1899 Pre-production Prototype Borchardt Luger 40
Only three pre production prototype 1899 Borchardt Lugers survive with the original square interface, three piece toggle assemblies and original, first design narrow triggers. 1899 Swiss Test Trials Borchardt Luger serial numbers 19, 21 and plain chambered British “Demonstration” example 1899 Borchardt Luger 40. All three of these 1899 Borchardt Lugers have replacement parts. The whereabouts of one of the three is unknown and only survives in a circa 1975 black and white picture.
The third, 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 survives, albiet in poor condition, currently part of the Land of Borchardt Collection, with mostly all original components, including the original narrow trigger with unique, original 3½ turn trigger spring, square interface toggle link assembly with unreinforced rear sight. The exception, being fitted with unnumbered replacement M1906 new model production, no border, fully checkered grips, unnumbered replacement Breechblock Extractor and a production replacement fire-blue magazine release button flat Riband style spring vs. the original strawed spring. 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 is the primary subject of this article.
The Borchardt and Luger Automatic Pistols a.k.a. TBLAP by †Görtz/Sturgess, © 2011 contains the latest, most detailed and excellent information on the 1899 Borchardt Luger preproduction prototype series and is the source of much of the background materiel presented herein. Alternate theories and/or modifications of prior conclusions reached in TBLAP are presented plus additional and more detailed pictures.
- 1899 Borchardt Luger 19. These photographs (from
Faustfeuerwaffen II - Selbstladepistolen, Reinhart & am Rhyn, Verlag Stocker-Schmid, Zurich © 1975) are the only record of the Swiss
troop trials pistol sn. 19, once held at the M+F Thun, which is one of two known surviving examples of these trials pistols in near original condition, having only had its barrel changed for a service spare, with + inspection mark. All other external features: square profile toggle hinge tongue, unreinforced rear sight, bordered grips, hand stamped Federal Cross over the chamber, thin trigger, short abutments behind toggle grips, serial number placement , GL monogram on rear toggle link etc. are the defining characteristics of the original, unmodified Swiss 1899 troop trials batch of 20 pistols. Source: TBLAP, V1, page 173, Fig. 3-85 text caption.
- 1899 Borchardt Luger 21. Swiss 1899 trials pistol sn. 21 is the other known survivor of the trials in near original
trials condition, having had only minor parts replaced (firing pin/springs/retainer; stripping latch
(take-down lever); grip safety lever, magazine) with production spares during its long life as a target competition pistol. Like sn.19 the rear toggle bears the GL monogram, and all other features, the Swiss Cross, serial numbering, inner frame machining, thin trigger and narrow trigger spring seating groove, thin rectangular rear sight, square toggle hinge tongue, short toggle abutments, bordered grips etc. are those of the original 1899 trials pistols and may be compared with sn. 19, sn. 40 and other M1899 and M1899/00 pistols. Source: TBLAP, V1, page 174,
Fig. 3-86 text caption. Note: 1899 Borchardt Luger 21 was sold at auction in Switzerland August 2009 for just under 300, 000 Swiss Francs
- 1899 Borchardt Luger 40. Prototype M1899 sn. 40 is probably the “latest pattern” of the Parabellum shown to the
British SAC by Luger & Reise of DWM and Dawson of Vickers some time before April 1900 which led to the British request for six examples for testing. It is a wholly original example of the M1899 pistol, the sole modification being the cutting away of the top of the breech face to either side of the extractor to expose the rim of the loaded cartridge, possibly to give a visual indication of
the chamber being loaded. Source: TBLAP, V1, page 186, Fig. 3-98 text caption.
Note: To believe the statement in TBLAP that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 is a wholly unmodified original example, as originally manufactured, except for the breechblock is accurate, one has to accept the assertion that replacement parts do not constitute a modification. Wholly unmodified can, therefore, be interpreted to mean nothing has been replaced that would alter the original functionality or operation of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 as originally manufactured, including the “modified/altered” breechblock.
Auction description of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40
*◊ IMPORTANT 1899 UK TRIALS PROTOTYPE LUGER.
