Unblinking Eye
The Bittner Repeating Pistol

The Bittner Repeating Pistol of 1896

by Ed Buffaloe



Cased Bittner Repeating Pistol - Dr. Leonardo Antaris

In the late 19th Century there existed a class of mechanically operated repeating pistols (Repetierpistolen or sometimes Repetir Pistolen in German) which were quite distinct from revolvers. These guns served as a transition between the single shot pistol and the self-loading pistol, and were based largely on the design of various rifles of the lever- and bolt-action variety. As Ian Hogg and John Weeks state in Pistols of the World: “By adapting the linear motion of the bolt action to a hand gun, it [was] possible to come up with something new, attractive and profitable. ...the mechanical repeater was the result.” Jaroslav Lugs, in his book Firearms Past and Present, refers to such guns as “magazine repeating pistols”. He says: “During the period extending from the 1870s until the end of the century, magazine pistols were constructed by several well-known designers who based their designs on principles which were subsequently to be employed in all automatic firearms.”

Perhaps the earliest example of this type of weapon is the Volcanic pistol of Daniel B. Wesson, patented in 1854, though, as Mötz & Schuy point out in their book Vom Ursprung der Selbstladepistole, the Volcanic was not a true cartridge pistol and also required operation with two hands. The Volcanic featured a lever with a ring on it, for working the action, which is seen on many of the later repeating pistols.

Volcanic Pistol - 1854

Volcanic Repeating Pistol - Daniel B. Wesson - 1854

The Bittner Repeating Pistol

Gustave Bittner’s company, still in existence as late as 1921, was known as the G. Bittner Gewehrfabrik, Weipert, and its primary business was the production of fine hunting rifles. Bittner received a patent for a lock mechanism for hunting rifles on 28 November 1893 (patent number 72175). Perhaps for this reason the Bittner repeating pistol was known for some years as the Model 1893. However, as Mötz & Schuy note, the patent for the pistol was submitted in 1896, so the proper designation would be the Model of 1896.

Boms & Wensing state that test pieces may have been made as early as 1880, and a prototype as early as 1890. The web link they cite is no longer valid and I have been unable to verify this information from another source, but other makers were experimenting with repeating pistols in the 1880s, so it only makes sense that Bittner would have been also.

The Bittner pistol falls at the very end of the period of development of magazine repeating pistols, in the same time period in which the earliest self-loading pistols were beginning to appear; consequently, its appeal was very short lived. Nevertheless, as Lugs points out: “Of all the pistols of this type, the one most frequently to be seen in collections is the five-shot repeater made...by Gustav Bittner...”


Bittner Repeating Pistol - 1896

Hogg & Weeks likewise note: “[The Bittner] seems to have sold in some numbers, as it is probably the most common of its type to be found today. Probably two or three thousand may have been made.” Mötz & Schuy echo this, saying: “Probably the most common European bolt-action pistol with around 3,000 produced.” They state further: “The highest known serial number is 2831. However, the numbering cannot be relied upon 100% because, as with other weapon manufacturers, it was probably not carried out consistently.” Their information is based on Austrian proof records. All known examples were proofed in 1897 or 1898, and the highest serial number proofed in 1897 was 2831. It is not known exactly how many were proofed in 1898, but all serial numbers were apparently lower than 2831.

Interestingly, Boms & Wensing point out that the guns appear not to have been proofed in the order of manufacture. They believe that, in the unlikely event a pistol were ordered, the company would take one from stock and submit it for proofing, paying no attention to the order of manufacture. Boms & Wensing also point out that today there are no known examples with four digit serial numbers, stating “[t]his makes the claim that around 500 Bittner repeating pistols were produced much more likely.”

According to Mötz & Schuy, the serial number is stamped on the bottom of the barrel but is not visible unless the cartridge clip spring housing is removed. Also on the bottom of the barrel, but clearly visible because in front of the cartridge clip spring housing, is the the proof number from the Wiepert proof house which is often mistaken for the serial number, followed by a two-digit year number. Other numbers are stamped in various places, including the bolt, grip frame, and inside the lockwork housing, but these are apparently assembly numbers.


Bittner Proof Markings - Dr. Leonardo Antaris

The Bittner preferment, as it was known at the time, Austrian patent number 46/4690, was filed in Prague on 17 October 1896. Acceptance of the preferment must have taken place very quickly, and production also must have begun almost immediately (or perhaps had already begun) since most known examples were proofed in 1897.

