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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Who Made It Better - PP vs 1911

As gun collectors we love to debate.  AK or AR?  9mm or .40?  Remington 870 or Mossberg 500?  '73 Colt or '73 Winchester?  In that spirit of strong opinions and lively conversations, we wish to bring the following question to the table, regarding the two presentation pistols in this week's article:  who made it better?  You may use any criteria you like, though some suggested ones are: aesthetics, condition with consideration given to age, provenance, historical value, usefulness of the firearm, desirability of model, and of course, your own personal preference.  Without further ado, here are today's contenders.

Exquisite Presentation Grade Factory Engraved Nazi Walther Model PP Pistol with "KB" Initials on the Backstrap In Postwar Walther Factory Presentation Case

Our first contender certainly starts things off on a strong note.  This is an excellent condition, all original, Presentation Grade, factory engraved Walther PP pistol.  It's a worthy opponent in today's competition!  Since its inception, Walther has been universally recognized as having some of the finest European engravers and this gun shows why in classic Germanic style.  The sheer amount of engraving is impressive in itself, but the precision and the depth in the relief sets it apart.  It bears a very traditional oak leaf and acorn pattern on nearly every metal surface and even those that don't are still decorated with fine checkering, punch dots, or small geometric designs.

The backstrap deserves special attention.  While having been also treated to the same phenomenal engraving as the rest of the pistol, it also features a large, framed "KB" monogram.  Those initials are believed (though not proven) to belong to Kurt Buhligen, a top Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II credited with 112 kills and who eventually commanded Jagdgeschwader Nr 2, the "Freiherr von Richthofen" squadron.  Our official description succinctly describes the pilot.

"Major Buhligen joined the Luftwaffe upon its initial conception in the early 1930s, attended flight and fighter school from 1938-1939 and made his first kill in Sept 1940 during the Battle of Britain. He served on all fronts and flew over 700 missions. In 1944 while on a flying mission in Russia he developed engine trouble and was forced to land and was captured by the Russians. He was interned until 1950 when he was repatriated. During the war for his numerous air victories he was awarded the "Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords" the second highest medal that could be awarded to any German serviceman."

A fun history fact is that Buhligen joined the Luftwaffe as a mechanic!  A collector fascinated with this history of the era, would do well to dig up some concrete documentation on this pistol, as it could increase the value nicely.  Also increasing the desirability of this already attractive firearms is its case and accessories.  The case is a postwar Walther presentation version with a blue leather exterior, fiery red velvet and satin interior, and a spare Walther marked magazine with the finger extension base.

Rare Documented Factory Engraved, Gold Inlaid Colt Government Model Semi-Automatic Pistol with Factory Letter

Thankfully, we also know some history on the next gun in our contest.  As the title indicates, it's a Colt Government Model pistol with factory engraving and gold inlay, but there is more to this pistol than its simple description.  It's not just any engraving on this Colt, but "Grade C" engraving.  For those unfamiliar, Colt "A" grade or coverage would cover 1/4 of the gun's surface, "B" would cover half, "C" 3/4, and "D" being full coverage of the firearm, including front, sides, screws, hammer, hammer, etc.  Also, the amount of coverage is made even more impressive because it was performed by Master Engraver William H. Gough.  Featuring his personal style of vines, flowers, and lined backgrounds, the firearm is smothered in his elaborate artwork down to the deluxe checkered grips.

Not only is the gun engraved, but it also has a large gold monogram on the top of the slide.  This exceptional combination of fine engraving and gold mongrams on this particular model make it an extremely rare collector or investment piece.  Noted Colt author R. L. Wilson states in "The Book of Colt Firearms," that around 140 Colt Government Models were factory engraved prior to World War II and that only 160 were inscribed or monogrammed.  However, of those already low numbers only a mere four were monogrammed with gold inlays.

Unfortunately, while collectors have access to some of the Colt's records to determine its origins, the monogram on the slide provides a bit of a mystery.  If only four were produced, who could it have belonged to?  A heroic serviceman?  A dedicated officer?  A Colt employee?  A diplomat or politician?  Maybe even just one of Colts elaborate marketing giveaways?  Research may tell, but for now the initials and their owner remain a puzzle yet to be solved.

Each gun certainly has their advantages.  Both are iconic pistols that have stood the test of time.  Both are finely monogrammed and engraved to deserving individuals. Even if the identity of those individuals is still not 100% certain, such pistols were not just handed out willy-nilly.  The Walther is in better condition (though it is several decades younger) and comes with its presentation case and accessories.  The Colt, however, enjoys gold inlays, comes chambered in the more stout .45 caliber, and has the prestige of being a standard issue service weapon.  The Walther PP, while issued to officers and the Luftwaffe, was not the standard issue of the Wehrmacht, an honor that belongs to the P.38.  Each one was also innovative: the PP was the first truly successful semi-automatic pistol to utilize double action with an external hammer, while the M1911/Government Model employed several of Browning's newly patented inventions such as the slide lock, grip safety, thumb safety, and others (6 in total).