SN 40. 4¾-inch 7.65 mm Cal bbl. Part of upper rim of breech face removed in manufacture, possibly to allow sight of loaded
cartridge rim as a loaded indicator. Plain toggle assembly without DWM logo with prototype large digit numbering to rear frame and top of rear link in front of rear sight. Small digit SN applied under barrel parallel to barrel axis. Plain, unmarked chamber consistent with being made after the batch of 20 identical pistols supplied for the Swiss 1899 trials with Swiss Geneva cross impressed over the chamber. Unique, original M1899 long (51 mm) prototype breech bolt with original double firing springs and special firing pin and follower to accommodate these. Prototype square section hinge tongue (interface) between rear and mid toggle links. Original strawed sear bar unique to M1899 prototypes. Dished toggles with toggle latch and prototype short abutments between top of rear link and receiver. Original M1899 prototype thin trigger and thin coil spring assembly and original thin prototype checkered flat safety lever with deeply incised outline to the in-the-white safe indicator in the frame safety recess. Original prototype wood bottom magazine with flat button (for the unrelieved frame) with correct prototype brass spring follower (cf. production aluminum followers used for all subsequent magazines) with internally numbered wood base and body. This gun is featured on pp. 175, 179, 181, 186, 191 and 192 of The Borchardt & Luger Automatic Pistols by Joachim Görtz & Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess. All numbered parts are matching. The only known surviving 1899 prototype Luger in wholly unmodified, complete orig form. PROVENANCE: Collection of Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess. CONDITION: Good. Retaining about 40% blue with scattered pitting that is deeper on the left side. 20% straw. Bore is worn and bright. Grips are moderately worn with a small chip under the safety lever.Magazine has light corrosion on body and minor nicks and dings to wood bottom. Mechanics are very good. 43475-1 BWS10 (20,000-35,000) – Lot 3568
Source: TBLAP, V1 C3, page 181. Fig. 3-92: The original M1899 trigger (sn. 40) is very thin, with a 3½ turn spring of 0.62 mm diameter wire, having the unique retaining tang which locates in the 1 mm hole drilled at the rear of the spring seating recess. The M1899/00 trigger (sn. 30) is very close in form to the production trigger (sn. 01), the two discernable machining differences being the absence of a taper (arrowed, top) at the front of the trigger block and the cutter angle at the rear of the frontal side relief cut, 15° on the M1899/00, but 30°on production pistol sn. 01, and all later Parabellums . The M1899/00 spring has 4¾ turns of 0.76 mm wire, compared with 5 turns of 0.80 mm wire for the production trigger. These differences can be crucial in determining the authenticity of the prototype pistols, the thin M1899 trigger in particular having been faked several times, with results ranging from dismal to laughable.
Source: TBLAP, V1 C3, pages 175, 176. Another unaltered 1899 Prototype pistol, serial no. 40, is the only known example in wholly unchanged original form. This is mechanically identical to sns. 19 & 20 as they were originally supplied, but retains its original barrel and all other original parts. The sole modification from original is that the top lip of the breech face recess is cut out; for what purpose or by whom done is unknown, unless it was to provide an early form of loaded chamber indication, since the rim of a loaded cartridge is clearly visible in the cut-out.
The sole manufacturing differences between these two pistols are, on sn. 40, the absence of the well known GL monogram from below the rear sight on the rear toggle, the absence of the Swiss Geneva Cross from the chamber and the fitting of unbordered grips, which may be replacements since this pistol, if it is the SAC  demonstration pistol, as outlined below, would have been in Britain since April 1900, and Luger did not sign off the production, unbordered grip plate drawing until 15 November 1900. Pistol sn. 40 has an English provenance as far as can be traced, for over 80 years. The absence of the Swiss Cross and GL monogram are consistent with it not having taken any part in the Swiss trials, but the long English provenance points to it possibly having been the pistol which Georg Luger and Alexis Reise, Director of DWM, with Trevor Dawson of Vickers, presented as the "latest pattern" to the British Small Arms Committee (SAC) "some time" before SAC Minute 75 of 24 April 1900. Prior to this date the 1899 Prototype was the latest pattern, since the final Swiss improvements requested prior to adoption had only been voiced to Luger at the meeting in Thun on 2 April, and the revised production trigger, for instance, was not drawn up by Luger until 9 June 1900.
Given this pistol's provenance, having been hidden and forgotten for over half a century in East London until discovered, wrapped in a pre-WWII newspaper, in the roof of a house during its demolition, it is quite probable that it was originally in the care of the Vickers small arms factory at Crayford in Kent, also located on the eastern outskirts of London. Vickers were the official DWM sales representative in the UK, and at the time of its manufacture the only possible recipient for this original unmodified prototype pattern Parabellum in England.
