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The Alkar and Nueva Alkar
Cartridge Counter Pistols

by Ed Buffaloe


Background Information

Alkar Trade Mark

The Alkar Logo

Antaris, in his book Astra Firearms and Selected Competitors, states that the firm of S.A. Alkartasuna was formed in January 1914 by workers who had left Esperanza y Unceta (later known as Astra) in 1913 during a labor strike.  He explains:  “As reference to their unity during the labor strike, the firm took the name Alkartasuna, a Viscayan variation of the Basque word Elkartasuna that mean[s] solidarity.”  Adair, in his unpublished book on Spanish pistols, says:  “The labor dispute at Esperanza y Unceta inspired local leaders in an effort to start a new company using a hybrid capitalist/cooperative idea.”  From the first the company was plagued by disputes among the cooperative of owners.  After two years the management structure was reorganized to have a board of directors and Severo Altube became the business manager.  Altube was a well known Basque intellectual, musician, and linguist. 

The Alkar name was granted as a trademark on 11 August 1914.  In 1914, Alkartasuna began production of a 6.35mm pistol with a loaded chamber indicator on top, marked on the left side of the slide:  6.35 MODEL AUTOMATIC PISTOL / 1914 ALKAR PATENT.  According to Adair:  “Total production of the first 6.35 mm model was 4 ,072 before production was halted and shifted due to the start of the First World War.”  Alkartasuna became a subcontractor making the “Ruby” pistol during World War I, eventually producing approximately 20,000 seven-shot pistols and 50,000 nine -shot pistols.  Within a few years the Alkartasuna company held a similar status to that of Esperanza y Unceta--both were regarded as bulwarks of the local economy.

Antaris states: ‘In August 1915, the firm registered the PANAMA trademark (#25441) in which the word “Panama” was arched over Alkar’s readily recognizable “angular S.”’  Adair relates that the “angular S” trademark is a representation of the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, but he further states that neither the Panama name nor the Panama trademark which they registered were ever used by Alkartasuna.

Alkar - SN287 - 6.35mm Pistol

Alcar Model 1914 6.35mm Pistol, SN 287

Most wartime production guns were marked with the Alkar logo on the left side of the slide, and a three line inscription:  S.A.ALKARTASUNA  / FABRICA DE ARMAS  / GUERNICA. Early guns were marked with an “S” in a circle on the left grip tang and “AK” in an oval on the right.  On later guns the “S” was omitted but the “AK” was retained.  In regard to Alkartasuna’s pistol production, Antaris states:  “Regardless of size or variation, all were numbered in a single sequential serial range.”

The Alkartasuna factory was destroyed by fire on 13 May 1922.  The factory equipment and factory inventory were a total loss.  In 1923 the firm San Martin, Alberdi y Cia of Guernica was founded and registered the Alkar trademark with the Eibar proof house.  There is some speculation that the company was funded by Esperanza y Unceta, and when they closed in 1927 all their assets were taken over by Esperanza y Unceta.  But, from around 1924 through 1927, San Martin, Alberdi y Cia continued to make guns under the Alkar name, after which it is considered likely that Esperanza y Unceta continued production of Alkar pistols until about 1933.

Matthews, in his classic book Firearms Identification, notes that the Alkar cartridge counter pistol bears a quite different inscription from the earlier Alkar pistols and says:  “This suggests that this pistol was made by a different firm or a reorganized firm to which was given a new name.”  Antaris comments:  “His suggestion remains controversial, for the pistol could have been subcontracted while Alkar was in business.  The cartridge counter’s serial numbers...were contemporary to Alkar’s sequencing that continued to about 83000.”  However, Ortuñez notes, in his monograph on the Alkartasuna company, that the name Manufactura de Armas de Fuego, Guernica was a trade name used by the Alkartasuna company in various correspondence and on letterheads prior to 1922, so perhaps we should not read too much into the name.  Ortuñez also states that in addition to the factory the company had two warehouses, and  that after the fire, between 1922 and 1924, the company sold remaining stock from their warehouse under the name Manufactura de Armas de Fuego, Guernica.

