Bergmann’s Extraordinary Pistols

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posted on October 18, 2021
Bergmann’s Extraordinary Pistols

Model 1910, Serial No. 11717, 9 mm Bergmann
The Danish military purchased 4,840 pistols from Anciens Etablissements Pieper (AEP) that were marked with the Danish acceptance mark on the left side and an independent issue number on the right. All were issued in a unique holster having pouches for a spare magazine, two stripper clips and a cleaning rod.

Essentially everyone in gun-collecting circles is familiar with the Bergmann name and knows that “those guns are worth some money,” but only a few people recognize the company’s historical footprint. That is not surprising: There are no stand-alone reference texts, none of the early pistols are marked with model-specific nomenclature and only a few examples come up for sale with any regularity. So how can a prospective buyer tell which model he’s looking at, discover how many were made and determine which are antiques? Let’s take a look.

Theodor Bergmann was an industrialist and financier in Gaggenau, Germany. As an owner of an ironworks plant, he was constantly looking for manufacturing opportunities. It made no difference to him whether he made pots, lathes, bicycles or firearms. In the early 1890s the production of guns sounded intriguing to him—indeed lucrative—especially given the emerging field of semi-automatic arms. Enthusiastic at the prospect, Bergmann bought Otto Brauwetter’s patent for a semi-automatic pistol in 1893, handed the plans to his recently hired chief designer, Louis Schmeisser, and prepared to be a gun manufacturer.


Model 1894
The Model 1894 reflected Bergmann’s earliest effort to manufacture a semi-automatic pistol. Production was very limited, and most examples are chambered for an 8 mm cartridge.


Model 1894, No. 1 or “Bergmann Schmeisser.”
Although the original patent detailed a delayed-blowback action, Schmeisser simplified the action to introduce the Model 1 as a simple blowback. Today, the making of a blowback pistol would be pretty straightforward, but, in 1894, introducing any kind of semi-automatic pistol was cutting-edge technology. The Model 1 was a single-action gun with an external hammer, made in at least two chamberings: 5 mm and 8 mm (the majority). Mounted on the right side of the frame was a tensioned, pivoting plate to access the fixed magazine. Ammunition was loaded by individual rounds or with an en bloc clip. There was no clip release; once emptied, the clip fell out the bottom, similar to the Austrian Mannlicher Model 1886 or Italian Model 1891 Carcano rifles.

These guns had other unusual features. For example, there was no firing-pin spring. The guns literally “rattled” when shook, as the positive firing pin floated freely within its channel. There was also no extractor, for the cartridges had a rimless, grooveless case that, when discharged, just blew out of the chamber. After all, who knew about extractors and grooved cases? That vision, pioneered by Borchardt, was largely a later development.

As a very limited production gun reflecting Bergmann’s first effort, virtually every pistol was slightly different. The loading plate on some No. 1s had a semi-circular ledge for the fingers to grasp, others had a pair of checkered buttons near the base. A few even had a cleaning rod mounted to the left side of the frame. When submitted to the 1897 Swiss trials, the Schmeissers tested poorly but, nonetheless, provided enough encouragement for Theodor Bergmann to persevere.


Model 1896, No. 2
Model 1896, No. 2, Serial No. 1525, cal. 5 mm, Standard-configuration No. 2s were available in presentation cases, oak or leather bound, with provisions for stripper clips, a screwdriver and cleaning implements.


Model 1896: No. 2, No. 3, No. 4.
Like the Schmeisser, these guns were single-action blowbacks with an external hammer and a free-floating firing pin. They loaded the same way as the Schmeisser and fed via the same type of clip. The No. 2 was the smallest and fired the 5 mm Bergmann cartridge. The earliest examples had a pocket-friendly folding trigger and an external trigger bar, though both were discarded by about Serial No. 500. Subsequent pistols had a conventional trigger and a fixed guard, a re-design that forced a slight elongation of the pistol. At the same time, an extractor was added to the bolt to match updated ammunition that was now made with a grooved, rimless case.

The Nos. 3 and 4 were full-size pistols, largely scaled-up versions of the No. 2, but with a sliding, top-mounted dustcover to protect the bolt; the No. 3 was in 6.5 mm, the No. 4 in 8 mm. Although Bergmann tried hard for a military contract, convincing any military in the 19th century to part with its beloved revolvers was a tough sell.

As had been true for the No. 2s, the earliest No. 3s were made without an extractor. After completing a few hundred pistols, the design and ammunition were updated to reflect the benefits of coupling an extractor with a grooved cartridge case. Most No. 3s were of the latter form, whose implementation also included a fuller, more comfortable grip.

Model 1896, No. 3, Model 1896, No. 4
Model 1896, No.4, Serial No. 2512, cal. 8 mm, with stock, Model 1896, No. 3, Serial No. 499, cal. 6.5 mm , Only a few No. 3s had a hexagonal chamber, mostly in the 300-400 serial range (l.). The large numbers on the small parts refer to their order of disassembly. The No. 3 and No. 4 could be ordered with a special sideplate to secure a hollow, leather-bound shoulder stock.


