Episode 19 – The Single Trigger for Doubles

PART 1 {Virginia and Roger sitting behind table}{Read quotes}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, and welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 19th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER: In the last few episodes, we have been featuring mostly rifles. Today, the gun I want to cover is a sidelock side by side shotgun with a single trigger, and we are fortunate to have a prime example of this by a renowned maker.

VIRGINIA: Haven’t we already covered a sidelock side by side shotgun?

ROGER: Yes, we did in our Episode 7. The difference here is the innovation of the single trigger, which, as I will point out, was really the last major addition in the evolution of the double barrel shotgun. In Episode 7 we went through a thorough history of the evolution of the sidelock ejector side by side shotgun, all of the parts and pieces, up to the innovation of the single trigger. There’s a passage from Geoffrey Boothroyd’s book, Sidelocks & Boxlocks, that I want to quote. When he says “game gun” he is referring to the sidelock ejector side by side double. I quote:
“By the 1880’s the game gun as we know it today had evolved. Little has changed …with the exception of the single trigger and the re-introduction of the over and under barrel arrangement …” (close quote)
From that statement, besides covering the evolution of the sidelock, we have also covered the re-introduction of the over and under barrel arrangement. That was in Episode 11. But, what we have not covered, is the evolution of the last refinement of the double barrel game gun, which is the single trigger.
And in McIntosh & Trevallion’s Shotgun Technicana, the authors wrote and again I quote:
“Of all the refinements that characterize the modern gun (SLE), none is thought of as more advanced or sophisticated than the single trigger. The single trigger for two-barreled guns was the last stage of refinement.” (close quote)
Single triggers had been around for multi-barreled guns before the modern game gun, but none of the earlier ones worked particularly well and most didn’t work at all. If you would like to review the full history of the evolution of the sidelock, I refer you to my Episode 7 of this series. For our video today, we are only concerned with the development of the single trigger, the last refinement of the double barrel gun.

VIRGINIA: So this shotgun with two barrels has only one trigger and that was hard to make?

ROGER: It was difficult to design. It may be hard for the lay person to understand why the single trigger is so complicated for a double barrel gun as to be the one last thing worked out by the gun makers. Geoffrey Boothroyd addressed this as well:
(quote)“…the single trigger is probably the most complex part of the modern sporting shotgun. It is difficult to describe how it works and is the most difficult to put right when it goes wrong.” (close quote)
PART 2 {Audio only – show photos} {Photos 19-Piotti-01 thru -07}
By 1880, the Purdey game gun had evolved to its present day with the refined Frederick Beesley action with two triggers. It wasn’t until ten years later, 1890, that Purdey developed their first effective single trigger, a mechanical version they continued using for many years.
The other game gun we followed in Episode 7, the Holland & Holland Royal, had evolved with a refined action three years after Purdey, in 1883, but again with two triggers. That action was designed by Henry W. Holland and John Robertson (later of Boss & Co.). But Holland’s single trigger wasn’t designed until 8 years later, in 1891, another mechanical type invented by Henry Holland and John Robertson. They received the patent for this one in 1893, two years later, and after Robertson left Holland and joined Boss & Co.
However, the most refined mechanical trigger was patented for Boss & Co. in November 1894, again by John Robertson assisted by a Boss gunsmith, William Adams. This latter design is generally known as the three-pull system and is regarded as one of the best mechanical single triggers.
Besides the mechanical triggers wherein the trigger shifts between the two sears, a second popular design has been around that allows the trigger to shift by the inertia of recoil. Systems of this type were used early by Greener and Westley Richards among others. But the most refined inertia-shift single trigger was not developed until Val Browning needed to invent one for his late father’s over-and-under, the Browning Superposed. The patent for it was issued as late as 1940. It is this design that has become so popular with similar versions adapted for the Winchester 101 over and under, and used by Perazzi, and Beretta. But that’s another example of the single trigger being the last refinement of Browning’s Superposed. John Moses Browning had not even designed it by the time of his death and it was up to his son, Val, to finish the gun and develop a single trigger for it.
PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table}

VIRGINIA: So who is the maker of our gun today?

