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Fine & Scarce Bergmann Model 1896 No 3 Pistol

Fine & Scarce Bergmann Model 1896 No 3 Pistol

  • Product Code: FHG-2318
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $6,500.00


In 1892, Theodor Bergmann of Baden (Germany) received his first patent for a semi-automatic pistol. The design was actually the work of a Hungarian watchmaker named Otto Brauswetter, who held the patent in conjunction with Bergmann. Bergmann was a manufacturing entrepreneur rather than a firearms designer, but he was clearly a visionary to see the potential for a semi-automatic, self-loading pistol design in a time when revolvers were the absolute standard for handguns. Bergmann was the director of the Eisenwerke Gaggenau in Gaggenau, Baden (Germany) when he started to dabble in the arms business. The firm Bergmann was running had been established in 1683 by the Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden as an ironworks in Gaggenau. By the 19th century the company had evolved to produce all types of metal work and was a specialist in applying enamel coatings to these items. Their product line ranged from enameled metal signs and early appliances like stoves to bicycles. The company also produced air guns and Bergmann was instrumental in securing the rights to produce a Quackenbush patented air rifle under license. It was probably these activities that produced his interest in firearms and firearms designs. The firm remains in business today as a leading European appliance manufacturer. It was as the director of Eisenwerke Gaggenau that Bergmann received the experience to become an industrialist on his own account, and it was his belief the concept of the semi-automatic pistol would bring him his financial success. 

 

To that end Bergman established his new company Bergmann’s Industriewerke in Suhl (Prussia) circa 1893. Although the intent was that it would be an arms factory for the manufacture of the semi-automatic pistols he would bring to market, the firm also produced many of the sundry items that had been staples at Eisenwerke Gaggenau and would eventually start to manufacture early automobiles as well. This provided the company with cash flow and income while Bergman pursued the pistol designs. Although Bergmann would not produce any guns based upon the first patent that he registered that same year he did introduce the Bergmann Model 1892, which have appears to have been an early Louis Schmeisser design. Schmeisser had been hired to work on the original Brauswetter patent and improve it. There are differing opinions as to what action this new gun actually utilized. Some believe it was the long-recoil, locked breech design of  Brauswetter, while others feel it was Schmeisser’s delayed blowback design that had received inspiration from the Brauswetter patent. In either case it was produced in very small numbers, although at least one was submitted to the Swiss Military for the 1893 Pistol Trials. However, the gun was not a success and no known examples survive.

 

In 1894 Bergmann introduced an improved variant of the design, as the Model 1894 or the Bergmann Number 2, in 5mm. This was another blowback design that was one of Louis Schmeisser’s early attempts at creating a semi-automatic pistol. Like the Brauswetter patent, the recoil spring system of the M1894, as well the earlier M1892 was located under the barrel. The gun included no ejector or extractor mechanism at all. The tapered cartridge did not have a rim, or extractor groove. The pistol relied upon the remaining chamber pressure after firing to push the empty casing out of the chamber to the rear, where it would strike the nose of the next bullet to enter the chamber and be deflected out of the way. While the system apparently worked to some degree, the lack of positive extraction or a dedicated ejector made extraction and ejection erratic at best, with the casing not always clearing the path to the chamber in time to prevent a jam. Some additional operational flaws were inherent in the design as well. First, there was no bullet to hit if the last round had been fired in the gun, thus no “extractor” to deflect the empty casing. Secondly, if the gun was to be unloaded without firing the cartridge there was no way to remove the unfired round from the chamber other than gravity by holding the pistol muzzle upwards, or failing that, prying the unfired round out of the chamber manually with a small metal object like a knife blade! Despite this extracting and ejecting shortcomings, the M1894 had some minimal success and was produced in three calibers; 5mm, 6.5mm and 8mm. These larger calibers were referred to as Model No 3 and Model No 4 respectively with the original 5mm chambering being the Model No 2. The 5mm pistols were marketed as parlor or target pistols, the 6.5mm guns as general purpose pistols and the 8mm guns were intended to try to secure military contracts. 

