Mossberg’s First Pistol – The 1919 Brownie

    Mossberg Now & Then: Brownie & MC1 - NOT to scale.

    Recently Mossberg, one of America’s oldest gun companies best known for their shotguns, launched their first pistol – the Mossberg MC1. Well not quite their first, 100 years ago this year, the company launched another small, compact pistol – the Mossberg Brownie.

    Mossberg Brownie

    Mossberg’s First Pistol, the Brownie – a very early example (RIA)

    Tom briefly mentioned the original Mossberg pistol in his review of the MC1, so I thought it was worth taking a more detailed look at the Brownie. The Brownie is one of a number of pistols designed by Mossberg’s founder, Oscar Mossberg. He patented the genesis of the Brownie in 1905, and licensed the design out to the Shattuck Company. Shattuck produced the small 4-barrelled palm pistol as the ‘Unique’ from 1905 until 1915.

    Mossberg Shattuck

    Oscar F. Mossberg’s patent for the ‘Unique’ (US Patent) & a .32 Shattuck ‘Unique’ (RIA)

    After the First World War, Oscar and his sons Harold and Iver set up their company. Their first product was not as you might expect a shotgun, instead it was a small .22 calibre derringer-style pocket pistol, the Brownie. The Brownie evolved from Oscar’s earlier pocket pistol design, he patented the new pistol in August 1919, launching it in 1920. The Brownie, named after a then-popular small impish cartoon character ‘the Brownies‘ popularised by Canadian author Pamela Cox, the small Kodak Brownie camera was also named after ‘the Brownies’.

    Mossberg Brownie ad

    Contemporary advert for the Brownie dating from the 1920s (source)


    Mossberg’s small pocket pistol proved popular, costing around $5, and marketed as “protection at a trifling sum” by contemporary adverts. The gun was aimed at trappers as a handy tool as well as a defensive weapon that could be “easily concealed in the palm.”

    The Brownie weighs just 10 ounces and is 4.5 inches long overall. It has a number of interesting features, including a hinged barrel assembly with four 2.5 inch rifled barrels and an action that is locked by a pivoting latch on top of the pistol. The pistol doesn’t have an extractor built in, instead it came with a small, flat ejector rod that slipped into the side of the receiver. Easily lost and not ideal for rapid reloads. The Brownie came with black walnut grip panels and either a blued or nickle finish.


    The Brownie had a double action trigger that fired one barrel with each pull. The hammer striking a rotating firing pin to fire the barrels in succession with each pull. Most of the pistols are marked with Mossberg’s 1920 patent date but some earlier examples, like the one pictured above are marked ‘PAT. APPL’D. FOR’.

    LifeSizePotato has a pretty good video showing the Mossberg Brownie in action:

    Here’s Oscar Mossberg’s patent for the improved Brownie, granted July 27th, 1920, showing how the hinged action worked:

    brownie patent

    Mossberg’s Brownie patent (US Patent)

    Mossberg manufactured the Brownie well into the 1930s and produced just over 30,000. While not a runaway success the little pocket pistol was successful enough to let Mossberg and his sons grow their company adding a series of shotguns, target rifles and bolt-action hunting rifles to their line. The Brownie enabled Mossberg to eventually become a household name, it’s fitting that 100 years on from the founding of the company Mossberg have returned to their roots and offered a new compact pistol.

    Matthew Moss

    _________________________________________________________________________ – Managing Editor – Managing Editor

    Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written several books and for a variety of publications in both the US and UK. He also runs Historical Firearms, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matt is also co-founder of The Armourer’s Bench, a video series on historically significant small arms.

    Here on TFB he covers product and current military small arms news.

    Reach Matt at: [email protected]