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The Pistols of Nicolas Pieper

by Dr. Stefan Klein, Michel Druart, and Ed Buffaloe


Preface

Photographic Portrait of Nicolas Pieper

Nicolas Pieper

Some time ago one of us bought a large group of Belgian vestpocket pistols, some of which came from Nicolas Pieper's workshops. These weapons completed certain gaps in our collection, but we were not satisfied with the information provided by various sources, in particular concerning Nicolas Pieper's pistols. The main difficulty stems from the confusion between the weapons produced by the Anciens Etablissements Pieper under the Bayard brand and those produced by Nicolas Pieper under his own name when the Etablissements Pieper ceased operations in 1905.

We would be grateful if our readers would provide us with photos and serial numbers of pistols in their possession. Advertisements for Nicolas Pieper’s weapons after the First World War would also be welcome.*


Historical Background

Nicolas Pieper, second son of Henri Pieper and his wife Catherine Elisabeth Leroy, was born in Liège on 31 October 1870.

Henri Pieper, a mechanic originally from Germany, founded a company which had its origin in a vast workshop on the rue des Bayards in Liège. This workshop of Henri Pieper was characterized by its mechanization of the manufacture of weapons, whereas previously the work of firearms manufacture was distributed to a multitude of small workshops, other manufacturers being satisfied to assemble parts which were manually produced by these small workshops. Later, Pieper extended his activities with the construction of a factory in Nessonvaux, which became famous for the manufacture of  barrels for firearms, including those of high quality shotguns.

It is important to bear in mind how dominant Liège gunmaking was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alain Daubresse maintains that: “When Liège production reached its summit, more than half of the firearms made in the world came from Liège...” And the foremost weapon maker of Liege at the end of the 19th century was Henri Pieper. Not only did he own the largest weapon factory in the country, but he was also a founding member and managing director of Fabrique Nationale, and so he had nominal control of the two largest industrial entities in all of Belgium. Pieper’s company was among the first in Belgium to adopt the precision manufacture of interchangeable parts. In 1897, his sons took the initiative and the Henri Pieper company diversified its activities and launched into the manufacture of bicycles, electricity, and gas and electric automobiles.

In 1898, Henri Senior, knowing that his death was imminent, ensured the sustainability of his legacy by creating the Société Anonyme des Établissements Pieper. Nicolas, only 28 years old but who already held the reins of the family business, became managing director of the new company; his brother Edouard Herman (also known as Armand) was entrusted with the management of the barrel, bicycle and automobile factory in Nessonvaux. For his part Henri Junior continued to exercise his functions as director of the recently founded International Electricity Company.

So the Etablissements Pieper survived for nearly seven years with Nicolas at the helm. The automobile business, however, turned out to be a failure, due partly to the expense of establishing a new manufacturing line, partly to the limited market for automobiles at the time, and partly to mismanagement by Edouard Herman.  We cannot know exactly what happened, but by 1905 the company was in financial distress, the three brothers had a falling out, and the board of directors, possibly influenced by Henri Junior, ousted both Nicolas and Armand.

Click to enlarge. - Anciens Etablissements Pieper Factory - 1910

Anciens Etablissements Pieper Factory - 1910

Following the difficulties encountered by the Etablissements Pieper, difficulties due to inappropriate management, the board of directors decided to liquidate the company and to create another to take over the assets of the old one, and to install this new company in a new factory built in Herstal. The new factory was inaugurated in early 1907 and, in January 1908, the Nessonvaux factory was sold and its machinery transferred to Herstal. The workshops on rue des Bayards followed in June of the same year.

The new plant covered almost 60,000 square meters, with 12,000 square meters of manufacturing facilities. Annual production at the new factory, as the bi-weekly Der Waffenschmied wrote in 1910, was 60,000 hunting rifles, 30,000 automatic pistols, 30,000 semi-automatic rifles and 12 million cartridges. Subsequently, the Anciens Etablissements Pieper will manufacture a range of Bayard pocket pistols, the Bergmann-Bayard 1908 pistol, various rifles, shotguns, hunting weapons, submachine guns, revolvers, as well as air rifles after the Second World War, right up to the 1950s.

