The Vault

The Most Elegant Pistol Ever

Most of the time, guns intended to be fancy and particularly fancy leave me rather cold. I can recognize the mind-blowing skill that goes into really high-end hand engraving, but engraved guns just aren’t really my style. Same with precious metal inlays…it’s just not for me. Even if I one day become wealthy enough to afford such things, I can’t really see myself partaking.

However, I would like to think that I do have some appreciation for the truly elegant firearms that are out there. There are lots of typical, ordinary looking designs, and quite a lot of pretty hideous ones (which I am often drawn to because of their under-appreciated nature). The Dreyse 1907 I recently picked up is a good example – it may look like Schmeisser was pretty hung over on the morning he drew it up, but it’s still an interesting and historically significant design.

But, every once in a while I stumble upon a gun that is just absolutely gorgeous not because it has been gussied up with decorations but because its functional parts lead to a very pleasing form, complemented by just the right choice of materials for its construction. The best example I’ve yet seen is the 1896 Bittner manually-repeating pistol:

Bittner repeating pistol

The Bittner repeater: an elegant weapon for a more civilized romanticized age

I am really drawn to the juxtaposition of the organically curved frame with the octagonal barrel and the point at the base of the grip. The case hardened finish with rich dark wooden grips and spring covers is just perfect. I think what I really like it that these elements were not created to be aesthetically appealing, but are natural results of the engineering process that went into designing the pistol. It’s like beauty in the natural world, coming from form rather than design.

I will have a post later on discussing the Bittner in terms of mechanics and history, but I wanted to point it out today as my long-time number 1 choice in pistol aesthetics. I dearly hope that if I ever manage to get my hands on one, it doesn’t turn out to be a letdown!

Still, I’m sure plenty of folks have much different tastes than I do – so tell me, what guns do you think are the most elegant?

 

54 comments to The Most Elegant Pistol Ever

  • Bryden

    Very nice..

    But I think the Maxim Silverman 1896 beats it both externally and internally!

    It is IMHO the zenith of the gun designer’s art..

  • Matthew

    It’s true that the 1896 Bittner has a great Victorian steampunk flair to it, but not only is “most elegant” terribly subjective, it’s also period-specific. I might go with an open-top black powder revolver like a Colt 1848 Pocket Baby Dragoon or the Remington Model 51, it just depents on the period.

  • Big Al

    I think the Colt Model 1860 Army revolver is as elegant as a large-frame revolver can get. I have a reproduction made by Pietta and I love it.

  • John D.

    1900 Model Swiss Luger

  • James

    The Mauser C96 7.63 for me. Nice rounded handle with a slender barrel, there is something appealing about pistols with magazines in front of the trigger.

  • Joel

    If you were ever obscenely rich enough to blow 100k on a rifle, you probably would spend the $$$ to buy something like this just for the heck of it

  • Mu

    C96 will always be the ultimate steampunk gun for me. Plus it makes a great blaster.

  • Phil

    I have always thought the plain volcanic pistol was an extremely sweet looking handgun.

  • DistalRadius

    Lancaster Superposed Howdah Pistol. Classy.

  • Tony Stencel

    How does this work? Any reference out there?

  • Mu

    Of course, for true elegance, the Walter PPK is the only gun to carry when black tie is required.

  • KNO3

    I like the Mauser C96 Bolo. Very difficult to decide.

  • Joshua

    this is a rather subjective question, however I say the Enfield no. 2 revolver.
    always loved break-top revolvers, and you don’t often see break-tops bigger than .32 which makes the Enfield special, built in what I consider to be the golden age of firearms, and that’s before you even reach aesthetics. the entire design of the gun sweeps into the octagonal barrel, it has a slender grip, not some great chunky piece because of a magazine like some automatics I’ve seen.
    gorgeous gun

  • Luger Navy – if I could own one pistol just for its looks it would be this one.

    Browning Hi-power – I’ve always thought of it as a 1911′s elegant wife.

    Don’t ask why, I can’t defend it, but a heavy-barrel Thompson-Center Contender. Like an old-fashioned dueling pistol it does one thing, it does it very well, and it can’t do anything else.

