The Vault

Vintage Saturday: On Maneuvers

Zouaves on maneuvers, 1909

Looks a bit verdant for North Africa…

Zouaves on maneuvers with M1886 Lebel rifles, in 1909.

Burgess Folding Shotgun

Andrew Burgess has been the subject of a couple recent posts, and I figure it’s high time to actually take a close look at one of his firearms designs. Specifically, the folding shotgun. The first shotgun specifically designed to be a fighting weapon instead of a sporting arm, Burgess’ shotgun was patented in January of 1893 and first appeared on the market in 1894. It featured a 20″ barrel, 6-round tube magazine under the barrel, and unloaded weight of just over 6 pounds (2.7kg). This compact configuration was specifically intended for use by messengers, bank guards, police, cavalry troops, and others who could exploit the handiness of a compact shotgun. The size was complemented by the gun’s folding mechanism.

Burgess Folding Shotgun

Burgess Folding Shotgun (photo from Rock Island Auctions)

This folding was accomplished by putting a hinge just behind the end of the chamber. The top of the barrel and magazine assembly had four machined thread-like parallel grooves which fit into matching slots in the receiver assembly, similar to many other take-down shotgun designs. However, the pivoting pin at the bottom and the spring=loaded latch that Burgess added to the design allowed the gun to be carried in a folded state (with the magazine fully loaded) and snapped into a locked firing condition with a flip of the wrist. In fact, Burgess sold a belt holster for the shotgun to allow one to carry it under a coat in just that manner.

Unholstering a Burgess folding shotgun

Presenting the shotgun from the holster, from an original Burgess advertisement (photo: Swearengen)

One of the more significant purchases for Burgess folding shotguns was secured with the aid of just such a holster. Burgess salesman Charlie Dammon – an impressive exhibition shooter – made an appointment with then New York City Police Board President Theodore Roosevelt in 1885, and arrived concealing a loaded Burgess in a holster under his coat. After exchanging a few greetings, Dammon thoroughly startled Roosevelt by whipping out the gun, snapping it shut, and blasting six blanks into the ceiling of the office. Roosevelt, always one to be enthusiastic about weapons technology, promptly order one hundred of the guns for use in the New York State Penal System (these were eventually sold at auction in Canada around 1920).

Burgess folding shotgun latch and hinge

Latch and hinge mechanism (photo: Swearengen)

The other element that really makes the Burgess gun stand out from other pump shotguns (particularly today, when we have many more around than there were in the 1890s) is its unusual pump mechanism. Because Samuel Roper (partner of Christopher Spencer) had patented the now-ubiquitous slide wrapped around the magazine tube, Burgess had to find an alternative. What he did was to make the grip and trigger guard into the slide assembly. A sleeve wrapped around the wrist of the stock, and the shooter would pull this back to open the action and then push it back into place to load a new shell. Burgess had tried to challenge Roper’s patent in court, but failed (where Winchester would later succeed through a technicality, allowing them to use the now-standard slide mechanism in their 1893 and 1897 models).

Burgess pump shotgun, closed

Action closed (photo from

Burgess pump shotgun, open

Action open (photo from

These shotguns were manufactured and sold from 1894 until 1899 by the Burgess Gun Company in Buffalo, New York. During this time Burgess made both folding shotguns and a non-folding takedown sporting version of the gun with 28″ and 30″ barrels. In addition, a very small number of pump-action rifles using the same mechanism (although not folding) were made in .30-30 and .45-70 calibers. The shotguns are fairly rare today, with folding models particularly hard to find – and the rifles are extremely scarce. In 1899, Burgess decided to retire, and sold his company and factory to the Winchester company. They promptly repurposed what tooling and machinery they could, scrapped the rest, and shut down the factory.

Burgess folding shotgun, folded

Folded (photo: James Julia)

The Burgess shotgun is little-known today, with its more commercially successful contemporary Winchester 1897 competitor being far more common. However, the Burgess really was one of the first of the truly combat-oriented shotguns. In addition to being concealable and compact, it was capable of very rapid fire. Burgess’ exhibition shooters would regularly perform feats such as breaking six clays thrown simultaneously, or firing rapidly enough to have all six empty hulls in the air simultaneously – feats which were simply not practical with the Spencer pump shotguns or the Winchester 1893. Even today, it remains a practical fighting shotgun (to the extent surviving examples can be found). Perhaps someone will decide to start manufacturing reproductions so we can all enjoy shooting them?

