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November 15, 2023

The Borchardt C93 Pistol

By Joe Engesser

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The Borchardt C93, often hailed as the grandfather of modern semi-automatic pistols, was the first auto-loading pistol to enjoy a notable production run. For early pistol and military collectors, the Borchardt C93 is a pinnacle firearm, and Rock Island Auction Company’s December 8 - 10 Premier Firearms Auction offers one of the finest examples of the Borchardt pistol in the collecting pursuit.

This exceptional Borchardt C93 pistol includes the original matching wooden shoulder stock, the original black leather holster, four matching numbered original magazines, carrying strap, spare dummy magazine, original silver oil bottle, screwdriver, and the original black leatherette carrying case that houses the pistol, stock and accessories. Available this December.

The outstanding C93 Borchardt pistol offered this December, serial number 19, is possibly the earliest known, all-original, unaltered, and completely cased Borchardt pistol in existence today. In addition to its exceptional condition, this historic C93 pistol rig was personally owned by J. L. Childs, a New York entrepreneur who made his early fortune in the horticulture business. John Lewis Childs was responsible for constructing more than 20 buildings in the Floral Park area on Long Island, formerly known as East Hinsdale, and he served as the area’s first mayor after it was incorporated in 1908.

The wealth and status of John Lewis Childs is reflected by the inscribed silver plaque on the case of his Borchardt pistol rig.

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When was the Semi-automatic Pistol Invented?

Engineering a reliable semi-automatic pistol wasn’t feasible in the age of low-pressure, foul-burning black powder. Early efforts to develop repeating magazine pistols required a manual method to cycle the action, like the lever action Volcanic line and the latter Remington Rider magazine pistols of the 1870s and early 1880s. The invention of smokeless powder by French chemist Paul Vieille in 1884 opened the door to a range of possibilities, including the semi-automatic pistol.

A Remington Rider magazine pistol. Produced from 1871 to 1888, the Rider was one of the most distinct 19th century pocket pistol designs. Available this December.

Firearms designers developed new mechanisms based on smokeless powder almost immediately, including Hiram Maxim introducing his recoil-operated machine gun in 1884. Archduke Karl Salvator and Captain Georg Ritter von Dormus of Austria patented the blowback-operated Salvator-Dalmus pistol on July 11th, 1891, one of the earliest known semi-automatic pistol designs. Other armsmakers followed, like the Schönberger-Laumann in 1892, the Mannlicher Model 1894, and the Bergmann Schmeisser Model 1894.

This rare Salvator-Dormus Austrian military trials pistol sold for $40,250 in May of 2021.

In 1893, Hugo Borchardt introduced the first semi-automatic pistol to make a lasting impact on the market. The Borchardt C93 included many of the essentials seen in pistols today, including a semi-automatic action, a spring-loaded box magazine, a magazine inserted into the grip, and a push-button magazine release. These features were the result of Borchardt’s extensive experience in the firearms industry and his role in helping to design one of the earliest detachable box magazine rifles.

This mechanically excellent Ludwig Loewe C93 Borchardt pistol retains 97% of its original blue finish. Available this December.

Hugo Borchardt Invents the C93 Pistol

Born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1844, Hugo Borchardt immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 and settled in New England. Over the next two decades, Borchardt found work with some of America’s top gun manufacturers, including Colt, Winchester, and Sharps. During his time serving as the superintendent and treasurer of the Sharps Rifle Co., Borchardt helped produce the Sharps Borchardt Model 1878 sporting rifle.

An exhibition quality, engraved and gold inlaid, horn paneled Sharps Borchardt Model 1878 rifle. Available this December.

In the late 1870s, a British Canadian inventor named James Paris Lee partnered with Sharps to produce his Lee Model 1879, the first successful bolt-action repeating rifle employing a spring-loaded, column-fed, detachable box magazine system. Hugo Borchardt helped refine Lee’s design before Sharps went bankrupt in 1880. Borchardt would later use a detachable spring-loaded box magazine for his C93 pistol.

A high condition early production two-digit serial number Borchardt pistol rig with four matching magazines, a matching shoulder stock, and an inscribed case that would be nearly impossible to improve upon. Available this December.

Hugo Borchardt returned to Europe and designed his namesake pistol while working for FÉG Arms and Machine Manufacturing Company of Hungry. Borchardt partnered with Ludwig Loewe & Co., a German manufacturer of machine tools and military rifles. Ludwig Loewe was an astute businessman and thought the Borchardt 93 pistol had the potential to garner military contracts.

