FN Baby Browning

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Type Pistol
Place of origin Belgium
Service history
Used by French Resistance, USA Air Force
Wars World War II
Production history
Designer Dieudonné Saive
Designed 1927
Manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal
Manufacture d'armes de Bayonne
Precision Small Parts, Inc.
Precision Small Arms, Inc.
Produced 1931–present
Specifications
Weight 275 g (9.7 oz)
Length 104 mm (4.1 in)
Barrel length 53.6 mm (2.11 in)
Height 72 mm (2.8 in)

Cartridge .25 ACP 6,35mm
Action Blowback-operated semi-automatic
Muzzle velocity 230–500 m/s (750–1,640 ft/s)
Feed system 6-round sealed bottom, flat follower magazine; a rounded follower and removable inner and outer bottom plates were incorporated in 1984
Sights Fixed notch and blade

Considered the finest example of Art Deco design in a hand held firearm, the 1931 Fabrique Nationale ("FN") Baby Browning Pistol is a small blowback-operated semi-automatic pistol designed by Belgium-born Dieudonné Saive chambered in .25 ACP (6,35mm). The pistol features a six-round magazine capacity and is a striker-fired, single action, blow back mechanism. The manual thumb operated safety locks the slide in the closed position when engaged using side thumb pressure.[1]

History[edit]

FN produced under license from the American arms designer John Browning the revolutionary Model 1905 pocket pistol. Despite the name FN used for this pistol, it was later marketed as the "FN 1906", the "V.P. .25" (V.P. denoting Vest Pocket), and most confusingly, the "Baby".

The .25 ACP (aka: 6,35 mm) cartridge became widely available during this time. The term "ACP" stands for "Automatic Colt Pistol". This cartridge was among the first automatic pistol cartridges to be utilized worldwide. It was designed with a "semi-rimmed" shell casing made of brass. The rim of the shell casing had a slightly larger circumference than the base of the cartridge and an extractor groove was cut directly above it. The shell casing head was spaced on this small rim; however, the utilization of the rim in this design complicated the mechanics of the cartridge because, while still in the magazine, the rim of one cartridge would sometimes get hung up on the extractor groove of the following cartridge (also known as "rim lock").[2]

The 1905 FN Vest Pocket pistol incorporated a frame safety mechanism that constituted the entire rear section of the frame. It also incorporated a small safety lever on the left side of the frame which locked the trigger. In addition, this frame safety lever mechanism locked the slide about a half inch back from the front of the pistol to enable easy disassembly.

Design

Pressured by dozens of imitations and the proliferation of blatant unlicensed copies, FN began work in earnest on a successor product to the 1905 Vest Pocket pistol. The basic 1905 Vest Pocket pistol design was used as a starting point for the new design. FN's Director of Operations, Mr. Dieudonné Saive, (who would later design the Browning Hi-Power pistol and the FN FAL rifle) took it upon himself during 1926-1927 to design the new pistol.[3]

His design was smaller, lighter, and incorporated several refinements and improvements to the 1905 Vest Pocket version. For example, the palm-of-hand activated rear-of-frame safety mechanism was eliminated and the small safety lever on the left side of the frame was extended under the grip plate toward the trigger so that the thumb of a right-handed shooter could easily engage and disengage it through flicking the safety lever knob using pressure applied to the side of the safety lever knob. This feature enabled a user to manipulate the safety lever mechanism without having to release one's grip on the pistol. The frame has a full-length dust guard extending to the end of the slide and an area behind the trigger is relieved to allow a user to maintain a more substantial grip on the pistol then was the case with the 1905 version. The Dieudonne Saive design also introduced an auto-safety mechanism similar to the one utilized on the Colt Vest Pocket pistol of similar vintage which prevented the pistol from being firing (even if a bullet was chambered) if the magazine was removed from the frame of the pistol. A cocking indicator mechanism was also incorporated and is attached to the firing pin spring opposite the firing pin. It protrudes through a pin hole in the rear of the frame when the pistol is loaded.

The 1931 version was marketed under the name "BABY" - and some of the original thermal hardened plastic grip plates were molded with both the initials "FN" at the top of the grip plate in a circle and the word "BABY" at the bottom of the grip plateunder a raised crescent. This particular pistol was and continues to be known worldwide as the "Baby Browning" pistol and is the pistol reflected in the picture accompanying this article, excepting the BROWNING marked grip plates which indicates a more recent (circa 1960 and beyond) production run utilizing nylon impregnated black polymer grip plates.[2]

Manufacturing history[edit]

A Baby Browning caliber 25 ACP /6.25 Browning. Dated 1968

European-based production[edit]

FN manufactured and marketed the Baby Browning pistol from 1931 until 1979, though exports to the USA only took place between 1953-1968. About 550,000 units were produced, including the hand chiseled engraved "Renaissance" and the "Lightweight" version. The Lightweight utilized a 6061 T6 aluminum frame and hexavalent chrome-plated (over electro-less nickel) slide and external detail parts. With the exception of special order nickel-plated units and the above-mentioned versions, all of the 1931 Baby Browning pistols were finished in chemical hot blue. The halt to exports to the USA in 1968 was mandated by the Gun Control Act of 1968 - which was precipitated by Robert Kennedy's assassination involving an Iver Johnson manufactured revolver. This primarily protectionist oriented piece of legislation was signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson. It forbade the importation of certain firearms, among them the 1931 Baby Browning pistol - but it didn't forbide the domestic production of these same weapons. FN transferred production of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol to Manufacture d'armes de Bayonne ("MAB") during 1979. Based in Bayonne, France, MAB produced the pistol from 1979 until 1983 when bankruptcy forced it to discontinue production. 1931 Baby Browning pistol production ceased in Europe at that time.[2]

