It was a difficult task for a variety of mechanical, physical, and aesthetic reasons. Not only did the designer have to consider how the lock work would be arranged for the vertically stacked barrels or how the barrels might hinge on the action, they also needed to consider how to keep an inherently taller and heavier gun as light and lively as possible.
Boss & Co. effectively patented the first successful over/under design and, along with James Woodward & Sons’ patented Under & Over that followed four years later, created the archetypal over/under shotguns that are the basis for the World’s most popular o/u’s today. While each of these makers had different approaches, they both devised systems that basically incorporated a lump on each side of the bottom barrel, known as bifurcated lumps. This allowed the stacked barrels to ride lower in the action, allowing the standing breech to be shorter and giving the action an overall lower profile. Combined with the excellent workmanship each firm was known for, these designs produced very elegant guns and the over/under shotgun became a viable alternative to the best English made side-by-sides.
The success of the Boss & Co. o/u generated new interest in guns and a chance for makers to pull in some new sales. No doubt inspired by this, Westley Richards & Co. MD at the time, Leslie Taylor, was working on his own o/u design as early as 1910. However, it was not until 1913 and 14 that the Westley Richards Ovundo would be registered and patented.
Photo: WR Under & Over advert page from Vic Venter’s blog (https://www.westleyrichards.com/us/theexplora/ovundo-again-by-vic-venters-and-reproduced-in-full-with-kind-permission-the-rise-and-fall-and-rise-again-of-westley-richards-innovative-ou/
Taylor’s design used what Boothroyd describes as a “vestigial” lump, or a very shallow remnant of a traditional lump on the bottom of the barrels that acts as the hinge. This contrasted with the bifurcated lumps on the sides of the barrels on the Boss and Woodward and resulted in an action with a somewhat taller profile. However, I consider Leslie Taylor as masterful a marketer as he was a gun designer and he was aiming to incorporate a design feature he and W.R. & Co. were already famous for, the Anson & Deeley boxlock and its hand detachable locks. Taylor wanted to capitalize on the reputation of innovation and reliability of the A&D action and the droplock system. Along the way, the Ovundo also produced several new patents for Taylor and the Westley Richards firm.
This new o/u design had a unique bolting system referred to in the companies catalogs as a “quadruple grip”. This lock up consisted of two hook shaped bites on the breech end of the barrels that fit into corresponding slots in the action’s standing breech. When the hooks are in the slots, two bolts actuated by the top lever, lock them into place for firing. This was patent No. 8853/1914. Patent No. 9410, also of 1914, applied to the firing pins and hand detachable locks for o/u guns based on the original droplock, patent No. 17731 of 1897.
Released right before the start of World War I, the Ovundo as well as the over/under, did not really take off until the 1920’s, when demand from the U.S. started to hit its stride.
During its peak between the two World Wars, the Ovundo was available in several action types. All the versions included Westley’s unmistakable snap lever, beetle back safety and ejectors based on the Deeley-Edge system.
The most basic action was the “Special Grade” which was a boxlock with a square back, two triggers and fixed locks.
There were also scroll back and side plated actions available. Either could be had with fixed or hand detachable locks and a choice of two triggers or Westley’s patent One Trigger, which was an additional £10.
The top grade, that included the most options and often described as a “deluxe”, was actually referred to as a “Highest Quality” in catalogs of the 1920’s. Pictured here is a wonderful example of one from that same era.
#17930 is a Westley Richards Patent Ovundo 20g Highest Quality over/under shotgun made in 1923.
Just as original catalogs describe it, this “Highest Quality” has side plates, hand detachable locks, and was ordered with a patent One Trigger.
With a large canvas provided by the side plates, the “Highest Quality” Ovundo guns were engraved in a deluxe bold floral pattern surrounding the Maker’s name and a knot pattern along the barrels’ buttresses. The various patents of this model are engraved on the side ribs of the barrels and are hidden under the forend. The hinged cover plate is engraved in a matching scroll surrounding “Westley Richards – Patent- Ovundo”.
Perhaps though, the most intriguing part of this grade are the side plates that have “inspection ports”, These are patented hinged trap doors that are spring loaded. These ports were patented in 1920 by Leslie Taylor and D.J.P. Haines, No. 170703, and they allow viewing and keeping the single-selective trigger mechanism properly oiled. They are damascened or “spotted” on their backside to match the locks and trigger mechanism. An expression of ingenuity and practical aesthetics, this feature, combined with the droplock design, made the inside of the action accessible for normal servicing without the use of tools.
I have been fortunate enough to encounter an Ovundo in all three gauges 12g, 16g, and 20g. While they are all intriguing, like the Boss and the Woodward, the 20g is the sweet spot in the Ovundo line-up. The scaled action produces a very sleek, low profile. As this gun shows, weighing just 6 lbs. 4 oz., the petite action and expertly struck barrels make an elegant and graceful gun that stands up quite well to its London counter parts.
Along with the high standards in which they were made, rarity is much of the allure to the original Boss and Woodward guns. And while the Ovundo was offered in a variety of different configurations and grades, it is estimated that just over 200 were made. That is far less than Woodward’s 300 plus o/u’s produced before it sold to Purdey’s in 1948 or Boss & Co.’s total production of what must be around 600 o/u’s to date. By any measure, pre-war over/unders are rare, but Westley’s Ovundo is among the rarest of them all. Speaking from experience, the overall quality of Westley’s Highest Quality is certainly on par with the guns from the two aforementioned firms.
In addition to being an outstanding specimen, this gun has a rather interesting history. Originally, the gun was made for Marshall Tito, revolutionary and former president of Yugoslavia. Imprisoned from 1928 to 1934 for being a political agitator, I imagine the gun took a few years to complete and Marshall Tito was never able to take delivery of the gun. The gun was held for its client at the Conduit Street shop but was stolen in 1932 in a burglary. In 1950, the police recovered the gun and returned it to Westley Richards & Co. The story is recounted in a blog by Simon from August of 2014, The Conduit Street Robbery of 1932 and Gun Number 17930 (https://www.westleyrichards.com/us/theexplora/the-conduit-street-robbery-of-1932-and-gun-number-17930/).
Photo: Simon’s photo of #17930 ledger entry (the first image of the blog)
At the time Simon wrote the blog, the gun was for sale by Lewis Drake, one of America’s top high-end gun and rifle dealers. I happened to be at the Las Vegas gun show that same year and remember looking at the gun on Dr. Drake’s tables, where he subsequently sold it. Ever since, I have considered that to be the finest 20g Ovundo extant.
Simon wrote in his blog that the gun had surfaced twice in his career, both times with other U.S. dealers. Several years later, and as an employee of W.R. & Co., I have been lucky enough to bring the gun back once again. I am still convinced this is, indeed, the finest vintage Westley Richards 20g Ovundo there is.