It was during the 1950s that the John Browning-designed Superposed came to represent what America was looking for in an over-under.
BROWNING over-under shotguns produced during the 1950s have a special place in the hearts of many collectors and shooters. Some consider guns built in this era to have no peer in terms of quality; others find the engraving patterns to be particularly desirable and attractive. All would agree that the decade of the ’50s brought forth a new and fascinating variation to the Superposed, the 20-ga.
The idea to expand the Superposed line with the addition of the popular 20-ga. came fromVal Browning, company president and son of the Superposed’s inventor, John M. Browning. Val Browning worked out the changes necessary to convert his father’s original 12-ga. design to a 20-ga. A prototype 20-ga. was built prior to World War II, but the war interrupted his plans to add it to the line.
In order to simplify what will later become an increasingly complex list of subvariations, each principal model will be reviewed under the headings Hunting, Trap or Skeet.
The Superposed Hunting was offered in both a Standard Weight and Lightning version in 12- or 20-ga. The 12-ga. guns were fitted with one of three barrel lengths: 30″ with a raised matte rib, 28″ with ventilated or raised matte rib and 26 1/2″ with a ventilated or raised matte rib. All 12-gauges were chambered for 2 3/4″ shells, except for the Magnum, which accepted 3″ shells. Superposeds in 20-ga. were offered only with a choice of 28″ or 262″ barrels and were chambered for 2 3/4″ shells until around 1957 when all 20-ga. barrels were chambered for 3″ shells.
The differences in weight between the Lightning and the Standard-10 ozs. in a 28″-barreled 12-ga. and eight in those with 26 1/2″ tubes-an be attributed to several factors. First, the Lightning buttstock had a lightening hole drilled at the butt end to save a few ounces, and the Lightning’s fore-end was slightly slimmer and shorter. Some small milling cuts were performed on the Lightning frame to save weight as well, and Lightning barrels also had thinner walls. In addition, Fabrique Nationale used a higher nickel content in its steel on Lightning barrels to make them as strong as the thicker Standard Weight barrels. Hunting models were available with almost any combination of chokes, usually full and modified, or improved cylinder and modified. However, the customer could have any possible combination desired from a selection of full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder, skeet and cylinder. Browning chokes were typically tighter than contemporary Americanmade shotguns.
The buttstock and fore-end were carved from French walnut with rather plain straight-grain wood to which a handrubbed varnish was applied. The stock’s grip was of the half-pistol style with a plain, but finely checkered pattern. The fore-end was well proportioned with a smooth blunt nose and nicely checkered side panels. Browning stated that the pattern on its Grade I Superposed was checkered 22 lines to the inch. On higher grades checkering became progressively more fine and may have reached 30 lines per inch on Grades V and VI. The buttplate was stamped “BROWNING” horizontally on the plate surrounded by a perimeter border. The 12-ga. 3″ magnum was fitted with a Pachmayr Jumbo Trap recoil pad at the factory. The standard stock dimensions for the Hunting model were 1 5/8″ drop at the heel, 2 1/2″ drop at the comb, with a 14 1/4″ length of pull.
What set the Superposed apart from other mass-produced shotguns was the attention to fit and finish. Browning spent enormous amounts of time and energy struggling to achieve this quality in a production double gun. The company’s efforts paid off. The hairline fitting and attention to detail established the Superposed with an excellent reputation for durability and quality.
After World War II, Browning settled on offering only one trigger option, the single selective trigger designed by Val Browning. All post-war Superposeds were fitted with this single inertia trigger operated by the recoil of the gun after firing. It was a dependable trigger that worked well. FN continued to offer the double trigger as an option on guns sold elsewhere. After the war, Superposed triggers were gold plated. The early blued triggers were steel, which took the bluing process well. When gold plated triggers were introduced, the plating process did not do as well on steel, so FN changed to an alloy metal to get better, longer lasting results. The selector was located on the top tang as part of the safety and operated from side to side in selecting the over or under barrel to fire first. The manual safety functioned up and down from safe to fire. When the first Superposeds were shipped from Belgium after the war, their barrels were usually stamped on the leftside of the upper barrel with the following address: “BROWNING ARMS COMPANY-ST. LOUIS MISSOURI SPECIAL STEEL 12 GA. SHELLS 2 3/4″.” This left side address was used on all Browning Superposeds imported into the U.S. until 1958 when Browning and FN established the separate Canadian operation. During the last thirteen months of the decade, a new left-side barrel address was used:
“BROWNING ARMS COMPANY ST. LOUIS MO & MONTREAL P.Q. SPECIAL STEEL 12 GA. SHELLS 2 3/4″.”
