At the end of 1905 FN’s Model 1906, designed by John M. Browning, became the world’s first handgun chambered for the .25ACP cartridge. This gun and cartridge exerted an enormous influence on handgun manufacture throughout the century that followed. Until the last decade, small automatic pistols chambering .25ACP outsold all other handgun types around the world.
The .25ACP’s extremely compact dimensions translate into some of the smallest pistols ever made, and that was its reason for existence – extreme concealability. It’s possible to build a compact pistol around the .22 Short or .22LR cartridges, too. However, their rimmed cases and rimfire ignition frequently translate into unreliability in small pistols. Compared to the .22 rounds, the .25ACP is better shaped for operation in such pistols, and its centerfire primer functions more reliably.
Despite the diminutive size of most .25ACP pistols, this pistol/cartridge combination generally results in next to no recoil. This comes as good news since .25 pistols ordinarily come with tiny grips and even scantier sights. With a more powerful cartridge such pistols would become unmanageable, but the .25ACP gives them mild manners.
The .25ACP’s positive qualities come at a cost. The price to pay is low power, leading to low stopping potential. Stories abound of assailants soaking up a magazine of these little bullets and going on to maul the pistol’s owner. Still, any handgun innately possesses menace. Anyone attacking a handgun owner has to decide whether to chance getting shot. Thus the mere presence of a handgun may suffice to stop an attack. Moreover, many people have found to their sorrow and loss that the .25ACP can be quite an unpleasant little pill.
Having established the .25ACP’s role, we now consider some of the important pistols, which enterprising manufacturers have made for the cartridge over the past century.
FN’s Model 1906 gave the .25ACP a strong start. By August 1914, when World War I began, FN had made over half a million Model 1906s. Production stopped during the war but resumed afterwards and passed one million in 1931. Model 1906 production continued, albeit at a slower pace, until 1959.
Soon after its introduction, hundreds of Model 1906 clones appeared around the world, especially in Spain. Spanish copies mostly incorporated manufacturing shortcuts, such as a concealed hammer instead of a striker, curved slide serrations, a combination manual safety lever/disassembly latch relocated above the trigger, and elimination of the Model 1906’s magazine disconnect and grip safety.
In the United States, Colt made a faithful copy of the Model 1906 from 1908 to 1946 under a licensing deal with FN. Production attained about half a million pistols.
In 1931 Fabrique Nationale introduced the “Browning Baby,” which FN created by having their talented designer Dieudonné Saive (later to perfect the High-Power pistol and invent the FAL rifle), shrink the Model 1906 even further and revamp its safety arrangements. The Baby, too, turned out extremely well for FN, which built over half a million by 1983 – later it inspired the Bauer, the Fraser and the PSP-25 clones in the USA.
Astra Model 2000 “Cub”
Along with copying the Model 1906, Spanish manufacturers made .25 caliber pistols to different designs, one of the best being Astra’s Model 2000. In 1954 Astra-Unceta y Cia, one of Spain’s premier handgun factories, replaced its Model 200 Firecat, a Model 1906 copy with the Model 2000 Cub. This incorporated an exposed hammer and eliminated a grip safety, though unusually in Spain it did include a magazine safety. Astra made over 150,000 Cubs in .25 caliber, along with many more in .22 Short and a related gun, the Model 7000, in .22LR.
Colt had Unceta manufacture the Cub for them from 1957 to 1968, after which production resumed in the USA as the “Colt Junior” between 1970 and 1973. The US factory performing this work in Accokeek, Maryland, became the nucleus of the Beretta USA plant several years afterwards, and the scene of another chapter in the .25 story.
Walther’s handgun production began with a .25 caliber “Model 1,” which appeared around 1911, Carl Walther’s son Fritz, a talented designer, having noticed the success of FN’s Model 1906. The Model 1 featured an open slide and a pushbutton manual safety.
Walther’s Model 2 soon followed. Its enclosed slide and rotary safety brought it more in line with contemporary practice. The Model 5 was simply a refined Model 2 made to a higher standard of fit and finish, as Walther’s customers have since come to expect.
