Banned in Boston: Old School High Capacity Astra

The first successful repeating firearms, Colt’s, were five-shot (Paterson) and six-shot (Hartford) revolvers. Before that, double barrels and cartridge loading were the best that designers could offer in terms of firepower. Many improvements were made in the succeeding half century, from the sensible (auto pistols holding seven or eight shots, and lever and bolt repeating rifles) to the fanciful (behemoth 20-round pinfire revolvers). But state of the art in the first decade of the 20th Century was a six-shot revolver, or a pistol with, usually, a seven-shot magazine. And then, there’s this. 

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 4

Naturally people wanted more than seven shots, even then, and this oddity is one of the attempts to meet that demand. Of course, as a semi-automatic pistol with more than 10 rounds capacity, it’s now banned in Boston (and everywhere else in Massachusetts), even though it’s about a century old — and something a wise man would be slow to start a fight with.

It’s an Astra Model 100, an early product by the Basque gunmaker that produced a wide range of guns for nearly a century, surviving a monarchy, communists, fascists, and a constitutional restoration, before finally succumbing to a combination of regulatory burden and market failure in the 1990s. The company was originally called Esperanza y Unceta after its founders, Juan Esperanza Salvador and Pedro Unceta, and used the “Astra” name as a brand. It operated in Eibar and in Guernica. Later the company would be renamed Astra, Unceta et. Cie. The last of the Unceta family managers would be murdered by Basque terrorists in 1977 and the company would decline thereafter, and fail permanently in 1998.

Here’s the other side of the same pistol.

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 4

The pistol is marked Automatic Pistol – Astra Patent – Cal. 7.65 and chambers the .32 ACP round (7.65 mm x 17SR). The magazine holds 12 of them. Yes, the long grip is awkward. Here is the pistol compared to some more normally-sized Euro .32s we happened to have out, a Czechoslovak Praga (roughly the same size and shape as the Browning 1910) and the Mélior featured the other day (same size and shape as the Browning 1900).

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 1

And here are the magazines. The Praga and Mélior magazines slide into each other’s mag well, but they have different modes of attachment. We’ll be covering the Praga later. As you can see, all three exactly copy the magazine angle of the 1900 Browning. The spirit of Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (the Tom Lehrer version, not the actual mathematician) was hard at work in the European arms industry!

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 2

The Astra is in rough cosmetic shape, but it is well endowed with more or less readable markings. Spanish pistols of the prewar era (at least) bear a “triad” of proof marks, and the ones on this pistol suggest manufacture likely before 1927, probably before 1929 and certainly before 1931 (the central proof mark bears the crown of King Alfonso, deposed in  1931). The marks can be seen on the tang below: the Spanish shield with cross and crown, the “PV” stamp (possibly a smokeless proof), and the Eibar rampant lion indicating the proof house.

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The thing hanging down behind the trigger is the safety. Here, it is in the FIRE position. Up, rotated through about 100º, it is in SAFE, and there it can lock the slide back to facilitate disassembly.

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 12

In typical Browning fashion, the barrel rotates 90º to disconnect from the retaining lugs machined into the frame. However, we found that the slide did not come off in the usual Browning fashion, although it was possible to winkle the barrel out. (If you look very closely or blow up the picture below, you can see the lugs on the bottom near the breech end – right. Meanwhile, the muzzle end, left, has flutes, apparently to assist in rotating the barrel).

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This pistol bears the number 8862 on the frame, 862 on the slide, and what looks like 082 (or 280) on the barrel.Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 15

But the most interesting marking, by far, is the Asian ideograph markings flanking the digits “84” in that last image. Chinese, probably, but what do they say?

In the end, it’s an interesting pistol, that came to us via an auction’s bycatch. If only we could interrogate it, and learn its history! What did it do in the Civil War? How did it get to China, and what did a Chinese owner do with it?

But it will not talk. We have to be content to note that this was a credible attempt at a modern magazine capacity years before Browning and Saive did it with the Browning P35 High Power. It would hold the .32 ACP capacity crown until the brief era of the low production CZ-83 in 7.65. Untouched by greatness, the Astra 100 rests forever in the realm of firearms curiosities.

21 thoughts on “Banned in Boston: Old School High Capacity Astra

    1. Chris W.

      Sorry, it IS a Han Character….

      2nd: Country?

