Hanquets Gun Dynasty
The Hanquet Family Story
For centuries the Liège area in Belgium was a center of gun making and international gun trading. Today many of the smaller manufacturers are absorbed or have simply disappeared. Others like Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN) are now members of multinational conglomerates specialized in weaponry for police or military. Well-known companies like Francotte found their market niche and supply the high-end customers with luxurious rifles. Famous Grimaud switched from manufacturing to import and wholesale.
Rifle marked “H&Cie” for Hanquet & Cie (left), cased set of pistols was made by Jean Baptise Hanquet 1850 (right)
Let’s Reach Back Through Time
The roots of the gun maker dynasty of the Hanquets are back in the 18th century. The blacksmith Martin Hanquet (1738-1810) served local farmers in a Liège suburb. He added ironmongery to his shop which son Martin (1764-1837) diversified into making nails for the booming shipbuilding industry. Thanks to his entrepreneurial attitude he smelled the down spiralling of the latter and branched out to selling guns as early as 1796! But he started another nails, copper, edged weapons and firearms business in 1809. Martin retired at 62 and passed his enterprise to his children Jean Nicholas, Jean Baptiste (1800-1877) and Jeanne Francoise. The firm was renamed Martin Hanquet and Cie. When the company was liquidated 1829 Martin took over the nail business again, Jean Baptiste the warehouse and Jean Nicolas the guns.
Ferdinand Hanquet’s Vision
In 1836 Jean Nicolas entered into a venture with Ancion et Fils to become market leader for military guns. Their new company named Fabrique d’Armes deLiège (FAL) was registered as Ancion, Hanquet et Cie. They were the most important gun makers of the time. Between 1849 and 1859 they made around 60,000 to 70,000 guns per year with a record high of 91,164 in1850. That equals more than 20 % of the total gun production of all Liège gun makers combined.
1840 Jean Nicholas opened a branch office in Rio de Janeiro to conquer the South American market for the family business.
Brother Jean Baptiste merged warehouse and gun business in a new gun manufacturing company. While his production output was lower than FAL in 1849 he was already number 4 in Liège, after FAL, the Renkin brothers and the Pirlot brothers.
His son Ferdinand (1812-1909) grew the business further but first relocated the company within Liège to Rue du Laven. Of Ferdinand’s 6 sons Paul (1889-1938), Emmanuel (1881-1944) and Emiel (1888-1918) worked their way up in the family company now registered as Fand Hanquet.
Ferdinand Hanquet 1865 (left), Liège made pinfire revolver marked “H“ for Ferdinand Hanquet (right)
Ferdinand Hanquet made his business visions come true and finally merged with Fabriques d’Armes Réunies and Fabrique d’Armes Unies de Liège. The name of the new company was Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège (FAUL: see picture at top of this page). After his death Paul took helm, assisted by brother Emmanuel. Paul was to be President and Emmanuel Chief Executive. 1938 Paul was succeeded by another brother, Joseph.
Paul Hanquet Jr * 1907 – + 1986 (left), Albert Hanquet * 1915 – + 2003 (right)
Paul Hanquet Jr., Paul’s son and cousin Albert, Emmanuel’s son were the successors. Albert’s daughter Nadine, born in 1947, was in charge from 1974 after Paul (1969/70) and her dad stepped down
Albert and Nadine Hanquet 1922 in front of FAUL’s at Rue Trappé Nr. 22
The gun production at FAUL’s was discontinued in 1976, 3 years after the production of the Centaure was terminated.
When the Hanquet gun business was sold in June 1992 the gun import and wholesale business were the core activities during the later years.
Hanquet Guns in Historical Perspective
Few gun manufacturers can live in the civilian market from hunters and sport shooters alone. To survive a profitable government business is mandatory. That is a gun business fact today and was yesteryear. Many Liège gun makers made and still make great efforts to sell their weaponry to the Americas. Military muzzle loading rifles were an important financial backbone of Hanquet’s gun business during the 19th and the 20th century.
# During the American Civil War Jean Baptiste Hanquet supplied muzzle loading rifles and muskets to compete with Enfields and Springfields. After the war these now obsolete muzzleloaders were replaced by cartridge loaded rifles.
# When US arsenals wanted to get rid of their muzzle loader surplus after the Civil War many of the Hanquet rifles were brought back to Belgium. Hanquet realized the emerging colonial markets and had them altered for sale in Africa. Since natives there could not have modern cartridge firing rifles this alteration meant fitting smooth bore barrels! Hanquet’s muskets and shotguns had a reputation of excellent quality and were sold then to markets like Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and other colonies with vast hunting grounds. For the English colonies this alteration had to be pushed even further and a flintlock had to be fitted. Until the 1950s regular sales were 5,000 to 6,000 of such crude but shootable and functionally constructed hunting rifles per year. They were made of composites of old and new parts.
# With many former colonies being released into independence and the following change of their gun regulations Hanquet was left with a huge inventory of muzzle loaders and spares in the late 1950s. The good news came from the other side of the Atlantic with the hype of old firearms collecting, re-enacting, replicas and commemoratives.
FAUL made Harpers Ferry M 1807 flintlock pistol .54 cal.
|FAUL mark under the barrel (left), view of the flintlock (right)
Between 1960 and 1980 thousands of finished guns but also kits were sold into the USA but also in Europe. Therefore, many of the Hanquet rifles made this trip over the big pond now for the 3rd time.
The Centaure C&B revolver certainly was a highlight in this endeavor! To this FAUL added a line of replicas of flintlock and percussion rifles, shotguns and pistols.
Views of FAUL made single barrel scatter gun in 17,5 mm cal. for the natives of the Rain Forest in South America (left to right)
# But the Hanquets did not stop at muzzle loading rifles. The end of the 19th and the early 20th century was the hay market for their simple, little cartridge revolvers for self-protection and concealed carry: the fat one was dubbed BULLDOG (.44 caliber), another one in 5,6 mm caliber called VELODOG targeted at the cyclists, even another one named PUPPIE. Most of these revolvers don’t sport a Hanquet manufacturer’s trademark but the Liège ELG proof mark only. Their dealers worldwide would apply their own logo.
# During this time a line of pistols was launched under FAUL’s trademark Centaure, registered May 30, 1913 to Emile Hanquet. You will note from below pictures that the centaur of the logo “changed guns” over time: the centaur totes a pistol in the early logo, but a rifle in the later one!
FAUL corporate logo: note pistol pointing to right in early version (left) vs. rifle pointing to the left in later version (right)
# The stylized rampant centaur closely resembles the rampant colt of Colt’s (rampant colt design registered by Colt 1890).
It is different from the Colt TM but still close enough to signal the close cooperation between the two companies.
Later a wide variety of guns were manufactured under their centaur logo.
# This also explains why no percussion revolvers with the Centaure logo have surfaced before 1960. FAUL simply did not make such revolvers after 1913 when the logo was registered. That is until the Centaure aka “1960 NEW MODEL ARMY” was launched in the USA 1960.
# When John Moses Browning visited Belgium searching for a manufacturer and landed his deal with FN he had also approached Hanquet. They settled for a Browning patent revolver named CHARISMA.
# During the period 1892-1907 Hanquet’s manufactured copies of the Colt New Army and Navy.
# When FN introduced their auto pistols model 1900 and 1903 this evolved into a real blow for Hanquet’s pocket revolver sales. Answer to the threat was a revolver for the 6,35 Browning cartridge with folding trigger but without trigger guard, alternatively with traditional trigger and trigger guard. The grip contained a little magazine for spare rounds. However, this ended Hanquet’s success with pocket pistols.
# During the Russian Revolution FAUL copied the famous Nagant revolver in 7,62 Nagant cal.
Views of 12 gauge hammerless shotgun from 1925 marked LIÉGE UNITED ARMS CO LTD (left to right)
# The USA has always been an important market for the Hanquets. It is a little known fact that the Belgians made a repro of the Colt Lightning M 1877revolver with a square butt grip, however. The mail order house Johnson Smith purchased quantities of this DA/SA revolver named TEXAS RANGER in .38 Special and .44-40 cal. (pictured below) as well as their POSITIVE SPECIAL during the 1930s.
Views of DA/SA TEXAS RANGER in .38 Special caliber (left to right)
Views of DA/SA TEXAS RANGER in .44-40 caliber (left to right)
# Then there was the lady’s revolver SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL a pretty little gun with ivory grips available during World War I.
# When Germany occupied Belgian during World War II FAUL was forced almost completely out of business. Machinery and particularly their huge gun collection had to be surrendered to the German Ortskommandantur headquartered near the citadel of Liège. The machinery was transferred to Germany. The collection, however, disappeared when the German troops had left Liège.