The Model 7 appeared late in World War I as a “staff officer’s pistol.” Unlike most .25 caliber pistols, made to a tiny “vest pocket” size, Walther made the Model 7 slightly larger to improve its military potential. This enlargement greatly enhanced the Model 7’s handling compared to its smaller brethren. A few .25 pistols have since followed the Model 7’s lead.
The Model 8, introduced in 1920, represented a radical departure from earlier models. Beautifully engineered, it proved very popular despite its high price. Walther’s first handgun to enjoy large-scale international sales, the Model 8 did much to establish the company beyond Germany. Like the Model 7, the Model 8 was a little larger than the typical run of .25 pistols, though still eminently concealable.
Walther introduced the Model 9 in 1921. One of the smallest .25 caliber pistols ever made, it also became a huge success. Before World War II the Model 9 inspired several copies, notably the Czech Perla, the French MAB-B and Mikros, the Spanish Star Model E and, well after the war, the US Raven pistol covered below. The Model 9’s success also encouraged FN to create the “Baby” to compete with it. During World War II the Model 9 became a favorite among high-ranking officers and proved popular for aviation use and as a hideout model for Nazi officials and soldiers.
Walther’s first post-World War II .25 caliber pistol, the Model TP, appeared in 1961. With a total production in .22LR and .25ACP calibers of just 22,000 units, the TP, basically a rehash of the Model 9, was not particularly successful. Walther decided to develop an updated .25 pistol, the TPH, which included a double-action trigger mechanism based on the company’s highly successful PP and PPK. Introduced in late 1968, the TPH supplanted the TP. It soon became one of Walther’s most popular pistols overseas, but its small size made it un-importable to the USA. To make the TPH available to American shooters, between 1986 and 1999, Interarms built the TPH under license, in both blued and stainless steel finishes. Though the .22LR caliber TPH is more common, the .25 variant is more reliable, and highly accurate as well.
Beretta and Taurus
Beretta also saw the Model 1906’s phenomenal success and created a competing design of their own in 1919. In 1935 Beretta modified this to create the Model 318, which they produced until 1946. The similar Model 418 went into production during the following decade.
The Model 950, introduced in 1956, inaugurated a new operating system, based on a hinged barrel whose breech rose when the shooter pushed a release lever located on the frame’s left side. In 1978 Beretta USA placed the single-action Model 950BS with added manual safety in production at the plant formerly used to make the Colt Junior. The 950BS stayed in production there until 2002.
Beretta retained the Model 950’s tipping-barrel operating system in its subsequent .25ACP pocket pistol designs, which it updated with a double-action trigger. First came the Model 20, produced in Italy beginning in the late 1960s and, from 1983 to 1985, in the USA. Beretta then developed the slightly larger Model 21 in the late 1970s to chamber either .25ACP or .22LR cartridges. Though it never went into series production in Italy, the Model 21A replaced the Model 20 at Beretta USA and remains in production there.
Brazil’s Taurus firm introduced a Model 21 variant as the PT-22 in .22LR and PT-25 in .25ACP in 1983. Like Beretta USA’s Model 21A, the Taurus pistol has been made in the United States since 1991, at a facility in Miami, Florida.
Both Beretta and Taurus pistols make top choices. Their slightly greater size confers superior handling and shooting qualities on them compared to the general run of .25ACP pistols, yet they remain eminently concealable.
Czech firearms have enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for quality, value and reliability. Czech .25ACP pistols have seen worldwide use both for military and civilian use.
One of the first Czech .25s came from Praga Zbrojovka, a short-lived firm that briefly employed Czechoslovakia’s most talented designers. Vaclav Holek’s vz 21 “Praga” pocket pistol is interesting even today. An ultra-concealable pistol, which the shooter could carry safely in a pocket while loaded, the vz 21 featured a folding trigger. After loading the gun, the shooter pressed the trigger forward while drawing back the slide to cock the concealed hammer. The slide’s forward movement folded the trigger up into the frame. The shooter could then place the pistol in a pocket. To smooth its profile even more the vz 21 used a simple groove atop the slide instead of raised front and rear sights.