ROGER: To represent the sidelock ejector side by side with single trigger, we have today one of these best hand-made guns using the mechanical trigger developed from Robertson’s splendid 1894 patent and built in an Italian-made sidelock by prestigious maker Fratelli Piotti.
Here’s how I first heard of Piotti. In Episode 11, I mentioned that while I was in London on one of my trips, planning to search for Williams Evans and John Wilkes, two of the last London gunmakers then, I was staying in the Browns Hotel in Mayfair at 33 Albemarle Street. This was in 1996. In the hotel, going over the street map with a concierge, who learned about my mission, told me that there was a famous maker of goods for the Royal family that was practically across the street from the hotel and that they had in the last few years started carrying a line of guns under their famous name, which was Asprey… a very highly regarded name, he emphasized.
Although I was mainly there to find the old best makers, learning Asprey was just across the street at 22 Albemarle, I decided to check out his information. Before I went there, I verified the concierge’s statement that Asprey is a famous London name. It is an old company that stood for quality going back to 1781. The company began in silver smithing, and over the years received a Royal Appointment for their quality and had added jewellery, high-end leather goods, handbags, china, crystal, as well as their line of silver goods and had continuously completed commissions in silver with the best in-house engravers. It seems that in 1991, with the number of gun makers in London dwindling, the Company decided to add a line of English guns under their own highly recognized brand name.
After learning this, the next day I merely walked across the street from the hotel and saw a very inviting store with one room showing beautiful gun cabinets lined around the walls filled with guns. That room was joined by another with many of their other high-end products, but I was only interested in the guns. It was cold and I was wearing my cashmere top coat. I could tell by the displays, by the atmosphere of the place, and by the prices that their market was aimed toward a wealthy demographic which would be the aristocratic clientele as they are known in England.
I was immediately assisted and when I said I was there to see their guns, the fellow showed me a side-by-side sidelock that looked the same as a Purdey as to its shape. The one I was looking at had incredible wood and beautiful engraving, not nearly as conservative as the style of Purdey, but very well done, and priced at 60,000 pounds (1996). It did not have hand-detachable locks and I was told it was built on the Beesley system, which would have meant it was similar to the Purdey action. He didn’t offer to let me open it and so I just looked it over, admired it for a moment and saw the name, Asprey with a stylized tall narrow A in the logo.
The salesman then showed me an over and under shotgun made by an Italian company, Fratelli Piotti, which was the first time I had seen any gun by that maker. The agent said this was a new gun by Piotti that had just come out. I had already been to Boss, my London trip before, and I recognized this gun as being built on the Boss pattern. Sure enough, it was priced accordingly, about the same price as the Asprey double, if I remember right.
With the salesman trying to guess my price range, he then showed me another line of Italian over and unders priced in the range of 20,000 pounds. I was not at all in the market, being there for a totally different reason, but my memory today recalls those were Rizzini’s but I wouldn’t swear to it. They were equally high-end in outward appearance, but probably CNC guns rather than totally being handmade.
I tried to find out who made the Asprey guns for them, but only got the answer that they “made them themselves.” I was very impressed with both the Asprey side by side and the Piotti over and under, especially the fabulous Italian engraving on the Piotti and clearly understood it was definitely a “best gun.” It was inscribed F.lli Piotti, and at the time, I didn’t know what F.lli stood for. I’ve since learned it is an abbreviation, for Fratelli, the Italian word for brothers.
But I exited the premises thinking if I had the money to buy a new Asprey, why wouldn’t I buy a new Purdey or Holland & Holland Royal for about the same price? But then, I had no bias for, or built-in appreciation for, the Asprey brand –which must be the case for some of that firm’s long-standing customers. I still left with the impression that Asprey stood for quality and Fratelli Piotti made best guns.
PART 4 {Audio only – show photos} {Photos 19-Piotti-08 thru -10}
So, today, to cover our subject of the advanced single trigger for the traditional game gun, we have one of these best guns made by the Piotti Brothers.
Of gunmakers, Fratelli Piotti is a young company located in the pantheon of the world’s best gun makers in Italy, in Gardone Val Trompia, in the province of Brescia, going back some sixty plus years to 1955, but it has become one of the world’s premier gunmakers. It was founded by the brothers, Araldo and Faustino Piotti, building signature shotguns, spending many hours at the workbench. Because of their high quality and perfection, they had to turn down orders in their growing years until they could continuously evolve and incorporate the methods and innovations to meet the demand without sacrificing quality.
PART 5 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table} {Adjust camera to stand} {Quotes}

VIRGINIA: Those brothers, 1955, are they still in the business?

ROGER: Yes, the company is still family owned, but by four different brothers, Manuel, Fabio, Sergio and Rudy, and they employ another ten or so craftsmen with a small production of best traditional guns. They manufacture approximately one hundred guns per year. Each action is machined from a solid billet of Boehler steel to the most exacting specifications in-house in the small Piotti factory. This procedure is expensive, but it assures that every gun meets their demanding standards. On all their models, the action size and gun proportions are made proportional to the gauge. According to their U.S. distributor, William Larkin Moore, I quote:
“Their production is limited to a small number of handcrafted, best quality, double barrel shotguns and rifles. The quality of the shaping, checkering, stock, action and barrel work generally exceeds the standards achieved by London gunmakers prior to WWII. The work now produced on guns by Italian engravers is the finest ever. The result is an elegant gun that is one of the best produced in the world today.” (close quote)
As for Piotti’s models today, they offer four sidelock Monaco versions, numbered 1-4; five sidelock King models, two boxlocks, and one hammer gun with an extreme array of options, many at no extra charge when an order is placed. Also, for special orders, they still make a Boss style over and under.
This Piotti we have today is the King English Model with hand-made sidelocks.

VIRGINIA: The barrels look like it is 12 gauge.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, yes this one is in 12 gauge. It is similar to the Arrizabalaga that we looked at in Episode 7 in that it is based on the Holland & Holland Royal action with Purdey-style engraving. It is the Purdey engraving and the English style that gives it its model name, King English.
All Piotti Monaco and King models are built to the standards of best guns. Mechanically they build their guns with a traditional H&H Royal action with high-grade double seared sidelocks, H&H Southgate automatic ejectors, and like H&H, all the other best quality internal components: intercepting sears, bushed strikers, gas escape valves, manual or automatic safety, and chopper lump or demi-block chrome-lined barrels. This one is built with an advanced single non-selective mechanical trigger, not the inertia type. These are features generally found only on Holland & Holland Royal, Purdey and Boss double guns that cost two times as much.
This gun has the English or straight-hand stock, no pistol grip, with a classic fluted comb. The forearm is not the English or the splinter type; instead, it is a narrow beavertail forearm that barely wraps around the barrels, usually called a semi-beavertail forearm. This one is extraordinarily well designed. Let me pick it up.
{Stand up, pick up gun, open and check for safety}
For safety, I’ll open it and check to see it is unloaded, and seeing it is, will now close the action.
In discussing the gun’s English style, per all best British doubles, it is stocked to the fences. That means the wood on the stock goes all the way up to the back of the action balls.
{point this out and explain}
Behind the locks in the stock are tear drops. As part of the English style, there is a long inlaid trigger bow tang. {Photo 19-Piotti-11}
Finally, the metal is full coverage engraving with a very conservative English rose and scroll. This engraving pattern is exactly that of a Purdey shotgun made over 100 years ago. As part of the aesthetics, the fences are beaded, another touch only found on the best guns. {Photos 19-Piotti-12 and -13}
This 12 gauge-gun has 2 ¾” chambers with 28” barrels, choked Modified (.019) and Full (.038) and weighs 7 lb. 4 oz. The rib is the classic game type, a smooth concave rib with the proper taper for the sighting plain and terminates with a single silver bead.
{open action}
When I open it again, I can see the H&H automatic ejectors, the chopper lumps with their bites, and the bushed strikers. We’ll show these features to the camera in our close-up demonstration at the side table.
When I close the gun, the way it locks up gives away the fact that it is a best gun. There is a particular quality to the way this feels when you close the action. I experienced it the first time when I was at the House of Purdey in the early ‘90s. I have described it in the past as closing with a quiet but solid sound like a vault door shutting or the feel of tight tolerances when you shut the door of a Rolls Royce.
Also when the gun is closed, the safety must be engaged manually, a feature preferred for sporting clays shooters. To put the gun on safe, the safety lever must be slid rearward exposing the word, SICURO, which is Italian for SAFE.
Now, let’s field strip it into its three major components, we’ll resume at the side table to examine these under the camera.
{Disassemble the three main parts from standing on camera, STOP}
PART 6 {Roger standing at the side table, the gun disassembled in case}
