|Magazine||9 rnds removable||Weight||1.9 lb|
WWI was a maelstrom no one fully expected and the French quickly ran short of small arms. They turned to nearby Spain for cheap and plentiful stocks of these simple pistols.
John Browning’s 1903 was a major success and in many ways sealed the overall shape and operation of what we consider the modern semi-automatic pistol. The design proved particularly popular in Spain which, at the time, had an unusually high demand on copyright holders. Without domestic production in Spain, the FN and US companies could not uphold their copyrights past 4 years (or fewer). So a number of small shops in the Eibar region began producing modified copies for sale locally and internationally. Almost all of these conformed to a single, general design known as the “Eibar Type.” Credit for this modification has been given to both Pedro Careaga and the company Esperanza and Unceta, as both have modified patents on file from 1911 and 1912. But it’s not entirely clear who sat down and reworked the 1903 to be more easily assembled by simpler machinery and hand tooling.
Like the 1903, the Eibar Type pistol is a shrouded hammer, single stack detachable mag, slide operated, blowback action, with an under barrel spring. It features a slightly modified barrel that is still held in place by interlocking lugs on the underside and disassembles the same way as the 1903. Most of the differences are more cosmetic as the Eibar Type is a thicker, chunkier design meant to use rougher manufacturing and inferior metal. A clear example would be in the safety/takedown lever which, unlike the 1903, was done by hand and moved much further forward on the frame. The most outstanding difference is that the complicated-to-manufacture grip safety was ignored completely.
Eibar Type pistols are generally found chambered in .32 or .25 ACP and were produced in a wide variety of styles with extended or shortened barrels, magazines, slides, internal or external hammers, etc… These pistols were produced by shops that became internationally recognized and fly-by-nights who changed names frequently. They were marketed under a variety of names such as MARTIAN, COBRA, IDEAL, DESTROYER, and many, many more. These pistols are so myriad and unique that a collector could happily (and cheaply) focus on them for a lifetime.
Our French story, however, comes into focus with a producer known as Gabilondo y Urresti, who would later become the better recognized “Llama.” GyU had an Eibar Type branded as “RUBY”, chambered in .32ACP, and fitted with a lanyard ring, and seating a nine round magazine which it marketed as a military pistol in the Balkans. The French had not prioritized the handgun in their war plans but early trench fighting made them very desirable accessories over a cumbersome bolt action rifle. After snapping up batches of commercial pistols from Spain, Belgium, and the U.S., France began large contracts with foreign suppliers to keep a steady flow of semi-automatic pistols. With the discovery of several French manuals dated before the Ruby contract, we know that they had taken in significant lots of Spanish Eibar Type pistols and must have found them acceptable.
In May of 1915 a contract was opened up with GyU for the production of their “RUBY” pistol. This called for 10,000 units a month. Within four months it was upped to 30,000, and again to 50,000. GyU was overwhelmed but did not want to miss any opportunity for money, so it contracted with four other producers: Iraola y Salaverria, Echealaza y Vincinai, Hijos de Angel Echeverria, and Aremeria Elgoibaressa. These four were expected to produce a minimum of 5,000 a month while GyU took up the balance. Any missed quota would cause a fine and any surplus would be bought up. All of these were sent to, inspected, and branded by Gabilondo y Urresti before going out.
The overwhelming French demand soon had other manufacturers flooding into the market. Independent contracts began with the French military and a second tier of major producers appeared which included: Royal Vincitor, Retolaza Hermanos y Compania, S.A. Alkartasuna (founded just to produce these pistols for France), and Esperanza y Unceta (later Astra). Even after the intervention of these larger players, more and more small shops entered the market. Roughly 45 producers are believed to have been involved in supplying the French and soon after the Italians! It would appear the major players in Spain kept in touch as there was not much in the way of price competition. Each producer simply went along with the standards of the original contract with GyU: 9 rounds, walnut grips, fixed rear sight, .32ACP, etc. One exception has been noted as a few French-marked short grip, short barrel examples have surfaced. It is believed these were bought in one lot and provided to Chauchat gunners as an easy backup. They are rare finds.
