The late 19th century saw the beginning of the semi-automatic era. Countless makers came up with untold designs, all striving to create a more perfect pistol.
In 1898, Austrian Ferdinand Mannlicher had designed a new 7.65mm semi-automatic pistol that utilized a wrap-around cover plate to protect its lockworks. By 1899, the design included a large safety lever mounted to the left side of the frame.
In an effort to secure government contracts for the design, Mannlicher did what government contractors have always done. He commissioned a few custom-made, elaborately inlaid and engraved examples to be presented to influential leaders such as Kaiser Wilhelm II and Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey in hopes of greasing the skids and securing a lucrative military order.
Shown above is serial number 231, which was presented to the Kaiser. The pistol featured full engraving with a gold-plated safety lever and trigger (both worn considerably by time), and high-end wood grips inlaid with ivory accents.
The pistol was housed in an equally impressive presentation case, complete with tools outfitted with hand-carved handles.
Despite Mannlicher’s best efforts at buttering up his potential customers with these gorgeous guns, no contracts ever materialized for the M1899. Only about 350 ever made. The design didn’t really catch on until Mannlicher made a few more modifications to the safety and disassembly lever to the pistol that would eventually became the M1901.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.