However, this is NOT the story we want to tell, but rather the divergent one of Nicolas Pieper. We will use the patents, advertising and information provided by Waffenschmied magazine to establish a timeline. Based on the assumption that Nicolas Pieper's advertising goes hand in hand with his patents and the introduction of new models of pistols, we believe that we can establish a precise timetable for his work. But a large part of the story has already been documented by our co-author Michel Druart: Bayard: Les hommes, les armes et les machines du Chevalier Pieper & Cie 1859-1957. His book is the foundation on which this article is written.

After his ouster from the family business, Nicolas Pieper founded a new company in 1905 under the name Fabrique d'armes automatiques Nicolas Pieper in Houtain Saint-Siméon, in the Liège suburbs. Subsequently, and undoubtedly in precarious conditions, he moved to 292 rue Vivegnis (Liège) before moving to a property near his brother-in-law Auguste Lambrecht at number 42 rue Bonne Nouvelle. During the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, probably due to economic difficulties, Nicolas transferred his business to a property belonging to his brother-in-law at 3-5 Place Bonne Nouvelle in Liège.

Nicolas Pieper's goal was to start manufacturing automatic pistols of his invention. In reality, no doubt to feed himself and pay the bills, he also produced rifles and shotguns. It is established that none of his workshops had the capacity for large-scale commercial production. He himself did not have the capital necessary for the development of such an activity. Luckily, at the time of the Etablissements Pieper he had maintained excellent relations with the management of the Austrian Waffenfabrik Steyr. Steyr was to produce certain N. Pieper models under his name and later buy the license for its own manufacture of Pieper’s design.

In 1923, Nicolas Pieper opened a "factory" in Paris at 36 rue de la Bastille. It was probably only a business office, possibly coupled with a repair shop for pistols. Very little is known about the activities of this enterprise. It is possible that actual manufacturing was subcontracted and did not take place at this location.

The last patent for an automatic pistol was filed in France by Nicolas Pieper in 1923. Finally the very last N. Pieper patent that we were able to locate involved a rifle mechanism, filed in France in 1930; it is noted there that he was a French resident at that time.

Nicolas Pieper died in Liège in 1933 at the age of 62.

Patents

Click to enlarge - US Patent 889279 - Jean Warnant

Warnant’s U.S. Patent No. 889279

In total Nicholas Pieper obtained over 60 patents in various countries. However, it should be noted that his automatic pistols are based on designs by Jean Warnant which are found in British patent 9379 and in U.S. Patent 889279, both filed in May 1905. Warnant claims the rights for an automatic pistol in which either the barrel or the breech block turns about a pivot. Warnant argues that this construction makes the barrel easily accessible, either for cleaning or for loading single cartridges by hand. The barrel is made in one piece and has a superposed tube for the recoil spring. The magazine has a second detente that holds it below the normal position so that single shots can be fired and reloaded by hand via the tilting barrel.

Nicholas Pieper himself began to make new designs derived from the Warnant patent, and immediately filed patents for them. Pieper’s early designs have dismounting (demontant) barrels and slide housings as opposed to the tilting (basculant) designs of Warnant. The earliest design uses screws to retain the barrel and slide housing. German patent 195685 of 1906 describes a means of magazine fixation using a spring activated lever and a magazine baseplate which extends to the rear which we find in virtually all subsequent Pieper pistols.

Click to enlarge - Austrian Patent 34380 - Nicolas Pieper

Pieper’s Austrian Patent No. 34380

At the end of 1907, Nicholas Pieper filed new patents, e.g. Austrian patent 34380, which claim a new technique of fixing the barrel and breech assembly to the frame and unlocking it with a lever . Both, barrel and breech assembly, have hooks at the rear end. The lever bearing is flattened on one side, and by turning it 180 degrees enough space is made to disengage the hooks from the bearing surface of the lever, allowing rapid disassembly.

