Lew’s synopsis is very interesting and having discussed this with him in length over a period of time, I find that I agree with most of what he has written.
My point of departure is the statement that FN developed the cartridge. To quote Lew’s entry “The FN-developed cartridge was undoubtedly based on ammunition Browning supplied with the prototype pistol.” If their cartridge was based on cartridges supplied by Browning, then it follows that while they may have refined the cartridge in ways to their liking, for proper function in their pistol, they did not develop the initial cartridge. By Lew’s own quote, the basic concept, including in the form of test ammunition, went with Browning or representatives of his or of FN along with his prototype pistol, to FN. Knowing fairly well the history of John Browning and his development of guns and the cartridges for them, I believe it it very safe to say that John Browning developed the cartridge, although it was to be refined by various ways and means at Winchester, FN and later, at UMC. Details such as the best possible powders, whether or not the bullets should have a crimping groove, bullet diameter, soft-point bullet design, etc., were still being attended to by U.M.C. as late as August 1912. I have no doubt that it was a long-continuing process at Winchester and FN as well, although I have not the quantity and quality of information on their productions as that of U.M.C.
The packaging from Winchester that Lew alludes to, which I mentioned somewhere on this thread, records the rounds enclosed as “new length.” This almost certainly indicates that these were not the first of these rounds Winchester produced. If there was a “new length,” then it is only logical that the “new length” replaced an “old length.” Considering Browning’s connections with Winchester, having designed about every gun in their line after the Centennial Model 1876 Winchester (1886, 1887, 1892, etc.), although it is clear their association was “rocky” to say the least, it is my opinion that the round was designed by John Browning at Ogden, Utah, and first made by Winchester. He had to have obtained the ammunition to which Lew alludes somewhere, and there is little reason from a study of all of Browning’s developments to believe that he would have turned out, on machinery used in his gunsmithing shop to fix firearms for the public, and to make his various prototypes, any quantity of ammunition for the prototype pistol. Of course, he could have made up a very small quantity, but even that has no documentation that I am aware of. It is much more likely that while developing the gun/cartridge combination, he had Winchester make up the test rounds to his specifications. It is likely that some were made up and that they are the one that went with him to Belgium, and later modifications were made both by Winchester and by F.N. U.M.C. was a late-comer in the development of the cartridge, but regardless, some development continued at U.M.C. as well, as documented in their log.
Lew asks if “Winchester was doing work in late 1897 and early 1898 in support of FN, or did Colt have an active program to bring out a .32 pistol and perhaps Winchester was evolving Browning’s .32 cartridge for Colt?” While I don’t have a positive, documented answer, I believe it is most likely that Winchester, as early as 1897, was evolving Browning’s .32 cartridge for John Browning. There is no necessity that they would have only been evolving it for FN or Colt. Browning, again, had strong ties with Winchester, and remember that regardless of where Browning eventually first produced his pistol, Winchester was also an ammunition company and had a potential interest in ammunition sales for whatever pistol ended up in the .32 Browning caliber. Browning’s success in gun design already made a bet on his success in marketing, by whatever means (FN, Colt, etc.) a pistol in his then-new caliber, a pretty good gamble. The known package of NPE cases headstamped “W.R.A.Co. .32 S&W”, one of which I have in my collection from the package in question, remains at February 1898, the earliest documented production of the Browning .32 auto cartridge, to my knowledge, and in a sense, again since it mentions a change to an existing design, documents an earlier version. Unfortunately, our best reference on Winchester ammunition, Dan Shuey’s great two-volume set of books, although actually breaking the .32 Auto round down into three different headings, not just two, has no documented information regarding production prior to 1899.
Regarding the direct question Lew asked as Number 7, as to documentation that Winchester assisted Browning in the development of the cartridge, I guess that would depend on whther making rounds for him was the type of assistance in question, or whether redesign hints or out-right design of the cartridge by Winchester is the question. Since we know UMC didn’t get into the act until December 1899, and the earliest documented Winchester ammunition are the NPE cases from the package mentioned, and since that early, the only one KNOWN to be working on this pistol and having produced a prototype was John Browning, I think a fair conclusion can be made, albeit it circumstantial evidence, that Winchester was, indeed, involved with John Browning’s development. All that remains to be proved in my opinion is to what degree that involvment was - design, manufacture, or both.
This is nothing more than my opinion, which I firmly believe is all anyone can offer in the absence of finding positive documented proof of the very beginnings of this cartridge, whether it was at John Browning’s shop in Utah (which for design, I believe to be true), at Winchester (which for quantity production of the cartridge for trial with the prototype pistol, I believe to be true), or at FN The only sure thing is that FN manufactured the very first serially-produced pistols in this caliber, four years before Colt’s Model “M” 1903 pistol.