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Phillip Peterson

Photo Gallery: 20 Collectible Military Guns

From handguns to sniper rifles, to water-cooled machine guns, feast your eyes on 20 of the baddest, most collectible military firearms you'll ever wish to see.

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This photo gallery is excerpted form the new Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, 7th Edition.

Market Trends in Military Gun Collecting

The import of military surplus firearms has slowed to a trickle, with only a handful of bolt-action rifles coming in. The ubiquitous Mosin-Nagant M1891/30 finally disappeared from wholesaler catalogs in late 2012.
The import of military surplus firearms has slowed to a trickle, with only a handful of bolt-action rifles coming in. The ubiquitous Mosin-Nagant M1891/30 finally disappeared from wholesaler catalogs in late 2012.

From the re-election of Barack Obama and push for new gun control following the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting, to the United Nations push for small arms disarmament, there's no shortage of geopolitical and economic forces shaping trends in military gun collecting. Phillip Peterson, editor of the new Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, 7th Edition, gives his take on where things are heading.

The 2012 re-election of Barack Obama has basically extended the buyers market for firearms that had started when he was elected the first time, in 2008. Manufacturers continue to struggle to fill demand for new handguns and semi-automatic rifles.

AR-15 style rifles like this are still in demand following recent attempts to ban them.
AR-15 style rifles like this are still in demand following recent attempts to ban them.

After the mass shootings that took place in 2012, the administration and national media have been on a crusade for another “assault weapon” ban, and bans on high-capacity magazines. As we go to press it looks as though the bans have little chance of getting passed by the U.S. Congress. But the surge in demand continues.

The collectible firearms market has dropped a bit as many buyers are purchasing the new guns they fear are soon to be banned. As we gathered pricing data of realized prices from auctions, internet sales and some observed traffic at gun shows, it is clear that there has been a slight drift downward in the selling price of collectible military firearms. The biggest hit has been in what I call midrange collectibles in the $250 – $750 range.

My read on this is that the working-class segment of collectors and accumulators are the ones who have been affected the most by the economy. Fewer new collectors are entering the market and the more common items have fallen in price as the existing collectors already have them. There are fewer sales to “noncollector” buyers of old military guns who were buying those items in the past because they were cheap.

The import of military surplus firearms has slowed to a trickle, with only a handful of bolt-action rifles coming in. The ubiquitous Mosin-Nagant M1891/30 finally disappeared from wholesaler catalogs in late 2012.

These Russian rifles had been retailing for about $125 with a sling and bayonet.  It does not take long for prices to climb once an item disappears from suppliers’ listings, and the 91-30s quickly have jumped to the $200 – $300 range.  There are now no surplus rifles that can be bought for under $100, a threshold that has been approaching for several years.

With the United Nations pushing an international treaty limiting the small-arms trade, it is unlikely any new imports of military surplus will hit these shores. Poorer nations are being pressured to destroy surplus small arms and ammunition by granting them financial aid in exchange for destroying their old guns.

Gun Collecting: Swiss Vetterli Rifles

Gun collecting: The Swiss Vetterli rifle is worth looking at. Image courtesy of RIA auctions.
Gun collecting: The Swiss Vetterli rifle is worth looking at. Image courtesy of RIA auctions.

FREDERICH VETTERLI was an engineer working for Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) in Newhausen, Switzerland. In the late 1860s he worked on a repeating cartridge rifle for the Swiss government. Fixed metallic cartridges had only been perfected a few years previously and several nations were already working on single shot designs but the Swiss realized the limits of single shots and bypassed that stage in rifle design.

The Mauser-designed box magazine, that now seems so simple and should have occurred to designers after about ten minutes of thought, was still almost two decades away. The first generation of rifle-feed systems used magazine tubes, usually located underneath the barrel. The challenge here was how to get the cartridges from the tube to lift up to be loaded into the chamber.

This is where Vetterli got inspiration. He borrowed a design from the United Stated and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Model 1866 lever action rifle was already well known in global arms design circles.

Lever action designs were not very attractive to military buyers because of the complexity of the designs and cost of manufacture. However, Vetterli liked what he saw in the Winchester 66’s feed system. It used a lever-actuated elevator to lift the cartridges from the magazine tube. The elevator mechanism and much of the Winchester’s receiver design was incorporated into a bolt-action rifle.

In January 1869, Switzerland became the first nation to adopt a magazine-fed repeating rifle. The Model 1869 had a 33-inch barrel and the magazine held 12 rounds. There were 150,000 Model 1869 Vetterlis made by nine contractors.

The rifles originally were issued with a loading gate cover, that kept dirt out of the action, and a magazine cut off, which allowed the rifle to be used as a single shot. Both of these features were deemed unnecessary and were phased out of later models. There were several models of Vetterlis made: 1869, 1869/71, 1871, 1878 and 1881. All used the same action design and the differences were minor.

Changes included rear sights, magazine capacity, checkering on forearm, and butt plate shape. There were also a limited number of carbines made with barrels of 18-19.5 inches long. Also made in limited numbers is the Stutzer rifle, which has double-set trigger. These were for sharp shooting and target use. The Swiss used the Vetterli until it was replaced by the Schmidt Rubin Model 1889 rifle in 7.5x55mm.

The Vetterli was the first bolt-action magazine-fed rifle used by the military.All Vetterlis were chambered for the 10.4x38R rimfire cartridge. It is loaded with black powder and the bullet weighs 334 grains. This cartridge is usually called a Swiss .41 rimfire here in North America and Remington once manufactured the .41 rimfire here. Many Vetterlis were imported in the early 20th century. It was one of the first foreign military surplus arms that were available to American shooters for very low prices.

They were even somewhat popular as hunting rifles and many gunsmiths built shortened “sporters” out of them. In 1942, Remington dropped the .41 Swiss from their line and the Vetterlis fell into the oddity category where they languished for years.

When I started selling at gun shows in the mid 1980s there were a few firearm models that seemed to turn up frequently but very few buyers were interested. These would languish on sellers’ tables or be carried around by attendees looking for a buyer. They were not worth much money. I remember seeing examples of these guns sell in the $50-100 range all the time.

And even then it was a hard to find a buyer. If ammunition was not readily available, shooters had no interest in these historical relics. A few of the under-appreciated rifle designs that come to mind are the Dutch Beaumont, Austrian Werndell and the Swiss Vetterli. Of all these models, the Vetterli has a unique distinction that makes it special to collectors of military firearms. The Swiss Vetterli was the first bolt-action magazine-fed rifle ever adopted as a service weapon.

The days of $50 Vetterlis are long gone. The current going rate for a Vetterli is $250-500 depending on variation, maker and condition. The Stutzer and carbine versions bring as much as three times what a rifle will. Be aware that there were many carbines made by shortening standard rifles. This was done by importers such as Bannermans that had thousands of long rifles on hand that were hard to sell.

For detailed information on the Vetterli rifles I recommend the book, Swiss Magazine Loading Rifles 1869-1958 by Joe Poyer from North Cape Publications. It is as an excellent reference on Swiss rifles. Also there is an excellent website that features Swiss firearms, www.swissrifles.com.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in shooting the old black powder cartridge rifles. The original 10.4x38Rmm being a rimfire round does not make reloading a practical option. The answer is simple. Change the Vetterli bolt to shoot centerfire ammunition.

This is a fairly easy conversion to make for someone with access to a lathe and a bit of machining skills. All that is done is adding a centered firing pin to the striker and drilling a hole in the center of the bolt face. New centerfire 10.4x38Rmm brass can be formed from .348 Winchester brass. The forming dies are not inexpensive but once the investment is made a 130-year-old Vetterli can once again belch smoke.

This article appeared in the December 3, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Collecting: The AR-7 Survival Gun

Original ArmaLite AR-7 rifles are now quite collectible and will often sell in the $250 to $400 range.
Original ArmaLite AR-7 rifles are now quite collectible and will often sell in the $250 to $400 range.

SURVIVAL RIFLE. When someone says those words what do you think of? I bet many of you think of the AR-7, a .22 LR semi-automatic rifle. The AR-7 is one of the few firearms that have been marketed with the “survival rifle” moniker. In fact, any gun can be utilized as a “survival” gun but relatively few have been marketed as such.

Eugene Stoner designed the prototype of the AR-7 at ArmaLite in the late 1950s.  Stoner is well known as the designer of the AR-15/M-16 series adopted by the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1963. The AR-7 was born in a program to design a survival arm for the USAF to arm pilots and other personal in survival situations.

The main survival guns of the time included the M-4, a .22 Hornet bolt-action made by H&R and the M-6, a .22/.410 over/under gun. Stoners’ contribution to the program was not actually the AR-7 but the AR-5. The AR-5 had the advantage of repeat fire over the then-standard M-6, using the same .22 Hornet cartridge. When the AR-5 was adopted as the MA-1, but not placed in issue because of the numbers of M-4 and M-6 survival weapons in USAF inventory, ArmaLite used the research and tooling for the AR-5 in developing the AR-7 for the civilian market.

ArmaLite introduced the AR-7 Explorer on the American market in 1959. The ArmaLite guns were made in Costa Mesa, California. They were offered with three colors of plastic stock: black, swirled green and brown. The early plastic stocks have a tendency to develop cracks around the front opening for the action.