In December 1908, Der Waffenschmied reports that Pieper sold the rights for a pistol, based on the N. Pieper system, to the Austrian Steyr company, and that Steyr had started producing a pistol based on the Pieper design – the Steyr 1909 pistol.

In the same year (1908), Pieper filed a patent for a new pistol, where he changed the position of the recoil spring from above the barrel to above the breach block inside the breech housing. The patent claim is that the breech block and main spring are fully enclosed in the breech housing. To make the gun ready to fire the first cartridge must be chambered by tilting the barrel down, since no means was provided to manipulate the breech by hand. However, this gun was never produced.

For the sake of brevity we list only the U.S. patents here, but in our timeline for the Nicolas Pieper pistols we provide lists and information about Pieper’s other patents.

List of US patents:

  • U.S. patent 859332, “Means for Securing the Magazines of Repeating Pistols”, granted on 9 July 1907.
  • U.S. patent 911265, “Automatic Pistol”, granted on 2 February 1909.
  • U.S. patent 927070, “Firearms”, granted on 6 July 1909.
  • U.S. patent 1427413, “Automatic Pistol”, granted on 29 August 1922.
  • U.S. patent 1452000, “Disjointing Device for Automatic Pistols”, granted on 17 April 1923.

Nicolas Pieper’s Pistols

Basically, three types of pistols were manufactured by Nicolas Pieper. The first guns were assembled with screws. Later guns fell into two categories: demontant or basculant (dismantling or tipping) by means of a lever: The first type (demontant) used the lever to release and separate the barrel and breech block housing from the frame. The second type (basculant) used the lever to allow the barrel to be tipped down.

To distinguish the models, Nicolas Pieper added, as a prefix to the serial number, the letters A, B, or C, corresponding to the size of the pistol. However, not all pistols were marked in this way, and at the option of manufacturing, new letter designations were added, which does not simplify their identification.

Nicolas Pieper Model 1907 PistolsClick to enlarge - Pieper 1907 Model B

Nicolas Pieper Model 1907

The 1907 Model A, B, & C

The first productions of Nicolas Pieper after the creation of his new company, Fabrique d’armes automatique Nicolas Pieper, probably started about a year after the liquidation of the Société Anonyme des Etablissements Pieper.

The first automatic pistol is not officially dated but most collectors seem to designate it today as the 1907 model. Note however that production and advertising actually started in 1906. Indeed it was in December of this year that Nicolas Pieper published an advertisement in the German biweekly magazine Waffenschmied already offering three different automatic pistols:

  • Model A. “Police- and Military Model”: eight round, 7.65mm Browning, 525g.
  • Model B. “Pocket Format”, seven round, 7.65mm Browning, 475g.
  • Model C. “Small Model, Vest Pocket Format”, seven round, 6.35mm Browning, 300g.

The Model 1907 is essentially based on Warnant’s original design, but without the tilting barrel. Warnant’s patent forms the basis of all of Nicolas Pieper’s pistols, though he continued to modify and perfect the design over the years.

The Model 1907 is an unlocked-breech, center-fire pistol with an internal hammer and a recoil spring housed above the barrel. The Models A and B are fitted with a cocked hammer indicator which has not been observed on the Model C.

The bolt or breech block is attached to a very thin reciprocating slide that runs in slots cut in top of the breech housing. To cock the pistol and insert a cartridge, the slide is operated using a raised and checkered projection. Into the front of this slide with its dependent breech block is screwed the recoil spring guide rod, which may be unscrewed from the front of the gun. Once the barrel and breech block/slide assembly have been removed from the frame, the breech block may simply be twisted to one side to allow the barrel to be cleaned.

The extractor is a flat spring with a hook on the front, mounted flush with the breech block on the right side. The ejector is a protrusion on the left inner wall of the breech housing. The trigger is tensioned by a V-shaped flat spring above the trigger-guard.

