by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

American Zimmerstutzen
What in the world is this?

Part 1

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • The puzzle
  • Gold?
  • On to the next supposition
  • Few gun parts
  • Discussion
  • Busy box
  • Summary

The puzzle

Reader August figured out the main piece of the puzzle, when he discovered that the inscription on the large medallion is from the Trenton Watch Company. Actually, that was all you needed to know to know that none of the medallions on this gun are gold. No tests are needed, because in the watch industry, the words “Warranted 10 years” are industry code for heavy gold electroplate. Another term is gold-filled. They all mean electroplated. Electroplate means plated with gold — not solid gold. Any pawnshop owner or worker in the world should know that. Therefore, the pawn shop that listed this on Gun Broker and used the tag as one of their pictures, was clearly misleading potential buyers. New reader Mudflap was the first to catch that.

Reader Halfstep then asked whether the medallion had been cut from a watch case and hammered flat (it has) or purposely made that way, and reader Mike in Atlanta showed us a watch case with a similar inscription.

All the gold-colored medallions have areas where the gold has worn though the brass. No test is needed. They are all plated.


So — is it GOLD? Absolutely not. It is gold-plated, which is an inexpensive means of making something appear to be gold. Gold has value on its own. Gold plate, which is an ultra-thin coating — has no intrinsic value. Do you remember the story I told you about the 1873 V nickel, the so-called “racketeer nickel,” that was gold-plated to fool people into thinking it was a $5 gold coin?

racketeer nickel both sides
This 1883 V nickel had nothing that told its value. When plated with gold, it looked very much like a $5 gold coin.

5 dollar gold both sides
A genuine five-dollar gold coin — this one minted in 1882.

Back then it cost pennies to plate that nickel with gold. Someone with criminal intent could make a lot of money that way. Coin collectors thought that story was just made up before a coin that was found under what had been a Chinese gambling parlor in the 1880s in Deadwood, South Dakota, turned out to be that coin. That was only learned in 2016, though the coin was dug up in 2001.

On to the next supposition

If the rifle is festooned with medallions made from watch cases, does it make sense to assume that the maker was a watch repairman or watchmaker, himself? That’s what several people who have handled the gun have come up with, and it may make more sense when I tell you the rest of the story.

Few gun parts

This rifle has very few parts from actual firearms. The barrel with rear sight is from a Winchester model 1890 .22 pump rifle and the butt plate is from some nondescript firearm. All the rest of the parts are handmade.

The barrel probably came from a Winchester 1890 pump.

The receiver is handmade and the bolt that incorporates dozens of strange parts is also made by hand. Even the wood stock is handmade, because the receiver would not fit into a conventional stock, and also because the lines are off (different from any firearm) in all directions. The maker may have cut down a conventional rifle stock, but when you examine the rifle closely you’ll see that he had to cut and shape it in so many ways that starting from a blank piece of lumber wouldn’t have been a hinderance.

Several readers discussed the shape of the trigger and triggerguard, wondering what firearm they were from. Well, you can stop wondering, because they were both made from scratch. Maybe one or both were hammered from an actual firearm trigger and guard, but that’s as close as it comes.

trigger and triggerguard
This close view of the trigger and guard shows the hand work better. These are not commercial items.

But that’s not the most amazing thing. What I find fascinating is the fact that all the parts in this rifle’s receiver have been filed from steel and made to fit precisely. There isn’t a straight line on this gun, apart from the barrel that I already said was commercial. You will see that as I start showing it to you today in detail.

bolt in
The action with the bolt in and uncocked. Note the filework on the action below the bolt. That’s a clue to the use of files.

bolt cocked
The bolt is cocked in this photo. It’s difficult to tell, but look at the cocking slot (arrow) in front of the bolt knob and the distance that the top cover has slid back (arrows). Compare that to the picture before.

bolt cocked toggle raised
In this picture the bolt is cocked but the top cover didn’t slide back because the toggle was raised — disengaging the cover from the cocking piece.

action bolt rotated
In this picture the bolt has been rotated to the left as far as it will go. Notice that the brass knob (arrow) is raised in this image.

action blot out
Here, the bolt has been removed from the action entirely. As you look at the action it becomes clear that this probably wasn’t a firearm receiver that was modified.

bolt detail 1
This is the bolt, out of the rifle.

bolt detail 2
Here, the top cover has been slid to the rear as it is when the gun is cocked. The top cover is under no spring tension in this image because the bolt is out of the receiver.

bolt detail 3
Once the top cover has been withdrawn, the chamber can be lifted out of its place. This picture shows the hole in the side of the chamber (arrow) where the gasses escape to get behind the pellet, which is loaded base-first into the brass tube in the front of the bolt.


All these little moving parts were made with files and sized to fit perfectly together. If you look at the pictures closely you can see the small metal stops that keep the parts together at the end of their movement.

This rifle is not crude, despite the appearance. In terms of function, it is close to a masterpiece. From what I can see it wasn’t made in 6 months, either. Six years, perhaps, but I’m inclined to believe it took even longer. Not only did the maker have to fashion these parts skillfully, he first had to design them. And he seemed to have a motto to not do with one part what 13 could do. This person was focused on this job until it was finished.

Busy box

I call this rifle an airgunner’s busy box, because everyone I hand it to starts acting like an infant. They move things back and forth and check the fit over and over and it keeps their attention. No one has put part of it into their mouth yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.


There is more to see on this rifle, plus I may work up the courage to actually fire it. Don’t push me, though, because I’m still on the fence.