Unblinking Eye
The Francotte Pistols

 

 The Francotte Automatic Pistols

by Ed Buffaloe
with essential contributions from Vaclav Vriesen


2-Francottes-L-S1

Francotte Automatic Pistols

The House of Francotte was founded in 1805 by P. J. Francotte. The business was taken over in 1811 by his son, Auguste Francotte, and the company took his name. In 1825 it became Auguste Francotte et fils, and 1848 it became Auguste Francotte et Cie. Francotte was one of the largest gun manufacturers in Belgium in the 19th century. In 1889, the Francotte Company was one of thirteen founders of Fabrique Nationale. Their catalog for the year 1900 lists no less than 100 different revolvers and 44 different rifles and shotguns available for sale. According to Gadisseur, the company held 72 patents that were issued between 1841 and 1947. In their final years they were famous for expensive handmade shotguns. The company was taken over by a Dutch firm in 1998.

Only a few books mention that the Auguste Francotte company manufactured an automatic pistol, sometimes referred to by the initials AFC, after the monogram on the grip plates. Matthews, Hogg & Walter, and Zhuk, show only what I am calling the Second Model. Hogg and Walter state that the Second Model was made in 1912, and Zhuk gives 1912-1914; many on-line sources have repeated these incorrect dates. The only book, that I am aware of, that mentions the First Model Francotte is the Pistolen Atlas: Archiv für Militär- und Waffenwesen by Karl R. Pawlas. Pawlas does not offer dates for either gun.

The First Model was patented in 1913, and manufacture probably began at least by that year. Production may have ceased or been curtailed soon after the beginning of the first world war in August of 1914, which would account for the scarcity of the First Model Francotte. Perhaps the tools for making the First Model were looted or destroyed during the war. The Francotte catalog for 1912 does not list the gun, and I have been unable to locate a catalog for 1913 or 1914.

Production of the Second Model certainly began sometime after World War I. Please write to me if you can provide additional information regarding either Francotte automatic pistol.*


The First Model Francotte Pistol

I
257794-Pat-drwg-det-S

Belgian Patent 257794 - 1913

Francotte-305-R6-S

Francotte First Model

designate this gun the “First Model” for lack of a better term. It might also be called the Model 1913, after the patent date. The gun is marked with patent number 19141, but I am informed that this is a non-existent patent. The true patent number for this gun is 257794, filed in Belgium by Emile Herman and Charles Parent on 19 June 1913 and granted on 30 June 1913. Why the gun has a fake patent date is unknown, though this was sometimes done when a gun was manufactured before it had been patented. I do not know when manufacture actually began. The patent drawing shows the exact contours of the production gun, so it seems likely the drawings were made from a functional prototype. I have been unable to locate any advertisement for the First Model.

The First Model Francotte design is similar to many that proliferated in the first decade of the 20th century: a striker-fired, unlocked breech gun in 6.35mm (.25 ACP) with the recoil spring above the barrel. The inventors make claims only for the design of the lockwork and the removable barrel.

When fieldstripped, the gun breaks down into two main components, a breech-block/slide and a frame with attached barrel. The magazine and recoil-spring/guide rod form two additional minor components. The barrel is press fit into the frame and held in place by a threaded bushing at the front. An external slot in the right side of the barrel fits over a pin in the side of the frame to prevent the barrel from rotating.

The sear is a lever that rotates on an axis pin. The rear arm of the sear is tensioned upward by a small coil spring. The external transfer bar, which is fixed to the trigger, has a spring-loaded release mechanism at its rear that presses directly upward on the front beak of the sear when the trigger is pulled.
Francotte-release-mech-S-bw

First Model Release Mechanism

The sear rotates, releasing the striker, and the release mechanism on the end of the transfer bar passes behind the beak of the sear, and cannot re-engage with the sear until the trigger has been released, hence preventing multiple shots if the trigger is held. The manual safety lever locks the sear securely.