  • Daweo

    My long subjective list – I can’t chose one
    Please don’t consider below links as advert, I linked this links for illustrating purposes.
    Smallbore (.22) revolvers
    .22 Webley: http://www.rjmilitaria.com/rj49.htm

    S&W Bekaert model (also known as 22/32 Heavy frame):
    http://www.marlinowners.com/forum/handguns/87551-22-32-heavy-frame-target-bekeart-model.html

    S&W Ladysmith (also known as .22 Hand Ejector):
    http://www.icollector.com/Two-Smith-Wesson-22-Hand-Ejector-Double-Action-Revolvers-A-1st-Model-Smith-Wesson-Ladysmith-D_i9751771

    S&W 22/32 Kit gun: http://julianwinston.com/guns/guns2.php

    Medium bore (.32 & .38) revolvers:
    Colt Army Special
    http://www.24hourcampfire.com/ubbthreads/ubbthreads.php/topics/3242960/1

    S&W M&P (early models)

    Colt Pocket Positive
    http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Colt_Pocket_Positive

    Big bore revolvers:
    Colt 1878

    Smallbore (.22) pistols:
    Colt Woodsman

    Pocket (.25, .32 & .380) pistols:
    Remington Model 51
    Frommer Liliput: http://www.hungariae.com/FromLili.htm
    Mannlicher 1901: http://www.hungariae.com/Mann01.htm

    Military pistols:
    Remington Model 53
    Schwarzlose 1898

  • As we’re prone to saying over at Weaponsman, de gustibus non disputandum est, eh.

    Me, I think that thing is so homely that the obstetrician slapped it’s mama… but that’s just me. Gotta agree with the folks suggesting long-barreled Lugers, although my favorite (and Kaiser Bill’s, FWIW) is the Carbine. Especially the 1920 carbine, by which time Ole Bill was living quietly in Dutch exile, but I expect he was still hunting.

    There are some dreadful guns that are quite beautiful, but one that is both decent and beautiful is the Remington Model 51, IMHO.

    http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2011/07/gratuitous-gun-pr0n-53-remington-51.html

    Almost every John Browning design was homely as a prototype but beautiful by the time it sold. Look at the Winchesters he did…

    The original AR-15 has become so commonplace, people forget what an attractive, if George Jetson-era, design it is.

  • TNThompson

    S&W New Model Number Three or Mauser C96. I did a gun show this weekend and another vendor had a C96 cutaway on display (not for sale!) Professionallly done with polished parts and looked like it was effected on a brand new gun! Talk about elegant mechanicals…

  • Josh

    The Webley Mk IV, In .455 w/ Silver finish or The Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless w/ Silver finish would probably be my choices. I haven’t had the privilege to handle nor fire either. But, it’s just something about there shape and design that makes them so beautiful in my eyes. Then again I’m also a Hi-Point fan so my tastes are always left to speculation. haha.

  • Epicly steampunk, that one.

    My favorite hand-gun appearance-wise has to be the Bergmann-Mars. There’s just something about old pistols with forward-mounted mags. Makes them look both steampunk and sorta sci-fi at the same time.

  • Ian H

    Yes, the Bittner has a very pleasing form. I really love Victorian era pistol grips, pistols of that era also generally have a good sense of proportion. Coincidentally, a Bittner was up for sale on Gunbroker not that long ago.

  • Robert

    Smith & Wesson Number Three Russian Contract.

  • William Barnett-Lewis

    3rd Place: Mauser HSc
    2nd Place: Jericho 941
    1st Place: Browning Baby
    Champion: Maxim Silverman 1896

    With an honorable mention of the .38 Special S&W Military & Police Model of 1905 4th Change.

  • Earl Liew

    Wow, there are so many guns of all kinds that I personally find to be both supremely functional and aesthetically attractive that the list would probably be far too long to write about here ( this includes several “ugly ducklings” that grow on one with time, too ).

  • Jeremy Barnum

    I’m personally a Hino-Komuro fan as far as looks, but I will never get one. Stupid BATF rules…

  • Mu

    There’s one on Gunbroker right now btw http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.aspx?Item=380631780 if a wee bit on the pricey side

  • Turk

    For pure grace, I love the old Whitney Wolverine….(Not that awful modern plastic one Olympic made) but the S&W No.3 Russian is a close 2nd….

  • Chris Morton

    I can see Dejah Thoris buying John Carter one of those for their anniversary.

    Guns magazine once did a feature on the Bittner. It’s a very interesting if not terribly practical handgun.

  • Ian H

    There is a Bittner on gunbroker for $17,500.

    However, browsing the internet, it seems one sold on Armslist for $1075(!!!) in April.

  • R. Aballe

    Well, from roughly the same era as the C96, my choice would be the Schwarzlose M 1898 pistol. There is one available for $27,500 right now for those who’d fancy a minty specimen: http://www.horstheld.com/0-Schwarzlose.htm

  • bojan

    Bergmann 1896 or Merwin Hullbert Pocket Army, late model with full barrel rib:
    http://media.liveauctiongroup.net/i/18505/17958288_1.jpg?v=8D0ACD8F16FF680

  • Kyleno4mk2

    Make mine the Webley-Green “Army” model in .476!

  • JRoot

    I was about to say the Merwin Hullbert! Though I love the look of the early model Pocket Army models with the open frame… And the image of a 70s production Mauser Parabellum Luger is forever burned into my mind’s eye. Oh, I have to agree with the Whitney Wolverine, too! Darn, impossible to choose just one! Ah, and another: an Automag!

  • Peter B

    Luger 1906 model. Works all the time, goes where you point, and just looks the part too! geog Luger saved my hide more than once.

  • me

    Let me see. Just aesthetically?

    In no particular order:

    long guns? Springfield M1903. M1928 Navy Thompson with 50rd drum and horizontal foregrip. Winchester M1897 in trench-gun configuration. The Winchester 1873.

    pistols and revolvers? Webley Mk. VI. S&W “Highway Patrolman.” Luger P08. The prewar S&W N-frame fixed-sight service revolvers that were sold in the “Military & Police” line before model numbers, like the 38-44 Heavy Duty and the 4″ .44 Specials that were made for the Treasury Department. S&W “Schoefield” in .45. The 1911A1. The Browning Hi-Power. The Colt Python. The original 1970s AMT Automag.

  • ZAR

    Well, while I certainly love the “Broomhandle” (Mauser C96) my favourite pistol will always be the Steyr Mannlicher M1901.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steyr_Mannlicher_M1901

    The first time I saw one of these was in an episode of “Riley – Ace of Spies” where Riley buys an M1901 for his female (!) bodyguard. And the shopkeeper mentions (correctly) that it features a “rare calibre”. But the woman wants the pistol anyway (and she’s right).

    Well, the “Riley – Ace of Spies” is highly recommended and so is this gun! ;)

  • Lyle

    Colt’s 1860 Army or 1861 Navy. They’re not rare, and reproductions abound, but they are to me the most beautiful and elegant handguns ever made. They are the culmination of over 30 years of percussion revolver development. The “creeping” loading lever is the only one that presents a constant, centered force to the bullet ram. And they are mechanically simple, with parts integrated to serve multiple functions, which to me is elegance, and fit in the hand (my hand at least) is second to none.

    In a file, the straight-stocked lever action with a long, octagonal barrel and tubular magazine is quite pleasing to the eye and to the hand. It’s hard to say– There are so many. The 18th century American long rifles are beautiful, as are the fine English double rifles. Even the AK has an elegance of a different sort. Stoner’s AR, though needlessly more complicated, has one of the most elegant “user interfaces” in a fighting rifle.

  • SVaaka

    Well Finland has been many times called a “biafra” of guns and this is plain truth. Couple of yearsago i visited my home town museum ( city of Oulu ) and their inventory of guns to give them little maintenance and quess what? Among those guns I found a mint sample of this Bittner mechanical automatic – You don’t have to think long about my reaction. Even if most curious guns can be found in Finlandm but a Bittner and in mint condition – Too bad it is in museum which do not unserstand what they got in their hands and it is in a warehouse not in showcase to people to see. Well I think that quite not so many would understand what they see – OMG.

  • eon

    In automatics; the original Whitney Wolverine .22, and the original Automag in .44, with an Honorable Mention for the Jurras Custom .357 with the 16″ barrel, scope, and detachable stock. The ultimate “U.N.C.L.E. Special”. Speaking of which, the Walther P.38 gets runner-up, here, along with the later P-5.

