Astra and related pistols

These pistols have a long and important history in Spanish firearms manufacture as they are among the best that have been produced in Spain; furthermore, the company is one of three that are permitted by the present government to make automatic pistols. Astra pistols are not only popular in Spain but also have a wide sale in other countries, including the U.S.

The firm of Esperanza y Unceta was founded by Don Juan Esperanza and Don Pedro Unceta on July 17, 1908. Esperanza was a native of Aragon who had come to Eibar some years earlier to learn to become a mechanician and had become a very good one, having received many awards for his skill. Unceta, a highly born native of Eibar, had learned the mechanician's trade in a little shop owned by one of his uncles. He had become a manufacturer, dealer, and exporter of arms. In addition he had engaged in other activities, such as hardware merchant and „banking correspondent." Obviously he had more experience and presumably took the lead in establishing the new enterprise. The original notarized agreement stated that: „The parties hereto constitute a regular collective mercantile Sociedad, domiciled in this town, which will trade under the name of Pedro Unceta y Juan Esperanza; which will be devoted to mechanical fabrication of different articles or manufactures of iron and steel."

Señor Esperanza was to have charge of the shop, while the general direction and administration was to be in the hands of Señor Unceta, and the agreement was specified to be binding for 10 years. At just what date the names were reversed to Esperanza y Unceta is not known, but the firm operated under this new name until 1926, at which time the name was changed to Unceta y Cia., as Esperanza left the firm at that time. The firm was now under the management of a „double directorate" which included Don Canuto Unceta as well as Don Rufino Unceta. Since the name Astra had long been used on arms made by the firm, the firm name was again changed, in 1953, to capitalize on this name, and became Astra-Unceta y Cia., under which name it still operates. While continuing the manufacture of arms, the firm has other interests, such as the manufacture of pneumatic tools, pumps, etc.

Returning to 1908-the first activities of the partnership were restricted to the manufacture of parts for other pistol manufacturers, but it was soon decided to undertake the manufacture of a complete automatic pistol of their own. This resulted in a pistol which they named the Victoria. The success attained with this pistol soon made it evident that more space and added facilities were desirable, and a search for such space began in Eibar but met with no success. The need for more space became still more acute when, in 1912, the Spanish Army adopted a military type of pistol which the company was asked to manufacture.

Don Venancio Lopez de Ceballos y Aguirre, Count of Campo Giro, was a military officer (and engineer) who started designing automatic pistols for military use as early as 1900. His first patents date from 1904 and further patents were obtained in 1910, 1912, and 1913, following further improvements and simplifications in manufacture. Upon adoption of his 1910 Model by the Army, Campo Giro gave an order to Esperanza y Unceta for the manufacture of 1000 pieces. This made additional space and facilities imperative and, having secured the necessary space and additional financial encouragement in the city of Guernica, a new plant was built in that city in 1913. By the time the plant was completed Campo Giro had made still further improvements and the pistol now became the Model 1913. Still later improvements resulted in the Mod. 1913/16. For further details on these arms see the separate section on Campo Giro pistols.

From 1913 on, Don Rufino Unceta, son of Don Pedro, became the dominant force in the firm as his father had left the firm at the time the move to Guernica was made. The manufacture of the Campo Giro pistols was only an incident in the life of this firm, but it was a most important one. It not only gave the firm a new location, more financial backing, and a profitable contract with the Army but also ideas for new designs for pistols which they later manufactured.

Victoria-Manufacture of the pocket pistol Victoria, of which over 50,000 had been made at Eibar, was continued at Guernica, along with the newly developed military type Campo Giro. The Victoria was a simple blowback of the early Browning type and was made in two calibers, 6.35 and 7.65 mm., both of similar design. The 7.65 mm. model was the first to be produced, the 6.35 mm. version not appearing until approximately 40,000 of the larger caliber had been made. Unfortunately they were numbered in the same numbering series. The lowest number seen for a 6.35 mm. specimen, marked VICTORIA -MODEL 1911, is No. 54,170 (obviously made at Eibar), and the highest number observed is 229,170, on a specimen marked VICTORIA -MODEL 1916, made at Guernica. These two pistols are identical in design but do not appear to have been made on the same set of tools.

The first Victorias, according to recent correspondence, were made with external hammers „until No. 62,000, approximately," but no such specimens have been encountered. As specimen Serial No. 1 is in the Astra-Unceta museum, the first part of the statement cannot be doubted, but specimen No. 54,170 is a „hammerless." A puzzling statement from the present firm is that in November 1914 they began marking the Victoria pistols with the name Astra „from serial No. 82,000 up." This is confusing in that Astra - Mod. 1911 (7.65 mm.) specimens have been examined and photographed by the author; and it has already been noted that a 6.35 mm. 1916 Victoria bears the number 229,363.

Pistols identical to the Victoria were furnished to Thieme and Edeler of Liège with the marking „BTE PATENT - SPAIN." They were also sold in Belgium under the names The Automatic Leston, Museum, Salso, Sat, and others.

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