Extremely Rare Saxon Model 1873 Military Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2248-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The conclusion of the Franco-Prussian of 1870-71 brought a new major world power to the stage; the newly unified and established German Empire. Prior to this time there had been no unified Germany, although the Northern German Confederation had been established from several of the northern German states in the aftermath of Austro-Prussian War of 1866-67. Prussia, the largest and most powerful of the Germanic states had been the primary power among the German states during the 19th century but had still been under the thumb of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War. In the years between the establishment of the Northern German Confederation and the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia had consolidated their power both politically and militarily. Thus, with the establishment of the new Imperial Germany in 1871, the member states of the new empire conferred the title of German Emperor on the former King of Prussia.
One of the leading reasons for Prussia’s military superiority during the period had been the development and deployment of the Zündnadelgewehr (needle rifle), which had been adopted by the Prussian military in 1841 as the Leichte Perscussions-Gewehr M-1841 or “Light Percussion Rifle M-1841”. By the time of the Austro-Prussian War, the updated Model 1862 Needle Rifle was in widespread use by the Prussian infantry and the weapon gave the Prussians a devastating advantage on the battlefield. The bolt action, breechloading rifle was so superior to the Austrian muzzleloading percussion ignition rifle muskets of the Austrian army that the Austrian infantry was soundly defeated.
Due to the level of the Prussian military technological advancement, it was agreed by the member states of the new Imperial Germany to follow Prussia’s lead in the development and adoption of small arms, an agreement that was even essentially codified as law. This had the added advantage of encouraging consistency across the armed forces of the German states, which would improve logistics and supply during a major military mobilization.
Despite the great strides the Prussians had made in breechloading long arms, the majority of the handguns in use by the Prussian military and most of the Germanic states at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War were still single shot, percussion ignition, muzzleloading pistols. This was almost anachronistic, considering the many countries had adopted percussion revolvers by the mid-1850s and were in the process of moving towards the use of self-contained metallic cartridge revolvers by the beginning of the 1870s. However, the newly established Imperial German military dictates required Prussia to lead the way in the development and adoption of small arms, which meant the member states would be stuck with their obsolete military handguns until the Prussians decided what pistol or pistols to adopt. The Prussians had experimented with the use of Colt percussion revolvers on a very limited basis with the Kriegsmarine (Navy) as well as with both single shot and revolving needle fire pistols but had not adopted a new repeating handgun for general issue and use.
This delay was unacceptable to the Kingdom of Saxony. As one of the founding members of the original Northern German Confederation and the only other kingdom to be a member with Prussia, the Saxons took it upon themselves to look for a new handgun for military use. Second only to Prussia in political and military prowess, the Saxons likely felt some level of entitlement to go their own way, if they so desired. Interestingly, at the time of the imperial unification, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Württemberg were all in the process of trying to find a military revolver to adopt. With unification, Bavaria and Württemberg obediently abandoned their trials to wait for Prussia to make the decision. The Saxons did not. The Saxons had previously acquired a small number of Sharps tip-up percussion pocket revolvers for the use of their military police during the Franco-Prussian War and had found them quite serviceable. It is unclear how or why the .25 caliber Sharps revolver had been adopted, but it did see limited Saxon military use during the 1860s and early 1870s. It also appears to have been used as an “excuse” to justify the acquisition of new metallic cartridge revolvers by Saxony in 1873.
In 1873, Saxony became the first Germanic state to adopt a metallic cartridge revolver. This was a clear violation of new Imperial German restrictions on the adoption of small arms that were not approved by the Prussian military. The Prussians were indignant and demanded an explanation from the Saxon Ministry of War, who replied that the 4,000 guns that had been ordered were only more of the same revolver that was previously in use by the military police. This was not true, since the military police revolver was a percussion revolver, not a cartridge revolver. However, the revolvers looked similar in design as both were “tip up” guns, and the Saxon’s did not really care; they were just looking for a justification for their actions to avoid a confrontation with the Prussians.