Bittner Patent Drawing - Austrian Preferment 46/4690

Bittner Patent Drawing - Austrian Preferment 46/4690

The Bittner pistol features a ring lever which is pressed forward to open the bolt. A five-round cartridge clip is inserted from the top, through the open breech, in the manner of the 1886 Mannlicher rifle. Cartridges in the clip are immediately engaged by a flat spring which extends into the magazine bay from the spring housing in front of it; the spring exerts upward pressure on the cartridges, feeding them up into the breech as the action is worked. After the last cartridge is fired, the clip drops out the bottom of the pistol.


Bittner Repeating Pistol - 1896 - Dr. Leonardo Antaris

The bolt contains the striker and extractor. The bolt opens under spring tension when the ring lever is pushed forward, automatically extracting the cartridge case if there is one in the breech. Boms & Wensing state that “a small, unintentional push...is enough to open the bolt.”  The breech is closed by pulling the ring backward using a small checkered extension at its base, or by simply leaving the finger in the ring so it engages the trigger on the backstroke. As the lever is pulled to the rear, pushing the bolt forward, the next cartridge is chambered, and a single locking lug on the bolt is cammed in a counterclockwise direction, locking the breech. A transverse safety button in the uppermost portion of the grip serves to lock the trigger when pressed to the left and is easily released by the thumb of a right-handed shooter. If the safety is engaged after firing, the bolt will not open all the way and the gun cannot be cocked. The Bittner features an adjustable rear sight with very optimistic range markings of 100 to 300 meters.

According to Mötz & Schuy, the Bittner design is largely based on that of the Passler & Seidl pistol of 1887 (see addendum below),

Bittner GBW Monogram

which also featured an octagonal barrel and a similar front sight, a flat spring to feed the cartridges, and a bolt, ring lever, and trigger. The Bittner was improved over the Passler & Seidl design by the addition of its Mannlicher-derived cartridge clip and the housing that covers the spring that feeds the cartridges.

The finish of the Bittner is of the highest quality, reflecting that of the deluxe single-shot target pistols of the day. The barrel is blued and the entire receiver is color case-hardened. The bolt is highly polished. The grip stocks are of fine checkered walnut, as are the covers for the cartridge clip spring housing. The Bittner GBW monogram is stamped on the right side of the receiver beneath the words PATENT BITTNER.

Gustav Bittner designed the 7.7mm cartridge bearing his name, which is said to have been based on the .320 short revolver cartridge, but with a slightly tapered case; it was loaded with a steel jacketed 85 grain round-nose bullet, smokeless powder, and was Berdan primed. The advertisements below indicate that the range of the cartridge was about 150 yards. According to Mötz & Schuy, the only manufacturer was FL Uttendorfer of Nuremberg. However, White & Munhall state that the Bittner cartridge they examined was manufactured by Rheinisch Westfalische Sprengstoff.

Joseph Schroeder, in his 1981 article The Bittner Pistol, points out a major disadvantage of the design: if the proprietary cartridge clip is damaged or lost, the gun effectively becomes a single shot. The Mannlicher cartridge clip design was ideal in a military environment but not necessarily in a sporting environment. In any case, the lack of proprietary ammunition is the most significant issue today, making it impossible to shoot the Bittner pistol. The cartridge has not been available for more than a hundred years.

Two Bittner Advertisements


Bittner Repeating Pistol in Kirtland Bros. Catalogue of 1899-1900.

I had observed a few Bittner pistols come up at auction and knew vaguely that it was a precursor of the modern “automatic” pistol but my interest was not piqued until I found advertisements for the gun in two early catalogues of the Kirtland Brothers of New York, a general supply store that also purveyed sporting and military goods. These are the only advertisements I have ever seen for the gun; they use a factory drawing showing the gun with sideplate removed and an illustration taken from the patent. The first catalog is undated but lists the .38 Smith & Wesson Special cartridge which first appeared in 1898; however, it lists not a single “automatic” pistol, so I have tentatively dated it to 1899 or possibly 1900. The price for the Bittner was $14.75 whereas, by comparison, a .50 caliber Remington rolling block pistol was only $2.50, a New Protector palm pistol was $2.45, a .38 Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless was $11.37, and a Colt single-action army revolver was $9.37. The Bittner was the most expensive pistol listed in the catalogue.