# After the war FAUL had some limited gun exports to neutral countries but they were back in gun production by 1948.
# From 1950 to 1992 FAUL was the official Colt distributor for Belgium.
The Consortium of 7 Liège Gun Makers in the 1850s
The first Belgian Colts were made during the early 1850s, licensed Colt Navy M 1851s C&B pistols marked COLT BREVETE. Through his then-representative Colt had licensed a number of Liège gun makers to manufacture his percussion revolvers when his London factory could not turn out enough pistols to meet the market demand. But that is only half of the story. To protect his Belgian patent from August 21, 1849 there was this provision in the patent laws whereby the article patented must be produced in that country within two years from the date of the patent, or the patent would become void. Therefore, his British patent Counsel, Mr. W. E. Newton, of 66 Chancery Lane, London, went to Liège, Belgium and employed a local gun maker to make several revolvers of Colt’s design. While that move saved the patent Newton also discovered that a few of the Liège gun makers were infringing on Colt’s patent rights. Many such guns had passed through the Liège proof house, many for export into other countries.
To address this situation Colt appointed a Belgian sales agent and lawyer by the name Davos-Sera to look after his interest. Davos-Sera licensed other Belgian gun makers to produce guns under Colt’s license AND to collect a license fee on all such guns produced. But Davos-Sera’s way of doing business did not exactly please the Colonel. For reasons not known today the cooperation with Davos-Sera was terminated. He was replaced by J. Sainthill, patent attorney of Brussels.
The Missing Link – Licensing Agreement of April 1853
The story goes that during one of his regular trips to Europe Sam Colt came to Liège in April 1853 to straighten things out, to negotiate a new agreement with another group of Belgian gun makers. He stayed there at hotel “Belle Vue” for the negotiations took several days. J. Sainthill was able to arrange the meeting with seven (7) gun makers, namely Ancion & Co., Collette, Dandoy, Drisseur & Co., Hanquet, Petry, Brothers Pirlot. An agreement was reached and signed at the end of April 1853. To this day no copy of this licensing agreement was available to us for study. Among others we were in touch with Colt’s in Hartford and inquired with Madame N. Hanquet, last president of FAUL, regarding this contract. Unfortunately, to no avail.
The good news from July 28, 2013: Thanks to Roy Marcot of Tucson, AZ, firearms historian and co-author of the acclaimed book COLT BREVETE REVOLVERS we can now share with you the English translation of a letter of above J. Sainthill addressed to Col. Colt. The actual letter is dated April 29, 1853. It refers to this successful meeting with the seven Liège gun makers and the subsequent licensing agreement. At the bottom of page 2 of the original French version of the letter there is a list of these gun makers including Hanquet, see below.
Between 1829 and 1874 Jean Baptiste Hanquet was in charge of the family business. Therefore, he represented the Hanquets’ interest in these famous negotiations of April 1853 with the Colonel. A couple of these gun makers or their succeeding companies found their way into the later 20th century Hanquet‘s family business Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège! These are the companies: Albert Simonis, Antoine Bertrand & fils, Pirlot & Frésart, J. Ancion & Fils, Joseph Tolet & Cie, S.A. Fabrication des Armes à feu. There you have it the missing link.
Hanquet 1851 Model Navies
Hanquet Navies with below four different types of markings are known:
- ADDRESS COL. SAML COLT NEW MODEL US PATENTED
- ADDRESS COL. SAML COLT NEW YORK CITY
- ADDRESS SAML COLT NEW YORK CITY
- COLT BREVETE
By the way specimen of 1851 Model Navies made by the predecessors and successors of above company J. Ancion & Fils (merged into FAUL later!) show the same markings as the pistols from Hanquet. Coincidence or intention?
Recalls L&N Guy FROCS #111 in January 2012:
“I was in the Air Force, stationed in England in 1962, and had the opportunity to go to Liège Belgium and buy a Centaure pistol.”
“Bought it from the Centaure factory in June 62. 8 inch barrel, cut for shoulder stock, but no toe in the butt if memory serves. Marked made in Belgium on bottom. Fine cylinder engraving. Oval ELG proof on cylinder.”
“I think that it cost me $ 125,00 US, and I brought it back with me in my duffle bag.”
“At the time, the factory was on 22 Rue Trappe, in Liege. I took a lot of 35mm slides on my visit.”
“As I remember, the owner’s name was Hanquet. He told me that his family had been making firearms for years.”
“As I remember, coming through the front door, there was a display case and there were several new pistols that were marked Colt. I guess these were not for sale.”
“They had walls full of single barrel muzzle loading shotguns, that they sold to Africa.”
“Also, a rack full of 1960’s with shoulder stocks….”
Thanks, L & N Guy, for sharing this with us. What a great report!
WDN/August 13, 2013
© 2007 Wolf D. Niederastroth