GUNS OF YESTERYEAR


For a while Field & Stream's web site ran an interesting feature called "Blast From The Past," in which readers supplied pictures of and stories about favorite older guns. I sent a couple of them myself. Recently F&S re-did its web site and seem to have dropped this feature; so I'll resurrect it here. Some of these have appeared in F&S, some haven't. Some of these guns are ones used in previous NRVO posts, some aren't.

From time to time I'll provide items, but if any of my NRVO readers want to participate I'll be happy to have your submissions! Please e-mail them, along with images, to me at outdoorsman@nrvoutdoors. Include at least one high-definition image, and a short description of the gun and what it means to you. Submissions may be edited for length. Please include "GUNS OF YESTERYEAR" in your subject line, and thanks in advance!


FABRIQUE NATIONALE MODEL 1906 VEST POCKET .25

This is one of Jonathan Browning's most successful designs, the Fabrique Nationale  Model 1906 "Vest Pocket" pistol, in .25 ACP.  The cartridge was designed at Browning's request by the Union Metallic Cartridge Company in 1903-04.  He wanted a round that could be used in a very small pistol.  That was the Vest Pocket, which introduced the world to this diminutive round in 1906.  In Europe the caliber is referred to as the "6.35mm Browning," in the USA as the ".25 Automatic Colt Pistol." Colt licensed the design for manufacture and sale in North and Central America, and FN had exclusive rights in Europe and the British Isles.  The Vest Pocket, regardless of who made it, was a runaway success. As of 1914 and the start of the First World War, FN made and sold at least 550,000 guns; by 1931, they had produced a million of them, and production continued afterwards.  One authority cites the highest known serial number as 1,311, 256.   After the Colt version (known as the Model 1908) was put on the market, it also became one of their cash cows; Colt discontinued manufacture in 1947, after turning out at least 420,705 of them.

In addition to the licensed guns innumerable knock-off copies were made by other manufacturers, especially those in Spain. Nobody knows how many millions of such guns were made.  The .25 ACP itself was also immensely popular in other, non-Browning designed guns: Mauser chambered their beautiful Model 1910 and 1914 pistols for it.  Many other makers brought out guns in .25. After the war, FN made a similar but decidedly different gun to replace the Vest Pocket: the "Baby."  Vest Pocket guns are sometimes called "Baby" but that's incorrect. Colt never made the "Baby," only FN.

Thanks to the licensing agreements between Browning, Colt, and FN, in the USA the Colt variant  is pretty common today but FN-made guns are fairly rare. This little gun is an FN product, and the serial number, 3892XX, indicates it was made well before 1914.  After two world wars and hostile invasions of Belgium, the FN serial number records of the early 20th Century are pretty much gone, but collectors' compilations of serializations indicate this pistol was made not later than 1912.  It has a history in my family going back a long, long way.  I obtained it from my late godfather, "Uncle Joe," who came to the USA sometime in the 1920's.  He told me his father "...brought it to America when he came..." as part of his baggage in the immigrant ship in which he arrived.  Today that would get him a stretch in a Federal prison, but in the 20's it was no big deal.  "Uncle Joe" gave it to me in 1967and I carried it for some years.

The .25 ACP these days is regarded as inadequate for personal defense, but in 1906, a time when it wasn't the least bit unusual for respectable, upright citizens (in both Europe and the USA) to go discreetly armed, it was regarded as perfectly suitable. Ladies especially liked it because it was so easily concealed. Anyone who scoffs at the .25 ACP as a "mouse gun" round should perhaps reflect on whether he would care to be shot with one. Today we have guns very nearly as small and in better calibers (such as the .380, another Browning-designed round) and the .25 ACP is slowly fading out of use, but with so many guns chambered for it still in circulation, it will be with us for a very long time.


STEVENS MODEL 58 BOLT ACTION SHOTGUN

I bought this Stevens Model 58AC 12-gauge bolt action shotgun from an ad in the Andrews AFB newsletter in 1971.  Well, sort of: what was advertised  was only the metal parts!  Apparently the seller's brother in law had backed his truck over the gun and destroyed the stock, and they were willing to let the rest of it go for all of TEN DOLLARS.  I am not a fool and I have never passed up a $10 gun in my life.  I bought it, sight unseen;  $15 got me a brand new stock from the factory and I had a total of $25 invested in it. Not a bad deal for an essentially new gun.  In the 1965 Gun Digest it had a list price of $50!  It has no serial number so it pre-dates the Gun Control Act of 1968.

While a bolt action shotgun may not be much on fast followup shots,  as an all-around "utility" shotgun it's hard to beat.  It will handle anything from #9 birdshot to rifled slugs, and it's served me well over the years.  When I lived in New York I had to hunt deer with a shotgun, and I took two very nice ones with it. Here in Virginia I've used it on small game.  Plain vanilla it may be, but I've had it for 48 years and have no plans to ever get rid of it.


STEVENS "FAVORITE" SINGLE SHOT RIFLE IN .32 RIMFIRE

This Stevens Favorite Model 1894 rifle was in decent, shootable shape when I bought it, but I wanted something special.  I had it refinished, added an original Stevens folding tang sight to match the factory's folding "Beach's Patent" folding front sight, and fitted up a case for it.  This little rifle is chambered for the now discontinued caliber of .32 Rimfire, both Short and Long. It's a great pity that this cartridge is no long manufactured, because it's an outstanding small game round, and there are many high-grade rifles like this languishing for want of ammunition. Some people have converted these little rifles to shoot .32 S&W Long; a very foolish thing to do, because the Favorite is a weak action and hot handloads will stress it beyond its limits. However, a company in France makes reloadable .32 Rimfire cases. I bought one of their kits and was also able to track down a few boxes of factory ammunition, loaded by CBC in the 1970's. Although Stevens made and sold the Favorite mostly in the USA they also did export trade in the UK through one Joseph Leeson, a well known gunsmith and dealer.  Leeson imported the Favorite in classic rook rifle calibers; those were mostly centerfires and the .32 Rimfire duplicates the ballistics of the .30 Rook round.


