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The 1908 Pieper Bayard Pocket Pistol

by Ed Buffaloe

I bought the 1908 Pieper Bayard because it has a unique and interesting action.  Once I took it apart, I was impressed by the quality of manufacture and the very precise tolerances throughout.  I love the way it dissassembles by sliding back the front sight, beneath which there is a slot through which the guide rod and mainspring can be removed.  The gun is a marvel of the machinist’s art.  Early versions are slightly different internally, and have only a single grip screw, but disassembly is the same.

The Pieper company was founded by the Belgian Henri Pieper in 1866 to make rifle components.  Walter says that Pieper “...was one of the European pioneers of mass-produced sporting guns.”  He was a founding partner of Fabrique Nationale.  Henri died in 1898, but was succeeded as a principal in the company by his son, Nicolas.  In 1905 the company became known as the Anciens Etablissements Pieper, and in 1907-1908 built a new factory in Herstal, Belgium.  In 1908 it received a contract from the Spanish government to produce the Bergmann-Bayard pistol.  Bayard was a trade name used by the Pieper company.

Nicolas was working on his own pistol design in this same era, but the Pieper Bayard pistol was based on a design by the Belgian designer Bernard Clarus, which he had patented in England in 1907.   The .32 version of the Pieper Bayard first appeared in 1908, followed by the .380 version in 1911, and the .25 in 1912.  They are all exactly the same size and utilize identical parts, with the exception of the barrel, magazine, and breech face.  The .32 caliber version is the most common.  I have come across only three in .380 caliber, and only a few more of the .25s.

Many guns in the era between 1900 and 1910 followed the general pattern of the 1900 FN Browning, with the recoil spring mounted in a tube above the barrel, including the 1908 Pieper Bayard, the Clement, the Frommer Stop, the 1907/1911 Melior, the 1907/1908 Pieper, the Owa, the 1908 Steyr, and the .35 caliber Smith & Wesson auto of 1913.  While I  believe that the Bayard was certainly influenced by the 1900 FN Browning (the first commercially successful auto pistol), a practical reason for placing the spring above the barrel was that the very small size of the gun precluded putting it either beneath or around the barrel, as the spring would have been too short to effectively absorb the recoil of the gun.  One of the disadvantages of placing the barrel in the lower position is that the pivot point for the hammer must necessarily also be low, forcing the tang lower as well and making the gun difficult to grip firmly.

The NRA Book of Small Arms, by W.H.B. Smith, says:  “This Bayard is one of the smallest pistols ever built for its cartridge and suffers from heavy recoil.  It is not a particularly sturdy weapon.”  He says pretty much the opposite about the .25 version, stating that the gun is an “excellent Belgian variation of the Browning,”Bayard Logo and also: “The Bayard 1908 is of original design. ... It is an exceptionally sturdy weapon of its class.”  In the entry for the .380 caliber Bayard, Smith says:  “The Bayard is produced by one of the best European manufacturers, the Anciens Etablissements Pieper at Herstal, Belgium.  ...  The weapon is noteworthy as being the smallest, most compact, and lightest .380 caliber automatic pistol ever built.”  Under the entry for the .32 Bayard “Old Model,” which can only be the model 1908, he states “magazines were of two sizes, six and eight shots.”  The ALFA Catalogue of Arms and the Outdoors of 1911 also lists 6 and 8 shot magazines for both the .32 and .380 Bayard.  However, my .32 Bayard magazine only holds 5 rounds.  Woods confirms that the .32 version holds 5 rounds and the .380 only 4.  Apparently the .380 version was modified in 1923 and again in 1930.  W.H.B. Smith says, “ The 1923 and 1930 modifications of this model are somewhat heavier and of better construction.”  An owner of a Bayard .380 has written to me to say that the magazine for his gun holds 5 rounds.

The Bayard has no mechanism for locking the breech.  The breech block hangs down below the slide and is machined from the same piece of metal.  The barrel is integral with the receiver, directly above the trigger guard, and the tube that houses the recoil spring is above the barrel.  In the rear of the same tube is a unique recoil buffer consisting of a spring and a buffer rod.  When the recoil spring reaches its maximum compression, its guide rod engages the buffer rod and compresses the buffer spring.  Bayard’s literature claimed that the buffer ...”cushions the momentum of the opening slide to such an extent that recoil is hardly felt.”  The trigger is of the sliding type and connects to the sear through a single linkage on the left side of the gun.  The Bayard does not incorporate a magazine disconnect safety.

