The FN model 1900 Pistol is one of the most important handguns of the 20th century. It was significant for technological, historic, and cultural reasons. Few handguns can make that claim, but this pistol is in the league of the Colt Single Action Army, the Luger, and the Colt M1911. Today, nearly 120 years after its introduction this pistol is often overlooked by collectors but it’s important to understand its impact in the history of firearms developments. The “Browning Pistol” as it was called at the time of its introduction became so successful and ubiquitous that it heralded the phase out of the revolver In much of the world.
Early Model FN1900 with the early style grips
The Browning Pistol was a brilliant design by John Moses Browning, a product of ingenuity from the age of over-engineering. It is an extremely rugged and compact pistol, weighing 22 ounces and the first pistol chambered in what we now know as .32 auto. There was a model 1899, which was slightly improved that became the pistol we know as the model 1900. By the standards of the day it was a very compact and powerful weapon. It was such an innovation that it was an immediate success across the spectrum from commercial to police and military applications.
The impact of this pistol is still felt today but over a hundred years ago it was highly significant and it was viewed at the time as a great innovation. The largedt impact was in European and Asian markets. In Europe it was widely used as a police and military side arm and it was the most commercially successful handgun of the day. It saw huge sales in Asian markets especially China where it still retained a cult like reverence decades after production had stopped. In America it was accepted as well and Teddy Roosevelt carried one, but in the Americas the pistol was superseded in 1903 by an improved Browning design, the 1903 Colt pocket Hammerless. Because of the introduction of the Colt, the earlier FN 1900 was more of a Eurasian phenomenon.
From this view it’s easy to understand why everyone referred to this as the “Browning Pistol”
During the First World War, Browning’s Pistol was in front line service on both sides of the war. It was a common infantry side arm in the French and Belgium armies. The Browning was the weapon of choice for the assualt troops known as the trench sweepers. While we may think of this as grossly inadequate for the task, 100 years ago it was a much more viable option. At the turn of the century people were much smaller than they are today and therefore easier to incapacitate with the .32 Browning cartridge. It was largely sealed from dirt and debris and could be reloaded rapidly. Although improved designs came about Browning pistols were still in widespread use during WW2. This was one of the most frequently used pistols by the various resistance and underground movements in Nazi Occupied Europe. Many were brought back to the states by soldiers returning from both the European and Pacific theaters where they were still commonly encountered.
Collecting these pistols today poses two hurdles; the first being that they are by no means common and secondly they are extremely difficult to locate in high Collectable condition. Most of the examples of this pistol that we have encountered over the years have an extremely degraded finish and grips that are well worn, especially those brought back from the Far East. The FN1900 has always been particularly challenging to locate in top condition especially the earlier versions with the early style grips. Cased examples are highly elusive. German used examples with German safety markings or police unit markings are avidly sought after, as are any with Belgian military markings. I do not think any serious military or semi auto handgun collector should be without one or two examples of this pistol. Advanced collectors will find these pistols quite fascinating and I think we need to re-assess the importance and impact this pistol has had since its introduction 117 years ago. For recommended reading and a reference guide we recommend this book: FN Browning Pistols
Late production example. The size and compactness of the design is very apparent.