The Vault

Ask Dolf: Importers

Dolf Goldsmith has kindly offered to answer questions that pertain to his experience and expertise (primarily Korean War and earlier machine guns), for an occasional column. If you have something you would like to ask him, please drop us a line at admin@forgottenweapons.com. –Ian

John in North Carolina sent in this question:

I’d be very interested in the history of importation and distribution “back in the day”.  Who imported these things, how did they get them from the
original sources? What were the difficulties faced, the prices paid, the nature of the transactions.

I’ve always been fascinated considering how machine guns (or any surplus gun) gets from the source country , to importers.  I can’t see googling the
weapons ministry of  Italy for example and saying “hi, I was just wondering if you had any machine guns for sale”.  I’ve read some sketchy information
about Bannerman and others, but anything along these lines would be very interesting to me at least.

European countries were selling surplus MGs (and almost everything came in) through Interarms, from France, Britain, Argentina, to name a few. Norway, Holland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Sweden among others destroyed everything they did not need or thought obsolete. A great pity, there are no Swedish Brownings and Schwarzloses, Dutch Schwarzloses, Vickers and Lewis guns, Norwegian Brownings and Madsens, Italian Revellis and Vickers, French St Etiennes and Hotchkisses, plus all the LMGs those countries had. Not a single example of any of these guns is privately held. In some cases they were still guns on active inventory, but most were obsolete by then.

Argentina, Greece, Turkey, El Salvador, Ecuador and Costa Rica among others sold surplus guns in USA, but the quantities they had were miniscule. Later, Portugal, Argentina, Australia and Guatemala sold their surplus guns to USA but by then 1986 Gun Control act was in force, and all that could come in was parts kits. Interarms sold to various dealers such as Potomac Arms, Navy Arms Co, etc. There was one outfit in California, I think the name was Golden State Arms, who brought in some of those nice wood stock German and Austrian SMGs. Don’t know where they got them, often they were picked up in other countries where the makers sold them.

As for prices, they were so cheap that it makes one ill. I think the brass Maxims were bought for $10.- each, FOB Argentina, and everything else did not cost that much. It generally cost at least as much as much to import the stuff than what was paid for it overseas, due to freight charges, duties, customs brokers fees, trucking once the goods were in USA, port of entry charges, etc.

Dolf

13 comments to Ask Dolf: Importers

  • David Thomas

    Just a small footnote : there are no restrictions on the import of small arms into the UK so long as the importer is authorised (under the firearms acts) to possess the type of weapons concerned. Its regarded as a matter of trade not policing. Export is rather more difficult as the exporter has to obtain a valid import licence from the importing country’s authorities. Then an export licence is required which requires Foreign Office approval (so it would be next to impossible to export (legally) to, say, North Korea or Iran !

  • Earl Flanigan

    While $10 might sound cheap today, it wasn’t back in 1965 when the national average wage was around $6500 per year. Many folks made much less than that.

    • Earl Liew

      It’s true that $10 back then was worth a lot more than it is now, but even allowing for a highly-generous x10 overall cost-of-living/inflation factor, how could you go wrong with a $100 equivalent, in today’s dollars, for a brass Maxim, which is so much more collectible than the later-model, steel Maxims? Come to think of it, even if there had been a typographical error involved in the original article, and Dolf had meant to say “$100″ in 1960′s currency, that would still translate to a bargain-basement, dirt-cheap $1000 in today’s dollars :).

      No wonder Dolf talks about price comparisons between then and now for the same item making one ill, not to mention availability — or more specifically, the lack thereof — due to changed market and legal conditions!

  • swede1986

    There are a few Swedish Brownings and Schwarzloses in private hands in Sweden. Apparently the government sold some of them.

    • Storkviz

      This is true. I have seen it myself, and I have photographs of Swedish brownings in the possession of a private gun dealer.

      I also know that there are at least a few Swedish BARs in the United states.

  • Brandt

    There’s a great book about Interarms and Sam Cummings called “Deadly Business: Sam Cummings, Interarms, and the Arms Trade” that I read back in high school. His stories of buying, selling, and importing huge quantities of various small arms were fascinating.

  • Rod Woods

    Then, as now, the various dealers were quite proactive and visited different countries and enquired with the Defence departments about surplus items. In some instances the items are internationally advertised for tender, but most go to the dealer who makes the ‘best’ offer. This frequently includes ‘backhanders’ to corrupt politicians and military personnel. I had the opportunity to get in on the Argentinian deal way back but it required an up front ‘wheel greasing’ of US$50,000 just to get in the door! I have done many legitimate bulk deals with the NZ Government by way of public tender (to suitably licenced people) for firearms and ammunition.

  • Robert

    quote – “I think the brass Maxims were bought for $10.- each”,,,,,,, I think I’m going to cry now.

  • Mike Halvorsen

    I’m remembering (I’m in the “Way-Back Machine” now) seeing 1917Enfields for $15…and Radoms for sale mail-order at $25…ah, the good old days (when minimum wage was $1.25/hr…when you could even find a job at 11 years old…and you didn’t get a gun until you went through some kind of instruction by an adult as to it’s proper safe useage…God, I got old and crabby…

  • Storm

    By some account, 6 dollars from 1960s would be approx. 100 dollars in year 2008.

    • Earl Liew

      Most accounts will calculate US$1.00 in the early 1960′s as being generally equivalent to US$7.00-&7.50 today (2013), which is why I included “even allowing for a highly-generous x10 overall cost-of-living/inflation factor in my reply to Earl Flanigan above.

  • Leszek Erenfeicht

    Back then there were days, when any firearm, including machineguns, was just a tool, or a mechanism. Only now after decades of electing pansies to power, any gun has became a fetish, commanding gross overprices as something dark and improper, kinky and whatever. Just two months ago British press-stand chain declared, it is moving gun magazines from ‘man interest’ shelves to the ‘over 18 y.o.’, together with hard porn (soft remained at the wide-available ‘erotic’ shelves). Even for the UK standards that was too much and they get so much blazing for their idea, that they quickly reiterated. What idiot you have to be, to come up with an idea like that at all?
    I’d rather go back to the days when things kinky were made of leather and rubber, and the manly tools of a trade were made out of wood, steel and brass, if you ask me…

  • Leszek Erenfeicht

    Back then there were days, when any firearm, including machineguns, were just a tool, or a mechanism. Only now after decades of electing pansies to power, any gun has became a fetish, commanding gross overprices as something dark and improper, kinky and whatever. Just two months ago British press-stand chain declared, it is moving gun magazines from ‘man interest’ shelves to the ‘over 18 y.o.’, together with hard porn (soft remained at the wide-available ‘erotic’ shelves). Even for the UK standards that was too much and they get so much blazing for their idea, that they quickly reiterated. What idiot you have to be, to come up with an idea like that at all?
    I’d rather go back to the days when things kinky were made of leather and rubber, and the manly tools of a trade were made out of wood, steel and brass, if you ask me…

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