The 1909 Schwarzlose Pistol
by Ed Buffaloe and Ed Dittus
Some authors, such as Ian Hogg, Matthews, and W.H.B. Smith refer to the gun as the M1908, after the patent date, but European usage has generally been M1909, after the first year of production, and this was the usage employed by the Schwarzlose company itself in period advertising. During all the time that Schwarzlose was designing pistols, he was also working on various designs for machine guns. None of his pistol designs can be called a commercial success, whereas he ultimately became well known for his machine guns. Perhaps with a certain prescience, he adopted a machine gun logo for his company.
Manufacture of the 1909 Schwarzlose pocket pistol may have begun as early as 1908, after the first two patents were granted, although the third patent (for the grip safety) wasn’t granted until April 1909. Matthews states that production ended in 1911, and this is echoed by Gordon, whereas W.H.B. Smith states that production ended in 1915. However, it is nearly certain that production ended early in 1910, as the German weapons industry newsletter Der Waffenschmied noted in its 10 March 1910 issue that the employees of the Schwarzlose factory were locked out for refusing to work longer hours without a pay increase. Prior to this time, advertisements for the 1909 Schwarzlose pistol in Der Waffenschmied show the gun being sold by A.W. Schwarzlose G.m.b.H. of Berlin, with the German distributor being listed as G.C. Dornheim G.m.b.H. of Berlin; whereas after March of 1910 the advertisements show the gun being sold by Moritz Magnus jun. of Hamburg (a wholesaler of weapons and munitions), with the German distributor still listed as G.C. Dornheim G.m.b.H.
A.W. Schwarzlose Gesellschaft für Waffenerzeugnisse m.b.H. declared bankruptcy on 20 May 1910 (this was reported in Der Waffenschmied for 10 June 1910). In the 25 October 1910 issue of Der Waffenschmied there is an advertisement stating that G.C. Dornheim G.m.b.H. has taken over the stock of completed Schwarzlose pistols from the bankrupt Schwarzlose factory and is offering the weapons at extraordinarily cheap prices.
Friedrich Müller has created a database of known Schwarzlose M1909 pistols and notes in his article that nearly half the proofing of the gun must have taken place during or after 1912, since the vast majority of M1909 Schwarzlose pistols after serial number 3541 have the crown-N proof, which came into use in 1912. We believe that there must have been several thousand completed pistols that had not been proofed when the company went bankrupt, and these guns must have been proofed during or after 1912.
Late in 1911 we find, in various U.S. magazines, advertisements for the Schwarzlose pistol being retailed by the Kirtland Brothers and Company of New York City, a sporting-goods dealer--these appear to be standard Model 1909 pistols just like the ones sold in Germany. In 1913 we begin to find similar advertisements, featuring the same gun but it is referred to as the “Warner Schwarzlose” and is being sold by the Warner Arms Corporation.
Finally, in 1914 we begin to see additional advertisements for the Warner Schwarzlose, but the gun pictured is clearly a modified Model 1909, with checkering instead of serrations on the barrel/slide, a magazine release behind the trigger, and WAC monogram grips. This is what we refer to below as the Warner Schwarzlose Type 1, or the third variant Schwarzlose. Clearly, Franklin and Marvin Warner must have purchased a number of completed pistols as well as all the remaining parts.
German patent number 196553 was applied for on 12 May 1907 and was granted on 27 March 1908. This patent covers the mechanism of disassembly by locking the recoil spring guide rod into a detente in the frame. It corresponds with Britsh patent number 10222 of 1908.
German patent number 208540 was applied for on 23 June 1907 and was granted on 1 April 1909, and covers the grip safety which is linked to the tension of the mainspring, and a sear designed to also serve as an ejector. This patent corresponds with British patent number 20006 of 1907, and with some minor changes to U.S. patent 932183 of 1909.
Design and Functionality
The gun consists of two main pieces, the frame and the barrel/slide. The Schwarzlose company referred to the latter as the “barrel” but the reader should understand that the barrel is integral with what we today would call a slide, with longitudinal rails attached beneath the barrel which fit into slots inside the frame, and with an extension on the left side which contains the sear. The sear lies flush with the lower face of the slide extension on the left side of the gun, and runs from just above the trigger to the rear of the gun. The rear portion of the sear is rounded and fits into a concavity in the left side of the hammer. The sear pivots on a pin and is able to move both up and down and from side to side. A protrusion on the bottom of the sear serves as a disconnector and fits into a concavity in the top of the frame when the slide is in battery. When the slide is out of battery the disconnector lifts the front end of the sear upward so it cannot contact the trigger bar. The trigger bar is vertical and sits just behind the trigger. When the slide is in battery and the sear connects with the trigger bar, if the trigger is pulled it causes the front of the sear to pivot inward and its rear to pivot outward, releasing the internal hammer. The hammer has a cone-shaped firing pin similar to European revolvers of the era. The firing pin strikes the cartridge through a hole in the breech block.
