Upland Pursuits: A Brief History of the H&R Topper Model 158

You recognize the name, but shrug with indifference at its mention. In mint condition, their shotguns compare not to the finer side-by-sides of the past. They sell for pennies on the dollar relative to the spendy, yet (occasionally) affordable names like Fox and L.C. Smith, and may as well be a door prize for simply viewing a Parker. Although less glamorous, the single-shot Harrington and Richardson (H&R) shotgun may arguably be one of the simplest and most prominent firearms to grace American hunting and shooting history.

H&R boasts an ornate heritage dating back to the inception of the company in 1871 as Wesson and Herrington in Worcester, MA. Established by Gilbert H. Harrington and William A. Richardson, the manufacturer we know as H&R was not so named until 1877. Harrington supposedly bought out Dan Wesson’s investment and re-branded with Richardson, carrying the H&R name and parent operation through 1986. Their doors remained closed until 1991 when a new company started under the name H&R 1871.

H&R was known into the 1880s for their revolvers, but evolved quickly to manufacture shotguns and rifles with dozens of different models. But the name as I and many others have come to know is married to their single-shot shotguns.

In 1901, H&R produced their first single-shot, the Model 1900. A series of small-bore .410 single-shots followed, chambered in two-inch in 1911, the Model 1915 chambered in 2.5-inch, then a three-inch chambering in 1937. It appears the more commonly known “Topper” model name did not appear until the 1940s.

The H&R Topper Model 158 (Topper 158) was manufactured between approximately 1962 and 1973, becoming the shotgun many of today’s hunters associate with the H&R name. While this model was chambered in everything from .17 to .300 magnum caliber, smooth bores appear to be most common.

The Topper 158, like its predecessors, carried a hardwood stock, but the rubber butt pad didn’t appear before this model, according to vintage advertising. Their actions were color case hardened, boasting a beautiful tiger-like, almost holographic striping. Twelve, 16, 20 gauge and .410 bores were available with barrel length ranging from 28- to 36-inches and housing an immaculate shell ejector. The 28-inch barrel package weighed a scant 5.5 pounds. The forearms on early models were held tight to the barrel with a center screw, which was changed to a sleeker clip-in mechanism in 1971.  

These guns may not have been dazzling, but their reputation as lightweight, reliable and affordable, led to hundreds of thousands of sales while in production. Original cost for a standard Topper shotgun was listed at $28.50 in 1957, and the Topper 158 at $36.95 in 1971, according to vintage advertising.

Present day value for a used Topper 158 in excellent conditions runs between $150-225, but monetary value does little justice for the antiquity of these “working class” scatterguns. But as W.E. (Bill) Goforth said in his in-depth volume on the H&R company, firearms enthusiasts are led to “…the belief that the value of a collectible firearm is measured by its cost.” This dismisses historical relevance, allowing monetary value alone to determine the “worth” of a firearm, exemplified by H&R.

Aside from monetary or historical significance, sentimental value can eclipse all. I inherited my father’s Topper 158 as a child and carried it after gray squirrels through the deciduous forest. I recently discovered a photo of my father taken at his parent’s home around 1981. He knelt in the yard clutching his one-year-old youngest son (me) and a gray squirrel, the Topper 158 leaning against the fence in the background. The photo triggered a desire to rescue and restore the gun as a piece of my father’s legacy. A shotgun built for everyone and fitting of his humble, reliable personality.

A tiny Trumbo with his father after a successful squirrel hunt with the Topper 158

The christening of the old 12-bore with renewed fashion came a nation away from its Virginia origin with a passing shot at a Eurasian collared dove. A bird I doubt my father had ever heard of. Memories overlaid by time rushed to the surface, cued by the thump of the light-weight single-barrel driving against my shoulder. 

With such talk of commonplace style and mechanics, it may be surprising that in 1880, H&R became the sole American licensee for the manufacture of quality English Anson & Deely double-barrel boxlock shotguns, manufacturing approximately 3,500 of various “grades” between 1882 and 1885. Not to belittle the company’s contribution to the U.S. armed forces over the years.