Based on the claim that 1899 Borchardt Luger in TBLAP © 2011 has British provinance going back 80 years and using the TBLAP publication date of 2011 minus 80 years leads us to 1930, conversely with 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 being in Britain since 1900 and moving forward brings us to 1980. Finally the statement: Given this pistol's provenance, having been hidden and forgotten for over half a century in East London until discovered, wrapped in a pre-WWII newspaper, in the roof of a house during its demolition… 1980 could be the year 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was discovered in a London attic. Yet the 80 years of British provinance is confusing as 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was part of the G. Sturgess Collection until 2015 equates to British provinance of 115 years.
For more information on the DWM modified Swiss crested 1899/00 Borchardt Lugers tested in Britian go to: The 1901 British Trials
Results and conclusions reached following a detailed inspection, internally and externally of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40
How Sturgess, first in a 1996 article published in a British Journal titled The Historical Smallarms Breechloading Association
V1, No.9, page 44, Figure 12 and 14 years later in TBLAP came to the conclusion that the no border, fully checkered grips currently fitted to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 were original as installed in 1899 is perplexing, (although Sturgess suggests/ceded in TBLAP that the grips may be replacements) while again, curiously, not acknowledging the presence of DWM factory applied inspection marks found stamped on the inside wooden grip surfaces and the fact that the right grip inside channel was cut for the final production magazine with the domed or stepped follower button.
1899 Borchardt Luger 40 – The Grips
Sturgess, G.L., "From Borchardt to Parabellum - An Anglo-Swiss Connection", The Journal of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association, Imperial War Museum, London, Vol 2 No 9, p.42, © 1996.
…As a matter of note, the highest known legitimate 1899 Borchardt-Luger is serial number 40. It has fully checkered walnut grips as defined in an article by Dr. G.L. Sturgess, stated to be original to the gun: …and the fitting of (unnumbered) production M1900 style unbordered grips (which have minor differences to the [hand] carving of the internal fitting, but are similar internally to those of the M1899 pistols).
The Borchardt and Luger Automatic Pistols by †Görtz/Sturgess, © 2011, V1, Chapter 3, page 175 Another unaltered 1899 Prototype pistol, serial no. 40, is the only known example in wholly unchanged original form. This is mechanically identical to sns. 19 & 20 as they were originally supplied, but retains its original barrel and all other original parts. The sole modification from original is that the top lip of the breech face recess is cut out; for what purpose or by whom done is unknown, unless it was to provide an early form of loaded chamber indication, since the rim of a loaded cartridge is clearly visible in the cut-out.
The sole manufacturing differences between these two pistols are, on sn. 40, the absence of the well known GL monogram from below the rear sight on the rear toggle, the absence of the Swiss Geneva Cross from the chamberand the fitting of unbordered grips, which may be replacements since this pistol, if it is the SAC demonstration pistol, as outlined below, would have been in Britain since April 1900, and Luger did not sign off the production, unbordered grip plate drawing until 15 November 1900.
The 1996 HBSA Sturgess article description on page 44, item 13) specifically states the wooden grips of BL40 are original DWM tool room installed grips of “M1900 style” as originally fabricated for BL40 and not M1900 production replacement grips and as described represent the first 1900 production styled 100% checkered walnut grips installed on a Luger. 13) The highly characteristic plain bordered grips and plain checkered grips of sn 40 are hand made and individually fitted, with minor internal fitting differences from machine-made M1900 production grips (Figures 11a and 12). There is little doubt that the plain bordered grips found on most of the M1899 preproduction prototype pistols were discontinued sometime after the fabrication of 1899 Borchardt-Luger 35 and 40, i.e. discontinued prior to M1900 Parabellum production.
Note: There are no known legitimate, authenticated 1900 Production Lugers, Swiss or commercial, as of this writing identified with genuine M1899 style plain bordered wooden grips.…
TBLAP V1, C3 page 210, The Old Model Production Pistol Sturgess changes his opinion regarding the 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 plain checkered wooden grips, i.e. hedges, where he states in item 3), The grips are of the full checquered, un bordered pattern: some 1899, 1899/00 pattern prototypes have this pattern of grip, unmarked on the inside – it is unclear whether these are replacements or not. No examples are pictured or cited.
