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August 22, 2019

John Moses Browning’s High Power Pistol

By Danielle Hollembaek

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You’d be hard pressed to find a firearm designer who will ever be as important as or more prolific than John Moses Browning. As the developer of the famous patented M1911 pistol and as the designer of many Winchester and Colt models gun enthusiasts know and love, Browning is one of those names that shaped firearms. As a man with so many achievements it is hard to pin down what his greatest firearm design was in his decades of development, but one could argue that aside from the M1911, the Browning High Power takes a close second as one of his utmost important creations.

History of the Browning High Power Pistol

The story of the Browning High Power starts like many firearms that served for military use, a government saw a need for a new gun for its service men. Browning was working as the chief weapon designer for the Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium in 1921 when he received a request for an extremely high capacity pistol. The FN asked Browning create a high capacity automatic pistol that could fire 10 to 15 rounds a cartridge with 9mm Parabellum magazine. Browning told the FN that the current capacity of 7 to 8 rounds per magazine was well suited for military use and 15 rounds would be excessive. FN was adamant about this proposed design and had Browning’s assistant firearm designer, Dieudonné Saive, start working on a prototype. Once Saive had his mocked up version of the gun, FN requested Browning take a look and try to make improvements on the design. With days of careful consideration and a good amount of reluctance, Browning took the prototype to his shop in Ogden, Utah and started working on developing the new pistol.
After weeks of designing, Browning came up with two designs that could support the high capacity demands. The first was a blowback style pistol where the barrel moved parallel with the breech block and slide but did not lock to the slide. The functionality was not quite in line with what Browning or FN imagined, so he went on to develop his second design with a locked-breech. Browning had to be sure the pistol was different enough in design from his M1911 since he had sold away rights to Colt Firearm Manufacturers for the patent. In fact, the Browning High Power had to be presented to Colt before the FN since all newly manufactured Browning patents in the US had to go through Colt due to a contractual agreement. Colt had no interest in this pistol and passed along the rights to produce to Browning.

Browning applied for a patent for his new High Power pistol design with 16 round capacity magazine on June 28, 1923. The pistol was equipped with a double stacked column magazine and a pivoting trigger. This is one of the earliest pistols to use a striker fire mechanism. The approval process took years and unfortunately the patent was not granted until February 22, 1927, about four months after Browning had passed away. His last patent and firearm design was the earliest version of the Browning High Power. His efforts to keep improving the gun were continued by Saive, but all rights to the pistol now belonged to the FN. The FN assigned Saive to continue working on the design until it matched the criteria needed. Val Allen Browning, son of John, took over Browning Firearms Company and aided Saive in his design process.

The two went on to make several different improvements to the original design. The main focus was to streamline the look, parts, and function of the gun without losing too much capacity. The first true Browning High Power pistol came about in 1935. The final product was quite different than the original drafted designs of John Mose Browning. It had a capacity of 13 rounds and came standard with a detachable stock, although this feature would be discontinued after World War II. An adjustable tangent-type rear sight and ordinary rear sight model were the first two designs for the Model 1935 High Power pistol. The gun functioned very well and had the speed and capacity armies were looking for at the time.
Belgium began using the new design in 1935. It wasn’t long before Peru, Lithuania, and Estonia had their own versions of the Browning High Power. The pistol was showing great promise as a tactically excellent gun so many countries desired it. Germany took over FN Manufacturing for a during World War II and the Nazis began making their own Browning High Power pistols. Even after the war, new versions and adaptations of the Browning High Power were in development and they became widely available on the civilian market. If you want to take a deep dive into the many variations of High Power pistols, a great source is the book The Browning High Power Automatic Pistol by R. Blake Stevens. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the popular hand gun and its variety of styles.

The Browning High Power Pistol in Pop Culture

The classic gun has been featured in many movies and sitcoms throughout the years. It made its Hollywood debut in 1949 with the Cold War-era thriller, The Third Man. The movie featured the famous actor, writer, and director, Orson Wells and has been called, “one of the greatest motion pictures of the twentieth century” by critics and fans alike. Since then, different country’s models of the High Power have been included in their own movies and television shows. It is no exaggeration to say that the gun has been in hundreds of shows and movies, from live action to animated films, and also quite a few video games.

Browning High Power Pistols at RIAC

In our upcoming September Premier Auction, RIAC will be offering a number of good conditioned and impressive Browning High Power pistols. From original Fabrique Nationale pistols to highly engraved Belgium models, you will not be disappointed in the offerings available.

Lot 1680: Fabrique Nationale Model 1935 Semi-Automatic Pistol with Holster. Available this September.

One of the most coveted of the Browning High Power pistols is the very early production and extremely rare authentic FN pistol accompanied by its letter. It is among the first weapons made after the liberation of Belgium from Germany in 1944. The gun is the astounding serial number 1 and still holds 98% of its original blue finish.

The gun most likely belonged to a “Colonel Taylor” which could refer to a number of different colonels by that name with one of the potential matches being a four-star general. Either way, a gun of this prestige surely belonged to a highly esteemed military man at one time.

Lot 1747: Virgil Graham Signed Engraved and Extensively Gold Inlaid Belgian Proofed FN High Power Semi-Automatic Pistol. Available this September.

A few of the highly embellished guns include this Belgium proofed FN High Power pistol engraved and inlaid by contemporary engraver Virgil Graham. The gold inlaying on the gun is extensive and delicate. This level of detail and beauty equates to a very rare High Power pistol. There is some mystery behind the gun with its inscribed backstrap that reads, “Walker Patterson Inman” which could be connected to a wealthy tobacco and cotton family.

Another finely decorated and signed Belgium Browning High Power in the September Auction is engraved by Charles Weiss. Manufactured in 2000, this is a more modern High Power pistol equipped with a tangent sight. The marvelous floral scrolling covers about 40% of the gun which is white and contrasts beautifully against the blue. This is just another example of a marvelous High Power pistol.

Lot 1746: Charles Weiss Signed Engraved Belgian Browning High Power Tangent Sight Semi-Automatic Pistol. Available this September.

The End of Production of Browning High Power Pistols

The Browning High Power pistol continued to be produced in various versions, calibers, and capacity until the end of 2017 by FN. That is over 80 years of production and in that time, millions of Browning High Power pistols have been manufactured and used around the world. Over a dozen countries still have the High Power guns issued as a standard military sidearm. Few guns will ever reach the level of fame or recognition that the High Power has achieved.

Price Changes of the Browning High Power Pistol

The chart below demonstrates how Browning High Power pistols have not only held a good price over the years, but also increased in value according to Rock Island Auction Company sales data.

This chart shows our sales over the past 7 years of all Browning High Power 9mm. The condition selected was very good to near new. The average number of guns sold per year in this sample was 19. Any very rare or historical guns were removed. It was a nearly a 50/50 mix of curio & relic and modern guns.

The spike in the last few years could be due to the ending of production meaning the only way people can get their hands on a Browning High Power is by purchasing one through an auction or used gun shop. The fact that there are no more being produced is a major factor when people consider buying a firearm. It is always interesting to see the change in value over time since so many popular firearms seem to increase in price steadily each year.

Lot 1755: Collector’s Cased Set of Three Engraved Belgium Browning Renaissance Semi-Automatic Pistols. Available this September.

The Browning High Power pistol is a one of a kind type of gun. Few pistols will ever reach anywhere close to the history and prestige of the Browning High Power which makes owning one of the guns a great opportunity for any gun collector. Check out our September 6th-8th Premier Auction catalog to see the High Power pistols we have in the sale. You are bound to find a Browning to fit your interests and budget.

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