Platypus or Prototype? Authenticating a Hybrid Entini

Lot 1688 in the September 2019 RIA auction.

I debated whether or not to film this rifle, because I can’t say with 100% confidence that it is genuine. It really seems genuine to me though, and so I decided to use it as an example of the sort of conundrum that comes up in gun collecting. Here I will present the evidence that suggests that it is a rare hybrid training rifle circa 1910-1914, and also the evidence suggesting that it is a fantasy rifle – a “platypus”, as the British rifle collecting community calls it. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

29 Comments

  1. I have one of those martini 12 G’s that Greener made. It would look really great dressed up like this. The only problem is that the barrel is quite thick it being 12G.

  2. Given the information at hand, here’s my stupid hypothesis: Someone has a Martini rifle that’s been bashed up a lot (so much wear and tear that the fore-stock and sights are practically gone). Said someone also has a weapon-less SMLE stock. The person cobbles the stuff together with a rear-sight from who-knows-where just to have a functioning rifle. At least it will work as a rifle and it will accept the standard sword bayonet just in case the item is called to serve as a glaive. 18 inches of sharp steel blade is not something I’d like to see pointed at my face!

      • Okay, so let’s say that this weapon was fabricated from spare parts. If it was a drill rifle made “off the clock” or a movie prop, nobody was going to care about ballistic performance since it wouldn’t be required to shoot live ammunition.

  3. I’ll second on Bruce’s opinion on the Greek Man rear sight. Checked the Greek Man here, that appears to be it.

  4. So it looks to be rifle equivalent of Kensington Runestone, with its true-or-false-ness debated a lot https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_Runestone
    This show if we do not have etalon or at least blueprint which could be compared with object, it make “real or fake”-detection harder.

    “(…)genuine(…)”
    Here we are touching another complicated question: what is original and was it not? which is known as Ship of Theseus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus
    If parts of genuine Martini and genuine Lee-Enfield does this made our subject automatically genuine? If not, what is required in order to be genuine? Intention of anyone who created it? If this is case, then, with current state-of-knowledge, answer to question “genuine or not genuine?” must be: lack of evidence

  5. May I suggest that it is a legitimate combination of Martini and SMLE parts that was cobbled together to produce a “Cadet drill rifle?”
    For example, when the Canadian Army adopted the FN C1 rifle – during the 1950s – most Canadian Cadet Corps (teenagers) were equipped with .22 rim fire conversions of Lee-Enfield Number 4 rifles. They merely added pistol grips – similar to FN C1 – to adapt old rifles to the new drill manual.
    The Canadian Arm d Forces never issued a .22 rim fire variant of the FN C1.

    Your Martini-SMLE hybrid was probably a similar project to adapt old rifles to the new SMLE bayonet. It might have been a very short production/conversion run only done for that single college.
    It is most likely to sell – at auction – to alumni from that college.

  6. Framing something like this as “real” or “fake” is a questionable idea.

    If it’s something that was set out from the get-go to be a counterfeit, then yes, it’s a fake. Unquestionable. A counterfeit implies that someone making it has the intent to fool someone, yes? It’s an intentional lie made flesh.

    However, the other thing is that you can have something that was made with no intent to fool anyone, but which is not documented or “official”. Say that you’re an armorer at that OTC, and the boss tells you that he needs rifles to train with; yet, the other day, they came around and collected up all your nice SMLE rifles to go off to war with, and all you have left is this mess of spare parts from the SMLE rifles you had, and the pile of old Martinis left over from before the SMLE rifles showed up… What do you do? Tell the man “No, we don’t have anything…”, or set-to, and make what you have work? The old ammo for the Martini rifles probably isn’t to be had, and if you want something to shoot, well… Better get going with those spare barrels for the SMLE.

    So… Not official, not recorded, but certainly not counterfeit or faked.

    If you find something that is a “one off”, and can’t find documentation on it, it does not imply that you found something that was faked or counterfeited. You may just have found something that was unofficially modified by a discerning user who knew what the hell they were about, and set something up to their own taste.