Technical Specs

Caliber: 12ga (.30-30 and .45-70 in very rare rifle examples)
Action: Pump, exposed hammer
Barrel length: 20″ (28″ and 30″ for sporting versions)
Overall length: approx. 40″
Weight, unloaded: approx. 6lb (2.7kg)
Magazine capacity: 6 (2.5″ shells)


US Patent 521,202 (A. Burgess, “Folding Gun”, June 12, 1894)

US Patent 524,800 (A. Burgess, “Folding Magazine Gun”, August 21, 1894)


Swearengen, Thomas F. The Worlds Fighting Shotguns Chesa Ltf, Hong Kong, 1978.

Flayderman, Norm. Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values Follett Publishing Co, Chicago, 1977.

Predicting the Future

Journal #27 of the Royal United Service InstitutionWhile doing some research on the experimental Spencer-Lee rifle design, I came across an article on shoulder rifle technology written by Col. George Fosbery in 1884 for the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution. Fosbery, of course, is an arms designer of some note (being responsible for the Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver as well as the Paradox gun and more) as well as a decorated (with nothing short of the Victoria Cross) fighting soldier. This would suggest that he would be a pretty astute judge of small arms developments. However, even the best and brightest can’t always predict the future. Take, for example, Fosbery’s commentary on box magazines and electrically-primer cartridges…

You cannot expect that any Government will consent to pack its rifle cartridges by fives in steel boxes of inconvenient shape which, in the addition contain moveable plates, and steel springs, studs, and catches, and would neither stand sea air nor Indian magazines for a year, and remain serviceable, to say nothing of their first cost. Nor, I think, should we call on our soldiers or sailors to carry less cartridges and more useless metal than necessary, besides which we should not give them in addition to other things a lot of little boxes, which, in heat of action, they must carefully put back in their pockets when empty.

Fosbery’s objections here are largely reasonable – magazines take more space than loose cartridges, they are expensive, fragile, and require specialized storage on a soldier’s person. What Fosbery did not envision were the solutions and workarounds to these problems – making magazines either more study or disposable, making them with cheap stamping technology, and issuing ammunition in clips with which soldiers would fill their own magazines (among other solutions).

A few pages later, he brings up a novel and promising new technology…

Before concluding, I will, if you permit me, show you what is as yet but an infant but still a well-grown and capable infant, and one that may well develop into a powerful and formidable man; and this is the electric gun of M. Pieper of Liege. The details by which the current is produced or conveyed to the cartridge may be modified, and the source of the electricity carried in the gun itself instead of on the person of the firer. But the cartridge is would, I think, be impossible to simplify or improve; and, once we admit such a thing as possible, see the advantages which we obtain.

First, we do away with special appliances for delivering a central blow on the cartridge, and have all the space which they now occupy for our magazine or other means of loading. Then, having no fulminate in the cartridges, we can carry and arrange them how we please; and, igniting the powder in front, we are enabled to get higher velocities with lower charges – a great decideratum. In machine-guns such as the new Gatling of Mr. George Accles, which fires 104 rounds in 2.4 seconds, and now necessitates the compression and release of 14lb springs so many times in that period, imagine the saving of labour which would result form the adoption of a system which required only the making and breaking of electrical contacts instead, and the saving of wear and tear which would result. But, as I said before, the thing is still in its infancy, and for these and other purposes is yet awaiting development. M. Pieper is already manufacturing these arms in the form which you see, and so far they are perfectly satisfactory – one great advantage being their immunity from danger of accidental explosion when out of the shooter’s hands.

Many people have opined on the promise of electrically-primed cartridges, and the advantages Fosbery lists are again all legitimate. The firing mechanisms for electric cartridges are mechanically much simpler, and would free up space and weight in a firearm. They would be an ideal solution to the problem of pointed bullets in tubular magazines, which was relatively common in this period. Such cartridges have seen limited use (E-tronx, Voere, some 20mm Vulcan guns, among others), but never become accepted in the mainstream.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that Fosbery was anything but brilliant. In fact, I hope to make the opposite point – even the most brilliant cannot be counted upon to accurately predict what trends will or will not become common and popular. When we see new innovations today like TrackingPoint computerized optics or 3D-printed components, we should carefully judge the arguments for and against their practicality, and always remember that sometimes great ideas die on the vine and sometimes objectionable ones are adopted over those objections.