The No. 4 was similar but had a stouter barrel, a more open magazine recess and a different caliber designation. Curiously, Bergmann marked the calibers of both the No. 3 and No. 4 with an English gauging system that referenced the number of lead balls, of bore diameter, that were needed to weigh one pound. The No. 3 was marked: 278. The No. 4, having a larger bore and needing fewer balls to weigh one pound, was marked 156/14 (the significance of “/14” is presently unknown).

Another curious marking on some of the guns related to a series of numbers, mostly single digits, stamped on many of the larger parts. These related to the sequence of disassembly. The first part to be removed was the crosspin in the back of the bolt that retained the firing pin, marked with number “1.” The second part to be removed was the dustcover, marked with number “2,” and so on.

As production ensued, Bergmann made further mechanical changes, especially to the No. 3. A few early guns had a hexagonal receiver and the front sight configuration was altered. Some barrels were threaded into the receiver, others had a lug that rotated into place. Guns could be had with unusually long barrels or with a special sideplate with a fixed loop to accept a hollow, leather-wrapped shoulder stock. One of the rarest was a target version with a long octagonal barrel, fully adjustable sights and a set trigger. Kudos to Bergmann: The Model 1896 Target may have been the first semi-automatic target pistol!

Far more importantly, the Bergmann Model 1896 was arguably the first commercially successful semi-automatic pistol. Although the Borchardt Model 1893 is often so credited, Bergmann had already sold several thousand pistols while Borchardt’s sales, according to author Geoffrey Sturgess, were still in the hundreds. Books by Edward M. Ezell and Joseph J. Schroeder, Jr., suggest that Bergmann completed about 2,000 No. 2s, 4,000 No. 3s and 200-300 No. 4s.


Model 1897, No. 5
Model 1897, No. 5, Serial No. 117, cal. 7.8 mm, The No. 5 was Bergmann’s first locked-breech pistol, this one with the shorter frame having five indicator holes. Standard features included a barrel shroud, a rear sight adjustable to 1,000 meters, a detachable magazine and a separable shoulder stock.


Model 1897, No. 5.
Indefatigable in his quest to garner a military contract, Bergmann developed a more powerful pistol. Far more robust and impressive than anything he had made to date, the locked-breech No. 5 was chambered for a bottlenecked 7.8 mm cartridge, similar in size and form to the 7.63 mm that Mauser had introduced just a year earlier.

The No. 5’s short-recoil system utilized a laterally pivoting bolt with two locking lugs on the left side, held in place by a large, flat spring mounted on the right side of the frame. Upon discharge, the bolt and barrel traveled as a unit rearward about 6 mm, whereupon a projection of the barrel extension cammed the bolt to the right, releasing it from the barrel extension to extract and eject the empty case. The bolt continued by momentum to the full-open position, compressing the recoil spring. The recoil spring then returned the bolt forward, stripping a new cartridge from the magazine, and relocked the bolt to the barrel as they moved into battery. Although the side-pivoting system was conceptually awkward by today’s norm, it nevertheless worked well and remained in effect throughout the No. 5’s production.

That was just one of several new developments. Standard-production No. 5s had a rear sight vertically adjustable from 100-1,000 meters, a barrel shroud as previously used in the Mannlicher Model 1894 and a detachable, double-stacked magazine whose indicator holes matched corresponding openings in the magazine well. All had a fixed tunnel at the bottom of the grip for attachment of a shoulder stock whose construction was similar to that of the Model 1896.

Features that had previously proven to be worthwhile were carried forward. In that regard, the Model 1897 had the same type of dustcover as the larger Model 1896s, the same type of single-action function, an identical safety that locked the hammer and disconnected the trigger, a gas-release hole in the left side of the chamber and similar disassembly.

The Swiss tested the Bergmann again in 1898, and the British in 1902, but neither country was interested. So Bergmann marketed the Model 1897 commercially. Most guns were of standard configuration; minor differences are noted in the bolt-tensioning spring and details of the shoulder stock. At some point, two carbine versions were offered. Pistol-carbines were pistols with a longer barrel/barrel shroud mated to a detachable, solid stock. A few Model 1897s were made as traditional carbines, most having some degree of engraving. All variations were numbered in the same sequential serial range, from 1 to 1000.


gunModel 1908, Model 1910 and Model 1912. In 1907, Bergmann licensed manufacturing rights for all of his guns to Anciens Etablissement Pieper (AEP) of Belgium, which would produce 3,000 guns for the Spanish military. Compared to the Model 1897, the Model 1903 selected by Spain was smaller and easier to manufacture. The gun fired the more potent 9 mm Bergmann cartridge, renamed 9 mm Largo by the Spaniards, and Spain also requested some additional changes.

