Union Automatic Revolver (Video)

The most well-known historic automatic revolver is the British Webley-Fosbery, but there were other handguns of the type that were put into production. One example is the Union auto-revolver, made in Toledo, Ohio shortly before the First World War. While the Webley-Fosbery was intended to be a high-quality military and competition gun, the Union Firearms Company intended to have their auto-revolver compete with inexpensive common revolvers. It was chambered for .32 S&W Short, with a 5-round cylinder and a shrouded hammer. Mechanically, it is very similar to the Webley, although simplified and clearly not made to the same standards of fit and finish. The design was patented by Charles Lefever – who you may recognize as the son of Daniel Lefever, who built Lefever shotguns (which were eventually taken over by the Ithaca Gun Company).

At any Rate, the Union company was distinct from Lefever Arms, and only about 300 Union pistols were made before the effort was abandoned – the guns were much too expensive to manufacture to compete effectively in the chosen market.


US Patent 944,448 (Charles F. Lefever, “Firearm”, December 28, 1909)


  1. I think all of the automatic revolver were also really badly effected by poor timing. They were not only expensive, but adopted right as self-loaders became more prevalent/reliable.

    I can’t see that they’d offer any advantages over a self-loader, and the advantages over a conventional DA might be too little to justify the cost.

    Perhaps if they’d been introduced 30 years earlier, they may have been more succesfull.

  2. A very cool little gun.

    I’ve never seen many of the low cost revolvers in the flesh (that’s one of the many intended wonders of the “good reason” requirement for each licensed gun) but that looks like a little beauty.

    I’ll always marvel at excellent fit and finish in a high priced gun, but producing guns which work well enough at low cost, requires as much or more genius than producing a “cost is no object” gun.

  3. Yet another wonderful anachronism from a great yet often ignored era and class of firearms. I just love the little turn of the century revolvers, and often wonder how many are still hiding forgotten in attics and dresser drawers throughput the country.It seems like when the finally emerge. for every one that has seen hard use and abuse, there is another that grandma never actually fired more than a few times in just beautiful shape.

  4. Great introduction to a rare and unusual revolver — thank you. I was going to make a few observations about it, but Ian H, Keith and Jamezb said it all first.

  5. When did efficient DA revolvers appear? (By efficient I mean faster/easier than a single action army – I have some repros intended for cowboy action shooting and at least with two hands and practice, you can shoot quite effectively fast with one.)

    • Although a lot of the intervening DA trigger mechs were pretty awful, the 1851 Adams and a lot of the early Webleys were really slick – like a Python or a Model 29. But they were basically hand-built.

    • Effective single trigger DA systems have been around since the late 1850s. Of course, double trigger ‘DA’ had been around several years earlier.

  6. That reminds me — the most recent iteration of the automatic revolver that I know of is the Italian-made Mateba Model 6 Unica Autorevolver ( 1997-2005 ). The last known patent holder ( and, presumably, the designer ) was one Emilio Ghisoni, who passed away in 2008. The U.S. Patent Number is #4.712,466. Interestingly, it was also offered in a “revolver carbine” version ( my definition, for want of a better description — please feel free to correct me if I am wrong ) called the “Grifone”, with an 18″ barrel, hand guard and buttstock, and in .357″ Magnum, .44″ Magnum and .454″ Casull / .45″ Long Colt calibers. The “Grifone” appears to have preceded the currently-popular Rossi Circuit Judge in overall concept by some years.

    Wikipedia has some useful additional information on the Mateba revolver at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mateba_Autorevolver. I know that Wikipedia is often subject to detail faults and errors, but this particular article seems to be reasonably accurate, so it is at least a decent starting point, if nothing else.

    On another note, do any of our friends and contributors in Europe have any information to share on the Mateba? I imagine they would have more access to, and perhaps greater familiarity with, this weapon.

  7. This reminds me of an old H&R or S&W break open placed into one of those AR/AK Slide-fire stocks. Clever, but I couldn’t imagine many people buying one of these over a S&W Hand Ejector, which it likely competed with in price. Do you have any clue what they sold for at the time?

  8. Big clunky mechanism with small caliber low round count is inefficient. Now, think something like this in connection with a LeMat revolver. Pure steampunk assault weapon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.