RIA: Mauser Model 1878 “Zig-Zag” Revolvers (Video)

After making their big break with the adoption of the Model 1871 Mauser rifle by the newly unified German government, the Mauser brothers, took a shot at getting the handgun contract for the military as well, with this revolver, the Model 1878. It is often colloquially called the Mauser Zig-Zag because of its conspicuously grooved cylinder, although of course that was never an official designation.

The guns were made in the official 10.6mm German Ordnance cartridge, as well as 9mm and 7.6mm cartridges for the civilian commercial market, with a couple different frame sizes. Unfortunately for Mauser, the guns proved too complicated for military acceptance, and they did not sell very well on the commercial market either. The external cylinder rotating tracks required special accommodation, as the cylinder had to have a chamber precisely in line with the barrel to latch closed after reloading. This was done by adding a manual locking lever at the front of the cylinder, which doubled as a safety catch.

Of course, what made the guns unsuitable for the military does make them pretty unusual and interesting for collectors today…


  1. “external cylinder rotating tracks”
    I think that such solution might prove useful in convertible revolvers – it would use cartridge of different size (but with same bullet diameter) with different cylinder capacities giving choice between bottleneck (more powerful) cartridge but in less quantity or straight-walled cartridge (less powerful) but in bigger quantity.

    Above idea might be further exploited, if quick-change barrel mechanism would be used, thus the same bullet diameter would be no longer existing.

    • Of course, there you run into the problem with bottlenecked cartridges in revolvers; the tendency for obturation expansion to cause the case to “set back” against the breech face, causing the cylinder to bind and interfering with rotation.

      This was what mainly killed the S&W M53 revolver in .22 Remington Jet; it worked just fine as a single-shot, or with the .22 LR inserts, but rapid repeat fire on a fast-moving jackrabbit or whatever, which was pretty much its raison d’etre, was next to impossible, especially on a hot day.

      The .357/.44 Bain & Davis modification of the Ruger single-action tried to get around this by using a .357 cylinder bored out to .44 Special dimensions for all but the very front section where the bullet is when loaded, a .357 barrel, and a sharp-shouldered bottleneck case with a polycarbonate “collar” around the “case neck” to bring it out to .44 diameter, thereby presenting a “straight-walled” profile. The main problem there was gas erosion of the “constricted” part of the cylinder mouth due to the high-intensity loads it used. And it still had “set back” problems, anyway.

      Generally, bottlenecked or heavily-tapered cartridge cases and revolvers don’t like each other very much. Those sorts of cartridges are probably best left to weapons with the chamber firmly attached to the barrel, and a breech that moves back and forth, rather than trying to rotate in a circle-segment.



      • “Generally, bottlenecked or heavily-tapered cartridge cases and revolvers don’t like each other very much.”
        What about .38-40 Winchester? It is bottleneck and was used in various revolvers.
        What about recent .224-32 FA cartridge? See here: http://www.gunblast.com/Freedom97-224-32.htm
        What about .30-30 Winchester revolver from Magnum Research?

        .22 Remington Jet proved be unsuitable for revolver use, but it also has peculiar shape (which reminds me instantly about 8x50R Lebel cartridge)

          • Grooves not extending to the rifled section, on no connection therewith are provided to stick the case into the chamber for delaying the breech closure, or in revolvers, to roughten the chamber inside and gain extra surface for the shell case to swell and retain its place during the highest pressure in the chamber, to prevent the primer setback into the firing pin hole or case head stamping against to the recoil shield in case of using a bottle necked or conical shaped round used as Eon clearly stated. In case of this occurs, the cylinder becomes unrotatable as leaving the trigger action unoperable as resulting the gun solely a piece worthless paperweight. Besides, even this kind of chamber works have been done, the revolver would be subject to hard extraction.

          • Ok, this idea has drawback, but would be possible to use rimless bottleneck cartridge and prevent escaping via extractor claw? Locking extractor claw when in ready-to-fire position?

          • Most of extraction dificuties would come from chamber sticked case, if roughtening or grooving applications been made.

          • In fact, Nagant cantridge is tapered and powerfull, if correctly loaded. A mechanical system having a similar swinging breechblock with cammed lock up, would be perfectly suitable for bottle necked revolver rounds. Forwarding cylinder and gas tight case would not be necessary.

