Maxim Silverman Model 1896 Automatic Pistol (Video)

Hiram Maxim is obviously best known for the Maxim Machine Gun, but he and (most significantly) his assistant Louis Silverman also dabbled in handgun design. It appears that the work was primarily Silverman’s, done with the tacit support of the Maxim company. A followup version was made with more of Maxim’s fingerprints on the design, but it never appears to have been produced – while three of the Maxim-Silverman guns are known to still exist.

This pistol began as a simple blowback action, albeit a clever and elegant one. It was chambered for the 7.63mm Borchardt cartridge, which proved to be too strong for a blowback mechanism to safely handle. This was remediated by the addition of a delaying spring added to the side of the frame to hold the bolt closed slightly longer during the firing process. The two other known prototype examples are in different calibers; one in an experimental 8mm version of the Borchardt round, a larger framed model in .455 Webley.

Overall, these pistols are simple, elegant, and quite ahead of their time. It is unfortunately that they were not given more attention at the time, but it is reasonable that the Maxim company would be more interested in devoting its resources to the military machine gun market.

Thanks to the Institute of Military Technology for giving me access to this pistol!



    • The gun has a very positive disconnecting mechanism. The sear is located in the breechbolt and the trigger has an upright spring loaded lever. When the breechbolt is fully home, the upper tip of the trigger lever locates under the front tip of sear and by the exertion of commanding trigger finger, forces the sear to release the cocked striker. When the gun discharged and the breechbolt recoiled, the trigger keeps its pulled back position and when the breechbolt returns to its foremost position, the front of sear pushes the trigger lever forward and this spring actuated lever can only locate under the sear front tip after the trigger leaving its pulle back position. This very effective disconnecting engagement had been used in some well known pistols afterwards including famous BHP.

  1. “(…)7.63mm Borchardt cartridge(…)”
    Cartridge choices suggest that it might be intended for military, especially .455 caliber. It also show that this design was ahead of its time: no suitable cartridges for blow-back automatic pistol entered mass production yet. Additionally 7.63mm Borchardt was misfortunate for blow-back design, as it was too powerful and additionally bottle-necked.

    Form/shape of this automatic pistol is interesting – lets call it big overhang. It was earlier used in Borchardt C/93 and later in ADLER automatic pistol – photo: – all of these weapons incorporated also “free” barrel, apparently a revolver inspiration. Notice that designs of such shape don’t need “beaver tail” as it is practically impossible to place unintentionally hand in way of moving parts.

    It must be also note that at that time (1890s) no-one was sure how automatic pistol should look, so considering this it must be respected.

  2. Amazing for its time and any time actually. I can see some room for that delay mechanism improvement such as better definition of its geometry and possibly mirroring it on other side.

    • The delay mechanism appears to act as a friction brake. The friction rings on a Browning autoloading shotgun are the only other brake on a gun that I can think of. Perhaps the idea has been tried elsewhere such as a rate reduction mechanism in a MG. Of course my knowledge is limited, but I’m willing to learn.

        • Maybe, but they eliminated the Blish lock on the Thompson SMG partly because they found it to be more hype than effective, at least at 45 ACP pressures. IIRC Blish made his observations on the much higher pressures of large naval guns. I don’t know enough about it to say.
          In a way, a spring loaded piece of metal bearing on the breach block of a pistol which slows the opening, describes hammer fired pistols. But there is mechanical disadvantage involved in cocking the hammer.

        • Ian had a post about this. Many cool pictures. A lever delayed blowback, perhaps similar to the French FAMAS.
          The STG-44 firing pin spring just dragged on the pin, slowing it down against inertia but not enough to prevent firing. InRange did an excellent series of videos with HMG about their reproductions.
          What am I looking for? Who knows? In this case something that looks like it could use a brake shoe.

          • As known, lever or roller delay blowback mechanisms are based mostly on momentum converting principles. A certain amount of momentum is transmitted to the two piece breechblock consisted of real breechbolt and it’s carrier and by means of a frame connected lever and through the real breechblock, greater amount of the momentum is transmitted to the carrier block to ascent it’s rearward speed through the shorter force apply arm of lever and since the real breechbolt loses most of its motion power, it slows. This principle, unintentionally as per see, first used in
            this Maxim Silverman 1896 Third pistol for converting the cocking from from inertial to mechanic and as intentionally by Pal Kiraly In 1913. Some guns like Benelli M76 and FN FiveSeven, are not lever delayed in fact and all auto toggle loading mechanisms. in locked from or not, get use of the advantage of this slowing effect. IMHO.

