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The Early Production Period 1896 ~ 1905

In the early years the C-96 underwent gradual development (and, generally, improvement) of numerous parts and mechanisms - notably the firing pin, the barrel extension, the bolt and bolt lock, the trigger, the extractor, the disconnector mechanism, and the safety - improving strength, reliability, or ease of maintenance in the field.

It also suffered numerous stylistic changes to the barrel contour, barrel lengths, sights, magazine capacities, grip sizes, hammer types, and frame milling patterns, as Mauser cast about for a gun which would actually sell.

These frequent changes are the defining characteristic of the Early Production Period. Once they stopped and Mauser settled down to serious production of one pistol, and one pistol only, the Early Production Period ended, and the Stable Production Period began. The Stable Production Period still saw changes, expecially to the safety mechanism, but they weren't made with such abandon as in the early days.

Cone Hammer

The earliest production versions of the C-96 are now called Cone Hammers after their most distinctive external feature, the peculiar cone hammer, featuring a shallow stepped cone machined on each side. The purpose of the cones is obscure. In those days the cavalry were thought to be perhaps the most obvious customers for autoloading pistols, and maybe the cone (at least on the left hand side of the hammer) was an attempt to make it possible to cock the gun by pushing it downward with the hammer dragging on the shooter's leg, or the saddle, or maybe the lucky horse. It seems unlikely.

Here are the hammers of two representative Cone Hammers, serial numbers 4696 and 14458 -
Most Cone Hammers had 10 shot magazines,
grooved walnut grip panels, 5.5 inch barrels,
and tangent sights. This specimen, serial number
3500, is, except for the missing lanyard ring, typical.

This very early Cone Hammer shows several short-lived functional or cosmetic features -
  • early "step barrel" - only about 200 were made before Mauser switched to the more familiar barrel contour
  • early frame milling pattern - the blank area at a was replaced by a raised rectangle sometime before serial number 1000
  • unreinforced barrel extension - the barrel extension walls at b became thicker sometime after serial number 1000
                                    very early Cone Hammer serial # 49

Mauser flailed about with variations, attempting to improve sales. One long-term project was development of a smaller and lighter version of the C-96.

These smaller Cone Hammers had -
  • short barrels -120 mm (4.75 inches, or 3/4 inch shorter than the normal 5.5 inches)
  • fixed sights
  • either standard 10 shot or smaller 6 shot magazines
6 shot Cone Hammer serial # 1437
with short barrel, fixed sights, and
standard grooved walnut grip panels

Mauser tried some strange mixtures of features, such as 6 shot magazines or fixed sights on guns with full-length barrels. The rationale for such things is, at this late date, evasive.

Perhaps the most extravagant development by Mauser in the Cone Hammer era, the 20 shot pistol was an even bigger and clumsier lump than the standard 10 shot. Not many were made. Customers thought they were pigs, sales were dismal, and Mauser wisely let the 20 shot gun die.
20 shot Cone Hammer with
no other unusual features

Through all this excitement, the only variant which seemed to sell (steadily, albeit slowly) was the standard Cone Hammer with 10 shot magazine, grooved walnut grip panels, 5.5 inch barrel, and tangent sights. Some 16,000 Cone Hammers were made between 1896 and 1899. As always, total production consisted of -
  • Test and trials guns for potential customers, mainly armies
  • Contract guns - the only sizeable government contract for Cone Hammers was a Turkish one for 1000-odd pistols. Aside from markings - numbers in Arabic, and Sultan Abdul Hamid II's tughra on the left side of the frame - these contract guns were identical to the standard 10 shot Cone Hammers.
  • Commercial production - guns sold through regular commercial channels. Those handled by the exclusive British importer and distributor, Westley Richards, often had unique sight calibrations.
Large Ring Hammer

Around 1899 Mauser changed the hammer design to another distinctive pattern, this one basically flat with a large through-hole. Again, the rationale remains a mystery. Possibly Mauser wanted a taller hammer which would interfere with the sight picture, to remind the shooter when the hammer wasn't cocked. Of course anybody who will try to fire an uncocked gun will also try to fire one while the safety is engaged, so the whole exercise seems futile.

Be that as it may; a C-96 with this type of hammer is now called a Large Ring Hammer. Here is serial number 24118 -
The early Large Ring Hammers had the same frame milling pattern as the later Cone Hammers.

The aftmost cutout on the left side had a raised rectangle in the center ....
Large Ring Hammer
serial # 133xx
with checkered hard rubber grip panels

.... but the same area on the right side was entirely milled out.
Large Ring Hammer
serial # 208xx
with checkered hard rubber grip panels

Early in the Large Ring Hammer production run, Mauser changed the milling of the outside of the frame, omitting the milled areas in the sides. Any C-96 missing the milled-out areas is now called a Flatside (or, occasionally, Slabside). The first big batch of Flatsides was an 1899 contract sale of 5000 guns to the Italian Navy. Here is a Large Ring Hammer Flatside, serial number 1182, from the 1899 Italian Contract -
Serial number 1182,
from the Italian Contract.
These contract guns had
their own serial number
range, running from 1 to

After filling the Italian contract, Mauser made Flatsides for sale through standard commercial channels. But they soon reverted to frames with milled sides. Oddly, though, the new milling was much shallower than before, looking almost as if the guns were slowly growing their milled cutouts back again.

The pattern on the left side looked much like the earlier pattern, with a raised rectangle inside the aft cutout. But things were different on the right side.
Large Ring Hammer
serial # 30883
with 23 groove walnut grip panels

It didn't take Mauser long to decide that that new raised area on the right side would be a good place for the
marking, nearly identical to its smaller brother marked on top of the chamber. It seemed at home there, and the text didn't change even after the war, when the company name was changed to Mauser-Werke AG.

Shortly afterwards, the depth of the milled cutouts was increased, back to where it had been in Cone Hammer days.

Large Ring Hammer
serial # 329xx
with 35 groove walnut grip panels

Meanwhile, Mauser continued to experiment with smaller guns.

These smaller Large Ring Hammers had -
  • short barrels - 100 mm (3.9 inches, notably shorter than the short barrels on Cone Hammers)
  • either fixed or tangent sights
  • either 10 shot or 6 shot magazines (there were no more fixed 20 shot magazines after the demise of the Cone Hammer)
  • either flatside or milled frames
  • small grips - a new feature, not seen on Cone Hammers
The curved grip on the "Officer's Model" (above right) was a very short-lived variation. At Mauser they must have soon realized that their shoulder stock/holster design wouldn't fit a curved grip very gracefully. The grip shape then changed to the more angular one at right.
The origin of the name "Officer's Model" was an annual report of the War Department, discussing the U.S. Army's 1902 trials of various autoloading pistols. There is no solid evidence that Mauser ever called it that.
"Officer's Model" from the Enfield Pattern Room

Large Ring Hammer serial # 29605 with
3.9" barrel, 6 shot magazine, small grips, floral
hard rubber grip panels, New York importer stamp

C-96 variants with short barrels and small grips are nowadays called "Bolos". Note that the name Bolo, though common, is not entirely standardized. By my definition (i.e., short barrel and small grip), there were Large Ring Hammer and Small Ring Hammer Bolos, but no Cone Hammer Bolos, since all Cone Hammers had the larger grips. In any case, the origin of the name is obscure. It is often asserted to be derived from "Bolshevik" but the etymology is unconvincing.

All in all, about 25,000 Large Ring Hammers were made.

Small Ring Hammer

A hammer with a much smaller through-hole started to appear at around serial number 35000 (although the large ring hammer design didn't disappear for good until about 5000 serial numbers later). A gun with any sort of small ring hammer is now called, appropriately enough, a Small Ring Hammer. Note that all of these early Small Ring Hammers also had a different safety, one I call the Second type safety. Hammers and safeties go together, since all varieties of C-96 safety involved unique milling of the internal parts of their respective hammers. So, although Mauser changes were often introduced gradually to production, such is not the case with hammers and safeties. All Cone Hammers and Large Ring Hammers had the same First type safety.

The small ring hammer itself changed several times. When Mauser later switched to the "New Safety" the small ring hammer had an intertwined "NS" monogram engraved on the back, and the internal cutouts for the safety mechanism changed slightly. And when Mauser changed to the "Universal Safety", the hammer changed again. The "NS" monogram disappeared, the internal cutouts for the safety changed substantially, and the ring itself changed - the small annular grooves around the hole were deleted. The internal machining of the Schnellfeuer hammer was different, but externally it looked like the "Universal Safety" hammer.

Here are the hammers on guns 105431, 367444 (a "New Safety" gun), and 905268 (with the "Universal Safety") -
These guns were made after the Early Production Period. I've included them here only to show that not all small ring hammers are alike.

At about the same time as the transition from the Large Ring Hammer to the Small Ring Hammer, the barrel extension side rails were lengthened. The new rails extended much further aft. Here are the short side rails as found on earlier guns -


And the longer rails typically seen on later guns -


Scattered throughout the 35 to 40 thousand serial range were Large Ring Hammers with short side rails, Small Ring Hammers with long side rails (the later standard), and Small Ring Hammers with short side rails (a transitional mix). Here is Prewar Bolo 40543, a Small Ring Hammer with short side rails -


I don't recall ever seeing a Large Ring Hammer with long side rails.

The standard Small Ring Hammer had, like its Large Ring Hammer and Cone Hammer predecessors, a 140 mm (5.5 inch) barrel, 10 shot magazine, and full-size grips with grooved walnut grip panels (although some specimens had checkered hard rubber panels instead).
Small Ring Hammer
serial 36481
with wood grip panels and New York importer's stamp

But Mauser continued to experiment with slightly more compact variants. Here is a typical Bolo of the period, with a 100 mm barrel.

These early Small Ring Hammer Bolos might have grooved walnut grip panels, or hard rubber panels with either checkering .... or this odd floral pattern, which doesn't really seem compatible with the Geist of the gun.

Although Mauser was moving toward standardization of the 10 shot magazine and tangent sight for both the full-size pistol and the Bolo, there were still some Bolos with 6 shot magazines and/or fixed sights being made.
Small Ring Hammer, serial # 40543
with 3.9" barrel, small grips, floral pattern
hard rubber grip panels, New York importer stamp

Small Ring Hammer, serial # 40872
6 shot, 3.9" barrel, small grips

Finally, at around serial number 40000, the earlier long extractor was replaced by a shorter version.

early extractor - Large Ring Flatside serial # 28206

late extractor - Small Ring Hammer serial # 90038

This was the last mechanical change of the Early Production Period.

Mauser wasn't quite ready to settle down yet. Bolos, usually with 10 shot magazines and tangent sights, though sometimes with 6 shot magazines and/or fixed sights, persisted until the 43000 serial range.

Actual dates are notoriously difficult to fix for Mauser production, but the year must have been about 1902 . At that point, Mauser finally stopped clowning around and standardized on one production gun. And a fine choice it was -

These guns are nowadays called Prewar Commercials, and the factory cranked them out without interruption or substantial modification for the next seven or eight years. About a quarter of a million were made, but that story belongs to the Stable Production Period.

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