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Revised 2007June10

The first C-96 sights, as seen on the prototype and earliest production guns, were a fixed V-notch rear and a wide blade front. After making a few guns with fixed sights, Mauser introduced their tangent sight, much like the sight on Mauser rifles of the period. After that, fixed sights appeared on a few production guns, but the tangent sight was always far more common. The factory had dropped fixed sights entirely by about serial number 43000, just before the start of the Stable Production Period. All later guns with fixed sights were postwar reworks.

Front sight

The front sight was always a wide fixed blade with an inverted V top and a slightly rounded front edge. The only variant was height - front sights on factory original fixed sight guns were lower than front sights on tangent sight guns. Here is a Large Ring Hammer with a 100 mm barrel and fixed sight, shown the same size as a Postwar Bolo with a 100mm barrel and tangent sight. The lowered sight line of the fixed sight is obvious.

The front sight was invariably machined in one piece with the barrel. A front sight which is soldered or dovetailed to the barrel is a later rework.

Fixed sight

Throughout the Early Production Period, occasional fixed sights appeared, usually on most (not all) of Mauser's continuing experiments with slightly smaller and lighter versions of the standard pistol. Here are the only factory original (i.e., not reworked) fixed sight guns -

  barrel grip magazine  
Spur Hammer ? full size 6 or 10 shot Prototypes only
Cone Hammer 140mm (5.5") full size 6 or 10 shot Prototype and first few production guns only
" 120mm (4.75") full size 6 or 10 shot  
Large Ring Hammer 100mm (3.9") small 6 or 10 shot  
Small Ring Hammer 100mm (3.9") small 6 shot none after the start of the Stable Production Period

The top of the barrel extension was flat, with none of the features peculiar to the tangent sight - the ramp, pivots, etc.

Cone Hammer # 14458
The rear sight was machined as part of the barrel extension. It was never a separate piece soldered or dovetailed in. It was a fairly thick vertical blade with a V notch. The blade was counterbored or relieved on both the front and rear faces. The front counterbore was larger, for no evident functional reason.
Large Ring Hammer # 29605

Cone Hammer # 14458
The counterbored relief around the sight V notch is visible here on the aft face of the sight.
The sight parts were finished in the same blue as the rest of the gun (i.e., not in the brighter heat blue).

Tangent sight

Before getting into the tedious details, review tangent sight terminology:

The C-96 tangent sight resembled many military rifle sights of the period. However, the typical Mauser rifle sight worked like a tangent sight at relatively short ranges, but as a ladder sight at more extreme ranges. For more information on tangent vs. ladder rifle sights, see this page [under construction] on the 1896 Mauser rifle sights.

The tangent sight on the pistol was just a tangent sight, and couldn't double as a ladder sight. This is as far up as it will go -

The earliest tangent sights, and the vast majority of later ones, were calibrated to a hilarious 1000 meters, doubtless to encourage the improbable notion that the pistol, when fitted with its detachable shoulder stock, could compete with a real rifle. The C-96 retained the tangent sight right to the end, long after the basic concept of the pistol/carbine had been consigned to the rubbish heap of history.

Here is a typical early 1000 meter sight, as commonly found on earlier Cone Hammers. The range intervals are, obviously, 100 meters.    
Cone Hammer, serial # 4696

Large Ring Hammer, serial # 133xx. The earliest Large Ring Hammer 500m sights were identical to late Cone Hammer ones. This one has a non-standard Westley Richards stamp on the slider
      Around the 3700 serial range Mauser began a slow transition from 1000m sights to 500m sights. The range markings on these new 500m sights were 50 to 500. These guns had flatter sight ramp curves than the earlier 1000m sights (see immediately infra for more about ramps). The old 1000m 1 to 10 sights persisted sporadically to something around serial number 7000.

All of the early 1000 meter sights, whether pivoting on pins or on lugs, had high smooth ramp curves, like so    
Cone Hammer, serial # 4696
Guns with 500 meter sights had much lower and flatter ramp curves    

Large Ring Hammer, serial # 133xx

So for a brief while, it looked like Mauser had abandoned the earlier (and hugely over-optimistic) 1000 meter sights, and had settled down with an only slightly more sensible 500 meter maximum range. Then with the 1899 Italian Navy Contract, the 1000 meter range reappeared. Most likely this was specified by the customer - being a basically sensible outfit, Mauser was prepared to give a paying customer whatever it wanted.
Although these new 1899 Italian Contract sight leaves had the same 1 through 10 markings as the sight leaves on early Cone Hammers, mechanically they were very different. All C-96 sight leaves attached to pivot ears machined as part of the barrel extension. On early guns the sight leaf was pinned to the pivot ears. In the new design, the sight leaf pivoted on lugs machined as part of the sight leaf itself, thus eliminating the separate pin. Here is a much later sight leaf with the same lug arrangement. →    

The early pin pivot sight leaf and the later type are easily distinguished from the side. The separate pin through the earlier sight is of much smaller diameter than the lugs on its successor.

early pin pivot sight

late lug pivot sight

The old pin pivot sight leaf and the new lug pivot sight leaf are easily distinguished from the top, too.

