Paul Mauser
   Contrary to common belief, the C96 was not invented by Paul Mauser,   
but by the Feederle brothers (Fidel, Friedrich, and Josef). Fidel Feederle   
was the Superintendent of the Experimental Work Shop, and it is   
reported that the C96 (then referred to as P-7.63 or the Feederle Pistol)   
was designed and prototyped without the knowledge and against the   
wishes of Paul Mauser. Be that as it may, production began in 1896, and   
ended about 1939 with over one million C96 pistols produced.  

   Paul Mauser named the C96 the "Mauser Military Pistol" in the hopes   
that it would achieve large sales through its adoption by the Germany   
army or the army of one of the other major powers, but his hopes were   
never realized. While limited numbers of the C96 pistol were purchased   
for issue to members of the armed forces and/or police of Germany,   
China, Indonesia, Persia, Turkey, Italy, and possibly Norway (and   
unofficially used by the troops of a large number of other countries), it   
was never officially adopted by any country as their primary sidearm.   

   Before getting into the variations and characteristics of the C96 pistol,   
some background and cautions are in order. All of the Mauser   
production and corporate records retained at the Mauser plant were   
destroyed in 1945, by order of the U.S. Army officer in command at the   
captured Mauser plant. While I cannot tell you what I think of this little   
act of senseless vandalism (without resorting to language even *I* find   
offensive), I will say that this action has bedeviled Mauser collectors   
ever since.  

   In the absence of factory records which show when which pistol was   
made (or even the number of pistols made in any given year) people   
have attempted to determine the year that their specific pistol was   
produced based on serial number. Such attempts are fraught with peril.   
In the early years of production the big Mauser pistol was not especially   
popular, and sales were poor. In order to make it appear that more   
pistols had been sold than was actually the case, Mauser skipped blocks   
of serial numbers. In the later years it appears that some attempt was   
made to fill in these missing blocks of numbers. To add to the confusion   
pistols made under contract were usually (but not always) serial   
numbered in their own series, beginning with number "1". All of which   
means that pistols which appear, based on their serial number, to have   
been made early may actually have been made much later. The   
converse is also true.  

   All firearms tend to evolve over the years of their production.   
Sometimes these changes are made to improve function or appearance.   
Sometimes they are made to reduce production costs.  Sometimes they   
are made for no discernible reason. Nowhere is this more true than the   
C96. Over the forty odd years that the C96 was produced a large   
number of changes were made. Markings were changed, the shape and   
size of parts changed, at least four different types of safeties were   
produced, and even the milling patterns on the frames changed.  

   This evolution of the C96 has provided another technique which has   
been used to date specific pistols - dating by the mechanical   
characteristics and appearance of a specific pistol. Unfortunately, this   
technique also has its problems. There appear to have been times when   
Mauser would make a change to the C96, produce several hundred or   
several thousand pistols with these changes, revert to the old way of   
making C96's for a dozen or a thousand or so pistols, then go back to   
producing the pistols with the changes. It's almost as if the folks at   
Mauser would find cases of C96 parts, lost in some forgotten corner of   
the warehouse for years, and include them in current production until   
they ran out, at which point the would return to making C96's the way   
they did before they found the lost parts.  

   It can be really very frustrating...  

   The significance of all this is that it is next to impossible to accurately   
determine even the year in which a specific pistol was made, much less   
the actual date.  

   And it has taught me to use the words "probably", "likely", and "seems"   
a lot. I have found that the times I'm most likely (there's one of those   
words!) to be wrong is when I'm most sure I'm right. Sigh...  

-By Kyrie Ellis
used with permission
Email: joeyd@northwest-denture.com