Unfathomable is the only word to describe the Sturgess initial 1996 HBSA article conclusion that the grips were hand-made and hand-fitted M1900 old model prototypes, and in the later TBLAP publication where he completely revamps his prior conclusions stating it is unclear whether these are replacements or not when, in fact the grips, currently fitted to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 are actually M1906 new model production, factory inspection stamped grips. Pictured are inside views of two pair of New Model grip safety wooden grips, 1913 grip safety commercial Luger 72646 and
1899 Borchardt Luger 40.
This information suggests an entirely different scenario for explaining why later M1906, new model production replacement grips are on 1899 Borchardt Luger 40.
- Based on the consistency or commonality of characteristics of surviving 1899 Borchardt Lugers, it is reasonable to assume that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was submitted
to Britian in April 1900, especially with its first exposure to the British as a “Demonstration” pistol would have had the very stylish 1899 Borchardt Luger original plain border, serialized grips.
- There is no reason to suspect that the original 1899 grips were replaced early on, i.e. prior to 1906, however, the fact that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 sat in an attic, wrapped in newspaper for at least half a century where, undoubtably it incurred its degradation, of which the original plain bordered grips, if still fitted, degraded accordingly. There is the possibility that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was located with the current grips or conversely, whoever discovered 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 in modern times, replaced the grips with what was available.
Based on the inside grips production inspection marks, the M1906 production new model grips fitted to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, whenever fitted, were simply removed from a period Luger as the availability of M1900 no border, fully checkered grips with a right side, flat follower button shallow channel wooden grip would have been extremely scarce, then and now. Also, the reasonably good condition of the grips, with no damage and only slight smoothing of the diamond hatching pattern indicates that the grips came from a better condition new model Luger and are obviously not period original to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40.
- The auction description of the wooden grips with a small chip under the safety lever is not evident in the 1996 HSBA article, Figure 12 picture of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 but is present in the 2011 TBLAP
Figure 3-98 picture of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 and assuming they are the same grips in each publication, the ever so slight damage or chip to the left side grip at the lower Thumb Safety pivot occurred while part of the G. Sturgess Collection.
- Sturgess states of the 1899 Borchart Luger 40, no border, fully checkered wooden grips internal fittings: which have minor differences to the [hand] carving of the internal fitting, but are similar internally to those of the M1899 pistols. These comments, would appear to be inaccurate, and are actually describing new model grips, subsequently, have no merit in supporting the grips as original to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 as originally fabricated by DWM, as even though the grips internals show differences from the originally fitted 1899 bordered grips to the final production grips, are in fact not prototype, but later M1906 new model grips with the domed magazine right side grip with the deeper follower button channel. Pictured are inside grip views of, 1) a typical three-digit early production unrelieved feedway Swiss Ordnance Luger,
2) 1899 Borchardt Luger 23 and, 3) 1899 Borchardt Luger 40.
- It is unlikely that Sturgess was the individual who originally discovered 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 in an attic with the associated history of storage and as such it would be interesting from an historical perspective to know when, who and how Sturgess acquired 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, with or without grips. Pictured is 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 fitted with original plain border 1899 Borchardt Luger wooden grips.
1899 Borchardt Luger 40 – The Serialization
With the exception of the unnumbered, no border M1900 fully checkered production replacement wooden grips, the numbered parts are:
- The frame rear above the lanyard loop is stamped 40,
- The receiver stop lug and the barrel are stamped 40 with the barrel stamped parallel to the bore axis and the original square interface toggle assembly is stamped 40 on,
- the breechblock and,
- the middle link on the left side and
- the rear link on the top, in front of the straight wall, narrow width V notch sight.
Other parts stamped with 40 are:
- the trigger,
- the side plate underside,
- the right side end of the strawed take-down lever,
- the right side end of the strawed magazine release,
- the narrow grip safety,
- the unique 1899 hold-open device underside and,
- the underside of the strawed sear bar.
The Thumb Safety lever, based on 1899 Borchardt Luger 21, is stamped on the underside. The rear frame, top of rear link and stop lug font size is 2.5mm high with the balance of the serial numbered parts being stamped with a very small 1.5mm font size. For multiple views of the original square interface, three-piece toggle link assembly Click Here.
Given the penchant of DWM to identify all components with a serial number, it is not unusual that the 1899 Borchardt Luger series has the two-digit serial number, which are hand-scribed (scratched) on the additional following components:
- the circular edge of the firing pin retainer,
- the inside surface of the strawed ejector,
- the underside of the breechblock strawed extractor.
These observations are based on 1899 Borchardt Luger examples 21, 22, 23, 40. The 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 breechblock was pictured in the 1996 HBSA article by Sturgess with a missing extractor,
replaced some time after 1996 by Sturgess with an unmarked strawed extractor. Note: the probable reasons the aforementioned parts serial numbers are hand-scribed and not stamped are the fact that two of the items are springs and as such would not take well to stamping and the third item, the firing pin retainer head, being circular was easier to hand-scribe than stamp. Finally, there are enough examples to conclude that the entire batch of 1899 Borchardt Lugers are similarly marked.
Also unique to the 1899 Borchardt Luger series are additional strawed small parts that were not strawed in M1900 old model Production Lugers. The 1899 additional strawed parts are:
- the magazine release button combination flat Riband retainer/spring,
- the sear bar and,
- the grip safety Riband type return spring.
These observations are based on 1899 Borchardt Luger examples 21, 22, 23, 40. Since the 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 magazine release button strawed Riband retainer/spring is fire-blued, it is assumed to be a production replacement.
Opinions – Possibilities – Scenarios – Theories
The above cited items are multiple examples of the consistency of marking and construction of the 1899 Borchardt Luger prototype series that, even though they were manufactured without the use of production jigs, great care was taken to make sure the first assembly was identical to the last assembly to assure reliably consistent operation throughout testing by several countries and that any failure or perceived weakness in any one pistol, the corrective action could be applied to all.
In the 1899 Borchardt Luger prototype series as originally manufactured, as a result of the Swiss Test Trials, the following four items were modified:
- the square interface toggle link assembly was changed to a rounded interface while keeping the original 51mm length breechblock with original firing pin retainer and dual springs,
- the rear link thin wall integral V notch sight was strengthened,
- the original narrow trigger with its unique 3½ turn spring, anchored through a hole in the trigger base was replaced with an interim production, human factors design trigger, with an internal pedistal to support/hold, via friction/indent a different, stronger spring
- the most unnoticed change, along with the new interim preproduction prototype trigger was the addition of a chamfer or relief cut-out to the upper rear left side edge of the trigger guard, ajacent to the trigger spring. This was done to all 1899 Borchardt Lugers returned from Switzerland when fitted with the interim prototype/production
trigger for easier insertion of the trigger into the frame trigger guard by allowing for more initial relief clearance of the protruding end trigger spring.
It is important to note that change number 4) was not done, wholly as a result of the November 1899 – March 1900 Swiss tests as the chamfer is first noted on 1899 Swiss chamber crested Borchardt Luger 32, thought to be submitted to the US Army and the subject 1899 plain chamber Borchardt Luger 40 delivered to the British, April 1900 or earlier, being nine months before the October 1900 British receipt of six modified guns 14[5a], 18, 23, 25, 26 and 30. This chamfer is missing on all of Swiss modified 1899 Borchardt Luger V series that remained in Switzerland, which includes 10 (V1), 11 (V2), 15 (V3), 22 (V4) 28 (V6), 29 (V7) and unmodified original condition 1899 Borchardt Lugers 19 and 21, all of which lack the cut-out, including Dutch trials 1899 Borchardt Luger 35. See Table 1 for an accounting of 1899 Borchardt Lugers with and without the trigger guard chamfer relief cut.
Note the Table 1 highlighted Swiss trials columns identifies 15 of the 20 Swiss Test Trials 1899 Borchardt Lugers with five unidentified 1899 Swiss Trials Borchardt Lugers serial numbers 12, 13, 16, 20 and 27. With the highest known, authenticated Swiss trails Borchardt Luger being serial number 30 and with serial number 10 (V1) being the earliest, indicates that the exactly 20 pistols shipped to the Swiss were not sequentially serialized.
Counting serial number 30, while discounting serial numbers 32 and 33, and starting from serial number 10 (V1) would make 21 pistols, suggesting one of the five missing pistols were (was) not submitted to the Swiss. Interestingly, adding serial numbers 31, 32 and 33 to the mix as Swiss Test Trials pistols would make four of the five Table 1 missing serial numbers not submitted to the Swiss. Finally, including unidentified 1899 Borchardt Lugers serial numbers 36 through 39 as 1899 Swiss Test Trials pistols would have made eight not submitted to the Swiss, exceeding the five Table 1 missing serial numbers, which would not reconcile with the 15 known Swiss Test Trials pistols.
Another consideration is the possibility that some of the missing serial numbers never existed, due to DWM factory issues, even so, would not change the above proposed accounting and conclusions.
