I have to admit a certain prejudice for “Broomhandles.” I have been collecting them for more than 30 years, and no matter what the model variation (and there are many), the attraction remains the same: The Broomhandle is one of those extraordinary firearms that has become timeless. While some may consider the Broomhandle as merely an old military handgun, these unique, early semi-automatic pistols (whether made by Mauser, Astra or Royal, or even by Shansei Province Arsenal in China and chambered in .45 ACP) are all exemplars of a major evolution in handgun design that had its beginnings in the late 1890s. However strange it may sound, the Broomhandle design existed at the same time when American lawmen were packing Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolvers on their hips, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was traveling around the country, motorcars were almost unheard of, and the flag of the British Empire flew over more countries than any other nation in the world.
The Mauser Broomhandle and its famous imitators are historic in their scope, instantly recognizable and, as touchstones to a long-gone world, of greater importance today than almost any other handgun in history. Sadly, the Broomhandle never had the luxury of becoming an American icon like the Colt Peacemaker, nor was it as easy to manufacture. Thus, unlike the Colt SAA, which is still in production after 140 years, the Mauser Broomhandle and its various imitators have been relegated to the pages of history books, television- and movie-studio prop departments, and the shelves of gun collectors’ curio cabinets. That isn’t to say one cannot find a pristine Broomhandle today—you most certainly can. They were produced in abundant numbers from the late 19th well into the mid-20th century and remained in use by foreign military, police and civilians long after manufacturing had ceased.
Paul Mauser had created a phenomenon with this unique pistol dubbed the C96, although he did not actually design it. As noted by firearms historian Edward C. Ezell, “most of the credit for creating the C96 goes to the three Feederie brothers, Fidel, Friedrich and Josef,” who were Mauser employees. Fidel was superintendent of the company’s experimental workshop and, along with his brothers, had been developing a self-loading pistol since 1893. As the 19th century neared its end, Paul Mauser came to the conclusion that the future of the handgun belonged to the self-loader, and he gave the Feederie brothers’ project his blessings. Two years later, on December 11, 1895, a design patent for the C96 was granted to Waffenfabrik Mauser, and a new era in the gun’s story began to unfold. An intricate if not methodical design, the C96 had only one screw, and that was to attach the grips; the operating mechanism of the Mauser autoloader was comprised totally of interlocking pieces. Strangely, the greatest demand for the Broomhandle, and the reason so many were manufactured, did not emanate from Europe or from the United States, which famously imported C96s throughout the early 20th century and sold them through major U.S. retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch. Rather, the greatest demand came from China…
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