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The Baby Browning
by Ed Buffaloe

Historical Perspective

Baby Browning Patent Drawing

DieudonnÚ Saive became a tool designer in the employ of Fabrique Nationale soon after he completed his education in 1906.  He escaped to England during the First World War , where he worked as a machinist for Vickers.  Saive was assigned to be John M. Browning’s assistant shortly before the latter’s death in 1926, and afterward Saive became the head arms designer for FN.  He was primarily responsible for the design of the High Power pistol, as well as for the Baby Browning.  Saive escaped to England again during World War II, and eventually travelled to Canada to supervise production of the Inglis-made High Power pistols.  After the war he designed the SAFN rifle, which evolved into the FAL.  He worked for FN until his retirement in 1954.

In regard to the origins of the Baby Browning design, Vanderlinden, in his book FN Browning Pistols: Side-Arms that Shaped World History, states:  “...there is no evidence to indicate that FN was seeking to develop a new pocket pistol...,” and he concludes that DieudonnÚ Saive acted entirely on his own initiative in designing the Baby.  I’d be very curious to know if Saive ever had the opportunity to discuss designing a new, smaller .25 caliber pistol with John M. Browning.

The name “Baby” was a nickname that was sometimes applied to the 1906 FN Browning, which was the first 6.35mm pistol ever manufactured, but “Baby” was never an official designation for the gun.  However, it was the perfect name for Saive’s diminutive new pistol.  The new Baby Browning was nearly a half-inch shorter than the FN Model 1906 and weighed four ounces less.

The fact that the new Baby was called a Browning might seem a bit surprising, since John M. Browning had no part in its design.  However, every previous pistol manufactured by FN had been a Browning design, and every one had been called “le pistolet Browning,” followed by a model number based on the date of its origin, so it seemed perfectly natural to FN personnel to call the new pistol a Browning as well.  By this time, “Browning” had  become a generic term for the ammunition used in the guns.  According to Anthony Vanderlinden, Browning had an agreement with FN as early as 1907 allowing them to use his name as a trademark

Fabrique Nationale Production

Photograph by Uwe R÷mmer

FN Baby Browning

In regard to the Baby Browning, Col. Betz, in his article “John M. Browning and His FN Pocket Pistols,” states that: “An FN photograph of a prototype of the new pistol is dated April 9, 1927.”  Belgian patent number 343126, for a “pistolet automatique,” was filed on 10 June 1927 in the name of Fabrique Nationale.  However, production did not begin until 1931.  According to Vanderlinden, 50,147 Baby Brownings were completed between the beginning of production in 1931 and May of 1940 when the Germans invaded Belgium.  This would be an average of only about 5,000 pistols per year.  During this time, the FN Model 1906 also continued in production.  For comparison purposes, Vanderlinden states that 1,008,000 FN Model 1906 pistols were made between 1919 and 1940--an average of about       45,818 pistols per year.

Saive retained Browning’s method of attaching the barrel to the frame, but otherwise his design was based on the Walther Model 9, and was clearly intended to compete with it.  The excellent stirrup-shaped Browning connector and the grip safety of the Model 1906 were eliminated in order to reduce size and weight.  Like the Walther, the Baby Browning has an external connector/disconnector that runs under the right-side grip plate, a thumb-operated manual safety lever than runs under the left -side grip plate, and a cocking indicator at the rear of the frame.  The manual safety locks the sear, but the Walther’s safety is engaged when the lever is down, whereas the Baby Browning’s safety is engaged in the up position and also locks the slide.  Both guns have a magazine safety to lock the sear when the magazine is removed.  The Baby Browning magazine safety also prevents the magazine from being inserted if the trigger is being pulled, and FN literature claimed that if the gun were dropped the magazine safety would be jarred backward, locking the sear and preventing an accidental discharge.  The complex latch mechanism at the rear of the Walther was not necessary on the Baby Browning because takedown is accomplished via the removeable barrel.

