The outbreak of World War One severely disrupted the British gun trade as new orders virtually ceased and all the firms transferred the bulk of their work force skills to some type of war production.
Boss were no exception to this; in 1914 there were 46 gunmakers on the books yet just over a year later exactly half of that number remained as many had joined up or been put on to other war work.
The scale of World War One was such that virtually every firm in the country had to contribute to the war effort. Boss with their specialised skills were contracted to produce cocking pieces for the military Lee Enfield rifle. They built nothing else supplying cocking pieces in their thousands, around 19 Boss gunmakers churning them out at the rate of a thousand per week, thereby creating a little bit of Boss in a great many Lee Enfields.
Not only did many gun firms contribute like this to the war effort, several also used their fertile imagination to come up with ingenious inventions to aid victory. Holland & Holland developed the Aero Gun, a 12 bore shotgun firing a string of shot linked together to be fired at very close range from an aircraft at a Zeppelin, to tear the fabric and release the hydrogen. Purdey developed a detachable muzzle clip to prevent ingress of mud into the standard Lee Enfield rifle.
Boss were just as belligerent. John Robertson, the owner of Boss at the time and the inventor of the Boss single trigger and O/U gun applied his talents and designed and patented a Boss grenade thrower in 1915. By this time the war had deteriorated into close range static trench warfare. In the early years of the war grenades were rather primitive devices, whereby a fuse was lit and the bomb thrown by hand.
The Robertson grenade thrower was a more sophisticated device to propel such a grenade far further than could be thrown by hand. The bomb was fitted on a carrier driven by two rubber elastic bands. A ratchet handle pulled the carrier back under the tension of the rubber bands. The bomb was lit, the trigger pulled and the bomb propelled a given distance. Calibrations were included in the mechanism to enable the bomb to be thrown a precise distance.
The grenade thrower was demonstrated to The Field magazine on the 13th March 1915 and they concluded “More may not be said other than to congratulate the veteran inventor on having found seasonable employment for his versatile faculties”.
Would you light a grenade and rely on elastic bands to propel it!
The address that Boss & Co is synonymous with is 73 St James’s Street in London as the firm not only had their shop there for most of the 19th century, but also built their guns on the premises as well.
Boss & Co moved to St James’s Street in 1837 and remained there for the rest of the 19th century until they had to vacate the building on the 1st July 1908 due to the termination of the lease.
Thomas Boss had set up on his own in the 1820s moving through various changes of address until he settled at 76 St James’s Street in 1837 and then two years later in 1839 moved along the street to the well-known address, 73 St James’s Street.
Thomas Boss and his wife lived above the shop whilst the entire building from basement to garret housed the gunmakers building the guns. A large window facing the street in the customary style of many small panes of glass displayed the guns, to the left was the door through which you entered the shop and to the right the door that led upstairs. All the guns were built in these premises with about ten gunmakers being employed, this being the case right up until the time Boss had to vacate the shop in 1908.
There were very good reasons why Thomas Boss wanted to be resident in St James’s Street as it was an ideal location for a gunmakers shop in this period. St James’s Street was originally famous for its chocolate house and clubs which had made it, for a great many years, along with Pall Mall, the social rendezvous of masculine aristocratic society in London.
St James’s Street thus became a centre of fashionable trade rather than fashionable residence. It was at the centre of the London clubs, Whites, Brooks, Boodles and the Conservative Club, the perfect clientele for Boss guns. The proximity of these clubs was important to the Boss business, the names of these clubs featuring regularly in the Boss Order Books as they were just a stone’s throw from Boss at number 73.
When Boss moved to the street in the 1830s, St James’s Street was a mixture of clubs and exclusive shops most with “By Royal Appointment” signs. Several other gunmakers were also attracted to its location as such an exclusive environment meant that they were in a prime location to attract wealthy patrons. Advertising as we know it today hardly existed, hence the right shop in the right area was important to attract good business.
After the termination of the lease in 1908, the building was knocked down and replaced by a grand far bigger Edwardian building. This building still exists today but don’t go looking for Boss guns, a glass of wine or a cocktail is all that is on offer.
Caring for your Boss & Co shotgun is a relatively simple process, a five-minute clean after shooting, back in the gun cupboard and then only taken out again at the next shoot.
