The Warner Infallible Pistol
(or More Than You Ever Wanted to Know
by Ed Buffaloe
The Warner Infallible is the orphan child of self-loading pistols: awkward, ugly, repeatedly maligned, and reportedly dangerous to your health. But I have nonetheless developed a sort of perverse interest in it. The early variant is actually quite rare. Part of the mystique is that little has been written about the gun, so detailed information is scarce. There are two primary resources on the Warner Infallible: Donald M. Simmons Jr.’s groundbreaking article in the 1975 issue of Guns Illustrated entitled “The Fallible Infallible,” and Kenneth L. Cope’s article, “Warner’s Infallible Auto,” in the American Rifleman for June 1979. So far as I can tell, neither article is available on the internet.
Franklin Brockway Warner was born 28 July 1862. We find him listed as the director of Kirtland Brothers, 90 Chambers Street, in 1904 in the Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. Clues in a 1920’s catalogue indicate he may have managed Kirtland Brothers as early as 1891. Late in 1913 Warner filed a patent on a telescope design, and in 1915 he filed two patents related to the manufacture of shotgun barrels. In the 1915-1916 Directory of Directors in the City of New York, we find F.B. Warner listed as President and Director of Kirtland Brothers & Co. as well as President and Director of the Warner Arms Corporation. In the same publication, his brother Marvin (born 10 January 1864) is listed as Director of Kirtland Brothers and Vice -President and Director of Warner Arms Corporation. Early advertisements for the Schwarzlose pistol list the address of Warner Arms Corporation as 33 Prospect Street, Brooklyn, New York. In the 1924 Kirtland Bros. & Co. catalogue F.B. Warner is listed as president of the company. Warner died in 1931.
Andrew Fyrberg was a firearms designer and manufacturer. In the 1880’s he designed a number of revolvers with or for Iver Johnson, and in 1896 began making revolvers and shotguns under his own name. He is most famous for his 1891 (filing date) transfer-bar safety design for revolvers (U.S. patent 566,393) which was assigned to Iver Johnson. He did business in Worcester, Massachusetts as Andrew Fyrberg & Sons from 1886 to 1902, and established Andrew Fyrberg & Co. in Hopkinton, Massachusetts from 1902 to 1910. Sears, Roebuck & Co. bought a part interest in his Worcester company in 1902 and bought him out completely in 1905, moving the factory to Meriden, Connecticut. It seems likely that Fyrberg licensed his 1903 top-break revolver design (U.S. patent 735,490) to Warner Arms, as the Warner revolvers appear nearly identical to guns marked Andrew Fyrberg & Co. So far as we know, the Infallible is the only self-loading pistol Fyrberg ever designed.
The A.W. Schwarzlose Gesellschaft ended production of its Model 1909 Schwarzlose pistol in 1910 and the remaining stock of the pistols was sold off at wholesale prices. Warner bought some of the Schwarzlose pistols and sold them under the auspices of the Kirtland Brothers as early as 1911. As early as 1913, he purchased all remaining stock, parts and tooling for the Model 1909 and began selling Schwarzlose pistols as the “Warner Schwarzlose” under the auspices of the Warner Arms Corporation. Warner established a factory in Norwich, Connecticut to make guns from the remaining Schwarzlose parts, which were also sold under the name Warner Schwarzlose, but were considerably modified from the German production guns. When Schwarzlose parts began to run out, Warner apparently paid Andrew Fyrberg to design the Infallible pistol to be manufactured by the Warner Arms Corporation.
Based on information from advertisements and catalogues of the era, Franklin B. Warner must have founded his company, the Warner Arms Corporation, sometime between 1911 and 1913, in order to import Schwarzlose Model 1909 pistols into the U.S. Warner Arms was originally located in Brooklyn, New York.
By 1917, Warner Arms had merged with N.R. Davis and Company. The new Davis-Warner Arms Corporation moved production of the Infallible to the N.R. Davis and Company facility in Assonet, Massachusetts. Most guns produced at the Massachusetts address were of the later frame type (referred to below as the Type II). Matthews states: “The manufacture of the pistol was continued by this new firm, the Davis-Warner Arms Co., for only two years. In 1919 the firm moved to Norwich and apparently became inactive not long thereafter.” Kenneth L. Cope gives a specific date: “The Davis-Warner Corp. was short lived. On April 19, 1919, Franklin Warner assumed full control, changed the name of the company back to The Warner Arms Corp. and returned to Norwich, Conn., taking with him the manufacturing equipment for the gun.” However, advertisements continued to appear under the name Davis-Warner Arms Corporation until 1921 and there is clear evidence that the company survived under that name until 1930.
Production of the Infallible may have ended for good as early as 1919, as suggested by Matthews, though direct evidence is lacking. Perhaps more likely is that Warner resumed manufacture, or at least assembly of parts, when he returned to Norwich, in which case production probably ended around 1921. We are unable to locate any magazine advertisements for the Infallible dated later than 1921. By 1924 the Infallible no longer appeared in the Kirtland Brothers catalogue. A late instruction sheet for the Infallible still shows the company name as Davis-Warner Arms Corporation, with the address given as New Haven, Connecticut. Small catalogues issued by the Davis-Warner Arms Company, which I tentatively date to around 1924 and 1926 show the corporate offices at 90 Chambers Street in New York and the factory located in Norwich, Connecticut. The earlier of these small catalogues still lists the Infallible, but that is the last evidence of the gun in the historical record.
