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The Vault

Thuer Conversion Colt 1849 at James D Julia

As the self-contained metallic cartridge because popular, a niche industry developed in converting percussion revolvers to use the new cartridges. One of the first of these conversions was designed by F. Alexander Thuer and marketed by the Colt company itself. Thuer’s conversion was put into production while the Rollin White patent was still in force, and so it was prevented from using a bored-through cylinder. The get around this, Thuer developed his own proprietary centerfire cartridge with no rim and a very slight taper. These cartridges were loaded from the front of the cylinder and press-fit into place. While this made the conversion legal to sell commercially, it had a number of problems (in addition the use of proprietary ammunition) which led to it quickly losing favor as soon as White’s patent expired. This particular Thuer conversion is on an 1849 Colt Pocket revolver:

Winchester 94 with Maxim Silencer at James D Julia

The Winchester Model 94 is one of the most iconic American sporting rifles ever made, and this particular one is chambered in the equally iconic .30-30 cartridge. It is a takedown version, made in 1907, and most interestingly of all, it comes with a legal and registered original Maxim Silencer. The Silencer is something that is difficult to find today not because they didn’t make and sell a large number of them, but because very few were ever registered (the registration tax was $200, and the silencers themselves cost between $2.50 and $7.00). That makes most of them contraband today, with no legal avenue to register them now.

Shooting Elmer Keith’s Carry Pistol at James D Julia

Elmer Keith should need no introduction here, as one of the fathers of the .44 Magnum, as well as the .357 Magnum and .41 Magnum. Well, his gun collection being sold at the James D. Julia auction house next month, and I had the opportunity to not just look at the guns but actually shoot his carry revolver (thanks to the generous permission of the Keith family). It’s a 4″ S&W pre-Model 29, and it’s a magnificent shooting iron…

Now, I saved the brass from this shooting, and I’m getting each piece laser-engraved with Keith’s signature. Want to have one of them? Reply here with the Julia lot number of one of Keith’s safari rifles (the catalog is here). I’ll pick 6 winners at random on the day of the auction (March 15th) to each get a piece of the brass for free.


Vintage Friday: Russians

Russian troops with SVT-40 rifles

The fixed bayonets are not a common sight… (photo from WarAlbum.ru)

Russian troops with SVT-40 rifles in a particularly photogenic framing. My book review planned for today isn’t quite done yet, so I’m changing up the schedule a bit.

A Rifle of Many Travels

I was visiting a friend recently (James, who runs Tombstone Territorial Firearms, which you should definitely visit if you are ever in Tombstone – it’s a remarkably well-stocked shop), and he had pulled out a particular beat-up old rifle that he though I would find interesting. I definitely did – and grabbed some photos to share it with you folks as well.

Mauser K98k with provenance to Germany, Russia, and Vietnam

Pretty beat-up old rifle, isn’t it?

At first glance, it is a K98k Mauser that has really seen better days – it’s pretty well beat up, and is missing some parts (like the rear barrel band and the front band retaining spring). And, it has a paper plaque affixed to the side of the stock…but we will get to that in a minute. First up, let’s check the receiver:


Made in 1944, by Waffen-Werke Brunn, aka Brno in Czechoslovakia. Late-war production, this almost certainly saw service in the Germany military during the last months of the war. It then went on a trip east:


See that “X” on the rear of the barrel, over the serial number (sorry for the fuzzy photo)? That signifies that the rifle was captured and eventually refurbished by the Russians, and spent who knows how long in storage awaiting World War III. Now, Russian-capture K98k Mausers are by no means uncommon – what makes this one stand out is where it went next.


The rifle found its way down to Vietnam, perhaps via China somehow, where it ended up being presented by a Vietnamese officer to an American Sergeant, who proceeded to bring it back home to the US. Quite the journey! Unfortunately, we don’t know the circumstances what led the Vietnamese to gift it to the American and while I can’t read the plaque, it doesn’t appear to include a description of an event.