During the first decade of its production the Baby Browning was offered only with a blued finish.  No nickle, engraved, or luxury versions were advertised, though custom work could always be had for a price.

The grips are made of a black checkered plastic material with the FN monogram in an oval at the top and the word “Baby” at the bottom.  The left side slide legend is on two lines in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

FABRIQUE NATIONALE D’ARMES DE GUERRE HERSTAL BELGIQUE
BROWNING’S PATENT     DEPOSE

Possibly in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s the slide legend was changed to fit on three lines:

FABRIQUE NATIONALE D’ARMES DE GUERRE
HERSTAL BELGIQUE
BROWNING’S PATENT DEPOSE

In 1972 the slide legend was changed to read simply

FABRIQUE NATIONALE

The serial number is on the left side of the frame, above and slightly behind the trigger.  Serial numbers began with 1.  The barrel is marked CAL.6m/m35., visible in the ejection port of the slide, and the barrel is stamped with the standard Liege proof marks.  Belgian inspector and smokeless powder proofs are also stamped on the right side of the slide and frame.

FN Browning PistolsThe early magazines are unmarked.  There are tabs on each side at the bottom that fold around to hold the baseplate on, and five holes are drilled in both sides of the magazine walls to allow the cartridges to be viewed.  The follower is flat through 1968, and after 1968 the follower has a bend at the front.  Late magazines are marked with the FN monogram on the base.

According to Vanderlinden, the Germans completed only 129 Baby Browning pistols during the occupation in 1940.  This was prior to the introduction of the German Waffenamt acceptance stamps in Belgium, so these pistols have no German markings.  Extrapolating from Vanderlinden’s data, the serial number range for these German-made Baby Brownings should be 50148 through 50276.

Production of the Baby Browning did not resume again until after the war in 1946.  According to Vanderlinden, more than 10 ,000 pistols were made in 1946, but production must have declined thereafter, because in 1953 only 1,374 were made.

In 1953 the Baby Browning became available in a nickle-chrome finish as well as with an aluminum frame (called Duraluminum by FN).  U.S. import guns with the aluminum frame were available only with the chrome finish slide, but FN also sold them with a blued slide in the rest of the world.  A fully engraved version became available about this time, marketed as the “Renaissance.”

Browning Arms Company

The Browning Arms Company formed an agreement with FN to import their pistols into the United States in 1953.  Consequently, production of the Baby Browning rose nearly tenfold to 13,313 in 1954.  The American market was huge, and production remained high as long as the guns continued to be imported into the U.S.

Guns imported into the United States were identical to those sold in the rest of the world, except the grips had the word BROWNING in the oval at the top, there was no “Baby” designation at the bottom of the grips, and the slide inscription was in all-capital italic sans-serif characters as follows:

BROWNING ARMS COMPANY
MADE IN BELGIUM

or:

BROWNING  ARMS  COMPANY__ST. LOUIS,  MISSOURI
MADE   IN   BELGIUM

Photograph by James Zachary

Browning .25 Caliber Automatic Pistol

The U.S. import guns were in the same serial number sequence as all other Baby Brownings.  The Browning Arms Company never referred to the gun as the “Baby” in their literature--instead, it was simply known as the “Browning .25 Caliber Automatic Pistol.”

In 1977 FN bought the Browning Arms Company and all its trademarks, which it still owns to this day.  After 1977 all Baby Brownings used grips with the Browning name at the top--the FN monogram and the word “Baby” were no longer used.

Importation of the Baby Browning into the U.S. ceased after the 1968 Gun Control Act went into effect.  With the loss of the U.S. market, production plummeted by about 95% in a single year.

