November 19, 2020
By Mike Burns
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John Moses Browning was destined to change the world of firearms since he was only a child. A prodigy of his craft, Browning introduced the world to some of the finest, most advanced weapons ever produced throughout the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. Some of his inventions, such as the M1911 pistol, the Browning Auto-5, and the Ma Deuce, were so successful that they are continually produced to this day with little modifications to the original design.
After his death in 1926, the J.M. & M.S. Browning Company was incorporated in Utah with the Browning Arms Company as a subsidiary. From there, Browning’s inventions would be extensively and effectively used by the United States armed forces throughout World War II, the Korean War, and remained the primary sidearm for the special operations unit of the United States Marine Corps up until the 1980s. Today, many of his inventions remain extremely popular among civilian markets and police departments around the country.
This December, a large swath of Browning firearms will be available during Rock Island Auction Company’s Sale of the Century. This exciting 3-day auction is filled with so many historically significant, rare, and truly beautiful firearms that perusing the catalog from the first day alone could take up an entire afternoon. Explore these magnificent firearms at Browning Arms Company.
It is probably no surprise that shotguns are the focal point in this post; after all, the Browning Automatic 5 (often referred to as simply the A-5) was the world’s first successful semi-auto shotgun design. The A-5 was so popular that its production continued until 1998, 100 years after it was first introduced. Before his death, John Moses Browning gifted the world with one last design, the Browning Superposed shotgun.
Despite the rising popularity shotguns, over/under designs never gained the same traction in the United States as their side-by-side counterparts until after World War II. Popular in Europe, but expensive to produce as they had to be custom built, Browning saw an opportunity to develop a cheap and powerful over/under shotgun for under $150. Manifesting in the form of the Superposed shotgun, Browning never saw the release of his final project. However, his relationship with Belgian manufacturers at Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN) would ensure Browning’s mission would not dwindle after his passing.
Estimated at $9,000-$15,000, this 28 gauge shotgun features a fine blue finish with full coverage scroll engraving on punch dot background surrounding game bird scenes featuring a quail on the right, a grouse on the left, and a single smaller bird on the underside. The birds are rendered in fine semi-relief gold inlay with gold inlaid borders. Place bids now on this beautiful farewell present from a legendary arms designer during the December Premier Firearms Auction.
Superposed shotguns were manufactured in four different grades varying in price, engravings, and quality of materials used in construction. Manufactured in 1970, this “Midas Grade” style 28 gauge shotgun was the top tier of the Superposed models released. While the engravings appear minimal during an initial observation, the rich wood checkering, engravings, and delicate gold inlays readily make themselves apparent and hard to ignore upon closer inspection.
In Greek and Roman mythology, King Midas was famously known for his excessive greed and selfishness. Upon being granted one wish from the god Dionysus, Midas asked that everything he touched be turned to gold. Taking his request quite literally, Midas was effectively cursed as even his food turned to solid gold as it entered his grasp. The story ends with Midas reversing the curse by washing his hands in the river Pactolus, explaining the river’s appearance and abundance of gold.
A quick glance at this shotgun quickly illuminates the reason behind its allusion to the ancient fable as a flock of gold engraved game birds leap out to greet observers. Manufactured in 1970 and estimated at $9,000-$15,000, this beautifully constructed shotgun features 2½-inch chambers with automatic ejectors, light scroll engraving at the breech end, along with a gorgeous fine blue finish.
With elaborate scroll engravings on a punch dot background, the surrounding scene of intricately placed game birds fully immerses one in a typical morning spent hunting. Rendered in fine semi-relief gold inlay with gold inlaid borders, the birds depicted are incredibly detailed. Along with a highly figured fancy grade, engraved walnut, this Browning shotgun is not something to miss out on.
Is the beauty of the Mona Lisa in its frame? Is Michelangelo’s David so inspirational because of the base it stands on? Do Hemmingway’s words need to be enclosed in gilded pages to be admired? As any enthusiasts could attest to, a firearm doesn’t have to have gold inlays to shine. The quality of the wood used, the strength of the metals incorporated into the design, and the artistic liberties all contribute to the beauty of a piece that extends far beyond the simple presence of gold.
For example, the engravings found on this magnificently designed Belgian Browning Pointer Grade Superposed shotgun from the December Premier Auction are so complex and detailed that a closer inspection is almost mandatory. The primary subject of the scene is a hunting dog making its way through a patch of forest, surrounded by trees, boulders, and grasses.
Clenched in the jaw of the mighty hound is a bird that rest motionless signifying a successful hunt. However, besides the incredible detail found on the animals and landscape, what is truly remarkable regarding this scene is the sprawling scroll engravings that stretch their arms around the entire receiver of the shotgun.
Creating multiple frames within itself, the fractal imagery naturally guides the eye towards each portion of the engravings. Ultimately placing attention at the large circular floral pattern towards the fore-end, it would be easy for one to miss the signature of the artist, Angelo Bee, modestly placed at the bottom center of the depiction.
Angelo Bee was a master engraver for Browning that specialized in improving the design aesthetics of many of their firearms including rifles and shotguns. While not as prominent as some of his contemporaries, Bee was influential in a style of engraving that made firearms from Browning, such as this particular Superposed shotgun, so unique.
Manufactured in 1961, this shotgun is estimated at $7,500-$13,000 and is a beautiful reminder that while gold is always good, it isn’t always essential. Place bids now because interest in these lots is already getting competitive. Own it during Rock Island Auction Company’s exciting December Premier Firearms Auction.
