For Brownie firing pins contact Mosscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org
Am also starting to make some grips
New Update 12/30/08
6/17/09 See Bottom for new article. 6/17/09
A LESSON IN BROWNIES
By Jack A. Myers
An informative article about the Mossberg Brownie, written by gun author and Editor of the Standard Catalog of Firearms, Dan Shideler, appeared in the Sept. 23, 2005 issue of Gun Digest Magazine (formerly The Gun List) and got me interested in the unusual little four-shooter. Soon after that I bought my first Brownie at a local gun show. Dan reported Mossberg produced approximately 37,000 of these guns between 1920 and 1932.
Some other sources estimated production at 32,000 from 1919 to 1932. Since that time I've been gathering data on these guns, because no other source had much information available on them. Highest serial number reported so far is just over 33,000. A foreign source reported one with a serial number at almost 94,000! However, based on the more realistic 32,000 reported, there were approximately 5,300 Variation #1s produced; just 3,600 Variation #2s; leaving 26,100 Variation #3s - based on serial numbers reported.
Few details are known about this little pistol because no surviving factory records have ever surfaced, and no one previously has researched them to any extent. Today, O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. remains America's largest and oldest family-owned gun-making business. And the Brownie was its "Founding Father." It was the new company's FIRST gun. And, it was the company's ONLY pistol. This gun's financial success enabled Oscar and sons to continue their very popular line of rifles and shotguns over the ensuing years. They've never produced another pistol!
I will not go into detail, but PRIOR to establishing this new company, Oscar had worked in the gun-making trade for others well-known in the gun business, and had even tried his hand at designing and marketing his own little hideaway gun called the Invisible Defender. It is generally believed that this previous marketing experience paved the way for his establishing the new company with his sons as partners.
One of Mossberg's earliest advertisements.
In my opinion this makes the Brownie a very important chapter in the story of American gun making. It is an actual HISTORICAL ARTIFACT, as much so as the early Colt revolvers got Sam Colt started, or Oliver Winchester with his repeating rifles. Each Brownie owner is the current caretaker of an important piece of our history, and the gun should be treated as such.
When I became interested in them and started researching the Brownies in late 2005, although they all LOOKED ALIKE, I soon discovered that not all Brownies are alike. First, I learned there was a Brownie with the wrong patent date, Jan. 27 instead of correct July 27, stamped on the right side of the barrel section. Guns bearing that error date are now a very scarce and desirable collectible. Next, through hanging around the various online gun forums and asking a lot of questions, I learned there was an even earlier Brownie marked PAT.APPL'D.FOR.
I then had THREE VARIATIONS. I asked the Havlins, founders of the National Mossberg Collectors Association (NMCA) if they knew of more, and they too only knew of three variations - and I also asked many Mossberg people on the various web forums. In Chronological order by date the three KNOWN stamping Variations are pictured here. All patent informations are stamped into the right side of the barrels.
Yet today, many sellers still are not aware of the distinctions in different variations of Brownies. However, since starting this project, and with Dave's immense help by publishing my information on his website, and the Havlins publishing my findings in their NMCA newsletters, I've notice more and more online advertisements now assign a "Variation" number to the gun they're offering, and usually provide more info on its historical background. At the beginning of this study I was astonished at the number of professed "Mossberg Collectors" who wrote to say that prior to my first article they were not even aware Mossberg had ever produced a handgun!
I'm still looking to find a FOURTH Variation, but with no luck so far. If there actually is a fourth, he is remaining well hidden. It might be in the midst of the production run of the Variation 3 with the advent of the pin in the right side plate. Until I can obtain more data on these guns, who knows?
All three Variations are chambered for the .22rf long rifle round and appear identical with only very MINOR variations which are not immediately obvious to the casual observer: machining of the flat area on top of the barrels, back near the front "ears" of the Barrel Release Lever may vary slightly. Also, the number of grooves machined into the thumb piece at the rear of the Barrel Release Levers may vary slightly.
