Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

The First Czechoslovak Service Pistols. Nº2: the vz. 22

The first Czechoslovak service pistol, the Praga, was developed by private industry. The first Czech-developed service pistol from the national arsenals, on the other hand, wasn’t really all that Czech-developed. It was designed by Josef Nickl of Mauser-Werke, and, in his honor, was often called the “N” pistol during its long and fraught development. A version very similar to the one that would become a Czech service pistol was put forward in Oberndorf in 1916 as a single-action 9mm Parabellum auto pistol.

Nickl Mauser 9mm Prototype, auctioned by RIA in 2016.

Nickl Mauser 9mm Prototype Serial Nº 26, auctioned by RIA in 2016. (Rock Island Auctions photo, used by permission).

This hand-crafted, tool-room prototype is, apart from its 9 mm chambering and size, a ringer for the Czechoslovak vz. 22 in many details, as we’ll see. In 1916 and subsequently, Mauser never put his pistol into production, but they let him pitch it to the Czechoslovak military while he was helping set up a production line for Mauser 98 rifles (which would be, confusingly, the vz. 22 and vz. 24 also!). The Czechoslovak Army tested both 9mm and, at their own insistence, scaled-down 9 mm Short (.380) versions. (This development was taking place, according to Col. Dr. Milan Šada, contemporaneously with the procurement of the Praga pistol in 7.65 mm).

The initial accepted version was the vz. (vzor, model) 22 for the cartridge vz. 22 (the 9mm Browning Short or .380 ACP, for all intents and purposes), and from the very beginning, the Czechoslovak Army had trouble with it. In time, they developed an improved version as the vz. 24. That in turn was developed into a 7.65mm pistol for police and export, the straight-blowback vz. 27. (We’ll use the Czech and Slovak word vzor, the official abbreviation vz., and the English word “model” interchangeably in this article. They all mean exactly the same thing and identify the model by year of adoption. Note that, unlike many nations where, say, Model 24s start appearing in 1925 or 26, Czechoslovak practice often had the guns in production before the year of adoption marked on them!)

CZ 22. This is a late one accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1925.

CZ 22. This is a late one accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1925.

One nice thing about Czech and Czechoslovak firearms (inherited from their Austro-Hungarian imperial masters) is that most of the firearms are dated with a proof date (civil weapons) or MOD acceptance date (military ones). Some weapons bear multiple dates, if they were (for instance) accepted by the military, and later proofed for surplus sale.

Model 24s are relatively uncommon, compared to the Model 27 which the Germans kept in high production after the occupation, but the Model 22 is more uncommon yet. Production numbers are estimated at: vz, 27 (and German Pistole Mod. 27), 590,000 (all but about 30,000 of them under the Nazis); vz. 24, 190,000 from 1923-37, possibly -39; vz. 22, about 19,000.

Several common strains in Nickl’s Mauser designs were united in this firearm: a single-action auto pistol with a breech locked by rotating barrel, like an Obregon or some Steyr pistols; and the unusual safety arrangement from the Mauser Model 1910, 1914 and (later) 1934 “pocket” pistols in 6.35 and 7.65mm. The safety has two buttons: One is activated with a sweep of the thumb to put the weapon on safe; the other instantly releases it with a press. Described like that, it sounds awkward, but is quickly learned and intuitive to use.

Left side of the same CZ 22. Note marking "9 mm N" and the second line, which translates to "Czechoslovak State Factory for Arms, Brno."

Left side of the same CZ 22. Note marking “9 mm N” and the second line, which translates to “Czechoslovak State Factory for Arms, Brno.” Is the N for Nickl (some of his Mauser prototypes are so marked), or does in just mean “Cartridge,” abbreviated? The Czech word for “cartridge” is “naboj,” pronounced NA-boy.

The overall size, shape and form of the vz. 22 and later CZ 24 and 27 pistols is very reminiscent of the 7.65mm Mausers, also. The side plate is similar. The frame rails are similar; the slide is similarly offset to the right, from the shooter’s perspective (although the barrel is centered on the frame), which is a peculiarity of the Mausers as well. The grips are similar.

Where the Nickl pistol departs from the earlier Mausers (in which the relative contributions of Nickl, the Feederle brothers, and other Mauser engineers are not entirely clear) is that the Mausers are striker-fired, and the CZs are hammer guns.

Prototypes of the Pistole N (for Nickl) were made in 9×19 mm as well as 9×17. The Czechoslovaks preferred the smaller cartridge (also adopted by other European nations, including but not limited to Italy and Hungary) and that was adopted as Naboj vz. 22. 

The vz. 22 was manufactured at the Czechoslovak State Arsenal, Brno, and it is a rare Czech pistol to bear Brno markings on its slide. (Production of subsequent models would take place in a satellite factory in Strakonice, and after 1936 in Uhersky Brod, and many later pistols, regardless of where they were made, would be marked as if they had been produced in Prague, the corporate seat).

