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Obscure Object of Desire: Mossberg Brownie

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If I asked anyone what Mossberg is most well known for, they’d likely point to the famed 500 series pump guns. Those guns have made Mossberg a fortune and are genuinely awesome shotguns. Mossberg is still a family-run company, and if you ever go to their booth at SHOT, you have a high chance of running into someone with a name tag reading Mossberg.

Mossberg might be best known for their shotguns, but the first firearm Oscar Mossberg designed was a handgun, and the first gun produced by Mossberg was called the Brownie.

Oscar Mossberg immigrated to the United States in 1886 and began working at Iver Johnson, supervising the manufacture of revolvers and shotguns, as well as helping design guns. he left Iver Johnson and started with a company called Shattuck Arms Co. While there, he designed and licensed a four-shot, double-action-only palm pistol known as the Shattuck Unique.

When we look at the Unique, it’s easy to see where Oscar Mossberg and the Brownie came together. The Brownie is a four-shot .22LR pistol with a double-action-only trigger and a rotating firing pin. The Unique and the Brownie are similar, but there are differences, too. The Unique was a palm pistol without a distinctive grip design. The Brownie looked a bit more like a standard pistol.

History of the Brownie

Oscar and his two sons, Iver and Harold, began producing pistols in an old barn behind their house, according to an issue of Gun Digest. They produced 500 predecessors to the Brownie. By 1919 Mossberg and his sons formed O.F. Mossberg & Sons and began producing the Brownie.

The Brownie was advertised to trappers and hunters as a convenient pocket pistol for putting down wounded game or trapped animals. It was promoted as a compact, pocket pistol that’s easily carried and quickly fired. In 1919 semi-auto pistols were around, but semi-auto .22LRs were difficult to do well. Heck, for some companies, they can still be tough to make. (cough SIG Mosquito cough)

Rimfire cartridges have never been as reliable as centerfire cartridges. Without a doubt, they’ve gotten better over the years, but I imagine that back in 1919, the reliability wasn’t great.

The Brownie offered the same failure to fire remedial action as a revolver…just pull the trigger again. The Brownie was also smaller than most revolvers of the era. It’s still smaller than most J-frames.

The Brownie offered the rate of fire of a semi-auto pistol with the ease of use of a revolver at a five-dollar price point.

For comparison, the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket in .25 ACP cost $26.20 in 1922. That’s a substantial difference, and while the gun was offered to trappers and hunters, it would surely have been a decent choice for pocket carry in that era.

Finding My Brownie

When a Mossberg Brownie turned up in a local auction, I knew I wanted it. Little did I know I would get it for a song. Admittedly this isn’t a perfect example. The lever that allowed the gun to open was broken at the rear, yet the gun remains functional. It still locks closed and still operates correctly. The finish is beat to hell, but I didn’t care. I wanted it.

I was over the moon to win the auction and excited it didn’t go for more of my hard-earned dinero. I knew what to expect because the auction house, called Centurion Auctions, is easily the most professional auction house I’ve ever dealt with.

The Brownie has more than a tilting barrel. The whole front half of the gun opens up and reveals the four chambers. You drop your four founds in and close the breech, ensuring the latch is secure, and you’re ready to go. The simple wood grips aren’t much, but they work.

The little gun has that turn-of-the-century charm (the last century). It’s all metal, with a goofy-looking frame. It kinda looks like a gun a five-year-old might draw. To me, that adds to its unique charm.

The barrels are 2.5 inches long, and the gun’s length is 4.5 inches overall. The Brownie weighs 10.8 ounces. It’s super-compact and would drop easily into a pocket and be a handy budget-priced pistol.

To The Range

I received the gun, took it home, and immediately loaded it up.

I know what you’re thinking. Are there any safety issues? Isn’t .22LR a little hotter these days than it was back when the Brownie was made?

I had the same concerns, and since the gun is about a century old, with some damage, I took it easy on the gun. I used CCI .22 CB cap with no powder and a primer as the only propellant.

I didn’t shoot much, either. Just enough to really enjoy the experience. The little gun shoots well. The front sight is about all there is to aim with. I imagine at nearly point blank range on a wounded animal that wouldn’t be an issue. At seven yards, I can keep them in seven ring or better. Recoil is predictably not very much. Even if I used a full-powered .22LR round, shooting the Brownie wouldn’t be a palm stinger by any means.

The gun fired reliably every time the trigger was pulled. That trigger pull is long, but fairly smooth and light for a DAO design. Shooting the Brownie is a charming experience overall. It’s certainly a unique experience and one I enjoy quite a bit.

Supposedly the Brownie sold well back in the day. Over 30,000 were produced between 1920 and 1932. It wouldn’t be until 2019 that Mossberg would finally produce their second handgun, the MC1sc, but I’m more than happy owning the original.

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