Monday, December 16, 2013

An idea...

Noodling around with the Webley .32, I suddenly got an idea.

One of the oddest features of the little Webley/H&R automatics is their thumb-operated manual safety. It's located fairly far forward on the gun to those used to Browning-pattern pistols and, worse, its operation is backwards: Up is for "fire" and down is for "safe".

However, the lever is a long and thin one and almost seems to be designed to keep the thumb from fouling the slide as it almost certainly would if the positions were reversed. Obviously I need to go do some shooting with this thing.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Smith #52: Model 61-2 Escort, 1970

Smith & Wesson was traditionally a manufacturer of revolvers. The company's name and fortune had been built on the Rollins-White patent for the bored-through cylinder, and all through the 19th Century they produced nothing but revolvers, save for the occasional single shot target pistol on a top-break revolver frame or shoulder-stocked revolver carbine.

S&W's first foray into self-loading pistols in the early 1900s was enough of a flop that it wasn't 'til the 1950s that they got back into the market, and then with service-sized autos chambered in 9mm rather than the small vest-pocket type like their earlier venture.

Smith had been working on a new pocket pistol already when legislation that was passed in 1968 caused a market vacuum. The Gun Control Act precluded the importation of handguns that could not obtain a certain amount of "points" on a scale that determined their suitability for sporting purposes. Overnight, an entire class of small, inexpensive imported pocket pistols was wiped from the marketplace and a domestic manufacturer would be foolish to not exploit this opportunity for a windfall.

Like a half-century earlier, Smith & Wesson's offering was based on a Belgian design. This time the template was the Pieper Bayard 1908, best known for being one of the smallest .380 semiautomatic pistols ever sold.

By switching from .380 to .22LR, Smith could utilize a much less expensive cast aluminum frame rather than a machined steel one. The resulting pistol, which hit the market in late 1968, was small, light, reasonably-priced and marketed as the Model 61 "Escort", a name suggestive of its intended role as portable protection for pocket or purse.

Not long into the production run, S&W added a magazine safety, with the resulting model marked "61-1", in the company's tradition of denoting engineering changes with a "dash" number. For 1970, a bushing was utilized to allow more precise barrel fitting, and the result was the 61-2 like the example shown here. The last variant, before production ended, was the 61-3 which used a frame machined from an aluminum forging rather than the cast frame of the earlier variants.

This 61-2 in LNIB condition was acquired for just over $200 in February of 2013. The box bears the price tag from a no-longer-extant downtown Indianapolis gun shop. The tag reads "$46.50".

Blue 2-piece box w/reinforced corners. $46.50 price tag from Emro's Sporting Goods.

Padded leatherette carrying case and cleaning tools.

The gun itself, with its "woodgrain" plastic grips. Included in the box is an advertisement for Smith & Wesson-brand ammunition.

Smith & Wesson Model 61-2 Escort with a brace of its Bayard 1908 antecedents, one in .32 and one in .380.

More good info on the Model 61 Escort can be found here and here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Imported technology...

Our American Cousin...
H&R's safety-laden .32 is pictured here with its English progenitor, the Webley & Scott .32 automatic pistol.

In addition to adding a grip safety, magazine safety, and loaded chamber indicator, the H&R also replaced the "V" recoil spring under the right grip panel with a more conventional coil spring housed in the slide, and replaced the hammer with an internal striker.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Savage "hammer" spurs...

Self-loading pistols of any type were still far from mainstream when Savage put the finishing touches on their Model 1907, and despite the weapon being striker-fired, an external cocking spur was added, which allowed the weapon to be de-cocked like a conventional auto. The spur had the added feature of blocking the sights when the hammer was at rest, which made for a handy visual reminder that the pistol was either uncocked or empty (there being no last-round hold-open feature.)

Savage couldn't resist tinkering with the design, however, and the constant changes probably combined with massive overproduction in the first couple years to eventually doom the pistol on the market.

The second pistol from the left is a Model 1915, introduced as a response to Colt's wildly popular 1903 "Pocket Hammerless". One can only imagine that meeting at Savage headquarters:
"These people keep buying Colts!"

"They like it because it's hammerless and Colt's advertises that it won't snag on coat pockets."

"But it has a hammer! It's just internal! Our pistol really is hammerless!"

"But people see the spur and think it has a hammer..."
Thus the 1915, which eliminated the external spur, blanking off the slot in the breechblock, as well as adding a grip safety and a last-round hold-open feature. Unfortunately, the pistol was more expensive to make, sold at lower profit margins for the company, was trickier to disassemble, and the last round hold-open feature was fragile and breakage-prone. Tooling up for Great War arms contracts put paid to the 1915 variant after less than two full years of production, making it the rarest of the little Savage variants.

Lastly, the pistol on the far right has the spur-type hammer that was always available as an option, but became standard on the final variants of the 1907 and was continued on the Model 1917.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Treasure trove...

One of the side benefits of working in a gun store is that it makes collecting cartridges pretty easy; it seems like you're always running across something new and interesting. As my friend Shannon put it, "If you're patient, sooner or later one of everything will walk through that front door." It's how I got everything from 5.7x28mm and 5.45x39mm before they were commonly commercially available to a .470 Nitro Express for my cartridge display board.

