Thursday, November 11, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #5...

When the Savage Model 1907 hit the market in 1908, it had very little competition in the compact pocket autoloader segment here in America. It was pretty much just Savage and Colt.

Bear in mind, however, that this wasn't a situation that would last forever. In 1908, self-loading pistols were still something of a novelty, like robot vacuums in 2008 or electric cars in 2018. It didn't take long for the market to get more crowded, though.

By the mid Nineteen-teens, not only were Savage sales slumping relative to those of the Colt autos, but the two companies had been joined in the semiautomatic pistol field by Harrington & Richardson and Smith & Wesson. Suddenly Roombas and Teslas were all over the place.

The American commercial firearms market was put on a brief pause while the domestic gun companies went all in to Beat the Kaiser and it was almost as though Savage used this as a chance to regroup and redesign.

Measuring a range of hand sizes, Savage designers cut the backstrap of a 1907 frame loose at the bottom and bent it backward until they settled on what seemed to be the ideal angle for a naturally pointing grip. The new, flared grip shape may look less graceful than the original, but it's one of the most naturally-pointing shapes you'll find on a pocket auto.

The new grip shape necessitated a large relief to be scooped out of the bottom of the grip frame to allow clearance for the shooter's thumb when plucking out empty magazines.

The grips on the new pistol featured an improvement as well. 

Original Savage 1907 grips were made of a hard rubber and required a slight amount of flexibility to slide into the slots on the frame. This was because Colt had a Browning patent for affixing the grips of a self loading pistol to the frame with screws.

The problem was that the rubber could get brittle with time, and the fine channels into which the grip panels slid could get clogged with dirt or residue, and grips would break or not fit properly.

By the time the new pistol hit the market in 1920, this wasn't an issue anymore and the revised grip panels were held on with a screw like a normal pistol. (Remington's Model 51, which was released in 1918, still had to dodge the Colt patent with rivet-backed grips that slid on and were retained by the mainspring pin.)

Despite the new Savage going on sale in 1920, the marketing department called it the Model 1917, after the year it was designed. The Model 1917 hit the shelves just in time for a period of sharp deflation now known as the Depression of 1920-1921.

Savage churned out over eleven thousand pistols in that first year of production, but sales were tepid. Between the economic slump and the dawn of Prohibition, crime was spiking. Pressure was on to enact pistol restrictions at the local, state, and national level. With unsold pistols piling up in stockrooms and warehouses, Savage suspended production for much of 1921 hoping to move some unsold inventory before restarting production at a slower pace.

Production continued until 1926, by which time 29,072 of the .32 caliber Model 1917's had been made, as well as a further 14,325 in .380ACP. Other than a handful of pistols assembled from leftover parts by special order, that was the end of the most serious domestic competitor for Colt's semiautomatic pistols until Smith & Wesson released its 9mm thirty years later.

The Model 1917 came in two varieties, known to collectors as the Model 1917-20 and the 1917-22, with the major difference being that the later pistols were marked "SAVAGE 1917 MODEL" in a small italic sans serif font on the left side of the frame where the old SAVAGE billboard marking had been in 1907 models; the 1917-20 was blank there, like the one in the photos.

Advertisement from June, 1914 issue of National Geographic


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