March 5, 2015
By Joel R Kolander
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This article about the Luger pistol, appropriately enough, is being distributed on Georg Luger’s birthday, March 6. It is the 166th anniversary of the occasion. Happy birthday, Georg!
Rock Island Auction Company has been extremely privileged during our last few Premiere auctions to host the Gene Smith Military Collection. Mr. Smith’s massive, encyclopedic grouping of German military arms has been featured in our sales since mid-2014, bringing high condition, rare, historic, and significant German firearms to the collecting community who can’t snatch them up quickly enough.
Regarding this astounding collection, we bring good news and bad news. The bad news is that our 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction will mark the final installment of this landmark collection. It has truly been our pleasure to see, handle, and experience such an array of amazing guns, and with one final opportunity, that pleasure can be yours as well. The good news is that besides having one final opportunity to own an item from this outstanding collection, another convergence of extraordinary arms waits in the wings, waiting to be unleashed. We are referring to The Lifelong Collection of Icon Ralph Shattuck.
Viewing Mr. Shattuck’s passion for firearms has resulted in a “dream collection” that many aspire to match and very few ever do. His assemblage of Luger pistols, Mausers, and Borchardts is unparalleled, and a multitude of other nations are represented as well. Here, for the first time, is a glimpse at the host of rare and attractive firearms that comprise this lifetime of dedication. Before we begin, many of the firearms pictured here by Rock Island Auction Company can already be found with descriptions in the book Lugers at Random by Charles Kenyon, Jr. Long considered to be an important reference since its release in 1969, the book contains numerous photos and descriptions of important Luger pistols from Mr. Shattuck’s collection. Also, Mr. Shattuck, acknowledged as the “Dean of Lugers,” has a book published on his collection aptly titled “Lugers of Ralph Shattuck,” which can be easily found on Amazon for those who would like a more in-depth view of his collection. There was even an a CD made of high-resolution photos of the guns in his collection. People just couldn’t get enough of these rare, unusual, beautiful, and high condition Luger pistols.
Ralph Shattuck and his wife Nancy.
Ralph Shattuck was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 28, 1929 mere months preceding the Great Depression, but would go on to become one of the pioneers and giants of the Luger collecting community. Even as a child Shattuck would ride around on his bicycle and purchase whatever pistols he could with the intention of selling them to make some money. His home, both his first residence in Michigan and his later one in Arizona, was open to many collectors throughout the years and was nearly considered a pilgrimage site for Luger enthusiasts – containing hundreds of Luger pistols in his personal collection and even more in “inventory.” Ralph and his bright red suit jacket were a staple of many gun shows for decades, resulting in endless stories of his generosity, character, and genuine love of the hobby. Ralph passed away on his birthday at the age of 81, but not before helping build one of the most zealous and educated genres in gun collecting. Rock Island Auction Company is honored to offer such a prestigious collection from such a collecting icon and trailblazer.
This completely original and totally unaltered version of the “Cartridge Counter” Luger pistol is one of the most desirable Lugers for both German and military collectors. Made at the behest of the U.S. Ordnance Board in 1902, exactly 50 of these Luger pistols with the “Powell Indicating Device” (and grip safety) were manufactured for testing the following year. The device was simple and accurate, but ultimately deemed to fragile by the Ordnance Board, and rightly so. The left grip would first have a slot cut into it, and then have a delicate metal strip and feeble 3 1/4″ celluloid strip covering the newly created slot. The concept itself was quite simple. To work, the gun required a special magazine, which involved a pin poking out the left side of the magazine. This pin was attached to the magazine follower, so that every time a cartridge was fired and the follower rose, the pin would also. That pin also moved an indicator corresponding to the numerals visible to the user. In a bit of a perhaps unintended redundancy, when loaded, the bullets of the cartridges were also visible through the celluloid window.
Estimate: $45,000 – $65,000
The photos are worth a million words in the case of this gun. With its numerous unique and potentially one-of-a-kind design variations, not only is the gun a bit difficult to describe through text alone, but the purpose of the prototype changes is not fully known.
Authentic Cyrililic text appearing in place of the “GESICHERT” (“secured”) marking, is always a good sign for a Luger pistol collector. The total production of these pistols is estimated at approximately 1,000 pistols and this example is in the appropriate serial range. While seven rebarreled Model 1900 Luger pistols are known, it is reported that no more than 3-4 original 1900 Bulgarian contract Lugers are known as many were converted to 9mm before and after the Great War. Most saw heavy use through WWII, with many samples being captured by Russians. Another unusual feature of this Luger might not appear unusual at first glance. Note the placement of the “DWM” monogram and the Bulgarian crest. On many Luger pistols, this placement is standard, but on these guns one would much more commonly find the markings reversed, making this “normal” looking Luger even more rare and desirable.
So by now, you know our April Premiere Auction will have two colossal German collections contained within in it. Did you also know that amazing single pieces have come in as well, creating a perfect storm for German and foreign military collectors? Here are additional highlights for collectors sure to be wringing their hands with anticipation.
OK, we fibbed. One more from the Shattuck Collection, and this one presents a mystery to collectors. This gun was featured in the aforementioned book Lugers At Random and since 1969 it has stymied Luger collectors. The source of conflict comes primarily in determining whether this 1900 Carbine was manufactured for commercial sales or as a prototype. Lugers At Random is quoted in describing the gun by stating,
“The uniqueness of this variation makes it difficult to determine the proper designation for this weapon and there is support for both theories (commercial or prototype) among collectors. The unique five position rear sight lends support to the Prototype theory, but the serial number range is of the 1900 era. VERY VERY RARE. Only one example is known to collectors.” (Emphasis theirs)
Obviously this gun has some extensive ornamentation going for it, making it a prize for any collector who appreciates such craftsmanship, but this gun also bears some special provenance.
