Unblinking Eye
Bernardelli Vest Pocket Pistol

The Bernardelli Vest Pocket Pistol

by Ed Buffaloe

Bernardelli Factory

The Bernardelli Factory in Gardone V.T. at the end of the 19th Century

Company History

Gardone Val Trompia, Brescia, Italy has been a center for iron working and weapons making since the middle ages, and of firearms manufacture since at least 1526 when Giovanni Antonio Beretta began production of arquebus barrels.  The Bernardelli forebears entered the firearms business in 1631 when one Bartolino Barnelli married into the noble Acquisti family which owned several gun factories in Gardone Val Trompia.  The following year Bartolino’s sister married his wife’s brother to further seal the tie between the two families.

No explanation is given as to how the family name morphed from Barnelli to Bernardelli, but in 1721 some brothers Bernardelli are on record as purchasing a large gun factory in Gardone Val Trompia.  The company which exists today was founded in 1865 by Vincenzo Bernardelli.  According to Matthews:

    Bernardelli learned the art of firearms manufacture as an employee of the Franzini Arms Factory located in Gardone Val Trompia. This was one of the important factories of its day, and Bernardelli had become chief of the Damascus barrel division. In 1865 he had decided to set up his own small factory for the making of barrels in the little village of San Carlo. In the course of a decade his work had developed to the point where he was making entire guns, although in limited numbers. In this he was aided by his four sons, Pietro, Lodovico, Antonio, and Giulio, each of whom was responsible for some particular manufacturing process or detail. The firm soon outgrew its original quarters and began a search for better facilities and room for expansion.

    In 1899 Vincenzo Bernardelli died and the management was taken over completely by his capable sons. In 1908 a large factory, formerly a textile establishment, and a large surrounding area for future development became available and were secured. Adequate water power for current operations was included in the purchase.

New machinery was installed after World War I, but the Bernardelli company continued to utilize water power right up to the end of the 20th century.  In the late 1920s the company manufactured components for Alfa Romeo aircraft engines.  From 1930 to 1933 the company manufactured the 10.4mm Italian service revolver known as the System Bodeo, Modello 1889, with a total production in excess of 25,000.  This was their first handgun.  During World War II the company began manufacturing artillery fuses, production of which continued until 1986.  After World War II the factory was expanded and the machinery updated again.

Bernardell VP SN280

Bernardelli VP with 1937 Patent Date

All the sources I have found state that production of the 6.35mm Bernardelli vest pocket pistol began in 1945, immediately after World War II. However, I note that the early production pistols are marked “BREV. 1937”, meaning the gun was patented in 1937.  I haven’t found a copy of the patent but most Italian patents before World War II are not available outside of Italy.  It is possible that production actually began as early as 1937 but if so was almost certainly interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

In 1997 the V. Bernardelli company was forced into bankruptcy and its assets, brands, and trademarks were acquired by the Turkish company Sarsilmaz.  My understanding is that most production was moved to Turkey and that now, once again, only shotguns are being made under the Bernardelli name.  Parts for older guns are no longer available from Bernardelli.  Sarsilmaz reintroduced the 6.35mm vest pocket pistol for a time as the P6, but it is no longer listed on their website.

The Bernardelli Vest Pocket Pistol

Bernardelli VP SN32168

Bernardelli VP with 1949 Proof

I am referring to this pistol as the “VP” which stands for Vest Pocket because I have been unable to locate any other model designation for it, and this is how Matthews referred to it.  The VP is sometimes referred to as the “VB” because of the initials on the grip but the VB initials, which stand for Vincenzo Bernardelli, are on almost every Bernardelli pistol ever made and so can hardly be considered a model designation.

Like the Walther Model 9, the Bernardelli VP is a very small unlocked breech striker-fired .25 caliber (6.35mm) pistol with a barbell-shaped takedown latch at the rear.  Unlike the Walther, the latch is released by a small button on the left grip tang.  The Bernardelli has a full length slide that covers the barrel, with an external extractor on the right side, an internal connector on the left side, and a six-shot magazine—it incorporates a magazine safety.  An extended eight-round magazine is available that provides a better grip on this very small pistol.