The pivot ears for the newer sight were much wider, with more elaborate machining which doesn't show unless the sight is disassembled
The wider pivot ears had the incidental effect of crowding the numbers at extreme sight range, so that the 10 (indicating 1000 meters) had to move over a bit.

early Cone Hammer sight with pin pivot

Italian Contract sight with lug pivot

The Italian Contract was by far Mauser's biggest single C-96 sale before World War One, and it must have reinforced the mystique of the 1000 meter range on Mauser's sales department, because after that the 1000 meter sight soon went back onto commercial production guns, and stayed there throughout most of the C-96's subsequent history. But first, there were some old parts to be used up, so commercial guns didn't get 1000 meter sights right away. Early commercial Large Ring Hammers kept the same 500 meter sights as the last Cone Hammers. These guns were scattered through the serial range around 12000 to 15000, the same range as late Cone Hammers. Numbers 15000 to 20000 were skipped. Large Ring Hammers in the 20000 serial range had the same 1000 meter lug pivot sights as the Italian Contract guns. Then in the 21000 serial range, most Large Ring Hammers took a retrograde step with the older pin pivot sights, marked 1 to 10. Most likely somebody in Mauser production control found a pile of the older 1000 meter Cone Hammer sights and decided to use them up. That's not as simple as it sounds, as the machining of the pivot ears on the top of the barrel extension had to be changed to do it. Finally in the 22000 to 23000 serial range commercial Large Ring Hammer production got the new Italian Contract-style 1000 meter sights - lug pivots, 1 to 10 markings, and all - back again. But that didn't last long. In the late 23000s a new sight appeared, and it stayed with the C-96, with minor variations, right to the end.

    Though still a 1000 meter sight, the new one was marked 50 to 1000, by 50 meter intervals at ranges below 500 meters, and by 100 meter intervals above. This was the first 50 to 1000 meter sight. All earlier tangent sights had marked ranges from 100 to 1000 meters, or 50 to 500 meters (excepting those weird English "300" sights - for which, see infra).

Mixed 50 and 100 meter range intervals complicated the sight ramp curve. A break was added at 500 meters, the transition point between 50 meter and 100 meter intervals, giving the ramp contour a distinctive bimodal curve.    

From this point on, all C-96s with 1000 meter sights had the bimodal curve ramp.

Back aft at the business end, all tangent sight leaves were the same. There was a V notch much like the one on the fixed sight, except that it was only relieved or counterbored on its forward face. Note that the counterbore is a section of a truncated cone, unlike the cylindrical sections of both counterbores on the fixed sight. →

The aft face of the sight was no longer vertical, but slanted back some 20 degrees.

At full elevation, it was vertical.

This was most likely an attempt to reduce glare from sunlight on the aft surface of the sight.

Stable Production Period

By the start of the Stable Production Period the oddballs, including all production fixed sight variants, had been dropped. The tangent sight with 1000 meter calibrations on the leaf was standardized. But some complications managed to crop up over the next 30-odd years.
  • Somewhere between serials 230000 and 240000, during Prewar Commercial production, the 1000 meter sight changed. It lost the 900 meter range mark. Or more accurately, it lost the 1000 meter mark, and the old 900 meter mark became the new 1000 meter one. This apparently trivial change involved more mechanical modifications than are apparent to casual inspection.
  • In 1916 the Prussian Contract guns, chambered in 9x19mm, appeared with 500 meter tangent sights. The sight leaf was a new pattern - it was not the same as the 500 meter sight leaf from late Cone Hammer and early Large Ring Hammer days. The sight ramp was modified to account for the trajectory of the much slower 9mm bullet.
  • During immediate postwar rework, many guns had their tangent sights removed and replaced by fixed sights.
  • In the chaotic period following World War One, some very short-lived mutants appeared, such as guns with 100mm barrels and 500 meter sights.
  • A minor machining simplification appeared with the M-30.
9mm Mauser Export cartridge

A small number of Prewar Commercial guns were chambered for this cartridge. The first C-96 so chambered appeared about 1908, and others popped up sporadically until 1914. The case was straight walled, the same length as the 7.63mm case (.980 inches), or .230 inches longer than the 9x19mm Luger case. The muzzle velocity of the cartridge as loaded by D.W.M. was something on the order of 1360 feet per second, very close to the velocity of the 7.63mm cartridge. With similar velocities, the ballistic trajectories of the two bullets would be similar, so guns chambered in 9mm Export had exactly the same sights and ramps as their 7.63mm sisters. [Memo to self - The reasoning seems sound, but it would still be a good idea to check this a bit more thoroughly with some real measurements]

The missing 900 meter range mark

When the 900 meter range mark was deleted, the ramp curve was unaltered. The only effect was to lower the V notch in the sight leaf by about 0.15 inches when the slider was set at 1000 meters. Considering the inevitable bullet spread at 1000 meters, it's hard to imagine that anyone noticed any change in practice.

This graph shows the effect on sight elevation, as measured on serial numbers 104441 (a Prewar Commercial with a 900 sight leaf), 522022 (a Postwar Bolo with no 900), and two M-30s.

