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The Unique Borchardt Self-Loading Rifle

By Bas Martens

In the 1990s, the arms collector’s world was excited by the discovery of a Luger self-loading rifle with a toggle-lock, developed shortly before World War I. Here is something more unique: a prototype Borchardt toggle-lock rifle from that same period.

For most of their lives, weapon designers Hugo Borchardt (1844–1924) and George Luger (1849–1923) were fierce competitors. It is, of course, well known that both were involved in the early stages of development of a self-loading pistol, with Luger modifying Borchardt’s original design into the famed Parabellum pistol. It is far less well known that both Luger and Borchardt occupied themselves with the design of a semi-automatic rifle shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Until the 1990s, there were mostly rumors and scraps of information, but then there was a spectacular find: a semi-automatic Luger rifle with a toggle-lock, serial number 4, in the German military caliber 7.92x57. The weapon reportedly emerged in Britain in the amnesty of 1988 and finally ended in the collection of arms dealer Samuel Cummings. For a long time, it was debated whether this was an original gun or a very clever forgery, but eventually the weapon turned out to be genuine and a number of associated patents were found.

Lawsuit

The veil was lifted further when a part of Georg Luger’s estate was bought by a European collector. Among the personal papers were documents concerning a lawsuit in 1920 between Luger and his former employer, Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). Luger could never quite get along with the general manager of DWM, Paul von Gontard. Disagreements eventually ran so high that Luger was fired. That, in itself, did not bother him. He objected, however, to the fact that DWM claimed the rights to the semi-automatic rifle he had developed.

One of the documents that Georg Luger presented to the court was a letter from the Prussian War Department in Berlin to DWM, dated March 2, 1914, in which the ministry expressed its interest in further tests with the Luger rifle. The same letter gave a less favorable opinion on another gun...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N8 (October 2017)
and was posted online on August 18, 2017

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