This is caused by over tightening the assembly screw when putting the gun together.  As long as they are not stressed further at the cracked area, the stocks can be used for many years. All of the ArmaLite-made AR-7s are now collectible. They will currently sell in the $250  to $400 range. The brown stocks are the scarcest and they bring the higher amounts. ArmaLite ceased operations in 1973 and Charter Arms bought the AR-7 design .

ArmaLite made another variant and sold it to the Israeli military for pilot and aircrew use. The Israelis further modified these rifles, adding the telescoping stock that holds two spare magazines, a pistol grip from a FAL-type rifle, shortening the barrel to 13.5-inches, and adding a front sight based on the K98 Mauser. After Israeli service, some of these rifles were re-imported into the U.S. by Bricklee Trading Company.

The barrels are marked with the BTC identification as required by U.S. laws on imported guns. In order to comply with U.S. federal law, a 3-inch muzzle brake had to be permanently attached in order to meet the minimum 16-inch barrel requirement. These Israeli-contracted AR-7s are the rarest on the U.S. market and have been sold for upwards of $500 for nice specimens.

Charter Arms manufactured the AR-7 from 1973 until 1990.  They made the gun in a basic black color and added a silver tone version, which they called the AR-7S. In 1986 a camouflage version was offered, called the AR-7C.

And it floats! The AR-7 breaks down easily and its components store in the floating buttstock for convenience and safety.
And it floats! The AR-7 breaks down easily and its components store in the floating buttstock for convenience and safety.

The big contribution Charter Arms made to the AR-7 story was the addition of the Explorer II pistol version of the AR-7.  It resembled a broom-handle Mauser. The receiver had a built-in pistol grip with no provision for the rifle stock (the internal parts are interchangeable between rifle and pistol). The rear sight of the pistol was an open notch adjustable for windage and elevation. The Explorer II front sight was integral with the barrel shell and was not adjustable.

The magazine well in front of the trigger guard would accept any magazine designed for the rifle. A spare eight-round magazine could be carried inside the grip. The most common barrel was 8 inches. Optional barrel lengths included 6- and 10-inch versions. The Explorer II was not as popular as the AR-7 rifle. Without the store-in-the-stock feature the gun was a bit large and oddly shaped to carry around in an assembled state. There were no sling swivel add-ons or holsters made for the Explorer II pistol.

Because NFA 1934 regulations set minimum rifle barrel length at 16 inches, the barrels on the rifle and pistol are not interchangeable to prevent installing the pistol barrel on the rifle. The AR-7 barrel has an alignment lug that mates a notch in the receiver.

The receiver notch and barrel lug for the rifle are on top; for the pistol, they are on the bottom. If a pistol barrel were installed on a rifle (or vice versa), the extractor on the bolt would be opposite the extractor slot in the barrel, preventing the bolt from closing (plus the front sight would be upside down). Modifying the pistol barrel to fit the rifle, or cutting a notch in the rifle receiver to accept the pistol barrel, would in the eyes of the law, make it a short-barreled rifle and would require federal registration on an ATF Form 1 with payment of a $200 tax.

In 1990, the design and production rights passed on to Henry Repeating Arms and the compact rifle was slightly revised. The AR-7 is now known as the Henry U.S. Survival rifle. An ABS material replaced the original plastic, which was prone to cracking and failure. The receiver recess in the Henry stock allows storage of receiver with a magazine in place and the rifle is normally sold with two magazines.

The latest versions of the Henry allow for storage of three magazines total, with two in the stock recess, and one in the receiver. The modern Henry U.S. Survival rifle is also waterproof (all prior versions were known to leak water inside the stock). They now include a full Teflon coating on the outer surface. A 3/8-inch rail milled into the top of the receiver for mounting a wide variety of optics is now a standard.

During its 53-year production span, the AR-7 has inspired a number of companies to offer after-market parts. The fact that both the barrel and stock are detachable has led to after-market accessories, similar to those available for the Ruger 10/22. Barrels, stocks, and grips of varying finishes and utility, can be added to the rifle.

These include collapsible stocks, wire-framed stocks, pistol grips, flash suppressors, shrouded barrels, high-capacity magazines, telescopic sights, red dot sights and other fanciful-looking hardware, usually at a cost greater than the rifle. Such accessories usually make it impossible to use the original floating stock for storage of modified parts.

This article appeared in the November 5, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

Buying Guns on Internet Auctions


If you are a collector looking for that unique piece or a shooter seeking a deal on a gun that has not been made in 50 years, the Internet auction is replacing the gun show as the place to satisfy your desire.

As a dealer, I sell most of my collectible and used firearms via Internet auction. I use both GunBroker and AuctionArms. Both are fine sites that advertise here in the Gun Digest.

I did not list eBay here because they do not allow complete firearms of any kind. Some gun parts are allowed but I don’t recommend using eBay for any firearm related stuff because they do not want our firearm business. Why put money in the pockets of an anti-gun business?

I have found after a decade of selling firearms on Internet auctions that I can usually sell them quicker and for a better price than locally or at a gun show. There are some risks involved that I will try to address in this column.

Is Internet buying for you? The answer can depend on what you are looking for and how much risk are you willing to accept in pursuit or your goal. A bit of money helps, too.

Why buy on the ‘net when I have a great gun shop locally? The answer to this depends on the item you are interested in purchasing.

If it is a current production firearm then a local, well-stocked shop is probably your best bet. However, retail shops do not stock every product. Some are even reluctant to order an unfamiliar product instead of selling you something they carry in stock.

If you are a collector or just want a specific item, few retail shops will have a large selection of used guns. They just get what comes in the door. So if you want a used .30-06 hunting rifle but live in a shotgun only state, few rifles will get traded in. Some shops might not even want to take used firearms in trade at all.

They don’t want to stand behind an item they cannot get serviced or replaced easily. Many retailers of new merchandise are afraid to take in collectible guns like an old Winchester or Colt Single Action because they are not well informed of the collectible market, and they fear getting stuck with an expensive gun that is hard to sell locally. I can’t fault them for their caution in buying high priced collectibles.

I have bought collectible guns thinking I was getting a good deal only to find out that it had the wrong barrel length, non original rear sight, replaced stock, was reblued, or any of a dozen other problems that reduced its value and collectibility. It pays to know what you are buying.

How do I find an item I want? First, you should log on to one of the auction sites and select the search option. Enter the make, model and caliber of an item you are looking for. Such as: “winchester 1873 .45”, “1898 mauser 7mm”, or “colt 1903 .32” No need to use caps or punctuation, as the search does not use them. This will show you current listings matching your selection. Hopefully, there are several listings to view. It will also be helpful to do another search of closed auctions to see prices that were actually realized on your item.

Do a closed auction search going back as far as the site will allow. This can be up to 90 days. If you are looking for a collectible firearm then you also need to do your own research first, to be sure if the item you are viewing is correct. This can be done on any of the hundreds of sites devoted to specific manufacturers, models or countries of origin. Don’t hesitate to email a seller questions about his stuff. If he is a regular seller of collectibles, he should know the important details and address them in his auction description. Some sellers, like pawn shops or small retailers, don’t know what they are selling so you might need to ask detailed questions. Sellers who fail to respond to questions or are vague with answers should be avoided.

I want to hold and feel an item I’m about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on. This point is hard to talk someone out of. The fact is that your local dealer or gun show may never have the item you want. Would you rather never have it or take the chance and buy one only viewed in digital pictures?

A good seller will invest in a quality digital camera and learn how to take detailed pictures with it. I show close ups of markings and other important details. I always show rust spotting, small cracks or dents in the wood or other blemishes on the firearm. I have seen sellers whose listings show lousy pictures that are dark or fuzzy and lack up close views of important markings.

Here is where the feedback on an Internet seller will be helpful. Most Internet auction sites have a system where buyers can publicly post their satisfaction with the seller and the merchandise they bought from them. A well established seller can have thousands of feedback reports.

Positive feedback will usually mention that the seller uses accurate descriptions, gives excellent service and ships quickly. Negative feedback can come from poor descriptions or pictures of an item, refusal to accept returns, or outright fraud. If a seller gets too many negatives, the site will kick them off completely. If a few negatives appear on an otherwise impressive total, read them with the understanding that it is impossible to make everyone happy. Some buyers are hesitant to buy from new sellers or those with few feedbacks. That would have to be your judgment call. Some of the best deals will be from new, inexperienced sellers.

OK, I found my dream gun, is it time to bid? Not yet. Before you get ready to bid, you should line up an FFL dealer to receive the firearm for you. A non-licensed individual cannot receive a firearm in interstate shipment. However, if the gun you want is in your home state, you can arrange to see it in person or buy it directly from the seller. You will need to be prepared to go to the seller’s place of business if they are a retail dealer. Or, if they are not an FFL dealer you can buy the gun directly, if person-to-person transfers are legal in you your state.

GunBroker and Auction Arms both have lists of FFL holders who will handle out of state transfers. Just enter your zip code and they provide a list of nearby dealers. Some large shops refuse to handle transfers because they believe it cuts into their business. As though they think you might be ready to buy their new Glock when you are looking for a WWII issue Luger that they don’t have and would never buy. Too bad, as this alienates potential customers that might return to buy something out of their stock.