Alkar cartridge indicator pistols that I have documented include serial numbers 74868, 75007, 75056, 75063, 75187, 75243, 75274, 75350, and 75797.  Nueva Alcar pistols I have documented include serial numbers 76395 and 201050.*


The Patent

French Patent 504419 - Patent Drawing

Alcar Pistol Patent Drawing

I was unable to locate any Spanish patents, as most old Spanish patents are not readily available online.  However, I was able to locate a French patent under the name Severo de Altube.  Patent number 504419 was filed on 29 September 1919, not quite a year after the end of World War I.  The French patent is entitled “Perfectionnements dans les pistolets automatiques à répétition.”  This corresponds nicely with two patents listed by Adair as follows:  #71909 (1919) and 80091 (1921) described as  “Improvements in automatic pistols.”  Interestingly, these are the last of a series of seven interrelated patents taken out by Severo Altube Lerchundi between May of 1918 and January of 1921.

The French patent explains that most pistols can be placed into either of two conditions, with the hammer cocked, or with the hammer uncocked.  But the Alkar pistol can be placed in a third condition, which is essentially with the hammer in a half-cock state.  By pressing the rear grip lever and the trigger at the same time the hammer can then be moved to full cock and the gun fired.  The patent describes in detail the functioning of the rear grip lever, which is referred to as the “détente.”  As a verb this French word means “relaxation,” and as a noun it is the term most often used for trigger.  So the grip lever is not referred to as a safety lever, but rather as a trigger or release which only secondarily activates the safeties.  Also described are the loaded chamber indicator beneath the extractor, the mechanism for locking the slide, the magazine with its cartridge indicator slot, and the grip plate with holes for viewing the cartridges.  Lastly, the patent describes a recoil buffer spring to cushion the recoil of the slide which was not implemented in the production pistol.  The patent drawing shows a pistol with a bushing to cover the barrel at the front of the gun similar to those on the Walther Models 4 and 7--this bushing was also not implemented in the production gun.


The Design

The Alkar cartridge indicator pistol is a most unusual gun, and a clear design departure.  While based (like the Ruby or Eibar-type pistols) on the 1903 Browning design, the Alkar has a number of unique features, including a loaded chamber indicator , a grip lever at the rear that activates the safety and is also depressed to fire the first shot, and numbered windows in the left grip panel that allow the shooter to see how many cartridges remain in the magazine.  The magazine has a vertical slot on the left side and a shiny brass plate attached to the bottom of the magazine follower that is visible through the windows in the grip .  The brass cases of the cartridges above the follower show through the windows, as does the brass plate itself, and as each cartridge is fired the windows darken one by one.

138-Alkar-76395-Lockwork-S

Alcar “Cartridge Counter” Lockwork

The lockwork is on the right side of the frame.  The upper nose of the connector bar touches the bottom of a lever plate that in turn moves the sear.  A standard disconnector runs down from the slide to push the connector bar down if the slide is out of battery.  The lower end of the connector also interfaces with an elbow-shaped lever mounted on the rear of the grip frame.  When  the rear grip lever is in its rearmost (safe) position, a small tab on its inner surface blocks the rear portion of the elbow-shaped lever and effectively locks the connector, trigger, and sear lever.  At the same time, when the grip lever moves to the rear it releases a spring-loaded plunger on the left side of the grip tang which moves downward and locks the slide, while a spur at the top of the grip lever moves backward and puts the hammer in a half-cock position.

The spring-loaded plunger is also used to lock the slide open for cleaning.   When the slide is pulled all the way to the rear and at the same time the grip lever is engaged, the plunger moves down into a hollow in the slide rail, locking it open.

The first shot is fired by squeezing the grip safety and pulling the trigger at the same time.  As the rear lever is squeezed, the hammer moves to the full cock position, the connector bar and trigger are unlocked, and the gun can be fired.  After firing the first round, the grip lever remains disengaged, and the subsequent single-action trigger pull is quite light.

The loaded chamber indicator is a small lever beneath the extractor, the forward end of which is pressed outward when there is a round in the chamber.  At the rear of the lever is a small protuberance which is depressed when the forward portion of the lever is pushed outward by the cartridge.  Hence it is possible to determine if there is a round in the chamber either by sight or by feel.  Additionally there is a numeral zero (0) on the upper surface of the protuberance and a numeral one (1) on the forward portion of the cartridge indicator, though these numerals are never fully visible.