Overall roughly 900,000 or more Eibar Type pistols were produced for WWI contracts. This small arms gold rush didn’t always fuel the best manufacturing standards and Ruby pistols could be treated with some caution. Most problems are not entirely catastrophic but generally center on poor fit or finish. Poorly fit firing pins seems to be a more common issue, causing rapid-fire magazine dumps if not corrected. These are very isolated incidents today as most of the worst offenders never cleared post-war inspections. One major complaint was that the large safety levers would catch in the holsters when drawn. This meant a gun set for “Fire” would accidentally switch over to “Safe” at the worst possible moment. Post-war, a single large rivet was punched into the side of the slide of many of the remaining pistols. This brutally simple solution kept the leather holster from dragging on the safety.
One clear problem with accepting nearly one million hand-fitted pistols from over 40 manufacturers was a lack of uniformity in parts. Repairs would have been troublesome, but were likely not undertaken often with such a stream of replacements. But a swapped magazine wasn’t an uncommon thing and since these could vary radically in small, but very important, dimensions they needed to be kept with their proper host. So the French instituted a one or two letter code for each supplier and stamped the rear left frame of the pistol and the toe of the magazine to match. We have included a list of known letter codes at the end of this article. French pistols are also, usually, marked with one or two stars on the heel of the frame. Letter coded examples have been found without though, so it is not certain if these were done as they were accepted or as part of a post-war refurbishment process.
Being a Balkan favorite, the Ruby pistol also found its way into Serbian hands pre-war. It was also produced locally post-war in the new state of Yugoslavia. The French give a good many Ruby pistols to Greece during the war, although these seem to be indistinguishable from the French-issued guns. Italy also purchased the Ruby in both 9 and 7 shot versions and these will be marked “TM” or “RP” on the trigger guard.
When the war ended the Spanish manufacturers tried, mostly in vain, to continue marketing the Eibar Type internationally and we see a number of additional commercial variations into the 1920’s. Interestingly, Gabilondo y Urresti dropped the design the moment the French contracts dried up. The Eibar would have still been a common sight during the Spanish Civil War as well.
Though they didn’t buy any more, the French still had a great many Ruby pistols in their inventories going into WWII, as their Mle. 1935s had not caught up in production. The French also made use of a Ruby-copy: the Unique.
For a plain and rather rough little handgun in .32 ACP, the Eibar Type pistols played a large role in the war by providing France with an overwhelming number of replacement pistols. Due to their crude form, poor reputation, and sheer abundance, the Eibars are still inexpensive collectables, so we’d recommend one for nearly anyone curious as their history is actually quite rich.
|A||Arizaga||GU||Gabilondo y Urresti|
|AA||Azanza y Arrizabalaga||HE||Hijos de A Echeverria|
|AE||Armeria Elgoibaressa||I||(Izarra) Bonifacio Echeverria|
|AG||Francisco Arizmendi y Goenaga||IG||Isidrio Gatzanaga|
|AH||Acha Hermanos||IO||Industria Obrea|
|AK||Alkartasuna||IS||Iraola y Salaverria|
|AL||Aldazabal Leturiondo||JE||Javier Echaniz|
|AZ||Arizmendi Zulaica||LC||Laplana y Capdevila|
|BA||Bersaluzze Arieto-Aurena||LH||Lasangabaster Hermanos|
|BC||Victor Bernedo||MA||Martin Bascaran|
|BH||Beistegui Hermanos||MB||Martin Bascaran|
|EA||Arostegui Eulogio||MS||Modesto Santos|
|EU||Esperanza y Unceta||UC||Urrejola y Cia|
|GB||Gregorio Bolumburo||VB||Victor Bernado|
|GN||Garate Anitua||ZC||Zulaica y Compania|