Changes from the Model 22 to the Model 24 were aimed at increasing reliability, increasing interchangeability of parts, and increasing production speed and lowering production costs. The Czechoslovak Army was bedeviled with reliability issues, and the extensive hand-fitting that makes them fit together beautifully makes them hard to replace parts in.

As mentioned above, the Model 22 is a rare pistol that is actually marked as having been made in Brno. Interwar Czechoslovak leaders had a touching faith in the power of central planning, and tried to run their arms industry on such a basis, reorganizing it several times during the short life of the Republic. They decided that Zbrojovjka Brno specialize in rifles (and, when it picked up Vaclav Holek’s MG design from Praga, light MGs); pistols would be made by Česká Zbrojovka’s factory in Strakonice (although they would often be marked “Praha” or Prague, the locaction of ČZ HQ), and over the years other plants would specialize in other weapons. After World War II some pistols would be marked with ZB trademarks (notably the ex-Dušek Duo pistol, the “Aut. Pistole ‘Z’,” but none of them would actually be made by Zbrojovka Brno.

The vz. 22 wasn’t the greatest pistol ever, but it was an important building block in the nascent Czech arms industry. Survivors, fairly plentiful, are prized today. It’s interesting to speculate what its position in auto pistol history might have been, had it been produced as Nickl originally intended, in the 9×19 mm service cartridge.

Sources:

(to be added).

 

 

Bubba Beautifies a Tokarev

Well, Bubba thought he was beautifying it. How about a two-tone hack paint job — black and candy apple red? Take it from the top:

Bubba Tokarev TT33 2-4

If you look at the area around the rear sight, you’ll see that the paint job is not only gaudyit’s also lousy and inept. 

Same is evident from the bottom:

Bubba Tokarev TT33 2-5

And, guess what? We just showed you this abortion’s two best sides. Look at the crappy job around the slide serrations, and the orange peel and bubbles in the paint on the slide:

Bubba Tokarev TT33 2-3

Two other things about that picture… ask yourself, what’s wrong with that firing pin retaining pin? And where’s the clumsily added safety on all recent Tok imports?

Now, we’ll let you see the whole thing:

Bubba Tokarev TT33 2-1

A coyote ugly Bubbafied Tokarev. And yes, he didn’t even use a crappy recent import job for his failed attempt to teach-yourself-cerakote. (Or more likely, “teach yourself Krylon”). He used a pre-68 import and/or GI bringback of a relatively uncommon postwar Tokarev. An all-matching gun, too.

But that’s not even the worst violation of this poor rape-victim of a pistol. Bubba had his way with the slide, too, in his inept attempt to, apparently, change firing pins.

Bubba Tokarev TT33 2-2

He helpfully had TOKAREV TT-33 stamped on it, in case no one could recognize it any more after his close-enough-for-government-work ministrations. You know, where he milled the slide serrations off.

The current owner — who’s trying to sell this junker for $400 — suggests that Bubba might have been trying to get at the firing pin retaining pin. That’s as good an attempt to read Bubba’s mind as we’re likely to get, because that ol’ boy just don’t reason like the rest of us.

What he has done is blow it right past “gunsmith special” into “parts gun” land. It would take a lot of work on that gun to make it good enough to stink, and if Fyodor Tokarev Himself weren’t dead and pushing up whatever they decorate Soviet cemeteries with, this’d kill him.

Maybe we should take this page down, lest Russians who take pride in their achievements in the Great Patriotic War consider it a casus belli. In the meantime, you can always go see it (and the other Tok the guy is selling, a recent import in arsenal-overhauled shape) at this thread in the ARFCOM Equipment Exchange.

The First Czechoslovak Service Pistols. Nº1: the Praga

The earliest Czechoslovak service pistols are relative rarities that are enjoyed by advanced Czechoslovak pistol collectors. While they are rare, they were still factory produced, and enough exist that they come up from time to time. At the same time, their relative obscurity has meant that a really rare pistol can sometimes be scored for less money than you might think.

This Praga in the Springfield Armory Collection, SN 7300, shows off its lines.

This Praga in the Springfield Armory Collection, SN 7300, shows off its lines. Note the divergent angle of the front and rear grip, which makes the pistol feel awkward and point low, relative to the Browning M1910.

These two pistols are the Praga, a 7.65mm (.32) stopgap, and the Czechoslovak vz. 22, the first Czech official military service pistol. Today, we’re talking about the Praga.

Other side of Springfield's Praga, showing that this is the later model.

Other side of Springfield’s Praga, showing that this is the later model.

When Czechoslovakia was established as a result of the post-WWI collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the subsequent treaties, it had little indegenous small-arms production capability. Czech and Slovak units had fought under Russian and French command, as well as in the Austro-Hungarian Army, and so a mix of surplus European weaponry was available. Austrian rifles (Mannlicher M.95 straight-pull) and pistols (Rast & Gasser revolvers and Steyr autoloaders) were the most common, and a small subset of collecting seeks out these guns as overmarked with Czechoslovak military markings. But the Czechoslovaks continued wartime Austrian plans to establish more production facilities in the Czech lands, especially Bohemia, and private firms’ production was also exploited.