A few things to note from the graph -
  • The Prewar Commercial and the Postwar Bolo, although separated by over 400,000 guns, have identical elevation curves below 800 meters. But the Bolo has a much shorter barrel, so the gun's elevation angle would be greater for any sight setting.
  • The M-30 curves are very close to the Bolo's. I have yet to determine if the differences were deliberate, or actually due to normal manufacturing tolerance.
Here are two sight leaves, an earlier one (Prewar Commercial with the 900 range marking) above, and a later one (Postwar Bolo without the 900) below -

The older sight leaf had 15 range marks, and 15 slots cut in the left edge of the leaf. The sight slider button locked in any of these 15 slots to hold the slider in place and select the range to the target.

The newer sight leaf had only 14 range marks. It still had 15 slots. But the sight slide would only lock in 14 positions. How did Mauser work that trick?

Disassembly of the sight reveals all.

Here are the left edges of the two sight leaves, earlier above, later below.

The slot count is identical at 15 each. However, they're not in exactly the same position. The later sight leaf has its slots moved a bit away from the pivot lugs.

Now for the trick. The sight slider button - the thing which locks into the slots to hold the sight slider in place - was changed. Here are the two, earlier above, later below.

The earlier version located on the slots. The later one located on the teeth - the spaces left in the side of the sight leaf in between the slots. So there are 15 slots, but only 14 teeth. Voila, only 14 locking positions.

Now, that is really weird. Manufacturing companies will go to all sorts of trouble to make their new parts compatible with old parts already in stock. But that's not what Mauser did here. They couldn't use up a stockroom full of old sight leaves, as the ranges (no 900, remember) were different, and the slot pattern was moved slightly. And it wasn't so that they could use up old sight slider buttons, as that part changed too. In fact the later slider can be put on an earlier sight leaf, and vice versa, and the slider will lock in position just fine, but the positions will all be wrong - the slider won't line up with any of the ranges marked on the sight leaf.

Things would have been much simpler if Mauser had kept the old sight slider button which located on the slots, and left the sight leaf slots where they were but reduced the number of them to 14.

There is no external indication of any of these changes, just the lack of a 900 mark, and the slightly altered position of the slots.

The 1916 Prussian Contract sights

The Mauser designers faced a challenge here. The bullet from the 9x19mm cartridge moved more slowly than the 7.63mm bullet. In those days, D.W.M. was loading 9x19mm with a 123.4 grain bullet, with a muzzle velocity just over 1000 feet per second. (More modern military loadings tend to use a lighter bullet - 115 or 116 grain - moving at a higher velocity.) The 85 grain bullet of the 7.63mm cartridge moved at something more like 1400 feet per second. At its relatively pokey speed, it would take the 9mm bullet 40 percent longer to get to 1000 meters, and it would drop almost exactly twice as far by the time it got there. To compensate, the sights on 9mm guns would have to move much higher than they already did for the standard Mauser ammunition. This was undoubtedly an unattractive proposition, as the standard C-96 sight was already quite an aerial contraption when set for 1000 meters. So instead, Mauser limited the range to 500 meters.

The sight leaf changed, naturally, to show the new range of 50 to 500 meters by 50 meter increments. And the ramp curve changed somewhat. With equal 50 meter range intervals, the bimodal curve wasn't needed. The ramp changed to a single continuous curve, noticeably lower than that for 1000 meter sights, though not as low as the ramp on the earlier 500 meter sights on 7.63mm Cone Hammers and Large Ring Hammers (due, of course, to the 7.63mm bullet's flatter trajectory).

Prussian Contract, serial # 14668

Prussian Contract, serial # 112968

For comparison, here's that older 50 to 500 meter sight leaf from the later Cone Hammer and earliest Large Ring Hammer days. The range marks were in the same locations, but the number typeface was obviously different. Also the older sight was a pin pivot type, and the Prussian Contract was a lug pivot type, like all guns of the Stable Production Period.

Postwar reworks

Around 1920 many of the military 9mm guns were reworked. They were either rebarreled or sleeved down to 7.63 caliber, or had their 9mm barrels shortened and tangent sights removed. Modified guns retained for service with the new German government - in the Reichwehr, police, customs revenue service, etc. - received a property stamp, 1920, somewhere on the frame, barrel, or barrel extension. For a while, anyway - that program died, probably, sometime in 1921. See the "1920 reworks" page for more about these.

Guns which had their barrels shortened had front sights soldered on. These new sights were of standard height - or very close to it - even when put on guns which had their tangent sights removed and replaced by fixed sights. Original factory-made fixed sight guns had lower sight lines than these reworks.

The "standard" (if there can be said to be such a thing) shortened barrels didn't have muzzle bands, always seen on production 120 mm (4.75") or 100 mm (3.9") barrels; they were just the old 140 mm barrels, cut off at 100 mm and not recontoured. Comparison barrels are shown to scale below.