    Somewhere out there is an “authentic” US Army M16A1 which has a Trijicon front sight and rear sight on it (assuming that it wasn’t removed and discarded during refurbishment) that was left on it when the rifles were turned in for new M16A2s. That sight was installed by an unknown soldier who was disturbed by his inability to hit anything after dark, and since the “official” issue night sights weren’t to be had for love or money… He installed his own personally purchased Trijicon night sights on his issued weapon. Someone going through things would/will one day find that, take a look at it, and go “Oh, wow… Some idiot tried to fake an M16A1 with the rare night sights, and was too stupid to get the right sights to install…”. Reality was, nobody tried to fake anything; that’s all interpretation by the people looking at it later. All that you’re looking at is someone doing something non-standard that wasn’t documented anywhere for the collector’s convenience.

    Counterfeit and fake are things of interpretation, not reality; if you find something that’s not in alignment with known lore about something, that’s not necessarily a sign that someone forged it in order to fool you. It may simply be that what you’ve discovered simply wasn’t documented, recorded, or even known about outside the original users.

    If you read Roy Dunlap’s description of what he knew of the British armorer’s training in Ordnance Went Up Front, you could easily see some of them turning these things out by the barrel full under the right necessity. Documenting it? Not necessarily something that they would have worried about, especially if it was done sub rosa, in order to keep the authorities from coming around and taking up what they’d done for use elsewhere. “See, McGonnigle… We don’t want this gettin’ round, or the bastards’ll come and snaffle these up for the Home Guard, or sometin’…”.

    Fake and “Platypus” are freighted terms that one shouldn’t use until you’re absolutely sure someone was trying to fool you. Until you have that certainty of intent, what you should be saying is “Hey, here’s this strange thing I found…”, and leave it at that. Interpretation is always a mistake; just like in military intelligence reporting, stick with the facts you know, and leave interpretation of those observed facts for the people whose job it is to make sense of such things. You say “Here’s a counterfeit rifle someone made up…” now, and ten-twenty years from now, a researcher is going to look at that, put it together with something else odd that he’s found, and say “Oh, it’s a fake…”, which then stops them from going down the rabbit hole where the truth actually lies, because you’ve inserted your ideas about something as authoritative. Hell, there may be a hand-written memoir out there by that unknown OTC armorer, where he chortles over how he put one over on the wee idjits that came around to take away the training rifles they needed, and he got around them by running up several dozen Martini actions with SMLE barrels so they could still get the necessary training done. And, that memoir might not get read because some silly bastard said that these were rifles were obvious “fakes”.

    If it ain’t documented, just say so. Don’t use the lack of documentation and provenance as a justification for adjudging something fraudulent–Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    • I have witnessed and assisted on unofficial (improvised) repairs on my company’s laboratory equipment owing to the lack of budget for proper spare tooling. This doesn’t mean our work is fake. It just means we’re short on cash!

      So if training rifles were cobbled together from available parts “off the record,” it just means that the “proper alternative” was unavailable given the material budget at the time! Or, as a man said about the Ross rifles and bayonets foisted on American recruits, “at least having live military weapons that can shoot is better than having our boys shout ‘bang’ while pointing brooms at scarecrows!”

    • Word. It would be interesting for someone to contact the Bradfield (Not Bradford) College Old Boy’s association and ask if any of them remember this/these rifles.

      (Note for Americans, in Britain a “College” is a secondary school, not a university. Pupils leave at 18ish.)

      An 80 year old today would have been at Bradfield in the 1950s, well within the useful life of the rifle. And Bradfield itself may well have a record of it, that is a commercial proof on the Knox form. The proof house certainly has a record of anything they proved, but whether it’s accessible by submitter I don’t know. Maybe under the headmaster’s name, or whoever ran the OTC.

      I’d certainly call the school. Katie Hines and Annabel Morriss are Bradfieldians on the current U. K. Cadet Force rifle team- if they are like I was as a student, they might like to find out. I’d bet that there are plenty of old pictures of the OTC at drill and posing after match victories.

  7. If that college still exists could they have some photographs of students drilling with those type of rifles in their archives?