The revolver adopted by the Saxons was designated the Model 1873 (M/73). The M/73 strongly resembled a large frame, scaled up Smith & Wesson Model 1 ½ revolver, with some additional features. The tip-up frame contained a six-shot round cylinder and was chambered for a proprietary 11mm rimfire cartridge. The gun had an oversized bag shaped grip, similar to the profile that would eventually be adopted by the Prussians in the Model 1879 Reichsrevolver. The M/73 had a sliding thumb activated safety on the upper rear of the frame, behind the hammer, which locked the hammer in the down position when engaged. It also had a lanyard ring in the butt, an essential feature for any handgun that was intended to be used by mounted troops. The large and somewhat ungainly revolver measured about 10 ¾” in overall length with a 5 ½” ribbed octagonal barrel. The revolver had a single action lock work and a sheathed spur trigger with a checkered face. A fixed ejector rod was located under the barrel which could be used to punch the empty cartridges out of the cylinder chambers. To do this, the cylinder had to be removed from the revolver. Sights consisted of a fixed notch rear sight dovetailed into the top of the frame, just forward of the cylinder stop slots and a dovetailed blade front sight, near the muzzle. The revolvers were finished in a rich chocolate brown, similar to the US military lacquer brown finish of the mid-19th century. Grips were two-piece smooth walnut. The revolvers were unmarked as to manufacturer but typically bore a serial number or partial serial number on most of the major parts, a date (either of manufacture or acceptance) on the side of the frame, and sometimes unit markings on the gripstrap or backstrap. 4,000 of the guns were procured in 1873-74 through the Dresden based arms dealer Freidrich Wilhelm Ludwig. However, for many years the actual maker of these revolvers was unknown. Recent scholarship has revealed that the handguns were manufactured by Valentin Frederich Langenhan (1819-1886), an arms maker in Zella-Mehlis near Suhl, Prussia. This gunmaker went by his middle name of Frederich and period advertising referred to him as Fr. Langenhan. Langenhan was well known for being a quality producer of revolvers and was noted to have received a number of governmental handgun contracts. Valentin Frederich Langenhan was the second generation of at least four generations of one branch of the Langenhan gunmaking family in the region, starting with Johann Gottlieb Langenhan (1791-1883), Valentine Frederich Langenhan (1819-1886), Ernst Hermann Langenhan (1859-1929) and Fritz Oskar (1893-?) & Ernst Paul Langenhan (1899-1985). Numerous other Langenhans worked as gunmakers in the region as well, during the 19th and 20th centuries. No research I could find noted whether the M/73 revolvers produced by Langenhan were produced under an arrangement with Smith & Wesson or if they were produced in violation of Smith & Wesson’s patents.
Although originally procured in 11mm rimfire, the Saxons soon decided that that guns would be more effective in centerfire. As a result, the later of the deliveries from Langenhan were manufactured in centerfire and the majority of the revolvers already delivered were altered to centerfire from rimfire. It appears that the only revolvers to escape the centerfire alteration were those in the field, in service. Interestingly, due to pressure from the angry Prussians about the procurement of the new revolvers, many of the Saxon M/73 revolvers remained in storage in the state arsenal in Dresden and never saw any field service at all. Further Prussian pressure resulted in the adoption of the Prussian Model 1879 Reichsrevolver, once that design was officially settled upon by the Prussian military. As a result, those Saxon M/73 revolvers actually in the field were phased out of service and returned to the Dresden Arsenal. In 1892, the Saxon Ministry of War sold 3,932 of the 4,000 M/73 revolvers they had acquired to the Suhl firm of C.G. Haenel, as well as most of the remaining stocks of cartridges. Haenel in turn sold the revolvers to the Belgian arms retailing firm of J. Pire of Antwerp. Most of the guns sold by Pire were refinished in blue, received newly made checkered wood grips and additionally had the firm’s name roll marked on the top of the barrel rib. Research suggests that even those revolvers that were not refinished and re-gripped were still roll marked with the Pire barrel marking. As a result of this sale, only 68 of the Saxon M/73 revolvers were potentially left in their original configuration without Pire barrel markings and retaining their original military brown finish and smooth grips. The handful of these guns known to survive in their original configuration tend to be found in their original rimfire chambering as well, suggesting that these 68 guns were in the field and never were recalled for the alteration and had to be finally be recalled from the field when they were removed from service. A separate sale to C.G. Haenel in 1892 was for 68 M/73 revolvers with their holsters. In theory, these were the only unaltered M/73 revolvers remaining in Saxon inventories and what Haenel did with these guns is unknown. A handful, however, have managed to survive to be part of collections today. These original, unaltered, brown finished, rimfire Saxon Model 1873 Revolvers are extremely rare and are even more rarely encountered in the United States.