 

The gun is hammer fired.*  J.B. Wood says “The disconnector system is a nightmare.  There is no direct slide-activated disconnection of the trigger bar and sear.”  Instead, there is a small rocker arm which is depressed when the slide is fully forward (this rocker arm is referred to in the parts schematic as the “automatic safety”).  When, during blowback, the slide is to the rear and the forward portion of the spring-loaded rocker arm is not depressed, its rear end engages a detent on the side of the hammer, preventing the hammer from falling.  However, the hammer detent is less than 1/16 inch deep.  Wood says: “When all parts are crisp and new, the system works fairly well.  When any of these things become a little worn, the gun often tends to fire more than one shot for each pull of the trigger.”  Wood also says that a couple of the smaller springs are easily broken, and that the spring steel extractor is most often broken when it is removed and so should not be removed unless absolutely necessary.

Despite any claims to the contrary, I can vouch for the fact that the .32 Bayard has tremendous recoil.  Being a relatively light blowback operated pistol with minimal grips, this isn’t unexpected.  I can only imagine how much recoil the .380 version must have.  In comparing the .32 Bayard with the P-32 Kel-Tec, the Kel-Tec is slightly larger in all dimensions, though they look almost identical when you put them side-by-side.  Note that the Kel-Tec P-32 is almost a third the weight of the Bayard, but its perceived recoil is considerably less, due in part to its locked breech design.  Part of the problem with the Bayard is its ergonomics (or lack thereof).  I can only get one and a half fingers on the grip, whereas the Kel-Tec accommodates two (though just barely).  The angle of the tang down to the grip strap on the Bayard interferes with instinctive pointing.  The Kel-Tec tang doesn’t look all that different, but the gun feels much better in the hand.

Kel-Tec P-32 and Bayard 1908
The Kel-Tec P-32 next to the 1908 Pieper Bayard .32.

Despite its ergonomic shortcomings, my Bayard has functioned flawlessly from the first day I bought it.  It has never failed to feed or eject.  It is a beautiful piece of machinery and an engineering marvel.  It is a single-action-only pistol  and, perhaps due to the design of the trigger bar, has an unusually heavy trigger pull.  The first time I tried it, I thought I must have left the safety on. 

 

1908 Bayard

Kel-Tec P-32

Cartridge

7.65mm / .32 ACP

7.65mm / .32 ACP

Magazine Capacity

5 rounds

7 rounds

Overall Length

4.96 inches / 126mm

5.1 inches / 129.5mm

Overall Height

3.23 inches / 82mm

3.5 inches / 89mm

Barrel Length

2.25 inches / 57.15mm

2.7 inches / 68.58mm

Slide Width

.7 inches / 17.8mm

.748 inches / 19mm

Weight Empty

16.9 ounces / 428.8 g

6.6 ounces / 186 g

There is a gentleman, by the name of Don Chapman, who collects these pistols.    If you send him your Bayard serial number he will tell you approximately when it was made.  Mine was probably made in 1921.

 

Field Stripping

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Draw the slide back to cock the hammer.  Make sure there is no cartridge in the chamber.
  3. Push the front sight back slightly and lift it up.
  4. Withdraw the recoil spring and guide.
  5. Draw the slide back and lift it up out of the receiver.


* Hogg and Weeks describe the Bayard as having a suspended hammer with rollers on the side, which is totally incorrect.  The gun they describe is Bernard Clarus’ other pistol which was manufactured under the name Clement.

Copyright 2007 & 2009 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

References

Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers, by John Walter.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
Famous Automatic Pistols and Revolvers, Volume 2, by John Olson.  Jolex, Oakland, NJ:  1979.
The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly, Part I: Automatic Pistols, 2nd Edition,
Krause Publications, Iola, WI:  1999.
The NRA Book of Small Arms, Volume I:  Pistols and Revolvers, by Walter H.B. Smith, 2nd Edition, copublished by the NRA and The Military Service Publishing Co., Harrisburg, PA:  1948.
Pistols of the World, by Ian Hogg and John Weeks.  Arms & Armour Press, London:  1978.
Troubleshooting your Handgun, by J.B. Wood.  Follett, Chicago:  1978.
“The Ultimate Holdout Gun--Lichtman’s Model 2,” by Jan Stevenson, in Guns magazine, Vol. XX, No. 4-5, May 1974.
Parts in the 1908 Bayard

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