As late as 1927 John J. Murphy applied for a patent on a shotgun design that has the Davis-Warner Arms Corporation listed as the assignor. This patent (U.S. patent 1,692,995) was granted on 27
November 1928. Finally, in an article entitled “H. & D. Folsom & Crescent” in The Norwich Arms Gazette, Vol. 14, Issue 6 (Nov.-Dec, 2016) we find that “J. Stevens purchased Davis-Warner in
1930. A Stevens memo Dated December 15, 1930 announced the purchase from H&D Folsom Arms Company of the assets of Crescent Fire Arms Company of Norwich, Connecticut. The assets
of Crescent were to be merged with those of Davis-Warner Arms Corporation and ... the newly formed firm would be known as The Crescent-Davis Arms Corporation, Norwich, Conn.” (See Determining the Timeline of the Warner Infallible Pistol for further information.)
The grip frame is nearly identical with that of the 1909 Schwarzlose pistol. Warner used left-over Schwarzlose grip plates with a WAC monogram cut into the smooth area at the top. The trigger has a dog or cam attached to its rear which, after pushing the connector bar upward, disconnects from it so that a second round cannot be fired until the trigger is released. There is no mechanism to prevent the gun from firing when the breech block is out of battery.
Following Simmons, the primary descriptor I will use for the variants will be the frame legend on the left side of the receiver, but before detailing the legends I would like to define the two fundamental frame types that were made.
The Type II frame grip strap does not curve inward at the bottom, but continues straight to the base of the gun. The upper portion of the receiver is somewhat rounded on its two top edges. The magazine release is on the front of the grip at the bottom. The magazine for the Type II frame has a slot cut just above the baseplate at the rear, six holes for viewing cartridges on either side, and four round holes evenly spaced on the back. Magazines are not interchangeable between the types.
The serial number is stamped on the bottom of the grip, the bottom of the cocking block at the rear of the bolt, and the bottom of the barrel.
This variant is known to me from only two specimens: serial number 529, shown in Matthews, Volume II, page 153, and serial number 546, shown here. The frame legend, which incorporates only one patent, is as follows:
Probably at the time these guns were manufactured the second patent had been applied for but had not yet been granted.
The gun has the Type I frame with the early oval checkered safety lever. In the early patent there appears to be no means of disconnecting the bolt from the recoil spring guide rods, but serial numbers 529 and 546 already have the quick-release lever shown in the second patent, even though the second patent date is not included in the inscription. We do not know if prototypes similar to the gun shown in the first patent exist. Both patents, as well as early advertisements, show a single screw holding the barrel to the frame, whereas serial numbers 529 and 546 have the screw plus a pin. It is not a quick-release screw as shown in the patent. I suspect that recoil tended to loosen the quick-disconnect screw shown in the patent, and so it had to be eliminated.
The grip plates are recycled from the Schwarzlose pistol—the upper portion of the original grip plate is cut off to allow it to fit beneath the step in the grip frame—with a WAC monogram at the top. The serial number range for this first inscription is given by Simmons as “from start to less than serial number 670,” Serial number 670 is shown in his article and has the second frame legend. Simmons speculates that production serial numbers may have begun at 501, but this remains to be established for certain. Please contact me if you can share photographs or information about early Warner Infallible pistols.*
Second Frame Legend
The second frame legend is well known from existing examples, and features two patent dates:
These guns were likely manufactured after the second patent was granted on 9 March 1915.
Guns with the second legend all have the Type I frame. Early examples of the second frame legend retain the oval checkered safety lever seen in the patents (through at least SN 670 as shown in Simmons’ article, and ending at least by SN 845), as well as the checkered locking button for the bolt stop and the checkered takedown lever on the cocking block. Later, on the majority of production pistols, the left side locking button for the bolt stop has a dimple in the center with spiral scallops extending from the center to the edges.
The early safety lever was flat, whereas the later lever had the upper portion offset to match the frame step at the top of the grip plate. Simmons states: “Both the safety and the takedown lever in these earliest pistols had a rigid detent [sic], and these parts were locked in position only by their own springiness....” The later safety lever has a small piece of spring wire underneath to tension it. A bent portion of the spring wire mates with tiny grooves in the frame beneath the lever. The later takedown lever has a small spring-loaded plunger to hold it in the locked position. The cocking block has four large triangular-cut serrations on each side, but on the left side they only extend halfway up from the bottom because of the takedown lever.
