Unblinking Eye
                                      The Melior Model 1911

 

The Melior Model 1911

by Ed Buffaloe

I bought an “old model” Melior .25 caliber pistol recently and find it intriguing. At one-half inch, it is the slimmist self-loading pistol I’ve ever seen.  It was made in Liége, Belgium by Robar and de Kirkhave.  The company was also known as Robar Fils and L De Kerckhove; L Robar Fils and De Kerckhove; Manufacture Liégeoise d’Armes à Feu, Robar & Companie; and its final incarnation was under the name Société anonyme Robar & Cie.  This company produced the gun, patented by an H. Rosier (patent 24875/1908), under two names: Melior and Jieffeco.  Jieffeco was an acronym for Janssen Fils & Cie of Liege, a company that made shotguns, rifles, and revolvers.  (This company also owned a number of other trade names, including Acier Pyroxyle, Camello, Colonia Liege, Cosmopolite, Hanover Arms Co, JF&C, Jieffe & Co, Nitro-Steel, and Southern Arms Co.)  The Melior was sold in countries where the Jieffeco was not.

The Melior was made from 1907 to 1914 in two models known as the Model 1907 and the Model 1911, each available in both .25 caliber (6.35mm) and .32 caliber (7.65mm).  The earlier model (manufactured from 1907-1910) did not have serrations at the muzzle.  The serrations were added to help in field stripping the gun. After World War I, the company began the manufacture of a different series of weapons based on the Browning Model 1910, which were also marked Melior. Hence, the models 1907 and 1911 are often collectively referred to as the “old model” Melior.

A nearly identical pistol appeared in the United States in the 1920’s, called the Phoenix, marked “Phoenix Arms.” The Phoenix Arms company was based in Lowell, Massachusetts. Most sources speculate that Phoenix Arms imported unmarked remaining parts for the Melior/Jieffeco, assembled them, stamped them with their own name, and placed their own branded grips on them. Guns so marked are quite scarce. However, apparently the Phoenix has a different grip release than the Melior/Jieffeco, so it is also possible that portions of the gun were made in the United States.

The Melior was inspired by the Browning Model 1900.  It is also reminiscent of the 1908 Bayard; however, since the first version of the Melior was produced in 1907, if anything the Melior influenced the Bayard rather than the other way round.  In any case, both guns owe a great deal to the 1900 Browning design, and both appeared relatively quickly after the introduction of the first 6.35mm pistol, the 1906 FN Browning.  The shape of the rear portion of the frame and placement of the safety are almost identical on the three guns, and they all have the recoil spring in a tube on top of the barrel.  The Browning features a detachable breech block that is pinned to the slide. In the Bayard, the slide and breech block are machined from a single piece of metal.  In the Melior, the slide has been eliminated (or truncated) and there is only a reciprocating breech block, the upper rear portion of which has serrations (as on a slide) that enable it to be gripped and drawn back for cocking and chambering a round.  The Melior has a magazine release identical to that on the 1900 Browning--it is pulled toward the front of the gun to remove the magazine--and, like the Browning, the release engages a slot in the back of the magazine.  There is no magazine safety on the Melior or the Browning.

The extractor on the Melior and Bayard are like that of the Browning:  it is made of spring steel, with a wedge-shaped piece welded to the end to grip the rim of the cartridge. The Melior recoil spring is held captive on the guide rod by a cylindrical end cap on the front and a spherical piece at the rear.  The cylindrical end piece moves like a piston in the recoil spring tube. The spherical piece at the rear of the spring and guide rod assembly fits into a chamber in the forward part of the breech block, where it is held by a threaded pin.   The breech block and the recoil spring guide rod with its attached cylindrical end piece are the only parts that cycle when the weapon is fired. The barrel is fixed to the frame, and the spring tube and barrel sheath (which look like a slide, but aren’t) are removable as a piece.

Field stripping the Melior is quite simple.  It is not necessary even to remove the magazine, though of course you should first make sure it is empty and that there is no cartridge in the chamber. Pull the “slide” forward off the front of the barrel and twist it to one side or the other. Then ease the entire assembly with attached breech block off the rear of the gun.  When reassembling, the breech block will be stopped after about 1 centimeter by the sear, requiring you to pull the trigger to lower the sear and allow the breech block to be inserted fully.  Reassembly causes the gun to be cocked, so you should pull the trigger afterward in order to relieve tension on the striker spring.

To disassemble the Melior completely, make sure the gun is unloaded and pull the trigger to ensure that is is not cocked. Use a screwdriver to loosen the threaded pin through the breech block on the right side of the gun. With a finger, press in on the forward portion of the spring and guide assembly to relieve tension on the pin, and remove the pin.  Draw the breech block backward out of the gun.  To reassemble, you must press down on the sear in order to insert the breech block in the receiver.  Then, holding the rear of the breech block against the tension of the striker spring, and pressing inward on the cylindrical end piece of the guide rod/spring assembly, insert the threaded pin in the breech block and through the hole in the spherical end piece of the guide rod/spring assembly.

Proof marks The Perron Right side trigger guard
Left side trigger guard

There are proof marks on the Melior like those on most Belgian guns. The PV surmounted by a lion indicates that the gun uses smokeless powder.  The spangled B is the countermark of the controller in Liége, post 1877.  The third mark is the Perron, the city symbol of Liége, and used as an inspection proof on Belgian guns since 1853.  On the right side of the trigger guard is the number 31 (or possibly 34), and the letters R.K surmounting an L, which stands for Robar & Kerckhove of Liége.  On the left side of the trigger guard is an oval surrounding a star over the letters HR, which is the mark of the inventor, H. Rosier.

The Melior is reasonably accurate. I was able to keep all my shots within about a 5 inch circle at 10 yards--more than adequate for personal protection. However, I had one empty brass stick in the chamber, and when I pried it out I discovered that the shell casing had cracked and expanded.  When I got home I disassembled the gun and put a cartridge in the chamber.  I noticed that the feed ramp extends up into the chamber area, and that the bottom of the cartridge case is not fully supported. With low velocity cartridges, it isn’t a problem, but if you use a moderately hot load, it could be dangerous.  I’m going to relegate this gun to the safe and not shoot it anymore.

 

1911 Melior

Kel-Tec P-32

Cartridge

6.35mm / .25 Cal

7.65mm / .32 ACP

Magazine Capacity

6 rounds

7 rounds

Overall Length

4.57 inches / 116mm

5.1 inches / 129.5mm

Overall Height

3.54 inches / 90mm

3.5 inches / 89mm

Barrel Length

2.17 inches / 55mm

2.7 inches / 68.58mm

Slide Width

.51 inches / 12.9mm

.748 inches / 19mm

Weight Empty

12.37 ounces / 350 g

6.6 ounces / 186 g

Copyright 2007-2008 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

References

Colt Automatic Pistols, 1896-1955, by Donald B. Bady, Fadco Publishing, 1956.
Parts for the 1908 Melior
Janssen Fils et Cie
Melior Pistols - Photos & History

Special thanks to Alain of http://www.littlegun.be for information on proof marks,
and also for permission to use the image of the Perron.

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