 

Although the overall design was not particularly successful and it is estimated that less than 1,000 pistols were produced across all three calibers, the basic design profile and overall look of the Bergmann pistol had been established. The standard version of the M1894 No 2 was chambered for the tapered 5mm cartridge and had  5.3” barrel and an overall length of 11”. The round barrel was rifled with six grooves. The guns were single action, hammer fired five-shot semi-automatic handguns with a free floating-firing pin located in the bolt. They were fed from a fixed box magazine forward of the triggerguard. The five cartridges were loaded into the magazine via stripper clip, by pivoting the door of the magazine housing downward. A fixed spring in the magazine well applied pressure to the rounds, forcing them up to the top of the magazine for feeding into the chamber when the bolt was actuated. The stripper clip could either be left in the magazine housing and would fall free through the bottom of the housing like a Mannlicher clip when it was empty or could be withdrawn from the bottom of the magazine via a finger loop on its bottom, after the magazine was closed. This second option provided erratic feeding as the removal of the stripper clip left enough room in the magazine for the cartridges to shift out of position and not always feed as they should. The pistols included a manual safety mounted of the left rear of the frame that disengaged the trigger connector when engaged, preventing the cocked hammer from falling. If the safety was engaged when the hammer was down, it blocked the bolt from being drawn back, effectively preventing the cocking of the pistol. Another safety device was the inclusion of a gas port, drilled at the rear of the chamber on the right side of the frame. This was to allow a pathway for gas to escape if a case ruptured in the chamber. However, this also allowed gas to escape after firing, resulting in uneven pressure which also hammered reliable functioning and extraction. Most of the guns were equipped with rudimentary sights, consisting of fixed notch in the top rear of the bolt for a rear sight and dovetailed front blade on a raised base to bring the sight back in line the top of the frame from the lower position of the barrel. The two-piece grips were checkered hard wood and a fixed lanyard ring was included at the base of the grip. Standard finish was blued with most of the small parts strawed.

 

Within a year the inherent problems with the mechanics of the Model 1894 and its accompanying ammunition design sent Schmeisser back to the drawing board to redesign the pistol. The new gun would be designated as the Model 1896, with the same additional sub designations for the three calibers: No 2 for 5mm, No 3 for 6.5mm and No 4 for 8mm. One of the major design changes was to relocate the recoil spring mechanism from under the barrel to the bolt in the upper portion  of the receiver. The next problem that needed to be solved was a redesign of the cartridge to include a rim for an extractor system to use. Although some of the earliest guns were produced without an extractor system and were chambered for the original rimless tapered ammunition without an extractor groove, this was quickly resolved. While the first 800 or so Model 1896 Pistols relied on the old gas pressure extraction system, the balance were produced with positive extraction system that made them significantly more reliable. The standard dimension for a Bergmann M1896 No 3 chambered for 6.5mm were about 10” in overall length with a nominally 4.4” round barrel. As with the M1894 simple fixed sights, a fixed Mannlicher style 5-shot box magazine and a frame mounted manual safety were standard. Again, blued finish with strawed small parts and checkered grips were standard as well. More options were available for the Model 1896 than on any previous Bergmann pistol, including folding triggers, different barrel lengths and weights, adjustable  sights and even detachable shoulder stocks, all designed to increase the potential of the guns in a civilian sporting market. Overall, the design was much more successful than all of Bergmann’s previous efforts combined. Interestingly, while some 2,000 of the 5mm Bergmann M1896 No 2 pistols would be produced and slightly more than double that of the 6.5mm No 3 pistols were made, most would actually be manufactured by arms manufacturer V.C. Schilling of Suhl. Only 200-300 of the larger bore 8mm M1896 No 4 pistols would be produced and no military contracts would be garnered. The shift to using V.C.S. to manufacture the pistols under license was simple, Bergmann was spending more time and most of his factory’s production efforts on manufacturing automobiles which were more profitable and saleable than the pistols he was so interested in. While guns had a moderate level of success, they were still hampered by the inherent design flaws in the magazine and feed system. So, Bergmann’s team went to work on solving that problem.

 

The result was the Bergmann Model 1897, also known as the No 5. While the gun was an overall improvement with a more robust design and improved mechanism, the two most important features that gave it the potential for success were a detachable box magazine that replaced the old Mannlicher-style fixed magazine and a new, more powerful cartridge that was based on the Mauser C96 cartridge. While only about 1,000 of the new 7.8mm Bergmann M1897 pistols were produced, it was obvious that the improvements and new design had substantial potential. To that end, Theodor would establish the Bergmann Pistol Syndicate in London to help promote and distribute his arms in that country as well. The new profile for the Bergmann handgun was now established, with the removable box magazine forward of the triggerguard where the old, fixed magazine had been. Louis Schmeisser started to work overtime on improvements and the Model 1899 (or No 6) Pistol was introduced using a new locked breech design, quickly followed by the Bergmann Simplex, which was a smaller, simplified blowback version of the No 6. 

 

The game changer for Bergmann came in 1901 when Schmeisser designed a new locked breech system for machine guns, which he applied to pistol designs in the form of the Bergmann Mars Model 1903. This had the potential to be the military pistol he was looking for and it was produced in real military calibers like 9mm and 11.35mm (nominally .45 caliber). These guns received trials by the Spanish and British military. An 11.35mm gun was sent to the US military for trials in 1906 but due to being impounded by customs was not tested. In 1907 another Bergmann Mars that was chambered for .45ACP was tested, but it failed to ignite the primers in the Frankford Arsenal produced ammunition. Although the Americans and the British did not select the Bergmann design, the Spanish did eventually contract for 3,000 of the 9mm Bergmann Mars pistols in 1905 designating them as Model 1903 pistols. In the interim, Krieghoff had purchased V.C.S., so Bergmann had lost the manufacturer that he had been outsourcing pistol production to since 1896. As Bergmann could not set up manufacturing for the small contract in an economical fashion, he sold the contract to Anciens Etasblissements Pieper (AEP) of Herstal, Belgium. This new association would result in the Bergmann-Bayard series of pistols. The first Bergmann-Bayard would be developed in 1908 for the Spanish, based upon improvements desired in the M1903 (M1901). Later a Danish order would result in the M1910 Bergmann-Bayard. This model would remain in production through World War I, as the German occupation kept the Belgian arms factories working to produce all the arms they could. A modified version the M1910/21 would be adopted by the Danes and would be manufactured through 1925. This would be the last model of Bergmann pistol produced, with Bergmann himself, with Schmeisser turning their attention to the production of the new weapon of war, the machine gun. However, were it not for the vision of Bergmann and his hiring of Louis Schmeisser, the birth of many successful machine gun designs of the 20th century might  never have occurred. Louis Schmeisser would produce the early Bergman machine guns like the Bergmann MG 15nA. However, his son Hugo who was influenced by his father’s work and trained at the Bergmann factory, would be responsible for some of the most famous designs of all, including the classic MP-38 and MP-40 submachine guns and the StG44 Sturmgewehr, the original “assault rifle” and the direct predecessor of the Kalashnikov AK-47.

 

Offered here is a VERY FINE condition example of a Bergmann Model 1896 No. 3 Pistol. Like all No. 3s, it is chambered in 6.5mm. The caliber marking 278 is present on the left side of the rear of the barrel. This marking is based on the English bore system of caliber designation and indicates that 278 round balls of this caliber could be produced from one pound of lead. The pistol is serial number 1207, with the number stamped clearly on the lower right side of the barrel web. The number is also stamped clearly inside both grips. This is a relatively early production Model 1896, one of the early extractor guns (extractors appear around #800) and was produced on contract like most M1896 pistols by V.C. Schilling of Suhl. The gun is marked with the Schilling modified version of the Bergmann trademark on the right rear of the frame. The Bergmann mark is a “mountain man”, which is the translation of the name, meaning “mountain man” or “miner” carrying a pickaxe and lantern which radiates rays of light. This mark is typically present on all Bergmann produced arms. The Schilling modifications include the location GAGGENAU in an arc at the top of the Bergmann trademark and V.C.S. / SUHL in a two-line arch below it. The three-line patent mark PATENT / BRÉVETÉ / S.G.D.G.is present on the right side of the frame below the barrel retention screw. This is simply a two language mark that means “Patent” or “Patented” in English and French with the additional abbreviation essentially indicating that the patent is registered. The pistol shows the typical {CROWN}/{CROWN} U German proofs of the period, which are stamped on the left side of the barrel, the chamber and the rear of the bolt. The gun is otherwise unmarked, other than with part component numbers. These are not “assembly” numbers but actual part numbers as you might find in an exploded diagram of the disassembled gun. For instance, the barrel retention screw is part number 7, so it is marked 7. The trigger is part number 11, so it is stamped 11. The firring pin retention screw is 1, the bolt is 6, the bolt wedge is 4, etc. Thus, each component of the gun has its own distinct part number, but these are not assembly numbers.

