Special Presentation: Semiauto Pistols of the 1800s

Today’s Special Presentation is an overview of all the semiautomatic pistols that were actually put into serial production before the year 1900. We have looked at these individually before, but I think it is worthwhile to examine them together in context, to gain a better understanding of what the automatic pistol scene was really like in the last years of the 19th century.

Want to learn more about any of these? Here are some videos on individual guns:

Volcanic: https://youtu.be/RZBHTOYHY6Y
Luger: https://youtu.be/rIX1EL1hTmE
Schwarzlose 1898: https://youtu.be/rYl0dQAJMh4
Mannlicher 1894: https://youtu.be/lBBCZ_5SveE
Mannlicher 1896: https://youtu.be/vtInWFneOtA
Bergmann No1: https://youtu.be/SGNPqqau-E0
Bergmann No2: https://youtu.be/yiT_LzDJqTM
Bergmann No3 & 4: https://youtu.be/gNERn3UXZXg
Bergmann No5: https://youtu.be/HnKKmeTOU-s
Salvatore-Dormus: https://youtu.be/QGzb-0PJadI
Schonberger-Laumann: https://youtu.be/AFhU3Dixvnk


  1. “overview of all the semiautomatic pistols that were actually put into serial production before the year 1900(…)Volcanic”
    Wait, what is U.S. definition of semiautomatic pistol and why Volcanic is example of thereof, but any other weapon, which I would call manually actuated magazine pistol is not?

    • A semi-automatic pistol (with or without the hyphen) is one which fires, ejects, and reloads one round for each trigger pull without any manual assistance from the shooter. This is irrespective of action type (gas, recoil, blowback, blowforward, etc.).

      Other synonyms are “self-loading pistol”, “auto-loading pistol”, and the seldom-seen today but perfectly adequate “automatic pistol”, which I still use.

      A pistol capable of fully-automatic fire is a “machine pistol”, a term shared with the true submachine gun in German, but not in English.

      The Volcanic is a manually-operated repeating pistol, in fact a lever-action, the ancestor of the Henry and Winchester lever-action repeating rifles. It is not in any way a semi-automatic weapon.



  2. Why leave out 1900? It was the last year of the 19th century, after all.

    Centuries are a hundred years. The first century started with the year 1, and ended in the year 100. The first year of the 19th century was 1801, and the last year was 1900.

  3. This exhibit is extremely well made as is interpretation by Ian; something we grew to used to.

    In hindsight, I am thinking of enormous amount of theoretical work and practical experimenting which had to be done before successful design came to production line. Those were the times of true pioneers of automatic pistols and respective ammunition.

    • “times of true pioneers of automatic pistols and respective ammunition.”
      Here I want to note that Mannlicher blow-forward automatic pistols used actually proprietary cartridges (designed specially for that use), but were rimmed, generally similar to revolver rounds of that era:
      6,5 mm cartridge: http://municion.org/6Mm/6_5x23Mannlicher.htm
      7,6 mm cartridge: http://municion.org/7cf/7_60Mannlicher.htm
      Which mean that these Mannlicher automatic pistol belonged simultaneously to group of automatic pistol firing own cartridge and group of automatic pistol firing rimmed cartridge (it is very rare for weapon to belongs to that two categories at one time)

      As noted most of these automatic pistol were made in Germany or Austria-Hungary, which lead to question: why? Hand-actuated repeating pistol were also made in other countries for example Gaulois in France: http://www.horstheld.com/0-Gaulois.htm
      but there was not automatic pistol widely produced in France in 1890s period so far I know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.