  8. Just a guess…

    1. Yes, that’s a Greek Mannlicher rear sight, according to my book on Mannlichers by W.H.B. Smith. Or at least it’s a decently-good copy of one.

    2. To judge by the yellowish joint, the front sight (which looks handmade) was brazed to the barrel rather than being sweated or silver-soldered in place.

    3. There are toolmarks around the trigger guard base that look like they were not polished out, which is highly unusual for a Martini action from Enfield Lock or etc.

    4. I disregard the “proofmarks” and etc., as they could be faked. BTW, the ones I’ve seen say “NITRO PROOF” not “NITRO PROVED”.

    Put it all together, I agree that it’s World War One era. But I don’t think it was made in England.

    I’m more inclined to suspect a “Pathan” origin, somewhere around Darra Adam Khel. Homemade Martini Henry copies were quite common there a century ago, and as the British Indian Army moved from the .577/.450 Martini to the 0.303in SMLE, the local smiths turned out Martini copies in 0.303in to take advantage of the new ammunition. While most of these weapons were made from scratch, they did incorporate “authentic” Enfield etc. components when available.

    This one might have been made up there in that way. The nosepiece might be from an authentic SMLE, or it might be a locally-made copy. This reuse of available parts might also explain the Greek Mannlicher type rear sight, which could also be a copy. Please note that a rear sight regulated for 6.5 x 54mm Mannlicher would not work correctly with 0.303in.

    Also note that due to even receivers and etc. being handmade, toolmarks as seen around this one’s receiver were the rule rather than the exception.

    As for the “black paint”, it looks suspiciously like black stove polish to me, and that was a fairly common finishing material in the region, being easily available in local “general stores” on the British side of the border.

    As for the butt stamp and the “sealed pattern” lead, they might indeed be from Bradfield OTC. If the rifle was brought back from India by a graduate and given to the school as a souvenir, it would naturally be stamped as school property, be given a collection number, and etc.

    So the stamp might have been applied quite a while after the rifle had been built and seen service. And a long way from its “home”.

    As I said, just a guess. Take it for what it’s worth.

    cheers

    eon

    • Students of any university are less likely to horseplay with school property (in some cases, fencing weapons or long bows) than they are to horseplay with a friend’s toy since it is easier to discretely replace a friend’s toy than school property. The equipment room for fencers and archery class had three parallel locks on the door at my old school. How’s that for an explanation?

    • “(…)local smiths turned out Martini copies in 0.303in to take advantage of the new ammunition.(…)”
      Did they made barrels themselves? If yes, does they differ from British regarding grooving or chamber enough to be used to detect whatever it is British or local?

      • Sometimes they made their own barrels (using rifling benches very like those used a century before that to make Pennsylvania rifles) but mostly they imported them. While railroad iron made decently-strong receivers with proper heat-treatment, making barrels from it was a bit more difficult.

        Generally, a Pathan rifle would have an imported barrel, which might or might not already be chambered when it arrived, a locally made receiver, breechblock or bolt, searage, trigger, springs and other small parts.

        Sights were generally handmade, with hand-engraved rather than stamped gradations. Stocks were usually handmade, in fact hand-carved from local wood.

        “Proof marks” and serial numbers were stamped or more often hand-engraved, just to make the product look as authentic as possible.

        Note that by the Afghan War in the 1980s, the Darra smiths had graduated to making copies of the H&K G3 rifle, the Bren (in both 0.303in and 7.62 x 51mm NATO), and their own “home-designed” heavy single-shot weapons firing the Russian 12.7 x 108mm and 14.5 x 114mm rounds. Mainly for use against Russian helicopters.

        Although the helicopters, even the vaunted Mi24 Hinds, were vulnerable to rifle-caliber weapons if you knew where to shoot. Russian Air Force plots quickly learned not to go too low into valleys. Because they tended to come under fire from Bren gunners higher up on the slopes, and .30 caliber class weapons will penetrate the canopy of a Hind from above.