Frame Type Ib eliminates the scalloped area on the receiver and moves the step from the bottom edge of the cocking block to just even with the top of the barrel proper, where the barrel ramp begins. This frame type begins by at least SN 1521. It
All of the second frame legend guns that I have documented have two pins to hold the barrel in place. However, serial number 1968, shown in Matthews’ Firearms Identification, has a screw at the front and a pin at the rear. The gun I own, serial number 1284, has the front barrel pin peened on both sides—a clear indication that it was never intended to be removed. This frame legend extends to approximately serial number 1750*.
Third Frame Legend
After the 1917 merger of Warner Arms Corporation with N.R. Davis & Sons the name of the gun became simply “Infallible,” and the company used the following frame legend:
— INFALLIBLE —
Some early guns with the third frame legend retain the cocking block with the release lever, and some retain the early style cocking block but without the release lever. There are a few transitional types where the firing pin and its spring are held in place in the bolt by a plug pinned into the cocking block, instead of a screw. But the majority of Assonet guns, starting around serial number 2200, have a cocking block with ten fine serrations extending from top to bottom on both sides, and have a screw to secure the striker and its spring; the takedown lever was eliminated in favor of a pin that could be driven out from right to left, and the recoil spring guide rods extend all the way through the cocking block on these guns.
Early guns with the third frame legend may have case hardened frames, but in later production the entire gun, barrel and frame alike, is finished in blue, though most triggers continue to be case hardened. Because the frame was cast, the steel is different from the machined parts, and so over time the blue on the frame often changes color. Serial numbers for this legend begin in the vicinity of 1755 and, according to Simmons, extend at least to serial number 5306.*
Fourth Frame Legend
The pistol is otherwise identical with the ones made at Assonet, including the grip plates with the “Locks the Sear” slogan. Serial numbers for the fourth legend begin after 5306 and extend to approximately 7600.
According to Donald M. Simmons, Jr.,
The frame is quite heavy, while the barrel is very light, leaving the Infallible poorly balanced and a bit top-heavy.
Simmons states that the primary problem with the design of the Infallible is that the bolt is too light and recoils with too great a force. The rotating lever on the early variant that releases the bolt from the recoil spring guide rods can be accidentally unlocked, leaving only the very small bolt stop lever to prevent the bolt from flying backward into the shooter’s face. Cope points out that the gun can still be fired with the bolt stop disengaged.
Simmons believes the design of the Infallible is fundamentally unsound, if not outright dangerous, and recommends that Infallible pistols not be shot at all. On the other hand, I have not been able to document any instance of a shooter being injured while operating an Infallible pistol, and apparently neither had Simmons: “I know of no such event ever happening, but the engineering potential is overwhelmingly present for that kind of accident.”
Another issue Simmons addresses is the disconnector which, as described above, disconnects the trigger from the sear but does not prevent the gun from firing with the bolt partly open. While it is unlikely that someone could release the trigger and pull it again before the bolt were fully closed, if it were to happen the results could be unpredictable. Most self-loading pistols’ disconnectors are designed to prevent the gun from firing if the breech is not closed.
The early safety lever design was not robust and was apparently easy to switch on or off accidentally, though this was corrected with a redesigned lever by at least serial number 845 and presumably earlier.
In some early third frame legend guns that still retain the early style cocking block on the bolt but which have the release lever removed, it is nearly impossible to remove the pin which locks the recoil spring guide rods to the bolt. This makes it very difficult to clean the gun. One that I have (serial number 2257), has clearly had the barrel pin removed repeatedly in order to clean the barrel.
Some internet forum comments about the Infallible pistol mention that they are not well made and tend to break down a lot, but there is very little supporting information given. I note that the late instructions that came with the gun state: “DON’T try to cock pistol with safety on: you will break or bend your sear. DON’T pull over 10 or 12 pounds to fire pistol without looking to see if safety is on or you will bend your sear. Because our safety blocks the sear. DON’T try to force breechbolt into pistol without pulling the trigger to let it slide over the sear as you might spring the sear.” This might indicate they had some problems with customers bending or breaking the connector/sear.
I took all three of my Infallible pistols to the range. They all shot quite low at 10 yards—I had to aim high to hit the target at all. Serial number 1294 tends to catch spent cartridges in the ejection port a couple of times in every magazine. Serial number 2257 has had the barrel pin removed so many times that after a couple of shots it falls out. I didn’t shoot it more than three times. Serial number 7061 shoots just fine, feeds and ejects with no problem. Accuracy is so-so at ten yards. Recoil was heavy for a .32. I found the grip on the early gun much more comfortable than that on the later gun.
Note: When reinserting the bolt, make sure the safety is off and pull the trigger to lower the sear.
Later guns without the bolt release lever:
Note: When reinserting the bolt, make sure the safety is off and pull the trigger to lower the sear.
Warning: If the bolt locking pin does not push out easily, do not force it. Some transition guns have a pin that is effectively non-removable. The only way to clean one of
these guns is to use a dowel or other object to lock the bolt back, or remove the barrel pin and barrel. I do not recommend trying to remove the barrel unless absolutely necessary.
* I would very much like to gather additional information about the serial number ranges for the various frame legends, as well as photographs of very early Infallible pistols. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2017-2023 by Ed Buffaloe. All rights reserved.