MAB Production

MABBarrelProof-T1

St.Etienne Proof on MAB-made Barrel

In 1969 FN purchased a 40% stake in the French arms company Manufacture d’Armes de Bayonne (MAB), in order to help the French company emerge from bankruptcy.  As a result, MAB began making parts for some of FN’s guns, including the Baby Browning, the .22 “Sport” rifle, and the FN Barracuda revolver.  In 1978 machinery, tools, and parts for production of the Baby Browning were moved from Herstal, Belgium to the MAB factory in Bayonne.  MAB produced the Baby Browning pistol from November of 1979 through September of 1982.  I have been unable to examine one of these MAB-made guns, but Col. Betz states that the MAB Baby is unmarked except for a French St. Etienne proof mark and the FABRIQUE NATIONALE slide legend.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who owns one.*  Extrapolating from the data provided by Vanderlinden, I would have expected MAB-production Baby Brownings to have serial numbers above 500,000.  However, the few MAB-made Baby Brownings I have had reported have serial numbers in the format “205 PM xxxxx”.  One was reportedly purchased in 1964, which may give the lie to the entire date sequence reported above, and may indicate that FN was outsourcing production to MAB much earlier than previously reported.

PSP and PSA Production

There was an hiatus in the production of the Baby Browning between 1983 and 1986.

The Bauer .25

During the period between 1972 and 1984 a U.S. company in Frasier, Michigan produced a close copy of the Baby Browning, called the Bauer 25 Automatic.  The Bauer was machined from stainless steel.  It featured a few minor differences from the Baby Browning--including a redesigned safety spring and a slightly different takedown procedure--in order not to infringe existing U.S. patents still held by FN.  Late production Bauers also featured a loaded chamber indicator.  The Bauer was available in satin stainless and blued stainless finishes, though I have never seen a blued one.  After Bauer went out of business another company produced the gun under the name Frasier for a few years.

Precision Small Parts (PSP) was a Swiss Screw Machine Shop based in Aurora, Ontario--a suburb of Toronto.  PSP had had a longstanding relationship with FN, and had been making small parts under contract for various FN products since before World War II.  In 1984 FN agreed to sell its dies, jigs, tools, and parts for the Baby Browning to PSP.  All equipment from the MAB plant in Bayonne and documentation from the FN plant in Belgium was moved to Aurora, Ontario.  PSP became the sole authorized manufacturer of the Baby Browning in the world, and PSP was also allowed to manufacture the pistol under its own name for sale in North America.  FN placed an order for 40,000 Baby Brownings from PSP in 1984.  However, due to various legal and political complications the original order for 40,000 pistols was never filled.

PSP quickly realized they could not legally manufacture or sell firearms in Canada.  However, they had a subsidiary plant in  Charlottesville, Virginia, and they were able to move production of frames and barrels to the United States, while continuing to produce slides and other parts for the gun in the Aurora, Ontario plant.  Precision Small Parts manufactured the Baby Browning as the PSP-25 from 1987 through 1995.  Relatively small numbers were made for FN with the FABRIQUE NATIONALE slide legend and BROWNING on the grips.  Guns destined for sale in the U.S. are marked on the left side of the slide in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

PSP-25
CHARLOTTESVILLE,VA.

Grips are of checkered plastic with a blank oval at the top.  Some guns were distributed by Michael Kassnar of KBI Products and have the word Kassnar in the oval at the top of the grips, but the slides are still marked PSP-25.

Photograph by Ed Buffaloe

PSP .25 Caliber Automatic Pistol

Serial numbers remain in the same location on the left side of the frame, and for guns intended for distribution in the U.S. begin with the letters VA.  Serial numbers started with 1.  U.S. sales totaled about 5,000 per year, with FN placing orders for 800 to 1200 units per year.  I have as yet been unable to determine the serial number sequence of the guns produced for FN.

Precision Small Parts went into receivership circa 1988-1990, and the company was purchased and recapitalized in 1991 by a U.S. investor, Lenn Kristal, in collaboration with two Canadian investors.  Lenn Kristal became Chairman of the Board.

In 1997 the arms-making portion of Precision Small Parts was spun off as Precision Small Arms (PSA), with Lenn Kristal as president.  The new company eventually relocated to Aspen, Colorado.  However, production of the Baby Browning was halted between 2000 and 2003.  By 2006 the manufacturing process had been reengineered to use state-of-the-art computer numeric controlled (CNC) technology.