Anyone interested can download the complete Journal through Google Books: Journal #27 of the Royal United Service Institution

Biography: Andrew Burgess

by Robert White

Andrew BurgessWith 894 patents, Andrew Burgess is one of the most prolific firearm inventors the world has ever known (second only to John Browning in number of firearms patents issued to an American), and a man of varied talents beyond firearms design.

Burgess was born January 16, 1837 in Dresden, NY to John Christian Burgess and Achsah Christie (Davis) Burgess, and was the grandson of a a Hessian deserter from the American Revolution. He was a skilled photographer whose family-owned farm bordered the homestead of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Burgess ended up apprenticed to Brady and photographically documented Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South, as well as documenting the execution of the French-installed Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian in Mexico. Andrew Burgess is now credited to have taken the famous “Brady’s Lincoln” photograph that is found on the American five dollar bill.

Later, Burgess photographed the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) before returning to the United States in 1871. It is speculated that during his stint as a photographer during the Franco-Prussian War he developed an interest in firearm design. His first patent was granted Sept. 19, 1871, for converting the Peabody and Werndl arms to magazine rifles.

When Brady fell on hard times in 1874, Burgess purchased the studio, but sold it back by 1876. Some of the photos credited to him:
Edwin McMaster Stanton, secretary of war
William Pitt Fessenden, secretary of the treasury
General Winfield Scott Hancock

Colt advertisement for the Burgess rifles

Colt advertisement for Burgess rifles

During the 19th century Colt was known for their revolvers and Winchester was known for their lever action rifles. However in 1883 an improved model of lever action rifle was presented to Colt by Andrew Burgess. Burgess had created a lever action rifle similar to the Winchester Model 1873 but had several improvements that made it more accurate, reliable and tougher.

Winchester was not happy about having competition from Colt. Shortly after production began representatives from Winchester met with representatives from Colt. From there the Winchester reps presented a number of pistol prototypes (Mason revolvers) they intended to manufacture. An agreement was made that if Colt stayed out of rifles Winchester would stay out of pistols. Production of the Colt-Burgess Rifle ended after only 16 months of production. When production ceased the total output of Colt-Burgess rifles and carbines was a mere 6,403 units, all in .44-40 caliber, with some 340 of these being shipped to the London agency.

Jesse James with a Burgess patent 1881 Marlin rifle

Jesse James with a Burgess patent 1881 Marlin rifle

Andrew Burgess partnered with Eli Whitney with his design for a lever action repeating magazine rifle chambered in the .45-70 Government cartridge. It was hoped that this gun would be accepted in the military trials of 1878 to adopt a repeating rifle. Although not successful, Whitney continued production in sporting and military versions.

In 1881, the Marlin Firearms Company introduced the Model 1881 lever-action tubular magazine repeating rifle. The key features patented by Andrew Burgess. This rifle was available in a variety of calibers ranging from .32-40 to 45-70 Government.

Burgess established his own company in 1892. The Burgess Gun Company manufactured slide action shotguns and rifles operated by a unique pistol grip prior to their being purchased by Winchester repeating Arms Company in 1899. Winchester commonly bought out competing firms and then closed them.

One notable firearm resulting from the 100′s and 100’s of patents was the Burgess Folding Gun, designed for police service, express messengers, prisons and banks. It was made from 1892 to 1899. Nearly semi-automatic in operation, the Folding Gun had a sliding pistol grip assembly that moved backward under recoil and could be quickly shoved forward again by the shooter. While able to fire its six shots in less than three seconds, most users appreciated its attribute of compact storage in two hinged-together sections. These two components could be quickly rejoined, allowing the Folding Gun to be carried under a coat in a belt holster and drawn much like an oversized handgun.

While primarily manufactured as a shotgun, a few were also made in rifle calibers. The Burgess Folding Gun was a popular choice for law enforcement agencies seeking a compact arm. One prime reason for ready police acceptance may have been its consistent three-foot pattern with buckshot at 40 yards.

According to Mark Lee Garner in “To Hell on a Fast Horse”, Pat Garrett was armed with a Burgess when he was killed on Feb. 29, 1908.