The First Variant - Alkar “Cartridge Indicator”

Serial Number 75350 - courtesy Rock Island Auction

Alcar “Cartridge Counter” Pistol

The first variant cartridge indicator pistol has eight rectangular windows at the forward edge of the left grip plate.  The topmost window is labeled with a question mark.  The windows beneath are labeled sequentially with the numbers 1 through 7.  The magazine follower has a brass indexer attached to it which emerges horizontally from the slot in the left side of the magazine.  The slot opening in the magazine is squared at the bottom.

The right grip plate has eight squares along the forward edge, the bottom seven with a horizontal cartridge pointing forward, and the topmost square having a cartridge pointing upward.  The grip plates are of checkered horn with the word ALKAR arcing over the single grip screw and CAL. 635  beneath.

The slide has seven curved serrations at the rear to facilitate cocking, and is marked on the left side with the Alkar “angular S” trademark followed by the inscription in all capital sans-serif characters:

MANUFACTURA DE ARMAS DE FUEGO - GUERNICA ( ESPANA)

Serial Number 75350 - courtesy Rock Island Auction

Alcar “Cartridge Counter” Pistol

As explained above, this unusual slide inscription has led to speculation that the Alcar cartridge indicator pistol was not actually manufactured by Alkartasuna.

The right side of the slide is blank.  The serial number is on the left side of the frame above the trigger.  The finish is in salt blue with a nickel plated trigger.

The left side of the rear grip lever is marked “S&F”, such that when the lever is in its forward position the “S&” are hidden beneath the grip plate.  Only the “F” is visible, indicating the gun is ready to fire.  There is a round checkered button-like protuberance on each side of the lever at the top to enable the lever to be gripped and pulled to the rear to make the gun safe.  Matthews describes this as a “safety ... of the push-through type,” and Antaris describes it as “a push button at the rear that lock[s] the safety.” Quite possibly neither of these authors ever examined an Alkar cartridge indicator pistol in person.  The protuberance is not a button and cannot be pushed in--it is merely a grasping surface used to move the lever.

A small side plate on the left side of the grip tang covers the plunger mechanism that locks the slide.


The Second Variant - Nueva Alkar “Cartridge Indicator”

Nueva Alcar 6.35mm

Nueva Alcar with Fully-charged Magazine

122-Alkar-76395-R-S

Nueva Alcar

The Nueva Alkar features the Alkar “angular S” logo on the left side of the slide, followed by the inscription in all capital serif characters:

AUTOMATIC PISTOL MODEL NEW “ALKAŔ”

The slide serrations remain unchanged from the earlier variant.  The serial number remains on the left side of the frame, above the trigger.    The finish is in salt blue with a nickel plated trigger.  The right side of the slide is unmarked, although the right side of the frame of the Nueva Alkar shown here has the word SPAIN stamped on the bow of the trigger guard, probably indicating it was exported to the U.S. 

The grip plates are of checkered horn and are marked NUEVA ALKAR in a circle around the lower grip screw and CAL 635 beneath the upper grip screw.  The seven windows on the left grip plate are semi-circular and are numbered from 1 through 7.  The uppermost window with the question-mark has been eliminated. The brass index on the magazine is completely internal and descends vertically from the follower.  The slot opening in the magazine is rounded at the bottom.

The grasping surface on the rear lever has been redesigned and is now a slightly curved raised band at the top with vertical serrations at its rear.  The forward portion of the band is marked “S-F”.  The back of the grip plates are notched so the raised bands will fit under them.

The New Alkar does not have the small side plate at the rear of the left grip tang.  Instead, the opening for the slide lock plunger is drilled into the bottom of the grip tang and covered by the rear grip lever.


Post-Alkartasuna Production

An unusual Nueva Alkar specimen with a very high serial number (201050) has come to my attention.  It differs from earlier specimens in that it is stamped CAL 635 on the left side of the slide in front of the Alkar logo.  It is also stamped “EIBAR 1924,” apparently by hand, above the normal slide inscription, and it has proof marks, which would indicate a manufacture date after 1923.  In addition, the loaded chamber indicator does not have the raised area at its rear.  This represents a clear sub-variant of the Nueva Alkar, and was probably made by the above-mentioned San Martin, Alberdi y Cia.