N. Pieper Model 1907 Schematic

Nicolas Pieper M1907 Schematic

An external transfer bar runs beneath the left grip plate. This transfer bar is an independent piece that can be easily removed when the left grip plate is removed. A curved flat spring behind the magazine tensions the sear; the lower portion of this spring has a hook which retains the magazine. The hammer itself is tensioned by a coil spring and plunger. The magazine release pulls the spring hook backward to free the magazine. The pin the magazine release turns on extends beyond the grip frame on either side and is used to position the grip plates. The safety lever locks the hammer and also prevents the gun from being cocked if the safety is on.

There is no mechanism to prevent the gun from firing when the breech is open. Instead, there is a spring-loaded “release mechanism” on the back of the trigger that depresses the transfer bar then pushes past it and can only re-engage the transfer bar after the trigger has been released. In addition, the transfer bar is only pressed forward by the sear to engage the trigger if the hammer is cocked.

These first Nicolas Pieper pistols did not have a lever to allow disassembly, but instead utilized screws to fix the  breech and barrel assembly to the frame. One screw is behind the trigger. The second screw is at the rear of the grip tang, covered up by the safety lever when in the Fire (FEU) position. When the screw is visible, the gun is in the safe mode.

On the Model A and B the top of the recoil spring housing is marked in all-capital sans-serif characters:

PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE N. PIEPER BTE. S.G.D.G.

NP-stamp

Crown Over NP Stamp

On the Model C a similar marking appears on the left side of the recoil spring housing rather than on top. Liège acceptance stamps are applied to the left side of the barrel, frame, and breech housing, as well as to the top of the slide. The serial number is applied to the right side of the barrel, frame, and breech housing. The serial number is also stamped on the frame beneath the right grip plate and sometimes on top of the slide. The number on the recoil housing is usually preceded by the letter A, B, or C, designating the model of the gun. Pieper’s NP monogram beneath a crown is stamped on the right side of the grip frame behind the trigger. The word DEPOSE is stamped on the left side of the barrel above the proof marks. The finish is blued with trigger and transfer bar “in the white” or in some cases fire blued.

The grip plates are made of checkered hard rubber with a diamond-shaped notch at top and bottom and an “NP” monogram in an oval at the top. The grip plates are attached to the frame with a single screw on each side.

Model C pistols do not have the heavy reinforcement around the front screw, extending over the top of the grip plates.

Field Stripping the Model 1906 Nicolas Pieper Pistol

  1. Click to enlarge - Model 1907 Field StrippedRemove the magazine.
  2. Draw the slide back to make certain there is no cartridge in the chamber and to cock the hammer.
  3. Turn the safety lever forward to uncover the rear screw and lock the hammer.
  4. Unscrew both screws (in front of the grip plate and at the rear of the grip tang) and remove them.
  5. Lift the barrel and breech housing off the frame.
  6. Draw the barrel and breech block/slide forward off the breech housing.
  7. Pull back on the slide and twist the breech block to one side to clean the barrel.


The Model 1908

In late 1907 or early 1908, Pieper introduces a new feature. The frame is identical to the Model 1907, but the front screw is replaced by a keyed pin attached to a locking lever on the left side above the trigger guard. Pieper advertises this feature as allowing disassembly without tools (“demontant”). After turning the lever down, one can lift the breech assembly and barrel from the frame, which facilitates cleaning and maintenance.
N. Pieper M1908 demontant N. Pieper M1908 demontant

Model 1908 - C - Demontant

N. Pieper M1908 basculant N. Pieper M1908 basculant

Model 1908 - C - Basculant

The same three types or models, A, B, and C are advertised as available, however we have been unable to document any other than the Model C in 6.35mm. We have documented a few pistols with O and P prefixes, but do not know their significance.

In parallel Pieper also offers the same pistol with a tipping barrel (“basculant”) which brings him back to the original Warnant design. Here, the barrel assembly tips around the axis pin at the front of the gun. By lowering the central release lever, the barrel assembly is disengaged and can be tipped down.

The recoil spring guide rod has a T-shaped extension at its rear end, which engages with a pair of studs at the front of the slide. This differs from the design Pieper sold to Steyr in the same year, which has a hook at the end of the recoil spring guide rod. We do not know the precise details of Pieper’s agreement with Steyr, but it likely included a stipulation that he would not manufacture exactly the same gun.

