The Mannlicher M1901 – An Elegant Option

Legacy Collectibles

Have you ever wondered what happens when you mix a semi-automatic pistol with a single-action revolver? If so, you’ll be happy to know it’s been done before. In fact, it was done and patented in 1898. The pistol was released in 1901 and was appropriately named the Mannlicher M1901. This was one of the earliest semi-auto pistols ever produced and is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting looking. It’s downright elegant in its design. 

Early semi-auto pistols are incredibly interesting and often have a very steampunk appeal to them. The Mannlicher M1901 is no different. Its fascinating design blended an automatic loading system with what’s essentially the lock work of a single-action revolver. While many of the features would be ridiculously out of date by today’s standards, the weapon was ahead of its time in 1901. 

The History of the Mannlicher M1901

The pistol was designed by Ferdinand von Mannlicher. Mannlicher was already a very successful arm’s designer. He came from an upper-class family and could afford the education required for his success. These days, his name is often applied to a specific stock design where the handguard comes all the way to the end of the barrel. But he’s known for much more than that. He invented the en-bloc clip, a working rotary magazine, and is likely the inventor of the first semi-auto rifle.

His area of expertise was repeating firearms as a whole. von Mannlicher’s arms were sold to numerous countries, including the Austro-Hungarian military, the Greek Military, and the Argentinian military. 

His first semi-auto pistol, the Mannlicher 1894, was a bit of a mess. It was a blow-forward pistol that was fairly novel and also very unsuccessful. Springfield Armory tested the pistol and found it to be quite unreliable. Mannlicher went back to the drawing board and produced a patent in 1898 for what would become the M1900. 

The M1900 and the M1901 are nearly identical. Mannlicher partnered with Steyr and made small improvements to the M1900, which became the Mannlicher M1901. Since the M1901 was more successful, it’s the better subject of conversation. There is also an M1905 model that is based on the M1901 model. 

The original chambered a novel 8mm cartridge, but it was found to be lacking. In its place came the 7.63 Mannlicher. This was a straight-case cartridge that propelled an 86-grain bullet at 1,000 feet per second. It’s not much hotter than a .32 ACP cartridge. In Germany, this cartridge was called the 7.65 Mannlicher to avoid confusion with the 7.63 Mauser. 

Inside the M1901 

The M1901 is ostensibly a delayed blowback pistol. A lever is held in place by a spring that moves to unlock the slide. While it’s technically a delayed blowback pistol, it functions as a straight blowback design. Much like the Savage M1907 delay mechanism, it doesn’t seem to cause much, if any, delay. The lockwork is hidden under the left panel, and inside, it’s identical to many single-action revolvers. The design works historically, so it’s easy to see why it was used and adopted. Plus, a single-action trigger is always nice to have. A simple hammer safety can be levered in place to prevent discharges. 

The weapon does have a moving slide that functions around a fixed barrel. The recoil spring sits below the barrel but is separate from the barrel. As the weapon fires, the breechblock recoils, and the slide rails travel rearward in the receiver guides. The slide rails are combined by a crossbeam, and that crossbeam is what compresses the recoil spring and what the recoil spring pushes against. 

The operation is very simple and reportedly quite reliable. The weapon’s odd grip houses an integral, non-removable eight-round magazine. The slide locks to the rear of the gun and allows the user to reload the gun via stripper clips. Theoretically, a shooter could reload with single rounds, but it seems much less intuitive. The slide does not close instantly when the weapon is charged, but a slight rearward pull will release the slide and chamber a cartridge. 


When the user needs to unload the Mannlicher M1901, the user will hold the slide open and then press the magazine unload lever. This allows the rounds to be discharged from the magazine without the operation of the slide. 

Hot To Trot 

With a working pistol, a major manufacturer, and a new cartridge, Mannlicher and Steyr went shopping for sales. The Austrian Pistol Trials of 1904-1905 proved to be the testing ground for the Mannlicher. Details of the trials are tough to find, but we do know that the Mannlicher M1901 lost to the Dreyse M1907. The Dreyse did offer a removable magazine and chambered the much more common .32 ACP cartridge. 


The Mannlicher M1901 didn’t languish too long. The military of Argentina adopted the pistol. The military variant adopted by Argentina was known as the Mannlicher M1905. They purchased 10,000 of the pistols over several years. Small numbers were also acquired by Paraguay, but it’s not clear how many. 

Compared to its contemporaries, it was quickly outclassed. Guns like the Luger offered a more powerful round with similar recoil characteristics. Plus, detachable magazines were seen as a superior option. This led to slow sales of the pistol, even amongst the civilian populace. Sadly, the gun faded away, taking its elegant nature and simple design with it. 

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.