        The Pathan gun “cottage industry” has been around literally since Kipling’s time, and other than a few magazine articles and a few paragraphs in books on improvised weapons has never garnered much attention. There’s a book there, just waiting to be written by somebody with the resources to do it properly.

        cheers

        eon

    • I’m with you. The things that make me go “Hmm” are that rear sight – the font just doesn’t look British and reminds me of Steyr/OEWG, those two “proof” marks on the bottom of the barrel look a bit weird and “Proved” not “Proof” seems odd. In any event, If the idea was to emulate SMLE sighting and the rear sight is not from an SMLE – what’s the point? Perhaps, just perhaps it could have some value as a drill and bayonet training rifle but why not just use a Martini-Enfield/Metford? Neil Aspinshaw would be the man to ask.

  9. Sights are early No.1 mk 1 …

    https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/57748

    Thought I remembered the brass from when I visited here. I think they made them up until 1905 or so …

    Looks like you’ve got a Martini-Enfield mk 2 there …

    See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martini%E2%80%93Enfield

    And see Small Arms Identification Series No. 15: .450 & .303 Martini Rifles & Carbines (2002) Skennerton, Ian, Arms & Militaria Press, Gold Coast, QLD

    Maori units loved the Martini-Henry action as well …

    And there is a Bradford College in New Zealand as well.

    The black enamel paint over parkerized finish was commonly applied to guns in humid environments – the French did this for rifles in SE Asia didn’t they?

  10. It looks like an Indian type of conversion to me, I have done a few conversions myself!!, but always make it clear to the buyer what exactly they are!!!So I have no idea if it is real or not.

  11. Probably made up in WW1 for use by the Volunteer Training Core, or VTC, the loose
    equivalent of the Home Guard in Britain in WW2. Quite a number of retailers and gunmakers jumped on this bandwagon at the time, with advertisements showing these rifles in various publications.Tens of thousands of these rifles were put together and sold at the time.
    The OTC marking may relate to use after WW1, by the college.

    Regards
    AlanD
    Sydney

  12. At first glance I thought we were headed to the Khyber Pass. Given the availabilty of parts there this rifle would fit right in.

    I would reserve counterfeit and fake for interntional attempts to fool a collector and make money, like adding Nazi proof marks to a commercially sold handgun of the era.

    It seems to me this was a local prototype made by an armorer as proof of concept he could make X number more from parts in store currently serving no purpose. The Bradfield College marks and the lead tag are convincing as they are both arcane and mundane. Who would know and who would care about that origin? It’s not like those cadets stormed the gates of anything more than the dining hall.

  13. Bradfield College is a very expensive English Public School (that means elitist and Private to the rest of the world) Just around the corner from where the Duchess of Cambridge grew up ,although she was not educated there.
    They still have a strong shooting tradition to this day. They probably keep records going back for several centuries
    I can check with a contact who seems to make a habit of buying complete public School obsolete arsenals, to see if he knows anything about it.

  14. Thanks for the pointer, Jan.
    Many Public Schools had OTCs (Officer Training Corps), whereas MY Grammar School only had a CCF — Combined Cadet Corps (Army, Naby and RAF Sections but I was in the Band and worked in the Armoury). The even lowed down the social scale were the units not always linked to a school — the ACF (Army Cadet Force), SCC (Sea Cadet Corps) and the ATC (Air Training Corps.) Who said that class distinction was dead in the U.K.? At one time (looooooong ago!) even some of the church-linked youth groups drilled with firearms — and some even had live .22 rifles — – the Church Lads Brigade, Boys Brigade etc.

    We had several hundred SMLEs in the armoury, plus 40 #4s for the Drill Squad and a batch of good ones for the rifle team: plus 8 Bren Guns and some Stens (until the IRA raided Finchley Grammar School and then the Stens were taken away.) … plus a rack of #8s and some Mossberg 42s. As I recall we only had ONE Martini — a .303 used for starting races at sports day.

    However, over the years I have found a number of old rifles in school armouries, including bodge jobs such as the one illustrated. I would suspect that the label suggest that the bundhook came from the school museum at some time…. like the Fosbery that I found years ago in a glass case in a school library and the M1 carbine found earlier this year in a school armoury, on their Firearm Certificate, DESPITE it being a Prohibited Weapon!