This is the barrel of the most compact Cone Hammer variant, with a 6 shot magazine, fixed sights, and a 120mm barrel. As we would expect, the front sight is low and sits on a muzzle band.
This is the barrel from the most compact Large Ring Hammer variant, a Bolo with a 6 shot magazine, fixed sights, and a 100mm barrel. Not surprisingly, the front sight is low and sits on a muzzle band.
This one is from a standard Postwar Bolo, with the standard 10 shot magazine, tangent sights, and 100mm barrel. The front sight is high and on a muzzle band.
Finally, a 1920 gun, a 1916 Prussian Contract gun in the standard 9mm, reworked with a shortened barrel and fixed sights. The new front sight is high, and the reworked barrel has not been recontoured to have a muzzle band (although there seem to be a few lumps in the barrel - those are photographic artifacts serving the useful purpose of reminding me that I need some better pictures).

When tangent sights were removed, the ramp and pivot ears were milled off the top of the barrel extension, and a fixed rear sight attached - Dovetailed? Soldered? So far I'd say most appear to have been welded, but I'd have to get some good views of a few more before I could say I'd spotted a definite trend.

It seems that the most common fixed sight conversion was -
• Remove the tangent sight leaf from the gun
• Cut off most of the tangent sight leaf (that is, remove everything shown in red in the drawing at left)
• Cut a channel in the top of the aftmost bit of the barrel extension, just wide enough to fit the cut-off end of the old tangent sight leaf (shown in red) - I've shown it with no dovetail, as a dovetail would just mean a pair of matching cuts would have to be made in the stub end of the sight leaf, so why would anyone bother?
• Cut off the ramp and pivot ears (shown in red)
• Weld the stub end of the sight leaf into the new cut in the barrel extension (not shown at left - you'll have to imagine that bit without my assistance)

Et voila! A fixed sight is born.

Other variants turn up but this seems to me to be the way the most common conversions were probably done.

Also note that when things were milled off the top of the barrel extension, somebody did a better job than it appears. Here is a typical wartime 9mm gun converted to a fixed-sight gun -

That machine work sure looks like hell. Was postwar Germany really so desperately short of - oh, I don't know, files and things - that they couldn't make the top of the gun more presentable?

But let's not jump to conclusions. Compare to this Prewar Commercial with the tangent sight leaf taken off -

Well, that's no high-polish finish under there, either. Normal C-96 production didn't devote much effort to cleaning up those particular telltale marks made by the mill cutters during normal machining, as they would normally be hidden under the sight leaf. And that's no great fault - due to the physical difficulty of removing it, the tangent sight was the most likely part of the gun to stay right where it was, and what the customer never saw, the customer never worried about (nor did he have to pay for the necessary handwork to clean that stuff up). But along came World War 1, and the Armistice, and a bunch of annoying Allied commissioners, and some of those nice well-finished tangent sights had to come off - leaving the raw machine marks visible.

The actual areas cut off during postwar rework are the ones circled (or, rather, ellipsed) here, and they are in fact very well finished.

Of course after all the rework the barrel and extension had to be reblued.

M-30 simplification

This was nothing to get excited about, merely a change in the milling of the bottom of the sight leaf. Here are a pre-M-30 sight leaf (the upper image) and an M-30 (lower). One of the several cuts needed down there was made by one type of mill cutter on the older part, and with a different type of cutter on the newer part. A modern shop would use a vertical mill to make the cut on the older part, and a horizontal mill to cut the M-30 version.

Sight ramps

Only four known ramp curves were used on C-96 pistols. All were introduced in chronological order above. Here is a review with them all together.

7.63mm • 1000 meter leaf, marked 1 to 10 • pin or lug pivot • high smooth curve ramp
This leaf/ramp combination was common on early Cone Hammers and, a few years later, on early Large Ring Hammers. The 1 to 10 sight leaves were the only 1000 meter sight leaves which were not paired with the bimodal curve ramp. This leaf/ramp combination disappeared around serial number 7000, was revived (in lug pivot form) with the Italian Contract, and also appeared (in both pin pivot and lug pivot forms) on early Commercial Large Ring Hammers. It disappeared for good around pistol serial number 23500.

7.63mm • 500 meter leaf, marked 50 to 500 • pin or lug pivot • low smooth curve ramp
This leaf/ramp combination appeared with increasing frequency starting with Cone Hammers after serial numbers in the 3700 range, and some very early Large Ring Hammers, always with pin pivots. The same ramp, but this time with the lug pivot sight leaf with much larger numbers, enjoyed a brief reappearance on Small Ring Hammer pistols, after WW1 but before the start of regular Postwar Bolo production.

7.63mm and 9mm Mauser Export • 1000 meter leaf, marked 50 to 1000 • lug pivot • bimodal curve ramp
The vast majority of C-96 pistols had this sight ramp. There were several variations of leaf range markings, but all had mixed 50 and 100 meter range increments, and all were used with the same sight ramp. This ramp was the only one following the distinctive bimodal curve, with the break at the 500 meter setting.

9x19mm • 500 meter leaf, marked 50 to 500 • lug pivot • medium height smooth curve ramp
This was the only sight leaf and ramp combination put on 1916 Prussian Contract guns. This ramp never appeared on original 7.63mm pistols.

Bimodal curve ramps

Because it dominated C-96 sights for so long, the bimodal curve ramp merits further examination. Here are some sample specimens from late Large Ring Hammer days though the end of production.

Large Ring Hammer Flatside, serial # 24118

Prewar Commercial, serial # 104441

Prewar Commercial, serial # 231741

Wartime Commercial, serial # 367444

Postwar Bolo, serial # 522022

Postwar Bolo, serial # 695708

M-30, serial # 832515

M-30, serial # 881837

M-30, serial # 905268

M-30, serial # 918367

The first and last specimens shown above are separated by some 36 years and nearly 900,000 guns. But obviously there wasn't much change over this interval. The only visible detail variation is that somewhere around the middle of Prewar Commercial production, between serial numbers 104441 and 231741, a small downward blip appeared just aft of the pivot ears. It seems to have had no effect whatever on the sight elevation. Both 104441 and 231741 have "900" sights, so the blip had nothing to do with the deletion of the 900 meter range. The blip persisted until the middle of M-30 production, after which it seemed to return intermittently. What all that can mean is a mystery.

Stable Production Period sight leaf markings

Even during the relatively sedate Stable Production Period, the sights underwent a surprisingly energetic, and apparently pointless, evolution. There were six different layouts of range numbers, which for convenience I have labeled a through f. There are tiny variants of each layout. I believe that these tiny variants were caused by differences in screens used to prepare the lines and numbers for etching. Each layout had from one to four variants. "Earliest appearance" and "Latest appearance", below, are just serial numbers of guns I happen to have in my database.

All of these 50 to 1000 sight leaves were lug pivot types. Pin pivot sight leaves, already obsolescent by the start of Large Ring Hammer production, had finally gone extinct in the Flatside era.

Layout a 900 and 1000 aligned with other numbers [2 known variants]
found on - Large Ring Hammer, Prewar Commercial

serial 32595
  earliest appearance -
latest appearance -
28206 [Large Ring Hammer]
36481 [Small ring Hammer]
This layout first appeared on Large Ring Hammers, probably as early as the 23000 serial number range. Sight leaves of this layout invariably had lug pivots, even in the Large Ring Hammer days. The layout continued into early Small Ring Hammer production, but didn't quite make it into the Stable Production Period - but I've included it in this section anyway. It always appeared with the bimodal curve ramp.

Layout b 900 and 1000 rotated 90 degrees, read from right [4 known variants]
found on - Prewar Commercial below serial range ~ 230000

serial 104441
  earliest appearance -
latest appearance -
52297 [Prewar Commercial]
231741 [Prewar Commercial]
The vast majority of Prewar Commercials wore this layout. It was the last layout with a 900 range mark. It always appeared with the bimodal curve ramp.

Layout c 900 mark deleted, 1000 moved to old 900 position [3 known variants]
found on - late Prewar Commercial, Wartime Commercial, Postwar Bolo, M-30    

serial 522022
  earliest appearance -
latest appearance -
232232 [Wartime Commercial]
90xxxx [late M-30]
This layout always appeared with the bimodal curve ramp.

Layout d 1000 rotated 180°, read from left [1 known variant]
found on - M-30

serial 854572
  earliest appearance -
854572 [early M-30]
The new orientation of the 1000 mark was the only change. This layout was used interchangeably with the previous one in the early M-30 days. It always appeared with the bimodal curve ramp.

Layout e Numbers lose that hand-engraved look [1 known variant]
found on - M-30

serial 918367
  earliest appearance -
881653 [late M-30]
This layout was identical to the previous one, so far as orientation of the numbers was concerned. However, the numbers were formed by some mechanical process, far more uniform than the apparent hand work of the earlier screens. This one had replaced the earlier types by late M-30 days. It always appeared with the bimodal curve ramp.

Layout f The only 500 pattern of the Stable Production Period [2 known variants]
found on 1916 Prussian Contract, postwar mutants

serial 139407

The 500 meter sight leaf, Layout f, is particularly interesting because it was used with two different sight ramps, neither of them the ubiquitous bimodal curve ramp.
Layout f first appeared on Prussian Contract guns (which of course were all chambered in 9x19mm), and always with this sight ramp →
The same ramp later appeared on some guns of the chaotic period just after WW1, particularly the "Gendarme" models and an occasional Bolo. These oddballs were all chambered in 7.63mm, and were all in the 430000 - 470000 serial number range. The sight ramp last seen twenty years earlier, on Large Ring Hammers with 500 meter sights, was called out of retirement for use on these postwar guns.
This ramp curve was considerably flatter than that for 9x19mm guns. The one shown at right is the old Large Ring Hammer version, with a pinned sight leaf - different pivots, but the same ramp curve.
Exactly what motivated Mauser to make some 500 meter, 7.63mm guns at that time is not known. Perhaps they had a huge stash of sight leaves left over from the uncompleted 1916 contract and wanted to use them up.

Etched? Engraved? Stamped? Rolled? How did those numbers get on there?

Generically, marks like the Mauser sight numbers are described as "engraved". In this sense, "engraved" simply means that they were formed directly in the metal by some process, rather than being superficial (that is, resting on the surface, like paint, plating, gilding, etc.) But more specifically, "engraving" implies a process of cutting into the metal with a graving tool, which can look like anything from a small chisel down to a coarse needle. This sort of engraving is just the thing for putting someone's name on a presentation arm, but it's hardly a production technique and we can be sure that Mauser didn't mark their sights that way.

On a production basis, there are several ways to mark numbers on a piece of metal, and most of them were well known to industry even in those far-off days. The different methods can be difficult to distinguish after fabrication. A stamped number leaves a ridge of displaced metal around the number, but that raised material can be removed easily, by hand or by machine. A die can roll numbers on - the final effect is essentially identical to stamping. Etching is more time-consuming but doesn't disturb the base metal as much as stamping or die-rolling. Etching can be done by hand, by coating the metal with a resist (much like paint), and scraping off the resist over the metal to be removed. Immersion in an acid bath then removes metal where the resist ain't. A more advanced process uses photosensitive resist, which is exposed to visible or ultraviolet light through a mask, then developed much like a photographic plate, leaving a reproducible pattern of arbitrary complexity. Modern integrated circuit fabrication uses that technique. Alternatively, the resist can be applied by a process akin to silk screening, or by conventional printing technologies. Then, off to the acid bath with a batch of parts. The final step is to dissolve off the resist, another batch process.

My suspicion is that the C-96 sights were etched. Stamping causes changes in the crystalline structure of the metal under the stamped letters, and that structure can be revealed even after numbers have been removed - a useful forensic technique, used in gun tracing. But it's useless for our purposes - I'm not about to have a metallurgical lab destroy an original C-96 sight just to see if the thing was stamped or etched. I'm going to claim that they were etched, and damn the torpedoes.

Now to examine layout variants a bit more closely. Here are three Layout b sight leaves, showing two different variants. All three are from Prewar Commercials.




Consider the sight leaf at far left. Note that all the numerals are slightly different. The differences are most apparent in the "5"s. The silkscreen was evidently hand made, accounting for the variability in the numerals.

Now compare the leftmost sight leaf with the center one, from a somewhat later Prewar Commercial. The numbers are identical. So, although they are from guns which are over 48,000 serial numbers apart, they were apparently made with the same screen.

However, the sight leaf at right, from another Prewar Commercial, is not identical, and must have been made with a different screen. Apparently Mauser used several screens (that is, variants) of the same layout at any particular time. But when changing layouts, Mauser must have replaced all screens of the previous layout.

Also note that the difference in sight leaves isn't confined to the numbers - the slot milled down the center of the sight is much shorter on 90038's sight. Conceivably Mauser farmed the sights out to several different vendors, which might account for the differences. The slot served no useful mechanical purpose, so perhaps it was material removed to save a miniscule amount of weight - in which case, the dimensions would not be critical.

Sight serial numbers

I have yet to detect a pattern as to when sights were numbered to their guns and when they weren't. Most commonly they weren't. When they were so numbered, it was on the bottom of the sight leaf and can be a minor challenge to read. Here is a number on a Postwar Bolo ("022", from gun serial number 522022). I disassembled the entire sight for the photo, but it's not necessary to do that to read it while the sight leaf is on the gun - set the slider to 1000 meters and look underneath.

"Contract" numbers

Cryptic stampings - numbers, letters, runes, Japanese clan emblems, whatever - are found in random places on nearly all guns, to the perpetual delight of collectors and other mystics. On the C-96, one of the most puzzling of these is a number sometimes found neatly stamped on the left side of the barrel extension, hidden under the sight leaf. Here's one on a perfectly ordinary Prewar Commercial.

In the C-96 business, odd features are too often assumed to be evidence of a "contract". Sometimes they are, more often they aren't. This seems to be one that aren't. Number 104441 is in a very ordinary serial range, with nothing exciting happening to guns anywhere near it, and has absolutely no special features aside from the mystery number.

Here's another peculiarity. On that particular gun, the same number was stamped on the bottom of the sight leaf, but under the sight spring.

The number on the bottom of the sight leaf can't possibly be seen after the sight is installed on the gun. This makes "664" look like some sort of assembly number, or a number put on two or more parts which are fitted long before the rest of the gun is assembled. The contention that anyone would stamp a contract number in an inaccessible place, on a part which is identical to other production parts, seems unlikely. On the other hand, the assembly number theory is not entirely sound. Assembly numbers are preferably put someplace where they won't show after the gun is assembled, so as not to baffle customers. An assembly number marked on the barrel extension could just as well have been stamped up forward a bit, under the sight spring, where it would be invisible after assembly. Secondly, it's not clear that the sight leaf should need any fitting to a gun. There are plenty of more precise fits on a C-96 which have no such numbers. Thirdly, the "664" stamps are very neat, far neater than run-of-the-mill assembly numbers.

So the significance of this number remains a mystery.

Tangent Sight Oddballs

Turkish Contract

This was the only C-96 variant to use cryptic sight range markings. While basically a pin pivot 1 to 10 sight leaf, just like that on most early Cone Hammers, the ranges were marked in Arabic numerals. All other numbers on the Turkish Contract pistols - serial numbers and a date on the left side of the frame - were also in Arabic. At right is a particularly scabrous specimen of the sight leaf.

