The National Firearms Museum Takes A Look At Rare 9mm Handguns

The National Firearms Museum in Fairfax Virginia is one of the most important collections of small arms in the world, but their representatives also leave the museum and travel to places where they can find firearms that they don’t have in their collection. As part of their Curator’s Corner segment on the NFM Curator’s YouTube channel, the Museum has released two videos filmed at the Wanenmacher Tulsa Arms Show covering some of the rarest of the rare 9mm handguns:

The first video features Maj. Richard Keogh, and covers three handguns I had never heard of previously. The first is a Dreyse prototype from 1910, that is essentially a scaled-up 9mm version of the reasonably successful Dreyse pocket pistol. To keep the breech closed long enough for the bullet to exit the muzzle and the pressure to drop, Dreyse used an incredibly large spring that cannot be compressed manually. As a work around, the slide can actually be decoupled from the mainspring and actuated under no spring pressure at all, making it simultaneously the easiest and hardest handgun to charge.

Keogh also covers the Tarn, a 9mm straight blowback handgun designed by a Pole and intended for mass production to arm Polish resistance fighters in World War II. However, British military officials at the time determined that it would be better to arm Polish forces fighting the Nazis with British weapons (such as the Sten or High Power) than a unique Polish design.

The Major also takes a look at a recent Australian compact handgun design, called the Felk, which aside from using a translucent polymer magazine, has few remarkable features, being a fairly standard striker-fired tilting barrel type. EDIT: Reader Dave informs me that this handgun was introduced in the early 1990s, before even the S&W Sigma (making it the second Glock-esque weapon on the market). Apparently, Felk got out of the gun business sometime in the late ’90s or early ’00s and went into making horse trailers!

Next, Curator’s Corner teams up with Jack Valenti, and discusses two historically significant designs. The first of these is the 9mm variant of the Iver Johnson Pony, a subcompact pistol designed originally for .380 ACP. The Iver Johnson company was very much ahead of its time with this idea, now incarnated in numerous successful subcompact handguns based on smaller caliber designs, such as the Ruger LC9 and Kel-Tec PF9. Iver Johnson went into bankruptcy shortly after making several prototypes of 9mm Pony, and the pistol was never produced in quantity.

Lastly, Valenti talks about the Colt T4. The following information comes from Edward Scott Meadows’ US Military Automatic Pistols 1945-2012, which is mentioned in the video. This was a very early postwar handgun designed after an Army request in 1948 for a lightweight 9mm replacement for the 1911. Colt reported that they had already designed such a handgun, which eventually emerged as the T4. The T4 was designed to meet a weight limit of 25 ounces without magazine, and to that end was produced with an aluminum frame, although examples were made with steel frames, as well. The trigger was a double-action/single-action type, and the action was the simple straight blowback type. Bizarrely, the weapon was also designed to be “readily adapted” to fire ammunition that combined bullets originally designed for the .38 S&W Special (exactly what kind is not specified in Meadows) loaded in 9x19mm cases and fired at 850 ft/s. The T4 was not adopted or produced in any significant quantities, and only a handful still exist. The project remains, however, an interesting sidenote that parallels Soviet handgun developments that would lead to the highly successful post-war Makarov PM pistol of the early 1950s.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • ostiariusalpha

    Some nice, short introductions to a few rare & interesting pistol designs. Thanks for sharing them, Nate! That Dreyse pistol is definitely not some of Louis Schmeisser’s best work (assuming he was the one that adapted it from his earlier design), but I love that oddball work-around to a simple technical challenge. More impressive than a Hi-Point, at any rate. Kudos for using “High Power” also, I think that should be SOP when referring to the early, pre-50’s Hi-Powers.

    • Joshua

      strictly speaking, the BHP referenced in his paragraph is properly refereed to as the “P35” so he has inserted “High Power” to make it better understood what gun he was referring to. at which point he might as well said “Hi-Power” as that is how the gun is modernly known. “High-Power” refers to commercial models of the gun as produced prior to the 1980s, as I am given to understand it. the Inglis gun that the British employed were never available commercially and as such never bore either the High Power, or Hi-Power title. so I fail to see why “High Power” is preferable in this case, it is equally incorrect as “Hi-Power” in this case as the guns never went by either name. I also would be surprised if more than a handful of P35s went to the Poles, even British troops and their commonwealth partners the Australians and New Zealanders couldn’t get enough P35s, Enfield Mk 2s or Webley Mk IVs to arm their militaries and instead many officers still carried the old .455 Webley Mk VI. so to arm another military with modern arms when your own army is still using obsolete arms seems… foolish to me.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Nope. Each and every Inglis-made pistol has “BROWNING FN 9MM HP” stamped right on the slide, and the British knew perfectly well that the HP stood for High Power. You should actually look at one some time. The commercial guns were referred to as High Power until the 50’s, not the 80’s.

        • Joshua

          I would love to look at one, unfortunately they are not the easiest gun to find these days. and I have several books on Military incompetence, though ,mostly on WWI, what I know, I know mostly from reading, and I have seen plenty of reference to the Inglis HPs as P35

  • The original US experimental “Cal. .35” pistol cartridges were loaded with the same 158gr FMJ projectile used in WW2-era issue .38 Special. It is called out in Meadows’ book, but I think it is in the chapter on the High Standard T3.

    The Iver Johnson 9mm compact prototype was first displayed in a double-action variant at the 1985 SHOT Show, and was teased for commercial introduction for a few years. Given their .380 Pony was little more than a straight copy of the Star Model D, their 9mm DA prototype kind of looked like a chopped Star BM crossed with a Seecamp conversion.
    Edward K. Felk has been playing with firearm designs for several years now, including a machine pistol:

    Here are are a couple other Felk patents:

    The Felk MTF919 does pop up on gun auction sites from time to time:

    • Here’s a better look at the 1985-vintage Iver Johnson prototype.

  • nobody

    Rather crappy videos, I don’t want to see pictures of old people while they’re talking about the gun, I want to see the gun that they are talking about. Doesn’t help that they seem to be more interested in showing each other the guns than showing the audience so there aren’t many good shots of the guns.

    • Considering that those “old people” are the ones you’d have to ask to see the guns in question, I guess you’ll just have to put up with it.

  • P Ok

    eww 9mm
    didnt read

  • Ben

    How did the Tarn get around the stiff spring problem?

    • ostiariusalpha

      It used a less stiff spring, though it is still an absurd PITA to charge. The problem with the (comparatively) weaker spring was that the recoil of the slide was more harsh and accuracy suffered.

  • Treyh007

    I luv these type videos! Thanks and keep these a-comin…….

  • guest

    My Australian friend and his Beretta 92 may be awfully surprised to hear an American telling him he can’t legally own his pistol.