One major difference, which is sometimes difficult to spot, is the fact that at some point during the production of the Variation #3 a pin was added to the top center of the right side plate. This does NOT apply to the left side plate. It's believed this was to solidify the alignment of that plate to the frame. However, it makes a MAJOR difference in how one should remove the RIGHT side plate to avoid disfiguring its closely fitted, sharp metal edges. See the WARNING below.
The pinned right side plate is another item I'm having to search hard to learn at what serial number that practice was begun. So far it has only been observed or reported on some of the later Variation #3 guns.
WARNING ABOUT REMOVING METAL SIDE PLATES. To remove the metal side plates, first remove the grips then remove the screws from the side plates. DO NOT PRY UP ON THE PLATES! Plates are BEVELED into the frame at front. You SLIDE them to the rear. On the Variation #3 there is a pin at top center. You must remove the screw, gently lift the rear of the plate until it clears the pin, THEN slide it to the rear. Any other handling may cause irreparable damage to the sharp metal edges of the plates and frame.
Also, on the very earliest of the Variation #1 pistols SOME do not have the muzzle of each barrel chamfered. Photo below. I'm now attempting to learn the earliest reported serial number where this is first observed.
The Brownie exploded view with parts list numbers can be found in the American Rifleman archives. However at this writing they are updating their website and the Brownie is not yet available. Those archives are at www.americanrifleman.org Meanwhile, I can email you a copy if you let me know.
INTERNAL PARTS, DIFFERENCES IN VARIATIONS. In the variations I've observed there were few major internal differences. On Variation #2 and #3 the Striker Arm is slimmed down from the Variation #1, and they have a smaller milled block at the base for the Striker Arm Spring.
The Barrel Release Lever Spring is completely different on each variation. NOTE: the exploded view drawing (when available) on the American Rifleman Archives website which shows a Variation #2. There may be other minor variations we've not yet explored.
BROWNIE BUYING/COLLECTING GUIDE. Like all older guns, overall condition is of major importance when determining the value of a Brownie. The original bluing should be in good shape with VERY little pitting or wear apparent. There are no KNOWN offerings of any other finish from the factory. If the gun is plated or engraved, that is an after-market addition, NOT factory original.
The factory furnished grips were very thin walnut with ridges completely across their width from top to bottom. Any other type of grips found on a Brownie is an after-market addition.
Many Brownies are found without original grips and/or the little Extractor Rod which slides down into the small rectangular well on top left side of the gun. Both items are currently being reproduced by men who are artisans of their crafts. I've bought from them and can vouch for their work.
There are no other known makers of reproduction parts except the gent who produces the beautiful grips also makes firing pins. One large parts supplier also has the firing pins available. However, if you need other parts your best bet is to contact another Brownie owner to see if you can borrow an original part and have a gunsmith or machinist reproduce it. Having an original part to use for a pattern can usually save you some money.
I know of several owners who have made their own parts, but none have expressed an interest in supplying parts for other Brownie owners.
VALUE OF YOUR SPECIFIC GUN. Each week I have 2 or 3 owners write to ask the value of their gun. Even with good photos it's difficult to put a price on them, and I would rather not set a dollar amount. Like my old pappy once said, "Never put a price on another man's horse. You might insult him and get shot for your trouble." Your best bet is to check the online gun auctions and see what they are selling for in a condition similar to your gun. You can also get an idea of how many are available at any given time.
SCARCITY OF VARIATIONS. One thing I can advise you on, according to my research, is the scarcity of the different Variations. Most scarce is the Variation #2 with the wrong patent date on it. Second most scarce is the Variation #1 which had the Patent Applied For message. And lastly, the Variation #3 were the latest ones made, and the most volume, more than twice as many as the Variation #1.
