A Mechanical Look at the “Quadruple-action” Berger Self-loading Pistol

Berger Self-loading Pistol - Institute of Military Technology Collection

Handguns are commonly known in the categories of single-action, double-action, and semi-automatic. However, students of firearms curiosa know there to be another category to exist before the semi-automatic: the so called “self-loading” pistol.

Let’s break it down for the beginner. A single-action firearm is one in which, when the trigger is pulled, one thing happens (the hammer falls). A double-action firearm is one in which, when the trigger is pulled, two things happen (the hammer comes back, the hammer falls).

Magazine pistols like this Berger, however, require more than just the hammer coming back and falling. “Quadruple-action” is a term I started using to describe the cocking, ejecting, loading, and firing that takes place during the normal cycle of operations. My friend Ian McCullum of Forgotten Weapons recently visited us at the Institute of Military Technology and told me he thought it would more accurately be called a quintuple action and, well, who am I to argue.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, magazine tube open – Institute of Military Technology Collection

As previously mentioned, this Berger is a magazine pistol. The magazine shown here is remarkably similar to the 1860 Henry rifle magazine (or more specifically its Volcanic predecessor) in which the follower is pushed away toward the muzzle, then rotated into the open and locked position. Cartridges are then loaded, and the spring follower is returned to the engaged position.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, magazine tube open – Institute of Military Technology Collection

Shown here is another view of the magazine locked forward. Interestingly, the magazine works very well for right-handed shooters as the “magazine tray” is in the up position when the firearm is rotated 90-degrees to the right. Left-handed shooters will need to load overtop of the barrel.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, half way through the loading cycle – Institute of Military Technology Collection

Here we see the Berger with the ring-trigger partially pulled against spring pressure from the mainspring. (It was not mechanically designed to pause in this position, but the gun was being polite and held itself this way for the photo shoot). At this stage in the cycle of operations the Berger would normally be extracting the previous round and the extractor can be seen at the top of the photo. Continued pull of the trigger is also moving the hammer and the breech block rearward at this point. Note the magazine tube is in the rear position allowing the spring and follower to push rounds toward the elevator shown below.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, magazine follower – Institute of Military Technology Collection

From this view the magazine follower is visible, and a there’s a better view of the extractor.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, elevator shown – Institute of Military Technology Collection

From the top we have a much better view of the elevator and the St. Etienne barrel marking. The elevator is somewhat similar to the Remington Rider magazine pistol.


Berger Self-loading Pistol, chambered – Institute of Military Technology Collection

As we continue to pull the trigger rearward, the hammer continues to move rearward, a new round is elevated, and the breech block snaps forward feeding the cartridge into the chamber. Note that the ring trigger has been held back with a wire tie as this pistol is quadruple-action only! (Similar to those hammerless revolvers we call “double-action only” – there is no single action option). Pulling the trigger slightly further to the rear causes the hammer to fall and the weapon to fire. Hopefully the sights are still aligned to the target at that point.

CORRECTION: User yukon cornelius astutely asked in the comments, “If the pistol is quadruple action only, what is the reason for the hammer spur?”
My statement that the pistol was quadruple-action only was based on my attempt to operate the pistol in a single-action fashion, but the action bound up and it was my opinion that the Berger was not designed to operate this way. After considering yukon cornelius’ question, I reexamined the gun and found that the action was simply sticking heavily in the cycle of operation (just before the action block falls). Manipulating the hammer with a little extra gusto, I was in fact able to operate the Berger in a single action manner. Thanks for the great comment! – CRW

Corey R. Wardrop

Corey R. Wardrop is the Museum Curator for the Institute of Military Technology in Titusville, Florida where he manages one of the finest, if not the finest, firearms collections in the country. Corey is a former OIF infantry Marine and has worked professionally in the firearms industry for over 20 years. In 2014 he obtained an unrelated Bachelor of Science degree from one of the nation’s leading diploma mills. Through his work at IMT he is currently studying CAD design with an emphasis in reverse engineering rare firearms.
Corey asks forgiveness for his novice-level photographs and insists they are improving dramatically thanks to certified rockstar http://nathan-wyatt.com/. Corey can be reached at coreyrwardrop@gmail.com and always appreciates suggestions for future articles.
For the record, Corey felt incredibly strange writing this bio in the third person.


  • noob

    Sounds like a good candidate to replace the trigger with a long handled hand crank.

  • PK

    Excellent article. I hope to see more from the IMT collection, thanks for sharing!

  • iksnilol

    So… trigger pull weight and length?

    • mosinman

      20 pounds and 4 inches of travel

  • ActionPhysicalMan

    Nice work. Entertaining and informative.

  • nonobaddog

    Sooo… it is an early semi-auto. With the cutesy terms thrown in for… well, I don’t exactly know why.

    • AD

      I think the idea is that in a modern semi-auto firearm the trigger is still only either single or double action (I would say striker-fired basically counts as a single action in this context as the trigger performs the “single action” of allowing the striker to strike), while in this semi-auto the trigger itself performs four different actions as loading and ejection is handled by the trigger during a normal trigger pull rather than separately by the reciprocating action of the slide.

      So it’s a quadruple-action semi-auto (as opposed to say a double-action semi-auto Beretta 92 or a single-action semi-auto 1911); personally that’s not something that I’ve ever heard of before.

    • Corey R. Wardrop

      It’s not semi-automatic because the cartridge powder doesn’t influence the cycle of operations. Nearly all semi-auto pistols are “blowback” operations and this one is not. There were many of these self-loading pistols that operate mechanically by the shooter, all of them predating true semi-autos.

      This is like saying a Gatling is a “machine gun”. While the term was used early on, it doesn’t conform with modern terminology as it doesn’t use gas, blowback, or any other type of “automatic” operation.

      • yukon cornelius

        If the pistol is quadruple action only, what is the reason for the hammer spur?

        • Corey R. Wardrop

          This is a fantastic question, and I posted a correction to the end of the post. Thank you!

          • yukon cornelius

            Sweet, thanks! Very interesting article.

  • Mufasa

    Wouldn’t this just be a mechanical repeater?

    • Corey R. Wardrop

      In the way that a Gatling is “just a double-action rifle”, yes. 🙂 I realize the point I’m trying to make is unnecessarily semantic. Just another way to look at a neat old gun.

  • John

    You know, it would be cool if a gun manufacturer took some of these old designs, refined them or redesigned them to work better, and sold them again.

  • Goody

    If anyone makes a box fed 223 like this they’d sell half a million in Australia, because IT’S NOT A SEMI AUTO. NB it should have a pink stock, no clipatinny rails, and be shipped with a proprietary 3 round AR15 pattern mag.