How much will the transfer cost? This varies a lot by region. $10 – $25 in most areas will get you a transfer. But in places like California and New Jersey you might pay $50 – $100. There just are not many FFLs left in these anti-gun utopias. You also need to ask if they collect sales tax on a transfer. Some states expect the FFL to collect the tax as though he sold the item, even if he is acting only as a receiving agent and you paid the seller directly.

You also will want to ask if they will receive a firearm from a non-FFL seller. It is not illegal under federal law or in most states for a non-FFL individual to ship a firearm to another state as long as it is shipped to an FFL. A photocopy of the seller’s ID is usually enough to establish identity. Some transfer dealers do not want to receive a gun from a non-licensed individual. You might need to ask the seller if he is a dealer before you bid on his item. It is also wise to ask about the seller’s return policy if this is not stated in the auction.

Once you have a transfer FFL lined up, it is time to join the game. It can be frustrating, just like a live auction. There are many strategies involved in when to bid. Some will wait until the last minutes of an auction so as to not draw attention to the item they want. I say just decide what you are willing to pay and place your bid. If someone is going to bid more it really does not matter when it happens. There are deals to be had. It just takes time and patience.

What are reserve auctions and what is proxy bidding? A reserve auction is when the seller sets a hidden price for the item that must be met before the item will sell. This is different from the starting price of the auction. The starting price is shown on the auction listing. It can be $1 and up. If a reserve auction receives bids it will not be a sale until the reserve is met. I have never listed or placed a bid on a reserve auction. It seems that the reserve price is seldom reached. I think a lot of sellers that use reserves are fishing for how much buyers are willing to pay for an item without having to sell the item.

A smart seller will just list his minimum selling price as the starting bid and not waste a buyer’s time with reserves.

Proxy bidding is the way that the auction sites raise the bids between competing bidders without requiring a bidder to pay his full bid if he is not bidding against another. For example, Bidder 1 bids $500 for a Colt revolver with a minimum opening bid of $400. There is no reserve, so the seller is willing to sell his gun for $400. If no one else places a bid before the auction closes Bidder 1 will win the Colt for $400. If Bidder 2 jumps in and places a bid of $450 then the proxy bidding program will up Bidder 1’s bid to $460 or enough to outbid Bidder 2’s bid.

The bids are raised in increments based on the starting price of the item. Usually five dollars or so. If Bidder 2 decides he really wants that Colt then he can go back and raise his bid to $600. Now Bidder 1 receives an email informing him that he has been out bid. He has the choice of raising his bid but it must be for more than $600 to win the Colt.

I won an auction. Now what? The winning bidder in an auction will receive an email from the auction site informing them that they have won. The seller will also send an email with the total and the address to send payment. The shipping charge should have been listed in the seller’s description or included in the selling price. Beware of a seller that fails to mention shipping in the auction then tries to add $50 to the price. Ask before you bid. Most long guns can be shipped for around $20 – $25 via UPS ground or U.S. mail depending on the insurance coverage. Anyone can ship a long gun via either method.

Handguns can be sent US Mail only if the seller is an FFL holder. That will run $10 – $20. UPS requires handguns be sent next day air and that will cost $35 – $50 so if you are buying a pistol from a non-FFL keep that in mind. The details of how and where to ship firearms were discussed in a previous column.

The best form of payment is a U.S. Postal Service money order. They can be bought at any post office. The USPS money order is better than a private bank money order in case of a problem with non-delivery of merchandise. The USPS will go after fraud cases involving mail-order sales.

Many retail sellers will be able to take a credit card. I do not like online payment services such as Paypal because they have problems of their own with recovering payments when there is a problem with a transaction. You now will mail your payment and FFL copy to the seller. Some transfer FFLs will want to mail their FFL copy directly to the seller. Either way is fine. As long as both get there safely.

When your new treasure arrives at the FFL dealer you go in and fill out the paperwork the same way as in any firearm transaction. Be sure to inspect the gun to be sure it matches the seller’s description. It would be easier to make a return before you do the paperwork and take the gun home.

Good luck and happy bidding!

This article appeared in the September 12, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

The Revolvers of Montenegro

Collecting the Montenegro revolver.

Montenegro is a small mountainous country of less than a half million people. It has a tumultuous history of wars and revolutions. The nation was independent from 1868 to 1920, when it was absorbed into Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke up in a bloody civil war in the 1990s, Montenegro once again opted for self-rule. It is also the only nation that ever had its name become synonymous for a type of firearm. I speak today of the Montenegrin revolver.

What is a Montenegrin revolver? Basically it is a large-frame double action revolver chambered for the 11.25x36mm cartridge. These guns were made in Austria, Belgium and Spain. Oddly, none were made in Montenegro. The reason they became associated with Montenegro is that the king of that country ordered his citizens to own these revolvers. I think this is the only case in history where a national leader ordered the general population to arm themselves with a specific firearm.

“Every male citizen of Montenegro is a member of the Militia, and therefore not only justified but also obliged to possess at least one Gasser Pattern revolver.” That proclamation was issued by King Nicolas, who ruled Montenegro from 1910-1918. The Gasser Pattern revolver he was talking about was the Austrian Gasser Model 1870 revolver. This was the issued sidearm of Austria from 1870-1878. When they were replaced by the Gasser M1878, some of the earlier 1870s were sold to Montenegro. These became very popular with the military officers.

After Nicolas was made King by the Montenegrin parliament in 1910 he tried to unite his small kingdom into a formidable foe that would strike fear in hostile neighbors like Albania or Austria. Among his many reforms was the proclamation ordering revolver ownership by the male population. It is rumored that King Nicolas held stock in the Leopold Gasser company and made a bit of money off his order. Production of the Montenegrin revolvers helped keep the Austrian arms maker in business through the end of WWI. Of course, such things were not as controversial then as they would be today.

With the huge demand for new Gasser revolvers other makers jumped in to the market. Most were in Belgium and Spain. Both nations were home to cottage gun industries that turned out all kinds of guns. Quality ran from excellent to dangerous. Some of the manufacturers deviated from the Gasser design. There were solid-frame and hinged-frame designs; long and short barrels. The things that identify a Montenegrin revolver are the huge cylinder that accommodates 11.25x36mm ammunition and the rounded handle that resembles that found on the Mauser Model 1896 “Broomhandle” pistol.

The 11.25x36mm cartridge is much longer than a .44 Magnum. It was loaded with black powder and fired a 310-grain bullet at almost 900 feet per second. It was the ‘Magnum” of the era, more powerful than contemporaries like the .45 Colt and .44 Russian. I made a dummy cartridge out of a Danish Remington rolling block cartridge, just to see what they looked like next to a .44 Magnum. I would never attempt to fire any of the Belgian or Spanish Montenegrin revolvers. I might be tempted to try a Gasser-made specimen, if it was in good condition.

The revolvers became status symbols among the Montenegrin population. The men would wear one or more hanging out of their traditional attire like some sort of early 20th Century bling-bling. The revolvers were offered with ivory or bone grips, nickel plating and engraving. The well off bought the Gasser-made guns while the common folk settled for the less costly Belgian or Spanish examples.

I recently examined a pair of the Belgian-made Montenegrin revolvers at a local gun show. Both guns were of the same design. There are no clear maker’s names, only Belgian proof marks on the cylinders. One is marked on top of the barrel “Vero Revolver Montengrino.” Both are marked “Cuss Stahl” which means cast steel. That, in my opinion, would not be the best material from which to make a firearm. Cast parts can have unseen faults that make themselves known only when the gun blows the top off a chamber or splits the barrel.

Many Montenegrin revolvers found their way to North America in the luggage of immigrants from Montenegro. They were considered an essential part of life in the old country so of course their owners took them along to the new country. Once here, the old rivals were spread out so they rarely came in contact with each other. Within a couple generations, the reasons and perceived need for the revolvers faded. And the status gained from wearing a revolver was lost in many parts of America. The revolvers ended up being given away or sold. If you look for them, you can find Montenegrin revolvers at gun shows and online. They are interesting collectibles, but don’t plan on taking them to the range.

This article appeared in the July 18, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

Gun Collecting: The British .303 Jungle Carbine

The .303 British Jungle Carbine.
The .303 British Jungle Carbine.

The English Lee-Enfield series of rifles is really a castoff design the Americans didn’t want. Back in the 1880s, American inventor James Paris Lee took a design that had failed to catch much attention in the U.S. over to Great Britain.

The British adopted the design and shortly were cranking out thousands of the rifles using Lee’s action modified to fire the .303 British cartridge and a 10-round magazine. The final design work was done at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, so the rifle has forever been linked with the name where it was engineered.

The history of the design and use of each model of the Enfield series would take up much more room than I have in this column. In this month’s Collector’s Corner I shall discuss one of the final variations of the Enfield series, the rifle No. 5 Mk. 1.

The Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 5 Mk. 1 is usually known as the “Jungle Carbine.” Although that was always a nickname for the model, it was never called a Jungle Carbine in official terminology. In late 1942 the British Infantry Weapons Development committee began research on a shorter and lighter version of the standard-issue rifle, the No. 4 Mk.1. It was intended for use mainly in the Far East where jungle fighting in difficult terrain had shown the full-sized SMLE and No.4 Mk.1 rifles to be too large and heavy.

Through much of 1943 various design features were submitted and the final result was the carbine we know today. During its design stage the rifle was referred to as a “No. 4 lightened rifle”.