Being able to see the history of a particular rifle like this is one of the most interesting aspects of gun collecting…

Sharps-Borchardt M1878 at RIA (Video)


The M1878 was the last new rifle produced by the Sharps company before it went out of business in 1881. It was the invention of none other than German gun designer Hugo Borchardt, better known for his C93 Borchardt automatic pistol (generally considered the first commercially successful automatic pistol). Borchardt was brought in as superintendent of the Sharps company in 1876, and his rifle was well ahead of its time. Its use of coil springs, a striker-fired mechanism, and sleek lines gave it an unusual appearance for its time, and hindered sales. It would not be until after the company has dissolved that the Schützen community would begin to truly appreciate the potential of the Sharps-Borchardt rifle.

The rifle in this video is a Military Pattern M1878 in .45/70 caliber, which is the most common type originally manufactured.

Vickers Semiauto Conversion at RIA (Video)


The Vickers machine gun was an evolution of the Maxim, the world’s first successful machine gun. The Vickers was adopted by the British armed forces shortly before World War I and remained in active service until 1968. It is renowned as one of the most durable and reliable machine guns ever made, with one gun recorded to have fired more than 120,000 rounds in a single 12-hours period in combat. This Vickers has been rebuilt as a semiauto-only gun, and is this not regulated by the NFA and can be sold like any typical rifle or pistol (no tax stamp needed).

For more on the Vickers, see my Paean to the Vickers Gun.

Moore’s Patent Revolver at RIA (Video)

Manufactured in Brooklyn from 1861 until 1863, Moore’s revolver was a 7-shot single-action piece firing .32 rimfire cartridges. What makes it unique is its swing-out cylinder design – the first commercial revolver in the US to use this mechanism. A latch on the back of the frame released the entire barrel and cylinder assembly, allowing it to tip over to the right, exposing the chambers for loading and unloading (similar to the much more recent Savage 101 children’s gun, actually). The ejector rod is stored under the barrel, but must be removed and used by hand when needed. Moore’s revolvers were popular with New Yorkers heading off to the Civil War and almost 8000 were made, but production was halted when Rollin White successfully sued for patent infringement (over his patent on the bored-though cylinder).

Winchester 1893 & 1897 Shotguns at RIA (Video)

The Winchester 1897 was the gun that really set the standard for the now-ubiquitous pump action shotgun. It was designed by John Browning, but was not the first pump action designed and sold. That credit goes to Christopher Spencer, who put the first pump action on the market in 1882. His patent on the concept (in conjunction with co-designer Sylvester Roper) forced competitors to develop workarounds (like the sliding trigger and grip of the Burgess pump shotgun) until 1893, when Winchester released Browning’s design. Winchester was promptly sued by Bannerman, who had purchased the production line and patents for the Spencer shotgun, and the court case did not finally resolve until 1897.

That was actually a potential blessing for Winchester, as the initial 1893 design was not designed to handle the new smokeless powder, and was only chambered for 2 5/8 inch shells. By the time Winchester won the patent case in 1897, it had become clear that smokeless powder was here to stay, and that sooner or later people would start running 2 3/4″ smokeless shells in their 1893 shotguns, which would break and potentially injure people. In a very early example of product liability recall, Winchester replaced the gun with the new, strong 1897 model and offered to exchange the old guns for new ones at no cost. The 1893 models thus turned in were destroyed by the company, leading to their scarcity today.

This particular lot at Rock Island includes examples of both a Winchester 1893 and 1897.

Shansei .45ACP Broomhandle Mauser at RIA (Video)

During the Chinese civil war in the 1920s and 30s, international arms embargoes made rifles difficult to acquire – which led to a lot of popularity for pistols with shoulder stocks. The C96 “broomhandle” Mauser in particular was popular, and it was copied by a number of Spanish firms for sale in China as well (in fact, the fully automatic Schnellfeuer version was initially made by Mauser specifically for Chinese sale). The .45 ACP cartridge also became popular with Thompson submachine guns in some areas, and the natural result was a Chinese arsenal designing and producing a C96 Mauser pistol scaled up to use .45 ACP. A few thousand of these were originally made in Shansei from 1928-1931, and then another batch was made for export in the 1980s. They are actually the same basic size as the C96 (and retain the 10-round capacity), but are much wider and heavier.

This Shansei Broomhandle is one from the relatively recent commercial batch, which should make it more affordable and less worrisome to shoot than the nearly 100-year-old originals.