The breech housing of the “basculant” gun is held in place by a single screw at the rear, covered by the safety lever when in the “fire” position, just like the Model 1907.

Like the Model 1907, the Model 1908 is marked on the left side of the recoil spring housing in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE N. PIEPER BTE. S.G.D.G.

Serial number, markings, and grip plates are identical to the Model 1907. The finish is blued with the trigger “in the white” and the transfer bar fire blued. A 1909 advertisement states that the gun is available blued, browned, or nickel plated, as well as engraved or inlaid with gold; and also with rubber, walnut, celluloid, ivory or mother-of-pearl grips.

The Model D (Model 1909, 1914, 1919, & 1920)

N. Pieper Model 1909 - Model D

Nicolas Pieper Model 1909 (Model D)

N. Pieper Model 1919 - Model D

Nicolas Pieper Model 1919 (Model D)

N. Pieper Model 1920 - Model D

Nicolas Pieper Model 1920 (Model D)

Early advertising refers to this gun as the Model 1909, but after the Great War it is referred to as the Model 1919 and later the Model 1920. The gun is advertised as a “demontant” or dismountable type. Like the Model C, it is a six-shot 6.35mm Browning pistol with a weight of 300g. One advertisement states that it is also available in 7.65mm, though we have not documented a Model 1909 pistol in any caliber other than 6.35mm (however, see the Models AD and BD below). The Model D has the more acute grip angle of the Steyr Pieper pistol which appeared in the same year, and also shares internal similarities.

The rear portion of the transfer bar, which runs on the left side of the gun, is a piece of spring steel, the end of which bears against the sear. The disconnector mechanism is a small bell crank lever, one end of which bears against the hammer spring in such a way that when the hammer is not cocked the lever rotates and presses the end of the transfer bar down, preventing it from engaging the sear. In this way, only when the hammer is cocked can the transfer bar engage the sear. This mechanism is described in U.S. patent 927070 which was filed on 23 November 1908, and which corresponds with a Belgian patent filed by Pieper in May of the same year.

Unlike the 1908 patent drawing, there is no crosspiece to support a central grip screw on the Model D. Hence the gun has two grip screws, one at the top and one at the bottom. Safety lever positions are marked in English, SAFE and FIRE. The finish is blued, with the release lever in fire blue, and the trigger and transfer bar “in the white.” A 1909 advertisement states that the gun is available blued, browned, or nickel plated, as well as engraved or inlaid with gold; and also with rubber, walnut, celluloid, ivory or mother-of-pearl grips.

Like earlier guns, the 1909 Model D is marked, but on the left side of the breech housing rather than the recoil spring housing, in all-capital sans-serif characters as follows:

PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE N. PIEPER BTE. S.G.D.G.

The left side of the barrel is marked with patent numbers in all-capital sans-serif characters:

PAT.9379 A/05-25025/06-28177/07
16715/08-
+ No40335

We have documented one 1909 Model D pistol with the second line of patent numbers on the right side of the barrel.

  • 9379 is Warnant’s 1905 British patent.
  • 25025 is Pieper’s 1906 British patent.
  • 28177 is Pieper’s 1907 British patent.
  • 16715 is Pieper’s 1908 British patent.
  • 40335 is Pieper’s 1907 Swiss patent.

The serial number is found on the right side of the breech housing, the barrel, and on the frame beneath the right grip plate. The number on the recoil housing is preceded by the letter “D.”

Grip plates on the Model 1909 are of checkered hard rubber with the NP monogram in an oval at the center.

The Model 1914 is rather scarce, as its production was interrupted by the war. We have been unable to locate one for examination. It is marked on the left side of the breech housing in all -capital italic serif characters:

PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE
MODELE 1914

After the war the gun is renamed the Model 1919. The bell crank lever that operates off the hammer spring to disconnect the transfer bar is eliminated, simplifying both production and assembly. Instead, the end of the transfer bar bears against a cut in the grip frame, pushing the transfer bar down and away from the sear when the trigger is pulled. Only when the hammer is cocked and the sear is tensioned in the forward position can the transfer bar engage the sear.

Model-D-Lockwork-Comparison-S

Nicolas Pieper Model D Comparison

The Model 1919 is marked on the left side of the breech housing in all-capital italic serif characters:

-PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE-
-MODELE 1919-

The patent numbers are no longer present on the barrel. On the right side of the breech housing, in all-capital sans-serif characters is stamped:

PIEPER PATENT

And on the right side of the barrel in front of the serial number is the word DEPOSE, which literally means “deposited” but may be interpreted as “patent filed.”

Grip plates on the Model 1919 are of checkered wood. The serial number on the breech housing is no longer preceded by the letter “D.”

In 1920 the gun was renamed the Model 1920. The left side of the breech housing is marked in all-capital italic serif characters:

PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE
MODELE 1920

The front sight on the Model 1920 is enlarged slightly and the gripping area on the safety lever becomes circular rather than oval. The end of the transfer bar is redesigned slightly. Right side markings are identical to the Model 1919. Grip plates on the Model 1920 are of checkered horn with the NP monogram in an oval in the middle.

The Models AD and BD (1912)

N. Pieper Model AD

Nicolas Pieper Model AD

A new 7.65mm design appeared in late 1911 or early 1912. Pieper had advertised the Model D as being available in 7.65mm, and we believe this is likely the gun. It has the less acute grip angle of his earlier pistols, but internally is virtually the same design as the Model D.

The first advertising we have located is from March 1912 , when Pieper advertising proclaimed his new models as “Neuheit”,” which translates literally as “novelty,” but is perhaps best thought of as an advertising slogan along the line of “brand new!” The new model is another dismountable (demontant) pistol, but the release lever is moved from the middle of the frame to the front. By rotating this lever 180 degrees, the barrel and breech assembly can be lifted from the frame. The rear sight is dovetailed into the top of the slide and is checkered on each side to serve as a gripping surface for retracting the slide.

N. Pieper Model BD

Nicolas Pieper Model BD

The Model AD is a full size 7,65mm, seven-shot, 600g pistol, advertised as the “police model, dismountable by hand, without tools.” The Model AD is much more scarce than the Model BD.

The Model AD pistols produced prior to the Great War had the same markings as the 1909 Model D, including the patent numbers. The Model AD pistols made after the war are unmarked on the left side, except for the standard Belgian proof marks. The right side of the breech housing behind the ejection port is marked in all-capital italic serif characters:

N. PIEPER PATENT

The serial number is on the right side of the breech housing, the barrel, and beneath the right grip plate. The grips are of checkered wood. The finish is blued with the trigger and transfer bar “in the white.”

Nicolas Pieper Model BD w/ 10-shot magazine

Nicolas Pieper Model BD w/ 10-shot magazine

The Model BD is a smaller version with a shorter barrel and grip frame, which holds six 7.65mm rounds. However, an extended magazine was available which turns the model BD also into a 10-shot “Police model” – at least that is how Pieper advertised it. A brochure included with a Model D pistol advertises the Models AD and BD. It states of the Model BD: “The main object...was to construct a weapon of very reduced dimensions, light and strong enough to shoot the 7.65mm, with a magazine of six cartridges. A separate magazine-handle for 10 cartridges is supplied with each pistol. This special magazine allows the pistol model BD a double function: it preserves its simple function as a pocket pistol, when only a small number of shots are needed, and at the same time, when a larger number of cartridges are necessary, it can be changed into an intensive shooting pistol.”

Markings on BD pistols made before the Great War are identical to those on the 1909 Model D.