The magazine is of the conventional box type, and holds six rounds. It has five witness holes for viewing cartridges. It also has a slot on the rear that appears to be designed to hold the magazine about one-half inch below the base of the grip, as if for single-shot shooting, but there is no mechanism for holding the slide open, making the loading of single cartridges difficult. The slot is, however, perfectly shaped to fit the front portion of the magazine release, so I have little doubt this is what it was intended for. The magazine release is of unusual design, curving around to the back of the grip strap; the shooter presses up on the rear portion of the release and the magazine falls out of the grip.

The fit and finish of the First Model Francotte is of very high quality. The company, after all, had a well-established reputation to uphold. There is a tiny raised front sight and a rear sighting groove on top of the slide. The gun is marked on the left side of the slide in italic serif characters as follows:

A.FRANCOTTE A LIÈGE

and on the left side of the barrel in non-italic serif characters:

– BREVET № 19141 – 

followed immediately by the serial number. The serial number is also stamped on the bottom of the slide. The frame is stamped beneath the left grip with the crown over AF mark of the Auguste Francotte company. The grip plates are of hard rubber with the AFC monogram in a shield in the center. I have documented serial numbers for the First Model from 305 to 1113. It appears that less than 1200 were made.

The final serial number documented has its slide inscription in all capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

A.FRANCOTTE A LIEGE

Two of the First Model Francotte pistols I have documented (serial numbers 868 and 1003) have generic grip plates, lacking the AFC monogram, and also lack the slide inscription that reads A .FRANCOTTE A LIÈGE. These guns may have been made during or just after World War I. It is well known that the supply chain for grip plates was disrupted by the war, and many guns in this time period were not fitted with their standard grip plates. This is also consistent with the possibility that late guns were assembled from parts–the machinery for making the guns having been destroyed or appropriated during the war.
Francotte-305-L-FS-S

First Model Francotte Fieldstripped

All documented examples bear the typical Liège proofmarks, usually on the right side of the slide and frame, just above the trigger.

Fieldstripping the First Model Francotte

  1. Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty.
  2. Unscrew the recoil spring guide rod and remove it and the recoil spring.
  3. Remove the breech block/slide from the rear of the pistol.

There is no need to unscrew the barrel bushing for routine maintenance.


The Second Model Francotte Pistol

French Patent 503549 - 6 September 1919

French Patent 503549 - 6 September 1919

The most likely candidate for designer of the Second Model Francotte pistol is Louis Paillot. Paillot filed a patent with Laurent Linnert as early as 1919, for a striker-fired gun with a rear frame housing into which the slide recoiled. Later Paillot filed Belgian patent number 329754 on 5 October 1925 and a supplementary patent, number 355611, on 8 November 1928. The guns in these patents are striker-fired, but have a modular backstrap that contains the sear and the magazine release as well as an upper frame housing into which the slide recoils.  I have not located a patent that shows the exact design of the Second Model Francotte.

Precise dating of the Second Model is not possible at this time. It may have appeared immediately after the war in 1919 or 1920, but I have no direct evidence. The earliest datable source is an Italian advertisement that appeared in mid- to late-
Italian Advertisement - 1924

Italian Advertisement - 1924

1924; the publication contains the official promulgation of new hunting laws in Italy which were passed in April and May of 1924. The Second Model also appeared in Francotte catalogs for 1930 and 1939. Production probably ended with the German invasion of Belgium in World War II.

The Second Model Francotte is an unlocked breech, hammer-fired 6.35mm pistol with the recoil spring situated beneath the barrel. The gun breaks down into three modules: (1) the frame which contains the trigger, transfer bar, safety lever, and magazine; (2) the backstrap which contains the hammer, sear, and magazine release; and (3) the breech block/slide which contains the barrel, firing pin, and recoil spring. The barrel and recoil spring are easily removable from the breech block/slide.
Second Model Disassembled

Second Model Disassembled

The frame is unusual in that it has a housing on top into which the breech block/slide recoils. The slide is unusual in that it has serrations at the front. The backstrap is unusual in that it is removable from the gun as a unit, and the entire backstrap rotates on an axis pin at the top when the magazine release is pushed to the rear. The Second Model’s modular design was well ahead of its time, and the gun is as well made as one would expect of an Auguste Francotte product.