        • .38-40 isn’t really all that much of a “bottleneck”. Remember, it’s actually a .401in caliber bullet in a case originally designed for the .44-40 WCF, which has a .429in bullet. That’s only a .018in difference; about the thickness of an average business card. A 9 x 19mm has more case taper, and it works pretty well in revolvers.

          I wasn’t aware MR had a .30-30 WCF revolver, and I can’t think of a good “mission case” for one. Unless it’s a full-grown rifle type with at least a 16″ barrel, as .30-30 was designed for barrels that length or longer from the beginning. And I’d expect binding and set-back problems due to the cartridge’s pressures, for sure.

          About the only “bottlenecked” case that ever worked very well in revolvers was the .32-20 WCF, which has a nearly straight-walled profile, a fairly “square” shoulder, and even in “high velocity” handloads fairly low pressures.

          One fairly crazy example is the four-shot “Paltic” DA revolvers made in the Philippines that chamber 5.56 x 45mm NATO rifle rounds using a four-lobed “full-moon” clip. I think they probably generate more blast and flash than actual MV.

          It’s not so much that bottlenecked rounds can’t be “made to work” in revolvers as that the end results are generally not worth the aggravation of trying.



  2. It’s interesting that Wikipedia’s entry for “Zig Zag Revolver” has nothing to do with this type of gun but is about a recent home-made Japanese plastic 3D-printed pepperbox (which originally made no mention of the Mauser) suggesting that this type of gun design is probably quite rare.


    Considering that by 1878 the basic mechanicals of revolver design were already fairly well-established (and presumably patent-free) it’s a wonder why Mauser chose to “re-invent the wheel.”

  3. Here are some related patents:

    US13999 — Elisha K. Root (of the Colt’s Manufacturing Company) — December 25, 1855
    USRE846 — Elisha K. Root — Reissue of above on November 1, 1859
    Although Colt held this patent, I don’t believe Colt ever made a revolver that used this system for rotating the cylinder, the reissue also covers the ratchet rammer that was used in later Colt cap-and-ball revolvers like the 1860 Army. This patent was used in several infringement cases.

    US28461 — William H. Elliot — May 29, 1860
    This is the patent that was used for the Remington “Zig-Zag” pepperbox derringer. I’m not sure, but production of this revolver may have ceased because of an infringement claim from Colt based on the above patent. There is a similar product made by Remington that uses the common ratchet and hand method of revolving the cylinder.

    US213221 — Paul Mauser — March 11, 1879 (application filed July 26, 1878)
    Here’s the U.S. patent for the Mauser “Zig-Zag” revolver. It makes interesting reading, especially in light of the idea that the military trials board considered this revolver too complex. The patent claims the opposite. ^__^

  4. I have just found a short article and pictures about the mechanism [http://sportsmansvintagepress.com/read-free/mauser-rifles-pistols-table-of-contents/early-mauser-revolvers-pistols/]. It’s not so clear for me how the hammer remains in position after cocking.

    • Poresz,

      If you look at the patent:


      Figure 8 shows the mainspring, guide rod (called a “sliding bolt”), the hammer, and parts of the cylinder rotating mechanism. This guide rod is the part that controls the hammer. It is indicated by the letter “N” and the various features of that part are identified as n1, n2, etc. in the other figures.

      Figure 1 and Figure 15 give as clear an indication as you can get of how the trigger and sear control the hammer. If you follow the curve of the trigger up to the top you will find the tip of the sear. That bears against the part that slides forwards and backwards along with the mainspring guide. On the bottom of that block are notches, the one that is most clearly labeled is “n 7”; this is the full cock notch. There is also a half cock notch that is not as clearly marked. The half cock notch appears to mainly act as a safety catch if your thumb slips off the spur of the hammer before the sear engages the full cock notch.

      Perhaps the patent itself will give a better explanation than I can, see page 3 of the pdf, the second complete paragraph in the left column.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Even more rare than the break-open Mauser Zig-Zag must be the model with the solid frame and right0hand-side loading gate. Yet again, it appears that loading gates on the right-hand-side infer that revolvers were to be held in the left hand by cavalry… Or am I wrong?

    • No, and it’s the same reason most percussion revolvers had the “cap cutout” in the recoil shield on the right side, to allow the percussion caps to be put on the nipples.

