Savage pistols

The original design for the automatic pistol which later became known as the Savage, since its production was taken up by the Savage Arms Co. of Utica, N. Y., seems to have been the work of William Condit. The first development and prototype manufacture appear to have taken place in the first months of 1904. Later in that year Condit joined with Elbert H. Searle with whom further improvements were jointly made. By 1905 two distinctly different models had been produced in prototype form: (1) a fixed-barrel, retarded-blowback design and (2) a moving-

barrel, recoil-operated design. Patents were issued by the U.S. Patent Office on November 21, 1905, and at the end of that year both designs had been licensed for manufacture by the Savage Arms Co. At this time Condit dropped out of the picture and Searle represented their interests at the Savage plant.

It was the original intention of the Savage Co. to bring out a .32 caliber version of the blowback pistol only, but when the U.S. Ordnance Department invited manufacturers to submit automatic pistols for trial at the Springfield Armory in 1907 they began constructing .45 cal. versions of both the blowback and the recoil-operated types. One .45 cal. blowback pistol had been completed by December 1906, and this weapon (which was quite different from subsequent pistols of this caliber) was submitted to the Springfield Armory. It was found not to be acceptable for military use.

By mid-1906 the firm had decided to resume planning for a .32 cal. blowback type pistol, and they started tooling up for production in the winter of 1906. Judging from the time that elapsed before production began it is surmised that several prototype specimens were probably made before a final one was accepted. The .32 cal. Savage was introduced in August 1907, with the official nomenclature Savage Automatic Pistol, Pocket Model, Caliber .32. This very specific designation was used to distinguish it from the .45 caliber specimen which (as well as later .45 cal. types) was referred to as the Government Model. The September 1907 issue of Outdoor Life contained what is said to be the first public mention of this new pistol, in an unauthorized article written by a man who seems to have had only a superficial knowledge of his subject, much to the annoyance of some persons in the Savage Co. (Fig. 244).

The earliest form of the pistol is distinguished by the absence of lettering at the safety lever and by the small-sized letters in the insigne on the grip pieces. A further characteristic is the fact that the checkered head of the safety is a complete circle, the edge of which overlaps the grip piece when it is in the „Fire" position. Serial numbering began at No. 1. By 1909 the left grip piece was recessed to partially accept the safety lever when in the „fire" position, and the words „Fire" and „Safe" were added at the appropriate places on the frame. The checkered head was also partly cut away on the left side (in „Fire" position).

The .380 caliber model was introduced in 1913, with serial numbering starting at No. 1, and with the letter B added. Curiously, in some specimens this letter is used as a prefix to the serial number while in other specimens it will be found used as a suffix thereto. This pistol followed the design of the .32 cal. 1907 Model. In 1915, however, a modified version of both the .32 and .380 appeared; this modification consisted of the addition of a grip safety (which was commendable) and the elimination of the hammer-shaped cocking lever that was exposed at the rear end of the slide in the original model. This 1915 version is usually referred to as the Hammerless Model, though that is a misnomer since no Savage pistol has a hammer. The new model was numbered in continuation of the same series as the original .32 and .380. The Hammerless model was short lived, as its manufacture was discontinued in 1917 in favor of a new-style external cocking lever, which had a spur shape rather than the smaller, rounded (or dome shaped) piece formerly used. This was a desirable change for three reasons. The spur-shaped cocking piece made it easier to cock the weapon by hand, and its observable position told the user whether the arm was cocked or not. It also made it possible to carry a cartridge in the barrel with the arm uncocked, by letting down the cocking piece (carefully) after a cartridge had been chambered by pulling back the slide. With the original cocking piece this was a very dangerous procedure and with the Hammerless model obviously impossible. With the Hammerless model one could not tell, from external examination, whether there was a cartridge in the chamber. The new model still retained one undesirable feature (present in all models) in that the recoil spring is so stiff that drawing back the slide to chamber a cartridge is a difficult operation-almost as difficult as in the case of the Dreyse. Another noticeable change which has been observed on Mod. 1907 pistols of late issue (serial numbers above 200,000, presumably ca. 1917) is the style of the serrations in the finger grips on the rear of the slide. Originally these were wide, deep, and 9 in number, while in the later issue they were much narrower and 28 in number.

Late in 1917 a new, enlarged, and much-bettershaped grip was introduced. The grip pieces were provided with a new Savage monogram, still carrying an Indian head (and an extended arm holding a gun), quite different from the original. For some unaccountable reason the grip safety was eliminated-a change not to be praised. The spur-shaped cocking piece was retained, however. Both the earlier 1907 and the Hammerless models were dropped at the end of 1917 and only the .32 and .380 cal. Model 1917 was manufactured from that time on. Serial numbering appears to have been in continuation of the earlier numbering series. Production of Model 1917 was discontinued in 1928 and has never been resumed. Competition with better-designed and better-known automatic pistols made continuation unprofitable.

Despite the unsatisfactory showing of the .45 cal. Savage pistol submitted to the Ordnance Department early in 1906, the Savage Co. was given an order for 200 pistols in .45 caliber in an improved design. Many of the features of the pistol as originally submitted were highly praised by the examining Board, even though it was not accepted. The order was not completed until the fall of 1908, at which time some 230 numbered specimens and at least a dozen unnumbered and otherwise variant specimens had been made. These 230 pistols were delivered for field trials in 1909 and 1910. Having proved to be unsatisfactory for military purposes they were sold at public auction in 1912. At least four other forms of .45 cal. automatic pistols were produced in small quantity from 1909 to 1911 and are now collectors' items. No Savage automatic pistol was ever adopted by the U.S., but the Portugese Government adopted the .380 cal. Model 1917 and used it as their official side arm until manufacture was discontinued in 1928. Whether these pistols supplied to the Portugese were especially marked or especially numbered is not known.

Shortly before World War I Savage decided to bring out a .25 caliber pistol. A set of tools was started and several dozen prototype specimens were made, but the arm was never offered for sale. Known prototype specimens are numbered in a series starting at 100,001. They had grip safeties and were finished in a commercial manner, as if they were intended for sale.

Another .25 cal. Savage, having a shorter barrel and frame, but otherwise like the former, has been reported-the design of which dates from 1916 or 1917. The entry of the U.S. into the World War seems to have prevented this pistol from being offered commercially. After the war, sometime in 1919, plans for its manufacture were resumed and a few were made, fully marked and bearing serial numbering which started at 1000-M. Only a very few have been seen and, no doubt, most of those that were made are now in the hands of collectors.

Between 1910 and 1915 several minor variant forms of the .32 cal. Mod. 1907 pistol appeared. These included types with lanyard loops, cartridgeindicating collars around the barrel at the chamber, and variant styles of sights. The types that were fitted with lanyard loops may have been furnished on contract for police use, since they usually have registry serial numbers on the right side of the frame.

Fig. 244. .32 cal. Savage Mod. 1907. Sectional view.

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