1899 Borchardt Luger 35 absent trigger guard chamfer relief cut is probably missing because the frame is an unfinished replacement and lacks a serial number with only the 35 stamped on original components, being on the square interface toggle link assembly and receiver stop lug. 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 of original configuration, featured in a 1901 United States publication titled the American Machinist, being identical to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, except with the original plain bordered grips and interestingly, with the hand-stamped Swiss crested chamber, has the same chamfer trigger guard relief cut.
It is quite certain that the frame trigger guard chamfer on the no crest, plain chamber 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was not added, but part of the original manufacture. As stated above, 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, externally, is identically configured to 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 and that the frame trigger guard chamfer of both pistols was part of the original manufacture. Therefore, it is also certain that 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 was not a Swiss Test Trials gun, despite the hand-stamped Swiss Cross in Sunburst
All 1899 Swiss Test Trials Borchardt Lugers remaining in Switzerland after the trials, from 1899 Borchardt Luger 10 (V1) up to and including converted 1899/29 Borchardt Luger 29 (V7), lack the frame trigger guard chamfer. If 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 was delivered to Switzerland as a Test Trials pistol and was somehow returned to DWM, then why would only the chamfer be added and still retain the original, outdated narrow trigger and square interface toggle link assembly?
Since 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 is identically configured to 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, supports the contention that 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 somehow got diverted to the United States, also, possibly as a “Demonstration” pistol for the U.S. Army as pictured in the April 1901 publication American Machinist.
All other 1899 Swiss Test Trials Borchardt Lugers returned to DWM from the trials were so modified by changing out the narrow trigger with a transitional preproduction trigger designed by the Swiss, adding the trigger guard chamfer and changing out the square interface toggle link assembly with a rounded interface toggle link assembly.
In addition to Borchardt Luger 32, 1899 hand-stamped Swiss chamber crested Borchardt Luger 33 left side trigger guard with the trigger guard relief cut was also part of original manufacture, despite curiously, currently fitted with a replacement production trigger and production rounded interface toggle link assembly.
Since it is well documented in the Bern Archives that the Swiss requested exactly 20 Borchardt Lugers for testing and with 1899 Borchardt Luger 10 being the lowest identified serial number and assuming a consecutive serial number batch delivery, making the highest Swiss Test Trials 1899 Borchardt Luger to be serial number 31.
This suggests that identified 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 and 1899/1900 Borchardt Luger 33, despite being hand-stamped Swiss chamber crested, for reasons unknown, were not part of the 20 submitted to the Swiss for testing. This explains the existence of 1899 Borchardt Luger 32 in America and supports the contention that 1899/1900 Borchardt Luger 33 as originally manufactured with the chamfer, it is pretty certain, therefore, seeing that 1899 Borchardt Luger 29 (V7) currently in Switzerland, was originally made without the chamfer, that the chamfer was introduced or added as part of the original configuration of the ten remaining manufactured 1899 Borchardt Lugers, starting with 31 (unknown), including both 32 and 33 through to the subject 1899 Borchardt Luger 40.
The status of 1899 Borchardt Luger 32, not being one of the Swiss Test Trials pistols is supported by a comment in TBLAP, V1 C3, page 206 that: Pistol sn. 32 may well have been one of two pistols supplied to Springfield Armory for test in March 1901…or a spare pistol of this pattern retained at the factory.
In any event 1899 Borchardt Lugers 32 and 40 claim the destinction of being the only two known unmodified original 1899 Borchardt Luger series pistols to have the added trigger guard chamfer relief cut in addition to the original square interface toggle link assembly and original thin trigger with unique 3 ½ turn trigger spring and with 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 being the highest known serial number, surviving/extant example.
Peculiarities of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40
The strange breechblock face upper cut-out described by Sturgess in TBLAP, V1, page 186, Fig. 3-98 text caption and in the auction description, cited as possibly done for visibility of a loaded cartridge, i.e. part of upper rim of breech face removed in manufacture, possibly to allow sight of loaded cartridge rim as a loaded indicator.
Since 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 was submitted to Britain in April 1900 or earlier as a “Demonstration” pistol only and with it, as of the October 1900 delivery of six modified 1899 Borchardt Lugers, no longer considered the “latest pattern” with its square interface toggle assembly and other outdated features, there is no further mention of BL40 being involved in the later October 1900 DWM tool room submittal for testing of six-modified 1899/00 Swiss Test Trials Borchardt Lugers tested in late 1900, early 1901 and additionally, with no record of BL40 ever being part of the Pattern Room Collection, it can be assumed BL40 was absconded by a Vickers official or employee early on when the breechblock face modification was unofficially done by an enterprising British gunsmith.