To be sure, it's not an easy call, but one must be named.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below and we'll see who comes out the winner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Good Things Come in Pairs: Hummingbirds

The title of today's article may have more than a few collectors scratching their heads.  "What on earth do hummingbirds have to do with firearms?"  After all, their season is ridiculously short and setting up the decoys is a real pain (I kid, I kid).  Jokes aside, there are seriously collectible and investment worthy firearms in the September 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction.  The two in this week's article both hover around the topic of hummingbirds.

Very Rare Factory Presentation Cased "Kolibri" Semi-Automatic Pistol with Ammunition

From the above photo it can be rather difficult to discern just how small this gun is.  That said, the RIAC photographers have wisely provided another photo of the diminutive pistol in its case with an object nearby for scale context.

Yes, collector friends, that is a standard American penny to the left of the case.  And, yes, it is capable of nearly covering the small metal box of the Kolibri 2.7mm (2.7x9mm) centerfire ammunition in the bottom right section of the case.  You read that right.  Two. Point. Seven.  It is the smallest centerfire cartridge ever produced and was patented in 1910 by its inventor, Austrian watchmaker Franz Pfannl.  Small self defense handguns were extremely popular at the time (and as early as the mid 1800s) resulting in a multitude of pocket pistols, derringers, pepperbox-like designs, palm pistols, and so on.  Pfannl dubbed his pistol "Kolibri," the German word for hummingbird.

The round, at 11 mm long, is just over half as high as a 22 short and just under half as high as the popular 22 LR.  That tiny scale means the 3 grain, 10 caliber bullet, propelled by the primer alone, could reach an adorable 650-fps muzzle velocity.  For those who love math, that means about 3ft/lbs of energy, likely not enough to penetrate winter clothing.  Oddly, not even the gun's size nor the insane difficulty in handling the cartridges, nor its lack of rifling (no machine at that time was capable of making it that small) would lead to the Kolibri's demise.  That would take World War I, which in 1914 ceased production at the Donau, Austria plant, and would lead to its eventual closing by the end of the 1920s.

Some other fun facts about the Kolibri:

  • It is magazine fed, with the magazine houses in the grip, just how one would expect.
  • The box containing the ammunition in the case is made of metal and snaps shut ever so delicately.
  • The gun weighs 2.6 OUNCES when loaded.
  • The pistol is 2 3/4 inches long and 1 3/4 inches high.
  • This gun is accompanied by it's bore brush, original case, and 7 original Kolibri cartridges, which are collectibles in their own right.

This writer personally loves the touches of the original case.  Felt lined with a white silk lid interior, the outside is a light green silk decorated with the trumpeting blossoms that would attract a hummingbird in the wild.  The green silk still has a sheen that shimmers just like the plumage of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds we see so frequently here in the Midwest.  The case itself is barely larger than a clamshell compact mirror.

The next gun to be investigated regarding the topic of hummingbirds is likely the most extravagant firearm in the entire auction and in a RIAC Premiere Firearms Auction, that's no easy feat.  Also, in keeping with the "Good Things Come in Pairs" theme, this particular lot is a pair in and of itself.  May I present this absolutely stunning pair of Westley Richards 410 bore, droplock, side by side shotguns.

Thankfully, a picture is worth a thousand words because the exquisite detail work performed on this gun would certainly fill its own book.  Most notable, of course, are the precious metal inlays of gold, silver, platinum, and what appears to be rose gold.  Normally guns are elaborately engraved and then accented with gold inlays of animals, monograms, or other parts of the design.  This gun has turned that notion on its ear and permits the inlays to be the star of the show, nearly covering the receiver with warm gold artistry.

These luxurious shotguns also defy design in the choice of their subject, the tiny hummingbird.  Perhaps it is a nod to the small round they chamber.  There are no depictions of leaping stags, towering bears, snarling cats, or game birds in flight.  Instead flitting hummingbirds are frozen midflight as they feed from the trumpeting blossoms.  Also splendidly depicted are loose feathers, complete with individual barbs, and stalks of wheat, all surrounded by an ornate and rope-like gold border.

However, the inlays are only one of the many special details considered in the manufacture of this shotgun pair.  Gold inlay also covers various parts on the rib such as the manufacturer name, a feather, and each's gun's number.  It is also used to accentuate the serial numbers, and various embellishments on the tang.  There is a nickel bead sight on a small silver finished panel as well as numerous gold washed components of the frame.  The official description lists the following parts covered in gold: bearing surfaces of the locking blocks, both triggers, and internal components of the drop locks.  For those that aren't as familiar with the technical names for each part of a gun, the following picture should make things abundantly clear.

Place all of this grandeur on a handsome wood stock with delicate checkering containing fleur-de-lis accents, you have yourself a pair of shotguns that would stand out in any collection.  Not to mention the deluxe felt-lined case and accessories, the gun's high condition, or the proud history and legendary reputation of one of England's oldest surviving gunsmiths.  It is truly an investment worthy pair of the finest quality English double guns.

We hope you've enjoyed these two guns centered around a topic not typically associated with collector firearms and especially not with shotguns.  While these are the only two hummingbird related arms in the auction, they're far from the only collectible, curiosa, C&R, inlaid, high end, or sporting arms in the sale.  Head on over to and find all your favorites.