On March 21, 1944 the finalized design of the new rifle was approved. On Sept 12, 1944 the name of this model was officially changed to Rifle, No. 5 Mk. 1. The features unique to the No. 5 Mk. 1 rifle are:

  • The action is the same as the No.4 but has been lightened by removing steel in some areas.
  • The 20.5 inch barrel includes a pinned-on flash eliminator.
  • The rear sight is graduated to 800 yards, instead of the 1300-yard sight found on No.4 rifles.
  • The butt stock has a rubber recoil pad

Production of the new rifle began at the Royal Ordnance Factories at Fazakerly and BSA Shirley. Although several thousand No. 5 rifles were made before WWII ended in August 1945, the design did not see a lot of combat use during the war.

Production of the No. 5 rifle continued after the war. The rifle was popular with troops because it was shorter and lighter than other models. There were however continuing complaints that the rifle could not shoot with consistent accuracy. The ordnance officials called this problem “wandering zero.” It seems rifles calibrated at the arsenal or in the field would shoot acceptably for a while then become increasingly inaccurate.

There were several attempts to determine if there was a design defect that caused this problem but they never settled on a single cause. A significant factor in the lack of accuracy is apparently the flash hider. In tests of rifles without it they held the accuracy for more shots. But that was one contributing factor, not the cause. Other things that might factor in are the length of the fore stock, lightning cuts on the receiver and barrel, and methods of holding the barreled action in the wood.

In the end they decided not to do anything to fix the problem, they declared the No. 5 rifle obsolete in July 1947. Production died down by late 1947 with the final rifles being assembled at Fazakerly in December. According to “The Lee-Enfield Story” there were approximately 250,000 No. 5 Mk. 1 Rifles produced. This figure is not certain as there are some overlap and discrepancies in factory serial number records.

As they were removed from British service some No. 5 rifles were given or sold to other nations. Throughout the 1950s many were sold on the surplus arms market and ended up here in the U.S. Most in the U.S. came in before 1968. Some were imported in un-issued condition. The 1947-dated No. 5 I used for this column shows no signs of use. The going price for one of these minty Jungle Carbines usually runs $400 to $700 if the rifle has matching numbers.

No. 5 rifles with WWII dates of 1944 or 45 will bring more than the 1946- or 1947-dated guns. There have been a few small lots of No. 5 Mk.1 rifles imported in the last decade. Many of these come out of Malaysia. They show signs of being used in a wet climate. Many will have rust and pitting on steel edges where the steel touches wood as well as water stains in the wood. Most will have rotted rubber recoil pad. These sell in the $200- $350 range.

Modern Copies

In the 1980s and 90s many thousand SMLE No. 1 Mk. III and No. 4 Mk.1 rifles were imported to the U.S. Because there is a limited market for the old battle rifles, the importers were left with more guns than they wanted. Navy Arms and other companies began converting their rifles into reproduction Jungle Carbines or similar models. The most common example is a Jungle Carbine made from a SMLE No. 1 Mk III. The seller shortened the barrel and installed a reproduction flash hider/front sight. Some have the recoil pad added. Others retain the original metal butt plate. These are available in .303 British or .308.

The easiest way to identify one of these modified rifles is to note the position of the rear sight. The SMLE rear sight is on top of the barrel. The rear sight on a No.5 Mk.1 is a peep sight on the top of the receiver, above the bolt handle. There were close copies of No. 5 made from No. 4 rifles that are hard to tell from original.

I can’t label these guns as “fake Jungle Carbines” as the firms that offer these rifles make no attempt to cover the nature of these guns. They are simply taking a slow-selling model and changing it to another variation to add to their product line. These non original carbines sell for $250-$350. I guess it shows the popularity and fame of the original Jungle Carbine that they can crank out copies that sell as well as the originals.

This article appeared in the June 20, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Collectors Love The FN-49 Rifle

FN 1949 rifle 7x57mm Venezuelan contract with the correct 15-inch bayonet. (Photo credit RIA auctions)
FN 1949 rifle 7x57mm Venezuelan contract with the correct 15-inch bayonet. (Photo credit RIA auctions)

WWII Saw the first widespread use of semi-automatic battle rifles. The U.S. M-1 Garand, Soviet SVT 38 & 40, and the German G-43 all saw action. There were other designs in use as well but they were not mass-produced or issued for general military use. Added to this history is another design that could have ended up on either side of the conflict but instead spent the war on the design table. I am referring to the Fabrique National model 1949 rifle. It is also known as an SAFN (semi-automatic Fabrique National) model of 1949.

It was actually designed just before the outbreak of WWII. Dieudonne Saive, chief design engineer at FN in the 1930s came up with the design for a self-loading rifle that used a fixed magazine. Unfortunately for Saive and FN, Germany occupied Belgium in May, 1940. Mr. Saive vowed he would never work for the Nazis or allow his design to fall into their hands. He fled Belgium, taking the plans for the design and several other FN engineers with him.

He ended up in England and went to work in the Royal Ordnance Corp Small Arms Design Unit. During this time the SAFN-49 design was perfected. A few prototypes were made but wartime production demands did not allow for diversion of resources to an un-tested project.

In late 1944 the Allied forces liberated Belgium. Saive wasted little time before packing up his expatriate design team and moving back. The FN factories had been looted and stripped by the Germans and the next few years were spent getting FN back up and running. After the war FN was actually in better shape than much of the arms industry in other nations. Most arms production facilities had been bombed repeatedly and were nothing more than piles of rubble.

With a perfected SAFN design, they began marketing it to the post-war world. Of course, there were tons of surplus military weaponry in Europe at the time and it was difficult to find buyers for the new rifle. The Belgian Army was the first to buy the new rifle, adopting it in 1951 chambered for the .30-06 cartridge.

There were 125,072 FN-49 rifles made in .30-06. The Belgians used a majority of the .30-06 guns. Luxemborg and Columbia acquired them as well. In all, there were more than 176,000 FN-49s built. Venezuela purchased 8,003 in 7x57mm; Argentina bought 5,541 in 7.65mm; Egypt received 37,641 in 8x57mm. The Columbian, Argentine, Egyptian and Venezuelan rifles all bear their respective national crests on the top of the receiver. The Belgian FN-49s are marked “ABL” and the Luxemborg guns are marked “AL.”

There were small quantities of the rifle purchased by other nations as well. These were mostly samples and prototypes and were not adopted for military use. There was even a handful of the rifles imported to the U.S. by Browning Arms Co. for commercial sales.

These were chambered in .30-06 and had a flash hider similar to that found on the Venezuelan 7mm model. The only way to distinguish them from military contract pieces is by the lack of any national crest on the receiver. It is assumed these Browning rifles were assembled from left over SAFN parts since they were listed in the Browning catalogue in 1961, at least five years after production stopped. The FN 1949 was in production from 1949 to 1956.

There were some minor production variations in the rifle, including a sniper version. These have a dovetail rail on the left side of the receiver and the FN factory markings are on the right. The mounting system usually used was purchased in the U.S. from Echo Co. of Boise, Idaho. The scopes used were a variety of European-made models. There were many FN-49s made with the scope dovetail that were never issued as sniper rifles. In my own experience I would guess that about half of the FN-49s I see have the dovetail.

The Belgian-issue .30-06 rifles marked ABL actually had the option for select-fire operation. With the fixed 10-round magazine, I can’t see where that was worth the effort. You might get two short bursts. The receiver is slightly different to accept the select fire components. Because of this fact, there will never be any Belgian issue FN-49s on the U.S. market as the BATF would consider it a machine gun. Some might have been imported into Canada and carried into the states before they tightened border crossings.

Some of the trigger groups have been sold in the U.S. but a semi-auto receiver requires modification to install them. Of course possession of an FN-49 with such a modified receiver would be totally illegal unless it was registered as a machine gun prior to 1986.

The Venezuelan version is the only one that was issued with a flash hider. The other contracts use a simple threaded steel cap to cover the threads on the muzzle. There is even a bit of difference in these. The Egyptian 8mm rifles have a cap that covers the end of the barrel. The various .30-06 rifles have a cap that covers the threads but leaves about 1/8 inch of the barrel protruding out the front.

The Argentine FN-49s were originally made in 7.65mm.

The Argentine Navy received many of these. The navy rifles are marked “ARA”(Armada Republica Argentina) next to the Argentine crest on the receiver. In the early 1960s the Argentine Navy converted their FN-49s to 7.62mm Nato. This was done by installing a new barrel. At the same time they were modified to use a detachable magazine. This was a 20-round magazine that resembles a FN-FAL magazine but it is not interchangeable. This was the only official conversion of the SAFN to use a detachable magazine. Some Argentine Navy FN-49s were imported to the U.S. in the 1990s.

The 20-round magazines were shortened to hold 10 rounds to make them compliant with the Clinton-era high-capacity magazine ban. These guns also had the muzzle cap welded in place so an evil flash hider could not be installed. A few years after the magazines were shortened, the government changed the interpretation of the import rules to allow standard-capacity magazines to come in if they were made before 1994. There are now some 20-round magazines available. I do not think the 7.65mm rifles have yet been sold by Argentina. I have never seen one nor heard of any in the U.S.

