The Brownie – Mossberg’s First Gun

When you first hear the words O.F. Mossberg what do you think? I’m betting it’s a shotgun, a 500 or 590 series pump action shotgun. Maybe the new 940 Pro series. Mossberg is a shotgun company, like S&W is a revolver company. It’s not entirely true, but that’s what they are known for. They certainly aren’t known for handguns, which is odd since their first gun produced was a handgun. Specifically, a little pistol was known as the Brownie.

All About The Brownie

The Brownie is an odd and interesting pistol that first premiered in 1920 and was produced in 1932. The Brownie wasn’t a revolver or a semi-auto but an oddball four-barrel pistol more in the realm of a pepperbox or advanced derringer design. It’s a .22LR handgun with a DAO trigger. The design uses an internal hammer and a rotating firing pin. Mossberg described it as semi-automatic, and by the strictest definitions, it is. It does fire one round per pull of the trigger.

The barrels opened via a latch at the rear. This allowed you to load and unload the gun. Mossberg included a small piece of metal to extract the empties that were stored in the side of the gun. These are often lost, but I still have mine. The sights are very simple, a front sight and a groove, and that’s it.

Oscar Mossberg and his sons began producing the little guns and eventually produced 30,000 of the Brownie.

Marketing the Brownie

The Mossberg Brownie was marketed to trappers and hunters. It was offered a pint-size piece of firepower that held four rounds. It’s a remarkably small gun. The barrels are 2.5 inches long, and the overall length is 4.5 inches. The gun weighs only 10 ounces. It was super small. The little gun offered itself up as a compact firearm, with Mossberg claiming it could be concealed in the palm of your hand.

What was really attractive was the five-dollar price point. If we adjust for inflation, that’s about 75 dollars and some change. Not bad, even by today’s standards. It’s quite simple and was much cheaper than other small repeating firearms of the era. The Brownie was about 20 bucks cheaper than a Colt Vest Pocket, which is considerable savings.

Shooting the Little Fella

I purchased my Brownie for 80 bucks, and it was a great get. To keep the gun safe, considering it’s almost 100 years old, I don’t use anything of the normal velocity. Instead, I used primer-only loads like the Colibri and CB Cap loads. These ensure safety and don’t inhibit the function of the pistol.

It’s quite fun to shoot. The trigger is surprisingly smooth and light for a DAO trigger. Accuracy isn’t spectacular since the sight is more of a good suggestion than a proper sighting system. None of the barrels align with it, so it’s a bit off for every shot. For killing game in traps, this wasn’t a big concern.

The recoil is nil, and the only moving external control is the hammer. No safeties, no slides, and nothing rotating externally. It’s so simple and honestly fun to shoot. It’s a bit silly, but still a uniquely cool pistol. While it might have been designed for hunters and trappers, it wouldn’t have been a terrible concealed weapon for the era. It was quite affordable, and affordability can go a long way.

Mossberg recently got back into the pistol game with their various modern subcompacts, but the Brownie is the gun that got it all started. It’s what founded Mossberg and helped turn them into America’s oldest family-owned company. Not too bad for such an odd pistol.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.