          • In a “pure” blowback the momentum transfer between the reciprocating parts and the frame is though the recoil spring and friction. In this case they increase the friction with the kludged on bit. You can also increase friction by getting you’re gun really dirty or oiling it heavily and walking out in the cold. That is you can get it run sluggish. Reliability may suffer.

          • Thanks, but what l would like to mean was, the simple toggle action auto feeding mechanisms which should be another kind of leverage system.

          • I really like the toggle as a mechanism. All of the delayed blowbacks are fascinating, but the Maxim Silverman is just so darned simple, perhaps even ineffectual. I just wondered if anyone else had used it. Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it.

      • Mannlicher 1901, Campo Giro initial production pistols have friction devices to slow the slide speed. All hammer pistols have the same effect through their impact elements. But these mechanism’s advantages mostĺy are taken through the whole backward travel of the slides and their effects for delaying the opening of breech back at instant of the maximum pressure presenting in the barrel which relating a few millimeters from the breech, should be minimum. They are usefull to lessen the beating effects for both the gun and shooter.

        Browning’s A5 friction rings principle are also used in Remington 1100 and Fabarm’s gas piston auto regulators as formed in different materials.


  3. Looking at that sear design…. What resets the trigger after each shot? I’m assuming the front of the bolt rides over the top and forces it back down? It seems like that design could just hose the entire magazine if the trigger was held too tightly….

    • Ah… I had to watch that part again. So from what I see, there is a channel on the bolt in front of the sear, and the trigger actually moves all the way past the sear into that channel when it is fired, and has to be reset to clear the flat face of the sear. When I watched it the first time I didn’t catch that it went all the way past…

  4. gorgeous pistol. Make one in .32 acp without the spring on the outside and you have a beauty of a sporting gun.

  5. If you look at the patent you will see an intermediate spring-loaded vertical piece between trigger and sear — this lifts to effect the sear and then snaps back down to reset; thus a de facto disconnector.

    Did Andreas Schwarzlose see either pistol or patent? Look at the the common ergonomic shape, the tubular frame, and the simplicity of spring function (striker and bolt both functioning on the same spring!). How could Mr. M not mention this resemblance? And did Georg Luger see either this gun or Schwarzlose’s before improving the Borchardt into the Parabellum?

  6. All this early pistols had a the problem were to place the main spring. You could have a overhang, or put the magazin in front of the trigger, or as on the Luger and the Webly put the spring in the grip and had it conected to the bolt by a leaver. Brauning would solve that problem with the invention of the slide that alow the spring around or below the barrel in front of the trigger and defining the automatic pistol as we ´know it today.

    • “Brauning would solve that problem with the invention of the slide that alow the spring around or below the barrel in front of the trigger”
      Although it must be noted that Browning No.1 (also known as FN 1900) – first widely successful commercially Browning’s automatic pistol in Europe – has spring above barrel. Such solution was used also in some other automatic pistols design of that era – to name few: Bayard Model 1908, Melior Old Model, F.L.Selbstlader (Langenhan-Armee-Pistole), Dreyse 1907, Frommer Stop. Later such arrangement falled into oblivion, S&W used it in their Model 61 pocket automatic pistol (1970s), but with limited success.

      “spring around or below the barrel”
      It was also attained by other designers indepedently, around-the-barrel spring has early Mannlicher automatic pistol, utilizing blow-forward principle, see drawing here:
      below barrel spring was also employed by Mannlicher – in Mannlicher Model 1901 – and by Roth – in Roth-Sauer automatic pistol (known as Model 1900) – and by Gabbet-Fairfax – in Webley MARS automatic pistol

    • Sorry, but, as far as l know, the term “Main Spring” in firearms, relates the “Power Source of Firing Mechanism” and not for the returning force apply devices for breechbolts. In this example however, the both parts are same.

  7. Try googling “Match-o-magic gun lighter” and see if you recognize anything.
    I used to have one of these, bought some time in the mid to late 60’s from a (then much more common) local “Smoke Shop. It was very James Bond-ish, full sized and…didn’t work very well.
    Oh, well.

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