Yet in reality, it is a bit more detailed than that as the number of guns encountered with pitted barrels, rust patches, lifting ribs and oil soaked stocks will testify. Paradoxically, in addition, caring for your gun just a little too much can also be detrimental to it.
Upon returning from shooting, the first thing to do is to make sure your gun is not damp, especially so if you have been shooting in the rain. The gun should be split into three, stock, barrels and fore-end and thoroughly dried with a cloth, paying particular attention to the barrel ribs, extractors and around the action flats. If any water remains in these areas and the gun is put into the gun cupboard, the dreaded rust will soon appear, lifting ribs and eating its way into the mechanism. After a wet days shooting, it is a good idea, even after thoroughly drying the gun, to leave the three parts separately in a warm room for an hour or so to make sure the gun is thoroughly dry before it is put away.
Cleaning the barrels depends upon how many shots have been fired. If you have fired hundreds of shots then the chances are that there may be a slight lead build up in the barrels. In this case a wire brush on the cleaning rod is the first step to dislodge the lead. If only a few shots have been fired, this is not necessary and the second stage, a bristle jag can be employed. The bristle brush is a soft brush that gently scrapes dirt and residue and is worked hard up and down the barrels several times. Pay attention to the area in front of the chambers as this can be quite a dirty area.
After the bristle brush, a piece of tow or rag should be worked up and down the barrels to give them that final clean. It will be apparent how much residue there still is in the barrels as the cloth will become black with a few pulls up and down. Finally, after an inspection from either end to ensure they are glistening, put just two or three drips of oil on the wool mop and slide it up the barrels just once. Wipe of any extraneous oil at the muzzle and breech. The oil should be gun oil, a slightly thicker oil than normal commercial oil that is a thin oil and runs very easily. To finish the barrels, apply just one drop of oil at the muzzle and breech and rub it on all over the barrels to give a very light oil covering.
And this is where the paradox can come in. A great many guns have been ruined with overzealous care in the belief that you can never have enough oil on a gun. Oil mops are soaked in oil and worked up and down the barrels and the exterior of the barrels and action are also smothered in oil. When the gun is stored in the cupboard, this oil will run off the barrels and action and over the years will permeate into the stock and forend causing severe degradation of the stock. Even a small amount of oil in the barrels will find its way into the breech and it is a good idea to check this every month or so and wipe off the excess oil.
Auctions are generally pretty subdued places apart from the auctioneer guiding the bids, clerks manning the telephones and internet, along with a constant gentle whisper of conversation and a bit of movement now and then.
However, this can all change if a special lot comes up, particularly if a bidding war develops, when the auction room can go deathly quiet with anticipation. This is what happened in the November sale at Holts Auctioneers in Norfolk when lot 1675 came up, a stunning virtually new 20 bore Boss over and under. This gun. No. 10327 was built in 2011 and was in new condition exhibiting little sign of use. It was a very elegant gun with rounded bar action, classic Sumner style Boss scroll engraving, 30” barrels and in its lightweight motor case.
The Boss over and under, first introduced in 1909, is regarded as the most handsome over and under of all and since that date a mere 500 or so have been built. Out of this 500 only a very small number have been 20 bores and this combination of Boss O/U and 20 bore meant that this gun was bound to create a lot of interest.
The gun, estimated at £85,000 – £95,000, came up as lot 1675 and immediately all hearts beat a little faster with anticipation. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid suggesting the lower end, £85,000. Almost imperceptibly a client in the auction room itself raised his hand slightly. The first bid had been thrown and the gentle hum of the auction room immediately evaporated – all conversation ceased and all movement became statuesque. For what seemed an age no other bid was put forward and it appeared that this client would scoop the gun for its bottom estimate.
Then one of the auction clerks rose to his feet and raised his hand – another bidder was on the telephone.
Two clients were after this Boss O/U and it soon became obvious that both were determined to win the gun. The bidding was brisque with the client in the room raising his hand and the telephone clerk immediately competing with a higher bid. The bidding soon reached £100,000.
The auction room was completely silent, not a whisper or even a cough. When the gun reached £100,000 the bidding went up in increments of £5000. The bidding contest continued and all in the room waited intently, all guessing when it would stop. The telephone bidder reached £130,000, the client in the room looked dejected and shook his head. Going once, going twice, all done and then the gavel fell. The room broke into rapturous applause with much hand clapping as such a high price had been achieved. Then the mathematicians in the room did their sums; with commission the final price would be around £158,000.
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