The Borchardt C93 Pistol

The 7.65 Borchardt Auto cartridge was inspired by the Gewehr 88 rifle’s 7.92 mm round, a rimless cartridge with a bottlenecked case that was scaled down to suit Borchardt’s C93 pistol design. The C93 Borchardt included several notable traits, such as a reliable toggle-lock system, a slide safety, and a push-button magazine release. The Borchardt magazine could hold eight cartridges.

This Borchardt pistol's original walnut shoulder stock is complete with the original blued attaching mechanism, the original black leather holster, and the original leather stock attaching straps with the original shoulder carrying strap. Available this December.

Hermann Boker & Co. of New York, a prominent U.S. dealer for the Borchardt pistol, advertised the C93 as a simple-to-understand weapon whose “only operation necessary is to draw back the bolt the first time, which cocks and loads the arm. After this the arm works automatically. The recoil of the first cartridge unloads, cocks, and loads the arm, and as fast or slow as the trigger is pulled the arm is discharged.”

An attractive early production Ludwig Loewe Model 1893 Borchardt pistol, serial number 109. Available this December.

The Borchardt C93 pistol was marketed as “light, powerful, and effective” and “the ideal weapon for the woods” with an effective range of 200 to 300 yards. The Borchardt measures 14 inches in length, with a 7.7 inch barrel. The gun weighs 41 ounces and a full C93 pistol rig with its holster, sling, and stock was advertised as weighing 3 3/4 pounds. The Borchardt’s detachable walnut shoulder stock allowed the weapon to function as a light carbine.

Borchardt Pistol Cost

Hermann Boker & Co. of New York sold the Borchardt C93 pistol for $30.00 each. Included were “three extra magazines, tools, oilers, holster, and strap.” A leather case cost an additional $5.00, and ammunition for the pistol cost $3.50 per 100 rounds of 7.65 mm Borchardt.

One of three C93 Borchardt pistols for sale this December at RIAC, this example sets itself apart due to its beautiful condition and its included leather case with a matching numbered shoulder stock and four matching numbered magazines.

The Borchardt pistol offered in RIAC’s December Premier Auction belonging to J.L. Childs could have been either a private purchase or a special order presentation piece. Like many intrepid arms manufacturers, Ludwig Loewe understood the benefit of gifting guns to the politically connected as part of their marketing efforts, and handgun competition was fierce in the 1890s.

Borchardt Pistol Competition

When the Borchardt C93 pistol hit the scene, the double action revolver was dominating civilian and military markets around the globe. Platforms like the Webley Mk IV, the Rast & Gasser M1898, and the Bodeo Model 1889 were widely adopted in Europe, while the Colt M1892 and its improved line of successors like the M1894, M1895, and M1896 found a home with the U.S. Army and Navy. The revolver offered an adaptable, reliable platform, and even new models were often more affordable in the 1890s than their emerging semi-automatic pistol competition.

A rare documented antique factory engraved Colt Model 1889 DA revolver with pearl grips purchased by Major Taylor E. Brown prior to the Spanish-American War. Available this December.

Though the C93 Borchardt was among the first viable semi-automatic pistol platforms released, a second wave of direct challengers quickly emerged. Many of these designs were also developed in Australia and Germany, including the Krnka-Roth Model 1895, the Bergmann Model 1896, the Mannlicher M1896, and the famous Mauser C96.

An excellent Mauser Model 1896 cone hammer pistol with a matching numbered shoulder stock. Available this December.

The brainchild of three brothers employed by Mauser, the C96 "Broomhandle" pistol found success on the commercial market and earned a limited number of military contracts. DWM, the new weapons and ammunition branch of Ludwig Loewe & Co., knew they needed to innovate to keep up with the rapidly changing marketplace and encouraged Borchardt to update his design. Borchardt refused, and arguably the greatest rival for his C93 pistol would come from within the company in the form of the platform’s would-be successor, the Luger.

(Right) A historic documented cased presentation DWM Luger Model 1902 carbine presented to Hugo Borchardt. (Left) A Borchardt C93 pistol. Both available this December.

