The Harrington & Richardson (H&R) ‘Self Loading 32 Caliber’ pistol was manufactured from 1914 (or 1916) to 1924. There were – according to one set of records – a total of 34,500 such pistols made in that period. These pistols were not designed by H&R, but were manufactured by license from Webley of England.
The pistols made by H&R were somewhat different from the Webley version. The most obvious difference is the concealed hammer; the Webley has an exposed hammer, while the H&R version has a striker fired ignition system. According to the Gun Digest Book of Automatic Pistols Assembly/Disassembly, the pistol was designed for Webley by William J. Whiting. No comment is made regarding the change from Webley to H&R design.
I have one of the H&R Self Loading 32 pistols now. In my constant prowling of various Gun Shows, this one showed up in Grand Island, Nebraska, near where I live. I am fascinated by early 20th Century .32 Automatic pistols and this one fits that description quite nicely.
My example is in the high 17xxx serial number range; about halfway through the serial number range. According to the Gun Digest book, this pistol weighs 22 ounces, is about 6 3/8 inches long, 4 ½ inches tall and carries eight rounds in the magazine. By my trigger weight device, the trigger pull is close to 11 pounds, with a bit of creep or slide which makes it feel a bit lighter. Dry firing, the trigger pull seems to break cleanly without disturbing the sights.
The sights are fixed – the standard for most of these types of pistols; the rear sight is a milled V notch in the backplate at the rear of the slide, the front sight is part of the barrel. The sights are a bit better than many sights of the era in terms of visibility. Shooting will determine how well they work.
Manufacture was a bit complicated. The slide has a separate breech block and backplate, which keeps the recoil and striker springs in place. The entire pistol is obviously machined from solid pieces of steel. Disassembly past the field strip level requires punches and such; I will not outline the process. The field strip procedure is much like the Walther PP or PPk; one pulls the trigger guard down to unlock the barrel. As far as I can tell, the H&R or Webley design is older than the Walther.
Grips are made from either gutta percha or hard plastic. They are black, checkered, and feature the H&R logo. The grips on my example screw on with a single slotted screw on either side.
There is a manual ‘thumb’ safety mounted on the frame on the left side of the pistol (presuming users are right handed). The manual safety disconnects the trigger from the sear mechanism. The pistol also has a magazine safety, which also disconnects the trigger from the sear mechanism. The safety is ‘odd’ in that the ‘up’ position is the ‘fire’ position and ‘down’ is ‘safe’. Most all modern designs tend to be ‘down’ to fire.
The frame, slide and barrel seem robust. The internal parts seem to be machined and with the exception of springs, seem to be stout and not likely to fail.
All in all, this is a solid feeling pistol. Of note, this pistol design was built in a larger frame size, incorporated a locked breech, and chambered for both the .380 Webley and the .455 Webley rounds. The .455 Webley version was adapted for use by the British Army.
It looks blocky. The grip angle is close to perpendicular to the slide; it is considerably less than the Colt Government Model. The barrel is exposed and fixed to the frame. In comparison to current semi-automatic pistol design, it is ‘odd’ looking. However, holding it in the hand is neither uncomfortable nor awkward. One also notes it is rather large for a modern .32 ACP semi-automatic pistol. It is about the same size as a Walther PP (not PPk). It was probably considered a pocket pistol when made; gentlemen’s trouser pockets were more generous in that era. It is about the same size as a Colt 1903 Pocket Pistol. The Colt seems more streamlined to the eye and is probably easier in and out of a pocket. It does share the ‘Art Deco’ look of the Walther PP – PPk, the Colt Pocket Pistol and the Savage semi-automatic pistol. Probably another reason I like these little pistols.
As always, shooting it turned up some interesting findings.
A full magazine is somewhat tricky to seat properly. As in all semi-automatic pistols, the top round in the magazine must ride against the bottom of the slide. If it did not, the cartridge would not be in position to be elevated into the path of the slide and then stripped from the magazine when the slide closes to chamber the next round. I do not know if this is endemic to the design, or just an idiosyncrasy of this particular pistol.