    Digging up this sort of thing keeps us interested,
    best wishes to all.

  15. I really like eon’s theory about Pathan origin and perhaps subsequent storage at Bradford College. I would not normally know enough to deposit my tuppence here but I just saw an Anvil video about restoring an old Lee-Enfield, and the one that feller was working on had rust on the underside of the barrel and mold inside the fore-end. The interior wood on this is immaculate, which goes well with the lead tag and the presumption of long-term civilized storage, and perhaps occasional maintenance. Unless this is a very recent construction, for fun or love or money. Absolutely fascinating video.

    Oh, awhile ago Mr. M interviewed a man who runs The Silah Report — I went over there, and there are numerous posts about what the Afghan gun shops are turning out, including such things as an 18-shot gold-decorated full-auto Tokarev!

  16. Due to work commitments I rarely come to this website (or others), but, a correspondent suggested I should look at the thread. here is a lot of misinformation within it. In one of the first acts of the holder of the newly created Chief of Imperial General Staff (the meaning of Imperial meaning Universal) in 1908, who controlled all military Land Forces of the UK and its Colonies, with technical supervision over the then four Dominions (Aus, Can, NZ and Newfoundland), and the Indian Empire and its Princely Dependencies. Was to provide a directive that the huge stocks of Martini Henry Rifles held throughout the world with the production by the Royal Ordnance Factories of ammunition for them ceased.
    Directions were made for them to converted into Drill Rifles in .303, Cadet Rifles in .22 for shooting training in the drill halls of units, Small Bore Target rifles (.22) as accuracised weapons for shooting on small bore target ranges, or as shot guns for internal security by colonial police and local volunteers in 12 or .419 gauge. With rifled barrels in .303 or .22 manufactured by ROF in the UK for local use, and the then rifle Factories in Australia and Canada, and the Arsenal in Bangalore in India for the various local volunteers, cadets and police, of the Indian Imperial and Princely States.

    These weapons were converted in a number of styles and variations, the one shown in the sale catalogue being pretty much the Standard in the UK and Dominions. I cannot stress enough that the number of variations of this approved by higher authority is immense.

    Two examples of Greener modifications :
    https://www.rifleman.org.uk/Greener_GPO_converted_Martini.htm
    https://www.rifleman.org.uk/W.W.Greener_martini_target_rifles.htm

    The Green Shotgun is still to be seen around the world, Al Jazeera TV news a couple of weeks ago about Guyana, showed their police carrying a mixture of AKs and Greener 12 gauges. On our last trip to India in 2013 we saw in a Bangladesh wildlife preserve with Enfield pattern weapons, while at Grammar School in Pondicherry the parading Cadets had the same, the traditional French hotel we stayed in ( with traditional French indoor plumbing) the manager had a .410 Greener to keep the rats down (he did not do a very good job the place was overrun)
    Yours,
    G/.

    • That Greener conversion for the G.P.O. shown in Terence O’H Smiths SUPERB website is one of two which I have — – one Artillery carbine and one Cavalry. Without checking the gunroom I cannot rememeber WHICH had been converted from .577/.450 to .303 Metford in 1893, then to take a (removeable) Morris tube (M.T>. stamps on the butt and lower fore-end) and finally when released from General Service converted for the General Post Office Rifle Clubs — the other only went from .577/.450 to .303 ENFIELD and then to .22LR.

      The NRA (ours!) bought thousands of surplus large-frame Martinis in 1905 (onwards) at 7shillings & sixpence ( = 3 bucks in those days) for conversion by Bonehill, LSA and Greener for sale to rifle clubs as the “miniature rifle” movement was driven by the poor musketry in the Boer War. Then, of course, the Birmingham Trade started to produce the lighter small-frame martinis in quantity.

      My feeling is that the rifle was a “marriage” produced cheaply out of expediency, (this is why it is “unusual”) and then at some time acquired by the School.

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