SOLD FOR: $25325
Make: Elbert Searle, presumably for Savage Arms or A.J. Savage Munitions
Model: Prototype Semi-Automatic Pistol
Serial Number: None.
Year of Manufacture: 1917-1920s
Caliber: .32 ACP
Action Type: Striker-Fired Semi-Automatic Squeeze-Cock Pistol
Barrel Length: 3 3/8”
Sights/Optics: The front sight is a short blade integral to the slide, the rear sight is a “U”-notch integral to the slide, both are in a channel which runs along the top of the slide.
Stock Configuration and Condition: The grips are two-piece smooth black synthetic panels. The right panel has a crack at the bottom edge which goes up to the screw-hole. There are tool marks around the screw holes and a few other scattered minor marks. Overall, the grips are in Very Good condition.
Type of Finish: Blued
Finish Originality: Original
Bore Condition: The bore is bright with sharp rifling. There is no erosion in the bore. In this writer’s opinion, the bore rates a 10 out of 10.
Overall Condition: This handgun retains about 96% of its metal finish. The finish is generally strong throughout with minor operational wear and some light handling marks. The screw heads are sharp. Overall, this pistol is in Fine-plus condition.
Mechanics: The action functions properly. There is a detent on the right of the frame which must be depressed to allow the squeeze-cocker forward for magazine removal or to the rear for cocking the action. There is a safety lever on the left of the frame and a second lever which retracts the feed-ramp to allow the barrel to be removed from the front of the slide. We did not fire this pistol. As with all used firearms, thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance requirements.
Box, Paperwork, and Accessories: This pistol includes a single 8-round magazine and a series of 10 original blueprints for the pistol.
Our Assessment: Savage Arms Company’s semi-automatic pistols have a very interesting history which starts entirely outside of Savage. While the company was busy manufacturing its rotary magazine lever-action rifle, three men in Philadelphia were laying the groundwork for what was likely the most promising competitor to John Browning’s Model 1911. William Condit was a businessman who opened a machine shop in Pennsylvania in 1903 and employed two inventors, Morris Smith and Elbert Searle. Of these two, Elbert Searle was the man who developed the mechanism for the quite successful Models 1907, 1915 and 1917 pistols which Savage Arms Co. produced.
Elbert Hamilton Searle was born in East Hampton, Massachusetts just before the end of the Civil War. Prior to the Great War, Searle traveled to Berlin, Germany to patent his handgun designs in Europe where he met Elizabeth Fix, an office clerk who Searle fell in love with and convinced to come back with him to Los Angeles, California and be his wife. Arthur Savage had similarly relocated to Southern California and had continued interest in improving upon the Searle pistol design. During World War I, he spent significant time back in Utica, Hartford and Bridgeport working for the War Department Ordnance Office. In addition to a desire to design an aircraft machine gun which had a fire rate of about 2,000 rounds per minute, Searle also was working on an innovative squeeze-cock pistol design, decades before the Heckler & Koch P7 would make such a mechanism famous. Bailey Brower Jr. notes in his book on Savage automatic pistols notes that back in California, A.J. Savage and Searle would work on a .25 caliber squeeze-cocking pistol. This piece demonstrates that he was certainly also working on a larger .32 and that it would likely have been possible to scale up further for .380.
Searle would eventually relocate again to the Sacramento River delta area where he pivoted from firearms and mechanical design to rice farming, though he did keep his hand in mechanical design, making instruments for the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He lived to the age of 71 and raised a daughter, Marguerite who was born in 1912. His grandchildren would describe him: “Elbert Searle was the epitome of an ‘old-school’ craftsman, dedicated to the transcendence of cutting-edge, exquisitely finished work. Although my brother and I never had the honor of meeting him, we continue to feel privileged to have grown up in his shade.”
This Searle prototype was found by his family in his desk and is a beautiful piece to add to any collection. It represents the continuing improvement of the very successful pistols designed by Searle for Savage as well as the greater landscape of automatic pistol development in the early 20th Century. With the included blueprints, this pistol will make a tremendous display and will be the envy of any Savage pistol collection.
For more information, please see this article in American Rifleman by noted author Rick Hacker:
For a visual of the pistol’s operation, please see this video from C&Rsenal: