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"1920" Reworks
Revised 2007July01

A little German history, 1918 to 1920

1920 Stamps

The "1920" mark appeared more regularly on postwar-reissue P-08s than on any C-96s - not surprisingly, as the P-08 was the standard issue gun, whereas the C-96 was only called in when the demand exceeded the P-08 supply. Here are some Luger examples.

These photos all adapted by me from Harry E. Jones, Luger Variations, Volume One

The basic wartime Luger (a) had its manufacture date over the chamber. This particular one is a 1918 DWM. When the "1920" mark was added, it was put forward of the manufacture date, as shown on the 1918 Erfurt at (b). At (c) we see the same idea on a 1914 "artillery" model made by DWM in 1917. These are called "double date" Lugers, which is a bit of a misnomer as the "1920" isn't really a date, at least not in the sense that the other number is. New Lugers started being made again in 1920, though not necessarily by the manufacturer marked on the toggle, as there were large piles of spare parts lying around. So a peculiarity such as the gun at (d) was possible - made in 1920, but still given, in addition, the official "1920" mark. The gun at (e) was made in 1920 and not given another "1920" mark. The gun at (f) was made in 1921, by which time the "1920" marking program had been dropped.

Things were a bit more chaotic when it came to the C-96. Firstly, the "1920" stamp could be just about anywhere. One would have thought that they'd pick a good spot and mark them all that way. But that's not how it happened. Secondly, the C-96 marks tend to be sloppier than the Luger marks - the numbers were obviously put on with individual number stamps, and aren't lined up like they would be if they had been made with a single die which had "1920" on it all in one block. In retrospect, this isn't really a surprise, as the C-96, modified or not, was never the primary German sidearm, and was always something of a "fill-in" effort. This leads to the question of just who was making these modifications. A factory? Several factories? Local gunsmiths? No known documentation has survived, and the guns themselves bear no marks telling us who to credit (or blame!) for the conversions.

On a C-96, the "1920" might appear on the right chamber diagonal flat, a sensible spot as there's nothing else there on any C-96 variant - no MAUSER banner, no OBERNDORF address, no Oberndorf proof, no serial number, no government acceptance stamp - nothing but nice flat metal.
This stamp is on what I call a Second Type rework, as described below. It's an absolutely ordinary 7.63mm Wartime Commercial with an Imperial-era acceptance stamp, but a shortened barrel and an odd muzzle band and drift-adjustable front sight added. On the left side it has a 7,63 caliber marking added just aft of the chamber area, and a Nazi-era navy stamp on the frame. (Photo from Erickson & Pate, page 116)
Here's another one, perhaps the most neatly done "1920" stamp I've seen - most seem to have been put on in the dark.

When Sir Edward Grey said in 1914 that "The lights are going out all over Europe," he didn't think he was referring to the factories - but that's sometimes what it looks like.
This photo was posted in July 2006 on luger.gunboards.com, unfortunately without photos of the rest of the gun except for the serial number, 45474. That would make her a Prussian Contract gun originally in 9mm, but what rework indignities she might have endured must, at this point, remain untold.
And another interesting one - I don't know what the circle circumscribed about the "S" means. These stamps are on an otherwise unmodified Persian Contract gun which was eventually issued to the R.F.V. (Reichs-Finanzverwaltung) - see another photo down here
The "1920" might appear in the same place, but upside down. This gun is another Second Type rework, nearly identical to the one a bit above, except for the "1920" stamp being rotated 180°.
Or it might appear in some other orientation. Whoa Nellie! Did this gun, serial 290596, ever cause a lot of discussion on luger.gunboards.com around March 2006, but the point of interest was the equestrian stamp, rather than the unusual alignment of the "1920". I don't recall that any definite conclusion was reached about the identity or significance of the horse, but it does look nice and festive on there.
The left chamber flat had its share of "1920" stamps, too, although they had to avoid the proof stamps which were already there. This one is a classic Type Four rework with shortened barrel, reworked fixed sight, and "9" grip panels. She also has police markings on her front grip strap. (Photo from Erickson & Pate, page 116)
Here's another sensible place for a "1920" stamp, on the barrel extension just aft of the ejection port. This murky shot is from Erickson & Pate, page 98, and they claim that that amorphous blob on there is indeed a "1920" stamp. The gun is a very early (serial number 12) 1916 Contract gun. It would seem anomalous for it to be stamped "1920" unless it's been sleeved to 7.63 and Erickson & Pate just didn't tell us that fact. The sight ramp does look like it was reworked for the 7.63mm cartridge, but the gun has "9"-marked grip panels which look like Mauser factory work - although serial number 12 undoubtedly left the factory with standard (no "9") grip panels. So there's more to this one than meets the eye.
A "1920" might appear on the left chamber flat, and also further aft on the barrel extension, perhaps a victim of overenthusiasm, or more likely a bit of mindless bureaucracy. Unfortunately I can't remember anything else about this particular gun. I will see if I can beat Mr Memory into submission and add the information here.
Frames were another good place for "1920" stamps. This particular gun has the "1920" stamp, some sort of unit number stamp, and a "Germany" export stamp, either implying that someone was a bit confused about just what to do with this gun, or that it has had quite a history. This one is a 1916 Contract gun, still with her original-length 9mm barrel, which has been sleeved down to 7.63mm. Her sight ramp has been lowered to make her 500m sight leaf useful with the 7.63mm cartridge, and the "9"s on her grip panels have been neatly removed. From Erickson & Pate, page 108, which states that the "759" is a unit stamp, though it doesn't look much like a German unit stamp to me; it looks more like somebody's inventory or rack number.
Nothing extra on this one, just that "1920". Oops, it looks like a trend - I can't remember a damn thing about this gun, either.
This one has a Navy stamp in the raised panel, so the "1920" wouldn't fit. But no problem, it should squeeze in below just fine. This gun also has a "1920" in a more normal place, on the right side chamber flat. She has other peculiarities, too, so we can't draw much in the way of general conclusions from her present condition. A real odd one, with a very peculiar history. The barrel serial number, 24019, would make her a 1916 contract piece and so originally in 9mm. But she definitely still has the bimodal curve sight ramp, making her a 7.63mm. I suspect a renumbered barrel. She's also wearing an M-30 hammer but a New Safety-type lever, a combination which shouldn't work at all. The tangent sight ranges above 200 meters have been ground off, but the surviving 50 to 200 ranges don't look like those on any 1000m or 500m sight I recognize. (From Erickson & Pate, pages 118-9)

1920 Reworks

There are basically four entirely different varieties of C-96 which can be described as "1920 reworks". The "1920" stamp itself is the only feature which identifies such a gun as a "1920 rework". Many were not actually reworked in any significant way, except for the addition of the stamp to an otherwise ordinary production gun. Other guns may have been reworked some time - even years - after being stamped "1920", so a strange feature which we today may ascribe to a "1920 rework" may have had nothing to do with the 1920 rework program at all. There's no way to tell, in the absence of intermediate documentation.

Dating guns from holsters - don't even try!

German holsters were usually dated by a manufacturer's stamp, and sometimes valiant attempts are made to determine a reworked gun's last reissue date from the date of the holster. But German holsters and guns weren't inventoried or stored together - they met each other for the first time when issued - which makes perfect sense (different manufacturers, different storage conditions needed, etc.) Manufacture dates of guns and holsters can be years apart. And, as holsters weren't numbered to guns, there is no way, lacking very specific documentation, that a gun and holster which happen to be together now can be known to have been together in the past. As a modest example I cite my 1915 DWM Luger (a slightly unusual piece in that it was never reworked with the 1916 sear modification allowing the toggle to be cycled with the safety engaged). Although it's a correct and matching gun (well, more or less), its condition is a bit tatty, and I had to hunt around a bit for a suitably tatty holster to go with it, as it would look weird in a good or better condition holster. I eventually found a suitably disreputable 1916 holster, and the two together look very veteran-ish (hell, they look like Verdun dig-ups). The point is .... just because a gun and a holster are together now, we can conclude nothing about the history of the pair.

Not that people won't keep trying ....

To my knowledge the extant literature doesn't clearly differentiate these four varieties. So, here they are.

First Type

The First Type "1920 rework" is a perfectly ordinary C-96, usually a Prewar or Wartime Commercial in the standard 7.63mm caliber, and with the familiar 140mm barrel and 50 to 1000 meter tangent sight. The only special feature is the 1920 stamp added somewhere.

"Rework" is a bit grandiose in these cases, as the rework consists solely of that stamp. Other markings on the guns were undisturbed by this "rework" process. Here is the most extreme example I know, a refinished Persian Contract gun, recently offered for sale by Simpson. It seems to have all the correct details and features for a Persian gun, except for the postwar R.F.V. marks and the "1920" (and the mysterious circled "S"), shown in the photo up here. How this gun, serial number 154594 (basically dead in the middle of the Persian range) ended up in Germany in the immediate postwar period is a mystery. Note however that there was no attempt to deface the earlier markings on the gun, and no sign of any kind of "rework" at all. Also note that of the guns I've so far seen marked as issued to the R.F.V., this is the only specimen with a "1920" stamp. The R.F.V. (Reichs-Finanzverwaltung) seems to have been issued most of its Mausers after the demise of the "1920" program.


A peculiarity which sometimes turns up is a First Type rework in 9mm. These guns have the "1920" stamp somewhere, but no other modifications whatever. According to the prevalent theory that the Allied commissioners wouldn't allow Germany to have any long-barreled pistols in 9mm, these guns shouldn't exist. But here's one, number 120933, a Prussian Contract gun -


I conclude that the caliber of 120933 is the orignal 9mm because the "9" grip panels and the sight ramp, both unique to 9x19mm guns, have not been modified. It would be unusual for gun with a sleeved-down bore to retain the original ramp and panels.

Second Type

What I call the Second Type "1920 rework" is an odd creature, difficult to explain. It's not all that uncommon, and, by the various stampings, these seem to have been fairly popular reissue items in the Nazi era, mainly to the navy and to various police forces - and like any well-developed Fascist state, National Socialist Germany had a lot of police forces. But from a functional standpoint, it seems like a lot of work for very little result. A Depression-era "makework" program, perhaps?

The vast majority of these particular reworks are not marked "1920" but a few are, so I've included them here with the other "1920" reworks. Here's one with a "1920" on the right diagonal chamber flat (photo modified by me, from Erickson & Pate, page 117) -


This obviously started life as a standard 7.63mm Wartime Commercial. As we can (barely) see from the sight ramp, she may still have her original 50 to 1000 meter sight leaf, and the Imperial stamp is still visible on the right side chamber flat, indicating that she was acquired by the government and issued to the military during the war. A "1920" stamp has been added to the right diagonal chamber flat at some time. The odd features are the short barrel and strange front sight.

Now just why anyone felt like going to the trouble of lopping an inch and a half off this gun's barrel is a mystery. It's fairly certain that no Allied commission insisted on it. Perhaps someone in a Position of Authority thought that it would be a good idea to standardize service handguns on 100mm barrels. It seems like a lot of trouble for a trivial result. In any event, it looks like the original barrel was modified. There's no visible joint where a new barrel might have been attached (although that doesn't prove that there isn't one - a good weld and polish job could be hard to detect). And the barrel extension must be original - if it was made new, nobody would have bothered to put an Imperial stamp on it. But that lump of a muzzle band is slightly larger than the original barrel (which, at 100mm out, was about .540 inches in diameter). That band looks a tad bigger than that. The most straightforward way to do it would be to cut down the original barrel, turn a slightly smaller diameter step on the outer end, make a new separate band and sight base, and attach the two (by soldering, heat shrinking, pressing, whatever - there's no good way to tell just by looking at a photo).

The other side of this particular gun shows the original serial number (406731, verifying that she was indeed a Wartime Commercial), a neat 7,63 stamped on the left just aft of the original barrel proof and obviously added at some later date, and a Navy stamp on the left of the frame. There is no way to tell if all these things - caliber stamp, shortened barrel, novelty front sight, Navy issue marks - were done at the same time, or years apart.

Erickson & Pate show several of these conversions, all with Navy marks on the left sides of their frames. Serial 349329 is shown on page 116. Like 406731, she has a "1920" stamp on the barrel, a 7,63 stamp on left just aft of the original barrel proof, and an Imperial stamp on the right. Another gun with the same type of barrel rework appears on pages 118 and 119, but it has other peculiarities and is probably not a good example of anything much.

Cormack's little Profile Publications pamphlet shows one of these conversions, but it is captioned only "post-World War I Pistol shown fitted with a Luger type barrel". I believe it is one of the types I've described above, a modified Mauser barrel with a Lugeresque band and front sight tacked on. Cormack's example was at the Enfield Pattern Room, which has fallen on hard times lately - I certainly hope that collection hasn't been dispersed.

Third Type

The Third Type "1920 rework" was a 9mm Prussian Contract gun converted to 7.63mm caliber. In a caliber smaller than 9mm, a gun could have a longer barrel than 100 mm - so in this case, a C-96 in 7.63mm, even one not originally in 7.63mm, could keep her original 140mm barrel.

This conversion was done in one of three ways so far known -

Relining the original barrel to the smaller caliber.

This is not quite the major industrial undertaking that it may seem. It can be done in basement gunsmith shops, and is commonly done even today with guns firing low-pressure cartridges, such as rifles in .22 Long Rifle and most pistols. The original bore is drilled out to a smooth cylinder. This is done with a twist drill with a smooth pilot on the end to guide it down the original bore. Then a liner - basically a skinny barrel which already has the new bore and rifling cut into its inside diameter - is soldered into the hole in the old barrel. This is done by coating or "tinning" the outside of the liner with solder (the process is traditionally called "tinning" whether or not the solder is a tin alloy), fluxing the inside of the old barrel with a material which cleans off oxides on the surface of the hot metal, and heating both old barrel and new liner to the melting point of the solder as the liner is pushed into place. There are some later operations, such as reaming the chamber out of the new liner, making required cuts for the extractor, crowning the muzzle, and refinishing the whole thing (as that soldering heat is hell on blueing). Relining a bore for a bottlenecked cartridge like 7.63mm can be trickier. Either a special liner, thicker at the aft end to accommodate the larger chamber, is needed, or that factor can be ignored, a cylindrical liner soldered in, and the new chamber cut partially in the new liner and partially in the old barrel. The gas seal, which keeps hot propellant gasses from blowing back through the gun mechanism and into the shooter's face, is primarily made at the neck of the cartridge case, which is of small diameter and can seal properly against the front end of a chamber cut into the liner. This whole operation is not too impractical in the case of 9x19mm to 7.63mm conversion because the aft ends of both cartridges - the wide ends - are so similar. Here a some photos illustrating this -

[sorry, I have to find those damn photos - patience, please]

Note that I have no idea how the conversions were actually done circa 1920. The technical process outlined above would have been perfectly feasible in those days, but I'd have to examine a good number of original specimens very closely, perhaps even to the point of having their barrels x-rayed, to be able to tell exactly how our ancestors did it.

Cutting off the original barrel, counterboring the original barrel extension, and welding a 7.63mm barrel to it. The weld bead was often obscured by a knurl, crude filing, or some similar hash marks, giving these their popular modern name, "hashed barrels".

Obviously these would have been new barrels, rather than old barrels cut off the barrel extensions of salvaged 7.63mm C-96s, because if that many salvageable C-96s were lying around, their complete barrel/extension units could have been fitted to Prussian Contract guns, thus replacing the original 9mm barrel and its attached barrel extension entirely. (After fitting, a professional armorer would renumber the appropriate parts to match, naturally.) Prewar and Wartime Commercial barrels/extensions were, except for the tangent sight leaves, sight ramps, bores, and chambers, identical to those on Prussian Contract guns. Not counting the government acceptance stamp on the right side chamber wall, of course.

Two examples -




These both look like pretty good work. Why they didn't just smooth out the bead, blend it properly with the old barrel contour, and just refinish the whole barrel is a mystery.
Note that both of these specimens are actually early postwar Bolos in the 446xxx serial range. Both have frames stamped "Germany", and so were obviously intended for some sort of export sale. Both have had strange longer barrels welded on - they're of standard non-Bolo length, but are shaped oddly, as both have nearly vestigial muzzle bands, which standard C-96s with full-length barrels didn't. Some really strange things came out of Germany right after the war. I've only included them in this section because they show the "hashed" joint between the new barrel and the original barrel extension so well.
Cutting off the original barrel, threading the barrel extension, and screwing in a 7.65mm Luger barrel. Lugers always had separate barrels screwed into their barrel extensions, and if someone happened to have a good supply of spare 30 caliber (7.65mm) Luger barrels lying around, this would be an obvious choice. Of course these wouldn't end up as 140mm barrels, as there were no Lugers made with barrels that length. 120mm was a common length for 7.65mm Luger barrels. Incidentally, original 7.65mm Luger barrels had 4-groove rifling, sometimes a useful identification feature.

Those 9mm guns with "9" grip panels, after rework to a smaller caliber, could keep their original panels by defacing both "9"s significantly, or neatly removing them altogether. Of course earlier Prussian Contract guns which had never had "9" grip panels in the first place needed no grip panel modifications. Here the "9"s have been removed from both sides. (And I don't have a photo, so I had to steal this one from Messrs. Erickson & Pate. Again.)

Although the situation is not entirely clear, it appears that on all these 7.63mm or 7.65mm conversions, the sight ramps were also cut down to the proper curve for a 7.63mm gun with a 500 meter sight leaf. That is, the reworked guns used their original Prussian Contract 50 to 500 meter sight leaves. These cut-down ramps had the smooth curve (not the bimodal curve always found on original 7.63mm guns of the wartime years) which was notably lower than the original smooth curve on the 9mm Prussian Contract guns, due to the 7.63mm cartridge's higher velocity and therefore flatter trajectory. In the case of a gun converted to 7.65mm Luger, this curve would be a bit too flat. I don't yet have enough data to say whether or not these Luger barrel conversions had proper ramps curved appropriately for the cartridge's trajectory, or if they had to make do with the same ramp curves as the 7.63mm reworks.

Fourth Type

The Fourth Type "1920 rework" was a 9mm Prussian Contract gun with its original barrel shortened to 100mm or perhaps a hair less, its tangent sight removed, and the sight ramp and pivot ears milled off the barrel extension. This is the variant which I think is usually meant when "1920 rework" is mentioned.

The 9mm caliber was retained but the front sight cut off and the barrel shortened. The front sight was soldered back on, and a new fixed sight attached to the back of the barrel extension. Here is a nice typical specimen. We can see right off the five digit serial number, meaning that she started life as a 1916 Prussian Contract gun (commercial production in those days was well into six digits), the solid knob on the safety lever (an almost sure sign that the gun has the New Safety hammer), and the "9" grip panels. We see also that the barrel has been shortened, the front sight reattached, the tangent sight leaf removed, the sight ramp and mounting ears milled off, and a new fixed rear sight attached. Finally, we see that this one isn't a great example for this particular web page, as she has no "1920" stamp anywhere. But many of her identical sisters do. (I either had to use this photo or steal another one from Erickson & Pate.)
Most of the guns reworked postwar to this configuration were never stamped "1920", and were probably converted after the 1920 program was dropped. Most short-barrel 9mm reworks with Nazi markings, V.F.R. issue markings, or Navy markings have no "1920" stamp, and so strictly should be simply called "postwar reworks" rather than "1920 reworks". Also most guns meant for export or perhaps destined for a particular customer were never stamped "1920", as of course they were leaving the country and so no longer a worry of the Allies. But aside from all that, some seriously weird reworks appeared postwar. As they're not "1920" reworks, they'll have to go on another page.





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