Liege-Belgium is one of the oldest centers of gun-making in the world. Since the Middle Ages, all kinds of arms have been produced in this city and its surrounding area. Liegemade weapons became well known in almost every country of the earth. Historically,coal was Belgium’s most important mineral resource. Mined since the 13th century, these coalreserves were instrumental in Belgium’s industrialization during the 19th century. The development of available iron ore and zinc deposits further contributed to the city’s position as a manufacturing center.
In the Principality of Liege, firearms first appeared about 1350. Their production knew a dazzling boom in the first half of the 17th century (The Thirty Years War and other international conflicts, as well as its ideal geographical location contributed largely to this development). The Belgium Proof House was instituted in 1672 for the benefit of commerce and to warranty to users a minimum level of product safety.
â€œBetween 1789 and 1802, France was wracked by a revolution which radically changed the government, administration, military and culture of the nation as well as plunging Europe into a series of wars. France went from a largely feudal state under an absolutist monarch to a republic which executed the king and then to an empire under Napoleon Bonaparte.â€[French Revolution 101 by Robert Wilde]
â€œIn 1789, a few weeks after the start of the French Revolution, LiÃ¨ge experienced a revolution of its own during the absence of the prince-bishop. In 1792, the principality was dissolved and annexed to France until 1815. LiÃ¨ge then became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, then of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830.â€
[LiÃ¨ge Travel Guide]
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The Golden Age of Gun Manufacturing
The Century 1814 to 1914 is referred to by Belgium historians as the Golden Age of Liege Gun Manufacturing. The quoted official figure is 107,173 guns tested in 1823 and the maximum record was in 1907 with 1,549,479 firearms proofed.
This was not the first cooperation between Nagant and Remington. Nagant had been a sub-contractor on arms for
Spain and Egypt. After completing the initial purchase, additional contracts for musketoon-length rifles and carbines
were awarded to Nagant. Marcot states a total of 15,961 Remingtonlicensed rifles were shipped by Nagant to the Vatican.
The two brothers separated in 1896. By this time, Ã‰mileâ€™s progressive blindness had led to his withdrawal from the firm. Leon formed the â€œFactory of Weapons Leon Nagant.â€ In 1899, the two sons, Charles (1863) and Maurice (1866) launched an automobile manufacturing business(but that is another story). Upon the death
of Leon in 1900, the name of the firm became â€œFactory of Weapons and Cars Nagant FrÃ¨res.â€
The Nagants reportedly were not great inventors (even their ingenuity was termed inconsonant),however, they were remarkable artisans and perfectionists. They did not have any hesitance in improving on the principles developed by others, and above all, to remedy the weaknesses of such systems. The basic â€œrolling blockâ€ design they licensed was rugged and reliable, except that the cartridge cases of the centerfire ammunition expand to the size of the chamber, upon discharge. This close fit made extraction of fired cases a problem.
The extractor was a weak point of Remingtonâ€™s â€œrolling blockâ€ original design. The extractor was found to be fragile. Frequent breakage of the extractor was an embarrassment to the Nagants. Emile and Leon Nagant filed a patent for two types of improved extractors (Belgium Patent No. 29046 – 17 July 1871). One which was to be positioned on the same axis of the front block pin, opening the block, causes the extractor to engage the cartridge rim and extract the case. This design was for double barrel firearms and was located between the barrels, permitting both cartridges to be removed simultaneously. The second form (semiâ€“circular) was for single barrel arms and resembles the circular extractor used on later Remington manufactures large caliber rifles.
Belgium Patent No. 31225 â€“ 19 September 1872 was for an addition to the breech block of a piece Nagant called the â€œfiring pin rocker.â€ Its function was to move the firing pin away from the face of the breech block and thus the head of the cartridge, preventing accidental discharge upon closing of the
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breach. Apparently a coil spring was sometimes employed for this function and it was considered unreliable and subjecting to failing when the spring broke or the firing pin was fouled. This addition to the breech block was claimed to be highly reliable. Interestingly, this simple device was not included on the Model 1877 pistol or on later Remington produced arms.
A third patent dates from September 19, 1872 and 14 April 1876 (Belgium Patent No. 039030) and followed by an improvement dated June 15, 1877 (Belgium Patent No. 42456) is perhaps the most original of all Nagant patents, and the one which had the most long time impact on firearms. This is a system for fitting double barrel arms with a single trigger, when the practice of the day was two triggers. This design allows the barrels to be fired sequentially. It well may be the first workable design for what is now common practice â€“ single-trigger double-guns. The 1877 pistol fires first the right barrel and when the trigger is released and again pulled the left.