      3rd one is most likely this one:

      4th one I don’t know as I can’t draw for crap to begin with, let alone with a mouse. But I used this page to try and figure them out:

      To the right of the search box up top on that page, click on the paintbrush and you can try your hand at drawing the symbols and they’ll show you a bunch of similar chinese symbols (words) in a box to the right as you draw.

      Maybe something like “Avenge” “Country” “?” 84 “?”

      1. Bunyip Bluegum

        Keeping in mind my complete lack of any knowledge of guns or anything relevant here, I would say:

        Bao does mean “avenge” as well as “report” and hence used in “newspaper”. But here, when it is with Guo, “country”, it means to defend the nation or something similar. If it was not so clearly marked as being Spanish I would have guessed that was a company or arsenal name.

        第84号 just means “the Eight fourth”.

        The characters are in pre-1949 non-simplified Chinese. The Japanese now use the simpler “guo” for “nation” just like the ChiComs do. However I am not sure what they did before the American Occupation simplified their Kanji. The “hao”, the last character, is trying to be Classical. Not standard Chinese but an archaic form.

        So the assumption would have to be it was an official weapon of the Guomindang government.

  1. TRX

    Well, long before *that* there was the Model 1907 Savage, with 10 rounds of .32 ACP. And since it had a double-stack magazine, it wasn’t nearly as malproportioned.

  2. Chris W.

    I’ve sent an image file of the last pic to an associate that has a daughter that just graduated in a language course that might be able to translate it as well. We’ll see what comes of it! I also thought about sending the image to Arizona State University to a Chinese Professor there, but with the Liberal Indoctrination going on at schools today, I thought better of it lest I get put on the terrorist watch list!

  3. John Distai

    On a different note, there is a message board at work where someone was selling a Japanese Arisaka rifle. Someone asked if the Chrysanthemum mark was intact. The seller said it was not. What is the significance of the Chrysanthemum mark being intact?

    1. DaveP

      The rifle has not been deflowered, of course.

      I kid, and am curious as to the answer. Proof marks are a wild Rosetta stone, indeed.

    2. DSM

      After the war the Japanese removed the mums before turning in their rifles as it was a symbol of their Emperor (not Palpatine). To have a a rifle with the mum intact meant it escaped that fate either as a war trophy from a fallen Japanese soldier or from a captured stockpile. That’s the short story as I remember it, I’m sure someone else here knows it in more detail.

    3. Hognose Post author

      I think someone has answered this already, but when Japan decommissioned her military weapons per the surrender documents, the Imperial symbol was normally defaced by grinding. Combat recovered weapons and weapons that were surrendered by Japanese units directly to Allied control were not so ground. The “ground mum” as collectors call it is more common than the intact one and bears a premium.

  4. 10x25mm

    I have a Plus Ultra pistol which has a double column magazine that holds 20 rounds of 7.65x17mm cartridges. Believe this pistol was made by Gabilondo in Spain in the same time frame as this Astra. It also came into the U.S. from China, but does not have any Chinese markings.

    Gabilondo dramatically improved and revised their products in the wake of lost French ‘Ruby’ pistol contracts at the end of WW I to keep their facilities occupied. The Plus Ultra was introduced with a number of other updated Gabilondo products in 1925. It may even been an attempt to get in on the French RFQ for high capacity handguns which birthed the Browning High Power and the Petter SACM 1935 / SIG P.210. Or it possibly stimulated the French to RFQ a high capacity handgun! Regardless, it is the first production handgun with a double column magazine in the grip and there are several references to it in official French military correspondence.

    Photos of my Plus Ultra here:

    1. Hognose Post author

      Fascinating! If you’d asked me to name a double-feed double-stack pistol, the only ones I could come up with were Stechkin and Steyr GB (LES P-18).

      I have a German language book coming on Basque autopistols.

    2. Brad

      Not the first pistol with a double column magazine in the grip. I believe that honor goes to the Savage 1907. But holy smokes, that Plus Ultra is two column feed!

      1. Hognose Post author

        And the strange this is, I’m fairly sure Thompson patented the two column feed, and seems to have done so after the Plus Ultra.

  5. William O. B'Livion

    > Yes, the long grip is awkward.

    I’ve got a 30 or 31 round magazine for my 92FS, and yeah, awkward.

    It does shoot for a while though.

    Really I bought them for my CX-4 Storm, but had to try the magazines in the Beretta because.

  6. vokosigan

    Also notable for high capacity .32s is the Unique pistol, French , outfitted with a horseshoe or U-shaped magazine of 25 or 35 round capacity. This was manufactured about 1930.

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