The Browning Superposed

John Moses Browning was perhaps the greatest of modern firearms designers - he is responsible for many Winchester rifles, including the 1886,1892,1894 and 1895 lever actions; the Remington model 8 rifle; the little Browning .22 rifle; the Winchester '97 shotgun; the Browning "Auto -5" shotgun (the first semi-automatic shotgun); a host of Colt pistols including the famous "Government Model" .45, which the Army carried for seventy years; the military BAR (the first assault rifle); and several machine guns. His designs shared a common thread - they were trim, practical arms - and, as the late Phil Sharpe commented "they worked, and kept on working!"

His very last design effort was an over/under shotgun. This was almost completed when he died, in the fall of 1926. It fell to his son, Val Allen Browning, to finish the remaining design details and to place the gun into production. This he did, and in 1931 the Browning "Superposed" shotgun was introduced, produced by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium and imported into the United States. Standard features included a ventilated sighting rib, selective trigger, and selective automatic ejectors. One of its unique features was a forearm which remained attached to the barrels when the gun was taken down for cleaning.

What really set the Superposed apart from other double guns was the attention to fit and finish which Val Browning insisted that F.N. lavish on the gun. Even field grade guns had the receiver and barrels fitted by hand, using files and lampblack. These guns are tighter than modern designs produced on CNC machinery, which is quite a tribute both to the ability of their makers and to the rigid quality standards which Val Browning established.

Browning advertising of the day boasted that "guns designed by Browning have always been famous for strength and simplicity", and later the company devised the slogan "Smooth as Silk - Rugged as the Rockies" to promote the gun. For once this wasn't mere advertising "hype". The Superposed really was superbly designed and built, and proved to be completely reliable and almost indestructible in use. It is also obvious when handling the gun that considerable talent went into creating correct balance and good stock dimensions. Almost everyone finds the Superposed a "lively" gun that they can shoot well. It became a favorite of American sportsmen on both the hunting and clay target fields.

Shotguns, more than any other type of firearm, become a cherished possession of their owners (prehaps because of the intimate nature of shotgunning, which depends upon the "feel" of the gun far more heavily than any other shooting sport). Highly decorated shotguns are often encountered. The F.N. factory produced "high grade" Superposed guns which are some of the most stunning examples of these works of art. The "Diana" and "Midas" grade Superposed are stocked in selected walnut and literally covered with hand cut scroll and floral engraving, with images of game scenes carved deeply into the steel. This took a master engraver 60 hours or more to complete.

By the time production resumed following the interruption of WWII, the "Superposed" had become the shotgun which most American sportsmen wanted, and it was priced just within their reach. The retail price for a field grade gun was $261 in 1950, and ten years later it was still an almost affordable $300. Not until the decade of the 1970s, when labor costs rapidly rose, did this finely made gun price itself out of the American market. By 1970 it cost $465, and just five years later the list price climbed to a staggering $1,170. Browning wisely decided to source their shotguns from Japan. 1977 was the last year that the Superposed was offered as a catalogued item. Approximately 255,000 of these fine shotguns were sold over the years.

Gone from regular production, the Superposed has never been forgotten. It is still sought after (and USED, not just collected) by those who appreciate fine guns. Even Browning the modern company could not quite bear to let the Superposed go - they will still build the gun for you as a special order, custom item now designated the "B-25". If you enjoy shotgunning, by all means find a Superposed and give it a try. You will find that it remains a classic among shotgun designs, and still ranks "among the best".