Many writers - gun writers in particular - call these Arabic numerals "Farsi", which is not quite correct. Farsi is another name for the Persian or Iranian language. (In fact "Farsi" is derived from the same root as the word "Persia", but Arabic lacks a phoneme for "p", so "f" has been substituted, not with complete success.) Calling the numerals marked on the Turkish Contract pistol "Farsi" is like calling those marked on all other C-96s "German" - so they are, but it's a roundabout way to describe them.

The more familiar numerals (0, 1, 2, 3 ... 8, 9) which we Westerners use were derived from Arabic numerals, introduced to practical users in Europe by the Liber Abica in Anno D. 1202. This was a book by Leonardo of Pisa, better known today as Fibonacci. Leonardo had spent some serious study time in Algeria, and his book gave multiple examples of how the Modus Indorum ("method of the Indians") could be used to calculate interest, convert currencies, and solve problems about rabbits - that last one leading to the famous Fibonacci sequence. Leonardo's numerals looked more like our European-style numerals than like those used by modern speakers of Arabic (although Leonardo's 4 and 5 in particular needed a bit of work), so there must have been some serious evolution in the Arab world over the following eight centuries for those numerals to end up looking like they did by 1896. At least Arabic numbers are read Western-style, from left to right.

Back in those pre-Mustapha Kemal days, the major languages of Turkey were Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Kurdish. Plain old Turkish was at the time considered a gutter language, used by street urchins and n'er-do-wells. Religious types spoke Arabic, sophisticates spoke Persian, military and government types conducted business in Ottoman Turkish, and Kurdish was ignored by everybody except Kurds. Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish were written in one or another variant of the Arabic alphabet, and they all used Arabic numerals. Persian as used in Persia, rather than Turkey, used very slightly different numerals, called Eastern Arabic numerals.

Modern Turkish, dating from the 1920s, is basically Ottoman Turkish purged of its more egregious Persian and Arabic influences, and written with a modified Latin alphabet. And it uses our modern (or what we call "Arabic") numerals.

Here's a cleaner image of modern Arabic numerals, as used by bona fide Arabs -

"Grooved" sight

This was an odd variant which seems to have appeared only on some Prewar Bolos in the 402xx to 405xx range, some of them Large Ring Hammers, and some Small Ring Hammers. There is some evidence that it cropped up on a few Small Ring Hammer Carbines as well. The sight leaf had a groove running its full length, the sight slider had a wide trough cut out, and the top of the barrel extension, just forward of the sight leaf pivot, was notched. Also, although the range markings appear to be in the same positions as on the standard 50 to 1000 sight leaves, some (not all) had no 50 marked.

What the function of these short-lived modifications might have been is a mystery.

Prewar Bolo serial # 40543, a Small Ring Hammer

"300" sight

In the Cone Hammer through Flatside eras, there were some peculiar goings-on in England. The exclusive English importer was Westley Richards. Perhaps because Westley Richards prides itself for having, among other things, introduced in 1834 the first flip-up tangent sight on a rifle adopted by the British Army, someone seems to have felt an urgent need to fiddle with the tangents sights on the C-96. Or perhaps the ridiculous 1000 meter sights had caused a spot of outraged harumph-ing up at the Club. In any case, some Cone Hammers and Large Ring Hammers sold in England had odd "300" sights, with one of three distinct sight leaves with ranges limited to 300. At this late date it may be impossible to determine if Westley Richards ordered the guns with special sight leaves from Mauser, or if, as I suspect, the "300" leaves were made in Manchester by the firm's gun making division, which was easily capable of such work. The range markings seem to be in meters, rather than yards, but the jury is still out on that.

The first pattern "300" leaf had three closely-spaced range intervals, and was marked "MAUSER CARTRIDGE 303". (That "303" business is a real mystery, as the famous .303 was an entirely different cartridge, doing sterling service in British military rifles and machine guns since 1888.) This first "300" pattern appeared on some guns in the 2100 to 5000 serial range, replacing the normal Mauser 1000m 1 to 10 pin pivot leaves.

The second pattern appeared after Mauser had switched to 500m sights on all standard Cone Hammers. This pattern was marked only MAUSER CARTRIDGE, and had 50 to 300 range markings, with range intervals much more widely spaced than the earlier pattern. It appeared on some guns in the 10000 to 12000 serial range, and replaced the standard (at that time) Mauser 500m 50 to 500 pin pivot sight leaves.

Westley Richards had to come up with the third pattern sight in the early Large Ring Hammer days, after Mauser started shipping guns with 1000m sights and lug pivots. This last "300" sight pattern leaf had the same markings as the first pattern (except for "303", which changed to a more sensible "300"), but fit the newer guns with lug pivot sights. The first pattern only fit guns with pin pivots.

first pattern, pin pivot,
used with 1000m ramp

second pattern, pin pivot,
used with 500m ramp

third pattern, lug pivot,
used with 1000m ramp

third pattern variant,
extra unmarked ranges
Leftmost photo stolen from System Mauser, second from right from Broomhandle Pistol,
and rightmost nicked from The Mauser Self-Loading Pistol
... obviously, better photos of all four wouldn't be a bad thing

The non-obvious thing to note is that these "300" sights did not have unique sight ramp curves. Rather, they had the standard ramp contour used with 1000m or 500m sights, but with one or the other pattern of "300" sight leaf. The first pattern "300" sight leaf was paired with the high ramp meant for 1000m sights, because at that time Mauser wasn't yet making 500 meter sights. The second pattern "300" sight leaf sat atop the much lower ramp meant for 500m sights. This is why the earlier "300" pattern leaf had much closer range markings. The third pattern leaf was on a 1000m ramp like the first pattern, but had the later lug pivots.

Mauser did make some guns with 500m 50 to 500 sight leaves and lug pivots, but only a few hundred for German government tests. There's no evidence that any such guns went to England. The next 500m lug-pivot sights didn't come along until the 1916 Prussian contract. It is conceivable that there was a "300" sight leaf meant to be used with the bimodal curve ramp, which started to appear on Large Ring Hammers by the late 23 thousand serial range. I have yet to see evidence that such a beast actually existed, though.

Westley Richards also sold guns with ordinary 500m sights. These were sometimes stamped with the firm's name and address. Here are two with the stamps on the sight sliders -

Two very early Large Ring Hammers, 133xx and 128xx

Somebody at Westley Richards evidently had some trouble making up his mind about some things, as one of these stamps is right side up when viewed from behind the gun; the other is right side up when viewed from the front of the gun.

There were many other strange sights put on Westley Richards guns. They may need a page of their own. Eventually.

700 sight

Erickson & Pate, page 28, has a photo of Cone Hammer serial number 970, with a 700m sight leaf. The gun itself looks legitimate - the raised central area in the aft frame panel and the un-reinforced aft end of the barrel extension are as expected on a Cone Hammer in the 1000 serial range. The general layout of the sight is much like the 500m sight which appeared in production several thousands of guns later. However the ranges are eccentric.

Just what's going on here isn't clear. The ??? is illegible in the photo. It might be a 75, or it might be blank. Either would be unusual - the only known C-96 sight with 25 meter range increments, or the only known sight with an unmarked range setting.

The ramp is unusual, too. The overall shape is somewhat like the bimodal curve ramp which became standard some seventeen thousand guns later, though of course it doesn't have the break in the smooth curve which defines the bimodal curve ramp. One would expect there to be such a break, as this sight has mixed 50 and 100 meter range intervals (or perhaps even 25 meter intervals). There should be a break since the range intervals for 50 and 100 meters are at equal spacing on the sight leaf, requiring two different ramp curves, and in general the two won't meet gracefully.

The overall weirdness of this sight makes it look to me like an experimental effort, and not a real production item. Whatever it is, it's rare - this is the only one I've encountered. It's odd enough that I haven't included it in the summary table below.

"Blacksmith Special" sight leaf

Here is a peculiar sight leaf found by forum member kongsein. It was on a mixmaster made up of a 1916 Contract frame, M-30 grip panels, a Schnellfeuer lock assembly, and probably a Prewar Commercial upper (barrel and barrel extension).

It's hard to guess what our backwoods gunsmith might have had in mind there.

Summary - commercial and contract tangent sights

CH=Cone Hammer, LRH=Large Ring Hammer, SRH=Small Ring Hammer
range leaf marks pivot ramp found on ... serial number range
1000m 1-10 pin 1000m smooth early CH start of production ~7000
300m, 1st 100-300 pin 1000m smooth early CH sold in England ~2100 ~ 5000
1000m 1-10, in Arabic pin 1000m smooth Turkish Contract CH all
1000m 1-10 lug 1000m smooth Italian Contract LRH all
500m 50-500 pin 500m smooth later CH, very early LRH a few ~3700, most ~6000 ~15000
300m, 2nd 50-300 pin 500m smooth later CH sold in England ~10000 ~12000
500m 50-500 pin 500m smooth very early LRH, small govt. contract Possibly these two were
for the same customer:
< ~500 total
500m 50-500 lug 500m smooth LRH Flatside, small govt. contract
1000m 1-10 lug 1000m smooth early LRH lower 20 thousands upper 20 thousands
1000m 1-10 pin 1000m smooth early LRH Flatsides lower 21 thousands upper 21 thousands
1000m 1-10 lug 1000m smooth late LRH Flatsides mid 20 thousands mid 23 thousands
300m, 3rd 100-300 lug 1000m smooth Flatsides sold in England ~21000 ?
1000m 50-1000 lug 1000m bimodal LRH, SRH, Prewar Commercial ~23000 ~232000
1000m 100-1000
lug 1000m bimodal LRH Bolo, SRH Bolo "grooved" sights,
a few in the 402xx - 405xx range
1000m 50-1000, no 900 lug 1000m bimodal late Prewar Commercial thru M-30 ~220000 the end
500m 50-500 lug 500m smooth 9mm Prussian Contract all
500m 50-500 lug 500m smooth immediate postwar mutants 432 thousands 474 thousands
1000m 50-1000, no 900 lug 1000m bimodal Schnellfeuer all

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