There were two patterns of bayonet made for the FN-49. The more common version has a 9 ¼-inch double-edge blade. These are marked by the nations that used them. For example the Belgian-issued piece is marked “SA 30”, the Argentine is marked “ARA”, and the Egyptian version has Arabic numbers. The 9 ¼-inch bayonet was issued with all versions of the FN-49 except for the Venezuelan contract. The Venezuelans used a bayonet with a 15-inch single edge blade. This was actually a FN-produced M-1924 Mauser bayonet that had the barrel opening in the muzzle ring enlarged to fit the flash hider on the FN-49. These bayonets have no markings except for a serial number on the back of the handle. Both types of bayonet will fit any SAFN.

The FN-49 could be considered a “grandfather” of FN’s biggest success in post WWII military rifles, the FAL. Some of the FN 1949’s features were used in the FN FAL, including the bolt and gas system.

The FN-49 field stripped.
The FN-49 field stripped.

The FN 1949 uses a piston-type operating system in which a small amount of the breech pressure is bled off through an opening in the top of the barrel. That pressure drives back a steel piston that operates the action to eject the spent cartridge, re-cock and re-load the weapon. There is a collar (gas regulator) on the piston housing that allows the rifle to be tuned for best function. Turning the collar opens or closes a small hole that vents gas pressure from the piston tube.

Military ammunition can be found with significant variations in chamber pressure. Some might have been loaded “hot” for use in machine guns, while other arsenals might load it to a lower pressure to be safe in older weapons that remained in use. The front hand guard must be removed to adjust the regulator.

The FN-49 is fairly easy to field strip for cleaning. Make sure the rifle is not loaded. Start with the bolt in the forward, closed position. On the back of the receiver cover is a latch that needs to be turned a half turn so the flat piece is to the top. Now, push the cover forward until it stops, then lift up from the rear. The receiver cover along with the recoil springs can now be removed to the rear. Pull the operating handle back to the rear. Lift the bolt/carrier assembly out of the receiver when it reaches the cuts in the rail that permit removal.

After cleaning and oiling, the rifle can be re-assembled in reverse order. Watch the sliding dust cover that can move forward and block re-insertion of the bolt/carrier. When replacing the receiver cover and recoil springs be careful not to kink the springs. They can fold downward and the cover will still fit on, but the carrier cannot be retracted. Once this has happened the springs are bent and will be harder to get in line for proper assembly.

Shooting Impressions

I have fired a lot of rounds through several FN 1949s over the years. As long as consistently loaded ammunition is used there have been few failures to feed or misfires. I’ve only actually needed to adjust the gas regulator a couple of times. If one was to reload for the FN-49 it might be necessary to tune the regulator to a specific load. Ejection is quite violent and the brass is usually dented where it hits the top cover. The gun is fairly accurate, for a military rifle. The rear sight can be adjusted right or left by loosening or tightening the screws on both sides of the aperture.

One word of advice. Try to find charger clips that fit the loading slot in the top cover. Each caliber of SAFN uses a unique size clip and it is sometimes hard to find the right size. Stripper clips are almost never marked beyond a manufacturer’s letter or number code. Just try different types until one fits. Loading single rounds into the magazine is fine but be careful not to bump the bolt handle or hold open the piece while loading. If you think M-1 thumb hurts, FN-49 thumb is worse.

Big Demand

All versions of the FN 1949 are popular with American collectors. Many 7mm and .30-06 rifles were imported before 1968. The Egyptian 8mm rifles were imported in the late 1980s. These Egyptian-contract rifles are the most commonly seen SAFN in the U.S. today. Many of the Egyptian rifles came in with broken stocks and Century Arms sold them with a new stock. These stocks are made of a light colored wood that is stained dark walnut. They frequently have a black plastic butt plate.

The metal parts of these rifles were usually re-blued. The re-stocked 8mm rifles run $400 to $550 on the U.S. market. Original 8mm rifles will usually be in well-used condition and can run $350 to $800 depending on condition. The 7mm and .30-06 versions will currently bring $800 to $1200. Many of the 7mm guns are in un-issued condition. The Argentine Navy rifles in 7.62mm will run $800 to $1200.

This article appeared in the January 31, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Collector’s Corner: Sjogren, The First 12-Gauge Auto

Sjogren shotgun - worth a look for gun collectors.

The gun-dealing thing started for me in the early 1980s. I see a lot of guns. It is a rare day when something crosses my path that I have not encountered before. Well, this is not one of them. I did see two Sjogren shotguns in my life before I bought the one shown here.

One was on the shelf at a Ft. Worth, Texas, gun shop in the early 90s, the other I can’t remember where. I recognized the one in Ft. Worth as something I had seen before, somewhere. Probably a pawn shop I stopped at on one of my gun-buying trips. Of course I had no idea what I was seeing; just a funny looking 12-gauge semi-auto shotgun. So, when I see some guy trolling this thing around at a Ft. Wayne, Indiana, gun show in November, 2008, I had to chase him down.

He had no idea what it was. Just a 12-gauge that he said shot OK but he wanted a newer pump shotgun. He wouldn’t set a price, wanted to trade. I rarely have current production shotguns in stock so he moved on. A couple hours later I see he is still carrying the gun. He told me nobody knew what it was nor would they make an offer. I did. And I was the new owner of a Sjogren 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun. (Don’t ask me how that is pronounced: sho-gren is what I have been calling it. Never heard anybody else say it. Could also be so-gren or jo-gren.)

The Sjogren shotgun is a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun made in the first decade of the 20th century. It was actually on the market before the Browning Auto-5, making this the first self-loading shotgun commercially offered. (At least I can’t find any indication of an earlier model). The Sjogren is not listed in Standard Catalog of Firearms, yet. Nor is it included in the Blue Book of Gun Values.

Sjogren shotgun.

My research on this gun found very little information besides a booklet I am using as reference for this column. “The Weapons series No. 6 The Sjogren Shogren Shotgun and Sjogren Military Rifle” by Roger Marsh, copyright 1947. This seven-page booklet appears to be self-published. I also found reference to an article in a Danish gun collector’s magazine called Vapentidningen no. 7- 2000 by Jens E. Perto. I was not able to find that article, just a few quotes from an Internet message board.

Swedish inventor Carl Axel Theodor Sjögren had three Swedish patents from 1900, 1903 and 1905 linked to the gun. A Swedish businessman called A. Karlsson ordered 5,000 guns from Töjhusafdelningen och Haandvaabenverksäderna in Copenhagen, Denmark in August, 1907. Only 12-bore guns with 70-centimeter 3/4 choke barrels were made, but an extra 500 60-centimeter-long barrels with cylinder choke were also made.

The last gun was manufactured in 1909. Serial numbers range from 1001 to 6000. My Sjogren has pre-WW I German commercial proof marks. It is probably a vet bring-back from WW I or WW II. The gun shown in the Marsh book has English proofs from the same era. Additionally, US patent 954,546 was issued to Carl Axel Theodore Sjogren on April 12, 1910, but I found no record of commercial importation or sale in the U.S.

The Sjogren system has a fixed barrel and a fully locked breechblock. It utilizes what is called inertia driven operation to extract and eject the fired shell, then reload the next shot. The recoil (or rearward inertia) of the whole gun operates an internal locking block that stays forward at the moment of rearward recoil, this allows the bolt to open as breech pressure drops and extract the fired shell. A similar system is currently in use in the Benelli M-1 shotgun.

The action of the Sjogren shotgun.I have an idea how this works but I’m having a hard time putting a description of this operation in words. Normally, I will just take an unfamiliar gun apart so I can see how it works. However, the disassembly instructions in the Marsh booklet convince me that this is one gun on which I will forego my usual exploration. There are too many odd shaped springs and parts that appear somewhat fragile. Breaking a part on a rare gun can really reduce its value. So I will simply quote Mr. Marsh’s description of the gun’s operation:

“With the bolt fully forward and locked, the gunner presses the trigger, drawing down the connector and with it the sear, which is mounted in the inertia block. The firing pin drives forward to strike the primer. As it does so, it jams the locking block into the locked position by interposing the firing pin between a ledge on the locking block and the bolt body.

“As the gun fires, we find that the inertia block, true to its name tries to “stay put” when the gun recoils. Initial recoil of the gun exceeds initial recoil of the inertia block by about 1/16th inch, thus compressing the accumulator spring between the recoiling gun and the nearly non-recoiling block. In effect, the block moves forward in relation to the gun during initial recoil. The accumulator spring then asserts itself and throws back the inertia block. The sear carries the firing pin back so that it no longer jams the locking block. As the inertia block continues to the rear, the fingers of the assembly key strike the levers of the locking block rotating it to the unlocked position and carrying the whole assembly to the rear, extracting and ejecting the fired shell.”

Still can’t figure this one out? Sorry, I can’t help you. Not much more I can say about how the Sjogren functions.

I usually try to test fire unusual guns when I write columns about them but as with the disassembly, I just don’t feel comfortable shooting this thing. When firing, the whole bolt assembly slides to the rear towards the shooter’s face. There is a large steel block at the back but…no. Even though the person I bought it from said he used it I’m not going to try.

Sjogren also made some prototype military rifles in a 7.6mm cartridge that utilized the same mechanism but they never got beyond that. One was reportedly tested at Bisley, England, but did not perform well in those trials.

The Sjogren was not manufactured after 1909. Apparently the sportsmen of the world were not ready for this interesting design. The Browning A-5 of the same era was a success so we must conclude that the Sjogren did not fail due to its semi-automatic function. It probably did not hold up with heavy use.