The safety lever has a round checkered grasping surface, and comes to a point at its rear. When turned upward (covering the word FEU on the frame and revealing the word SUR) it appears to block the slide–this is simply a visual reminder that the safety is on–it does not immobilize the slide. The safety lever can be rotated in a clockwise direction, and when pointed forward frees the slide and barrel for removal from the frame.
Second Model Francotte

Second Model Francotte

What looks like a screw in the upper frame housing is a pin, which when rotated can be extracted, allowing removal of the backstrap. There is a groove on top for sighting, but no sights as such.

There are eleven coarse triangular-cut serrations at the front of the slide. Grip plates are of checkered hard rubber with the AFC monogram in a shield in the center. The magazine holds six cartridges and is nearly identical to that of the First Model, with five witness holes on each side , except that it lacks the hole in the rear to hold the magazine in a lower position.

Guns up to at least serial number 1441 are marked on the left side of the frame in italic sans-serif characters as follows:

A.FRANCOTTE  A LIÈGE

The serial number is on the frame either below or in front of the inscription. The serial number is also found on the base of the barrel, the base of the front post of the slide, and the side of the backstrap.  I have documented serial numbers from 485 to 3602, so at this time I estimate not many more than 3600 were made. The last gun documented has no barrel, grip plates, or proofmarks and so may simply represent leftover parts.

I have documented one gun (SN 2008) with a frame inscription in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:

A.FRANCOTTE A LIÈGE

All other guns documented after serial number 2008 do not have a frame inscription.

Beginning at least with SN 1441, guns are marked on the left side of the upper frame housing “6 35 BR”.
Engraved Second Model Francotte

Engraved Second Model Francotte

Typical Liège proofmarks are found on early guns on the left upper frame housing, on the left side of the breech block, and on the barrel. Later guns have them on the left side of the slide in front of the slide serrations.

I have documented two guns that are engraved in different styles and are nickel plated. These guns do not have serial numbers or proof marks, and neither has the AFC monogram grip plates. One, which appears on the littlegun.be website, is inscribed on the right side of the frame SOUVENIR DE LIÈGE BELGIQUE. The other gun, in a private collection, is engraved on the left side of the breech block SOUVENIR DE LIÈGE 1945. I speculate that these two guns, and possibly others, may have been made from leftover parts during the German occupation in World War II. Please write to me if you have a Second Model Francotte and are willing to share information about it.*

1930 Francotte catalog

1930 Francotte Catalog - “Fully dismountable by hand...”

Fieldstripping the Second Model Francotte

  1. Remove the magazine and make sure there is not a cartridge in the chamber.
  2. Turn the manual safety lever clockwise until it points toward the front of the gun.
  3. Draw the slide and barrel off the front of the frame.
  4. Press the barrel forward in the slide, compressing the recoil spring, and remove the barrel, recoil spring, and guide rod from the slide.
  5. No further disassembly is necessary to clean the gun, but the pin above the left grip may be rotated counterclockwise and drawn out of the frame in order to remove the backstrap from the frame toward the bottom.


* Write to edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com.

References

  • Gadisseur, Guy. Les Armuriers de Liège en Catalogues (1892-1930). Èditions du Pècari: undated.
  • Gadisseur, Guy. “Un pistolet à répétition manuelle d’Auguste Francotte,” Gazette des armes, No. 403, November 2008.
  • Hogg, Ian V. and Walter, John. Pistols of the World, Fourth Edition. Krause Publications, Iola Wisconsin: 2004.
  • König, Klaus-Peter and Hugo, Martin. Taschenpistolen: Taschen- und Miniaturpistolen Eine Auswahl aus 100 Jahren. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart: 1985.
  • Pawlas, Karl R. Pistolen Atlas: Archiv für Militär- und Waffenwesen. Neurnberg: 1970.
  • Ziesing, Dirk. AF - “Das Zeichen mit Tradition.” Deutsches Waffen-Journal, June-July 2004.
  • Zhuk, A.B. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns. Greenhill Books, London: 1995.

Thanks to Dr. Dirk Ziesing, Dr. Stefan Klein, Michel Druart, and Alain Daubresse for their assistance in finding patents and information. Special thanks to Vaclav Vriesen for his help in tracking down photographs, advertisements, and other information, and for brainstorming with me about these pistols.

Copyright 2021 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

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