If beauty were a gun it would be a Boss & Co.
London gun-maker Boss & Co. is firmly rooted in the golden age of London gun-making with its rich history of innovation and traditional, hand-skilled fine craftsmanship passed from generation to generation. And it’s this heritage that Boss & Co. keenly upholds to this day.
Around 1773, William Boss became an apprentice to gun- and pistol-maker Thomas Ketland in Birmingham, northeast England. At that time, Birmingham was the “foremost arms producer in the world,” according to a Birmingham commemorative plaque in the city’s gun quarter.
Later, Boss moved to London to train at the workshop of one of the preeminent London gun-makers, Joseph Manton. Manton was renowned for training esteemed gun-makers, many of whom are known by name today, such as James Purdey and Charles Lancaster to name a couple.
In Manton’s workshop, Boss took on his three sons as apprentices, although he died halfway through his youngest son Thomas’s apprenticeship. Perhaps testimony to Thomas’s talent, Manton allowed the youngster to remain at his workshop to finish his apprenticeship.
Thomas Boss went on to found Boss & Co. in 1812. In the mid-1800s, Boss headquartered the company in the exclusive central-London neighborhood of St. James’s, close to the Gentlemen’s Clubs of the gentry where Boss & Co.’s customers frequented.
Over time, the company became renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship. As testimony to its success, Boss & Co. was invited to exhibit its guns at “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” in 1851, the international fair organized by Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) and civil servant Henry Cole.
The company stayed within the family after Thomas Boss’s death in 1857 and was run by the Pattison brothers, Boss’s nephews, who had apprenticed with him.
After the Pattison brothers died, gun-maker John Robertson led the company (from 1891 to 1917), a period that many deem as the most innovative period in Boss & Co. history.
Robertson is held in high esteem to this day for three particular patented innovations: He refined the Over and Under gun design (where one barrel is on top of the other) to become more lightweight and elegant; he developed a single-trigger gun, allowing both barrels to be fired one after the other with one trigger pull; and he invented a simple streamlined ejector to remove spent cartridges.
The ‘Mystique’ of Boss & Co. Today
Since 2015, successful American businessman Arthur Demoulas has owned Boss & Co. The prospect of owning the historic gun-making company appealed to him more than American gun companies did.
“The likes of Winchester and Colt have achieved wonderful things in their long histories, but they’re a very different proposition to the heritage-laden, exclusive world of Boss & Co. …
“Boss has never been about mass production; it has remained true to traditional handcrafted techniques, delivering elegant and innovative guns that have been, and continue to be, the best in the world. It has a mystique and a personal connection that bigger gun-makers would struggle to recreate, and that’s what really drew me here,” he wrote in an email.
As an avid gun enthusiast, Demoulas bought his first pair of Boss & Co. guns, 1920s Over and Under guns, in the early 1990s. “The first time I set eyes on them, they were in their original presentation case, and I was immediately struck by their elegance: The ribless design, the wonderful shape of the barrel, [and] the masterful engraving. You can’t help but be awestruck by the craftsmanship.”
For a gun novice, it would be easy to mistake such fine-gun craftsmanship as a work of art to be confined to the display cabinet, but all Boss & Co. guns are tools designed to be shot.
Demoulas mainly shoots partridge, pheasant, and grouse on private estates (where the game is managed) in upstate New York, Georgia, and also in Scotland.
Demoulas recalls the first time he shot a Boss & Co. gun: “It felt like I was holding a magic wand. It was so beautifully balanced, like an extension of my body.”
But a Boss & Co. gun is a rare find out on a shoot. In the more than 30 years that Demoulas has been on numerous shoots, he’s only ever seen one other set of Boss & Co. guns. “These days, we’re shooting with our customers, so we do have the privilege of seeing more Boss & Co. guns put to good use regularly. But to see one ‘in the wild,’ so to speak, is an occasion in itself,” he said.
A Guardian for Traditional Gun-Making
For Demoulas, Boss & Co. is far from just a business. “I see my role in its simplest terms: as the trustee and/or custodian of the company, securing as bright a future for Boss & Co. as I possibly can,” he said.
For Boss & Co. that means continuing to make “a handmade, hand-finished gun, not a machine-made gun,” Demoulas said. And continuing to commit to building “best guns only.”
Whereas many gun-makers have diversified into making second-grade guns, fashion, and accessories, Boss & Co. won’t do that, Demoulas said.
Honoring the past is important for the company. Demoulas cites an early 1900s Boss & Co. brochure still relevant to how the company runs the business:
“We would say from the outset that we make only one grade of gun and have never placed a second quality make upon the market. This policy has enabled us to retain the services of the finest workmen in London, and to give them continuous employment. The advantages attending the production of best work only are manifold. There is no opportunity for the work of inferior men to be utilized in the economy of the workshop, which is frequently the case when more than one class of weapon is produced.
“The owner of a Boss & Co. gun has the satisfaction of knowing that he has the best gun that money can buy, and that no one has a better. The Boss & Co. gun has, therefore, always a standard value whether new or second hand. Our output is strictly limited according to the amount of first class labor available.”
A Boss & Co. gun can take two and a half to three and a half years to make, and sometimes longer. In its 208-year history, Boss & Co. has produced over 10,000 guns, with each taking over a thousand hours to make.
To ensure that “first class labor” is in the workshop, Boss & Co. runs a five-year apprenticeship program. These apprentices work alongside the seasoned gun-makers. But Demoulas is adamant that the gun-makers never stop learning, “They are always perfecting their art as a barrel maker, an actioner, a stocker, an engraver, or a finisher … even after almost 40 years in some cases.”
“The art of gun-making is being lost continually and quickly, but it stands at the heart of what we do and we do all that we can to maintain it.”
The Gun-Making Process
To find out more about Boss & Co., visit BossGuns.com