Offered here is an extremely rare and fine original condition, original configuration Saxon Model 1873 Military Revolver. The gun remains in its original 11mm rimfire configuration and is unaltered. It also retains most of its original brown military finish, along with its original smooth walnut military grips. The revolver is serial number 1888, placing is almost in the middle of the Fr. Langenhan production run of 4,000 revolvers. The serial number is found stamped in full on the backstrap and on the upper portion of the left grip panel. The partial serial number 88 is found on the rear face of the barrel web, on the rear face of the cylinder and on the left side of the grip frame under the grip. The left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder is stamped 1874, indicating either the year the revolver was produced or the year it was placed in service. The revolver is twice unit marked, both on the gripstrap and on the backstrap. The gripstrap marking reads: 3 S. R.R. 4.4. and has been crossed out after revolver was reissued. The backstrap is unit marked more simply C. 4.4. The crossed out unit mark is difficult to decipher, but probably indicates something like 3rd Saxon Reserve Regiment, 4th company, 4th gun. Typically, a reserve regiment would be an infantry regiment, so the gun was likely issued to an NCO or junior officer. The backstrap marking probably means Cavalry, 4th company, 4th gun, but does not carry a regimental number which is somewhat confusing. The presence of two sets of unit markings certainly helps to explain how this revolver managed to escape the alteration to centerfire and why it was not immediately available for sale as surplus with the majority of the other M/73 revolvers. As would be expected of one of the 68 revolvers that were not sold in the first batch to C.G. Haenel, there is no Pire roll mark on the barrel rib.
As noted, the revolver remains in about FINE condition and retains much of the original military issue brown finish. The brown shows the expected thinning and wear from service and use, with much of the loss confined to wear along the sharp edges of the barrel and thinning on the frame. The metal is mostly smooth with some lightly scattered flecks of surface oxidation and minor surface roughness here and there. There are some scattered surface scuffs and marks, with a few small dings along the left side of the barrel. All of the markings remain clear and legible in both the metal and wood. The revolver remains mechanically functional with a very heavy mainspring that requires significant force to cock the revolver. The revolver times, indexes and locks up perfectly and the action remains very crisp. The hammer retains its original rimfire, blade style firing pin and has not been altered to centerfire. The revolver does not appear to include a half-cock position, which would not be necessary as loading and unloading was accomplished by tipping up the barrel and removing the cylinder. The original retains its original safety on the upper rear of the frame, which functions perfectly. The safety blocks the hammer from being cocked when it is engaged. The revolver retains its original dovetailed fixed rear sight as well as the dovetailed German silver front sight blade. The original lanyard ring is in place in the butt of the revolver as well. The ring swivels freely and also functions as it should. The grips remain in about VERY GOODcondition and are solid and complete with no breaks, cracks or repairs. The grips show a moderate amount number of bumps, dings and mars from service and use. The bore of the revolver remains in FINE condition and is mostly bright with crisp rifling. The bore has six lands and grooves or roughly equal width and a rather fast rate of twist. The bore shows some lightly scattered oxidation and frosting in the grooves as well as some very minor flecks of light pitting but is otherwise very crisp.
Overall, this is a really fantastic example of an extremely rare Saxon Model 1873 Revolver. The revolver holds the distinction of being the first metallic cartridge revolver to be adopted by any of the German states. Although the service life of the M/73 was only about a decade, the gun was an important step towards modernizing German military small arms. The revolver is 100% complete and correct in every way and remains in its extremely rare original and unaltered configuration. Clearly this was one of the 68 revolvers not sold in the first surplus batch to C.G. Haenel and is one of only a handful of extant examples to remain in its original rimfire configuration with its original military brown finish. This would be a fantastic addition to any early Imperial German military arms collection, particularly one that focuses on the handguns of the German empire. It would be the ultimate bookend to such a collection, starting with the M/73 and ending with the handguns of the First World War, thus completing the evolution of Imperial German handguns. These guns rarely appear on the market for sale and this wonderful example would be very difficult to improve upon.