Several have made their way to the U.S. in the last century, despite there being no commercial importation when new. Some were undoubtedly “war trophies” brought home by U.S. serviceman from WW I or WW II. In the last decade numerous used sporting guns have been imported from Sweden due to increased gun control laws there. Mixed in with these have been a few Sjogrens. The Simpson Ltd. gun collector’s website listed two of them for sale at the time I wrote this column.

The asking prices were $1295 for a 90 percent piece with a cracked buttplate and $500 for 60 percent gun with a repaired buttstock. They have been up there a while with no takers.

This article appeared in the December 6, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Collecting: Tokarev’s TT-33 and Its Clones

Russian TT-33 made in 1940, without safety and a Norinco Tokarev Model 213 pistol in 9mm.
Russian TT-33 made in 1940, without safety and a Norinco Tokarev Model 213 pistol in 9mm.

Fedor V. Tokarev, 1871-1968, was a Russian arms designer. His name is familiar to many American arms collectors. Among his designs were the SVT-40 self loading rifle and the TT-30 and TT-33 pistol. The pistol is the focus of this month’s Collectors Corner.

In 1930 the Soviet Revolutionary Military Council began looking for a replacement for the 1895 Nagant revolver. The new pistol was to chamber the newly adopted 7.62x25mm cartridge. That cartridge is dimensionally identical to the German 7.63 Mauser Broomhandle cartridge but was loaded to a higher pressure.

Tokarev, an official at the Tula arsenal, lead a group that submitted one of the designs tested. They obviously borrowed some features from the Colt 1911 design such as the method of locking the breech and use of the link to tilt the barrel up. Tokarev took a couple interesting turns. First, there is no safety. Another distinctive feature is the hammer-sear mechanism which can be removed from the frame as a complete unit. Finally, there are no screws used in the gun. The grips are held in place by internal catches. The Soviet Arms committee liked the design and designated it the Tula-Tokarev 1930 pistol or TT-30.

The TT-30 was produced through 1936 with about 93,000 pistols being made. In 1933 two changes were made to the design which necessitated changing the name to TT-33. The changes were in the method the barrel locking lugs were machined and by simplifying frame design to reduce the number of parts needed. These changes did not get incorporated into the production line until 1936.

The TT-33 was produced through WWII and into the mid 1950’s. The design was unchanged except for some guns made during WWII that had wooden grips instead of the black bakelite grips with the CCCP Communist Star logo.

Russian Tokarev pistols are not uncommon sights in American collections. Many were imported in the pre-1968 years. Some were carried home by U.S. veterans of the Korean or Viet Nam war. The TT-33 design proved popular within the Communist world.

China adopted the Type 54 pistol in 1954. It was a direct copy of the Russian design. A Chinese made Type 54 will have the triangle arsenal mark indicating where it was made as well as Chinese characters with a year date and serial number. Another version commonly exported to third world nations will be marked M20 on top of the slide. These frequently turned up in Viet Nam.

In the late 1980’s Norinco began producing new Type 54 pistols for the North American market. The first ones were military issue guns with the added safety. Then they made new models including a convertible kit with 7.62×25 and 9mm barrels and magazines. Norinco also produced a 9mm Tokarev it called a model 213. It was made with standard eight round magazines. Some were made for Navy Arms that are called a TU-90. These have a wrap around grip like that found on the Hungarian Tokaygpt. There was also a wide grip model that used a 12 round magazine. Many thousands of Norinco Tokarevs were imported before the Clinton administration banned import of rifled firearms made by Norinco.

Hungary issued their home made TT-33 as a Model 48 in 7.62x25mm. These will have the Hungarian coat of arms molded in the grip. The Hungarian state arms company FEG (Fegyvergar) also produced a limited number of 9mm pistols intended for export to Egypt in the early 1950s. The deal fell through and the guns were sold on the international market as the Tokagypt. This was the first time the TT-33 was re-barreled to use the 9x19mm cartridge. The FEG built Tokagypt were built with a thumb safety and the grips are different in that they wrap around the back of the handle. Neither Hungarian made TT pistols have been imported to the U.S. in quantity.

North Korea manufactures the TT-33 as the Type 68. Very little information is available on the North Korean produced version. It is assumed to be identical to the Soviet model.

Poland manufactured their TT model pistol at the famous Radom arsenal also known as factory 11. Many of these with an added safety have been imported recently.

Romania made the Tokarev pistol at Cugir, their military production facility. Their model designation for the pistol is TTC, Tula Tokarev Cugir.

Yugoslavia issued the Model 57 pistol in 7.62x25mm. These are similar to the TT-33 except that they use a nine-round magazine. Thus the Yugoslavian guns can’t use the other nations magazines. These have a Yugoslavian crest on top of the slide. The recently imported Yugoslavian guns have a thumb safety added to the left side. This is my favorite safety addition to the Tokarev design. Its operation is similar to the U.S. Model 1911. American Arms also imported some 9mm TT pistols from Yugoslavian arms maker Zastava in the 1990s. They are called an M88. These were made for the American market and also have a nine round magazine.

Tokarev TT-33 Stripped Down

The New Safety

Importation of surplus military arms was banned by the gun control act of 1968. In 1986 the law was modified to allow import of military surplus that was at least 50 years old and classed as a “Curio & Relic”. So, U.S. importers applied for import permits for C&R qualified Russian TT-33’s as well as Tokarevs made in other nations. At some point the BATF found a regulation regarding importing firearms that they must have a manual safety. None of the military issue Tokarev models have a safety.

The safety requirement over rides the C&R import regulations that the gun must be in original configuration. So, the importers and their overseas sources had to add new safety devices to the TT-33 in order to import them. A variety of levers have been used that block the sear or trigger from movement. All guns are milled and drilled to accommodate the safety components. Of course this damages the collectibility of the pistol. At this time any TT-33 pistol without the added safety will sell for about three times what the U.S. import altered version will. The safety issue was straightened out and some surplus Russian made TT-33 pistols with an added safety were brought in.

Then the Clinton administration banned the import of many Russian made firearms, including the TT-30 and TT-33. Thus as of 2011 there are no Russian made TT-33 on the U.S. market but there are currently Polish, Romanian and Yugoslavian made guns available. Recently imported TT-33 with the added safety currently sell in the $200-$300 range for most variations. A pre 1968 import without the added safety will sell for $500 and up. I have seen a few nice WWII-issue Russian pistols top $1,000.

The TT-33 is an easy gun to strip for maintenance.

1. Remove magazine and inspect the chamber to verify that the pistol is not loaded.

2. As done with the Colt 1911, press down on the recoil spring plug, rotate the barrel bushing clockwise to the 12 o’clock position and remove to the front. Be careful here as the spring is under tension. Lift the spring and plug out.

3. Set the pistol in the Left side. Push the flat spring that holds the slide stop pin to the rear. It may be tight and require a tool to tap it off the pin recess. Remove the slide stop to the Left.

4. Remove the slide, barrel and recoil spring guide to the front.

5. Lift the hammer/sear assembly upward out of the frame. Reassemble in reverse order. Be sure that the barrel link is aligned with the hole when you insert the slide stop pin through the frame.

Finally, the grips are held in place by metal catches that are riveted inside each grip panel. To remove the grips a flat blade screwdriver is inserted into the magazine opening to move the slide catch off the frame. I do not recommend removing the grips unless necessary. They are made from Bakelite and can chip or break easily.

The TT-33 is a fascinating pistol for the arms collector. Lots of variations and history involved. And they’re fun to shoot, as well.

This article appeared in the March 28, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

Fun with Semi-Automatic Sub Guns

The PPSh-41 rifle, also known as a pa-pa-sha, has been introduced by TNW. The stock is an original Polish part. The barrel, barrel shroud, and receiver are all new.
The PPSh-41 rifle, also known as a pa-pa-sha, has been introduced by TNW. The stock is an original Polish part. The barrel, barrel shroud, and receiver are all new.

Semi-automatic versions of sub-machine guns have been on the U.S. market since Auto-Ordnance brought out the Thompson 1927-a1 in the 1970s.  Other notable makes include the Uzi Model A which began importation in 1980, and the numerous MAC-10 type guns that began to appear in the early 1980s.

The expiration of the assault weapon ban in 2004 has brought a new generation of semi-automatic versions of classic military weaponry of the world.  Many are based on Soviet designs. There are a lot of former East Block guns on the world arms market that can be bought cheap.

Of course functional select-fire guns cannot be imported for the civilian market. So U.S. importers began destroying the receivers of original guns and imported the parts kits. Then gun designers and tinkerers sat down and figured out how to make these things work in semi-automatic.

These semi sub guns (SSG?)  are designed to comply with current law.   Select-fire open-bolt mechanisms were changed to closed bolt semi-automatic operation. The BATFE must approve any design that skates near the edge of automatic operation.

It must be impossible to readily convert any design to automatic function, either by modification of existing parts or substitution of “readily available” parts.  In all truth, these SSG are really new designs that have cosmetic resemblance to the select-fire version.  Original stocks, handles, sights, magazines or other parts may be used but significant manufacture of new parts is done.