Ejected cases go straight up; when shooting two handed. The extractor is of the ‘top dead center’ persuasion, so it’s not a surprise. What was a surprise is, from the five shot groups I shot, nearly all were close to me, all in front, and typically no less than three empty cases were literally at my feet. This is even more a surprise as it happened on an indoor range with a concrete floor. My experience is brass cases tend to bounce on concrete. Not only do the cases eject straight up, they come pretty much straight down as well. One landed on top of my head. It makes a nice change from searching all over heckengone. When shooting one string of one handed rapid fire, the empties ejected up and forward, bearing to the left. This obviously was in reaction to my grip and hold; I hope I wasn’t overly moving the pistol while firing. The grouping of that string of fire might indicate I was so moving.
The sights, as expected (feared, perhaps?) are somewhat vague. Not when one can see them clearly and clearly silhouetted against the target, but when light changes or the sights blend into the target – which in the indoor range I use is common. I found sight pictures and groups much beyond seven yards to be vague.
The manual safety is prone to ‘bump’ on when handing and loading the pistol. I noted two or three times the safety had been moved by manipulating the pistol. Since this was an accuracy and function test, I did not use a holster. (Nor do I possess a holster fitting the pistol properly. I suppose I may have to make one.) For that reason, I saw no need to execute any ‘cocked and locked’, firing from holster drills. However, moving the safety from ‘safe’ to ‘fire’ can be done with the thumb of the firing hand. But it takes a little practice. Also, if the safety is up just a bit from the fully ‘fire’ position, the pistol will not fire.
Firing this pistol with Fiocchi ammunition gives snappy recoil. It isn’t terribly harsh or painful, but it is abrupt. The action of the pistol is firm and quick.
I fired twenty-three rounds in my evaluation. Three rounds did not fire on the first strike. Two of the three fired on the second strike. (The second strike required me to reload the same round back into the magazine and attempt to fire it a second time.) The third round would not fire during three attempts. At this point, I am unsure if the problem lies in the ammunition or the pistol. I suspect the pistol, as the ammunition works as expected in a Colt Pocket Model I have in my collection. My next venture will be to disassemble and clean the firing pin and striker spring. A bit of congealed oil will soften a striker fired pistol blow.
In addition to the misfires, I had two stoppages. One occurred when the round being fed into the chamber nosed up and the tip of the bullet proper was wedged against the hood of the barrel. With no slide hold open, the magazine is difficult to remove. The top – stuck – round is holding on to the magazine. It took me about a minute to clear the stoppage. Of course, I was being gentle, not wanting to damage the sole magazine I have for the pistol.
The second stoppage occurred on the last round of a string of shots. Similar to the first stoppage, the bullet nosed up, but instead of catching on the barrel hood, the round pointed straight up out of the ejection port. That one was easier to clear.
As for shooting: I fired strings of shots of mostly five rounds each. One string at seven yards aimed at X-ring, a string at ten yards aimed at X-ring, a string at twenty-five yards aimed at the head and finally a full eight round magazine fired high chest with one hand in rapid fire at seven yards.
Deliberate fire groups show a decent degree of accuracy. The groups at seven and ten yards – even with the barleycorn sights and rather heavy trigger pull – were nearly all in the ten ring of an NRA B27 target. One round at the ten yard line was in the nine and one in the eight ring. I will call those shots deficient due to my old eyes and the lighting conditions. (This is an evaluation of the pistol, not of me.) The sights are very light dependent; more so than modern patridge sights of larger size.
I attempted five head shots at twenty-five yards with conditional success. The impacts were all high on the paper, over the silhouette head. Had I aimed center mass, all rounds would have been on target.
For a pistol design just over one hundred years old, and considering the pistol is over ninety years old, this is a pretty sound pistol. Not the most powerful of handguns, but much more effective than a hopeful smile. As nearly all the small, .32 ACP – or 7.65 Browning – pistols of the era, it is a fascinating example of design and machining. A bit of history one can hold in the hand. And fun in the bargain.