Zbrojovka Praga was the first armory established in the optimism of the new Republic, but its life was short, from 1918 to 1926, and its production consisted of a few thousands of two models of pistol.

Still, the first pistol the nascent Czechoslovak military adopted, if not entirely officially, was the Praga. It is a 7.65mm (,32 ACP) handgun of conventional blowback design, resembling the FN Browning Model 1910 in styling but quite different in manufacture, and comparatively poor in ergonomics. Some sources, including Dolínek et al., say that it was designed by Czech designer Vaclav Holek, who is definitely credited with Praga’s oddball .25; Holek would go on to greatness, but the Praga is concrete proof that in 1919, he wasn’t there yet, if indeed the design was his. Novotny also employed, at one time or another, František Myška, who would go on to design other pistols, and Karel Krnka, who already had. What role each of these took in the design is unknown. Some Pragas are marked with a patent legend, but not the patent number.

Some of these Pragas would be used by the police, and some would be purchased by the Ministry of Defense. It’s unclear now whether it was intended for them to be standard issue firearms, or whether they were bought with a view to being an interim service pistol, but they did wind up being an interim pistol, as the Czechoslovak military retained neither the pistol itself or the 7.65mm caliber.

(A previous Praga pocket pistol in 6.35mm had a folding trigger and some other highly unusual features. It was never, and was never intended to be, a service pistol; it was obviously a defensive pocket pistol. We’ll discuss that at some other time; we’re only interested in the service pistol today).

Two versions of the service Praga exist; as far as we can tell the principal difference is in the markings. The rarer first model, sometimes called the vz. 19 or Model 1919 by collectors, is marked Zbrojovka Praga on the slide in ornate cursive script; the later model has the same legend, but in block capitals. The safety on the earlier model tends to be crudely checkered and the later model machined with lines, but the parts do interchange. That said, parts including the receiver, slide, breechblock, barrel, grips, trigger and sometimes the magazine are usually numbered. Matching numbers are common.

Hogg & Weeks say this (via Springfield, with some typos corrected):

7.65mm Praga Model 1921 – The first pistol produced was the vz/21 (vz: vzor, ‘model’), a 7.65mm blowback credited to Vaclav Holek but little more than an adaptation of the 1910-type Browning. Some small changes were made; the breech block was a separate unit, inserted in the slide, while the return spring was retained by the nose of the slide instead of a barrel bush.1

We don’t have a 1910 at present, but used to, and in our opinion based on the physical manipulation of both firearms, the Praga borrows mostly styling and (we think) the 7-round .32 ACP magazine from its Belgian forbear. Even the magazine, though, is altered; it has a catch to allow you to cycle the slide with a loaded mag, without picking up a round; and the gun is hammer, not striker, fired. It lacks the Browning’s grip safety. Internally, it is more different from than similar to a 1910.

The pistol was initially touted for military or police use, 5,000 being ordered by the Czech forces when Škoda declined to co-operate. They had plain wooden grips and cursive Zbrojovka Praga on the slide; this later changed to block and specimens with the Prague police badge can be found. A commercial version appeared with block-lettered slides and moulded plastic ‘Praga’ grips. Some specimens have elongated barrels which protrude about 30mm ahead of the slide.2

Springfield thinks that the marking on the left nose of the slide of their example is a Prague police badge. Their gun is also marked with 12.4.21 on the slide which is probably an acceptance date (12 April, 1921).  Most Pragas were intended for police and military markets and thus do not have Czechoslovak proof marks. (On those that are proofed, the Prague proof house retained its Austrian-era practice of marking with proof year and sequential proof number).

While Springfield’s archivists are professionals and seldom err, they aren’t perfect; they refer to the pistol as “Manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka, Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1921.” CZ did not yet exist in 1921, and while it would mark many pistols as made in Prague, it never made pistols there, only in Strakonice and (post-1936) Uhersky Brod. (Some pistols were made by Škoda in Pilsen, and by the Czechoslovak State Armory in Brno, but they weren’t made by CZ, either. CZ is a specific firm, not a catch-all for Czech manufacture). 

Hogg and Weeks also said this about the company:

The Praga Zbrojovka in Vršovice, in which Vaclav Holek worked on the design of pistols, offered its first pistols to the Army already in the spring of 1919. This was a 7.65 caliber pistol that was more suitable for civilian or police use, but which nevertheless was more acceptable than the 6.35mm side pistol which this firm also manufactured and later sold in the market using the designation ‘automatic Praga pistol, cal. 6.35mm, M1921.’ The ministry of National Defense ordered 5,000 Praga 7.65mm pistols as early as June 1919, even though at that time it was only testing this type and had some serious objections to the workmanship.3

Vrsovice is a neighborhood or district of Prague, so these are rare Czech guns marked “Praha” (or Prague or Prag) that were actually made in the city.