 

As noted, the gun remains in VERY FINE condition with most of its original rust blued finish intact. The gun retains about 85%+ of the blue, which is thinning and worn in some areas and shows some loss along the sharp edges and points of contact. The barrel shows the most thinning and loss, with much of the areas where the finish is worn or gone having developed a mostly smooth plum patina that has blended with the remaining blue. The backstrap shows similar wear and loss and again a plum patina has developed and blended with the remaining finish to make the gun to appear to retain more finish than it really does. The metal remains smooth and free of any real pitting. There is some scattered pinpricking and scattered minor surface oxidation on the barrel, primarily on the left side, with less present on the right. The balance of the guns does show some freckled oxidation shot throughout the remaining blue and some scattered tiny areas of surface oxidation that have left some discoloration or in some cases have been lightly cleaned, leaving a dull pewter patch behind. The manual safety on the left side of the frame retains about 70%+ of its brilliant fire blued finish and strawed small parts retain much of their mellow yellow color. The hammer and safety spring both retain about 60%+ thinning straw, the magazine feed spring retains about 40%+ thinning straw and the trigger retains about 30%+ straw, with most of that loss at the face edges where contact is made. The hammer does show one tiny patch of surface oxidation on the right side near its face. The other small strawed parts like the bolt wedge and screws all retain between traces and about 30% thinning straw coloring. The pistol remains mechanically functional with all parts working as they should. The action cycles smoothly when operated by hand and the firing and safety mechanisms appear to function correctly as well. The bore of the pistol remains in FINE condition. It is mostly mirror bright and retains very crisp rifling, consisting of six grooves with a high rate of twist. The bore shows some scattered oxidized discoloration, with some minor pinpricking and frosting in the grooves but shows no real pitting. The two-piece checkered European walnut grips rate about VERY GOOD+ and show moderate wear. As noted, they are both stamp-numbered to the gun on their interiors. Both grips are solid, complete and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs.  However, both grips show the handling marks, surface wear and some softening to the checkering that would be expected on a 120+ year old pistol. They also show some minor scattered bumps, dings and light mars, but not any serious damage or signs of abuse.

 

Overall, this is a really attractive and very interesting example of a rare early and antique semi-automatic pistol. Even to our modern stylistic sense, these early pistols have an almost science fiction type appearance. Maybe that is why the Bergman M1894 is the basis for the pistol featured in the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and the classic Mauser C96 Broomhandle pistol was the basis for the blaster carried by Han Solo in the original Star Wars films. Even John Wayne used the Bergmann as a symbol for the new modern era in his film Big Jake, where his youngest son is depicted as a “modern man” with a motorcycle, scoped rifle and what is supposed to be a Bergmann M1896 pistol. In the script they call it a Bergmann 1911 (which does not exist) and the Hollywood prop department dressed up an old P-38 pistol to look like a Bergmann because it would function reliably with blanks. However, the intent that the gun on the screen to represent a Bergmann M1896 is clear. Even modern video games pay homage to the Bergmann design in the game Hunt: Showdown, which features a Bergmann M1896 inspired pistol called the “Bornheim No 3”. Rarely does an antique semi-automatic pistol with such low production figures have such an influence on modern pop culture. Most estimates place the production of the Bergmann Model 1896 No. 3 Pistol at a maximum of 4,400 guns and likely less, between 1896 and 1897. While never a major market success, the gun was one of the earliest semi-auto pistols to acquire any level of acceptance during the time of revolvers and to have enough success for the maker and designer to move on to more advanced and successful designs. These early semi-auto pistols have always held an attraction to me, both from the standpoint of the development of the new mechanisms and for their truly interesting appearances. Most examples of Bergmann Model 1896 No. 3 Pistols found for sale today are either well-worn or refinished. Rarely do they appear in fine condition with this much original finish, simply untouched and all correct. This is a lovely and a scarce antique pistol that will be a fine addition to your collection, that is pre-1898 and thus not subject to any Federal laws or restrictions as modern pistols are. It would be a wonderful pistol to add to any collection of early semi-autos, different action types, developing mechanisms or simply unique and scarce handguns. I am sure you will be very proud to own and display this gun.

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Tags: Fine, Scarce, Bergmann, Model, 1896, No, 3, Pistol