My roommate's friend, The Data Viking, dropped by our house the other day with a truly princely gift: His granddad had run a gun store from 1939 on up, and over time had filled four cigar boxes with oddities and rarities Now I'm going to have fun going through them and cataloging the contents!

On the left is a .40-60 Winchester, a cartridge that debuted in 1876. Intended to give Winchester lever guns more hitting power than the pistol calibers of the Model 1873, the Model 1876 was offered in .40-60 up until 1897 and the cartridge stayed in Winchester's catalog until the Great Depression.

Next to it is a .33 Winchester, a cartridge that came out in 1902. Ballistically similar to the .35 Remington, it was replaced in the lineup by the .348 Winchester. Production was discontinued in 1940 and never resumed after the war.

The third cartridge is a .219 Zipper, a high-speed smallbore round for lever action rifles that came out in 1937. Given the difficulty of fitting optics to lever action Winchesters, it never really caught on and was finally put out to pasture in the early '60s.

Bonus: A full box of UMC .32 Smith & Wesson!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Carbine triviata...

car·bine noun \ˈkär-ˌbēn, -ˌbīn\
1: a short-barreled lightweight firearm originally used by cavalry.
French carabine, from Middle French carabin carabineer First Known Use: 1592
From the earliest days of general-issue shoulder-fired firearms, it was quickly apparent that regular infantry arms were a little bulky to be lugged around on horseback by the cavalry, while pistols, although eminently portable and useful from horseback, had a hard time hitting targets much smaller than the proverbial broad side of a barn at any kind of distance, and thus was born the carbine.

By the late 19th Century,, the specialized bolt-action carbine was reaching something of a zenith, actually spawning several sub-variants.

Broadly, cavalry carbines tended to have sling hardware on the opposite side of the stock from the bolt handle, allowing the carbine to be slung securely diagonally across the back so it wouldn't be as likely to bounce off at a gallop. Since cavalry were still equipped with sabers and/or lances, cavalry carbines often had no bayonet lugs. Their bolt handles were almost always turned downwards, so as to make them less likely to snag on something while slung behind.

Carbines for engineers, mountain troops, artillery, bicyclists, and others tended to be much more like shortened infantry rifles (and sometimes were.) Sling loops tended to be in the regular place, and these carbines generally had a lug to take the standard bayonet and sometimes had a straight bolt handle like the longer infantry rifles.

The top carbine in the picture below is an Italian Moschetto Mo.91 per Truppe Speciali, made at the Brescia arsenal in 1917: It is a carbine version of the M1891 Carcano intended for special troops like artillery, engineers, and others. It has a tangent rear sight graduated from 600 to 1500 meters that folds forward into a recess cut in the wood handguard to expose a 300m fixed battle sight. If you look toward the toe of the stock, you can see a repair in the wood where the original bottom-mounted sling swivel was moved to the side during an arsenal refit at some time. The bayonet lug on the nose cap is also interesting, since it is oreinted side-to-side rather than fore-and-aft; the hole in the bayonet crossguard would be slipped over the muzzle, and then the bayonet would be rotated onto the lug until it latched. Note also that the 91 T.S. carbine has a cleaning rod threaded into the forend like the larger rifles do.

A pair of Carcano carbines.
The bottom carbine is a wartime Terni-manufactured Moschetto Mo.91/38 Cavalleria: A 1938 revision of the original Carcano cavalry carbine. These came from the factory with side-mounted sling loops and a rather flimsy folding bayonet that was about as confidence-inspiring as having a coat-hanger shank taped to the muzzle of your carbine when you were standing watch in a dark Libyan foxhole and there were Gurkhas in the wire. The '38 revision did away with adjustable rear sights entirely, substituting a fixed 200m notch.

Both carbines here fire the Italian 6.5x52mm Carcano round from 6-shot Mannlicher-style clips, the Carcano action being heavily cribbed from the German Gew.88. The 6.5 fired a heavy-for-caliber round-nosed projectile that had a disturbing tendency to travel in one side of an enemy and out the other without doing much damage in the middle, since its cylindrical dimensions made it extremely stable and not prone to yaw. Interestingly, the Carcano fired this bullet through a barrel with gain-twist rifling, which twisted progressively faster as it went toward the muzzle, at least until WWII production exigencies made them do away with this feature.

These handy little carbines are short and compact, even by modern standards.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pistol pairs...

Duplicates, L to R: Remington, Savage, and Colt. While the nice copies above are beginning to fetch actual money, the shooter-grade beaters below are still extremely reasonably priced. (And there's just something neat about shooting a hundred-year-old gun at the range...)
The nice thing about having rougher examples of some of the older pocket autos is you don't mind taking them to the range and shooting the bejeezus out of them. I remember telling Bobbi once that if she really liked shooting her Savage 1907 at the range, she should glom onto every example she found for <$200, just to keep handy as parts guns if nothing else.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Condition Is Everything Part III

A Tale of Two Savage 1907s:

I've always had a little bit of a weak spot for these things for a number of reasons: Their Buck Rogers Art Deco raygun looks, the funky lockwork (that thing that looks like a hammer spur is just a cocking indicator connected to the internal striker), and the double-stack .32ACP magazine. Add an interesting ad campaign that targeted novice shooters and women and the fact that in some alternate Harry Turtledove-esque universe a larger version of this gun in .45ACP became the standard US service sidearm, and you've got a pistol with a lot of neat history behind it.

