Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Vault

2015 Calendar Preorder!

I am happy to announce that I will be making another Vintage Photo calendar for 2015! Last year’s calendar was a big hit, and I’ve been using one myself to track and plan posts for the web site. Click below to see the full details and place your order!

Continue reading 2015 Calendar Preorder!

Walther HP at RIA

The Walther HP was the immediate predecessor to the P38 pistol that was adopted into widespread German service. The HP (Heeres Pistole, or Army Pistol) was offered for commercial sale and export by Walther. It was formally adopted by the Swedish army in 1939, but only a small number were shipped before the outbreak of war caused Walther to reprioritize for German military production. A number of HPs were also sold commercially to Austria military men, and those pistols often wound up in German military service after the annexation of Austria.

When the German military adopted the pistol, it dictated a few minor changes from the standard HP design, and the result became the P38.

M1908 Mondragon Semiauto Rifle at RIA

The M1908 Mondragon is widely acknowledged to have been the first self-loading rifle adopted as a standard infantry arm by a national military force. There are a couple earlier designs used by military forces, but the Mondragon was the first really mass-produced example and deserves its place in firearms history. Designed by Mexican general Manuel Mondragon (who has a number of other arms development successes under his belt by this time), the rifles were manufactured by SIG in Switzerland. They are very high quality guns, if a bit clunky in their handling.

The design used a long-action gas piston and a rotating bolt to lock. Interestingly, the bolt had two full sets of locking lugs; one at the front and one at the rear as well as two set of cams for the operating rod and bolt handle to rotate the bolt with. The standard rifle used a 10-round internal magazine fed by stripper clips, but they were also adapted for larger detachable magazines and drums.

Unfortunately, the rifle required relatively high-quality ammunition to function reliably, and Mexico’s domestic production was not up to par. This led to the rifles having many problems in Mexican service, and Mexico refused to pay for them after the first thousand of their 4,000-unit order arrived. The remaining guns were kept by SIG, and ultimately sold to German for use as aircraft observer weapons.

For more information and photos of Mondragons, check the 1908 Mondragon page in the Vault.

Gaulois Palm Pistol at RIA

The Gaulois (Gallic) was a compact squeeze-type palm pistol made by the Manufrance concern in St. Etienne in the 1890s. It held 5 rounds of 8mm ammunition (similar to the .32 Extra-Short used in other types of palm pistols) and was fired by squeezing the rear grip into the body of the gun.

As with the other weapons of this type that achieved some popularity in the 1880s through early 1900s, the Gaulois eventually faded from the market because of the improvements in conventional handguns. Something like a compact Iver Johnson revolver offered all the capabilities (if not more) of a Chicago Protector or My Friend or Gaulois, without the loading and aiming difficulties of those designs.

Sedgley Model 45 .22 Rifle at RIA

The firm of Sedgley Inc of Philadelphia was a gun company involved in many aspects of the industry. They made rifle barrels for the US military, they made the rather goofy “Glove Guns” for the US Navy, and they did a lot of commercial gunsmithing, including high-quality sporter conversions of military surplus rifles.

This particular rifle is a .22 caliber Model 45 from Sedgley, which does not appear to have ever gone into mass production. It is interesting for it’s bolt mechanism, which is a typical semiauto blowback type. However, its handle allows it to be locked in the closed position for each shot, effectively turning the gun into a bolt action. It also has an uncommon style of safety, which is a lever that slides under the trigger to block its movement. Overall, a .22 with some interesting and rather uncommon features.

2-Gun Action Match: Mosin & Nagant vs Trapdoor & SAA

No vintage photo today – instead I have a vintage rifle match! I’ve had had a bunch of people asking to see a Mosin-Nagant in one of these matches, and decided to oblige – but with a twist. I coupled a Westinghouse M91 with an 1895 Nagant revolver, and went up against Karl, who was armed with a Single Action Army and a Trapdoor Springfield carbine. Why? Because these two sets of guns actually had their active service lives overlap briefly. The Mosin and Nagant were both adopted as the US was slowly transitioning to the Krag and 1892 DA Colt. I figured it would be interesting to see how well Karl could keep up using a single-shot rifle, and also how much of a disadvantage the Nagant revolver would be for me compared to the SAA, which is superior in almost every way.

The video, including expectations and ending conclusions, is posted on Full30 – check it out, and create an account there to subscribe to the channel to receive notifications when we post new videos!


