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The Dreyse 6.35mm
Vest Pocket Pistol
by Ed Buffaloe

Grip LogoAfter 1901 the Dreyse company was owned by the Rheinische Metallwaaren & Maschinenfabrik company (RM&M, later known as Rheinmetall), located in the town of Sömmerda in Thuringia, Germany.  RM&M used the Dreyse name for their small arms.

Accurate information about Louis Schmeisser is difficult to come by, but F.W.A. Hobart states that he became the chief designer for RM&M in 1902, which would be about right, since his last pistol for Bergmann (the Bergmann Mars) was designed in 1901.  By 1906 Schmeisser had designed the 7.65mm Dreyse pistol for RM&M, by 1908 he had designed the 6.35mm Dreyse Vest Pocket pistol, and by 1909 or 1910 he had designed the 9mm Parabellum Dreyse pistol.

Dreyse VP Type II - Francis Kennedy

Dreyse Vest Pocket Pistol
Type II - The most common version.

The Dreyse Vest Pocket pistol was patented in Great Britain in 1910 (British patent 1910-20660) by Louis Schmeisser.  The British patent states that a German patent had been applied for on 8 September 1909, though I have been unable to locate a copy of the German Patent.  The British patent covers only the method of barrel retention and of dismantling the gun:  “The present invention relates to improvements ... which ... have as their object to provide a fire-arm ... in which the parts which must be dismounted in order to thoroughly clean the fire-arm can be easily mounted and dismounted by hand.  For this purpose a sliding or otherwise movable locking bar is provided at the upper part of the firearm which enables the barrel to be easily secured or dismounted.”  The patent drawings do not show the lockwork of the gun, but give details of the barrel, slide, recoil spring, and locking bar.

Production of the Dreyse Vest Pocket may have begun late in 1909, after the German patent was filed.  Hogg states that it was “[i]ntroduced shortly after the 7.65mm gun...,” but doesn’t give a specific date.  Matthews states that the Dreyse 6 .35mm pistol was designed in 1908 but  “...probably was not offered commercially until 1909 (or possibly 1910), as the patent situation was not cleared up until 1910.”   Both guns appear in the ALFA catalogue of 1911, which must have been in preparation as early as 1910.  The Deutsche Waffenfabrik Georg Knaak catalogue of 1910 does not picture the Dreyse Vest Pocket, but does list a seven-shot 6.35mm Dreyse.  It may be that the gun was so new when the catalogue was in preparation that no image of it was available.  Production ended with the end of World War I, though guns continued to be sold from stock until well after the war.

A correspondent from Germany sent me a copy of a receipt from RM&M for the sale of a Dreyse Vest Pocket pistol.  It was for serial number 7485 and was dated 4 March 1915.  This would tend to indicate that very few of these pistols were produced in the first few years of production.  I would very much like to collect more date information like this--if you have an old receipt or other relevant information, please contact me.

Schmeisser's Patent Drawing

Dreyse Vest Pocket Patent Drawing

The little Dreyse is nearly identical in size and profile to the 1906 FN Browning, with which it was clearly intended to compete, though it does not have a grip safety like the Browning.  Like the Browning, it is a striker-fired blowback-operated gun.  The Dreyse is designed to look as if it has a full length slide like the Browning, but it doesn’t.  Instead, it has an open-top slide like the 1900 Mannlicher, consisting of a breech block at the rear with side plates that extend forward to enclose a recoil spring beneath the barrel.  There are 16 triangular-cut serrations at the rear of the slide to assist in retracting it.  The barrel has a hood or shroud over it which is machined from stock to appear to be contiguous with the slide.  A short vertical peg descends at right angles from the rear of the barrel, beneath the chamber, and fits into a hole in the frame.  The barrel is supported from beneath by the sides of the slide, which extend under it.  The barrel is secured to the slide from above by a locking bar, which fits into slots on the top of both barrel shroud and slide, and is fixed in place on top of the slide by the rear sight, tensioned by a flat spring, which fits into a transverse slot.  The locking bar moves when the slide moves.  This is the only design I know of where the barrel is fixed in position from the top.  The design provides for very quick and easy disassembly and reassembly, as described in the patent.  The front and rear sight are integral with the locking bar.

The Dreyse Vest Pocket has a removeable backstrap to which are pinned the flat mainspring, sear, magazine release with its spring, and the flat spring that retains the safety lever on the right side.  The entire assembly is held in the frame by a small pin at the bottom and the safety lever at the top.  The trigger pivots on a pin through the frame to operate an internal transfer bar on the left side of the frame, which angles up toward the sear.  A projection on top of the transfer bar serves as a disconnector, moving the transfer bar down and out of contact with the sear when the
Dreyse VP Type I - Alain Daubresse

Dreyse Vest Pocket Pistol - Type I
With dual extractors.

slide is out of battery.  The extractor is external and mounted on the side--see the variants below for details.  The firing pin serves as the ejector.

