I like old guns. The rifle with which I hunt is a Springfield .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen, manufactured for the US Army in 1898 for use in the Spanish-American war. All the guns above are made before 1930, some well before. Early firearms, especially the semi-automatics from the dawn of semi-automatics, have an over-engineered elegance that bespeaks -- despite the lethality of these items -- a kind of industrial optimism I find appealing. The people designing these really thought they were on to something, and in their exuberance, they sometimes really blew it.

From left to right, an Austrian Steyr Hahn that doesn’t load with a separate magazine slid into the grip like you’ve seen in the movies, but from the top, from a “stripper clip” that holds cartridges until stripped off by the operator’s thumb into the grip magazine, and then discarded. That one’s in 9 mm Steyr, a tough but not impossible cartridge to find.

Next is a Colt Police Positive in .38 Special, a standard patrolman’s revolver starting in the 1920s; you’ve seen in a million movies, and it’s still made, though in a more streamlined design, today.

Going across the top, the next is a terrific pistol in .32 caliber: a Savage 1905. It is one of my few old semi-automatics that fires every time. American made, Savage made pistols until about the 1940s. A .45 caliber version of this pistol competed to be the Army’s standard-issue pistol but was beaten by the Model 1911 Colt .45 Automatic. (If you can find one of the few .45 Savages to be made, they are gorgeous and cost in the many thousands.)

Next is a genuine stinker; an Austrian Dreyse in 7.65 mm (the same as the American .32). This one loads from a separate magazine like a modern semi-automatic, and has a cool feature that lets one tip the whole top section forward for cleaning and inspection, but I can never get more than about two shots out of it without it jamming in some way or other. It may be that mine is just very old -- these were made for Austro-Hungarian officers in the First World War -- but I suspect this was never a gun on which one wanted to depended for one’s life. Too complicated. Remember; Austria-Hungary lost that war and disappeared from the map. Maybe this pistol is the reason.

Another loser, this time from the United States. That upside down pistol is a Harrington & Richards .32. (Pocket pistols were popular items back then in what we remember as the Prohibition “gangster era.” They are again.) I’ve replaced all the springs in this one and still can’t get it to fire reliably. But notice the bulge on the back of the grip. That’s a safety. Unless that is squeezed in by the shooter’s hand, the gun won’t fire, so you can safely carry it cocked and locked in your pocket. H&R didn’t invent this, and it became a standard feature of many pistol, including Colt’s Army .45.

A Hungarian is next, called a Frommer Stop, also in 7.65 (a very popular caliber in Europe that most Americans think woefully underpowered, despite it being James Bond’s caliber.) This one, too, is hard to evaluate because it may be its age that is keeping it from shooting right. But it’s delicate, somewhat awkward, has a small empty-shell ejection port that seems made for jamming, and is generally more charming than lethal.

But now we’re getting somewhere. That upside down pistol is the only one in my collection designed by the American John Moses Browning, the founding genius of 20th century American firearms. One could go on at length about Browning; the machine gun he designed for the First World War is essentially the same one the Army uses today. This pistol the Browning Model 1910, in .32, was manufactured in Belgium; the Europeans loved it and I saw them on the hips of French policemen in 1980. They may still carry them. The Browning Model 1910 enjoys the distinction of causing more deaths than any other firearm. It was one of these that Gavril Princip used to shoot Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914, thus setting off World War One.

Continuing right, the Luger, about which, enough said. This was the standard German Army sidearm in the First World War and still widely used in the Second. It is a spectacularly accurate and reliable pistol. Mine is a commercial model, not in the military 9 mm, but in the elegant, bottle-shaped cartridge of 7.65 Parabellum -- a smaller, faster bullet with less recoil. A Luger is a dream to shoot.

Next is the first handgun I ever owned -- a 1932 Smith & Wesson .38 Special that I bought in a Georgia pawnshop in 1985. This is another standard-issue patrolman’s revolver, still manufactured essentially unchanged. It’s the Chevy Impala of American handguns -- reliable, powerful, easy to shoot. If you were a beginning shooter, this is the gun I’d probably use to teach you.

To its right is the .45 caliber version of the same pistol. When the United States was getting ready to enter World War One in 1917, it didn’t have enough Colt .45 automatics to go around. (It had only been adopted in 1911.) The Army asked both Colt and Smith & Wesson to make revolvers in the same cartridge, which took some doing. A revolver requires a cartridge to have a rim on its base, protruding slightly from the cartridge itself, to hold it in the cylinder. A semi-automatic cartridge can’t have a rim. So what Colt and S&W did was make “half-moon clips” -- little flat slices spring-steel that held three semi-automatic cartridges. That held them in the cylinders, and incidentally made for fast loading. This revolver was owned by Margaret’s maternal grandfather; he like putting it under the seat when the family drove to Mexico. This is a gorgeous pistol to shoot. It’s heavy, so there’s little recoil, and what has always made Smith & Wesson such a name in revolvers is the smoothness of its triggers.

The upside-down pistol at the bottom is an Austrian Mannlicher 1905 in 7.65 Mannlicher. Like the Steyr-Hahn, it loads from the top with a stripper clip. This is perhaps the most elegant pistol in my collection -- it’s like a semi-automatic dueling pistol. Mine needs a new hammer spring; the gun fails to fire about half the time, but no matter. It’s a beauty.

The big gun in the center is a Model 1896 Mauser “Broomhandle” in 7.63 Mauser. The rifle stock to which it is attached comes off, and the gun goes inside. So the stock serves as a holster -- whip it off your belt, pull out the gun, slot it into the stock, and suddenly you have a carbine. The Germans used a lot of these in World War One. The Chinese loved them, too, and they featured prominently in the Boxer Rebellion. The magazine, forward of the trigger, is loaded from the top with a stripper clip. The pistol is very pleasant to fire without the stock, too, in part because that front-sitting magazine reduces recoil.

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