In addition to semi-auto only function, the new guns must comply with other areas of federal law.  A rifle must have a barrel at least 16.1 inches long and have a total length of 26 inches.  With most of the existing designs this requires a longer barrel than the original model. Older SMG’s usually had barrels that were six to 14 inches long.  The longer barrels on the SSG change the profile quite a bit.  Some models, like the British Sten or U.S.M3a1 Grease Gun really look silly with the 16-inch tube.

Handgun versions of guns such as the MAC-10 series can fit the original profile but will lack the collapsible stock. Some of the new designs even have an original folding stock welded in the closed position. This is to give the gun the appearance of the real thing.

In the last few months I have had the opportunity to try out three of the semi-auto sub guns. A Suomi 9mm rifle, PPSh 41 rifle and PPS 43 pistol.  The Suomi and PPSh are manufactured by TNW Firearms  https://www.tnwfirearms.com.  They were ordered for local customers, not to test for this column.  That idea occurred to me later.

Finland manufactured about 80,000 Suomi Model 1931 sub-machine guns in 9mm. Production ended in 1944.  They were fitted with a 12.25-inch barrel and fire from an open bolt. The TNW semi automatic version fires from a closed bolt. It has a 16-inch barrel and the original barrel shroud was lengthened to cover some of the extra length.

The new gun keeps the unusual operating handle, which is located below the receiver at the back of the action. Magazines were made that hold 30 or 50 rounds as well as a 71-round drum.  The Suomi currently retails in the $450 to $550 range.

The TNW gun I tried was built using an as-new stock and other parts. It is finished with a gray Parkerizing.

I fired two 30-round magazines through it.  The rifle worked OK using Winchester and Finnish SAKO-made surplus ball ammo. One stovepipe jam and a couple failures to fire old ammo were the only issues. I was just plinking and did not have formal targets beyond a few old cans. Accuracy was to area of aim at my 25-yard range. Both I and the new owner of this gun thought it a bit heavy.

Three weeks after I sold the Suomi, another customer ordered a PPSh-41 rifle, also made by TNW but purchased from another source.  This was when I decided these guns might be a good topic for a column.

The Russians used the PPSh model 1941 submachine gun during WWII. More than five million were made from 1941 to 1947.  It was chambered for the 7.62x25mm cartridge also used in the Tokarev TT-33 pistol.  The Russians sometimes called their PPSh a pa-pa-sha. It fired from an open bolt, has a 10.3-inch barrel and uses 35-round stick or 71-round drum magazines.

The TNW version was built with a Polish marked stock and other original parts. The barrel, barrel shroud and receiver are all new manufacture.  It is finished with gray Parkerizing. The gun was shipped with a single stick magazine. I had to find some of the drums. They are what make this model neat. I ordered the drum on line and when it arrived I took the gun out back to try.  Yes, my customer had been informed I would be testing his gun. The PPSh-41 currently retails in the $900 to $1000 range.

First, I gotta say this gun is heavy.  It weighed in at 12 pounds 7 ounces with a loaded 71-round drum on my shipping scale. I would not want to have to carry this one all day. I wonder if they could make the barrel shroud from thinner steel, to lighten it up a bit? Function was spotty but I will attribute most of it to the ammo I used.

I did not happen to have much of the cheap surplus 7.62×25 on hand to try. My first drum was filled with 25 rounds of 1950s-era Czech surplus and 45 rounds of Norinco 1980s vintage steel-cased commercial ammo.  The Czech ammo had hard primers and there were more than a dozen failures to fire in the first 25 rounds, as well as a few jams and failures to eject. Subsequent sessions used other mixed 7.62x25mm surplus I found in my stash.  Bulgarian, Selior & Belot, and unknown manufacture.

Several more failures to fire. The most shots I got in one string was about 25 with the Norinco ammo. I am thinking this gun is a bit ammo sensitive. Some surplus ammo will have primers too hard for reliable operation. The factory manual suggests using new production ammo and warns of the poor reliability of surplus ammunition.

The final model I tried was the PPS-43 pistol. I bought this one at a gun show last weekend. The PPS 1943 was adopted in Russia in 1943. It was a re-design of the PPSh-41 made from sheet steel stampings. It used the same 35-round stick magazines. The drums will not fit the stamped magazine housing.

The new pistol is imported to the U.S. by Inter Ordnance https://www.ioinc.us. These currently retail for $450 to $550. It is made in Radom, Poland by Pioneer. This is an all-new gun. The folding metal stock is welded in the closed position. It has a 10-inch barrel and the weight is about 7.5 pounds. Finally, a sub-machine gun look-alike that looks like the real thing.  I can grip the magazine and spray from the hip, just like the war movies! My initial range session was satisfactory. It fired 35 rounds of the Norinco commercial ammunition with only two stove pipe stoppages.  Now, I’m out of 7.62×25 ammo, so I really need to find some more.

Whether you are a military history buff or just enjoy the look and feel of old submachine guns, these three are fine examples of what’s available for you.

This article appeared in the January 3, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

All About Shipping Guns

Photo courtesy Rock Island Auctions - rockislandauction.com
Before attempting to ship a gun to a buyer or a gunsmith for repair, it pays to brush up on the laws and policies in use by the major shipping companies. Photo courtesy Rock Island Auctions – rockislandauction.com

My editors have been hearing from some readers who are running into trouble when attempting to ship a firearm they sold through GDTM. These are non-licensed individuals who might be shipping only a gun or two, not dealers. Seems they are being refused service or given incorrect information when attempting to ship through the US Post Office, or a common carrier such as UPS or Fed Ex.

Since I ship several firearms every week, I was asked to provide some information on the legal ways to ship firearms. What follows is not legal advice and is provided as information only. If you are going to ship any firearms, I urge you to verify this information at the sources.

The first things a gun shipper needs to know are the Federal rules regarding the inter-state shipment of firearms. Rather than cut and paste a bunch of legalese from a BATFE website, I will attempt to give a basic outline. The government regulations state that only an FFL (Federal Firearms License) holder may receive firearms in inter-state shipment.

This is when shipping a firearm from one state to another. If a firearm is being shipped within a single state, or intra-state, the rules are a bit different. Shipping a firearm within a state does not require the involvement of an FFL holder, unless there are state regulations governing private sales of firearms.

The sender does not need to have an FFL to ship a firearm to an FFL holder. However, some FFLs refuse to receive a firearm from a non-FFL shipper. That is their own policy, not backed up by the regulations. It is suggested that a non-FFL shipping a firearm to an FFL holder include a copy of their ID or drivers license. The receiving FFL must have this information to enter the firearm in their records. I have had transfer firearms show up with nothing to indicate who sent it beyond a return address on the box.

If an unlicensed person is shipping a firearm they need to verify that the person or business they are shipping to has a valid FFL. This can be done by getting a signed copy of the recipient FFL mailed or faxed to the sender. Be aware that you might run across a dealer who refuses to provide a copy of their FFL if they are receiving the firearm from a non-licensee. Not a problem if they will give their license number to check on the BATFE website at a page called FFL EZ check.

This is the best way to verify that an FFL is current, whether you have a mailed copy or just an FFL number. Try www.atfonline.gov/fflezcheck/ Just type in the FFL numbers and it will display the shipping address and date the license expires. The EZ check site does not work to verify Curio and Relic type 03 licenses. The C&R information is not considered public, while regular dealer FFLs are. You must get a signed copy mailed to you from any C&R FFL holder.

Other Federal requirements are that the package containing a firearm NOT contain any markings indicating the contents and that the package require an adult signature at time of delivery. There is no Federal requirement that the shipper be notified that the package contains a firearm if it is being sent to an FFL.

Muzzle loading firearms and antique firearms made before Jan. 1, 1899, are exempt from Federal regulation. They can be shipped freely, unless in violation of state law.

Now we see that it is legal under Federal law for an un-licensed individual to ship a firearm to an FFL address. The problems come up when uninformed clerks refuse to accept the firearm presented for shipment. Or they add their own rules to make it impossible to comply. This can happen at any shipping venue.

Most of the time it is due to ignorance of their own rules and fear of firearms. The only thing one can do is ask to speak to the clerks’ supervisor. Ask to see the relevant regulations in the shipping rules, or tariff. Having your own copy of these rules and the recipients’ FFL copy can sometimes help. Just remember, even though you know you are in compliance with the regulations, you can not force a reluctant shipper to accept any package.

United States Postal Service (USPS)

Non-licensed individuals can ship rifles or shotguns to any FFL location. Just be sure there is no ammunition included in the package. It is against USPS regulations to mail ANY ammunition at any time. The postal clerk will ask if there is anything liquid, fragile or hazardous in the package. As long as there is no ammunition in the box, you can answer no to this question. An unloaded long gun poses no threat to any freight handlers or truck drivers.

Handguns can only be sent by an FFL holder to an FFL holder. A postal form PS 1508 is filed with each handgun shipment where the sender certifies that they and the recipient are FFL licensed dealers, manufacturers or importers. Because the wording on the PS-1508 does not specifically mention C&R it has been assumed that USPS does not recognize a C&R FFL for the purpose of mailing handguns. In fact, the term curio & relic or C&R never appears in any official USPS document.

I think it was omitted because they were hardly ever used when the PS-1508 system was devised. It might be nice if someone could get an official opinion on this. Many postmasters have never dealt with firearms shipments. My local USPS folks have actually called me when a customer came in asking questions about gun shipping. A violation of Postal service rules concerning firearms could be considered a Federal crime with all the nasty results that can involve.