      Cavalry doctrine was that the saber, the arme blanche’, was the cavalry weapon, and anything else was not merely ineffectual but absolutely “ungentlemanly”. Cavalry’s job was the charge to break the enemy line, period, and the saber was the weapon that would slash down those nasty, plebeian infantrymen, artillerymen, etc., with a proper degree of terrorization, dash, and above all style. Teaching the lower classes their place, as it were, because of course only a gentleman was permitted to be a cavalryman.

      The cavalry was fundamentally a holdover from the armored knight, and as such there was a certain degree of unreality, not to mention plain arrogance, involved.

      A lot of it was probably rationalization, too. Prior to the percussion revolver, there were few firearms that were really practical for horseback use. European cavalry were issued smoothbore flintlock carbines up through the 1830s, and tended to “lose” them, because not only were they inaccurate, they were a PITA to reload and fire on horseback. Single shot pistols were better, but not much.

      The advent of the rifle musket pretty much killed cavalry a generation and a half before the Maxim machine gun. With an effective range of about 250 yards, infantry with .58 Springfields or .577 Enfields could slaughter cavalry long before the latter could get to “hack them down!” range.

      But even with smoothbore muskets, massed fire at 100 yards could bring a cavalry charge to a sudden stop. It was this plus the effects of spherical case and canister that caused the Duke of Wellington’s famous remark, “The purpose of cavalry on the battlefield is to lend tone to what would otherwise be merely an unseemly brawl”.

      What this has to do with the revolver is that it was always supposed to be in the left hand as a secondary weapon, with the saber firmly grasped in the right. The reins were also to be manipulated with the left, to leave the saber arm free to hack and slash. (Multitasking, anyone?)

      People today get the wrong idea about the cavalry revolver’s use, because they see it “back-holstered” on the left side of the belt, in what looks like a cross-draw position as we use it today. In reality, it was there to allow a “twist draw” with the left hand, by first rotating the hand so its back was toward the torso, grasping and drawing the pistol, then simply bringing the hand “upright” on the end of the wrist, resulting in the revolver upright and pointing downrange. A “straight” left-hand holster was not used because it tended to be uncomfortable when astride the horse, shoving the gun butt into the cavalryman’s ribs.

      BTW, this “twist draw” maneuver is still taught to police and others who use crossdraw holsters, as a “weak hand” draw in event of injury to the primary hand. I taught it, but always with the weapon unloaded, as with a DA revolver or auto it’s entirely too easy to “beat yourself to the draw” with this maneuver!

      It’s a little safer with a single-action auto in Condition One, as long as you remember to only shove down on the safety once the pistol is pointed downrange. Rather like thumb-cocking the single-action revolver on the way up.

      In the American Civil War, Union cavalry mainly ended up guarding (or raiding) supply convoys, scouting, or acting as skirmishers- dismounted riflemen, in effect dragoons. See Buford’s cavalry at Gettysburg on the first day for an example, also General Henry Havelock’s remarks on Sheridan’s use of cavalry in pursuit of Ewell’s rear guard at Sands’ Creek during the second Battle of Winchester.

      Or just check out Jack Coggins’ book Arms and Equipment of the Civil War, and peruse the diagrams he shows of cavalry and infantry charging a 12-pounder Napoleon gun crew, and how many rounds of spherical case, sold shot, and canister they can get off in the time it takes for either one to get to “hack them down” or “bayonet them” range.

      Balaclava in the Crimea wasn’t the climax of cavalry’s destruction on the battlefield; it was just the overture to the full, bloody symphony that would be played out a decade later across the Atlantic, on rifle muskets and cannon.

      Compared to that, the Maxim gun was a diminuendo.



        • Lancers were popular mainly because “pigsticking” was a popular sport. Rather like polo.

          In actual combat, lancers were somewhat less effective than saber-armed cavalry. In the American Civil War, most “lancer” units formed in the first few months were quickly rearmed, first with saber and then revolvers, and on the Union side breechloading carbines. Most notably Rush’s Lancers;


          It’s noteworthy that the 6th engaged in no serious combat until after they had given up the lance for more “up-to-date” weaponry.

          The lance was also a holdover from the armored knight. And the 19th Century lancer had the small problem that other than an occasional back-and-breast, he wasn’t armored.

          In the American Civil War, rifle-armed infantry regarded lancers the same way they regarded saber-armed cavalry; as a bunch of fools engaged in a complex and showy form of suicide.