Burgess Gun Company factory, circa 1893

Burgess Gun Company factory, circa 1893

While he had gained renown as an arms inventor, Burgess was also remembered for his unique style of conducting his research and, during later years, would frequently go to St. Augustine, Fla., where he had set up a floating workshop adjacent to a beachside bungalow. When stress onshore became too great, the solitary Burgess would pull up anchor to float away on the currents, playing his favorite violin and periodically firing a
shotgun to ward off seagulls.

His last patent was granted in 1906 and he died from heart failure on December 19, 1908 at the age of 71.


The Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878, by Dale A. Olson

Lever Action Magazine Rifles, Derived from the Patents of Andrew Burgess, by Samuel L. Maxwell

Prototype FN-49 Photos

I was planning to do a brief post today on a photo of a Spencer-Lee slide-action rifle, but as I started looking I found more and more information about it. I’m going to need a lot longer to put it all together into a good article – but I stilled needed something for today. So without analysis I present this gallery of photos of prototype FN-49 #8:

Belgian Mini-Revolver (Video)

Since our last video was the biggest gun we’ve ever filmed, I figured we would go the opposite direction this week, and feature the smallest gun we’ve ever filmed. It’s an example of a cheap pocket pistol from a century ago – a 6-shot Belgian revolver chambered for .22 Short (sometimes referred to as a Velodog).  Scads of these type of guns were made, often with no markings beyond the legally-required proofs, making them difficult to research today. This particular one is just such an example – beyond its Belgian origin, we know very little about it.

Swiss K31 Back Up For Sale

The buyer for my spare K31 Swiss carbine never followed up with me, so the K31 is back up for sale. If you would like to have it, just drop me a line at

SOLD This K31 was manufactured in 1935 (only the third year of production), and has a superb bore and some very pretty stripes on one side of the walnut stock. It is missing the rear action screw. It does have the name tag under the buttplate from the Swiss reservist who carried it. The tang is marked “59″, indicating that it was refurbished at Bern in 1959. The most modern of the Swiss straight-pull rifles, the K31 is handy, accurate, and reliable – the final iteration of the Swiss straight-pull rifles. Asking $375 shipped.

Vintage Saturday: Mountaineer

Alpine soldier with a PPSh-41 submachine gun

Join the Army; see the world (photo from

Not sure which army exactly, but he has a PPSh-41 (or copy) and plenty of rope…

Book Review: The Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878

Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878I’ve been getting curious to learn more about Andrew Burgess and his seldom-recognized guns, and took a look to see what books might be available on the subject. As it turns out, there are basically only two – one is readily available and inexpensive, and the other is out of print and costs more than I would like to spend on a book I have not been able to leaf through already.

The available volume is Dale Olson’s The Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878 and Other Related Stories, published just a few years ago in (appropriately) Wyoming. For the price, it is a good reference, although I suspect the unavailable book (Samuel Maxwell’s Lever Action Magazine Rifles, Derived from the Patents of Andrew Burgess) would have significantly more technical detail. This is a review of Olson’s book, but I think it is important to put it in the appropriate context. Olson’s work is approximately 160 pages long, and half of that space is used to list the serial numbers and primarily characteristics of the known surviving examples of Burgess, Kennedy, and Scharf rifles. The remaining 80 pages include biographies of Andrew Burgess, Eli Whitney, and Eli Whitney Jr. (Whitney’s factory produced Burgess rifles in several forms), a developmental history of the Burgess 1878, a brief history of the Burgess Gun Company, and anecdotes of interesting individual Burgess rifles. The most detailed of these is an extended story of a frontiersman named W.F. “Bear” Davis, who was particularly known for an incident which left his Burgess rifle with teeth marks in the forearm, Davis with a bitten hand, and a bear shot thoroughly dead.

While I wish that the book were longer, I must say that Olson did a pretty good job balancing his content between the technical, the historical, and the cultural. There is enough mechanical detail here to inform the gunsmithing types, while also having a good amount of context and background of how Burgess influenced the whole world of gunmaking at the time (and clear through the present day, really). The anecdotal recounting of varied histories of individual Burgess rifles is also appealing, although it is not what I am primarily looking for in a reference book. For the $20 cover price, it’s a good buy – especially considering the dearth of alternatives if you want information on the 1878 Burgess and its relatives.