The recoil spring, which lies beneath the barrel, is quite strong because the barrel/slide is relatively light. Similarly, the magazine spring is much more powerful than that of a normal automatic pistol--so much so that it can be difficult to load the seventh cartridge. The breech block is fixed in the rear of the frame just in front of the hammer. The spring-loaded internal extractor is fixed in the frame on the right side of the gun. The recoil spring guide rod is the means of disassembly--when it is pulled all the way forward it can be tilted slightly upward, which causes the front of the guide rod to catch in a detente in the frame above the trigger guard--the barrel/slide can then be slid forward off the frame.
The cycle of operation is as follows: The gun is grasped in the shooting hand with the finger outside the triggerguard and the barrel/slide is drawn forward with the opposite hand. An extension on the left rear of the slide pulls the top cartridge forward in the magazine and the nose of the cartridge inclines upward. The barrel/slide is released and returns under tension of the recoil spring. As the barrel/slide moves to the rear, the ramp beneath and behind the barrel engages the cartridge, releases it from the magazine, and forces it into the chamber. The powerful magazine spring helps prevent the cartridge from being pushed back into the magazine. As the sear moves to the rear it engages the hammer and pushes it into the cocked position. When the trigger is pulled the trigger bar moves the sear laterally, releasing the hammer. The cartridge is ignited and the bullet pulls the barrel/slide forward with it. The barrel/slide motion is stopped when it has moved forward the length of the cartridge. The extractor holds the cartridge case against the fixed breech block, and when the slide extension comes forward it ejects the spent cartridge while simultaneously pulling the next cartridge into loading position. The compressed recoil spring beneath the barrel forces the barrel/slide back to the rear, chambering the next cartridge and pushing the hammer back into the cocked position.
Markings and Variations
First Variant - Standard Model. The vast majority of Schwarzlose pistols are the standard model, which is of blued steel and has 13 triangular-cut slide serrations over the chamber area of the barrel/slide. These serrations do not extend all the way to the bottom of the barrel/slide. The top of the rear portion of the barrel/slide and of the frame is scalloped. The left side of the frame, just above the grip plate, is marked in in upper and lower case italic letters with script-like capitals:
AW.Schwarzlose G.m.b.H. Berlin.
The right side of the frame, at the very rear, is marked SCHWARZLOSE in an arc over the machine gun logo of the company. The serial number is stamped on the right side of the frame,
Grip plates are of hard rubber, with the grip screw at the bottom center, and the vast majority of them are checkered on about the lower two-thirds, with the upper third smooth, forming a slightly hollowed out area where the thumb can rest. A few grip plates are fully checkered, but these are quite scarce. Most early examples have crown over B and crown over U proof marks on the frame and barrel/slide, and most late examples have the crown over N proof, which came into use for pistols in 1912. Early barrel/slides are stamped on the inside of the left extension with the number 181, which is a gauge measurement of the diameter of the barrel. Guns with the later crown over N proof may not have this stamp.
The magazine is of the standard type, with a rather long floor plate, and has six holes drilled in each side for viewing cartridges. It has very short feed lips and a deep cut in the front, allowing the cartridge to be pulled forward and tilted up when the barrel/slide is far enough forward. The magazine spring is quite strong, as it must be to prevent the cartridge from being pushed backward into the magazine by the recoiling barrel/slide.
The last two Schwarzlose variants were sold in the United States under the auspices of the Warner Arms Corporation.
James B. Stewart, in his article “Schwarzlose 1909: The Unexpected Automatic,” published in Guns magazine for March of 1976, says: “At the termination of production Schwarzlose apparently sold the remaining parts on hand, stock, and evidently, also the tools and drawings to the Davis Warner Arms company of Brooklyn, N.Y.” But actually the sale was to the Warner
Third Variant - Warner Type 1. The third variant is blued and features checkering over the chamber area of the barrel. On this variant the grip safety and lock button are retained. The grip safety has an oval area of checkering near the top, and the lower portion of the trigger has a similar oval area of checkering. The magazine release is a button just behind the trigger (in the same location as the manual safety on the fourth variant). This variant has a short external extractor on the right side of the frame that partially obscures the Schwarzlose name over the machine gun logo. The extractor is retained by a screw installed from the top of the breech block.
Beneath the A.W. Schwarzlose inscription on the left side are the U.S. patent numbers in upper-case sans-serif characters:
AW.Schwarzlose G.m.b.H. Berlin.
On the right side, stamped over the lower portion of the Schwarzlose machine gun logo, is the following inscription in upper- case sans-serif characters:
WARNER ARMS CORPORATION
Warner Schwarzlose pistols are quite scarce, and we would appreciate hearing from anyone who owns one.*
There may be more variants as yet unrecorded. According to Matthews: “There is some evidence, not as fully confirmed as one would like, that Warner Arms also bought the Schwarzlose machinery and tools when manufacture was stopped in Germany. It is possible that Warner also manufactured some guns or parts themselves.”
