Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #4...

When Savage resumed manufacturing handguns for the civilian market after the Great War, a few changes were made to the basic Model 1907.

Referred to in the literature as the Model 1907-19, these pistols were immediately recognizable by their less expensive matte blue finish that was also more durable than the bright bluing used on earlier guns. They also had twenty-eight smaller, sharper cocking serrations on each side instead of the ten large rounded ones of the original pistols.

The ejection port was smaller, no longer relieved to accept the loaded chamber indicator, which had added extra parts & manufacturing steps and acquired a reputation for breakage.

The large "SAVAGE" billboard rollmark on the left side of the gun was also gone now, eliminating another manufacturing step.

With the Model 1907-19 Modification #2 variant, the cocking lever with a pronounced thumb spur that had been an optional addition since 1914 became standard on the model.

Some 18,000 of the 1907-19 Modif. #1 and 26,400 of the 1907-19 Modif. #2 were build between the start of 1919 and the end of 1920. These pistols, however, were just a stopgap. Savage was feeling pressure not only from Colt, but now also from Remington, who had entered the pocket pistol fray with their John Pedersen-designed Model 51 at the tail end of 1918.

In response, Savage had revamped their basic pistol design in '17 and the new pistol would be ready for sale at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #3...

Sales of Savage's little Model 1907 pocket pistols had gotten off to a good start. They looked modern, had good advertising, and the ten-shot magazine gave them a leg up in the marketplace versus their competition. Nevertheless, despite a couple years where they actually outsold the Colt Pocket Hammerless, the salad days didn't last.

Sales fell off in 1912 and so management in Utica began groping for something to spice up the lineup relative to the competition from Hartford.

Pistols in this size class were usually carried in a coat pocket or vest pocket, and Colt made a lot of hay over the smooth "hammerless" profile of their 1903 and 1908 pocket models. Now, the Colt pistols actually had hammers, albeit internal ones, and the Savage pistols did not have hammers, but the external cocking lever for the internal striker made it look like they did...

Enter the Savage Model 1915, which was introduced first in .380 caliber in February of 1915, with a .32ACP version (like the one pictured) shipping in April of that same year.

The "hammerless" profile of the Colt was easiest to duplicate. All Savage had to do was remove the spur from the cocking lever on the striker and blank off the now-nonfunctional slot with a strip of sheet metal.

The 1915 sought to emulate some other Colt features, however. Among them was a grip safety, which took a couple tries to adapt to the basic mechanism of the original Savage 1907. The final design was by William Swartz and used pressure on the existing trigger-locking bar to prevent the trigger from moving unless the grip safety was fully depressed by a proper firing grip.

The 1915 retained the spring-steel loaded chamber indicator that had been introduced in 1913. Along with this, it introduced a last shot hold-open feature. A tab was added to the magazine follower that actuated an internal lever when the last round had been fired. An external tab was provided that could be pressed upward by the trigger finger to send the slide back into battery.

Despite all these changes, which added to the cost of the pistol, Savage kept the retail price of the 1915 the same as its 1907 predecessor. The sent profitability through the floor. Further, both the loaded chamber indicator and the last round hold-open feature quickly gained reputations for fragility.

Savage charged $15 for the .32 caliber versions and $16 for the .380s, but after selling a few thousand of each in the first year of production, sales plummeted. Compounding the problem was Savage being subsumed into the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Company in 1915, and foreign contracts for Lewis guns were a lot more exciting for bean counters than trying to push a new civilian pistol design.

By the beginning of 1917 production of the Savage Model 1915 pistol, a weapon optimized for concealed carry by American citizens, had been entirely displaced at Savage by contracts for pistols and machine guns for European armies.

With roughly 6,500 manufactured in .32ACP and only 3,900 in .380 Auto, the Model 1915 is among the rarer commercial Savage auto pistols.

Savage for Victory!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #2...