          • Funny enough the Polish Cavalry of the 20th century avoided that by hauling anti-tank guns and plenty of machine guns into ambush points. And when they charged, they always went after infantry or anti-tank troops from the flank or even better, stabbed the PaK troops in the back! Did I mess up?

          • CD;

            You may have noticed, they still lost. And they were mainly operating as mounted infantry, aka dragoons, not “actual” cavalry.

            BTW, their primary weapon to take down field AT gun crews from behind was either the “short” Mauser 7.9 rifle from medium-long range, or up close the Vis 35 9mm automatic pistol, aka the “Radom” or “Polish Browning”. Even though JMB and FN had absolutely nothing to do with its development AFAIK.

            Cavalry can be effective in certain applications, even today; witness U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan in 2001-02.

            But ultimately, a man on horseback is basically a sitting duck target on any battlefield with weaponry developed much after 1800 AD.

            The best thing he can do is use the horse for transport over terrain that’s impassable to vehicles, and then he and four of his friends dismount and do the last bit on foot while a Number Six holds the horses.

            Which was basically Union cavalry doctrine from Fort Sumter to Appomattox.



          • Yes, but check out the Battle of Schoenfeld which happened on March 1, 1945. Polish horsemen of the 1st “Warsaw” Independent Cavalry Brigade overran a German anti tank unit by galloping through a field of burning tank wrecks (which were from the Polish 2nd Infantry Division) and probably wouldn’t have stopped if they hadn’t remembered to let their own infantry and tanks catch up. The German 163rd Infantry Division ran away screaming “Mommy.” And for the last time, no lances were used against tanks. What happened before the fall of Poland was horsemen jumping from horses onto the tanks, ripping off hatches, and then tossing in bundles of grenades, since the tanks were not checking their blind spots at the time. Okay, the previous statement is probably an exaggeration…

          • “What happened before the fall of Poland was horsemen jumping from horses onto the tanks, ripping off hatches, and then tossing in bundles of grenades, since the tanks were not checking their blind spots at the time.”
            During Fall Weiss Polish cavalry was equipped with wz. 35 AT rifle, able to effectively penetrate armour of then used tanks:

          • Lances: no weapon stays in use for 300+ years after becoming obsolete, so it’s really not true that the lance was a holdover from the armored cavalry era. Lances were not as general purpose as swords, but they had the advantage of reach, which made them potentially safer for the cavalry when engaging pikemen or musketeers with bayonets. Used for “breakthrough” tactics a unit of lancers could be highly effective. Lances are difficult to extract, so usually lancers also carried a sword (sabre after about 1750, but earlier in Poland). Lances were occasionally used succesfully as late as Russo-Polish war of 1919-1921, but they were always a rather specialised weapon. Even the medieval men-at-arms often used other weapons even on horseback.

            Cavalry tactics in general: cavarly struggled to remain relevant in the 19th century, but in this discussion it is frequently forgotten that infantry suffered greatly from use of obsolescent tactics especially during the latter half of the century as well and particularly in WW1. Still, nobody has suggested that infantry was obsolete. Cavalry DID eventually adapt by abandoning the battlefield charge and concentrating on screening, reconnaissance, pursuit and attacks against logistics and march formations. For any kind of prolonged combat the cavalrymen dismounted, indeed like dragoons of old. In these roles cavalry remained completely relevant up to WW1 and in some cases WW2, in both cases especially in the Eastern Front.

            Cavalry wasn’t killed by the rifled musket, repeating rifle, rapid firing artillery or the machine gun. It was killed by the internal combustion engine and development of all-terrain and armored vehicles, which superceded the higher mobility and shock value of cavalry over infantry.

  6. I like this advancing/ indexing mechanism and it seems to me more positive and rugged than usual advance hand. All in all – good looking product.

  7. Does anyone know what material the grip was made of? If it was decades newer I would just guess ‘plastic’

  8. Noticed the rim around the front face of cylinder… It is for the cylinder gap blast to reflect and direct the hot gas and lead particuls spit therefrom to forward, away from the shooter. Same approach was used nearly seventy years later, by Iver Johnson.

  9. The A/N stands for am Neckar, or on the Neckar river, not I/N Wurttemberg (in Wurttemberg). It is common, as you are aware, to find this on most, if not all, of Mauser firearms.

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