John Browning’s 1892 En Bloc Lever-Action Prototype

The 1890s were one of John Browning’s most prolific periods, during which he developed a host of firearms which would never actually see production. Here, we’re lucky enough to be able to examine one of those prototypes that were never produced. Dating from 1892, this rifle departs from Browning’s earlier lever-action rifle designs in a number of interesting ways. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the design is its use of en bloc clips, instead of the tube magazine traditionally used by Winchester’s repeating rifles. John Browning, and his brother Matthew, filed the patent covering the design in June 1892.

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Right side of the rifle, note its ‘musket’ configuration (Matthew Moss)

The rifle is in what is typically referred to at the time as a ‘Musket’ configuration, signifying that it is a military long-arm. It has a long 32.5 inch barrel, which is held in place by two barrel bands. Overall the rifle is around 50 inches in length and weighs just over 9lbs. The rifle is chambered in a .30 calibre cartridge, likely the then new .30-40 Krag round given its proposed market. It has a ladder-style rear sight with range graduations from 100 to 1,000 yards.

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Browning’s patent drawing showing the rifle’s action (US Patent Office)

Okay, let’s take a closer look at the prototype. During the 1890s Browning experimented with a series of magazine systems including an en-bloc clip system. This rifle uses a 5-round magazine which is fed from an en-bloc clip. The idea of an en-bloc clip was relatively new with Ferdinand Mannlicher patenting the idea in the 1880s and using it in his Model 1886 and 1888 rifles. It is unclear if Browning was familiar with Mannlicher’s system but the two are very similar. If you’re unfamiliar with en bloc clips it means that the cartridges are loaded into the weapon in the clip rather than stripped from the clip.

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A look at the ejection port for the en-bloc clip (Matthew Moss)

Browning’s prototype holds five rounds in its clip, which from patent drawings we can see was not reversible. Sadly, we don’t have an example of Browning’s clip to examine but his 1892 patent (see above) gives us a good idea of what it would have looked like. It clearly has a cut at the top of the clip which appears to have been used to help guide the round up into the chamber.

Rounds were pushed up into the action by a follower arm which was actuated by a v-spring located at the front of the magazine housing. The bottom of the fixed magazine housing has a cut-out corresponding to the clip to allow it to fall or be pushed clear by a new clip once it was empty.

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The rifle’s lever fully-forward with its action open and striker cocked (Matthew Moss)

The rifle also departs from the traditional hammer system and uses a striker-fired action. From the patent drawings we can see how the rifle’s striker worked, with a coil spring extending into the stock and a sear holding the striker to the rear. The striker is made up of two pieces with the striker hitting a long firing pin inside the bolt.
The striker has, what the patent refers to as, a ‘thumb piece’ to enable re-cocking and to indicate if its cocked or not. The striker was cocked by the cycling of the lever and held in place by the trigger sear.

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A view inside the action with the bolt partially retracted before it moves down and back into the rifle’s wrist (Matthew Moss)

The lever was held in the close position, preventing out of battery discharges, by what Browning’s patent calls a downward-projecting dog, which projected through a small hole in the trigger assembly link and locked into a catch in the front of the lever loop.
The use of a striker, rather than an exposed hammer, allows the rifle bolt’s travel to be enclosed rather than have the bolt project out of the rear of the receiver, as in previous Winchester lever-actions, we can see that this rifle’s bolt slides back at an angle partially down into the wrist of the stock. This is arguably more ergonomic and potentially helps to prevent ingress of dirt.

The first half of the lever’s travel pulls the bolt to the rear, while the second part cocks the striker. An arm extending from the lever pushed the bolt rearward until the trigger sear was engaged. In order to give the lever enough throw to open the action far enough to allow a round to be loaded the trigger mechanism has to be pivoted out of the action, much like the earlier Winchester 1886.
The bolt has a pair of trunnions which project from the sides of the bolt, these run inside longitudinal grooves either side of the receiver, while the rear of the bolt is free to angle up and down as it cycles. The action is locked by the rear of the bolt secured against the rear of the receiver, rather than with a rising locking bolt.

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Left side of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

During the period Browning was also working on other lever action and, even more unusual, so-called pull-apart actions as well as various magazine types including a revolving magazine, stripper-clip box magazines and of course as we’ve already seen a detachable box magazine-fed rifle. The 1890s were a truly prolific period for Browning.

The design was purchased by Winchester and the Brownings’ patent was granted in November 1892. The gun, like many of Browning’s other designs of the period, never saw production. Making this rifle a rare one-of-a-kind prototype. It’s an elegant design and the action is smooth. When Winchester did finally seek to produce a military lever-action they chose another of Browning’s designs which retained his traditional rear-locking bolt, which became the Model 1895.

This rifle is a unique prototype and it was an honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.


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Bibliography:

‘Breech-loading Firearm’, J. & M. Browning, US Patent #486272, 15/11/1892 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Winchester Model 1905 .45ACP Conversion

During my recent visit to the Cody Firearms Museum I was lucky enough to examine a number of interesting firearms (more videos soon). In this video we take a look at a Winchester Model 1905 chambered in .45 ACP.

The Model 1905 was originally designed by Thomas Crossley Johnson, as a commercial rifle chambered in either .32 or .35 Winchester Self Loading. It was the second of a series of blowback operated rifles Johnson designed between 1903 and 1910.

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Right-side profile of the converted Model 1905 (Matthew Moss)

The origins of this gun, however, are less clear. It is part of the Cody Firearms Museum’s impressive collection and is believed to be a Winchester-made prototype. Dating the rifle is more difficult. It was originally believed to have been developed during the First World War but the Winchester Arms Collection’s records date the rifle to 1919. It has also been suggested that the conversion may have been developed by Winchester as an auxiliary arm for the US Army, as a replacement for the 1911 pistol for some troops – much along the lines of the later .30 carbine. There are no records, however, to suggest the .45 ACP Model 1905 was ever officially tested.

Herbert Houze, former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, believed the conversion was actually developed after World War Two. No patents or Winchester documents are known to refer to it but Houze believed that one of Winchester’s engineers, Harry H. Sefried, developed the conversion as a side project with a potential aim to interest law enforcement agencies in a carbine chambered in the readily available .45 ACP round.

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The carbine with the 1911 magazine removed and the bolt back (Matthew Moss)

Taking a stock rifle a number of changes were made, the rifle was re-barrelled and rechambered for the .451-inch .45 ACP round and the bolt face was modified slightly. The 1905 originally fed from straight 5 or 10-round box magazines. In order to feed from a Colt 1911 magazine a new magazine housing was added. The curved front of the trigger guard has been machined back and is now flush with the rear of the conversion housing which appears to be integral to the lower receiver’s frame. On close inspection we can clearly see that parts have been brass brazed together around the original magazine release and inside the magazine well.

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With the 1905’s upper receiver removed we can see how the 1911 magazine aligns with the bolt and breech (Matthew Moss)

The rounded magazine housing has a new magazine release positioned at the front of the magazine, as in the 1911 and allows the magazine to be inserted at an angle. The ejection port has also been altered with an additional cut-out being made at the top to aid ejection.

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With the rifle stripped down and the magazine removed we can see the conversion magazine housing, note what appears to be brass brazing (Matthew Moss)

Take down remains the same, with the upper and lower separating once the take down screw at the rear of the receiver is loosened. The conversion appears to be well thought out and the finish and care taken would indicate this was rifle wasn’t a rough proof of concept prototype. Sadly, there is no information on how the conversion performed.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver and Colt 1911 magazine (Matthew Moss)

Regardless of the origins of the conversion Winchester never offered the chambering commercially and this prototype is the only example known to exist. Today, it is held by the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West in Wyoming. The museum has just undergone a major renovation and is well worth visiting. Our special thanks to the CFM for letting us examine this rare rifle.

Herbert Houze, the former Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum who is mentioned in this article and video, recently passed away – this video is dedicated to his memory.


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Bibliography:

‘Winchester Center Fire Automatic Rifles’ ARMAX, The Journal of the Cody Firearms Museum (Vol. III, No. 1, 1990), K.F. Schreier Jr.

My thanks to Danny Michael, the CFM’s assistant curator, for additional information from Herb Houze