That the reason cited by Sturgess and in the auction description for the modification was for visibility of a loaded cartridge is in doubt or if true, not very successful, as with the breechblock closed, i.e. at full battery with a loaded cartridge it is near impossible, even in bright light and viewed straight on, to see the loaded brass cartridge in the recessed breechblock, which can only be seen by partially retracting the breechblock in the receiver as
evidenced by pictures taken of the two positions.
Another explanation can be that the breechblock face was damaged and at the time, being irreplaceable, the breechblock was salvaged by simply removing the damaged upper section, which would conveniently account for an unmarked strawed breechblock fitted extractor underside, possibly, originally a period replacement extractor, being simultaneously damaged. This scenario is still valid despite the recent post 1996 fitting of the current unmarked Extractor described below.
It should be noted that per the 1996 Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association article titled From Borchardt to Parabellum – An Anglo-Swiss Connection by Sturgess, page 49, Figure 17b caption states that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 is missing the (original) breechblock extractor. In TBLAP and in the auction description 1899 Borchardt Luger is described and pictured with a replacement extractor stating that 1899 Borchardt Luger 40 is of original ummodified condition with no explanation of the replacement extractor.
Additionally, the modified breechblock face, as cited by the auction description as done by the manufacture is not supportable,
as the visibility of a chambered cartidge was not raised as documented issue in the surviving Bern Archive minutes as of April 1900.
The remaining peculiarity is more difficult to explain and was not discussed by Sturgess in the 1996 HBSA and 2011 TBLAP publications nor aknowledged in the auction description, which is the location of a 2.5mm diameter hole in the left side internal edge of the side frame cavity, exiting from the left side frame panel channel slot, next to the grip safety blade slot. The hole, for reasons unknown, was drilled from the bottom up in the frame panel cavity and stopped short of the frame upper edge U shaped slider receiver channel as ¼ of the hole is covered, as viewed from the top with the barrel/receiver removed, by the left side frame channel upper lip. Since this is the only known 1899 Borchardt Luger with this drilled hole it is certain it was not done by DWM.
The above noted peculiarities are of little import and the replacement item(s), including the wooden grips, Extractor and magazine release button production fire-blue spring are minor and do not detract or dimimish the almost total, complete, unmodified originality of 1899 Borchardt Luger 40, and as such remains the only example, additionally being the highest known serial number of an original 1899 prototype Borchardt Luger of impeccable British provinance.
The 1901 British Trials
As the British War Department Small Arms Committee minuted on 24 April 1900, Georg Luger, Alexis Reise, then Director General of DWM, and Trevor Dawson, Chairman of Vickers, Son & Maxim Ltd., DWM’s then UK sales agents, had made a presentation of the "latest pattern" of the Parabellum at “some time” before that date, having made earlier attempts to interest the British military in the Borchardt, with which the SAC were by then familiar. This was almost certainly an 1899 Prototype pattern pistol, at that date the most recent version of the pistol, as noted above. It is possible, from its unaltered original characteristics, lack of Swiss Geneva Cross emblem and very long British provenance in the vicinity of the Vickers small arms factory in Dartford, that this was pistol serial no. 40. The Committee expressed the wish to receive six pistols for trial, with 3000 rounds of ammunition, and also, with the single mindedness of approach to pistols demonstrated by the Committee before WWI, asked if there would be difficulty in producing one in .450" bore.
Vickers did not subsequently write to the Committee until 13 October 1900, informing them that the six pistols and ammunition, requested when the Committee had eventually written to Vickers on 31 May, were now ready for delivery and requested an appointment for Luger himself to make a presentation to the Committee, which was done to explain the action, on 22 October 1900. The Committee resolved to send the six pistols to the Chief Inspector of Small Arms for trial, in the presence of Luger, and to subsequently report. CISA reported orally on 5 November that the pistol had been successfully tested, and submitted his formal report on 12 November. He fired about 120 rounds through the pistols without failure, including a sand test. Penetration was compared with other pistols, principally the Webley Service revolver, the Parabellum exceeding them all. Reliability, strength, compactness, the separate magazine, safeties, easy stripping, accuracy and lack of recoil all impressed the CISA sufficiently to summarise: "In conclusion, this is a good serviceable weapon, and is much to be preferred to any of the other revolvers or automatic pistols we have had for trial".