The Borchardt Pistol vs the Luger

The Borchardt C93 competed in several military trials, including a demonstration to the U.S. Navy Ordinance Board in late 1894 and a round of Swiss pistol trials in 1897. Though the Borchardt pistol was praised in both cases, it was ultimately rejected. Suggestions for improvements included reduced size and barrel length, a more natural grip, and reduced recoil. With Hugo Borchardt rejecting every request to improve his pistol, DWM ultimately appointed Georg Luger to the task of redesigning the C93.

Georg Luger, who’d personally demonstrated Borchardt’s C93 pistol to the U.S. Navy, would go on to develop the famous Pistole Parabellum Model 1900.

Georg Luger, a consultant designer at Ludwig Loewe & Co., took the core mechanical principles of the Borchardt and developed a more compact profile, reducing barrel length, angling the grip for comfort, moving the return spring into the grip frame, and eliminating the need for the pistol’s bulky toggle housing. He also adapted the Borchardt round into the shorter 7.65 mm Luger cartridge, which allowed for a smaller magazine well and a more ergonomic grip.

A rare European Luger/Borchardt style Auguste Francotte single shot target pistol with a manually operated toggle lock bolt, serial number 10. Available this December.

DWM submitted Luger’s new design to the Swiss military in 1898. After another round of modifications, the Swiss adopted the weapon as the Model 1900 Luger. Borchardt felt betrayed, claiming he wasn’t getting proper recognition or royalties from the success of the Luger pistol and that Luger had circumvented most of his patents. This perceived slight caused a lifelong rift between the two gun designers.

An excellent documented Imperial German DWM Model 1906 Second Issue Navy Luger with its shoulder stock and leather holster. Available this December.

Legacy of the Borchardt Pistol

Only around 3,000 Borchardt pistols were produced in total compared to an estimated 3 million Lugers. Despite Georg Luger’s redesign, many features of the Borchardt remained, including the C93 pistol’s toggle-link breech locking system, sear assembly layout, and striker-fired action. Borchardt’s design helped lay the foundation for the Luger’s near half-century of dominance in the European pistol market.

An exceptional 1942 dated German Police Mauser Banner P.08 Luger rig with two matching magazines and a serial-numbered holster. Available this December.

Locked-breech pistols like the Browning 1911 challenged Luger’s dominance, and by World War 2, new designs such as the Walther P38 largely supplanted the Luger in Germany. The Borchardt’s toggle lock system wasn’t adopted by most next-generation small arms aside from rare instances like the Pedersen semi-automatic rifle.

An exceptionally rare Japanese Pedersen semi-automatic rifle, serial number "5", a documented bring back gun from WW2. Available this December.

Hugo Borchardt was a prolific inventor and was awarded numerous patents beyond the arms industry, including concepts for a rock drill, a wire straightener, and various ideas for gas burning and electrical appliances. Today, his name is most prominently tied to the C93 pistol, a design that set lasting standards like the spring-loaded box magazine, the placement of the magazine inside the grip, and the push-button magazine release. For arms collectors, historians, engineers, and firearms fans who grew up loving the Luger, much of what we recognize as the semi-automatic pistol started with the C93 Borchardt.

An excellent three-digit serial number German Ludwig Loewe Model 1893 Borchardt pistol for sale with a matching magazine. Available this December.

Borchardt Pistols for Sale

A Borchardt C93 is a fantastic addition to any arms collection, and the three early production Borchardt pistols for sale in Rock Island Company’s December 8 - 10 Premier Firearms Auction are top-tier examples of late 19th century semiautomatic pistol development. When it comes to the best of the best, the Borchardt C93 pistol pictured below, serial number 19, ranks as one of the finest treasures in gun collecting.

This outstanding early production Borchardt pistol includes a case with a small oval silver name plate that has been inscribed in a jeweler’s/presentation style with “J.L Childs/Floral Park/L.I.” Available this December.

The history of gun design includes innumerable fascinating stories like the development of the Borchardt pistol, and you can subscribe to the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter to receive new gun videos and gun blogs that explore the evolution of the handgun in the detail it deserves. From pieces on the harmonica pistol, the duckfoot pistol, the pepperbox, the palm pistol, the Colt Paterson and its successors, the 1911, the Hi-Power, the Japanese Nambu, the Walther PP, the FP45 Liberator, the CIA Deer gun, the Whitney Wolverine, the Bren Ten, the M17, and more, we explore every niche of arms development.

From top to bottom: A Borchardt Sharps Model 1878, a Winchester Model 1873, a Remington Model 1873, and a Colt SAA, four arms of the American frontier. Available this December.

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