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Semiautomatic Revolvers: This Gun Really Exists and Is No Joke

Basically, semiautomatic revolvers use the recoil energy of firing for cocking the hammer and revolving the cylinder, rather than using manual operation.

Semiautomatic Revolvers. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Semiautomatic Revolvers. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Speaking as both a firearms enthusiast and a writer on the subject, a pet peeve of mine is how some in the journalistic profession are ignorant about firearms, yet try to sound technically proficient by using the word “revolver” as if it were interchangeable with the word “handgun.”

It should be stressed that while a square is a rectangle, not all rectangles are squares. In that regard, all revolvers are handguns, yet not all handguns are revolvers! 

Some of the most egregious examples that come to my mind were cited back in the early 1990s by two of the all-time greatest gun writers, Massad F. Ayoob and Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper (USMC, Ret; considered to be the “father of modern combat handgunning”). In the case of the former, “Mas,” in a writeup on the Beretta 92F, quoted a newspaper headline stating “Revolver Safety Feature Saves Officer’s Life.” Mas, being the collegial sort of chap that he is, generously said “I’m sure Beretta will forgive [that newspaper] for calling their semiautomatic pistol a ‘revolver.’”

Jeff Cooper, on the other hand, was far more sarcastic in his reaction to a newspaper article wherein the author of the article wrote, “The deputy drew his semiautomatic revolver;” this prompted Jeff’s wisecrack that “They don’t make none of that kind like that no more.”

Maybe not “no more,” but, believe it or not, at least at one point in time “they” did make “that kind” of gun! So with that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the history of the seemingly oxymoronic semiautomatic revolvers. 

Okay, So How Exactly Does a Semiautomatic Revolver Work?

Basically, semiauto revolvers use the recoil energy of firing for cocking the hammer and revolving the cylinder, rather than using manual operations – i.e., your mainstream single-action (SA) and double-action (DA) revolvers – to perform these actions. Just like with semiautomatic pistols and rifles, the shooter must manually operate the trigger to discharge each shot. (But try explaining that to those anti-gun schmucks spouting off their ignorant “full semi-automatic” terminology!)

Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver

Though not the very first gun of its kind, this was the first commercially available and best-known semiauto “wheelie.” As noted by the super-cool and highly informative Forgotten Weapons website:

“Patented in 1896 and going into production in 1901, the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver was the brainchild of British Col. George Vincent Fosbery, VC. Fosbery was a career military officer who had served in India for many years (and won his Victoria Cross there in 1863) … The Webley-Fosbery is one of the few revolvers to feature a manual safety, which was necessary because of its manual of arms … Overall production was approximately 4200 pistols, although serial numbers go to approximately 4500 (a few blocks of numbers were skipped), and the vast majority of these were in .455 caliber. Only 417 were originally produced in .38 ACP … Production ran from 1901 until 1924 … The Webley-Fosbery had a following of both target shooters and Army officers, but it was ultimately not hugely successful and is remembered today promarily [sic] because of its unique mechanism.”

Mateba Unica Autorevolver AKA Mateba Model 6 Unica

Remember that Jeff Cooper “They don’t make none of that kind like that no more.” Well, he wrote that in 1992 … and then in 1997 that statement was rendered obsolete when, sure enough, the now-defunct Italian firearms company Mateba came out with its Autorevolver. Lasting in production until 2005, the Unica 6 was chambered in modern mainstream revolver calibers, namely .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, as well as niche calibers such as .41 Magnum and .454 Casull

At least one gun enthusiast reported thusly: “The grips in conjunction with the gun’s operating system make shooting the Mateba very pleasant even with the hottest loads … The reviews of the Mateba are very good, the gun does what it was designed to do. In the Mateba you have a magnum revolver that is able to be shot faster and with more comfort that any other magnum handgun even with the heaviest loads.” 

However, one Mateba firearms fan site provided this warning: “Grips on larger calibers have been known to crack due to recoil stress.”

With the company being defunct, I reckon Jeff Cooper’s caustic remark rings true once more after all. 

Want Your Own? LLC currently has a Mateba Unica .357 Magnum in “Sale Pending” status for $1,285.00. 

As for the Webley-Fosbery … bring a bankbook. Simpson Ltd. (“Firearms For Collectors … Family Owned and Operated Since 1962”) has one in .455 caliber, “90% blue, excellent bore, excellent grips, 6″ barrel, Beautiful original condition with all original parts., s/n 23xx”… for $16,500.00

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.

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Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).