They'd be a fertile field for collecting on a budget, too. There are three main variants (1907, 1915, and 1917) and, when you count the sub-variants and both .32 and .380 caliber versions, you're looking at something like 26 distinct versions, most of which are extremely reasonably-priced compared to their contemporaries with the prancing ponies on them.

I acquired the bottom Savage first, in January of last year at the Indy 1500, and I paid too much for it by half. It's all there, and mechanically functional, but the exterior is a dull gray patina with evidence of old pitting and the bore matches. The right side grip panel is cracked and epoxied, and the grips are worn like the buffalo nickels their logos recall.

This is what is known in Bailey Brower's book as a "1907-10 Modification No. 2", being the second design change made in 1910, adding the stamped words "SAFE" and "FIRE" on the frame. The most common variant, this example's serial number dates it to 1911, and in the shape it's in, it's worth not too much (if anything) over a hundred bucks. It's what a collector would refer to as a "representative example"; filling a hole in a collection until a better specimen could be acquired.

The top pistol would be that better specimen, purchased about a month later at the show at the Indianapolis National Guard Armory for the same price as the bottom one, except it was a steal this time 'round.

By 1913, the magazine release lever in the frontstrap had been changed so that it was tripped by the pinkie instead of the ring finger, and a loaded chamber indicator had been added. The latter consisted of a flat spring clipped to the barrel visible through the ejection port, which has been beveled at the rear to allow the trigger finger access, allowing one to check loaded status in the dark. The "1907-13 Modification No. 2" added a few internal changes, but was notable externally by the addition of the billboard-sized "SAVAGE" logo on the right side of the frame, above the grip panel.

This pistol is in really quite good shape for a gun that is now 99 years old. The bore and breechface show little evidence of use. The fragile loaded chamber indicator is neither broken nor bent. The grip panels are crisp enough that close examination will reveal the word "TRADE MARK" on the band of the Indian Chief's war bonnet, and the trigger still retains good case coloring. The bluing is worn in spots, but I'd call this an honest 95%+ gun, probably $300 or more, depending on the market.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Condition Is Everything Part II

"Hey, how much is my gun worth?"

"Do you have it with you?"


 Below are two Remington 51 .380ACP pistols, both of which could honestly be described by a non-collector over the phone to the poor gun store clerk as "Well, it's in pretty good shape..."

And they both are. They're both all there; the grip panels are intact and all the markings are clearly legible; their bores are both good and both function and still possess their original magazines...

The top pistol was probably made in 1919 (serial number in the mid 4-digit range) and is about a 95% gun. It has light wear on the high spots around the muzzle and a freckle or two here and there, and nosing around the web and looking at the Blue Book, I wouldn't be too embarrassed to hang a $600 price tag on it at a gun show to see if anyone bit.

The gun below it is also mechanically solid, all there, and functions fine. It's right on the borderline between a Variant I and a Variant II (it has the Remington logo on the frame and the .380 marking on the chamber, but it still has the old 9-serration slide) which dates it to 1921. While it's all there mechanically, the finish is worn to a dull gray patina in most places and there's evidence of previous pitting on the slide... Let's call it 40%, which puts book at $225.

You can see why one of my least favorite phone calls was the ol' "How much is my gun worth?" (There was always an awkward silence as I fought back the urge to say "Hold it up to the phone where I can see it better.")

Friday, March 08, 2013

They don't hardly make them like that anymore...

Over at the other blog, I posted a picture of my recently-acquired Remington 870 alongside a vintage Remington 10-A I've had for a couple of years.

Roughly a hundred years separate these two shoguns, although the 870 design, having debuted in 1950, is a classic in its own right.
The 10-A has a forend with a single action bar, and the bottom-ejecting action has a strange little side-hinged flipper that serves as a shell lifter. A Pedersen design, one tends to automatically assume this is an attempt to engineer around Browning patents held by Winchester on the Model 1897. The Model 10 was certainly more modern-looking than the exposed-hammer Winchester, while sharing with it a feature that has sadly vanished from most of our modern slide-action gauges:

To take down, flip out the latch at the muzzle end of the mag tube and give the tube a quarter turn and slide it and the forend toward the muzzle until they stop. Then give the entire barrel and mag tube assembly a quarter turn and pull it forward out of the receiver.
The above shotgun was bought for, like, a hundred bucks including tax back in the autumn of 2011; it's a little rough and the stock's in need of a bunch of Acraglass, if not complete replacement, and the barrel's been cut down to 18.5" from a full choke ~28" tube, so its collector value is just about nil, but it sure is neat. That takedown feature is just handier than a pocket on a shirt. Why don't they do that anymore?