The Walther Model 9 has an open-top slide, a top-mounted internal extractor, an external connector on the right side of the frame, a six-shot magazine, and no magazine safety.  The Walther has its ejector built into the frame, whereas the Bernardelli uses the firing pin as the ejector.  Both guns have two-inch barrels, and cocking indicators.  The Bernardelli has a narrower slide but a deeper grip.  The sear mechanisms are similar, but the rest of the lockwork is different.  The Walther safety blocks the striker, whereas the the Bernardelli safety blocks the connector.  The Bernardelli disconnector is a sickle-shaped lever on the left side of the gun which is depressed by the slide as it moves toward the rear.  The disconnector is held in place by the slide and often falls off when the gun is field stripped.  The Bernardelli barrel is fixed and press-fit into the frame.  My VP is well finished, inside and out, though faint striations from milling may be seen when the finish is examined in strong light.

Very early Bernardelli VP pistols are marked in all capital serif characters as follows:


“Brev.” stands for “Brevetto”, or “patent”.

My Bernardelli vest pocket pistol, proofed in 1949, is marked on the left side of the slide in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


On the right side of the frame are the Italian proof marks.  On the pistol shown here we find the mark of the Gardone Val Trompia proof house and the definitive proof for smokeless powder loaded to 30% over pressure.  Beneath the proof marks is stamped the year the gun was proofed, in this case 1949.  The serial number is stamped on the rear face of the grip tang, as well as on the underside of the slide and the underside of the barrel mount (it can only be seen if the barrel is removed from the frame).  There is a photograph of an engraved VP in Hogg and Weeks that is marked only:


A Bernardelli vest pocket pistol with a proof date of 1957 has the following inscription:


The Baby Model

Bernardell Baby SN20602

Bernardelli Baby with 1968 Proof

In 1949 Bernardelli introduced the Baby Model, which was simply the VP chambered for the .22 short or .22 long cartridge.  The magazine holds six rounds. The long and short versions are essentially the same gun with different magazines.  Unlike the VP, the Baby has an open-top slide and lacks the loaded-chamber indicator.  The hole for the striker is moved upward about 1/32 inch, and the rear latch mechanism is lengthened by the same amount.  Hogg & Weeks refer to the .22 long version as the “Standard” Model.  All other sources refer to both guns as the “Baby” Model.

Early Baby Model pistols in .22 short are marked on the left side of the slide in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


Early Baby Model pistols in .22 long are marked on the left side of the slide in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


A .22 short Baby Model, proofed in 1965 is marked on the left side of the slide in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


Later, the period was dropped after “BREV” on both long and short models.

My .22 long Baby Model, proofed in 1968, is marked on the left side of the slide in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


My Baby is reasonably well finished, with no rough spots on the inside, but you can see faint mill marks on the frame beneath the blue.

The Model 68

Bernardell Model 68 SN105439

Bernardelli M68 circa 1974

Sarsilmaz P6

Sarsilmaz P6

The VP and Baby were replaced by the Model 68, which appeared in 1968, just in time to be banned from U.S import.  Hogg and Walter state that the Model 68 has a more rounded slide and a better angled grip, but the few photographs I have been able to locate show a gun with  that is virtually identical to the VP and the Baby, though the grips have been redesigned and the barrel may be a millimeter or two longer.  The Model 68 was available in .25 caliber, .22 short, and .22 long.  The extended 8-shot magazine continued to be available for the Model 68 in the .25 caliber version.  Hogg and Walter state that production ceased in 1970, but the gun was still being advertised on the company website in 2003 in all three calibers, and even in 2009 the Bernardelli website still listed the Model 68—the only pistol listed.  The 6.35mm Model 68 Bernardelli is marked in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


In 2009, Sarsilmaz (the Turkish company that bought Bernardelli) reintroduced the gun as the Sarsilmaz P6.

At the Range

At the range my .25 caliber Bernardelli VP shot well for a short time, then began failing to feed and eject properly.  I finally figured out that the barrel was deformed slightly just past the chamber.  It had effectively been “shot out.”  However, barrels are still available for these guns and can be easily tapped in and out with a hammer and a brass punch.  I replaced the barrel and the recoil spring and the gun functions well now.  It will keep all its shots on a paper plate at 20 feet, but will rarely hold a group less than 4 inches across.

My Bernardelli Baby in .22 long has always shot well, typically holding about a 3 inch group at 20 feet.  It feeds and ejects reliably.

I consider these guns curiosities.  They are fun to plink with, but can hardly be considered serious self-defense weapons, although if you could throw one hard enough and with sufficient accuracy it would have much the same effect as a rock.  Since the safety only locks the connector, I fear the striker could be released if the gun were dropped, so I would not carry one with a round in the chamber.