Berger made a strenuous effort to get to the bottom of these exotics, and illustrates several and describes them, but he’s cautious in his conclusions. He illustrates Nº 552, then in the collection of O. Matyska. This example is an early version proofed in 1919 with the cursive Zbrojovka Praga legend, but with the striated wooden grips he suggests may be the mark of a military pistol, and a striated, not crudely cross-checkered, safety. His example of a “late” Praga is Nº 10828, dated 1923, then in the collection of E. Macaulay. This example has the block-capital marking ZBROJOVKA PRAGA PRAHA PATENT CAL. 7.65.

Some decent photos of another example are found here

Rock Island auctioned an interesting example, Nº 8950, slathered in markings revealing its history, in 2015. It was marked with a Czech military acceptance date, plus a partial commercial proof, hinting that it had been retired and sold off, plus it bore the markings of two Czechoslovak units, the 14th Infantry Regiment, gun 216 (on the right side of the frame, crossed out…) (RIA photos used with permission).

Praga SN 8950 right

…and the 5th Artillery Regiment, gun 153 (on the left side).

Praga SN 8950 left

…and close up, you can see the artllery unit’s mark, and the military acceptance date of 5 July 1921 under the rampant lion of the Czechoslovak Republic. Unit marks are often found on the grip strap of Czechoslovak Republic firearms, and are in the format: Unit Number / Letter for Type of Unit / Sequential Firearm or Rack Number. The most common letters are “P” for Pechotny, infantry, and “D” for Delostrelecky, artillery.

Praga SN 8950 L slide

Our example is Nº 10024, and in the near future, we’ll post a more complete set of photos of it, including a field stripping. It doesn’t have the interesting unit history of Nº 8950, but it does have a military acceptance mark and apparently matching numbers. In one that’s in pretty decent shape like this, the original rust blue really shines.

praga_10024-02 praga_10024-01

One thing that only some (mostly later) examples have is the world’s most impressive lanyard lug.

praga_10024-07

We’ve literally never seen anything like it.

praga_10024-06

The Praga has some other unusual features like its elegant and manufacturing-friendly removable breechblock, and a notch in the magazine, allowing you to lock it into place, but below the level where it would actually feed rounds. (Why? Our guess is for training purposes, but it seems like an invitation to Murphy)

Dolinek et al. refer to the Praga and, later in their book, to the Praga M, which may have been a Czech designation for the later version of the pistol. But their discussion of the pistol is very brief. They have a little more to say about the company:

 The private Zbrojovka Praga s.s.r.o (Arms works Praga, a limited liability company) had a competitive lead over Zbrojovka Brno. It was founded by Česka Prumyslová Banka (the Czech Industrial Bank) before the end of World War I in Prague’s Vršovice quarter with the participation of J. Novotny, the owner of the largest gunmaking company in Prague. The factory was originally designed to manufacture hunting guns and civil pistols. However, after 1918, it specialized in military arms. The company employed many gifted designers (Holek brothers, Ing. Karel Krnka, etc.) and a skilled labor force, partly emanating from the Austrian arms works, and it was well-equipped with machinery. They principally supplied automatic pistols but they were not very widely used within the army. The financial difficulties of the company were not even resolved by its incorporation into the industrial concern of the Česka Prumyslová Banka. In the MOD’s opinion, the collapse of the firm was mainly due to an incompetent management team that was not able to introduce the rational organization of production machinery within the plant. The firm was not even saved by the sale of the license for the light machine gun Praga designed by Vaclav Holek that, in Zbrojovka Brno, was to become an ever most successful Czech weapon in the years to come. Zbrojova Praga was wound up in 1926. 4

Hogg and Weeks dismissed the company rather abruptly, suggesting that they had not personally examined Praga firearms:

Zbrojovka Praga (Prague Small Arms Company) was founded in Vrsovice in 1918 by A. Novotny, a gunmaker. He is said to have employed talented designers such as the Holek brothers, Krnka and Myška, but Praga products showed little evidence of this. Two pistol were produced, one a copy of the Browning M1910 and the other an original design of odd appearance and poor quality. Not surprisingly, the company failed to prosper and in 1926 was foreclosed by the National Bank.5

While the Praga is generally thought of as a police and commercial pistol, they were used by Czechoslovak soldiers, and unit-marked examples are not unknown. One is for sale right now on GunBroker (and probably in-shop) by Historic Firearms.

Pragas are seldom found in the USA with import marks, suggesting that they were wartime bringbacks or pre-1968 surplus.

Finally, way back near the beginning of this post, we noted that “They can sometimes be scored for less money than you think.”

pix113354542

This one, Nº 3786, recently sold on GunBroker for $501! The typical going price is well over $1,000 in 2016.

