In January, just before the 2017 SHOT Show, I got the opportunity to travel to Cody Wyoming to visit the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, to see some of their rare firearms and bring photos of them to our readers.
Every gun nut has heard of John Moses Browning (pbuh), but far fewer have heard of his colleague at Winchester, William Mason. Mason was a machinist, workshop model maker, and firearms designer who was hired to work at Winchester in 1883. At the time his resume had already included jobs at Remington and Colt, and he was tasked with engineering Winchester’s ill-fated line of revolvers – weapons promising enough that they led directly to the Winchester-Colt gentleman’s agreement which defined the two companies for decades thereafter.
Mason was responsible for making many of the workshop models of weapons designed by John Browning, and is even cited in the “sour grapes” letter as something like the real talent behind John Browning. The letter’s smugness seems comical now, but Mason was a talented designer in his own right, and just before and immediately after Browning’s dismissal from the company, he worked on some now-forgotten selfloading weapons, one of which we’ll be taking a look at today.
I admit that I don’t know very much about the rifle below, but here’s what I do have. it seems to have been chambered for a straight-walled, rimless pistol-type round as described in the patent, perhaps an earlier precursor to the WSL line of cartridges, or perhaps something else. This particular prototype is recoil-operated, using a swinging barrel not unlike the later Colt 1911, coupled with a toggle-locked breech very similar to Browning’s earlier recoil-operated shotgun design (which is still on display at the Browning museum in Ogden, Utah). The patent for Mason’s carbine is also available online here. Note that it lists Thomas G. Bennett, then-President of Winchester, as an inventor.
Mason’s carbine would never be adopted, as it was obviously too complex to be economical. It seems that Winchester instead chose Thomas C. Johnson’s much simpler blowback design, which became the successful Winchester Self-Loading series of commercial autoloading rifles.
If you’re interested in seeing more of the Cody Firearms Museum, I highly recommend taking a trip out to Cody, Wyoming to see their awesome and extensive collection. They have over 7,000 firearms, about 4,000 of which are on display. In particular, if you have an interest in Winchester firearms and their history, Cody is the place to be. If just a visit isn’t enough for you, then check out the museum’s 79-page book, which highlights some of the finest pieces in their collection!