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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Who Made It Better - PP vs 1911

As gun collectors we love to debate.  AK or AR?  9mm or .40?  Remington 870 or Mossberg 500?  '73 Colt or '73 Winchester?  In that spirit of strong opinions and lively conversations, we wish to bring the following question to the table, regarding the two presentation pistols in this week's article:  who made it better?  You may use any criteria you like, though some suggested ones are: aesthetics, condition with consideration given to age, provenance, historical value, usefulness of the firearm, desirability of model, and of course, your own personal preference.  Without further ado, here are today's contenders.

Exquisite Presentation Grade Factory Engraved Nazi Walther Model PP Pistol with "KB" Initials on the Backstrap In Postwar Walther Factory Presentation Case

Our first contender certainly starts things off on a strong note.  This is an excellent condition, all original, Presentation Grade, factory engraved Walther PP pistol.  It's a worthy opponent in today's competition!  Since its inception, Walther has been universally recognized as having some of the finest European engravers and this gun shows why in classic Germanic style.  The sheer amount of engraving is impressive in itself, but the precision and the depth in the relief sets it apart.  It bears a very traditional oak leaf and acorn pattern on nearly every metal surface and even those that don't are still decorated with fine checkering, punch dots, or small geometric designs.

The backstrap deserves special attention.  While having been also treated to the same phenomenal engraving as the rest of the pistol, it also features a large, framed "KB" monogram.  Those initials are believed (though not proven) to belong to Kurt Buhligen, a top Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II credited with 112 kills and who eventually commanded Jagdgeschwader Nr 2, the "Freiherr von Richthofen" squadron.  Our official description succinctly describes the pilot.

"Major Buhligen joined the Luftwaffe upon its initial conception in the early 1930s, attended flight and fighter school from 1938-1939 and made his first kill in Sept 1940 during the Battle of Britain. He served on all fronts and flew over 700 missions. In 1944 while on a flying mission in Russia he developed engine trouble and was forced to land and was captured by the Russians. He was interned until 1950 when he was repatriated. During the war for his numerous air victories he was awarded the "Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords" the second highest medal that could be awarded to any German serviceman."

A fun history fact is that Buhligen joined the Luftwaffe as a mechanic!  A collector fascinated with this history of the era, would do well to dig up some concrete documentation on this pistol, as it could increase the value nicely.  Also increasing the desirability of this already attractive firearms is its case and accessories.  The case is a postwar Walther presentation version with a blue leather exterior, fiery red velvet and satin interior, and a spare Walther marked magazine with the finger extension base.

Rare Documented Factory Engraved, Gold Inlaid Colt Government Model Semi-Automatic Pistol with Factory Letter

Thankfully, we also know some history on the next gun in our contest.  As the title indicates, it's a Colt Government Model pistol with factory engraving and gold inlay, but there is more to this pistol than its simple description.  It's not just any engraving on this Colt, but "Grade C" engraving.  For those unfamiliar, Colt "A" grade or coverage would cover 1/4 of the gun's surface, "B" would cover half, "C" 3/4, and "D" being full coverage of the firearm, including front, sides, screws, hammer, hammer, etc.  Also, the amount of coverage is made even more impressive because it was performed by Master Engraver William H. Gough.  Featuring his personal style of vines, flowers, and lined backgrounds, the firearm is smothered in his elaborate artwork down to the deluxe checkered grips.

Not only is the gun engraved, but it also has a large gold monogram on the top of the slide.  This exceptional combination of fine engraving and gold mongrams on this particular model make it an extremely rare collector or investment piece.  Noted Colt author R. L. Wilson states in "The Book of Colt Firearms," that around 140 Colt Government Models were factory engraved prior to World War II and that only 160 were inscribed or monogrammed.  However, of those already low numbers only a mere four were monogrammed with gold inlays.

Unfortunately, while collectors have access to some of the Colt's records to determine its origins, the monogram on the slide provides a bit of a mystery.  If only four were produced, who could it have belonged to?  A heroic serviceman?  A dedicated officer?  A Colt employee?  A diplomat or politician?  Maybe even just one of Colts elaborate marketing giveaways?  Research may tell, but for now the initials and their owner remain a puzzle yet to be solved.

Each gun certainly has their advantages.  Both are iconic pistols that have stood the test of time.  Both are finely monogrammed and engraved to deserving individuals. Even if the identity of those individuals is still not 100% certain, such pistols were not just handed out willy-nilly.  The Walther is in better condition (though it is several decades younger) and comes with its presentation case and accessories.  The Colt, however, enjoys gold inlays, comes chambered in the more stout .45 caliber, and has the prestige of being a standard issue service weapon.  The Walther PP, while issued to officers and the Luftwaffe, was not the standard issue of the Wehrmacht, an honor that belongs to the P.38.  Each one was also innovative: the PP was the first truly successful semi-automatic pistol to utilize double action with an external hammer, while the M1911/Government Model employed several of Browning's newly patented inventions such as the slide lock, grip safety, thumb safety, and others (6 in total).

To be sure, it's not an easy call, but one must be named.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below and we'll see who comes out the winner.

-Written by Joel Kolander