Notes

  1. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  2. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  3. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  4. Dolínek, et. al., p. 40.
  5. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.

Sources

Berger, R.J. Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols. Chino Valley, AZ: Blacksmith Corporation, 1989. pp. 83-85.

Dolínek, Vladimír, Karlický, Vladimír, & Vácha, Pavel. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.

Hogg, Ian & Weeks, John. Pistols of the World. DBI Books, Inc. Northbrook, Il. 1992. Quoted vis Springfield Armory National Historic Site: retrieved from: http://ww2.rediscov.com/spring/VFPCGI.exe?IDCFile=/spring/DETAILS.IDC,SPECIFIC=10600,DATABASE=objects,

 

A Gun We’ve Always Liked: Whitney Wolverine

This one takes us back, as a hack Freudian analyst would, to our childhood (imagine echoes: “childhood, childhood…). We never had a Whitney Wolverine, but we had this:

Zebra-IIIt was a “Zebra” toy gun that shot pellets, and it was, as you’ll see, a ringer for the style of the Whitney, except compressed to about a Walther PPK form factor — perfect for a child’s hand. The only hard part was keeping it running; every James Bond or Cops and Robbers session left you a few less pellets to the good… and God alone help you if Mom found them first, because no power on Earth would help you at that juncture.

Here’s a beautiful Whitney, from a well-written post at the Smith & Wesson Forum:

WHITNEY_WOLVERINE_BOX-SMALL

While the Zebra toy was made in uncounted millions, and clones remain in production today, the Whitney started production in 1956 — 60 years ago today! — and it was all over by 1959 with exactly 13,371 pistols made. A few were made in nickel finish with white grips, and they’re really striking:

wolverine nickel

WOLVERINE-GUNS-3-19582Whether it was the space age, futuristic styling — retro-futuristic now that we’re living in the future designer Robert Hillberg, who came from aerospace (naturally), imagined — or whether it was that it was more expensive than another elegant .22 made by a start-up, the Ruger Mark I, the bold Whitney flopped with the same guys who bought Plymouths with gigantic tail fins and push-button transmissions, and Fords with plastic bubble tops. Or it could have been the marketing and legal It might be an interesting case study for a forensic or historical MBA.

The gun itself had a decent reputation as a fun-to-shoot .22, slightly picky about ammo.

Recently, Olympic Arms produced a clone with a plastic frame. It, too, tends to like premium high-velocity ammo, and jams on el cheapo Aguila (doesn’t everything?) Reportedly, many of the Olympic parts can be refitted to repair old Whitneys.

Here’s pictures of the two, from that same forum thread:

Wolverine and OlympicOlympic Wolverine Clone

While Ruger used several techniques, including steel investment casting and build-up of parts from laminated steel sheets joined with rivets, Whitney’s gun was primarily made of steel and aluminum investment castings. As you can see in the slightly-open Olympic clone above, the breech block traveled within the frame, like the Ruger (or a Nambu, Glisenti, and many other designs down through the years).

Disassembly and reassembly of the Whitney is a challenge — it’s ridiculously easy to take to pieces, many of which come out under spring pressure and, in accordance with Murphy’s description of the universe’s fundamental physical laws, are either transformed into energy or strategically position themselves in the most inaccessible niche beneath or behind furniture or machinery. Having, once the round-up of the itinerant parts is complete, a pile of pistol parts, reverting them to a functional pistol is a degree more difficult. But no special tools are required.

One elegant feature of Whitney design is seen in the magazine. Whereas most .22 pistol mags have a button for retracting the magazine follower to ease loading, the Whitney has a hole.  It’s a perfect fit for a .22 round or casing. There’s your button!

What occasioned this post? We were working on something else, but a Redditor, rocketboy2319 (how appropriate!) posted that he’d scored this Whitney, and posted it to Imgur:

Wolverine genty used R

It’s a non-Wolverine “post trademark dispute model” — Hillberg agreed to drop the Wolverine name when Lyman pointed out that had a trademark. (He’d chosen the name because he was a Michigan fan, and you might see a little U of M symbolism in the factory box).

In the Reddit thread he notes:

It truly is [sexy]. When they pulled it out at the FFL where I had it transferred, everyone came over to check it out. Most of the guys there has only seen pictures of them. I really want one of the nickel-plated ones they made, but I’m not willing to pay $2000+ right now. Out the door with shipping from the original dealer and transfer fees this came out to $385.

Wolverine genty used

And a commenter has this helpful tip:

If you ever order magazines from Olympic, let them know that they are for a vintage Wolverine, not one of their new ones. Apparently, there is some special tweaking that they do for vintage Whitneys. The one I bought from them works like a champ.

There’s some handling wear on the alloy frame/envelope of the gun, and it shows just how well it holds up (compared to the corrosion and pitting often evident on average steel firearms of similar vintage).

