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Browning .30

By Budd Davisson/

To support my advertising graphics business I have a large and quite complete,photo studio set up that collapses into one wall of my shop. I’m usually shooting such exciting items as aftermarket stainless steel mufflers and racing headers, which don’t exactly blow wind up my skirt. But once in a while I shoot something that makes for a fun afternoon.
My friends, and friends of friends, know I have this studio photo capability and a couple times a year I’ll get a call “I have this old gizmo I want to put on eBay. Can you shoot it for me?” If I have the studio set up, which is most of the time, I oblige. This week I got a call that was a little different: “I’m working out a trade with a museum for a couple of their Thompsons. Can you shoot some pictures of the stuff I want to trade?” . . .

The “stuff” turned out to be some guns I’ve never actually seen, others I’ve seen and not fired, and a couple I’m old friends with. All of them were high-end, extremely high quality, fully licensed, collector’s grade Class III (full auto) weapons. And they definitely did blow my skirt.  
Even though the majority of my time in the studio is spent shooting catalog shots, which can be pretty damn boring, I still work hard at putting quality, and maybe even a little art, into something as mundane as an exhaust header or a shift arm. I want to make them look classy. Or at least interesting.

When shooting my friend’s machine guns, however, it was a different deal. They needed no help looking interesting and once again had me questioning why I like guns.

Standard Union sidearm during the Civil War, the 1860 Colt is a classic example of art and history. Look at the way the barrel curves into the cylinder and loading lever area. They didn’t have to make it so smooth and artful. And talk about history: this one has a piece of paper inside the grips that identify the owner as Captain Andrew Smith of the 134th Williamstown Volunteers. Very, very cool!

I’ve often said that it’s not the shooting aspect of firearms that interests me, but the art and the history guns represent. And some of them, especially older ones, have curves and shapes that can only be called artistic.

We had our BAR and the Brits had their Bren Gun, as a squad automatic weapon. In a few ways it was better than the BAR, if nothing else because it held more ammo per mag, 30 versus 20. Originally a Czech design, it could be more finicky than the BAR.


However, when you look at something like a Browning machine gun, most folks would say that you’re stretching the definition of “artistic,” if you try to apply the term. Still, when I look at them, especially some of the ones in this batch, I still see an industrial sort of art in the way they are machined and the connection to history is undeniable. How can you not look at a Bren gun, for instance, and not see a Tommy staggering on shore at Normandy with it. Or see a Browning machine gun and not connect it with desperate times for America’s warriors going back nearly a century?

This “normal” looking Broomhandle Mauser was one of the very first automatic pistols and is fairly common, as it was produced in a number of different countries. What sets this one apart and makes it ultra rare is that it’s select fire. It can fire full auto, as a machine pistol. An insane machine pistol.


This little switch increases the value of the piece about ten fold, as it’s not only rare, but this one is fully licensed and transferrable. The owner says it fires about 1000 rounds per minute but only the first round goes in the same zip code as the target. After that, they are going off over the horizon at a forty-five degree angle and rising. A totally stupid weapon, but seemed like a good idea at the time. Caliber, .30 Mauser


The well known British Sten gun. Both this, and our M-3 Grease Gun were attempts to build the cheapest submachine gun possible and the succeeded. Both weapons cost about eight bucks to make, being nothing but crude machinings and stamped sheet metal. They were, however, very reliable and relatively accurate to about the range you could throw a rock. The Sten was much more accurate than the Grease Gun and fired the standard 9mm round versus our .45 ACP.


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  1. When I moonlighted at Hunter’s Lodge in Alexandria, VA, in the late 1950s, we used to sell those Sten guns, casually DEWATed, for $14.95.

  2. Love that colt. Wonder what they cost back then (in today’s dollar) and wish we could still get something with that kind of workmanship without breaking the bank.

  3. The beauty of the Mauser is how the only screw in the gun was the one that held the grips together. The mechanical parts of the gun were held in place like a puzzle.

    • perfect machining that held all the parts together by tension alone. magnificent piece. This is one of the reason i have such a fasination with old guns…hell, old stuff in general. There was a level of quality and craftsmanship that you just cannot find anymore. Sad, but it seems to be the norm these days.

  4. Bud’s website is a wealth of articles for pilots who are more interested in stick-and-rudder than glass cockpits. I’m a long-time lurker.

    Thanks, Bud!

  5. Christ, what kind of sundowning-70+-year-olds are you dealing with? Even the 60-somethings know how to shoot their own vid to sell a piece…

  6. Nice pics, love the Bren and that Browning aircraft mount is awesome. Got to pick a nit, though. The M3 was not THAT inaccurate, having qualified with and fired several I can say they are as accurate as the shooter using them. No auto is accurate when you lock the trigger back and spray the whole mag. Short, controlled bursts, no matter what the weapon, and don’t try to use one as a rifle, you’re just going to embarrass yourself.


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