My USPS notes: USPS would be my first choice for a non-licensee to ship a long gun. Shipping a firearm with insurance will require the receiver to sign for it when delivered. This satisfies the signature requirement.

However, I recommend also adding the return receipt card. This post card is signed by the recipient and then mailed back to the shipper. If you need to ship a handgun it might be a good idea to ask a local FFL holder to ship it for you. Even with paying an FFL for his time to ship, USPS will cost less than UPS or Fed Ex which require handguns be sent next day air. Some dealers will do this. Some will not.

Laws and shipping company policies regarding handguns and ammunition often differ from shotguns and rifles. Never assume yesterday's policy remains the same today - always check.
Laws and shipping company policies regarding handguns and ammunition often differ from shotguns and rifles. Never assume yesterday's policy remains the same today – always check.

United Parcel Service (UPS)

The following is taken directly from the UPS web site: Special Procedures for Shipping Firearms

Firearms will be transported only between licensed importers, licensed manufacturers, licensed dealers, and licensed collectors, as defined in the United States Gun Control Act of 1968, law enforcement agencies of the United States or of any department or agency thereof and law enforcement agencies of any state or department agency, or political subdivision thereof, and between persons not otherwise prohibited from shipping firearms by federal, state or local law and when such shipment complies with all applicable federal, state and local laws.

You must ship your packages that contain handguns with UPS Next Day Air Early A.M., UPS Next Day Air, or UPS Next Day Air Saver services. Your packages that contain firearms will not be accepted for shipment at UPS Drop Boxes, with UPS SonicAir service, at locations of The UPS Store or any third-party retailer, or with international services.

Your packages that contain handguns must be separated from other packages being delivered to UPS. Ammunition cannot be included in your packages that contain firearms (including handguns).

When you are shipping your package that contains a firearm with UPS, you must affix a UPS label requesting an adult signature upon delivery.

You can only ship your package that contains a firearm from UPS daily pickup accounts and through UPS Customer Centers. When you are shipping a package that contains a handgun, you must verbally notify the UPS driver or UPS Customer Center clerk.

See the terms and conditions in the UPS Tariff for shipping firearms.” This additional sentence is contained in the UPS tariff: UPS, in its sole discretion, may require the shipper select Next Day Air service for any shipment containing a firearm.

My UPS notes

UPS only accepts firearms at a UPS customer center and this is inconvenient for many people. Customer centers usually are located at the UPS truck terminals where the local drivers are based. That could be a hundred miles or more from some locations. Some UPS employees are interpreting the first sentence in the Shipping Procedures for Firearms document to mean only FFL holders can ship firearms. I think the final clause “and between persons not otherwise prohibited from shipping firearms by federal, state or local law and when such shipment complies with all applicable federal, state and local laws” leaves the door open for non-licensees to ship firearms.

Federal Express

“Federal Express can only accept and deliver firearms between areas served in the U.S. under the following conditions: (1) you agree to tender shipments of firearms to us only when either the shipper or recipient is a licensed manufacturer, licensed importer, licensed dealer or licensed collector and is not prohibited from making such shipments by local, state or federal regulations; (2) the shipper and recipient must be of legal age as identified by applicable state law.

Firearms must be shipped via FedEx Priority Overnight service. FedEx cannot ship or deliver firearms C.O.D. or with a signature release. Upon presenting the package for shipment, the person tendering the shipment to FedEx is required to notify the FedEx employee who accepts the package that the package contains a firearm. The outside of the package must not be marked, labeled or otherwise identify that the package contains a firearm. Firearms shipments cannot be placed in a FedEx Express Drop Box.

You also agree not to ship loaded firearms or firearms with ammunition in the same package. Ammunition is an explosive and must be shipped separately as dangerous goods. The shipper and recipient are required to comply with all applicable government regulations and laws, including those pertaining to labeling. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can provide assistance.”

I have never shipped a firearm through FedEx. The nearest FedEx office is 50 miles from me. The next day requirement on all guns makes FedEx a costly option for firearm shipments. I have heard they sometimes will want to inspect a firearm to insure it is unloaded. This is a pain if you have already boxed the gun up. Some clerks are even requiring that a firearm be broken down, but I can find nothing about it in their tariff.

Packing Hints

In over 600 firearms shipped since 1998, when I started doing mail order and Internet sales, I have had only seven damaged shipments. All were with UPS, because I use them for most long guns. All damage involved broken stocks. In all cases but one, they paid the insurance claim. I use a 6 x 6 x 48 inch heavy cardboard shipping carton.

The gun is put in a padded gun sleeve and foam packing peanuts are used to fill up the empty space in the box. I have had no damage claims since I started using the packing peanuts. Do not use wadded newspapers as packing.

If you are only shipping a few long guns I suggest just buying a plastic hard case with foam padding. These can be had for around $20 at most Mart marts. Keep the cardboard box the case comes in.

Gun in hard case, case in box, tape it up and cross your fingers.

Good luck with your firearm shipping adventure. The situation could get worse. If UPS and FedEx decided to not allow any non-FFL firearms shipments it would leave USPS as the only option. It could happen.

The Needle Gun Started It All

Dreyse Needle Gun sporting rifle cal. 61. Note the position of the bolt handle. It is located on top of the receiver and rotates less than 1 inch to open.
Dreyse Needle Gun sporting rifle cal. 61. Note the position of the bolt handle. It is located on top of the receiver and rotates less than 1 inch to open.

In my business of dealing in collectible firearms I have been fortunate enough to be able to handle some really interesting collector pieces. That was why I named this column Collector’s Corner when I started it in 2004. Recently I briefly owned another rifle that most who have interest in firearms development will have heard about. The Dreyse Needle Gun.

This rifle is considered to be the first breech loading system that utilized a completely self-contained cartridge. That is the bullet, powder and ignition (percussion cap) is one item. In this case it was in the form of a paper wrapped “cartridge”. The Dreyse cartridge propelled a .61 caliber bullet at a velocity of almost 1000 feet per second. Up to this point most firearms had been muzzle loading and they used separate percussion caps. There had been several breech loading designs but they still relied on separate ignition.

This view shows the Dreyse action with the bolt open. The needle can be seen in the front of the bolt.
This view shows the Dreyse action with the bolt open. The needle can be seen in the front of the bolt.

The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who adopted it for service in 1841 as the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, or Prussian Model 1841. Its name comes from its 0.5-inch (13 mm) needle-like firing pin, which passed through the paper cartridge case to impact a percussion cap seated in the base of the bullet. The Dreyse rifle was also the first breech-loading rifle to use the bolt action to open and close the chamber, executed by turning and pulling a bolt handle.

The gun was the invention of the gunsmith Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse (1787-1867), who, beginning in 1824, had conducted multiple experiments, and in 1836 produced the complete needle-gun.

The first types of needle-gun made by Dreyse were muzzle-loading, the novelty lying in the long needle driven by a coiled spring which fired the internal percussion cap on the base of the bullet. It was his adoption of the bolt action breech loading principle combined with this igniter system which gave the gun its military potential, allowing the firer to reload in a prone position, and using a one-piece cartridge without a separate cap to be handled under stress.

From 1848 onward the new weapon was gradually introduced into the Prussian service, then later into the military forces of many other German states, save for Austria. The employment of the needle gun radically changed military tactics in the 19th Century. It saw battle in a few internal German conflicts throughout the 1850s and saw its heaviest use in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Because the breech-loader made it possible for a Prussian soldier to fire five (or more) shots, even while lying on the ground, in the time that it took his Austrian muzzle-loading counterpart to reload while standing, it was seen as all giving the Prussians a significant advantage on the field.

In practice the needle-gun proved to have numerous defects; its effective range was very short compared to that of the muzzle-loading rifles of the day. A significant amount of gas escaped at the breech when the rifle was fired with a paper cartridge. After several shots, the breech area would become fouled with black powder residue and fail to close entirely.

This caused the gas escaping from the breech to burn the skin of the soldier. As a result, soldiers could not aim accurately without burning themselves and were forced to fire from the hip. The placement of the primer directly behind the bullet would force the firing pin, or needle, to be enclosed in gunpowder when the gun was fired, this causing serious stress to the firing pin which would often break after only a couple of hundred rounds had been fired, rendering the gun useless until the pin could be replaced. Soldiers were provided with two replacement needles for that purpose.

In the 1860s the French copied the needle-fire feature in the Model 1866 Chasspot rifle. This rifle had a better designed bolt and sealing system that cut down on the gas leakage. During the Franco-Prussian war 1870-71 the Chassepot proved superior to the Dreyse. By this time fixed metallic cartridges were being made from brass and the Germans turned their interest to the bolt action design by Paul Mauser and adopted the Model 1871 as the replacement for the Dreyse.

Original Dreyse Needle guns are rare. After years of use and the subsequent eras of German history most have been lost or destroyed. The rifle shown in this column is a sporterized military rifle. It was probably built by a German gunsmith guild in the 1880’s. There are no markings on it to indicate who made it. Just a couple old German military proof marks.

I usually like to fire unique old guns that pass through my hands but this was one I did not consider making cartridges for. I did find a web site that featured information on making cartridges for and shooting a Dreyse Needle Gun but I’m just not that ambitious.

This article appeared in the October 11, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.