I saw my first Cosmi in 2018, and I was smitten. More recently a client brought one in for show-and-tell. He offered: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, but I had to have it.” This sentiment is shared by many Cosmi owners. When Landon Stone at Nighthawk Custom, in Berryville, Arkansas, lent me a Cosmi Steel Deluxe in 20-gauge for review, I had to do my research to unravel the enigma of the gun. It is an engineering and artistic marvel that requires devotion to its aesthetic and operation. Nevertheless, this is a compelling shotgun and one that is difficult to put down. I had to make an exception to my rule that “gimmicks and solutions in search of problems are anathema to shotguns.” And I’m glad I did.
Rodolfo Cosmi was born in 1873 in Montefeltro, Italy. He was a carpenter, hunter and tinkerer. In 1890 he established a small shotgun company. By 1905 he had begun developing a semi-automatic field gun. Certainly Cosmi was familiar with John Browning’s Auto-5. It struck him as inelegant, and the under-barrel magazine was deleterious to the gun’s balance. He conceived a long-recoil-action, break-open semi-automatic with the handling characteristics of an elegant field gun and moved the tubular magazine to the stock. By 1925 the prototype Cosmi semi-auto had come to fruition. Rodolfo died in 1936, and his sons moved operations to Ancona, Italy. The Ancona factory is a blend of modern technology and traditional Old World gunmaking. While Cosmi uses modern machinery to complete the larger initial tasks of gunmaking, the final product is the result of time-honored handwork. Each Cosmi has more than 100 parts and requires 400 hours to complete. Which goes to explain why only about 9,000 of these bespoke guns have been produced and why the price is $24,000.
A Cosmi barrel begins as a bar of Boehler steel. It is deep-drilled, and the assembly lug for the recoil system is integral to the barrel rather than welded on. The 28" barrel on our gun was well struck with a deep-black, polished gloss finish. It had a stepped, filed vent rib, and the jointure was perfect. The rib tapers from 3⁄16" to ⅛" and has a brass front bead. The barrel screws into an extension that seats in the top of the receiver. Cosmi barrels do not have a traditional forcing cone. The 3" chamber transitions into a .624" bore with a long taper to a nominal .615" bore at the chokes. Nighthawk receives Cosmi barrels without chokes. Briley installs thin-wall chokes in the US per customer specs. The Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full Optima HP 2½" flush-mount chokes (all of which come with the gun) thread smoothly into the barrels. Each is notched and named on the exterior and has wrench cut-outs. All were spot-on to nominal specs. The IM and F chokes are not steel compatible, and the barrels are not chrome lined.
The long-recoil-action mainspring lies beneath the barrel. The barrel guide bar screws into a lump at the bottom of the upper receiver and attaches to the assembly lug under the barrel. The spring, brass friction brake and front stud spring are secured with a barrel nut. All evidenced meticulous machining and were quite stout. Both the recoil spring and brake are tuned at the factory.
Lock-up is fascinating. The lump on the upper receiver also has a hook that pivots on a replaceable pin at the knuckle of the lower receiver. A milled extension with a bite on the back of the upper receiver engages a lug operated by the short locking lever on the top of the lower receiver. Milled wings at the rear of the upper receiver engage slots on the face of the lower receiver. The moving breech bolt locks into a cut-out in the barrel extension. There is a lot going on here, but it makes sense and it works.
The slender upper receiver is finished like the barrel, with an integrated swamped rib along the top, a milled ejection port on the right side and a bolt-release button on the left. “Cosmi Brev. Ancona Italy Cal. 20” was lettered on the side and was the only “engraving.” Machined channels accommodate the reciprocating action of the bolt and barrel with no excess travel or wobble. At the rear of the upper receiver, a milled angled surface disconnects the bolt from the barrel extension and allows the barrel to move forward. There is no external bolt handle. Perhaps Rodolfo Cosmi’s vision for a sleek autoloading shotgun inspired this. But I attribute the omission to the fact that the humble bolt handle was a patented element of Browning’s Auto-5 and only the FN Auto-5s and licensed variants could have them. Whatever the case, Cosmi had an ingenious, albeit awkward, solution. A release lever in the bottom of the bolt lifts to manually unlock the bolt and retract the firing pin. The bolt moves rearward to access the chamber. The firing pin is arranged diagonally within the bolt, and there are twin extractors. The chromed, polished bolt is a jewel. The ejector secures inside the upper receiver with a single pin.
The polished steel lower receiver is racy and tapers from 1½" to 1". The rounded edges make it pleasant in the hand. Looking into the lower receiver reveals the artistry and mechanical genius of the Cosmi. All the parts of a shotgun are there—bolt release, push rod, cartridge guide, hammer, sear, springs, shell carrier, magazine tube and follower. All are familiar in name, vaguely familiar in appearance and utterly unfamiliar in the precise and polished degree to which they are finished and arranged. Each part is fashioned from individual forgings, hand finished, chromed and serialized to each gun. All are held in place by the force of geometric precision and spring tension. There is only one visible screw! The tolerances are extraordinary. Each part gleams. Everything is smooth, with no sharp edges or acute angles. The moving parts glide in symphonic harmony.