The gun is marked DREYSE on the left side of the slide in all capital serif characters.  At least one instance is known of a gun with no company markings (if you have one, I would appreciate hearing from you).  The serial number is stamped on the right side of the frame just above the trigger pin.  The serial number is also stamped in full on the inside of the slide, the bottom of the barrel, and the bottom of the locking bar.  The first digit of the serial number on the frame of some specimens is partially obscured by the right-side grip panel.  The barrel, slide, and frame are stamped with the German crown over N proof for nitro (smokeless) powder.  The grips are of checkered black hard rubber with an RM&F monogram in an oval cartouche at the top.

There are two main types of the Dreyse Vest Pocket.

The Type I

Type I and IIA Profile

Type I (& IIA) Profile

The distinguishing feature of the Type I Dreyse Vest Pocket is that it has two extractors, one on each side of the breech block.  This feature is not seen in the patent drawings, but is shown in the drawing of the pistol in the 1911 ALFA catalogue.  Instead of the slide having a rounded profile, as shown in the patent drawing, there are two scalloped areas on either side of the locking bar.  The extractors are high on the flat sides of the breech block, just beneath the scallops, and are pinned from the top straight down through the bottom.

The highest serial number we have recorded for a Type I with dual extractors is 2160, and the lowest serial number we have recorded for a single extractor Type II is 2746, so probably only around 2500 of the Type I were ever made.  If you have a gun with a serial number in this range that will help clarify how many of each type were made, please write to me.  Matthews says:  “Just when the change was made is not known, but the factory file of 1912 shows the single extractor type whereas advertisements of 1911 show the double type.  From this it would appear that the change was made late in 1911 or early in 1912.”

The Type II

Type IIB Profile

Type IIB Profile

The Type II is, of course, distinguished by a single extractor on the right side of the breech block.  There are, however, two variants of the Type II.

The IIA variant retains the scallops on the top of the slide and barrel.  It is like the Type I but with a single extractor.  The lowest serial number observed for this variant is 2895 and the highest is 3652.  If you have an example of this variant, please write to me, as I would like to make a better estimate of how many were made.  The IIA may be the most scarce variant, but we do not know for certain.

The IIB variant eliminates the scallops and has the edges of the barrel and slide chamfered at approximately a 55° angle from the horizontal.  The single extractor is moved up from the flat side to the angled portion of the chamfer on the breech block, and is pinned at an angle from the side of the breech block up through the corner of the slot for the locking bar.  This is the most common variant of the Dreyse Vest Pocket pistol.  The lowest serial number we have recorded for this variant is 4013 and the highest is 74608.  From these numbers we can estimate that nearly 95% of all Dreyse Vest Pocket pistols are of the Type IIB variety.

There is another variant which we don’t know enough about.  My gun, serial number 24188, has a spring-loaded lever near the top of its magazine well.  This is a magazine safety which was designed to lock the sear--however, it is inoperative on my gun.  According to a letter I received from J.B. Wood, “...Herr Schmeisser designed the engagement with the sear to be very precise and small, and it is often found to be non-working.”  Wood says the magazine safety on his Dreyse doesn’t work either.  I believe that the Dreyse Vest Pocket probably came with the magazine safety from the earliest production pistols, and was discontinued due to the fact that it wore out prematurely; however, I have not been able to examine any early guns in person to verify this.  Please contact me if you have a gun with this feature.  I would like to try to establish just how many were made and when they were discontinued.  I do know that the magazine safety lever was discontinued by serial number 51932.  If you have an earlier gun without the magazine safety, please contact me.

Field Stripping the Dreyse Vest Pocket

  1. Dreyse, Haenel-Schmeisser, & Zehna

    Top:  Dreyse Vest Pocket
    Bottom:  Haenel-Schmeisser & Zehna

    Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty.  Pull the trigger to uncock the striker.
  2. Lift up the rear sight and remove the locking bar from the top of the gun.
  3. Draw the slide back about 1/4 inch and hold it open with your thumb.  Either lift the barrel out or tilt the gun upside down and let it drop out of the slide.
  4. Ease the slide off the front of the gun.

Further Developments

There are two guns that are direct descendants of the Dreyse Vest Pocket.  One is the first model Haenel-Schmeisser designed by Hugo and Hans Schmeisser (Louis’ sons).  The other is the Zehna Pistol designed by Emil Zehner.  The Model I Haenel-Schmeisser is externally quite close to the Dreyse Vest Pocket, but internally is quite different--the removeable backstrap has been eliminated and the gun features coil springs and a magazine safety in addition to a patented takedown mechanism.  The Zehna is almost identical to the Dreyse Vest Pocket, differing only in the takedown method, the length of the barrel, and the external conformation of the slide.

References

Arms of the World--1911, the ALFA Catalogue of Arms and the Outdoors.  Follett, Chicago: 1972.
Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers, by John Walter.  Greenhill, London: 2001
Firearms Identification, Volume I, by J. Howard Matthews.  Thomas Books, Springfield, IL: 1962.
German Handguns, by Ian Hogg.  Greenhill, London: 2001.
Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun, by F.W.A. Hobart.  Scribner’s, New York: 1973.

Special thanks to Alain Daubresse of Belgium and Francis Kennedy of the U.S.
for allowing me to use photographs of guns from their collections, and special thanks to
an anonymous U.S. collector who shared his database of Dreyse Vest Pocket serial numbers with me--
it might have taken me years to obtain this information on my own.
 

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

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