Also, according to James B. Stewart: “Before termination of production Schwarzlose had been experimenting with cost- reducing modifications, one of which was the removal of the grip safety, mainspring tensioning system, and grip safety lockout button and their replacement with a fixed mainspring and a simple trigger locking thumb safety. Pistol number 5710 shows a plugged hole in the frame at the location of this proposed manual safety although in all other respects it is identical to a normal production pistol.” He is describing the only documented deluxe model Schwarzlose. We believe Stewart was merely speculating when he speaks of “experimenting with cost-reducing modifications,” as we have found no documentation to back this up; however, based on what we know at this time his speculation is quite possibly correct.
Donald M. Simmons, writing in an article about the Warner Infallible pistol, says: “It is my belief that the German Schwarzlose’s conventional bottom magazine latch was deleted from all Warners because of a fear about Browning’s U.S. patents on Colt pocket Automatics....” He further states that “...all Warner Schwarzloses had a plug attached where the bottom latch would have been.” Apparently Mr. Simmons had only ever seen a Type 1 Warner Schwarzlose. We now know that there are a number of Type 2 Warner Schwarzloses with a (slightly redesigned) magazine release on the bottom of the pistol. The possibility exists that changes made to the U.S. pistols were somehow intended to avert possible patent violations, however there is no direct evidence.
To the best of our knowledge, the Model 1909 Schwarzlose was designed to shoot standard 7.65mm Browning ammunition. However, in his article entitled “The .32 Caliber Schwarzlose” which appeared in Handguns ‘94, Jim Dickson states: “The Schwarzlose .32 was loaded with a truncated-cone bullet, a fulminate-of-mercury primer, a booster stick of cordite coated with fulminate of mercury, and an uncoated, single-base powder.” The illustrations in the Schwarzlose manual that show how to charge the magazine display standard round-nosed bullets, and no mention is made of special ammunition. Dickson further states: “This is not a load to try to duplicate. It was considered unsafe in its own day, and contemporary writers remarked on the extra recoil when Schwarzlose ammo was used in other .32 pistols.” We have been unable to locate any further reference to this special Schwarzlose ammunition, and would be obliged to anyone who could provide further information about it.*
Impressions and Handling
A number of people have commented that the Schwarzlose pocket pistol is uncomfortable to shoot. It has a very different feel from a normal blow-back pistol, since the barrel/slide runs forward and stops abruptly, then recoils backward. J.B. Woods comments: “...the hand receives, in rapid succession, a healthy slap from the recoil force against the solid breech, a slight secondary forward kick as the barrel reaches full travel, and another very light tap as the barrel returns to the rear.” W.H.B. Smith says: “In this type of pistol, the recoil is invariably excessive. This is to be expected in view of the fact that, whereas in the straight blowback type much of the rearward thrust of the gas inside the cartridge case is transmitted to the breechblock which carries the moving parts directly to the rear, in this type the rearward shock is transmitted through the rigid receiver in the hand;” and: “The jar caused by the barrel moving forward and again by its return as it brings up against the face of the breechblock, added to the excessive recoil, makes this an unpleasant weapon to shoot.” Gerhard Bock indicates that his trigger finger receives a blow from the trigger guard during the working of the action, and other writers have complained that the gun bruises the heel of their hand.
Conversely, Ian Hogg states: “In spite of the odd concept, it fires well, with a relatively gentle recoil, and is quite accurate-- due, no doubt, to the extra barrel length.” The authors of this article came closer to Hogg’s opinion: being inured to shooting the .45 and/or the .357, we found the recoil to be different from a normal handgun, but not excessive. We found accuracy to be reasonable, considering the fixed sights. We didn’t have a bench or even a target, but shooting offhand (with the safety locked back) at a stick on a pile of crushed shells we found we could hit the stick at least half the time. J.B. Wood comments: “Accuracy is a little below average for a pocket automatic. I managed to keep all shots on the paper of a standard 25 yard pistol target at the range, but only two shots of a five-shot group were in the black...”
Reliability seems to be an issue for some commentators. W.H.B. Smith states: “...even with a low-powered cartridge of the type of the .32 Colt automatic, the blowforward system was never really practical. Extraction and ejection were never very reliable and feeding jams were quite common.” We should note that the gun illustrated in Smith’s book on pistols is a fourth- variant Warner. We had occasional problems with feeding and extraction, but for the most part the gun was reliable. We know that early European 7.65mm Browning cartridges were often loaded a bit hotter than is usual today--possibly a slightly hotter load, such as the Sellier & Bellot would make the gun feed and eject more reliably. We found it difficult to insert the seventh round in the magazine due to the powerful magazine spring, and one of us was unable to get the first round to chamber due to the same issue.
Note: Further disassembly is unnecessary for cleaning. If you remove the guide rod and spring, be aware that the front straight portion of the spring must be inserted into a small hole in the front of the frame before it can be compressed.
* If you have information of any kind, copies of old advertisements, serial numbers, or photographs that would add to our knowledge of the Model 1909 Schwarzlose pistol, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2014 by Ed Buffaloe and Ed Dittus. All rights reserved.