Amerigo Cei-Rigotti was a major in the Italian Bersaglieri (light infantry) in 1900, when his innovative self-loading rifle design was first introduced. Unlike many or the very early semiauto rifle designs, the Cei-Rigotti is a light, handy, and pretty compact rifle:
The rifle was select-fire and shared the size and style of the Carcano as well as a few small parts, but was built from the ground up and was not a conversion of a bolt action rifle. It operated via gas pressure on a short-stroke piston under the barrel. This example has a small magazine, but several different sizes were used in various tests, reportedly up to 50 rounds in capacity. The magazines are not quick-detachable, though, and must be reloaded with stripper clips through the receiver. Removing the magazine requires removing the trigger guard assembly first (see video below).
Another unusual feature of the Cei Rigotti is that its trigger extends down through a slot in the trigger guard. The purpose of this is not clear – is does not appear to be related to the select-fire nature of the rifle, as there is a selector switch on the left rear of the receiver to change for single shots to automatic fire. This leaves a “winter trigger” idea as the most likely answer.
What little literature was have found on the Cei Rigotti always describes it as being chambered for 6.5mm Carcano, but this is not the case. The one Cei Rigotti we are aware of in the US is actually chambered for 7.65×53, which was one of Mauser’s major caliber offerings at the time the Cei Rigotti was being conceived. The Pattern Room collection in the UK has Cei Rigotti serial number 7, and theirs is also chambered for the 7.65×53 cartridge (we really appreciate them checking on it and letting us know). It is unknown at this point whether all of the handful of prototypes built were in this chambering, or if they were made in several different calibers (possibly including 6.5 Carcano) for testing in different nations.
Ultimately, the Cei Rigotti was not adopted by any military force despite being tested by several countries over the decade after its introduction. Most folks today say this was due to erratic and unreliable functioning, but we have not seen any test reports from the period substantiating this (and the mechanism seems quite sound to us). The test conducted by the British, for instance, appears to have been run with ammunition that was shipped with the rifle and damaged in transit.
We had the opportunity to disassemble and examine this Cei Rigotti:
Another Cei Rigotti is privately owned in the US, and this video was produced discussing it:
This Cei Rigotti (the same one as our video above) is in a museum collection in England, and is missing its internal bolt parts, unfortunately. We have not been able to confirm its caliber yet.