Sometimes when I write a post of make a video on a particularly unusual firearm, it will result in my being contacted by someone who has a surprising amount of experience with that gun, and provides me with new information I didn’t previously have. Well, exactly that happened with the Nazi belt buckle pistol sold by RIA that I made a video of. A few days ago I got an email from a fellow who said that particular piece used to be his, and if I was interested in the full story I should give him a call. I did, of course, and the story was pretty interesting.
This fellow was a young man in the USAF stationed in Germany in the early 1990s, and I will call him M for the purposes of the story (I don’t know what US or German laws may have been bent or broken in the following events, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble). He spent about 3 years at the Bitburg Air Force base, until it was turned over to the Germans in late 1994. During that time, he was an enthusiastic shooter, buying and selling guns and spending time at a nearby commercial German shooting range. He was a frequent and reliable customer of the range – buying guns as well as shooting time – and as the years went by the range owner came to know and trust him and they became personal acquaintances, if not friends. Well, Norbert the range owner, it seems, was something of a closet neo-Nazi and generally creepy dude. M would sometimes show up to the range at unusual times and find some pretty sketchy people there shooting things like Skorpion SMGs. M was not particularly enthusiastic to become involved in this side of Norbert’s life, but maintained the relationship because of the range availability and the neat gun deals he got in the process. When M was looking for an MP44, Norbert took him on a somewhat surreal visit to a basement where he was offered three as a package, in various states of repair.
Around 1996, Norbert offered M one of these belt buckle pistols (M was now stationed at Ramstein, but continued to patronize the same shooting range). Norbert claimed that he had been contacted by the widow of a man he used to know who had emigrated from Germany to Switzerland after the war. Norbert’s description of this man and his activities coincides very well with what is known and surmised about Louis Marquis (the man generally credited with making prototype belt buckle guns for the SS). The widow said her husband had various old stuff up in the attic which she simply wanted gone, and Norbert went to clean it out. Norbert claimed to have recovered quite a lot in that attic, including gold and a box of belt buckle pistols. Initially, Norbert offered M a 4-barrel, .22 caliber belt buckle pistol, and M thought it was very cool and had to have it. He traded Norbert a Mini-14 for it. To M’s surprise, his interest prompted Norbert to bring out the whole box of belt buckle pistols, and M wound up acquiring three more of them. In addition to the 4-barrel .22, these other ones were:
- An aluminum, heavily engraved example with 3 barrels. M describes the mechanism as being totally different form the others. He has no photos of it, as he traded it off to a friend fairly quickly.
- A two-barreled example in .22LR, serial number 2/C
- A single-barrel example in 9x19mm, described to him as the prototype.
M eventually brought three of the four back into the US in a suitcase, a decision he sees in retrospect as stupid and risky considering their likely status as AOWs. He sold one and traded the other two as a pair for a fishing boat and trailer. From that entry into circulation, they have floated around the collector market with various stories and ever-increasing price tags.
In hindsight, M is pretty sure that the whole box of belt buckle pistols was actually manufactured by Norbert, the closet Nazi range owner. He says Norbert had the means, motive, and opportunity to do so and the story Norbert provided for the guns’ origin simply didn’t seem to hold water.
Now, M is just some stranger on the internet. What gives his story credence to me (aside from a totally subjective gut feeling that I believe him) is that he was able to provide me with photos he took of three of the guns back while he was stationed in Germany. First up, here is number 1L, which M believes is the exact same piece that RIA recently sold:
All of these images can be enlarged by clicking on them. If this is the same item as the recent sale, it is worth noting that the eagle has been fixed by someone between its current sale and when M sold it off. In addition, the bluing on the piece is virtually gone today, and was fairly intact when M took these photos. He describes the bluing as being of poor quality, saying that it would leave an odor on his fingers after handling and would wear off the metal easily. Do I think it’s the same piece? Yeah, I think it is. Here’s a side-by-side of the RIA sale image with one of M’s – note details like screw orientation and scratches:
Next up, the two-barrel example in .22LR:
The markings on this piece are clearly done in the same style as #1L, but there are a few design differences. A different type of eagle emblem is used (thicker). The cover plate is angled rather than curved, and it has a bottom side to close off the internals (1L leaves a gap at the bottom of the cover plate). The latch allowing the piece to be folded and stowed is different in design.
Finally, the alleged prototype:
This one is also given the serial number “1” and has the same basic mechanical design as the others, but has totally different markings on the bottom. It is a single-barrel, chambered for 9x19mm. It has the same style cover plate as 1L, but a different type of eagle than either of the other examples. The belt attachments of all three are clearly all made the same way and to the same design.
To me, this story and its accompanying photos throw the balance of the evidence thoroughly into the “fake” camp for me. Nothing here constitutes proof that the real Louis Marquis didn’t actually make something similar for the SS, but this style is the most legitimate looking type I have seen, and I no longer have and belief that they might be legit. That might have been totally obvious to some people for a long time, but I have been trying to remain open to the possibility that they were real. Well, no longer.
As an interesting epilogue, M told me about his experience shooting these. They were not 5-figure artifacts when he had them, and he was absolutely going to try shooting them! In fact, he told me in a somewhat embarrassed tone about having worn #1 around on a belt (as you see it displayed above) a few times for fun.
At any rate, he described shooting them as (and I quote here), “they didn’t work for shit.” In all three pieces, cartridges would always slide backwards, partway out of the chambers. There is no mechanism to hold them in place (I had assumed myself that the cambers would be cut tight enough to hold the lead .22 bullets in place, but they were not). He said this problem was at its worst in the 9mm model. In addition, the rimfire ones had very sharp firing pins, and M says they tended to split the case rims and jam the cartridges in place rather than fire them. He says about 1 in 4 would actually fire…and the rest would have to be rammed out with a stick (not a fun task, considering their live priming compound).