The central extractor and the single trigger were incorporated in the design of the Nagant Model 1877 Gendarmerie Piston as sold to the Belgium government. This was the Nagantâ€™s first Belgium government contract. Commentary opined, â€œAs always with Nagantâ€™s patents, the design is so simple that one is surprised that no person had already thought of such improvements. To place these patents in context, they were not developed to meet informal contract requirements, rather to facilitate use of a new cartridge. The new ammunition was center fire 9.4 mm, made by Bachmann.â€
Pistolet De Gendarmerie Model 1877
The Nagants designed and manufactured for theBelgium mounted police a double-barreled pistol, the Pistolet de Gendarmerie, Model 1877. The three drawings are marked as representing â€œthe official designs of the Belgium mounted
police.â€ This was the first Belgium police service arm which utilized a metallic cartridge, a 9 mm center-fire round developed and manufactured by Bachmann Belgium, and known as the 9.4 Nagant and the 9.4 Belgium. The contract made Nagant the exclusive official suppliers of handguns to the State until in 1901, this greatly assisted Nagant in securing foreign contracts While other police forces converted to revolvers, (including Nagantâ€™s wildly successful 1895/1898 â€œgas sealâ€ revolver) this two shot pistol was retained in service until 1901, thereplacement, an auto-loading pistol, the Browning 1899. During this period Nagant produced a large variety of sporting and military arms which utilized the â€œrolling blockâ€ action.
The only accessories furnished with each pistol were a screwdriver, a flask of oil and a metal cleaning rod (Baguette) 292 mm in length. It is reported, each of these accessories was marked with the W and the serial number of the individual pistol, but I have not seen examples. In service, the pistol was carried in saddle holsters (fontes in
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French). No photographs or drawings of these were found in research at the Belgium police museum (ex gendarmerie) by my friend and military historian Hubert LeRoy of Brussels.
â€œThird Screwâ€ Modification
After several action malfunctions it became apparent that an additional screw (â€œa third screwâ€) was required to supplement the spring stops. The two large hammer springs tended to â€œjumpâ€ out of position when the pistol was fired. The new screw, through the sides of the action, blocked the end of the â€œmain-springâ€ from moving out of position, preventing any further incidents. Feys and Smeets suggested the performance of this modification and the care with which it was carried out indicates an arms factory. They also stated their review found no documents to determine if this was at the Nagant facility or else-ware. Nor could they determine the date and quantity of arms modified. However, a picture of a M1877 is titled by Feys, â€œRare copy of gun mounted police mod. 1877, without the additional screw that holds the springs; is the W of the mounted police.â€ (Photo CL. Feys, al. Museum of Liege weapon.) From which I must infer the preponderance of all M1877â€™s were modified.
A long standing story concerning the Model 1877, speaks of 1,000 of the pistols being supplied to the Tsar of Russia. Feys and Smeet in Les Revolvers et Les Fusils Nagant address the claim as follows, â€œa series of 1,000 copies which would have been provided to the personal guard of Tsar Alexander II. Possibly, â€œcopies are possible (but itâ€™s probably) copies carried out after the Nagant patent (expired) by firms such as â€¦-Marx or William Gran. Guns that were shipped as weapons of the civil market shooting)â€ we have looked for them, we have not discovered these copies despite our research. We conclude the Russian guns are a legend (may be based on a mistaken interpretation of W marks on Belgium weapons), which could seem to some exotic; in fact, all the Belgium weapons were marked the letter identifying the regiment or staffing unit: W is simply the letter identifying the Gendarmerie. We know, however, that there are other curious variations or copies almost equivalent.â€
As you can see by my photograph, above, I had the opportunity to fire my pistol. Observations generated during shooting were:
The breech block was quite effective in preventing firing of the pistol if it was held even slightly open by tight cartridge fit or rim diameter. A soft faced mallet was used to tap on the blockâ€™s lever to insure full seating of the cartridges. Since we were reloading just fired cartridges, some fire forming appeared to occur. These reloaded cartridges worked more easily upon loading and upon ejection.
The pistol required high thumb pressure to cock. The main springs were extremely stiff, perhaps required by the lower sensitivity of period primers. It would appear the pistol, in service, would be cocked in anticipation of need. With both hammers cocked, the trigger demonstrated â€œmilitary slackâ€ and then long pull to fire the right barrel. The trigger was released to engage the left barrel. The left barrel could then be discharged with much lighter trigger pressure.
Extraction of fired cartridge cases was flawless; Nagant did succeed in solving the extractor problems, at least for straight sided cases.
Shooting a vintage pistol was enjoyable and provided additional insight into function of the arm and capability of ammunition of
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