The Browning automatic pistol was patented in the U.S. on April 20, 1897, by John M. Browning, several patents being issued to him on that date. Soon thereafter the Fabrique Nationale D'Armes dc Guerre in Herstal, Belgium, secured a license to use the patents and to conduct its own development of a pistol based on the features covered by these patents. At the same time development work was proceeding at the Colt factory in the U.S.
By 1898, F.N. had achieved an original design based on the Browning patents. The members of this first series of F.N. pistols are characterized by having the recoil spring mounted above the barrel and a firing pin which is loaded by a link arrangement housed in an extended projection on the top of the slide at the rear. The 1898 Type was chambered for a 7.65 mm. cartridge which Browning himself had designed with the help of Winchester engineers. This pistol was presented to the Swiss Government for trial at Berne in the summer of 1898. The exact details of this first prototype pistol are not known.
By 1899 a distinct commercial form had been developed and was offered as the Modele 1899. This 1899 commercial pistol is characterized by checkered, molded hard rubber grip pieces and by having a smooth frame and receiver, with a straight grip frame. A number of transitional 1898-1899 Browning F.N. types have been observed to have the Mauser insignia. Though produced in some quantity, they were not offered commercially but were used for sales and promotional purposes in Germany in the hope of stimulating enough interest to justify their possible production at the Mauser plant. This hope was not realized.
In March 1900 the 1899 pistol was adopted into the Belgian service and full production began. This 1900 Model, as it is now called, appeared with F.N. crests or trade marks on the grip pieces (Figs. 127, 128).
A few of the 1900 type were manufactured in the 9 mm. Short caliber sometime after 1905. None were offered commercially.
When major production began in the spring of 1900, the basic serial number series was started. Numbers from 1 to about 10,000 may be found with letter prefixes or suffixes. At 10,000 a lanyard loop was added, together with several other external modifications. The design on the grip pieces was also changed at that point. Early in the 100,000 series the pistol reached its common form. The head of the safety lever was serrated, and the F.N. script insignia was introduced on the grip pieces. It is stated that 250,000 were made in the first six years. Production of the 1900 type ceased sometime around 1911-1913.
The 1900 type has been extensively copied in oriental countries. Most of these pistols have markings which are imitations of the F.N. markings, often coupled with Mauser markings on the same specimen. These imitations need never be confused with the' genuine F.N. product as the markings are never exactly as they should be and, furthermore, the workmanship is obviously very inferior. The author has examined many specimens, many having the same serial number, incidentally, and none has ever been found to have even fairly good rifling.
These oriental copies, generally. considered to be mostly Chinese, are to be found in both 7.65 mm. and 7.63 mm. Mauser caliber. Occasionally one is found in 9 mm. Parabellum. The 1898 and 1899 types have also been copied, but apparently not so frequently. Some authorities are of the opinion that many automatic pistol imitations generally accredited to the Chinese were probably made in India.
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