Early in the production of the C96 Mauser, the company tried a variety of different configurations of the pistol, to see what would be popular and sell well. Most of these were abandoned by about 1902, when the design was more or less standardized to the version were are familiar with today. One of the early experiments was with a 20-round fixed magazine, or which 188 were made. This was fed using two 10-round stripper clips, and that seems to have been the biggest problem with it. According to some folks who have used these, the magazines is quite difficult to fully load, making the 10-shot version rather more practical. There are counterfeits of these being made, so one must be careful when making a purchase – but this particular one came from the collection of Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess, which gives it plenty of legitimacy in my book.
The M1907/12 heavy machine gun was the standard mounted MG of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War, and saw sporadic use clear through the end of WWII. The design is unusual among heavy machine guns because it is actually an unlocked, delayed blowback system. A combination of a heavy recoil spring and significant mechanical disadvantage is used to retard the breech to the point that extraction pressure is low enough to be safe (and extraction is aided by the use of a cartridge oiler). These are definitely underappreciated guns today, being one of the most compact and simple guns of their type.
For more information on the design, and to download electronic copies of a couple original manuals, check out my Vault page on the 1907/12.
The Mars pistol was designed by Sir Hugh Gabbett-Fairfax in England in 1898, and only 81 were produced by the time manufacturing ended in 1907. These pistols were chambered for several different cartridges, all of them tremendously powerful for the day (and really not equaled by another self-loading pistol until the Automag). I have a somewhat lengthy article on the Mars, and I was very excited to have a chance to examine two more example of the guns in person at the Juli auction house.
Elmer Keith’s No.5 Single Action Army is arguably the most famous custom revolver ever made. Keith had it built in 1928 after developing a friendship with Harold Croft, another revolver enthusiast. Croft had shown Keith his own custom revolvers, which he had numbered 1 through 4. Croft had been trying to make an ideal pocket gun, and Keith used several of his ideas along with some of Keith’s own to put together a revolver for general-purpose field use. In recognition of Croft’s work, Keith called his gun Number 5. It featured an extended flat top with windage-adjustable sights, an improved mainspring, redesigned cylinder pin, custom hammer spur, and modified Bisley grip. It was chambered for the .44 Special/.44 Russian cartridges (the Russian being a slightly shorter version of the Special), and it was Keith’s favorite shooting piece until the .44 Magnum cartridge was introduced in the late 1950s. He described this gun in detail in a 1929 American Rifleman article entitled “The Last Word”.
The M1895 Lee Navy was a rifle well ahead of it’s time – a smallbore (6mm) straight-pull bolt action adopted by the US Navy at the same time that the US Army was adopting the Krag-Jorgenson. The Lee Navy was designed by James Paris Lee (the same man who designed the Lee Enfield action), and was a limited commercial success for Winchester with 20,000 being sold in total. Half of those went to the US Navy, and they were issued to shipboard armories and Marine Corps units. One of the ships which received an allotment of Lee Navy rifles was the USS Maine, and its rifles were on board when she exploded and sank in the Havana harbor, helping to start the Spanish-American War. Several dozen of these rifles were salvaged shortly after the sinking (it happened in less than 50 feet of water) and were sold on the commercial market by the Francis Bannerman company. This rifle is one of those few documented to have come off the Maine, making it a fantastic piece of history.
Needlefire rifles were developed in the 1830s and represented and early effective type of breechloading rifle. As such, they were adopted by both German and French armies – but only in rifle form. Needlefire handguns were much less common. This particular design was patented in 1852 by a man named G.L. Kufahl in the UK, but ultimately manufactured under license by the Dreyse company. It was available in several configurations of caliber and barrel length, with this one being in .43 caliber.
After this was filmed, I did discover what the powder charge marking on the piece translate to – approximately 11.5 grains of black powder. In addition, the Prussian measurement system they were marked in was only in use until 1871 or 1872, meaning that they give us an end bracket for the date the gun could have been made. Between that and the “v” in Dreyse’s name, it can be narrowed down to between 1864 and 1872.
During the late 1920s, it looked like the German Army was going to replace the P08 Luger with a less expensive sidearm, and several major German companies developed prototype guns to meet this anticipated need. The replacement ended up being postponed for nearly a decade (the P38 would be the eventual result), and this led to most of the prototype ideas being dropped. The Walther company had designed a scaled-up version of its very popular PP, which was to be called the MP. Only a small number were made – Fritz Walther himself carried one in 9x19mm, and this example was made in 9x23mm Steyr in hopes of attracting interest from the Chilean military. It is a simple blowback action, quite literally an enlarged PP. In my opinion, it feels fantastic in the hand – it is curious to consider what it would have felt like to shoot.
So, I may have gone a bit overboard and filmed more video at this upcoming Julia auction than I actually had time to publish before the auction takes place (but there were so many amazing guns there!). One way I am going to cheat my way out of the dilemma is to post two videos today. They are both on fantastically rare Webley & Scott automatic pistols, so I figure they will go together pretty well.
First up, a Model 1904. This was basically the first working automatic pistol made by Webley (there was a 1903 toolroom experiment, but it didn’t really work). Like all the Webley automatic that would follow, it was designed by William Whiting. The 1904 was the company’s first effort at making a semiautomatic sidearm for the British military, so it was chambered for the .455 cartridge (a special rimless version made by Kynoch, after early experiments using the .455 rimmed revolver ammunition caused lots of problems stacking in magazines). It is a rather huge handgun, and uses a short recoil mechanism with two separate locking blocks. This particular one is s/n 23 – very few were made before it was rejected in military trials and Webley redirected its efforts toward smaller commercial pistols. I don’t know if I will ever have another chance to handle one of these, so I tried to make the most of the opportunity:
Webley came back to the military-style pistol a few years later, and the Model 1910 was a bit more successful – nearly a thousand of these were made. By the 1910 version Whiting had refined the locking mechanism to the angled lugs on the barrel that would remain in use through the Royal Navy contact in 1912/1913. This particular one, though, is a prototype with a number of unique features – most notably the lack of a grip safety.
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: