An American Zimmerstutzen: Part 2

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.

Gold?

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.

Winchester
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.

Discussion

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.

Summary

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.

33 thoughts on “An American Zimmerstutzen: Part 2

  1. B.B.,
    Even though the seller was deceptive, I still think the gun wound up where it was meant to be.
    This thing is a work of art, and if someone else had bought it, it might have sat in their safe for years.
    Yet since it went to you, it will now be shared with the entire airgun community.
    I think that is way cool! And thank you for the write ups on this fascinating piece.
    Take care & God bless,
    dave


  2. In looking at the rifle with the detailed photos you gave today, I keep thinking of a relatively modern term.

    Steam punk.

    But would this would be Air Punk?

    The maker was an artist of some sort, but his hobby or passion was airguns, or maybe it was the other way around?

    The rube goldberg method of operation is truly unique, and he was definitely talented in making 13 parts do the job of 3.

    I vote for shooting it, if only one shot just to prove that it is more than just a piece of wall art.

    Pretty cool with the external chamber for the blank cartridge then 2 90 deg turns to get behind the pellet.

    And the external firing mechanism, so does the linkage from the trigger comes out of the right side of the stock and into the sear mechanism?

    Or does it fire by manipulating the “thumb” lever on the right side by the cocking lever?

    Ian



  3. B.B.,

    It truly is jaw dropping in the details.

    From everything that you described,… this appears to be genuine one-off. How do you even begin to assign a value to something like this?

    Good Day to one and all,….. Chris



  4. BB,

    My only concern in shooting it would be any venting gases coming back into your face. It is certainly robust enough to handle a considerable “charge”, much less a blank.

    I would most certainly be “busy” with that for quite some time. I probably would not put any parts in my mouth, but there is a good chance I would drool on it.



  5. B.B.,
    Many of these pics of the gun focus on the action…which is hardly surprising, since it’s amazing.
    But I notice where you said,
    “The barrel with rear sight is from a Winchester model 1890 .22 pump rifle.”
    Yet you didn’t mention a front sight. Does it have one? Or just a dovetail slot where one used to be?
    Or did the maker fabricate his own from scratch to replace the 1890s front sight?
    I thought 1890s had 24″ barrels; was this barrel cut down, or does it have the original crowning?
    Thanking you again for sharing this incredible piece,
    dave


  6. B.B.,

    It’s an Eric Von Zipper-stutzen!

    Does the receiver attract a magnet? If so, I’d shoot it. Well, maybe I wouldn’t. I would be nervous about doing damage to its Jules Verne-like lines. The stock and barrel look 19th Century, but the action looks like an early, over-engineered semiauto.

    This would require a mirrored shadow box to be done justice as a wall-hanger. If you ever sold it, it might command a serious price.

    Michael


  7. Thanks for the detailed pictures B.B.!

    Now that we see “how” the big question is “why?” Seems that the gunsmith (?) just kinda bumbled along solving problems as he went along until he got it working. I’d bet that there was a good sized box of ideas and parts that didn’t make it to the final design.

    Still – a very interesting rifle.

    Happy Monday all!
    Hank


  8. I think “Rube Goldberg” sums this project up quite nicely. I can see the watchmaker/hobbyist sitting down and deciding to make the most complex, interesting, (dare we call this a firearm?) piece to amuse himself and his friends. Hours of entertainment learning how the various pieces interact with each other and the process needed to go through to shoot it.

    Fred formerly of the DPRoNJ now happily in Georgia


  9. The design is not just a rube Goldberg device. It makes sense to fire the blank separately from the projectile and let the pressure rind through an angled tube system towards he barrel. It reduces the shock that would otherwise be imparted on the projectile. This would be especially important when shooting diablo shaped projectiles, arrows etc.


  10. I am not convinced that this rifle is meant to fire. It appears to fire one’s neurons tho.
    For a turn of the century weapon, the materials and processes dont jibe very well.
    As I understand mechanical history, it seems more early 18th century. The abundance
    of hand work with files for example. How were the threads made? Are the knurlings
    roll formed? Is the receiver hardened or is it soft? I think it is the gesture of a ‘gun’
    through the eyes of an artist, with skill, using rudimentary tools, like one might find
    in Afghanistan today. I would say they may have some personal knowledge and or
    experience shooting too. It might just blow up tho, carefull!
    Any offers?
    Best, Rob


  11. One of my favorite sayings.

    Simple but effective.

    Well not on this one. I could see a watch maker doing this gun up. It seems that watches have more parts than they really need. Watch mechanisms are a work of mechanical art. To me anyway.

    Wonder how long it took for the gun to be made? And I’m guessing since shooting was a big thing back then thats why he chose to make this gun to show off his skills. And probably was his hobby. When he wasn’t watch making.

    I’m betting the gun got fired. It was the finishing touches on the gun to show off all the work that was done making it. And I’m thinking that the gun is strong enough to handle the task at hand. Firing a projectile.

    Heck the gun might actually even be accurate. But you know what accurate means. It has to shoot multiple projectiles in the same location.

    BB I think you got to shoot it. Even more than once.


  12. And worth this statement. Maybe he was a very good watchmaker.

    “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.”

    Since he worked with small precise parts of a watch. Maybe working with these bigger parts of the gun it was actually easier for him to make the gun parts.

    It took me a bit to see. But I think this guy had fun making this gun.


  13. BB,

    I think you should fire it with a string. Less chance of putting your eye out.

    Does the bolt have to be removed to load the pellet or can it be retracted from the barrel far enough to insert the projectile while in the receiver ?

    I doubt that you paid anywhere close to the value of the “gold” inlays in this piece, but I’m curious about how you feel about your acquisition’s value, to you, now that you know that the “gold” is worthless. By the way, I always thought that gold plate was an stylish way to prevent tarnish, rather than a means of cheating people.

    And finally, the caption on the last photo of the action, shot with the gray backing, should probably read “Here, the bolt has(been) removed from the action entirely.” And the caption on the center photo of the removed bolt( pink backing) should read “Here, the top cover has been slid (to) the rear(,) as it is when the gun is cocked. May be wrong about the comma.

    Looking forward to more on this odd duck. ( Did you even TRY to tap out a Morse message with the bolt to see if my theory was correct?)

    Half



  14. B.B.,

    I worked with an engineer that could have made this gun. Whenever something did not fit he would add more parts to correct the problem. All you had to do was question something he was designing and he would add more parts/features to address the question. Often his drawings would be three times the number typical for the type of project.

    GF1, simple and effective he was not.

    B.B. I would remove the powder from a couple of blanks to get started and use a string. I would also use a string for the first couple of full load shots. What size is the transfer port from the combustion chamber it should be near the same size as the barrel or extream high pressures could result in a catastrophe. Knowing you have been pondering this gun for quite a while you will be considering all these things, be careful. I would definately shoot it if it looks like it would be safe.

    Don


  15. BB
    OK, so I told a fib about it coming from North Africa. It’s obviously a Zip Gun made in the old Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn NY by a guy named Rubik. Totally surprised by the method of operation, way too complicated, but totally intriguing. Reminds me of an AR15 22cal conversion kit.

    Either way it looks like an outstanding folk art candidate for the NRA Museum or the Smithsonian but, it is entirely appropriate to be in the possession of the Godfather of Airguns for the time being. Provenance being created, destiny being realized. The ultimate Airgun Show display. I would look into getting one of those wood Daisy rifle display boxes if it fits.
    Bob M


    • Bob,

      I would agree that this should end up in a museum,… but for now could not be in better hands. B.B. is so, so very lucky to have happened upon this in my humble opinion.

      Chris


  16. A busy box for sure, what I think is this is an attempt to hand load rim-fire ammo.

    You could just put a .22 bullet “pellet” into the end of the brass exposed at the end of the bolt and fire it with a .22 short blank, but then you could add additional powder behind the bullet to fine tune the exact FPS you want to get. Makes sense to me.

    Other thoughts are who was this guy? Is this the only one made, if not where are the others? There seems to be some surface rust on the barrel, inside how is the bore, clean and shiny?

    This rifle is just too interesting even if it turns out to not be accurate.

    What is it they say, accurate rifles are interesting, but rifles with high profit margins are more interesting. Just my thought but whatever you paid for it, I think you can find someone to pay you quite a bit more.

    Mike


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