Last week's Savage 1907 was the variant known as the "1907-10 Modif. #2" and was made sometime in early 1911. Only two and a half years later, Savage was three more iterations down the road. By the latter part of 1913, they'd segued through the pistol now called the "1907-12 Transitional Issue" and the "1907-13 Modif. #1" and started making the pistol in the photos: The 1907-13 Modification Number 2.

The 1907-13 Modif. #2 was made from the latter part of 1913 through 1915, by which time it was largely supplanted by a version made under foreign contracts for the French and Portuguese militaries.

The pistol shown, which is in rather decent shape for an older Savage, was made toward the end of the period. 

The easiest tell for distinguishing a 1907-13 Modif. #2 from the earlier Modif. #1 is the large billboard "SAVAGE" in fine-outlined all caps on the left side of the frame.

 The trigger is still case-colored and it still has the early version of the burr on the cocking piece as well as the very wide slide serrations. The grips on this example are in very good shape, with the "TRADEMARK" lettering still legible on the chief's headdress.

The 1907-13 had introduced a loaded chamber indicator. This was a piece of spring steel, viewable through the ejection port, that clipped around a recess in the barrel with a tab that extended rearward that would be forced up by the semi-rim of a chambered round. This would provide both visible and tactile indication of a round in the chamber.

The 1907-12 Transitional issue had introduced a new magazine release. Rather than being in the center of the frontstrap and depressed with the ring finger, the second version of the magazine catch, used from the 1907-12 through the rest of the production run, had a knurled bit at the bottom of the catch and was operated by pressing this inward with the pinkie finger of the firing hand.

This obviously required a new magazine with the hole for the mag catch in a higher location.

So by 1913 we have a striker-fired, double-stack, self-loading pocket pistol with an ambidextrous magazine release and a loaded chamber indicator. Savage sold some 30- to 40,000 of them in the days before the Great War.

Actual Savage advertisement, circa 1913

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #1

Few patents in the firearms industry gave a manufacturer such an effective stranglehold on a market as did Smith & Wesson's licensing of the Rollins White patent for bored-through cylinders in revolvers. Other companies were forced to try and engineer workarounds for more than a decade while Smith basically had a lock on the metallic cartridge revolver until the patent expired in the early 1870s.

The only patent that came close was Colt's Browning patent for a one-piece breechblock and slide that extended forward to enclose the barrel. 

That gave Colt a deadlock on the self-loading pistol market in this country, at least for the most part. The challengers were mostly failures in the marketplace; the only one that came close to being a success was the Elbert Searle-designed Model 1907 from Savage. In some years it even outsold the Colt, but was far more complex and expensive to produce and eventually ceased production in the late 1920s.

There are approximately sixteen different iterations of the little .32 Savage (the constant changes and tweaks over a twenty-ish year production run did nothing to aid profitability) and the pictured pistol is the most common variety.

Manufactured in 1911, it's the variant referred to in James Carr's Savage Automatic Pistols book as a "1907-10 Modification No.2". Some 45,500 of this version alone were made.

Without consulting serial numbers, the main way to tell a "1907-10 Modif. #2" from a "1907-10 Modif. #1" is by the "SAFE" and "FIRE" rollmarks in the frame. While these are sometimes found on earlier guns, they were done after the pistol had been blued, indicating they were probably added after the pistol had been completed, possibly when it was returned to the factory for service.

Incidentally, that thing that looks like a hammer spur? It's not. It's just an external cocking lever attached to the internal striker.

The 1907-10 Modif. #2 still has the first version of the Savage's magazine release. Intended to be operated by the shooter's ring finger, the portion in the recessed divot in the frontstrap is pressed, causing the release lever to pivot on its pin and withdraw the catch from the cutout in the front of the magazine body, allowing the magazine to (at least attempt to) drop free.

By 1912, Savage had made around 65,000 of these striker-fired, double-stack, ten-shot pocket autos with ambidextrous magazine releases. They were, in many respects, way ahead of their time.