Here we are at our side table set, with this amazing Piotti disassembled into its two major component assemblies, housed in its leather case. Let’s look at the forearm first.
{Pick up the forearm}
Examining this little assembly, we see how the Anson push rod works. Notice the delicate edges of the wood that come up to the contour of the barrels. Also, the serial number 5840 is marked both in the wood and on the forearm iron. The two screws side by side on the inside of the forearm iron are engraved and indexed, even though they are hidden from view when the gun is assembled. If you recall, indexed means the screws slots are aligned. It is these kinds of touches that let you know this is a best gun.
We are going to cover the finish in a moment, but while I have this forearm under the camera, note the intricately inlaid Piotti gold crest on the forearm face.
{Set forearm down, pick up barrels}
Looking at the barrels, from the top we see the concave smooth rib ending with a small silver bead front sight. At the breech end, we see that the rib has been engraved for about one inch to match up with the action engraving. Also, notice everything is highly polished and finished with a rich deep blue. On the top of the left barrel, it is engraved “F.lli Piotti Gardone, V.T.” and on the top of the right barrel, it is engraved “Acciaio Siau UM6” which is an indication of the type of steel used.
Turning the barrels over, we find the automatic ejectors. We see the underside of the concave rib and about three inches forward of the barrel flat we locate the locking lug for the Anson push rod release. Protruding from the barrel flat, there are the two Purdey style locking underlugs. Notice the square cutouts on the backsides of the lugs which lock up with the underbolt in the action, and notice the semi-circular C cutout on the front of the front lug which fits around the action hinge pin. The left barrel flat is marked with the serial number 5840. It is also marked CAM.70 which indicates 12 gauge and is accompanied by an Italian proof mark. The right barrel flat had a stylized diamond surrounding “F.P.” for Fratelli Piotti. It is also stamped with proof marks and with Piotti’s code for the chokes. In front of the barrel flat, both barrels are stamped 18.5 for the nominal size of the bore in millimeters.
Note on the locking lug nearest to the muzzle-end of the gun, that there are two indexed screws (a large screw with a smaller lock screw). These are for removing the ejectors.
{Set the barrels down, pick up the stock and action}
Now looking at the stock and action assembly, right off we see the strikers have bushings and locking screws which work as register marks as well. The bushings have the two holes for a bushing removal tool. When we move the top lever, we see inside the action the movement of the two locking bolts.
{Move top lever and show the moving locking bolts}
These lock up with the underlugs on the barrels.
On the water table, again we see the serial number, 5840, and maker’s name, Fratelli Piotti, for Brothers Piotti and a proof mark and some very light inspection marks.
On the left sidelock plate we see the pins for the sidelock and four indexed screws, two of which are locking screws. On the right sidelock plate, we see the sidelock pins and two indexed screws, one of which is a locking screw.
Underneath, on the right side of the trigger guard, in very small writing, the action tang is signed by the master engraver, Giuseppe Bregoli. He was one of a trio of master engravers in Gardone Italy that Giancarlo Pedretti studied under. The other two were Angelo Bagliani and Stefano Tononcelli. This trio was considered three of the greatest Italian engravers of their time. While the engraving for this shotgun follows the conservative layout (consequently does not show the engraver’s creativity), the fact that this world class pattern is done by Giuseppe Bregoli means that it is as fine a representation of this type of engraving as any in the world.
{Just set the stock and action back in the case and continue with the script}
This gun comes with a nice leather case with the maker’s label and many accessories: a three-piece cleaning rod, a nickel oil bottle, two nickel snap caps, and a small compartment for other cleaning components. Inside the upper left corner of the case is a second label showing specific information for this model.
Let’s return to our set and discuss the finish and summarize.
PART 7 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table for summary}
Looking at the finish of this remarkable gun, the metal has nice contrasting colors. The polished-coin-finished-receiver and lock-plates — contrast with all the other parts which are deep rust blued.
We also mentioned that the engraving is in the Purdey style, but we should add that it is full coverage English rose and scroll and no part is omitted from the engraver’s tool. The three screws on the underside of the long trigger bow tang are all engraved and indexed,.. a touch required for a best gun. Two of those screws have locking screws, also engraved and indexed. Locking screws are rarely found on the Spanish guns, and are a true sign of a handmade gun.
{Photos 19-Piotti-14 thru -17}