The more common right-side inscription will read: “PATENTS NO. 22033782233861 MADE IN BELGIUM.”
A word of caution on interpretation of barrel markings. There were a number of different formats that FN used in marking the Superposed barrels. In some cases “SPECIAL STEEL” may appear as part of the right-side inscription and on others it will be seen on the left side. The same situation applies to the gauge and chamber length, as well as “MADE IN BELGIUM.” The most important aspect of barrel marking is the actual corporate address, which will show the era in which that particular barrel was built.
The Superposed Trap model discontinued due to World War II-was reintroduced into the line in 1951. Designed for the competition trapshooter, it featured 30″ barrels. The ventilated rib fitted to these Standard Trap guns was the same width and height as those fitted to the Hunting models. The Trap model was available choked full and full; improved modified and full; and modified and full, but any combination of chokes was offered on special order. The Superposed Trap was offered in Standard Weight and weighed 8 lb., 2 oz. with 30″ barrels fitted with an ivory bead front sight. A Lightning Trap model, introduced in 1955, was also offered with 30″ barrels and weighed 7 lb. 12 ozs.
What really set the Trap model apart from the Hunting model was its stock configuration. The buttstock had a drop of 1 1/2″ at the comb, a drop of 1 7/8″ at the heel and a length of pull of 14 3/8″. Unlike later Trap models, these 1950s guns had a semi-pistol grip with rounded knob. It was a much higher and straighter buttstock than the Hunting model. The Trap fore-end was a semi-beavertail with a full grip contour offering more weight forward. Those built between 1952 and 1959 were sold without a factory recoil pad as standard.
When Browning introduced its Skeet model into the Superposed line in 1956, it was with the express purpose of breaking into the competitive skeet shooting market as it had so successfully done on the trap fields. But between 1956 and 1959 the Skeet model was a special model in name only. Offered in 12- and 20-ga. with a choice of 26 1/2″ or 28″ barrels with raised matte or ventilated ribs, these Skeet guns could be ordered in Standard or Lightning versions just like the Hunting models. In fact, the only unique feature was with its chokes: skeet and skeet. The buttstock and fore-end had the same dimensions and the same appearance. A recoil pad was an extra-cost option.
One supplementary feature of the Browning Superposeds should be covered. Superposeds with extra sets of barrels are highly coveted by collectors and shooters alike. Guns purchased in the 1950s with one set of barrels could be sent back to St. Louis to have extra sets of barrels fitted. The service facility in St. Louis then sent the complete gun back to FN for the barrel fitting. When the extra barrels were fitted, the gun was sent back to St. Louis and then returned to the customer.
In the 1950s Browning offered as a standard option any combination of barrel weight or choke of the same gauge in either Hunting or Trap configuration. Before 1960, multiple-barrel sets containing different gauges were not offered. All-Gauge Skeet sets were not offered until later. The 1950s represented Browning’s attempt to build its multi-barrel offerings in a simple, direct method in order to maximize its potential success.
About The Author
Ned Schwing of Fredericksburg, Texas, is the author of the recentlypublished book, The Browning Superposed: John Browning’s Last Legacy, from which the accompanying article is adapted. Previous books by Schwing have included Winchester’s Finest, The Model 21, The Winchester Model 42, Winchester Slide-Action Rifles, Vol. 1, The Model 90 and 1906 and Winchester SlideAction Rifles, Vol. II, Model 61 & 62.
The Browning Superposed relies heavily on Browning Arms Co. documents, is illustrated with more than 650 photos in its 493 pages and tells the story of the Superposed well from John Browning’s first prototype built in 1923 through the gun’s custom order status in the 1990s. The hardbound book is available from
the publisher, Krause Publications, Dept. AR, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990, telephone (800) 258-0929, for $49.95 plus $3.50 shipping. Schwing’s other above-mentioned books are available from Krause, as well.
Copyright National Rifle Association of America Oct 1997
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