SMITH & WESSON NEW DEPARTURE .38. THE "LEMON SQUEEZER"


A Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless revolver, officially titled the "New Departure" but universally dubbed the "Lemon Squeezer," from the grip safety in the back strap.  This little top-break revolver couldn't be fired unless firmly gripped and the safety lever depressed: an unusual feature for its era, hence the name "New Departure."  S&W touted its concealability, smooth lines that made it easy to draw from a pocket, and that it was "nearly impossible" for a child to fire thanks to having to depress the safety and pull the rather stiff trigger simultaneously.  The New Departure went through several model changes in its long life: this one is a Fourth Model, made in 1903.  It has been fitted with custom grips of faux ivory, replacing the normal hard rubber grips that were prone to chipping.

Many New Departures were chambered for the .32 S&W Long, but this one is chambered for .38 S&W, a caliber introduced in 1887 and still in production.  Though its use has waned in the USA, it remains immensely popular world wide and virtually every European revolver maker has brought out a gun in this caliber. The British Army added a heavier (200 grain) bullet and dubbed it the ".380/200" which they chambered in the Webley and Enfield No. 2 military revolvers issued to their armed forces from 1930 to 1957.  Some British police units still use it, and it's widely used on the Continent.  American made factory ammunition is pretty wimpy stuff, mimicking the original black powder load, because of all the lesser-quality guns chambered in this enormously popular round.  Handloading makes it easy to make the .38 S&W match the performance of the .380 ACP, and to lap at the lower fringe of the .38 Special's range.

The Lemon Squeezer was a cash cow for S&W, selling steadily from its introduction in 1889 until production ceased in 1941. I've carried this little gun from time to time and can attest that It was—and still is—ideal for concealed carry: compact, reliable, easily reloaded and respectably powerful;  by the standards of 1903 it was considered quite adequate for self defense. Hundreds of thousands of New Departures were made and they're still readily found in good condition. S&W made quality products, much better than the guns turned out by other makers such as H&R and Iver Johnson.


WEBLEY MARK VI .455

 

The Webley Mark VI in this image is a genuine WWI veteran. This Mark of the big Webley top break military revolvers was introduced in 1915, and this example is marked with that date, so it's an early production model. Tens of thousands of Webleys were imported to the U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s as Britain was rearming with more modern weapons, and sold here at prices that make one weep today.

The Mark VI was chambered for the .455 Webley round, a rimmed caliber first used in the mid to late 1880s. It fired a heavy (265-grain) lead bullet at moderate velocity; despite not being a "speed demon," it had a lot of punch and established a sterling record as a man-stopper in combat. Because .455 Webley ammunition was hard to find in the U.S., most of the post-war imported guns chambered for it were altered by the simple expedient of milling off the rear of the cylinder to increase headspace. This allowed use of the .45 ACP in special clips. In 1920, the Peters Cartridge Company brought out the ".45 Auto Rim," essentially a rimmed version of the .45 ACP, whose thick rim allowed it to be used in the Webley without special adapters. The .45 Auto Rim is a "kissing cousin" of the .455 Webley with ballistics similar to it and the .45 ACP.

Top-break revolvers in the U.S. aren't highly regarded, but the military Webleys are not your average bureau-drawer gimcracks. They're big, tough, accurate, and hard-hitting combat weapons that served the Empire for decades and continue to soldier on.


HUSQVARNA MODEL 640 IN 8X57 JS

Here is my Husqvarna Model 640 sporter, chambered for the 8x57JS Mauser cartridge, one of the first—and greatest—smokeless powder rifle rounds ever developed. It is a purpose-built sporter made in 1944. It’s one of the very last true dedicated sporters on the Mauser 1896 action. Husqvarna discontinued sporter production in 1944, and when they resumed sporting-rifle production in 1948 they built them on purchased FN-made M98 actions.

This rifle isn’t an ex-military weapon; though it does have a stripper clip slot in the receiver bridge, it lacks the “thumb cut” in the left receiver rail typical of military rifles. The barrel is not stepped, and the rear sight is a single fixed open leaf. The stock is a Schnabel-tipped piece of European beechwood with modest checkering but no other ornamentation beyond a plastic grip cap. It’s a plain-vanilla working rifle intended for the domestic market. (The European export market was pretty dismal in 1944!) My only changes were the additions of a recoil pad and a Burris Timberline 4x20 scope in a detachable mount. I've used it in the USA and in Africa; I took the Hartmann's Mountain Zebra below with it in 2010; one shot at about 150 yards. The 8x57 is no slouch as a big game caliber, especially as it is loaded in Europe. I used Norma's "Oryx" ammunition of this kill.


|OPENING PAGE|

HUNTING SEASON LOGS


| HUNTING | GUNS | DOGS |
| FISHING & BOATING | TRIP REPORTS | MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS |
| CONTRIBUTIONS FROM OTHER WRITERS|
| RECIPES |POLITICS |