For years I thought the magazine for the VP only holds 5 rounds, but a reader wrote to tell me that his magazine holds six.  Then he bought a second magazine, but it would only take 5.  He noticed that the angle of the turns of the magazine spring seemed to be opposite to the angle of the follower on the 5-shot magazine.  Ultimately, we determined that many of the Bernardelli magazines have the spring in backwards.  It’s a bit tricky to disassemble the magazine, but I was able to use two small screwdrivers to pull the spring all the way to the bottom of the magazine.  After a few minutes of jiggling, the magazine follower fell out.  I was able to remove the spring, turn it around, and with determined effort replaced the follower.  Now my magazine holds six rounds.







Bernardelli VP






Bernardelli Baby






Walther Model 9






Baby Browning






Field Stripping the Bernardelli
Bernardelli VP SN32168 Field Stripped

Bernardelli VP Field Stripped

  1. Make sure there is no cartridge in the chamber and the magazine is empty, then pull the trigger to release the striker.
  2. Remove the magazine.
  3. Press the takedown button on the left side of the frame behind the grip.  The bolt should slide back under spring tension, but you might have to pull it back manually.
  4. Pull the slide back slightly, lift the rear up, and ease it off the front of the frame.
  5. The recoil spring and guide rod can then be removed from their recess beneath the barrel.

Note:  Be sure to notice the location and position of the disconnector as you remove the slide so you can put it back on when it falls off.  The flat detent spring for the safety lever is inside the left grip and may sometimes fall out.

Iver Johnson Compact .25


Iver Johnson Compact 25

Between 1989 and 1992 Iver Johnson Arms manufactured a copy of the Bernardelli Model 68, which they called the Iver Johnson Compact .25.  According to Bill Goforth, the company manufactured the frames and slides in the United States but imported the internal parts from Bernardelli in Italy.  Like all of Iver Johnson’s late auto pistols, the gun was problematic, and Goforth says the company simply did not have the time or money to resolve the problems.  Goforth states that production was sporadic during the last three or four years of the company’s existence, and that less than 1000 were manufactured.  Interestingly, an Iver Johnson advertisement from this era has the note:  “Also available Compact Elite .25 24 Karat gold, hand engraved with Ivorex grips.”  I have absolutely no evidence that the Compact Elite was ever manufactured but if it were, it would be highly collectible.

The Compact .25 slide is marked on two lines on the left side in sans-serif characters as follows:

Jacksonville, Ar

The inscription also features a stylized owl’s head logo.  The right side of the slide is simply marked “25 CAL.”.  The serial number is on the right side of the frame, behind the trigger.  The grips are plastic, with the Iver Johnson owl’s head logo in a circle at the bottom of the left grip plate, and the IJA monogram in a circle at the bottom of the right grip plate.

Firearms International Model VB

Firearms International Model VB

Apparently, Firearms International of Houston bought the remaining parts and assembled a number of these guns which had already been serialized by Iver Johnson, many with half blue and half nickel components.  The gun was designated the “Model VB”.  Goforth says these Firearms International Compact .25’s have non- consecutive serial numbers “running from the low three digits to some in the 2,900 range.”

The grips appear to be either original Bernardelli or possibly Bernardelli reproduction grips.  The left side of the slide is marked in all capital sans-serif characters as follows:


Copyright 2009-2022 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click the small photographs to open a larger version in a new window.


  • Brown, Larry. “The Guns of Vincenzo Bernardelli.” Shooting Sportsman, September/October 2003.
  • Casanova, Daniel. Les Pistolets 6.35. Crépin Leblonde, Chaumont: 2018.
  • Goforth, W. E. Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works Firearms, 1871-1993. Gun Show Books, Hudson, WI: 2006.
  • Hogg, Ian and Weeks, John. Pistols of the World.  Arms & Armour Press, London: 1978.
  • Hogg, Ian and Walter, John. Pistols of the World.  Krause, Iola, WI: 2004.
  • König, Klaus-Peter and Hugo, Martin. Taschenpistolen. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart: 1985.
  • Matthews, J. Howard. Firearms Identification.  Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois: 1962.
  • Wood, J. B. Automatic Pistols Assembly/Disassembly. Krause Publications: 2007.

Current Bernardelli Website
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