(Note: With Revenge of Small Dog going on here, posting may be slow for a day or two. As the posting of today’s six AM post almost at noon ought to tell you. We’ll keep dispensing the gun crack, it’s just going to take us longer –Ed). 

Why are Rock Island Auction Catalogs so Expensive?

It’s a lot of money for an auction catalog: one costs $60 in the USA and $75 overseas, and it’s $165 or $210 respectively for a subscription for three Premiere Auctions (which also gets the Regional Auction catalogs, containing pieces without such nosebleed prices as the one-of-a-kinds that fill the Premiere auctions). What chump would pay those prices, and why?

We do, and we’ll tell you. First, there’s getting a package that weighs something like 8 pounds, and that makes you take out your letter opener.

rock_island_catalog02

Then, there’s what you see when you pop the lid.

rock_island_catalog03

This catalog, for the Premiere Auction taking place from 09-11 September 2016, is actually three glossy, beautifully printed volumes. They are spiral bound to lie flat, and inside there are hundreds and hundreds of heirloom  and investment-quality guns. The photographs are made with a technician’s craft and an artist’s eye, and the page layout rivals the best work in coffee-table books. And it’s an auction catalog, for crying out loud!

The catalog cover above is a row of historic early semi-auto prototypes, of which any one could b the centerpiece of a million-dollar collection. They have enough of these that reading the catalog is an education in early semi-auto blind alleys and also rans.

Rare Walthers? This is one of two AP prototypes, more or less identical and consecutively marked, that are being offered individually and as a pair. Each is likely to

bring a six-figure sum.

rock_island_catalog08

There are more rare and historic Colts and Winchesters than you can shake a peace pipe at:rock_island_catalog04

And Lugers. See what we mean about the photography and layout?

rock_island_catalog11

Here’s a Luger to conjure with — marked with The Man’s own monogram, (GL), it’s an experimental designed to work with heavier loads. The toggle is “reversed,” with the finger-grip cocking pieces normally attached to the rear link of the toggle attached to the front one instead.

rock_island_catalog07 rock_island_catalog06

Rock Island’s interest in getting the greatest possible amount for these firearms means they go all out to photograph them well and document their unique features and provenance.

There are a few lots in this auction that ran our Czech firearms gong. Along with a couple of ZH29s, an interwar semi rifle designed by the great Vaclav Holek and built in very small quantities for tests (including in England and  the USA), there were some great Czech and Bohemian pistols.

We’ve featured this very Bittner repeating pistol, built by the ethnic-German gunsmith Gustav Bittner in Weipert (Vejprty), Bohemia Province of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the late 19th Century. At the time (if we recall rightly) it was offered for sale by Horst Held. This strange early pistol fit into the same sort of niche as the Volcanic pistol, in the interstices between single-shot and semi-automatic pistols. The trigger ring worked like a lever-action’s lever to reload from a Mannlicher-style en bloc clip. These pistols in any condition are rare; this is the nicest one we’ve seen.

rock_island_catalog09

Several Weipert gunsmiths worked on similar ideas. This next is a lesser-know Czechoslovak-related pistol:

rock_island_catalog10

In the period between the wars, the Czechoslovak Republic required a difficult-to-get permit for small pistols, defined by barrel length. This produced a quantity of domestic and imported guns with longer barrels. Most of the interwar long-barreled pistols, whether of Czechoslovak, German, Austrian, Spanish or other manufacture, tend to sport Czech proof marks.  There’s no mention of whether this Walther Model 1 has the Czech proofs, but we’d bet the guys at Rock Island a beer that it does.

Of course, not all good stuff is Czech! There’s also a good offering of Class III firearms.

rock_island_catalog05

Clockwise from upper left: Japanese aircraft MG; MP-40; German MG tripod; Madsen LMG with tripod and on bipod. There are actually a couple of MP-40s, including a DLO tube gun.

Yes, the catalog will make you lust after guns you can’t afford. C’est la guerre, Legionnaire! But as a wish book and reference it stands alone.

Chiappa Chiappa Bang kBANG!

Here’s a Chiappa Rhino 2000DS revolver that has more or less reverted to kit form, kinetically.

Chiappa kB!

Now, you may have seen this before (about a quarter-million people have looked at the original post on Imgur as of now).

Poster saith (on Reddit):

This is a friend of a friend occurrence. This is what they told me: New gun and factory ammo at the range. They fired approximately 70 rounds when this happened. It blew the pad off his index finger. They just finished reconstructive surgery. I’m assuming it was caused by a squib. I’ll post more when I learn more.

And now the money shot…

We’ve got the missing finger for you, after the jump for the squeamish among ye.

Continue reading

Another Melior

Note: we are having technical difficulties. We’ve held up this post waiting for our images to come through the cloud, and we’re just going to go with wall-o-text until we get it sorted out. You can follow the link to Ed Buffaloe’s Unblinking Eye page on the Melior to see what one of these (in general) looks like. -Ed.

