History of Bernardelli
When the Republic of Venice known as the “Serenissima” ruled over the valley of Valle Trompia (1426-1797), their demand for weapons was growing so fast that they decided to create a very favorable business environment for gun manufacturers in the region and expose them to different techniques for building firearms.
Taking advantage of the favorable “business environment” of the time, Pietro Bernardelli was able to start his own barrel making shop. In a deed (picture 1) signed in the presence of Notary Public Ludovico Franzini on 30th June, 1721, assessors Francesco and Vincenzo Cominazzi assigned a value of 1,500.00 Lire to the “fogatello” i.e. forge and 2 hammers used to manufacture barrels. Pietro Bernardelli purchased the assets from their previous owners, the brothers Cesare and Antonio Franzini.
The “fogatello” was a small forge with at least a hammer barrel makers (also called “barrel boilers”) used to make barrels.
They heated a sheet of iron in the forge and then rolled it around a tool overlapping its edges. By repeating the operation several times and employing the hammer, these capable artisans were able to shape iron sheets into barrels. Barrels were then sold to different gun makers who used them to build their own weapons, under their own names. That’s the reason why the name of Pietro Bernardelli – barrel maker – never appeared on any finished guns.
Towards the second half of the XIX Century, Pietro Bernardelli’s successors went from being Master Barrel Makers to Master Gun Makers capable of building entire weapons. Vincenzo Bernardelli (picture 2) was one of them and started to put his own name on the firearms he manufactured. As a matter of fact the name “Vincenzo Bernardelli” is visible on a percussion shotgun with rear action locks and on a muzzle loading side-by-side shotgun (c.1860). In 1865 Vincenzo Bernardelli and his sons started manufacturing army pistols under the Bernardelli name: that was the official beginning of “Vincenzo Bernardelli” Gun Makers.
In 1903 the factory moved from its original headquarters to a bigger facility (pictures 3-4-5). The images below feature the way some of the production departments looked like in the early 20th Century. Picture 6 was the forging department where iron was hammered into shape by both hand and mechanically; picture 7 and 8 feature wood working areas while picture 9 shows assembly. Picture 10 was shot many years after picture 6 was first taken – by then machines like presses and furnaces were slowly replacing some heavy manual operations. Pictures 11-12-13 feature machines operated by chains and pulleys set into motion by a wheel turned by the water of a nearby canal.
Starting in the early 1900s, Bernardelli expanded the range of products by adding the hunting side-by-side shotguns the company is still famous for the world over. Pictures 14-15-16-17 feature hammer side-by-side shotguns that are still in production for those who love the looks of antique guns. Pictures 18-19 feature the hammerless side-by-side shotguns that have made Bernardelli famous and are still made today.
Apart from doubles, the Bernardelli range of products also widened to include a variety of handguns (picture 20) from revolvers (pictures 21-22), to automatic pistols (picture 23) and small caliber pistols (picture 24).
Bernardelli was the first Italian gun maker to build an autoloader in 1947 (picture 25).This gun was clearly derived from a military weapon. It came with different capacity magazines and was in production until the late ‘60s (picture 26).
Later on Bernardelli designed and built an army assault rifle (picture 27). From 1985 to 1990 the factory was licensed by Galil to make a semiautomatic shotgun (picture 28), for the Israeli army.
In the ‘80s and ’90s, Bernardelli designed and made a new over and under shotgun ( picture 29) and a new double stack pistol (picture 30) in calibers 9x21 - 9x19 - .40 - .45. These were offered right next to the traditional line of hunting side-by-side shotguns.
In the late ‘90s a chain of different events convinced the Bernardelli family it was time for them to retire from the gun making business. The company was taken over by a new owner with the objective of safeguarding and maintaining the Bernardelli tradition and reputation while expanding the business. The new owners kept building side-by-side shotguns in the traditional “Bernardelli” way, but they also added a new gas operated semiautomatic shotgun to the line. Since the relocation from the original headquarters to a new facility just outside Brescia (picture 31), the production process has been focused on side-by-side shotguns, autoloaders and pump action guns. The range of products is no longer as big as it used to be, but everything is made with the same professionalism and attention to details worthy of the Bernardelli name.