    The Colt Government Model, especially the Combat Commander in .45. HM to the original S&W M39 9mm.

    Revolvers; The Colt Peacemaker, especially in nickel .45 with the short barrel snubbed off at the end of the ejector-rod housing. The N-frame S&W Magnums, especially the early M-29 and M-27; fit and finish on them was perfect. The Colt Python .357, especially the 6″ stainless version. Runners-up; the Colt percussion single-actions, including the metallic-cartridge conversions, notably the Richards/Mason conversion Model 1861 Navy in .38 RF or CF.

    Rifles; Any of the Winchester lever actions, but especially the 1876 Centennial “One of One Thousand” model; not only pretty, but it could shoot, too. HM to the big Model 71 in .348; elegance and smashing power in one package.

    Any of the big British double rifles, but especially the Holland & Holland India Royal in .465, and the Grand African in .600 Nitro.

    The pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 in .30-06, and African in .458, both Super Grade.

    The Mannlicher-Schoenauer sporting carbines in .270, 6.5mm, etc., especially with a scope on top (Noske, Lyman Alaskan, etc.) Somehow, the “full-length” MS rifles always looked a bit gawky to me. The full-length stock on the shorter barrel just “looks right”, and handles well, too. (Somehow, that “Mannlicher” stock never looks as good on a Mauser-type action.)

    Shotguns; The classic hammerless double from Holland & Holland, with proper sidelocks. While the boxlocks like the Winchester Model 21 may be just as effective, they aren’t quite as esthetically pleasing.

    The Remington Model 870 skeet and trap gun. HM to the 1100 in same guise. The Ithaca Model 37 is a runner-up, only because it’s a trifle disconcerting to see such a sleek and well-balanced shotgun with no obvious ejection port!

    As for military/defense arms;

    SMG- the M1921/28 Thompson, the Beretta M38, and the Erma MP-38/40. About the only three SMGs that aren’t just absolutely butt-ugly.

    Sturmgewehr; The Haenel MKb42 and MP43. The later MP44/StG44 versions weren’t very well-made or finished; the early ones had quality workmanship and hand-crafting to match their lethal efficiency.

    Standard Rifles; The Swedish M96 Mauser in 6.5 x 55. In all its variations, not only accurate and reliable but generally easy-handling, and pretty as well.

    Pistols; The M1911A1 .45. HM to the P-35 High Power.

    Revolvers; The S&W Victory Model .38/200, and Model 1917 .45 ACP.

    cheers

    eon

  • Hmm, to me, “elegance” means a certain simplicity to the design; smooth curves; regular lines; uncluttered surfaces. A CZ 52, whatever its other merits, has a gently tapering shape and a clean, unadorned slide that draws the eye towards the muzzle without interruption. Likewise the Lugers, the Mauser HSc and the Whitney Wolverine. Even the early Desert Eagle, despite being a massive brick of a gun, is an unfussy, clean design.

    I find the Webley revolvers and most of the early semi-autos aesthetically pleasing, but I wouldn’t describe any of them as elegant. Cool, definitely, but not elegant.

  • KNO3

    I’m surprised that there is no love for any long slide pistols.

  • Joel Müller

    Some of my favourites are Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, Colt 1861 Pocket Navy, Colt Dragoon (I’m seeing a pattern here…) and of course the Le Mat, but really, you cant really beat a classic like the C96 Broomhandle Mauser.

  • Ed

    Hi Ian,
    I just have to say that the turn of the last century seems to evoke in me the end of an elegant era. Have to say, I’m fan of those little Bayard vest automatics of 1908 (all upside down and such!) Truly a time of discovery and invention. Unfortunately the same rationalizations of technology will occur as they must, that rob us of the “spirit of the artisans”/designers image of design in the spirit of practicality. Like you, I feel we’ve lost a step with the loss of HAND tooled machining and the beauty it creates. But, I’m not lost in the past either. I owe my life to our modern weapons and am constantly amazed at the ingenuity that is constantly regenerating/refining ageless designs. 27+ years and still serving. Airborne, All The Way! cavjafo

  • jim

    Ths Sig P210 does it for me.

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