In November of 2000, the Marlin Firearms Company purchased the assets of H&R 1871, Inc. Presently marketing its products under the brand names of Harrington & Richardson® and New England Firearms®, H&R 1871 is currently the largest manufacturer of single shot shotguns and rifles in the world1. So why are single shot scatterguns so uncommonly seen afield? With a wealth of quality doubles and auto-loaders on the market, it seems hunters value the opportunity of additional rounds.  

The H&R name and Topper 158 have claimed their worthy place in American firearms history and the story continues with current Topper models. Still produced under the Harrington and Richardson name, the Topper Deluxe Classic sports a vented sight rib, screw-in choke tubes and checkered American walnut stock.

Various vintage Topper 158 and youth models can be found around $100 if you are willing to watch auctions and make some minor repairs. Cheap enough to determine for yourself the wingshooting “worth” of H&Rs classic single-shot. 

Getting the feel for a newly-restored classic.

22 thoughts on “Upland Pursuits: A Brief History of the H&R Topper Model 158

  • My dad bought me a Topper 158 when I turned 13 years old. I am now 61 years old. I took it out to the range yesterday to shoot. Needless to say it shoots flawlessly. I love the simplicity of a single shot and it brought back fond memories of spending time with my dad.

    I recently showed it to my adopted son, he just turned 14 years old, and told him that someday it will be his. He has to grow up a bit but I look forward to taking him out for his first shoot.


    • Thank you for sharing this, Wes! The Topper 158 is a fine heirloom, and I am glad it conjures memories of your dad. I am sure your son will be thrilled to have it when the time is right!


  • I just acquired a Topper 158 in 22 hornet. Looking for a scope mount for it now and then can’t wait to get it out and shoot it. It does have open sites but I much prefer a scope


      • Yes I definitely plan on it. I found a set of integral scope mounts but not sure if there the right one. There made by H&R and says for handy rifles but don’t know it hole spacing will be the same from a rifle of vintage as mine ? I don’t know how to post pics of mounts here ?


      • Sadly, I’m not an expert on H&Rs, so I am not much help in confirming if your scope mounts will work. However, very little if anything changed with the H&R Toppers over the years. Given you have H&R mounts, I am willing to be they will work just fine.


  • I recently purchased the 158 with an 36 inch barrel……. look out turkey shoots….. I’ve collected H&R since I was started by my father….. thanks dad….. and thank you everyone for the information listed.

    Liked by 1 person

  • It’s a shame the company no longer makes firearms. I bought a Pardner in 2007 for 90 bucks and it’s served me well. It’s fun to shoot, great for busting up clay pigeons, and is my favorite shotgun despite me owning “nicer” ones


  • I have the Topper in 16ga. If I correctly recall, it is my first firearm, purchased in the very early 1970s. Have not used it much. Have used it deer hunting. May do so this season. The challenge.


    • Ah yes, the single shot shotgun in the deer woods is a challenge. Do you have a rifle barrel for it or just use buckshot? The 16ga is an intriguing bore that may be the best all-around shotgun.


  • The Model 158 surpasses in shooting value later Topper and Pardner models in that the hammer does not obscure the sight plane and target picture upon firing.
    Conversely, the later models like the 88 has a high set hammer that disallows “follow thru” sightlines to the target after firing, thus obscuring the immediate consequent impact on the squirrel, clay bird, etc.
    Thus the M58 and M158 are superior training firearms for new and young shooters.


    • Interesting information, Bill! I don’t have experience with the later models so that’s good to know. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to further educate me on this!


      • That’s an excellent question, Charles, and I do not have 100% certainty on that. The actions look to be identical, though and based on H&Rs effort to make their actions fit a variety of bores, it will likely fit just fine. You should check with a gunsmith just to be safe.


  • Great article! I enjoyed learning about the history and how it intertwined with you and personal experiences. You definitely paint a picture for people to not discard the single shot so quickly.


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