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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]


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