Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is all about the rimfire firearm world and its guns, shooting sports, ammunition, and history. Last week we took a look at the latest offering in the Federal Premium Punch series in 22 WMR. More rimfire ammunition testing should be underway along with more gel tests in other non-rimfire calibers thanks to the guys over at Clear Ballistics who have generously provided me with the materials needed to get consistent and clear ballistic gelatin tests done. Feel free to check out Clear Ballistics if you’re interested in trying out some gel testing of your own! This week on The Rimfire Report we’re jumping back in history to 1920 when the first Mossberg Brownie pistols were coming off the line. Never heard of it? Great! Today we’ll be going over what the Brownie was, what it was meant for, and what a potential collector can expect to pay for one in the current market.
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The Rimfire Report: The Antique $5 Mossberg Brownie Pocket Pistol
Specifications – O.F. Mossberg & Sons
- Cartridge: .22 Short .22 Long & .22 LR
- Barrel Length: 2.5 Inches
- Number of Barrels: 4
- Sights: Iron Sights
- Action: Double Action, striker Fired (rotating pin)
- Grips: Walnut
- Weight: 10 oz
- Overall Length: 4-1/2″
- Price in 1920: $5 (~$76 in 2022 currency)
- Patented: 1919
- Produced: 1920-1932
You need this pocket pistol in your business
Just the thing to finish trapped animals. Get one while you can. Absolutley safe and reliable. Shoots .22 caliber short, long, or long rifle ammunition. Two and one half inch barrel, blue finish, genuine black walnut grips, Easily concealed in the palm. Only 4-1/2 inches long. Weighs 10 ounces. $5 postpaid anywhere in the U.S.
Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back
The Brownie began its life much earlier as a palm pistol called the “Unique” palm pistol designed by Mossberg on behalf of the American firearms designer Shattuck who produced licensed versions of the Unique pistol between 1905 and 1915. The Brownie, named after the tiny elf-life characters from The Brownies, would come along a number of years later adding a much larger grip, better trigger, and of course, classic American black walnut grips. The pistol was marketed as a pistol that could be carried discreetly for a price that was negligible to most people – $5 in 1920 (basically the equivalent of about $75 today).
Although the pistol did come with sights, any amateur student of firearms will know already that having iron sights offset from the bore line of the barrel will produce greater inaccuracies the further away the target is from the muzzle. It is this design aspect that gave the Brownie a short range, and an even shorter muzzle velocity with its 2.5″ barrel which kept virtually all 22 caliber rimfire cartridges from reaching supersonic speeds.
By the early 1930s, Mossberg had produced about 30,000 (there are no known surviving factory records of the exact number of units produced during its 13-year life) of the tiny little pistols with what I’d call average success and I think that’s an accomplishment for their first handgun. Mossberg wouldn’t produce another handgun until the 1980s when the Combat 45 was introduced which was a semi-auto 45 caliber 6+1 pistol that never reached full production. However, the Brownie for the time was successful enough to push the Mossberg company through the tough Great Depression era and allowed them to continue designing and manufacturing various firearms throughout that time.
Modern Collecting and Shooting
Understandably, the Brownie is a hot item on the used firearm market even in terms of a rimfire pistol with dubious efficacy as a defensive pocket pistol. Most Mossberg Brownies in decent condition can be found for around $500 on Gunbroker.com and some pistols in immaculate condition can go for north of $1,500 and still feature nicely preserved finishes and wood grips. However, there are several different variations of the pistol with some firearms historians surmising that over the 13-year production lifecycle of the Brownie, several experimental or modified versions of the firearm made their way into private hands and since detailed records were never kept about these variations, no one can tell exactly how many there are or which ones were actually produced like that from the Mossberg factory.
Just like any other curio or relic firearm, the Brownie has a couple of caveats when it comes to operating it in the modern age with modern-produced rimfire ammunition. Like any older firearm, the materials used in the production of the Brownie are not on par with modern steels and alloys. This means that you should probably steer clear of anything labeled as “high velocity” in the 22LR category. My personal advice, if you wanted to fire your own Brownie, would be to take it to a competent gunsmith first for a second opinion. However, cartridges like .22 CB should be pretty safe even when factoring in the age of the pistol.
Despite its age, the Brownie operates more or less like a normal pistol with each of the four barrels being fired with each squeeze of the trigger, rotating the striker between each trigger pull. A small lever or button on the rear of the firearm was used to release the barrels forward for loading and unloading. Unloading was accomplished by the use of an included extractor rod which was stowed in the small rectangular opening on the top of the firearm, however, many of these are missing from examples found on the internet today but are just as easily replaced.
Gone but Not Forgotten
The Brownie may have been Mossberg’s first venture into the handgun market but like we said earlier it was not their last. Mossberg has once again revived their handgun lineup with the introduction of the Mossberg MC series including the recently released MC2SC which features a polymer grip, a large magazine capacity, and in many ways carries on the legacy that the Brownie established by being a compact, portable, and affordable pocket pistol.
I’d like to hear from you guys if you have any hands-on experience with the Brownie. If you do own one or have ever shot one, how was its accuracy? Is yours or was the one you shot reliable? Feel free to drop a comment down below letting us know your opinion on the tiny little pistol! As always thanks for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report and we’ll see you guys again next week!
All photos and videos used in this article belong to their respective parties. If you’re interested in picking up a Brownie for yourself, several of the captions in this article have direct links back to people selling theirs on Gunbroker.com. All other photos are credited as required.