FINDING SERIAL NUMBERS: There are only six places observed where serial numbers were stamped by the Mossberg shop. These are pictured below for the Variation #1. NOTE that usually only the last 3 or 4 digits of a longer serial number were found on the Barrel Release Lever, and on the Barrel Section down near the hinge when the gun is open (circles 3 and 2 in photo). The later Variations #2 and #3 may or may not have the numbers stamped inside the metal side plates, and the FULL serial number is usually stamped into the bottom of the butt.
DETERMINING YEAR OF MANUFACTURE. I've come up with a logical formula for establishing a very close estimate as to the YEAR any specific serial number left the factory. Without factory records we have no definite dating available. One day such factory records may turn up. Until that time, if you'll just send me the data regarding your gun I will immediately report back the estimated year your gun left Oscar's shop. I continue to refine and update this formula as more data is sent to me.
The needed database information I would like from you Brownie owners is as follows: 1) Main serial number and where on grip frame; 2) Whether all numbered parts match; 3) Patent information on right side of barrels; 4) Grips original or no; 5) Extractor Rod still aboard or no; 6) Muzzle of barrels chamfered; 7) Right side metal plate pinned or no. 8) State or Province the gun was found in. And general overall condition for my own curiosity. Also, if you're offering the gun for sale. I buy broken guns to salvage parts needed by other owners.
FOR THOSE WANTING TO FIRE THEIR BROWNIES. My advice is DON'T! Brownies should be considered important historical artifacts. This is the Founding Father of the current O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. We, the current owners, are but caretakers of these artifacts for the benefit of future generations. I do NOT shoot my collectibles. I would hate myself forever if I ruined even ONE old gun by firing it. There are too many modern guns available to shoot to take such a chance. If you MUST, be sure to use only lower velocity ammo. This old metal was NOT meant to withstand the pressures some modern rounds generate. Pictured below is a Brownie with its chambers destroyed by just such pressure.
This is a fairly scarce Variation #1, serial number 1124. Remainder of gun is beautiful. What a waste!
UNUSUAL BROWNIES I'VE ENCOUNTERED. First one was offered at online gun auction. Its ONLY markings were the number 588 stamped into barrel section down near the hinge, and and under the "ears" on the Barrel Release Lever, and the Brownie logo on the left side plate. It was discussed on various forums and is thought to be a "lunchbox gun," carried out of the factory piece by piece in some workman's lunchbox.
Next one I obtained was Serial Number 212, the lowest number reported so far. It was found decades ago by an ex-LEO while hiking in a woods up in Northern Georgia. He cleaned it up and got it operating properly. The left side, which it was laying on, has some light pitting overall, and the grip on that side was missing. The right grip is a home-made one. Release Lever was badly buggered. I'm leaving it just as is. He ran across it in a sock drawer and decided to look up info on it, when he ran across my article. I told him I'd give it a good home if he ever wanted to part with it. He immediately offered it to me for 6 bags of dark chocolate M&Ms plus refund of his postage cost to mail it to me.
PLEASE REMEMBER, none of this foregoing info is "engraved in stone" as the ultimate truth! I can only report according to what information is available to me, and with NO factory info, a LOT of this info is no more than an "educated guess." Hopefully, over time, my efforts will prove to be correct - only time will tell. Meanwhile we can only make do with what we have.
I'm still looking for that FOURTH Variation - IF such a thing exists! Please continue sending me any data on, and photos of, Brownies you own, and if anyone has any questions, I'll be happy to answer to the best of my ability. My email address is: JACKJAN32119@Clearwire.net I look forward to hearing from you.
6/17/09 BROWNIE FOURTH VARIATION SURFACES!
To make sure we're all on the same page with the KNOWN Variations of this little gem, I won't rehash all of the Brownie's historical background, but go directly to descriptions for proper identification of each known Variation.