I believe the advertisement is of sufficient interest that I should quote it in full:


    Shoots either black or smoke-less powder cartridges, using either 32 caliber plain lead or steel-manteled ballets. Range 150 yards. Can fire five shots in two seconds.

    Correct balance in the hand. It is lighter than any other magazine pistol. It is sliding bolt (or breech block), action actuating by trigger guard lever. It can be drawn from the pocket and fired as quickly as the finest double-action revolver, which is not true of any other Magazine Pistol. No other Magazine Pistol can use black powder. By the use of black powder cartridges for common shooting, you can save half the expense in cartridges, with smokeless powder mantel bullet you can kill a deer 100 to 150 yards; you can penetrate 1 foot of solid wood. The advantages of a Magazine Pistol over a revolver are many. First, the cylinder of a revolver is thick and heavy; it does not always stop exactly true with the barrel, especially after the arm gets worn. With the old-fashioned revolver a portion of your powder charge escapes between the cylinder and the barrel, sometimes more, sometimes less; consequently the shooting is uneven. With the Magazine Pistol, the cartridge is fitted snug and true into the chamber and the sliding breech block is hard up to the head of the cartridge before it is fired, thus insuring accuracy and the full force of the cartridge. When the last of the 5 cartridges is fired the empty clip drops out, leaving the chamber of the magazine clear for the insertion of a fresh clip. Only the fractional part of a minute is required to recharge the arm. The mechanism and finish are perfect. The frame and all parts are case-hardened; the finish is a handsome marbleized blue; stock and magazine sides nicely checked. This is an arm anyone may feel proud to possess. In fact, it is as good as money will buy. It is simple, strong, reliable, accurate and handsome. Our Special Price, $14.75. There is no other pistol with all these good qualifies at any price.


Bittner Repeating Pistol in Kirtland Bros. Catalogue of 1903-1904.

Note that the manufacturer’s name is misspelled as “Bitner”. Still, the advertisement actually contains a very accurate description of the gun. I found it interesting that the advertisement touts the Bittner as being able to fire both black powder and smokeless powder ammunition, particularly since there is no record of the cartridge ever being loaded with black powder. I did not find ammunition for the Bittner listed in the catalog but have to assume that it was available through Kirtland Brothers.

I have located a 1903-1904 Kirtland Brothers catalogue which also lists the Bittner but the price has been reduced to $12.50. By contrast, the Colt single-action army was selling for $7.00, the Colt 1894 New Army was $12.00, and the 1896 Smith & Wesson .32 Hand Ejector was $10.50 with a 3¼” barrel. Once again, ammunition for the Bittner is not listed.

Addendum: Early Magazine Repeating Pistols

In addition to the Volcanic pistol, mentioned above, other early magazine repeating pistols mentioned by either Jaroslav Lugs or Mötz & Schuy include:

  • Remington Rider Magazine Pistol

    Remington Rider Magazine Pistol

    1871. The Remington Rider (of Newark, Ohio) repeating pistol which featured a tubular magazine under the barrel and was manufactured by Remington from 1871 through 1888. The patent shows a gun with a trigger guard but the production gun was manufactured by Remington with a sheath trigger.
  • 1881. The Rudolf Oesterreich (of Berlin) repeating pistol which featured a tubular magazine under the barrel and a ring trigger.
  • 1881. The Franz Drevenstedt (of Klein-Ammensleben, near Magdeburg) repeating pistol which featured a horizontally rotating flat cylinder containing Lefaucheaux cartridges, and which was apparently based on a much earlier 1837 design by the American John Webster Cochran (U.S. Patent numbers 183 and 188).
  • Turbiaux Palm Pistol

    Turbiaux Palm Pistol

    1882. The Jacques Edmond Turbiaux (of Paris) palm pistol, marked Le Protector, Système Turbiaux, which likewise featured a rotating flat cylinder magazine. The same gun was known in the U.S. as the Chicago Pistol, was marked The Proctector, and the inscription included the patent date and the name Chicago Fire Arms Co, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1884. The Josef Schulhof (of Vienna) repeating pistol which featured a tubular magazine inside the curved grip, a ring lever and flat trigger, and a toggle locking mechanism. Initially, the magazine was loaded by opening the left grip plate, but later was loaded from the bottom.
  • Mauser Repeating Pistol Patent Drawing

