WTW – Mossberg’s Brownie

mossberg brownie
| September 28, 2016
Categories: Learnin'


[This article was brought to you by JTF Awesome member Daniel Defense. In case you have been living in a cave or communist country: they’re the semi-subtle-yet-totally-baller AR manufacturer that the free world knows and loves]

Weapon Trivia Wednesday – Mossberg’s Brownie

Mike the Mook

Long before O.F. Mossberg & Sons became a world leader in producing shotguns and rifles, the New Haven, Connecticut company was famous for producing an unusual pistol in .22 rimfire. Known as the Brownie, this four barreled pepperbox could fire .22 Short, .22 Long or .22 Long Rifle.

Dubbed the Brownie, it was based on an earlier design that Oscar Mossberg patented and licensed to the C.S. Shattuck Company called the “Unique”, “Novelty” or “Invisible Defender” in 1906. Old Oscar  Mossberg (he was 62 years of age at this time) slaved away in his one-man shop banging these palm pistols out and had to put another man’s name on his creation.

The Mossberg Brownie was marketed to trappers and hunters so they could humanely kill an animal without ruining meat or pelt. We say learn how to shoot first.

However, his cause was noble and he went on to work for Marlin Rockell and Stevens Arms into his early 70s before hanging out his shingle for O.F. Mossberg & Sons some time later.

He rewrote his patent and in 1919 started producing an updated version of his four-barrelled design known as the “Brownie”.

"Patent Applied For", Oscar couldn't wait for the "Pending" to come through before he started banging out Brownies.

Brownien. (Brown-ee) Something that the Mook got kicked out of the Cub scouts for eating.

Named for a mythical creature popular in Victorian-era newspapers through the cartoons of Canadian artist, Palmer Cox, the Brownie sold for a whopping $5 ($62 in today’s currency).

Brownies were Victorian -era Smurfs that delighted children who grew tired of playing with faceless rag dolls or chasing hoops with sticks.

Today we look at the design and wonder why a semiautomatic pistol wasn’t the order of the day, as the Brownie pistol has a double-action trigger and rotating internal firing pin. Each trigger pull cocks and releases the hammer while rotating the firing pin to the next chamber. A top latch releases the barrel assembly to open forward and down for loading and unloading.

Four Bores staring across a card table is like double snake eyes!

When it came to unloading or disposing of empties, Mossberg included a sheet metal extractor to push cases rearward from the barrels. Many of these did not survive to the present day, but a cleaning rod can be used to the same effect.

The break open action made reloading slow, especially with no extractors or ejectors, but kept the cost of the Brownie at $5 shipped

Semiautomatic pistols were still in relative infancy in the early 20s, and were an expensive proposition. Just like today, when yesterday’s manufacturers cut corners to reduce costs they left us with firearms that compromise reliability. Mossberg would have none of that, and marketed his Brownie to trappers, hunters and fisherman as a reliable all-purpose pistol that could dispatch a wounded animal with one shot without ruining the pelt or meat.

By the mid 1920s, Taylor Furs of New York was selling the Brownie for $3.95 ($50 in today’s dollars) with free shipping, long before the concept of FFLs and transfer costs.

Furriers sold the Brownie at wholesale prices to trappers.


As semiauto pistols, particularly inexpensive foreign imports, became more popular and reliable, the Brownie design just wasn’t doing it anymore. The last one rolled off the assembly line sometime in 1932. It’s estimated that somewhere south of 34,000 of these little pistols were made.

Today they are more a curiosity than practical shooting iron. As their audience was primarily outdoorsmen who stowed them in pockets and exposed them to the elements, many of them are in less than perfect condition externally. As can be seen in our more-horrid-than-usual photos!

Should you find one, exercise care before loading it with modern ammunition. Although 1919 to 1932 was well after the invention of smokeless powder, today’s .22s are much hotter than their earlier brethren and we’ve seen examples of shattered chambers as a result. We run Gemtech subsonics and similar low pressure loads through ours. We reccomend the same to other shooters.

Gemtech subsonic 22 keeps pressure and noise down on the Brownie pepperbox.

It may not be as iconic as a Colt 1911, S&W Triple Lock, P-08 Luger or similar pistols of the era, but the Brownie represented Oscar Mossberg’s vision of delivering quality arms at an affordable price to working class Americans. That’s a tradition the company that bears his name continues today.


Mossberg MVP Patrol with Gemtech ONE

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Searson 1About the Author: Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.

Mike Searson 4

The Mook doing his Boondock Saints thing (and accurately, perhaps not surprisingly).


More about Daniel Defense: Chances are that if you’re reading this page, you’re at least familiar with AR-15’s. Most all of us here at BreachBangClear have carried AR’s or M4’s in professional capacities the world over, and we’ve even managed to learn a thing or two about guns along the way. We won’t sell you a line of shit–Daniel Defense is definitely a go-to manufacturer for us and has been for a long time. It’s easy to go cheaper (note that we didn’t use the term ‘inexpensive’) but much harder to do better. We are proud and enthused to have them in JTF Awesome, and it’s through JTF Awesome we make this all possible. Read about our exploits with them at SHOT Show, be sure to visit their homepage here, and give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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