During
NP-BD-SN42417-FS-S

Nicolas Pieper Model BD Field Stripped

the war we find a number of BD pistols that are almost completely unmarked except for German crown over N proofs. These guns have the serial number only under the right grip plate. The grip plates on most are unmarked hard rubber, roughly checkered. Many of these guns have a one- to three-digit number on the right side of the breech housing, likely an inventory number. At least one was sold as a “prototype,” though it is clearly an unmarked Model BD. Serial numbers of the wartime pistols we have documented range from 43016 to 43469, so there may have been as many as 500 of them produced during the war. We have also documented an AD pistol with no external markings, no serial number, and no proof marks.*

We have not documented any BD pistols made after the war, but please write to us if you have one with a high serial number.*

The Legia Pistol

After the war in 1920 Pieper acquired Belgian patent number 285373 from the designer Hippolyte Thonon. Pieper patented this same design in his own name in France in 1920 (French patent number 526759) and certain aspects of the design in other countries. Thonon’s design features a  recoil spring beneath the barrel which can be locked in its compressed state by depressing a flat spring on the right side of the gun, in order to allow the barrel to be unscrewed. Once the barrel is unscrewed, the slide can be removed. Pieper patented an update of Thonon’s design in Great Britain in 1921 (British patent 158886) which more clearly delineates the locking mechanism.

Click to enlarge - N. Pieper Legia Pistol

Pieper Legia with Extended Magazine

By the end of World War I, designs with the recoil spring over the barrel were beginning to seem somewhat old-fashioned. The Legia is Pieper’s first and only design with the recoil spring beneath the barrel. The gun is a hammer-fired unlocked breech pistol chambered for the 6.35mm Browning cartridge (.25 ACP), with the ejection port on the right side and an external extractor. The slide is distinguished by two scalloped areas on either side of the top behind the ejection port. Like the Model BD, the Legia was available with an extended “reserve” magazine holding ten cartridges.

We have at least two advertisements for the Legia pistol, both of which show a similar pistol, with the locking mechanism for the recoil spring on the right side and a manual safety lever on the left grip tang. The slide is marked on the left side in all-capital italic sans-serif characters as follows:

N. PIEPER PATENT

The grip plates appear to be of checkered hard rubber with a single screw in the middle and the words “N. Pieper Brevete” in a circle at the top. An illustration from an advertising brochure also shows grip plates with the Liège perron, the letters “LG” and the words “LEGIA PISTOL.”

We also have an illustration of the Legia pistol that has the following slide marking in all-capital serife characters:

LEGIA PISTOL
N. PIEPER PATENT

Click to enlarge - N. Pieper Legia Pistol

Nicolas Pieper Legia

Another version of the Legia appears on Alain Daubress’s site littlegun.be. This gun has a checkered button behind the trigger on the left side, and a manual safety lever on the left grip tang, but no locking mechanism on the right side. We presume the button serves the same function as the spring on the right side of the version shown above. There is an external transfer bar visible on the right side, which is not seen on the example from the catalog. The grip plates are of wood with a brass medallion with the NP monogram in the center, held in place by two grip screws. The slide is marked on the left side in all-capital italic sans-serif characters as follows:

N. PIEPER PATENT

Yet another specimen with the checkered button on the left side also has checkered hard rubber grips, but with the “NP” monogram in a circle at the top, a different style of manual safety lever, and the following inscription in all-capital sans-serif characters:

FABRIQUE D’ARMES AUTOMATIQUE
N. PIEPER BREVETE PARIS

N. Pieper Legia Pistol

Nicolas Pieper Legia Field Stripped

Interestingly, none of the guns we have documented is actually marked with the name “Legia,” though one drawing shows the name on the slide and  grips. Of the two advertisements we have, neither refers to the gun as the “Legia” but in both cases as the “Pistolet N. Pieper.”

Some sources have expressed doubts about whether the Legia pistol was made in France or Belgium, but we possess at least one photograph and a drawing with Liège proofs, so we tentatively conclude that they were made orat least prooved in Belgium, though we have been unable to examine any of these guns in person. In one photograph we believe we can make out a serial number in the 1200 range, but we doubt that even 1000 of these guns were ever made, as they are extremely rare today. Even photographs of them are rare. If you have one, please write to us.*

Field Stripping the Pieper Legia Pistol

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Draw the slide back to make certain there is no cartridge in the chamber and to cock the hammer.
  3. Lock the slide back using either the flat spring on the right or the button on the left (depending on the variant).
  4. Unscrew the barrel.
  5. Draw the slide back slightly to release it and remove it from the front of the gun.

