James recently wrote a pretty in-depth article looking at the pros and cons of the Full Conceal Glock pistol conversion system. This got me thinking ‘has anyone done this before?’ So I delved into the online patent archives, which is how all the cool guys spend their evenings, and went in search of earlier folding pistol designs – specifically ones that have a folding grip. I wasn’t disappointed. I found a number of patents for folding pistols dating all the way back to the 1860s. Lets take a look at some of the earlier designs which appeared during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The earliest example of a folding gun I was able to find was patented by B.T. Loomis in February 1866. An unusual revolver, with a folding grip. Safety was Loomis’ priority, in his patent he explains:
The object of my invention is to secure greater compactness and safety in revolving cylinder-pistols than has been obtained heretofore. This is done by making the under side of the stock to swing open and shut at pleasure, by having the trigger fold in with Vthe movable stock, by having the hammer entirely incased in the stock, so that no part projects to be caught in transportation, and by so arranging the slotted chamber-piece that the hammer never rests on a loaded cartridge except at the instant of discharge
The revolver used a coiled circular mainspring with an enclosed hammer. From the patent drawings the revolver hardly looks ergonomic and the calibre would have been small. Fig.4 shows an unusual cut in the cylinder into which the hammer could rest to lock the cylinder while the pistol was folded.
In the late 1860s, Louis Dolne developed an interesting combination weapon, comprising a knuckleduster, a dagger and a pin fire barrel-less revolver. With the body of the knuckleduster acting as the pistol grip. Dolne’s pistol has a folding trigger and a spur-less hammer and a 6-shot cylinder. Dolne’s pistol is often referred to as the ‘Apache’ revolver, named after the French Les Apaches criminal street gangs of the late 19th century. Unlike Loomis’ revolver, the Apache, was produced and fairly widely copied.
There is then a substantial jump to the next patented folding handgun I found, dating from 1901 it is radically different to the earlier Loomis revolver.
In 1901, Italian inventor Gaetano Gioda patented a small calibre pistol that could be “folded against the handle for convenient insertion and carrying in the pocket.” Gioda’s patent describes his folding pistol:
an improved pistol of the class which can be readily carried in the pocket and which pistols are provided with magazines for receiving a supply of cartridges; and the objects of the invention are to provide a pistol which permits the folding of the barrel alongside of the handle, which is provided with means for quickly looking the barrel in position at right angles to the handle, and which is so constructed that the supply of cartridges in the magazine of the handle can be rapidly fired in succession.
Gioda’s little blowback pistol, got around the problem of needing a folding trigger by having an unusual trigger at the bottom of the pistol grip. When the user wanted to deploy the pistol “the locking-pin is released and. the barrel swung on its fulcrum a into position at right angles to the handle and locked in this position”
A couple of years later in May 1905, the Belgian Oury company patented what would become the NOVO folding revolver. The revolver was produced by Oury, and copied by others, in Belgium for a number of years as a compact pocket or purse revolver. It had an internal hammer, folding trigger and a five-shot cylinder. The grip folded forward to cover the trigger and base of the frame. In 1922, Henry Rosier patented a ‘Folding Revolver’ in the US, very similar to that patented in Belgium by D.D. Oury in 1905.
While Full Conceal’s folding conversion is undoubtedly more advanced and successful than some of the designs which have preceded it, it is by no means a new concept. Designers have long sought to create the most compact pistol possible by using a ‘folding’ grip. Incidentally, while searching I also found the patent for Full Conceal’s system.