… a snub-nosed pistol that shouldn’t exist!
It is a New Defender made by Harrington & Richardson as the Model 299 and is cataloged as being a top break revolver chambered in .22 Long Rifle, 9 shots, and the 2” barrel says exactly that. But, it isn’t. This pistol has a seven shot chambering for the .22 WRF, which is an inside lubricated bullet rimfire, with a larger diameter case than a .22 RF, and a little more velocity and energy. A common loading for WRF was a 40 gr. hollow point bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1440 fps, and that might be a clue to why and how this pistol came to be.
The New Defender was based on the Model 999 and follows the variations of the 999 exactly, according to William Goforth. It was touted as a short barreled revolver with target accuracy and has adjustable front and rear sights. The 999, or Sportsman, was a development of the U.S.R.A. Model, the design of which was strongly influenced by Walter Roper. The 999 was intended as a target pistol and had appropriate features, including H&R’s interchangeable grips, a fine trigger, and adjustable target sights.
The catalog listing for the 299 started in 1935 and stopped in 1939. This New Defender S/N has a D prefix, putting production in 1943. When I acquired the pistol, the rounded grip had been modified with some filler material to fit someone’s hand. Many parts for the 999 and 299 interchange, so it would have been possible for a gunsmith to simply swap out a seven shot cylinder and hand for the nine shot cylinder and hand but, apparently, that didn’t happen. The seven shot cylinder is numbered to the gun, in H&R style. It looks like a factory job.
This may have been a war time special order for someone who knew exactly what they wanted for a specific purpose. They would have had an easily concealable pistol, handy and quick, with more power than a .22 LR for close work. It could use .22 LR in a pinch, even though the cases sometimes split if fired in the WRF chamber. It would have been accurate enough for hitting at a distance, and the sights could be regulated for a specific load, again with more stopping power than a .22LR. It wouldn’t have been quite as loud as a centerfire pistol, either. This someone might have been working for, say, the OSS, perhaps? What would this little New Defender tell us, if it could talk?