Pistolet Basculant

N. Pieper Basculant Pistol

Nicolas Pieper Pistolet Basculant

In 2012 Hermann Historica sold a gun that looks like an N. Pieper Model D, but is clearly a basculant design. They listed it incorrectly as a Spanish pistol from circa 1929. The serial number is 3411, so at first we thought it was an early gun, perhaps a prototype for the Steyr Pieper 6.35mm. Since then we have located a catalog for Renaud Hunting and Fishing of Thonon-les-Bains which advertises this very gun, though the illustration shows a slightly different grip plate. The catalog is undated, but other guns listed appear to be from the time period 1925-1930. Perhaps Pieper had Waffenfabrik Steyr make this gun for him, since it seems to be very similar to the late 6.35mm Steyr Pieper.

The gun is stamped on the left side of the breech housing in all-capital italic serif characters as follows:

PISTOLET BASCULANT

The grip plates appear to be of checkered hard rubber with the NP monogram in an oval surrounded by the words PISTOLET BASCULANT. This is the only such pistol we have documented thus far, but there are probably more.

Prototypes

Model 1908 Basculant Prototype

We have in our possession a 6.35mm Model 1908 basculant pistol with a method of fixing the recoil spring guide rod to the slide that differs from others we have observed. The gun has the usual inscription on the left side of the barrel, and proof marks, but no serial number. A number was stamped beneath the right grip plate, but was canceled out. We believe this pistol may have been a prototype.

1908 Basculant Prototype

Prototype 1908 Basculant

1908 Basculant Production

Production 1908 Basculant


.45 Caliber Prototype

In an attempt
N. Pieper .45 ACP Prototype

Nicolas Pieper .45 ACP Prototype

to enter the American market, Nicholas Pieper made a prototype pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge to be tested in U.S. military trials in 1912. The weapon is essentially a Model 1908 basculant (tipping barrel) with the same overall configuration as the 1908 Model A, considerably enlarged to fit the .45 ACP cartridge. The weapon has the usual Belgian proof marks and is engraved on the left side of the breech housing in all-capital italic serif characters as follows:

N. PIEPER PATENT

According to Edward Scott Meadows, in his book U.S. Military Automatic Pistols, 1894-1920, it was received by the Ordnance Department on 10 April 1911. It was examined and tested and a report was submitted on 26 April indicating that the gun has an unlocked breech, “...a feature considered very undesirable,” no true disconnector, no external hammer to allow for quick cocking, and no extractor, so if a shell gets stuck it can only be removed by hand. The report also states: “The pistol has an objectionable number of screws and flat springs and it is the opinion of the Board that the construction is too weak to withstand the requirements of a service pistol.”


* Write to edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com.


References

  • Daubresse, Alain. Les armuriers Liègeois A travers leurs réalisations 1800-1950. 2014.
  • Drurart, Michel. Bayard: Les hommes, les armes, et les machines du Chevalier Pieper & Cie 1859-1957. Cerdam, Bruxelles: 2004.
  • Matthews, J. Howard. Firearms Identification. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois: 1962.
  • Meadows, Edward Scott. U.S. Military Automatic Pistols, Volume I: 1894-1920. Richard Ellis Publications, Moline, Illinois: 1993.
  • Olson, John, Ed. Famous Automatic Pistols and Revolvers, Vol. 2. Jolex, 1979.
  • Ziesing, Dr. Dirk. “Waffengeschichte Jean Warnant, Teil 1: Der große Unbekannte,” Deutsches Waffen-Journal, November 2006.

Links

Prototype Pieper .45ACP Pistol
A Timeline for the Nicolas Pieper Pistols

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Vaclav Vriesen, Bill Chase, and Leonardo Antaris
for sharing photographs and information.
 

Copyright 2020 by Stefan Klein, Michel Druart & Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

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