Here’s another Melior pistol.

melior_-_1

You may remember some time ago we showed a Melior .32 that was a cosmetic copy of the FN Browning Model 1900 that worked quite differently, in order to get around Browning’s patent on the slide. That Melior looked like it had a slide, but only the breechblock moved.

melior_browning_1900_copy_-_3

In time, the Browning patent expired, and the Melior pistol was redesigned on a clean sheet of paper. The new design was made in both 6.35mm and 7.65 mm (.25 and .32 ACP), and shared little but the factory and the name with the early-1900s Melior.

melior_-_2

This one is a .25. It came in a flap holster, suggesting that it may have been a wartime bringback that was formerly an officer’s or cop’s token pistol.

melior_-_10

It has no import marks, but they weren’t required until the Gun Control Act of 1968 took effect in 1969 — and the same act banned the import of small pistols like this.

This jargon in the Act was sold to the public as an attempt to ban “Saturday Night Specials,” one of the first terms coined by gun-ban groups to play on public emotion: the term has never has a consensus definition, but generally means small and cheap handguns, useful perhaps for defense but not for “sporting purposes”. (The GCA ’68, in terminology copied directly from Nazi gun laws by Nazi gun-law admirer Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-CT), posits that the only legitimate reason to own a gun is for “sporting purposes,” which the ATF has further defined as hunting and bullseye target shooting only). But the legislative history of the Act tells a different story. Dodd wanted to get the manufacturers on board for his re-election (and, judging from the way his re-election funds would get him in trouble, to line his pockets). So he proposed to them that, if they could get their trade groups and the NRA not to oppose his legislation, he’d structure it so as to ban their foreign competitors. History tells us he was crooked — not stupid. (His son, who would follow him into the Senate, was crooked and stupid, but that’s another story).

The Melior is lavishly marked with a legend, proofmarks, and "Safe" and "Fire" in French (Sur and Feu).

The Melior is lavishly marked with a legend, proofmarks, and “Safe” and “Fire” in French (Sur and Feu).

Unlike the image of the classic “Saturday Night Special,” the Melior is well-made and solid.

There’s nothing remarkable about it; it’s just a typical European .25 of the inter-war period, better made than most.  There  are some toolmarks (look at the receiver and trigger guard, above) but it was a gun built with a price in mind. (We’ll look at some of the guns more deserving of the “Saturday Night Special” title, some day soon).

Interesting feature: when cocked, an extended pin  provides a visual and tactile cocked-gun signal.

Interesting feature: when cocked, an extended pin provides a visual and tactile cocked-gun signal.

The .25 ACP is very low-powered, with less muzzle energy than the .22 LR. But the intended customer here wasn’t someone who was expecting to get into firefights. (Those guys carry long guns). And the .25 has one very great advantage, in that its rimless design usually makes for trouble-free function in a small pistol. The rim of the .22 causes feeding complications, and the fact that the rim is the primer tends to complicate extractor and ejector design, as well.

This kind of Melior .25 was made in at least three versions, as described by Ed Buffaloe on a very informative web page, and a fourth completely different design was also made by the manufacturer, Robar et. Cie., and sold under Robar’s usual trademarks Melior and Jieffeco.

While the end of the Browning patent meant that Melior could make a conventional slide, and the slide works like a conventional slide, Melior’s designer went about it unconventionally. The slide contains a breech block that is fixed to, and reciprocates with, the slide. To disassemble the pistol, you remove the wedge that locks block to slide, and then it’s possible to remove the slide forward.

melior_-_3

It’s a fascinating, ingenious little gun. While it’s unique, that also suggests that it may not have been very influential. Some variant of it seems to have been made from a 1920s introduction up to the liquidation of Robar et Cie. in 1958, almost 60 years ago. But it does not seem to have been copied, within Belgium or without.

The Eternal Life of the Twist-Barrel Derringer

This type of weapon first appeared circa 1860: a two barreled derringer with a third central
“barrel” that’s really an axle.

sportarms derringer 2

A catch in front of the spur trigger releases a barrel lock, and the whole thing rotates 90º to load both barrels and 180º to fire the second barrel after discharging the first. A half-cock notch gets the hammer out of the way so that the barrels can rotate. So it’s not a true double-barrel in which the barrels can be discharged sequentially: it’s a turn-barrel repeater. Apart from the half-cock notch, there’s no kind of safety. Hammer down, the firing protrusion on the hammer rests on the cartridge rim (and all of these that we have seen are chambered for rimfire cartridges). To carry it safely you’d have to carry hammer down on an empty chamber à la Single-Action Army revolver, and rotate the barrels for your one and only shot! This is exactly the sort of thing incremental gun banners were going for when they used to propose banning Saturday Night Specials as the next step in their endless march.

cdm sportarms derringer 4

Muzzle End View

A variety of these were imported before the Gun Control Act of 1968 forbade their importation. Given their small size, simplicity, low parts count and therefore, ease of manufacture, former importers quickly found US manufacturers. The primary importer turned manufacturer of these, at least based on the numbers of them that turn up, was Sportarms of Miami.

sportarms derringer 4

You might ask what the sections of drill rod are for. That, Grasshopper, is your ejector. It takes a pretty good poke to get the cases out of the usually loose-fitting chambers.

