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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.


  1. Just out of curiosity, is there a history of these guns in Westley Richards' records?

    1. I would certainly hope so, however it was not requested at this time. I think it a neat bit of history awaits the buyer of these guns to find out exactly when, and for what occasion, these shotguns were made.