VIRGINIA: I like the warm brown color of the wood.

ROGER: I agree with you Virginia, I particularly like the warm brown color as well. Let’s look at the wood. We’ve already talked about the style of the stock, being an English straight-hand stock with a semi-beavertail forearm. The wood is English walnut and because it has dark streaky figure and some light fiddleback, it would be a fancy grade. The hand checkering is executed flawlessly in the traditional point pattern. The two panels on the grip come together with border designs both over and under the wrist. {Photos 19-Piotti-18 thru -21}
The semi-beavertail forearm has a pattern of two panels of checkering that create a diamond shape of uncheckered wood in the center and come together pleasingly at two points above and below the diamond shape. And, in the center of the diamond space, it is inletted with Piotti’s gold crowned crest as we saw at the side table and you can see in some of the still shots included with this video.
The hand checkering on both the stock and forearm are masterfully cut at about 26 lines per inch, very small. We’ve already said the stock is fluted and has the traditional tear drops or drop points. Notice also, that the toe line is inlaid with a gold oval about two and half inches from the toe, for the owners’ initials. This one is vacant.
The butt is fitted with a matching brown leather-covered recoil pad, perfectly fit, about ¾” thick making the length of pull on this one is 14 1/4” with a small cast off for the right hand.
We’ve already shown the forearm release is at the tip, which is the one designed by William Anson and patented in 1873. This is the most popular forearm fastener ever created.
Looking at the stock-work gives away the fact that this is a best gun, with the delicate and elegant inlaying of wood to metal fit: the sidelocks, the top of the fences, the upper tang at the wrist carrying the safety; and on the underside, the long pointed trigger bow tang. It also has an ornate perforated top lever. We see the same perfect wood-to-metal fit on the forearm as well, with the inlaid Piotti crest already mentioned and the intricate forearm release escutcheon at the forearm tip. {Photo 19-Piotti-22}
So that’s it. I think we have pretty much covered this example in detail and just reviewed one of the finest sidelock ejector shotguns with a single trigger. Did you learn anything Virginia?

VIRGINIA: I had no idea the single trigger was such a tricky deal.

ROGER: Yes, I’ve always liked the idea that Browning’s son was able to follow in his father’s footsteps and invent such an amazing patent of a single trigger for his father’s Superposed that even his remarkable father hadn’t yet accomplished before his death.
So, just to sum up, this gun was a perfect representation of a side by side sidelock ejector shotgun with the last refinement made on these guns, a great mechanical single trigger. I hope you viewers can appreciate it as much as I do.
That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others. And, I hope you join me for our next episode on Special Guns with Roger Rule.