The new pistol, renamed the Model 1908, had a shorter, wider grip, a more prominent magazine release and a revised disconnector. The contract pistols were delivered to Spain in 1909, where they received a Spanish acceptance mark and issue number. At the same time, the gun was offered commercially, which explains the mix of military and commercial pistols in the serial range 1001-5000, including the occasional gun in an AEP-marked presentation case.

The following year, a Danish contract materialized. Like the Spanish, the Danish military wanted a few “special” features, sufficient to rename the pistol as the Model 1910. The mainspring of the 1910 was altered from a flat profile to an “S” shape, a cutout in the magazine well was matched to corresponding, concentric circles on the magazines to facilitate their removal and the locking block was re-designed to prevent backward insertion.

The Danes purchased 4,840 pistols, intermixed with a few commercial guns, in the serial range 6000 to 11000, delivered between 1911 and 1914. Upon receipt, the Danish military marked them with a Crown/D on the left side of the barrel extension along with an independent issue number on the right side. All were supplied in a special leather holster that held an extra magazine, two six-shot stripper clips and a cleaning rod.

Afterwards, AEP offered the Model 1910 commercially. Pistols in the 12000 to 13000 range were often marked with a “Bayard Knight” logo and cataloged by AEP as the Model 1912. As had been true for a few of the Model 1908s, a number of these guns had a slotted backstrap to attach a unique wood-and-leather shoulder stock, having a very different and more secure lug compared to previous arrangements.

At the outset of World War I in 1914, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium. The Germans thus acquired a small number of Model 1910s, generally in the 15000 to 16000 serial range. These pistols were curiously devoid of the usual Belgian proofs, instead marked with a small “apple in a diamond” on the right side of the barrel, barrel extension and frame.

By the time World War I ended in 1918, it was clear to AEP that its Model 1910 was outmoded. Although production was discontinued, limited post-war assembly, circa 1918-1920, brought the serial range to about 17000.


Model 1910, Model 1908
(l.) Model 1910, Serial No. 15109, 9 mm Bergmann, German Contract (r.) Model 1908, Serial No. 3833, 9 mm Bergmann, Spanish Contract, A few Model 1910s in the 15XXX-16XXX serial range went to the World War I German military. These can be identified by the serial range, lack of Belgian proofs and the special “apple in diamond” proof on the right side of the barrel, barrel extension and receiver. The Spanish military purchased 3,000 Model 1908s, in the serial range 1001-5000. These guns are stamped with a Spanish acceptance mark and issue number.


Model 1908, Model 1910 and Model 1912. In 1907, Bergmann licensed manufacturing rights for all of his guns to Anciens Etablissement Pieper (AEP) of Belgium, which would produce 3,000 guns for the Spanish military. Compared to the Model 1897, the Model 1903 selected by Spain was smaller and easier to manufacture. The gun fired the more potent 9 mm Bergmann cartridge, renamed 9 mm Largo by the Spaniards, and Spain also requested some additional changes.

The new pistol, renamed the Model 1908, had a shorter, wider grip, a more prominent magazine release and a revised disconnector. The contract pistols were delivered to Spain in 1909, where they received a Spanish acceptance mark and issue number. At the same time, the gun was offered commercially, which explains the mix of military and commercial pistols in the serial range 1001-5000, including the occasional gun in an AEP-marked presentation case.

commercial Model 1908
Model 1908, Serial No. 5819, 9 mm Bergmann, Commercial, The commercial Model 1908s were only marked with Belgian proofs.

The following year, a Danish contract materialized. Like the Spanish, the Danish military wanted a few “special” features, sufficient to rename the pistol as the Model 1910. The mainspring of the 1910 was altered from a flat profile to an “S” shape, a cutout in the magazine well was matched to corresponding, concentric circles on the magazines to facilitate their removal and the locking block was re-designed to prevent backward insertion.

The Danes purchased 4,840 pistols, intermixed with a few commercial guns, in the serial range 6000 to 11000, delivered between 1911 and 1914. Upon receipt, the Danish military marked them with a Crown/D on the left side of the barrel extension along with an independent issue number on the right side. All were supplied in a special leather holster that held an extra magazine, two six-shot stripper clips and a cleaning rod.

Afterwards, AEP offered the Model 1910 commercially. Pistols in the 12000 to 13000 range were often marked with a “Bayard Knight” logo and cataloged by AEP as the Model 1912. As had been true for a few of the Model 1908s, a number of these guns had a slotted backstrap to attach a unique wood-and-leather shoulder stock, having a very different and more secure lug compared to previous arrangements.

At the outset of World War I in 1914, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium. The Germans thus acquired a small number of Model 1910s, generally in the 15000 to 16000 serial range. These pistols were curiously devoid of the usual Belgian proofs, instead marked with a small “apple in a diamond” on the right side of the barrel, barrel extension and frame.

By the time World War I ended in 1918, it was clear to AEP that its Model 1910 was outmoded. Although production was discontinued, limited post-war assembly, circa 1918-1920, brought the serial range to about 17000.

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