First off, ALL Brownies should be stamped on the left side of the Barrel Cluster: O.F. MOSSBERG & SONS, above, NEW HAVEN,CONN.U.S.A.. (I've tried to duplicate the italicized lettering and letter spacing in all stampings.) The left side metal plate is stamped with a stylized logo word Brownie with little arrows at front and back.
Note that numerical stamping of the serial numbers is often found with mixed sizes of numbers. It would appear they must have had more than one metal stamping set of numerals and little attention was paid to which size was being used. ("Quality Control" evidently didn't matter as much back in those days as it does in today's highly mechanized production lines.)
Since my last article here, another unique Variation has surfaced. It will be described as Variation #2.5 because its characteristics appear to have come about during a transitional period from the incorrect patent date Variation #2, and what we believe is probably the final Variation #3 with the correct patent date.
VARIATION #1: This earliest gun was stamped on the right side of the barrel cluster, PAT.APPL'D.FOR with no spaces between the letters. Serial numbers are typically found in five places: 1) on the edge of the grip frame, at bottom, under the right grip; 2) on barrel cluster down near hinge on right side; 3) under the "ears" on the front of the Barrel Latch lever which lays down the top of the gun; and, 4) and 5) on the back of BOTH metal side plates. Some earlier guns also have the last few digits of the serial number marked in pencil on the back of the walnut grips. Guesstimated years of production: 1919 to 1923. Guesstimated production number: 9,920 units.
VARIATION #2: It was evidently discovered late in production that the incorrect month was used when they began stamping the patent info on the right side of the barrel cluster. These guns are stamped PAT'D.JAN.27,1920. Serial number locations are the same as the Variation #1 as described above. Guesstimated years of production: approximately 9 months in 1923. Guesstimated production number: 1,700 units.
NEW! VARIATION #2.5: Only THREE specimens observed at this point in time. These guns are stamped PAT. JULY 27 1920. Major points of identification are the fact that there is NO ALIGNMENT PIN at top center of the right side metal plate; and there is NO SERIAL NUMBER stamped on the bottom of the butt. Finally all serial numbers are found in the same locations as indicated in Variation #1 and #2. At this early stage of discovery, the years of production are still a mystery. Guesstimated production number: 275 units.
VARIATION #3: This one is the latest known Variation and had the longest production run, therefore, had the largest number of units produced. This is the most commonly found specimen. Stamped on right side of the barrel cluster is PAT. JULY 27 1920. The serial number stampings now only appear in THREE locations: 1) on the very bottom of the butt; 2) on the right side of the barrel cluster, down near the hinge; and, 3) under the "ears" of the Barrel Latch lever. Guesstimated years of production: 1923 to 1932. Guesstimated production number: 20,000 units.
PLEASE REMEMBER, none of these figures are "engraved in stone." All are strictly anyone's guess as there are NO KNOWN SURVIVING FACTORY RECORDS. My guesstimates are based on what has been learned from surviving specimens reported to me by owners, and/or observed by me.
When evaluating any individual Brownie, please keep in mind that other than its overall condition, the importance of ALL its serial numbered parts having matching numbers! The COMPLETE serial number, when more than FOUR numerals, is usually ONLY found stamped on the frame AND on back of the metal side plates. JUST THE LAST FEW DIGITS of the serial number may be stamped on the parts with smaller space available. Also, at this point we can only find evidence of the Brownie being produced with the thin, ridged walnut grips, and only sold with a blued finish. Nickel plating and custom grips MAY have been offered by the company at some time, but so far no evidence of this has been uncovered.
Below is a photo of the new Variation #2.5 which shows the July Patent Date; the lack of an alignment pin at top center of the right side metal plate; and NO number stamped on the bottom of its butt. The rest of the evidence to its identification is all hidden inside...
If you have any questions about these guns I'll be happy to get an answer for you. And, If YOU have any information you're willing to share about your Brownie, I would greatly appreciate your input. You can email me at JACKJAN32119@Clearwire.net and thank you in advance for any info.