Just looking at it, one might be able to guess that it is a presentation gun, however, a presentation for whom is not as evident. This spectacular Walther PP was commissioned by the Nazis for King Carol II of Romania during his second reign. It was around 1937-38 when Nazi Germany was pulling out all the stops so that Romania and its “the playboy king” would ally itself with the Third Reich. The fact that the Romanians were sitting on the oil fields at Ploiesit didn’t hurt either. This pistol was part of the efforts to woo the King.
As if one could look past the impressive provenance, the gun alone is capable of generating high interest among collectors. First off, this is the earliest known factory engraved Walther Mod. PP pistol. With a serial number of 751249, that makes this the 1,249th Walther PP! The engraving itself is also masterfully done by the Zella-Mehlis Guild/Walther engravers and features a dense, floral scroll work mixed with an abundance of edelweiss blossoms. The gold plating speaks for itself and the grips have an inset on the left side that shows the Romanian crown over the initials “CC” (standing for Carol Caraiman, the full name of King Carol II).
Everybody can recognize a “broomhandle” pistol. The C96 has a look that people still find attractive today and a quite a following among military enthusiasts. This particular Mauser Model 1896 is one that should be paid special attention for a number of reasons. What is immediately most noticeable is that it is a desirable 20-shot version. Soldiers may have griped about the difficulty in reloading the gun with two 10-round clips, but today they stand out from a gun that was produced for over 60 years and imitated by many. Looking closely, one will also notice that the pistol is without its standard milled frame panels. This is known as a “flat side” Broomhandle and is indicative of an early production, before the milled panels began to appear to reduce weight and save on materials. Being an early model, it also has many of the other features found on those guns such as a cone hammer, the long extractor on the breech bolt, and many others.
Perhaps most impressive about this gun, which cannot be easily observed, is that it still has all its original parts. Even the grips and the rare wooden holster bear the “91” that ties this wonderful firearm together. The wooden shoulder stock/holster is an anomaly in itself. Their large size made them prone to breakage, leaving few surviving models. Even the stock shows “91” on its lid, attaching iron, and on the flat edge of the stock itself. Why the number “91”? it is yet another interesting fact about the pistol that cannot be gathered solely by its appearance. As if all the other features mentioned here did not make this iconic little pistol rare enough, only an estimated 90-100 of this variant were ever produced with most of them being shipped to South America. Since few things that are shipped out ever seem to find their way back home, that makes this pistol a rare bird, and its late number of “91” means it was one of the very last Broomhandles produced for those South American shipments.
This rare and monstrous handgun once had bragging rights as “the most powerful handgun in the world.” Considering it was only produced from 1898-1907 and would not lose that title until the 1970s, that’s quite an accomplishment. That small production time, of course, resulted in a very limited run of these guns. Approximately 80 were ever produced in all their proprietary configurations (8.5mm, .36 (9mm), .45 Long, and .45 Short). The example shown above is an extremely early version (c. 1898-1900) and stamped with the serial number 4. It also has the fine blued finish and wonderful checkered walnut grips. It remains in its all-original and unaltered condition.
The pistols were very well-made with all hand-fitted parts, and extremely powerful, but ultimately they were not to be. Why? A few reasons existed and they all had to deal with the gun’s rather complex design. First of all, complex designs historically tend to not render themselves well to life in military service. Complex devices have more parts to foul and are difficult to repair/clean in the field. Second, this complex device, utilizing a long-action recoil, had such horrendous recoil that it was prone to feeding problems. The recoil was partially due to the powerful cartridges, but also because of the long travel of the moving parts. It also suffered from a heavy trigger pull. All these gripes led to the MARS being passed over for military contracts, the sole hope of its designer, Hugh Gabbert-Fairfax. There were never any issues with its “man-stopping” ability, but its recoil was its ultimate undoing. Fortunately, it left us with some rather entertaining quotes such as, “No one who fired once with the pistol wished to shoot it again,” and “singularly unpleasant and alarming.”
Even without military contracts or commercial sales, this rare curio remains a supremely desirable collectible.
German collectors, do we have your attention yet? These two collections combine to form a spectacular selection, the contents of which have the potential to turn good collections into great ones, and great collections legendary. The guns mentioned here are a fine, yet small, sampling of a cornucopia of European arms. Not only are there German arms, but the Shattuck Collection also contains such gems as an uncommon Japanese Pedersen, a rare Czech ZH29, a Heinrich Himmler inscribed Jacquemart double barrel shotgun, a 1908 Mondragon semi-automatic rifle, and many more.
Not to mention the Dr. Joel Glovsky Collection, which holds the most complete and advanced array of 7.65mm pistols ever made available – the fruits of 60 years of dedicated labor. This collection includes most of the 7.65mm pistols from the estate of the late Sid Aberman. It is a smorgasbord of rarity, prototypes, experimental variations, and high condition, which will be covered in a blog of its own before our 2015 April Premiere Firearms Auction.
Who will be the lucky, dedicated collectors that will not rest until these firearms reside safely in their gun rooms? If that collector is reading this, we wish you best of luck on your bids for these incredible firearms.
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