While the prospect of a Browning over/under shotgun caught the attention of many when it was first introduced in the 1930s, the Superposed model was simply at the right place at the wrong time. Released at the onset of the Great Depression, many people could not afford even the most basic supplies nevertheless a brand new shotgun.
Despite efforts to reduce the cost of production, the Nazi invasion of Belgium in the 1940s effectively commandeered the manufacturing facilities of FN. Browning sporting arms would not return until after World War II.
Much like the example previously mentioned, this Pointer Grade Superposed shotgun is beautifully engraved with delicate scenes that decorate the entire weapon. Also much like the previously mentioned Superposed model, this shotgun features an intricately illustrated hunting dog with a bird in its mouth.
With its tail pointed back, head perched up, and leg positions indicating movement, it seems that this hunt is going pretty well for the lucky man behind the trigger. A luxurious frame of winding scroll work encapsulates the subject of the engravings while the background landscape completes the outdoors motif. Also like the 28 gauge before it, this shotgun is signed by the master engraver, Angelo Bee, further adding to its appeal.
However, unlike the aforementioned Pointer Grade shotgun, this particular firearm was manufactured in 1966 and while not a 28 gauge, and far from the 20 or 12 gauge found in popular shotguns, this Browning weapon is chambered in .410 bore.
Perfect for any collection because of its incredible detail, impeccable artistry, and chambering, this Pointer Grade Browning shotgun is available during Rock Island Auction Company’s December Premier Auction for $8,000-$12,000.
After the end of World War II, FN production on Browning firearms was resumed and even saw the introduction of expanded selection of the Superposed shotgun starting in 1948. Popularized during the 1950s, Superposed models like the magnum, trap, and skeet variants were introduced to the market alongside the availability of lightweight models. For many, this period of time is considered the best quality of Browning Superposed grades and models ever released. Because of this, models like skeet shotguns can be extremely desirable to collectors.
Besides being a desirable skeet model, this Belgian Browning Pigeon Grade over/under shotgun is ornately decorated with various illustrations of finely etched doves surrounded by a forest of scroll, floral, walnut stock and wreath imagery. The pointed wings of the twin birds direct the eyes toward the fences. Much like some of the previous models discussed, this shotgun features an intricate mandala design in the lower section of the overall design.
However, while previously mentioned pieces contained small details, this particular shotgun is littered with minuscule engravings that might be easy to overlook. The simplicity of incorporating simple scroll work adds a texture to the background creating a surrealistic image reminiscent of hunting and classical art.
Estimated at $6,500-$9,500, this Belgian Browning Pigeon Grade over/under shotgun features two ¾-inch chambers with automatic ejectors, gray finished action with a single gold washed trigger, and a checkered forearm. The .410 bore barrels are numbered to the gun and the shotgun comes complete with a Browning takedown. Own it during the December Premier Auction.
This last shotgun is the perfect combination of rarity and beauty. This 12 gauge features the beautiful arrangement of engravings and metal work that has been discussed at length throughout this article. While lacking a center focal subject such as the hunting dogs seen on other models, this shotgun boats a symphony of flowing lines, floral depictions, and stunning acanthus scrollwork that illuminates the entire receiver of the shotgun with even the most minimal light.
It is a dazzling chorus of sparkling figments that bounce and dance before meeting the eye. A magnifying glass would be an appropriate accessory, as it is essential to grasping a full appreciation for this piece.
Apart from the beauty this shotgun possesses is the rarity of the weapon. Author Ned Schwing notes in his book, "The Browning Superposed: John M. Browning's Last Legacy," that only 256 "C" Grade exhibition guns were manufactured.
Further adding to this, Schwing specifies that out of these, only 133 were chambered in twelve gauge. Incredibly valuable because of the limited production, this Belgian Browning “C” Grade Exhibition Superposed shotgun is estimated at $6,500-$9,500 and will be available during Rock Island Auction Company’s Sale of the Century starting December 4th.
This last lot, while not a shotgun, is just too cool not to include on this list.
John Moses Browning was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1855 and by 1878, Browning had developed his first firearm design. Prior to selling the patent in 1883 to Winchester, it is estimated that less than 600 rifles were manufactured in total. A hundred or less are believed to still exist. These rifles were built and used on the frontier.
The design was covered by his first of many firearms patents. The refined version was manufactured as the famous Winchester Model 1885 and launched Browning's fruitful partnership with Winchester that included the Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1894, Model 1895 lever action rifles and carbines.
Do not miss this incredible opportunity to own a piece of history. This John Moses Browning 1879 Patent single shot rifle is an amazing artifact from one of the most influential gunmakers ever to touch a firearm.
The rifle is over 140 years old and features the typical wear and blemishes found on rifles used frequently on the frontier. An amazing testament to the construction, quality, and effectiveness of Browning’s design. This rifle has survived the harsh conditions of the American West, the entirety of the 20th century, and lives in good condition despite its age and past usage.
Estimated at $8,500-13,000, this firearm was a critical predecessor to the Winchester 1885 rifle and influenced much of its design. Don’t just take these words at face value, come see this rifle for yourself when the Preview Hall opens for exhibition on December 3rd.
John Moses Browning is arguably the most influential gun inventor that has ever lived. An ingenious engineer, several of Browning’s designs resulted in what are considered to be among the most innovative and significant firearms of the late 19th century and early 20th century. His most iconic creations include the M1911 pistol, the Browning Automatic Rifle, and the first semi-auto shotgun, the Ma Deuce.
Throughout the year, Rock Island Auction Company hosts an enormous collection of Browning rifles from around the world and across the ages. While a selection of Browning shotguns were the center of today’s article, there are dozens of other Browning firearms and his spiritual successors.
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