    Mauser Repeating Pistol - 1886

    1886. The Paul Mauser (of Oberndorf) repeating pistol which featured a tubular magazine beneath the barrel and a ring trigger which both cycled the action and fired the gun. According to Baudino & Vlimmeren, the extracting action was weak and the gun required two hands to cycle the action, much like the Volcanic pistol. Neither the pistol nor the rifle version were ever manufactured.
  • 1887. The Josef Schulhof (of Vienna) repeating pistol, featuring a cylindrical magazine beneath the breech in front of the trigger and a ring lever and flat trigger. This was upgraded in 1888 with a removable magazine.
  • Passler & Seidl Repeating Pistol

    Passler & Seidl Repeating Pistol - 1887

    1887. The Passler & Seidl (of Vienna) repeating pistol which featured a bolt very similar to the Schulhof, a ring lever and flat trigger, and a removable magazine in front of the trigger. A spring-loaded lever attached beneath the barrel serves to press the cartridges upwards so they can be fed into the breech. Mötz & Schuy estimate that only about 100 were made, most of them with differing features, so it appears the guns were largely experimental.
  • Krnka Repeating Pistol Patent Drawing

    Krnka Repeating Pistol - 1888

    1888. The Krnka (of Michle, near Prague) repeating pistol featured a bolt like its predecessors, a rotating six-round cylindrical magazine loaded through a sliding cover on the right side of the gun, and a ring lever and flat trigger. It likely never got beyond the prototype stage and was superceded by a later design. The design was patented in the United States in 1892 (U.S. patent 459,874).
  • 1889. The Rieger (of Vienna) repeating pistol was apparently an improvement on the design of Passler & Seidl with a rotary magazine similar to that of Krnka, and loaded via a sliding cover on the right side. Only a couple of specimens are known to exist.
  • 1889. The Laumann (of Vienna) repeating pistol featured a straight-pull bolt operated by a lever; a falling-block lock, said by Mötz & Schuy to be very similar to that of the Mannlicher rifles between 1885 and 1888; a five-shot clip, also similar to that on the Mannlicher rifle, spring-fed from the front like the Passler & Seidl, with a button release; and a safety lever. Two additional patents were filed in 1890 with improvements, and a fourth in 1891.
  • 1892. The Fortelka & Brüll (of Vienna) repeating pistol is known only from its British patent. The breech is held open by a spring when the ring lever is released; the gun has a locking bolt and a vertical magazine in front of the trigger.
  • 1892. The Krnka & Ríha (of London and Pilsen) repeating pistol represents several minor improvements on the earlier Krnka pistol of 1888. Ríha’s name may appear on the patent only because he was intended to manufacture the gun.
  • Le Galouis Palm Pistol

    Le Gaulois Palm Pistol

    1893. The Le Gaulois repeating pistol, made by Manufacture Française d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, now known as Manufrance. This was a simple but effective palm pistol with a box magazine.
  • 1894. The Josef Vanyek (of Budapest) repeating pistol featured a ring lever and a flat trigger. In the front of the ring is a small lever which causes the breech to open under spring pressure and the empty cartridge case to be automatically ejected. When the ring trigger is pulled back the next cartridge is loaded and the finger encounters the trigger. Mötz & Schuy state that with this arrangement of the trigger deliberate aiming was difficult.


  • Baudino, Mauro & van Vlimmeren, Gerben. Paul Mauser. Brad Simpson Publishing. No date.
  • Boms, Werner & Wensing, Gregor. “Die Bittner-Repetierpistole Modell 1896,” Deutsches Waffen- Journal, January 2023.
  • Hogg, Ian & Weeks, John. Pistols of the World. Arms & Armour Press, London: 1978.
  • Lugs, Jaroslav. Firearms Past and Present. Grenville, London: 1975.
  • Mötz, Josef & Schuy, Joschi. Vom Ursprung der Selbstladepistole, Vol. I. 2007.
  • Schroeder, Joseph J. “The Bittner Pistol,” Gun Collector’s Digest, 3rd Edition, DBI Books, Northfield, Illinois: 1981.
  • White, Henry P. & Munhall, Burton D. Pistol and Revolver Cartridges, New and Revised Edition. A. S. Barnes and Company, New York: 1967.

Special Thanks to Alexander Stucki and Joschi Schuy for providing me with the Bittner patent,
and to Dr. Leonardo Antaris for photographs.

Copyright 2023 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

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