Early PSA guns are marked on the left side of the slide in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

PSA-25
CHARLOTTESVILLE,VA.

Grips are of checkered plastic with the PSA monogram in an oval at the top.

Later PSA guns are marked on the left side of the slide in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

PSA-25
PRECISION SMALL ARMS, INC.
ASPEN, COLORADO. USA.

Early guns made in Colorado have serial numbers beginning with 00C, the first number being 00C0000001.

Current production PSA guns are available in 20 different versions with a multitude of options, including standard blued steel, nickel plate, stainless steel, nitrate coated stainless, aluminum frame featherweight, 18 or 24 carat gold plate, and various levels of engraving and gold inlay.  Standard grips are checkered nylon impregnated black polymer with the PSA monogram in an oval at the top.  The Featherweight version has checkered grips milled from billet aluminum with the PSA monogram in an oval at the top and the word “Baby” at the bottom, much like the original FN grips.

Photograph by Earl Mount

FN Baby Browning Disassembled

Field Stripping the Baby Browning
  1. Verify that the magazine and chamber are empty.
  2. With the magazine inserted, pull the trigger to relieve tension on the striker.
  3. Draw the slide back about 8mm and push the manual safety lever up into the forward notch on the underside of the slide.  This will lock the slide open.
  4. Turn the barrel 1/4 turn counterclockwise (as you face the front of the gun).
  5. Disengage the manual safety lever and ease the slide and barrel off the front of the frame.
  6. Turn the barrel back 1/4 turn and remove it from the slide.
     


*  I welcome photographs of old or new Baby Browning pistols, and would be grateful for any information regarding serial number sequences.  Email Ed Buffaloe.

Fabrique Nationale Baby Browning Serial Number Data

Date

Beginning S/N

Ending S/N

Quantity Produced

Notes

1931-1940

1

50147

50147

Data from Vanderlinden

May 1940

50148

50276

129

Nazi production.  Data extrapolated from Vanderlinden.

1946

50277

60277+

10,000+

Vanderlinden says more than 10,000 were made in 1946.

1953

 

 

1374

Data from Vanderlinden.

1954

 

 

13313

Data from Vanderlinden.

1959

181001

206439

25439

Data from Browning website.

1960

206350

230999

44650

Data from Browning website.

1961

231000

250999

20000

Data from Browning website.

1962

251000

278999

28000

Data from Browning website.

1963

279000

286099

8000

Data from Browning website.

1964

286100

303499

17400

Data from Browning website.

1965

303500

329999

26500

Data from Browning website.

1966

330000

367443

37444

Data from Browning website.

1967

367444

412999

45556

Data from Browning website.

1968

413000

479000

66001

Data from Browning website.*

1969

479000

480956

1957

Data extrapolated from Vanderlinden.

1970-1981

480957

505181

24225

Data extrapolated from Vanderlinden.

* Vanderlinden states that 42588 pistols were made in 1968.  I am personally dubious about the data on the Browning website, but I am reproducing it here for completeness, as it is the only serial number information available outside of Vanderlinden’s book.

References

The Famous Automatic Pistols of Europe, compiled by John Olson.  Jolex, Paramus, NJ: 1976.
FN Browning Pistols: Side-Arms that Shaped World History, by Anthony Vanderlinden.  Wet Dog, Greensboro, NC:  2009.
Browning’s classic ‘Baby’ design is back again courtesy of PSA, by J.B. Wood.
John M. Browning’s FN Pocket Pistols, By Col. W.R. Betz.
James Zachary’s blog post on the
Baby Browning FN and PSA .25 ACP.

Special thanks to Earl Mount, Uwe R÷mmer, and James Zachary for allowing me to reproduce photographs, and to Lenn Kristal of Precision Small Arms for conversations about the history of the Baby Browning and his company.

Copyright 2011 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click on the pictures to open a larger version in a new window.

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