There were some fantastic, sturdy, dependable pistols produced in the past, without question.
However, there’s no question that modern firearms, in general, are more efficient, more reasonably engineered, lighter, more reliable, and—due to modern oversight, standardization, and enforced regulations—considerably safer than the handguns of the past.
Among the advancements modern pistols enjoy over their predecessors is capacity.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find a 9mm pistol with a flush magazine carrying 18, 19, or 20+1.
That’s three times or more than the capacity of the average revolver or semi-automatic pistol carried by civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel from the Civil War to the war in Vietnam.
However, that’s not to say our sidearm-carrying antecedents had no interest in high-capacity handguns.
Quite the opposite, in fact. And what the arms manufacturers of the past may have lacked in polymer frames, SAAMI standardized cartridges, or extended, double-stacked sticks of 33 rounds of 9mm ammo, they made up for with innovation.
French Union Pistol
Among the confusing variety of pistols that have been called “Union” is the French Union Pistol that definitely stands out.
The French Union Pistols were first produced around 1925 in .25 and .32 calibers and some had a selective fire switch, making them fully-automatic machine pistols.
To accommodate the full auto option for their .32 caliber model, in 1930 French Union patented the 35-round capacity horseshoe magazine.
It’s pretty much just what it sounds like: a magazine that extends down from the grip and loops back up to a brace that tucks against the frame beneath the barrel.
As… unique as it looks, apparently it was well engineered and functioned quite effectively.
Sunngård Automatic Pistol
Two decades before the French Union patented their horseshoe, Norwegian inventor Harald Sunngård put their capacity to shame with the 50-round capacity of the Sunngård Automatic Pistol.
He did so by featuring two (large) magazines of .25 caliber in the grip magazine well.
When finished emptying one of the 25-round magazines, the shooter dropped it and pushed the second magazine into shooting position.
While a 50-round capacity in a handgun before 1920 is amazing, unfortunately for Harald, no military picked up his invention.
M1942 Sosso Pistol
The M1942 Sosso Pistol is a fascinating experiment in a high-capacity magazine designed by the Italian military in World War II.
Rather than the traditional spring-feed-and-follow mechanism, the Sosso employs a 21-round capacity belt-fed chain inside the magazine.
Every shot rotated the next belt link cartridge into place.
To the chagrin of bulk 9mm ammo producers everywhere, the Sosso’s “infinity loop” belt-feeding mechanism likewise never caught on.
Guycot Chain Pistol
A sort of cousin to the Sosso, the 1879 Guycot (a portmanteau of the two inventors’ names) Chain Pistol employed an internal chain-feeding mechanism to realize a 40-shot capacity.
The chain featured 40 diminutive cylinders that took 6.5mm “Rocket Ball” cartridges reminiscent of the “Volcanic Pistol” system.
Rocket Ball ammunition was a hollowed slug packed with powder and covered by a primitive primer. Predictably, that meant an extremely low-powered projectile.
The .25 caliber cartridge put their velocity to shame, meaning that, clever as it was, the Guycot Chain Pistol suffered the same ignominy of the other inclusions here.
Sure, high-cap double-stacked Glocks and 30+1 .22 WMR magnums right off the shelf are now par for the course.
And the traditional feed-and-follow spring mags are often more reliable, efficient, user-friendly, and cost-effective than chain guns and horseshoes.
But the ancestors of today’s high-caps remind us of a time when sidearm production was a new frontier of often ingenious innovation, creativity, and, regardless of their fate, incredibly impressive engineering.
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