column By: Ernie Foster | June, 17
One of the greatest and most prolific gun designers ever was John Moses Browning (Jan. 23, 1855 – Nov. 26, 1926), born in Ogden, Utah. John Browning has been credited with 128 patents in military and civilian firearms of all styles, mechanisms and models. A name branded in the firearms world, Browning created water-cooled and air-cooled machine guns, the famous M1911 handgun, automatic rifles, bolt-action rifles, auto-loading rifles and shotguns, over-under and side-by-side double-barreled shotguns and a whole product line of different caliber handguns. It is pretty hard for anyone who is engaged in the use of firearms not to run into Browning’s name.
Like many inventors, whose expertise and creativity in the field often come from working alongside an expert with a likewise intuitive mind, John Browning worked in his father’s gun shop at the early age of 7. It is obvious that his God-given gun designing genius was at work while under the tutelage of his father in the shop because, at the age of 13, he designed and made his first firearm, a single-shot falling block action rifle. Later, at the age of 24, he earned his first patent. His skills were not limited to design; with his brother Matthew he also organized his own manufacturing operation to produce his first rifle.
Browning’s model 1885 single-shot rifle caught the attention of Winchester Repeating Arms Co., which bought the design for $8,000 and moved the production of the gun to its Connecticut factory. This started Browning’s business relationship with Winchester, one in which John Browning could have used legal help when signing his financial contracts. During the early stages of the relationship, Browning designed a line of lever-action rifles, models 1886, 1887 and the famous model 1894, of which over six million have been sold.
In 1898, Browning developed his prototype for a semi-automatic (auto-loading) shotgun design, the Auto-5. Browning, having gained much more business wisdom by this time, requested a royalty fee based on sales in contrast to his earlier license with Winchester to produce his firearms for a single fee payment. Winchester refused to accept Browning’s payment arrangements, causing the Browning/Winchester business arrangement to break down and Browning to look elsewhere to produce his Auto-5. That opportunity took him to Fabrique Nationale d’e-Herstal (FN) of Liege, Belgium, which jumped at the opportunity to work with Browning. FN produced the gun and called it the Browning Auto-5 in honor of its inventor.
This Browning Auto-5 Sweet 16 circa 1950 has the mark of the Browning Arms Company in St. Louis, Missouri, and of Montreal PQ importers and distributors. It sports a 27-inch barrel with a raised matted rib, 2 ¾-inch chambers and a gold-plated trigger. The gun weighs 7 pounds. The pistol grip stock of average wood has the FN butt plate and displays field use from my three sons who used it to harvest waterfowl, upland game birds, rabbits and deer during their youth hunting years.
A gun with very special memories in this condition has a soft value of $650-$900. For this dad, it’s worth millions.