A variety of finishes have been offered over the years.

sportarms derringer

(The 1968 small-pistol import ban was meant by its proponents to be an increment before banning domestic manufacture of such firearms, but events, like the censure for corruption of gun control leader Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, intervened).

Another manufacturer, CDM products, called it the “Long 2 Derringer”:

CDMLong 2 Box

Whatever you call it, this pint-sized pistol is intended, apparently, as a hideout or last-ditch defense firearm. We’ve seen them chambered in .22 short (the only one that’s comfortable to shoot, really), .22LR and even .22 Magnum.

It’s hard to imagine a worse self-defense gun. It has all the disadvantages of a small .25 autoloader, plus it’s a max 2-shot pistol, of which only one shot is available. We strongly suspect that many of these are bought and owned as pure novelties. Going price is $40-75, although we have seen dealers list them for $200 or $300, apparently on the Greater Fool Theory of marketing.

An exact copy, except brass-framed, of the little derringer was made by Estul, Inc. of Matthews, NC 28105, as the Twist-2. Estul was a machine shop that operated under than name from 1954 to 2007; it’s now called ABT Metals Manufacturing and based in Statesville, NC. Heres a brief (just over 5 minutes) video of unboxing and firing of what appears to be an NOS Twist-2.

Yep, his first shot failed to fire (and his 3rd). And in .22 short. This is clearly a novelty, not a pistol with any plausible defensive application.

If you look at the parts of a Sportarms Derringer / Long 2 / Twist-2 (or any of its many iterations) you will see that there are things that are easier, and less demanding of machine time and operator skill, to build than a Sten. Many homemade and improvised firearms are more involved than this, and actual 07 Manufacturer FFLs built these.

Bubba’s Own Luger

Yeah, let’s make sure everyone knows it’s a Nazi Luger…

bubbas luger

… by embedding a Hitler Youth pin in the grips.

It’s only original once, Bubba, you pathetic mong.

It gets worse: somebody posted this to Reddit, and the amount of idiocy in the comments was staggering. Yeah, even for Reddit. Here are some examples:

  • It is possible it was a Party official and he had those put on, but I’ve always heard the Party members were gifted PPs, not Lugers.
  • Lugers tended to be had by Wehrmacht officers, and P38s by lower officers and NCOs.
  • That emblem is too pristine to be original.

As someone else pointed out  (accurately) amid all that imbecility, this is a fantasy piece. Although… whose fantasy involves a swastika?

OK, Maura Healey, we’ll give you. Heil Healey! Who else’s fantasy…?

There are Still Deals Out There

The new $100 is ugly as they come, but you'd still rather hang on to 'em than spend more than you have to.

The new $100 is ugly as they come, but you’d still rather hang on to ’em than spend more than you have to.

OTR called and asked if we wanted in on a deal. A Pennsylvania dealer, who is known for getting lots of local LE turn ins, had a batch of .38 revolvers: Smith and Wesson Model 10s and S&W Model 15s.

The Smith Model 10 is the original Military & Police, the company’s bread and butter product for decades. The six-shot, .38 Special revolver came in several barrel lengths, 4″ and 6″ being the most common, and featured fixed sights. From the 1920s through the 1980s, this (and its Colt Official Police competitor) was the quintessential cop gun.

The shop had them, unmarked police turn-ins, for $285. They varied in condition but were generally good or better, with some holster wear but little wear internally. (This is typical of cop guns, the median example of which is carried daily and shot annually).

The Model 15 (also called at time the Combat Masterpiece) is fundamentally the same gun, but with adjustable sights and a ramped front right. These were trade-ins from the same department, and were priced at $299.

OTRs New Smith

Did we want one? (OTR would then deliver it to a local FFL to us, straightforward and perfectly legal). The above one is the Model 15 that followed him home. He says the trigger is, “Nice,” which is pretty much what we’d expect for a Smith trigger of this vintage.

At $300, a gun like that was a deal five or ten years ago. It’s a better deal today, despite the popularity of autoloaders having relegated revolvers to near-antique status. For 80 years or so, American cops kept the peace with Smiths and Colts like this, and for that reason if no other,

We begged off because we still have a pile of pistols we’re sorting out. Literally.

Pile of Guns - 1

The Randall, we already had. (We needed something to open the boxes). Everything else is new to us, some of it stuff we’ve wanted for a long time, some of it bycatch. Some of the bycatch may be heading for the auctions itself before too long, along with an overall space clearing of the safes.

But we don’t have a really typical cop revolver…