North American–based production – FN-sponsored[edit]

During 1982, discussions began between FN and its North American-based representative Jim Stone. These discussions were focused on securing a North American-based contractor to manufacture on a turnkey basis the 1931 Baby Browning pistol for FN. In 1984, a Canadian Swiss screw machine shop with a world class reputation for producing aerospace and defense related minature metal components entered into a technology transfer and production agreement with FN to manufacture the 1931 Baby Browning pistol. This company's name was Precision Small Parts, Ltd. It was based in Aurora, Ontario, Canada, and maintained a subsidiary in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. FN issued an order to PSP for 40,000 of the 1931 Baby Browning pistols. All of these pistols were to be exported to Austria under the Browning logo for onward distribution by FN to its non-USA customers. PSP's owner (Joseph Maygar Sr.) had a long working relationship with FN dating back to the days of the Hungarian Resistance Movement of WWII. PSP produced firearms parts as well as sub-machine guns for FN. In 1985, the Canadian federal authorities forced PSP to transfer production of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol frame (the frame = the legal definition of a firearm) to its Virginia, USA facility, though the Canadian side of the company continued to manufacture the slide and detail parts for the pistol (excepting the magazine which was contracted out to Mec-Gar of Italy). When the USA subsidiary of PSP applied for an export permit with the Department of State to transfer the pistols to FN via its Austrian intermediary, the federal export permit was denied. At that time, Austria was known to be a trans-shipment point for armaments for the Middle East and the presumption was and remains that State did not want a large number of 1931 Baby Browning pistols ending up in the Middle East. The effect of this action on the part of the US Department of State caused PSP to become insolvent (as it had amassed work in process of in excess of 40,000 Baby Browning part sets). The insolvency of the company eventually precipitated a sale to a USA/Canadian-based investor group in 1991 orchestrated by a San Francisco, California based merchant banker named Lenn Kristal. During 1995 the technology and inventory of parts of the 1931 FN Baby Browning pistol "project" was spun out by the investor group into a new entity under Kristal's control and direction which became known as Precision Small Arms, Inc.("PSA") and rebranded at that time as the "PSA-25 BABY".

PSA currently offers more than 20 versions of the original 1931 Baby Browning pistol, including exhibition grade versions which incorporate orange, green and yellow gold, hand chisel engraving and rare materials. The PSA 25 pistol is manufactured using state of the art computer numeric controlled machining, with all parts hand finished. PSA introduced a 303 stainless steel version of the pistol in 2008; in 2009 it re-introduced an all billet version of the Lightweight renamed the Featherweight which utilizes a 7075 hand drop forged aluminum alloy frame. It makes very limited edition runs of damascus and titanium. As of the beginning of 2017, all of PSA's 24 versions of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol were being manufactured in Minden, Nevada, USA.[4] The USA Patent Office issued a Configuration Patent to Precision Small Arms, Inc. for the configuration (image) of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol in 2015. No other entity in the world presently manufacturers this pistol.

North American–based production – non-FN-sponsored[edit]

From 1972 until 1984, a company named Bauer Firearms of Fraser, Michiganmanufactured and marketed an unlicensed copy of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol which was machined from 416 stainless steel.[5] The pistol was marketed as the "Fraser-25" from 1984 to 1986.[6]

This pistol was an approximate copy of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol and was designed as such in order to avoid copyright infringement claims from FN, which at that time still had USA patent protection on various components of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol. For example, the Bauer copy was produced using 416 stainless steel investment castings while the 1931 FN Baby Browning slide and frame were originally produced from 8620 steel billet. (However with the purchase of a European-based investment casting operation during the early 1970's, the FN pistol frame and slide were produced from 8620 steel investment castings).[7] The Bauer utilized a different auto safety spring and the barrel was removed (and the slide released from the frame) by twisting it clockwise 45 degrees from top dead center, rather than counterclockwise, as is the case with the 1931 Baby Browning pistol. The Bauer has engraving on both sides of the slide, whereas the 1931 FN Baby Browning pistol has engraving only on the side of the slide opposite the ejection port side.[6] This copy of the 1931 Baby Browning pistol is known for in consistent machining tolerances. Component part interchangeability is not always assured.

Bauer .25 Auto pocket pistol.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shideler, Dan (26 June 2009). The Gun Digest Book of Modern Gun Values: The Shooter's Guide to Guns 1900-Present. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 109. ISBN 0-89689-824-5. 
  2. ^ a b c Hogg, Ian; Walter, John (29 August 2004). Pistols of the World. David & Charles. pp. 29,115. ISBN 0-87349-460-1. 
  3. ^ Precision Small Arms history
  4. ^ Ramage, Ken; Sigler, Derrek (19 November 2008). Guns Illustrated 2009. Iola, Wisconsin: F+W Media, Inc. p. 29. ISBN 0-89689-673-0. 
  5. ^ Lee, Jerry (17 January 2012). Standard Catalog of Handguns. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 53. ISBN 1-4402-3009-9. 
  6. ^ a b Wood, J B (21 October 2007). Automatic Pistols Assembly/Disassembly. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. pp. 49–56. ISBN 1-4402-2630-X. 
  7. ^ Shideler, Dan (28 February 2011). Gun Digest Book of Semi-Auto Pistols. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. p. 91. ISBN 1-4402-2439-0. 

External links[edit]