However, his only caveat was the Parabellum's fatal Achilles heel in the eyes of the SAC "The only point I have not been able to ascertain is the wounding power of the bullet. Penetration tests into boards or clay blocks do not give a fair idea of this." Despite this reservation CISA's final recommendation was "I consider that this pistol is worthy of an extended trial".
As a result, the Committee recommended trials for stopping power against the Webley Mk IV Service Revolver, issuing two pistols and ammunition each to the School of Musketry at Hythe and Royal Laboratories, Woolwich for this purpose, while retaining one at The Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF), Enfield Lock, in the Pattern Room and the last in the Director General of Ordnance's arms display case. There then ensued a lengthy debate over stopping power, with a review from the British Military Attaché in Brussels of the Continental view of reduced calibres, which referred to the Swiss trials, the Dutch trial of the "Luger" in 7.65 mm calibre, German trials of the "Mauser and Luger in small calibre" and to Austria-Hungary's interest in 8 mm pistol calibres. The Superintendent RSAF expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of a standard method of evaluation of stopping power. CISA replied favouring, on theoretical grounds and based on trials of .303" rifles, measurement of the weight of material displaced from a radially pierced metal cylinder full of luting (potter's clay), used as a target at known ranges, by the axial impact of the bullet, from which the loss of energy transmitted to the target could be estimated. The Committee charged the Superintendent of the Royal Laboratories to perform this trial of the
Parabellum comparatively with the Webley.
The Commandant of the School of Musketry at Hythe, Col. James had, however, been conducting his own experiments on live and dead animals in the interim. A page of the notes written on 7 March 1901 by the officer responsible for these "mutton" trials and also for performing velocity trials, very probably Col. James himself, shows that pistol sn. 23 was one of the two despatched to Hythe. The trial report covered detailed comparative medical appraisal of the wounds caused by the "Borchardt", as the Parabellum was still referred to by the SAC, and the Webley revolver to two live sheep and a freshly pole-axed bullock. The conclusion was that "The vital question is whether the Borchardt bullet would have sufficient (stopping power). It is doubtless capable of breaking a bone, causing death or
penetrating the body, but whether its entry into the less vulnerable parts of the body inflict sufficient shock can only be ascertained by actual knowledge" Unfortunately for the Committee's deliberations, there were no volunteers to provide "actual knowledge".
In the absence of this the Committee had to rely on the judgement of the Professor of Military Surgery, who opined that "...the Borchardt bullet is less in diameter than that of the present Lee-Enfield rifle, which is known to be defective in stopping power." and "I am strongly of opinion that a wound from a bullet of a Borchardt pistol....would have little or no effect in stopping a man who was determined to come on..." and "The only wound of a non-vital part which may be depended on to immediately stop a man determined to come on at all risks, a Ghazi or other Eastern fanatic for instance, is one which fractures the bones of the leg or thigh... Since the old days of the round bullet, the energy put into small arms projectiles has steadily been increased, while their diameter has been lessened; and with the latter condition their stopping power has steadily diminished."
Return to section above.
With the exception of M1906 new model replacement grips, modified Breechblock face with post 1900 replacement extractor and replacement magazine release button, fire-blue production spring.
orps. In 1969 the School moved from Hythe to Warminster, Wiltshire where Headquarters S.A.S.C. remains to this day. Sturgess refers to it as SAC
V1 C3, Fig. 3-116:Top, the photographs from Grahame H. Powell’s
article describing the Parabellum pistol in "The American Machinist", of May 16, 1901, clearly show M1899 pistol sn. 32, with the Swiss Cross, in unaltered condition. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether these were DWM supplied factory photographs of one of the Swiss trials pistols, or photos of the actual pistol supplied to Springfield Armory for the US Board of Ordnance’s initial valuation in March 1901.
VI C3, Fig. 3-112 1899 Swiss Test Trials Borchardt Lugers not returned to DWM, modified by the Swiss into V series.
The complete record or minutes of the 1898, 1899/1900 Borchardt Luger Swiss Test Trials, including all meetings and participants, consisting of the Swiss Test Commision members and Georg Luger was presented in a Swiss publication, written in German titled Die Faustfeurwaffen von 1850 bis zur Gegenwart
© 1976 by Eugen Heer and was professionally translated and is presented and referenced herein.
TBLAP © 2011, Volume I, Chapter 3 – The Development of the Parabellum Pistol, pages 186 – 188.