Italian-find-r

Italian Flea Market Find

In 2012, in the Northern Italian town of Rovereto, an Alkar pistol was found by a man who purchased a box of old magazines at a flea market.  The pistol was apparently underneath the magazines.  The man turned it in to the authorities and it was subsequently destroyed, but not before a photograph was taken of it and a brief article written in the local newspaper.  The pistol is clearly a first variant, but has some unusual features, including a slide with eleven vertical triangular-cut serrations and the serial number on the left side grip tang instead of above the trigger.  The photograph is too small to read the slide inscription.  This is likely an example of San Martin, Alberdi y Cia making use of remaining parts.

Finally, Pawlas illustrates a pistol that is slightly larger than the Alcar or Nueva Alcar with somewhat the look of the earlier “Ruby” style 6.35mm pistols, but with the front of the slide and frame looking more like the late Alkar 1910 FN Browning copies, typically seen in the 80,000 serial number range.  This pistol has a manual safety on the left side just above and behind the trigger, and has no rear grip lever and no loaded chamber indicator, but does have the cartridge counter grip plates and magazine of the Alcar (first variant) pistol.  It has proof marks and a three-line slide inscription as follows:

STANDARD AUTOMATIC PISTOL
“ALKAR”   PATENT   5 2 2 7 7
CAL. 6
35 (GUERNICA) 1924

This gun is probably also an example of San Martin, Alberdi y Cia, using remaining magazines and grip plates from the first Alkar cartridge counter pistol.  But this in turn implies that they or someone must already have possessed these parts at the time the Alkartasuna factory was destroyed.

Nueva Alcar
6.35 mm Pistol

Length:  113 mm
Height:  83 mm
Width:  17 mm
Barrel:  50 mm
Weight:  398 grams
Magazine Capacity:  7


Field Stripping
  1. Remove the magazine and clear the chamber.
  2. Pull the slide all the way to the rear, then let it ease forward about 2 or 3 millimeters.
  3. Twist the barrel a quarter-turn (or perhaps a little more) counterclockwise (as you face the front of the gun).
  4. Ease the slide and barrel off the front of the frame.

Unfortunately, the slide does not lock open at the correct point for turning the barrel, so you have to hold it open with your left hand while twisting the barrel with the right.  I usually wear a leather glove on my left hand in order to grasp the slide firmly enough to hold it back against the force of the recoil spring.  If you pull the rear lever back with the slide off it will allow the slide-lock plunger to descend and
129-Alkar-76395-Comp-L-S

Nueva Alcar Components

block the slide from going all the way to the rear on the frame, but you can push it up with a fingernail when you insert the slide.

I urge caution when handling these guns.  I had a round fire when I was chambering it, even though I was careful not to have my finger on the trigger.  I may not have pulled the slide back quite far enough for the sear to fully engage the hammer.  Fortunately, I was outside with the gun pointed in a safe direction, so the bullet just went into the dirt.  And, most of important of all, my wife wasn’t home at the time.  The incident, along with the very light trigger pull, indicates to me that the sear or hammer cocking notch may be inadequate, or possibly worn.  The gun’s design requirements may have exceeded the manufacturer’s capabilities.  It is a very interesting and ambitious, if overly-complex, design.


*  Please contact me if you can provide photographs and/or serial numbers of Alkar or Nueva Alkar cartridge counter pistols.

Copyright 2009-2016 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click most small photographs to open a larger version in a new window, & to see additional photographs.


References

  • Adair, Robert.  Spanish Semi-automatic Pistols, 1900-1940.  Unpublished draft, Ft. Worth, Texas: 2016.
  • Antaris, Leonardo M., Astra Firearms and Selected Competitors.  FIRAC, Davenport, Iowa: 2010.
  • Calvó, Juan L.,  Pistolas y Revólveres de los Años 1920’s.
  • Matthews, J. Howard, Firearms Identification.  Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois: 1962.
  • Ortuñez, José Angel Echaniz, Sociedad Anónima Alkartasuna. Historia Industiral de Gernika-Lumo, Monografías Empresariales: 1997.
  • Pawlas, Karl R., Archiv fur Militär- und Waffenwesen.  Nuernberg, Germany: 1970.
  • Trentino Corriere Alpi, versione digitale.  “La pistola misteriosa arriva dalla Spagna.” 

Special thanks to Robert Adair for his encouragement and research assistance.
 

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