him a platform to bring these innovations to the market.
These innovations include patents for the Boss single trigger, the Boss ejector and the Boss over and under gun. These patents were of such importance in the gun world, that they guaranteed John Robertson the position of considerable esteem in which he is still held today.
The Boss O/U
The Boss over and under gun designed by John Robertson, is regarded by many to be the finest of all British O/Us and represented for Robertson the culmination of an important career as a gunmaker. O/Us prior to this gun were perceived as heavy and ungainly in appearance, but Robertson managed by careful design and construction to obviate any clumsiness and produce an elegant, slender and light gun.
The Boss Single Trigger
Boss & Co are synonymous with single trigger guns, whereby one trigger can fire both barrels one after the other on a double barrelled gun. John Robertson’s work on the single trigger is probably the last development of importance that occurred in sporting guns. Boss have perfected the single trigger more than any other maker and are still regarded as the leading manufacturer of single trigger guns.
The Boss Ejector
The Boss ejector system, designed over 100 years ago, utilises a simple but extremely effective mechanism that delivers 100% of its coilsprings potential energy, in a straight line from the forend along the line of the barrels and onto the extractor to eject the spent cartridge. The ejector mechanism is neat, light and compact ensuring no excess wood is removed from the forend to accommodate it.
When Robertson took over Boss, a subtle but very important change occurred in the guns and rifles produced by the firm. Previously guns produced under Edward Paddison, although of superb quality, often looked old fashioned. Robertson was determined to change this, desiring to produce guns combining both aesthetic beauty and function - an ethos that continues to this day.
Part of this aesthetic appeal could be attributed to the distinctive Boss rose and scroll. The credit for this goes John James Sumner, the third of four generations of Sumner engravers who worked on Boss guns.
John Robertson’s time with Boss, was probably the most important period in the history of the company. To him must be due the credit for making the firm into a great gunmaker, for making the name Boss revered throughout the world as builders of very handsome, well-designed and highly original guns.
After John Robertsons death, Boss & Co was left in the very capable hands of his three sons John, Sam and Bob. Collectively they were known as the “Young Governors” by their peers in the gunmaking industry. The 1920s and 30s was a difficult time for gunmakers, but the three brothers would run the firm very efficiently producing the guns developed by their father.
The brothers established themselves in their own particular domains within the firm. John was in charge of the shop, now located at 13 Dover St., Sam was in charge of the factory in Lexington St. with Bob in charge of the shooting ground in Hendon. Bob was known as an entertaining character and once approached King George VI to enquire if he had ever considered buying a Boss gun. The King instantly retorted, “A Boss gun, a Boss gun, bloody beautiful but too bloody expensive!”
By 1951 the last of the Young Governors died, however for many years the firm would still include one of John Robertson’s descendants among its ranks in various capacities, right up until 1999 when the last Robertson left. So ended the family firm that had lasted 109 years, the end of a highly significant era.
At the turn of the 21st century, other gunmakers have invested in CNC technology to facilitate and expand production. Boss have resisted this change and our guns are still virtually hand built in the same tradition and same skills practised for over a century.
Building a Boss gun is labour intensive, taking many months to meet the customer’s exact specifications. Demand for Boss guns is still high to this day, which we believe is due our efforts to remain true to our heritage and the continuation of the highest levels of craftmanship.