Maryland Council of Safety Revolutionary Flintlock at RIA

In the buildup to the US War of Independence, “Committees of Safety” were organized in the colonial state to form shadow governments for the independence movement. These committees (our councils, as a few were named) had, among other tasks, the responsibility of sourcing arms for the local militia forces. This was done both by purchasing arms available at the time from gunsmiths, commercial dealers, and private individuals and also by contracting with gunsmiths to manufacture guns specifically for the council or committee. Typically these guns were not specially marked – there was no particular reason to do so – and as a result they are very difficult to authenticate today. A Revolutionary War weapon could have been anything available at the time.

One notable exception is an order placed by the Maryland Council of Safety. They ordered quite a lot of guns from area manufacturers, including a batch of 500 pistols. In addition, they hired an inspector to verify the quality of the finished guns, and mark them. The inspector was named Thomas Ewing, and his marking looked rather like a tulip. Records about the guns he oversaw and marked remain in existence, and allow them to be identified – including this one, a single-shot flintlock pistol with Ewing’s mark.

Walther KPK Pistol at RIA

The Walther KPK was a modified version of the PPK automatic pistol made in very small numbers by Walther in hopes of winning a new military contract. Mechanically identical to the PPK, the KPK has a lengthened slide to effectively shroud the hammer, preventing it from catching or snagging on clothing or obstacles in the confines of an aircraft or armored vehicle.

Not very much is written about these pistols, and they never went into production (it appears they were made in hopes of spurring a military interest, rather than in response to a military RFP).

M3 Infrared Sniper Carbine at RIA

The first US military night vision system used in active combat was the T3 Carbine system – an infrared light-amplifying scope and IR floodlight mounted on an M1 Carbine. About 150 of these were used on Okinawa, and were quite effective. The system was refined over time, and by the Korean War this version was in service – an improved M3 scope on an M1 Carbine.

The M3 scope here has a longer effective range (125 yards), and still required the user to carry a heavy backpack-mounted battery pack to power the scope and light. They were used primarily in static defensive positions in Korea to locate troops attempting to infiltrate in darkness. In total, about 20,000 sets were made before they became obsolete, and were surplussed to the public.


Bethlehem Steel 37mm Cannon – Looking for Data

I recently got an email from a young man named Paul who is working on restoring a Bethlehem Steel 37mm cannon as an Eagle Scout project. The gun is sitting outside an American Legion post, where I expect it has been for many, many decades. It appears to be mostly complete with the major exception of the wheels, which have disappeared one way or another.

Paul and the cannon

Paul and the cannon

Paul wrote to ask me if I have any dimensions on the wheels – which unfortunately I do not. I did a video on one of these guns a little while back, but I managed to misplace the owner’s contact information. If anyone has access to one of these guns or dimensional data on them and would be willing to help out with this project, please let me know and I will but you in touch with Paul.


Pedersen Selfloading Rifle at RIA

When the US military decided to seriously look at replacing the 1903 Springfield with a semiautomatic service rifle, two designers showed themselves to have the potential to design an effective and practical rifle. One was John Garand, and the other was John Pedersen. Pedersen was an experienced and well-respected gun designer, with previous work including the WWI “Pedersen Device” that converted a 1903 into a pistol-caliber semiauto carbine and the Remington Model 51 pistol, among others.

Pedersen’s rifle concept used a toggle locking mechanism similar in concept to the Borchardt and Luger pistols, but designed to handle the much higher pressure of a rifle cartridge. Specifically, the .276 Pedersen cartridge, which pushed a 125 grain bullet at about 2700 fps. Both Pedersen’s rifle and the contemporary prototypes of the Garand rifle used 10-round en bloc clips of this ammunition. Ultimately, Pedersen lost out to Garand. Among the major reasons why was that his toggle action was really a delayed blowback mechanism, and required lubricated cartridges to operate reliably. Pedersen developed a hard, thin wax coating process for his cartridge cases which worked well and was not prone to the problems of other oil-based cartridge lubricating systems, but Ordnance officers still disliked the requirement. This combined with other factors led to the adoption of the Garand rifle. After losing out in US military trials, Pedersen still had significant world-wide interest in his rifle, and the Vickers company in England tooled up to produce them in hopes of garnering contracts with one or more other military forces. About 250 rifles were made by Vickers, but they failed to win any contracts and production ceased – making them extremely rare weapons today.


Pedersen lived until 1951, and was well regarded for his sporting arms development with Remington – none other than John Moses Browning described him as “the greatest gun designer in the world”.