The Hanquets – Gun Dynasty of Liège
The Hanquet Family Story: For centuries the Liege area in Belgium was a center of gun making and international gun trading. Many of the smaller manufacturers were absorbed or simply disappeared. Others like 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.
Let’s go back in Time to the 18th Century to the roots of the gun maker dynasty Hanquet. The blacksmith Martin Hanquet (1738-1810) served local farmers in a Liege 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 spiraling 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.
Cased set of pistols made by Jean Baptiste Hanquet 1850
Ferdinand Hanquet 1865
The Ferdinand Hanquet’s Vision: 1836 Jean Nicolas entered into a venture with Ancion et Fils to become market leader for military guns. Their new company named FABRIQUES D’ARMES DE LIÈGE (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 in 1850. That equals more than 20 % of the total gun production of all Liege gun makers combined. When Jean Nicholas opened a branch office in Rio de Janeiro 1840 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 Liege 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 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). After his death Paul took helm, assisted by brother Emmanuel. Paul was to be President and Emmanuel Chief Executive.
Paul was succeeded in 1938 by another brother, Joseph. Paul Hanquet Jr (1907- 1986), Paul’s son and cousin Albert (1915-2003), Emmanuel’s son were the successors.
The corporate sign at Rue Trappé Nr. 22 read
FABRIQUES D’ARMES UNIES DE LIÈGE
FABRIQUES D’ARMES RÉUNIES
FABRIQUE D’ARMES DE LIÈGE
Albert’s daughter Nadine Hanquet, born in 1947, was in charge from 1974 after Paul (1969/70) and her dad stepped down. The gun production at FAUL's was discontinued in 1976. 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 on the civilian market from hunters and sport shooters alone. However, to survive a profitable government business is mandatory. That is a gun business fact today and was yesteryear. Many Liege 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 supplied muzzle loading rifles 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 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. 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. And 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.
- 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 and 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 and smaller one named Puppie. Most of these revolvers don’t sport a Hanquet manufacturer’s trademark but the Liege 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 in 1913 to Emile Hanquet. This stylized rampant centaur closely resembles the rampant colt of Colt’s (rampant colt design registered by Colt 1890). It is different from the colt but still close enough to signal the close cooperation between the two companies. Under their centaur logo a wide variety of guns were manufactured. This also explains why no percussion revolvers have surfaced with the centaur logo before 1960. Neither FAUL’s nor their predecessor companies produced such revolvers.
- 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 little revolver sales. Answer to the threat was a revolver for the 6,35 Browning cartridge with folding trigger/without trigger guard, alternatively with traditional trigger/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.
- The USA always have been an important market for the Hanquets. It is a little known fact that the Belgians made a repro of the Colt Lightning M 1877 revolver. The mail order house Johnson Smith purchased quantities of the .38 caliber TEXAS RANGER and POLICE POSITIVE during the 1930s. Then there was the lady’s revolver SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL a pretty little gun with ivory grips available during World War I.
- FAUL's DA/SA Texas Ranger Revolver
- 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 Liege. The machinery was transferred to Germany. The collection, however, disappeared when the German troops had left Liege.
- After the war FAUL had some limited gun exports to neutral countries but were back in gun production by 1948.
- From 1950 to 1992 FAUL was the official Colt distributor for Belgium.
The Consortium of the 7 Liege Gun Makers in the 1850s: The first Belgian Colts were made during the early 1850s, licensed Colt Navy M 1851s marked COLT BREVETE. Through his then-representative Colt had licensed a number of Liege 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 Liege, 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 several gun makers were infringing on Colt’s patent rights. Many such guns had passed through the Liege proof house, many for export into other countries.
To combat this problem 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…and 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: The story goes that during one of his regular trips to Europe Sam Colt came to Liege in April 1953 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 the gun makers Ancion & Co., Collette, Darrdoy, Drissur & Co., Hanquet, Petry, Brothers Pirlot. As documented an agreement was reached and signed at the end of April 1853.
And most of these gun makers or their succeeding companies rather found their way into the Hanquet's family business Fabriques d’Armes Unies de Liège! There you have it the missing link.