Cosmi is proud of the quality of its wood and stocking. All stockwork is done by hand, with 30 to 40 coats of hand-rubbed Tru-Oil finish applied. The wood on our gun had a rich, warm, red tone and swirling dark figure. The grain was filled, and the lustrous low-gloss finish was superb. Our gun was an oft-used demo, so I had to forgive several nicks and bumps in the wood.
The magazine tube and return-spring housing are ensconced in the stock, and the magazine tube bends downward behind the action. A good deal of wood is removed to accommodate this, so particular care must be given to select wood with strength at the wrist. The narrow, short-radius pistol grip is very agreeable. The hand-cut diamond checkering was worn from use but sufficient. It was well executed, with distinct borders and no overruns. The wood-to-metal fit around the tang surrounding the trigger guard and top tang and manual safety was superb. The full-coverage checkering on the butt was excellent and interrupted by a single stock screw and washer. The stock measurements were: 14⅜" length of pull, 1½" drop at comb, 2¼" drop at heel and ⅛" cast-on.
The svelte forearm has diamond checkering on the bottom that contrasts nicely with the grooved sides and straight-line checkering along the top. It is a joy in the hand. The forearm is secured at the top with a screw that threads into the barrel nut and is finished with a sling swivel. It is an odd touch but helps turn the screw. A blued escutcheon functions as a screw lock. A truncated iron secures with a single screw and set screw. This delightful forearm is a lovely alternative to the bulky forearms of traditional gas and inertia guns.
The fascination with the Cosmi mechanism pales in comparison to shooting the gun. So I gathered my posse and headed to the clays course with a case of Winchester Super Target 2¾" shells firing ⅞ oz of No. 7½s at 1,200 fps. Loading the Cosmi is a complicated affair, and the two-handed acrobatics take some getting used to. After breaking the action, you retract the bolt, load the chamber and push the bolt forward into the barrel extension. Additional shells are placed brass first between two shell guides and pushed rearward into the tubular magazine. Previously loaded shells must be held back with the thumb to insert the next shell. High-quality ammo is essential, as the tight tolerances of the loading port and magazine will not tolerate nicked or misshapen brass. Fingers are in the action often, so the smooth surfaces are welcome. There is also a nifty magazine cut-off in the lower receiver that can reduce the magazine capacity to two. Once the seven shells are loaded, you manually cock the hammer, close the gun and are ready to shoot. (Note that European models have a 7 + 1 capacity, whereas US imports have a 5 + 1.)
Unloaded, our Cosmi weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces and felt a touch barrel heavy. Fully loaded, it weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces and things evened out. Frankly, however, there was something ethereal about the weight and balance of this gun. The weight was perfectly distributed between the hands. It was lively, easy to swing and never whippy. As the full magazine emptied, there was no appreciable change in the dynamics. It was never ungainly. The crisp 3-pound trigger had no take-up or slack. With the Modified choke, we busted all manner of targets. Shells ejected six to eight feet away. The gun came to the face with ease and pointed well. I enjoyed particular success at high incomers. Those in the group who were not used to the whiz, pop and bang of a long-recoil action were momentarily put off, but the overwhelming reaction was smiling and clamoring for more. There was plenty of praise for the gun’s handling qualities and negligible recoil. We got silly at the 5 Stand and threw eight targets at once, and while no one hit all eight, one lucky fellow connected on five. The bolt remains open after the last shot, but it is important to activate the release before breaking the gun to avoid the egregious error of closing the retracted bolt onto the action. Also avoid touching the barrel, which gets hotter than a grease fire! And if you think loading the gun is awkward, try unloading it. Once the action is broken, shells need to be lifted out from between the shell guides while fighting the tension of the robust magazine spring. I found that the best way was to simply shoot the gun empty and smile. In firing more than 400 rounds over several days, only one empty shell got hung up—and that was easily rectified by simply breaking the action.
Although a bit wonky to operate, the Cosmi handles like a dream and is exceptionally reliable. One cannot help shooting it again and again. Revelry follows this gun around. It would make a great clays or dove gun. It might be a bit busy for the field, and loading it in a frigid duck blind would be a chore. The Cosmi is a Jazz Age gun. And the great jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter said, “Jazz shouldn’t have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that is required to sound like jazz. For me, the word ‘jazz’ means I dare you.” Rodolfo Cosmi decided shotgun design should not have any mandates. He created a design that works and scratches a certain aesthetic itch and evokes a shooter’s curiosity. The Cosmi dares you not to like it, idiosyncrasies notwithstanding.
Make & Model: Cosmi Steel Deluxe
Action: Break-open semi-automatic
Finish: Gloss blue/polished steel
Barrel Length: 28"
Weight: 7 pounds 2 ounces
Chokes: 5 Briley Thinwall Optima HP
Stock: 14⅜" LOP, 1½" drop at comb, 2¼” drop at heel, 4° pitch, ⅛" cast-on
Accessories: Negrini case, choke wrench, owner’s manual, lifetime warranty when serviced by Nighthawk Custom/Cosmi
Price as tested: $24,000