Yesterday we received an email from a reader named Michael, asking for information on an interesting rare piece he has – a Type 97 Japanese naval flare pistol:
For folks who aren’t familiar with Japanese flare guns, you might surprised by how many there are. The Imperial Japanese Army adopted a 35mm flare pistol in 1921 (the Type 10) and used it through the end of World War II. The Japanese Navy, however, chose to use 28mm flares, and had a series of four different designs between 1927 and 1945. The Type 97 that Michael has is the rarest type, and the only single-barrel flare pistol used by the IJN (they had several double-barrel models and the only triple-barrel flare pistol adopted by a military force).
The Type 97 was manufactured by the Kawaguchiya Firearms Company and adopted by the Japanese NAvy in 1937. There are five different variants of the Type 97:
- Marked simply “KFC”
- “KFC” over a character for “first series” (I think I have that translation right) and a small anchor
- “KFC” over a “first series” character and full size anchor (the is what Michael has, see photo below)
- Three characters over the anchor and “first series”
- Just the anchor and “first series
Exact production numbers for each variant are not known, but the second is most common. About 500 of the third variant were made, along with about 2,000 of the second, 200-400 of the first, and 100 or less of the fourth and fifth. Total production was approximately 3,250.
Mechanically, these flare pistols are pretty simple. The Type 97 uses an internal hammer that is cocked when the breech is opened. The 28mm flares used were 90mm to 94mm in length, with cardboard bodies and brass (early) or steel (late) bases. They were made in white, yellow, red, blue, green, and black. I’m not sure how a black flare works, but apparently they had them.
If you’re impressed that we know this much about such an obscure piece of ordnance, I have to disappoint you. Prior to yesterday, I was pretty ignorant on the subject – but when I got Michael’s email I broke out a copy of James D. Brown’s Collector’s Guide to Imperial Japanese Handguns (you can see our review here). It has a chapter on these signal pistols, as well as the other three Navy types and the Army one.
Michael also asked about what the value of this pistol might be. I’ve never seen one for sale myself, and prices can vary a lot with something this rare, but Brown suggests between $1500 and $2500 for one in very good condition (which this example seems to be in), plus as much as $750 for the holster. Even the flares themselves are pretty scarce, bringing up to $200 each.
Thanks for the email and photos, Michael – I hope some of this information is useful to you – and I hope everyone else learned something new today (I know I did).