To prepare the vz 21 for firing, the shooter placed his index finger in the recess in the slide front and retracted it, causing the trigger to spring down. The shooter could then fire normally.
Holek cleverly simplified the vz 21 for mass production. In most pistols the slide was machined to shape from bar stock, an expensive and labor-intensive procedure, but the vz 21’s sheet steel slide was stamped into shape. A separate block pinned into the slide contained the breech. The vz 21 was among the earliest pistols to feature such construction.
Despite its ingenious design, the vz 21 brought little commercial success to Praga Zbrojovka, which made only about 8000 vz 21s before going bankrupt in 1926. Nevertheless, it anticipated future designs, notably the SIG P220 pistol series. The vz 21’s smooth contours and ease of use by left-handed shooters as well as right-handers also inspired later designers.
The CZ 45, another Czech design that exerted a strong influence on modern pistols, also enjoyed considerable commercial success in its own right. Its double-action-only trigger mechanism, smooth shape, and almost complete unavailability in the USA (due to political issues raised by the Cold War) inspired several US clones. First of these was the Seecamp, which appeared in 1982 chambered for .25ACP. Three years later the Seecamp appeared chambered for the larger, more powerful .32ACP cartridge, and difficulties obtaining this pistol encouraged the development of similar pistols from Autauga Arms and North American Arms. A more direct CZ 45 copy, Intratec’s Pro-Tec, was produced from 1991 until 1997. Except for a slight change in its frame contour, the Pro-Tec was virtually identical to the CZ 45.
Back in Czechoslovakia, the CZ 45 underwent a slight change to its external appearance to become the “Model 70” in 1970. The latest variant, the CZ 92, appeared in 1992 and sells around the world, though size restrictions imposed on imported handguns by the Gun Control Act of 1968 make it virtually unavailable in the USA.
Another long-lived Czech .25, the DUO was made for over 50 years under various names and business arrangements. Czech gunmaker Frantisek Dusek began importing FN Model 1906s in the early 1930s. He then imported Spanish Singer and Ideal Model 1906 clones before introducing the similar “DUO,” based on the Ideal, in 1938. The DUO lacked a grip safety but was otherwise very similar to the Model 1906. Quality was high, an FN-type manual safety was included, and, further following FN practice, the DUO employed a striker rather than a hammer to ignite the cartridge primer. Over 115,000 DUOs were produced by 1945. As the “Pistole Z,” and later the “Model 70,” it stayed in production into the early 1990s. Though uncommon in the United States, DUO variants show up frequently overseas.
In terms of sheer quantity, the Raven MP-25 qualifies as one of the world’s top handguns ever. Introduced in 1970, it was the sole product of Raven Arms Company, which made over two million of these little pistols before their factory burned down in 1991. Phoenix Arms then took up Raven pistol production, building several million more by 1999, when they replaced the Raven with a design of their own, the HP 22/25, which remains in production.
The Raven’s design largely follows those of Walther’s Model 9 and FN’s Baby. However, the Raven went a step further than its illustrious predecessors by serving a market disinclined to spend top dollar for superb workmanship and refinements. Thus the Raven introduced low-cost cast zinc metallurgy. This made for a larger, clumsier looking gun, yet the Raven garnered an impressive reputation for accuracy and reliability, all for less than $80.
Since the late 1990s firearms technology has developed improved handguns chambering larger, more effective cartridges in small, concealable packages. Such guns have largely supplanted the .25ACP pistols so dominant in the previous century. Only a handful of .25 autos remain in production. Nevertheless, tens of millions of .25s have been made and one may turn up literally anywhere.
Read our reviews of the following Lightfoot and Byrd knives from Spyderco and Timberline.
by Matt Berger / Jul 15, 2009