One thing that Olson makes a good start at (although I would really like to see more detail on the subject) is giving the reader an appreciation for just how widespread Burgess’ influence was. For example, many don’t realize that when Colt stopped making the Colt-Burgess rifle and stepped up production of the Colt Lightning pump-action rifle, it was not a complete loss for Burgess – he had patents licensed for use in the Lightning. Burgess’ patents were used in Schulhof pistols, some Mannlicher rifles, and the Winchester 1893 pump shotgun to name a few. This is truly a man who deserves far more recognition than he had gotten.

Olson has apparently decided not to market his work on Amazon, but I was able to find it in stock at (which has a ton of other books that will be of interest to the collector, shooter, and historian)

Sunngård Automatic Pistol

Harald Sunngård was Norwegian inventor in the early years of the 20th century who noticed a common perceived weakness of automatic pistols: reloads under stress were often bungled by shooters, leaving them vulnerable to return fire without being able to shoot back. Doing the classic inventor thing, Sunngård figured out a solution to the problem – a two-part solution, in fact. The first part of his solution was to use a big magazine and a small cartridge, to maximize magazine capacity. The second part of his solution was to store a spare magazine right in the magazine well of the pistol for immediate use.

Sunngard automatic pistol, 6.5mm

Sunngard automatic pistol, 6.5mm

The grip of the pistol is long enough front-to-back to store two identical magazines. The front magazine sits higher than the rear one, and the boltface on the slide feeds rounds from the front magazine into the chamber. Once the front magazine is empty, the shooter ejects it, and need only slide the rear magazine into the front position (and rack the slide) to continue shooting. There is a misconception that the pistol will fire automatically from both magazines in succession, but this is not true.

In addition to having the handy spare available, Sunngard designed the magazines to hold no fewer than 25 cartridges each (in the more common 6.5mm chambering). This gave the pistol a total of 50 rounds stored on-board, which was a major point in Sunngard’s marketing.

The 6.5mm cartridge designed for the pistol had a 23mm overall length, and used a 19mm case. The projectile was a scant 28.5 grains (1.85 gram), and Sunngard claimed a muzzle velocity of just under 2000 ft/s (600 m/s) – which is almost certainly an exaggeration. There was also an 8mm version of the pistol made in much smaller numbers, which fired an equally light projectile (29gr / 1.88g), and may have gotten closer to the claimed velocity (magazines for the 8mm version held 18 rounds each).

Sunngard pistol patent drawing

Sunngard pistol patent drawing

8mm Sunngard pistol

8mm Sunngard pistol (in Koblenz museum; photo from Norsk Vapenhistorisk Selskap Nr. 143)

The process for moving the spare magazine into position is fairly well described in the patent (attached below). The main magazine catch is basically a heel release on the front edge of the magazine well, and it is pushed back in the typical manner to allow the primary magazine to be removed. Then the rear magazine is pulled slightly forward and down as if to remove it from the gun. The rear magazine is then slid forward into the front position and pushed back up to lock into place on the magazine catch. A pair of small guides (labelled “6″ in the patent drawing above) at the top of the magazine well prevent the magazine from being pushed backwards into the now-empty space for the spare magazine, and these guides are the reason the spare mag must be pulled down and then pushed back up. When initially loading the pistol, the spare magazine is inserted first, and locked back into its compartment (held up by a fixed shelf, “9″). Then the primary magazine is inserted just like in any other pistol.

Sunngard apparently tried hard to market the pistol to a variety of military forces, but found no takers. He was able to get the gun entered into the 1914 Norwegian military trials, where it was bested by the Colt 1911 (we don’t have a testing report from the trials, which would be very interesting to read). If I had to guess based on the general attitudes of the day, I would suspect that Ordnance officers found the reloading process awkward, the cartridge underpowered, and the need for a very high capacity pistol unconvincing.

Mechanically, the Sunngard is pretty simple. It uses a plain blowback action, as no locking system is necessary for its small cartridge. The barrel is fixed to the receiver, and a recoil spring is located around the barrel and inside the barrel shroud/slide.

Technical Specs

Caliber: 6.5mm (also 8mm)
Cartridge: 6.5mm Sunngard (6.5x19mm) (also 8x19mm)
Bullet weight: 28.5 gr (1.85g)
Overall length: 8.0in (203mm)
Barrel length: 6.2in (158mm)
Height: 5.3in (135mm)
Weight unloaded: 26.8oz (760g) (28oz/800g for the 8mm variant)
Weight loaded: 33.8oz (960g)


US Patent 972,087 (Harald Sunngard, “Automatic Firearm”, October 4, 1910)