"Innovation is anything but business as usual," waxes an anonymous adage about the merits of bold new ideas. Everything around us has been theorized, developed, tested, fielded and upgraded; such is the life cycle of innovation. Throughout history, gunsmiths and engineers have dreamt up new concepts in firearms design, whether in response to a need or simply due to the strength of their imaginations.
The NRA National Firearms Museum boasts an amazing collection of arms unrivaled for their diversity, and here from those extensive holdings are some of the more unusual and exotic pieces that are on daily exhibition in the museum's Fairfax, Virginia galleries. Collectors should note, however, before you rush out to find your own examples for personal purchase, you should know that each of these designs is no longer in production, and many represent extreme collector rarities that will set back your banking account considerably.
Containing its ammunition supply secured inside a rectangular bar, this odd European handgun relies on manual advancing of the horizontally positioned magazine to fire each subsequent shot. While awkward with its ten-shot magazine attached, this sidearm presents a slim profile for pocket carry with the magazine detached.
Street gangs in Paris of the 1870s were called apaches, and their criminal behavior was legendary, preying on their victims in a number of nefarious ways. Whether employed by an apache or for carrying for personal protection against them, this revolver boasts a folding pair of brass knuckles that doubles as the handgun’s grip frame and also includes a folding dagger that can be quickly deployed. A compact “triple threat” that could be easily carried in the pocket.
In an age when single-shot, muzzleloading rifles were the rule, this early Maine-made repeater broke the mold. A twelve shot, .40-caliber gun that required rotating a disc on the underside to advance the rectangular chambers, this arm also featured underhammer percussion ignition. Fewer than 10 of these guns were produced around 1838.
Not many arms can claim that they fire miniature rocket engines, but this carbine does. Originally manufactured in San Ramon, California, Gyrojets were also offered in handgun format. This space-age design was even featured in James Bond and other “secret agent” films, proving Hollywood always has an eye for innovative arms. Cost on the ammunition today can run $10-20 a cartridge and from our own testing, we can assert that there is about a 50 percent failure rate on Gyrojet rounds.
America produced its own Chicago and Minneapolis palm pistols, but the Italian Trabuzio Palm pistol was not based on that patent from inventor James Turbiaux of France. This later (circa 1890) ring trigger design incorporated a top-loaded internal magazine that had openings on the side to reveal how many 8mm cartridges were remaining. The ring trigger could also be collapsed to serve as a safety feature.
One of the first American caseless ammunition designs, the Daisy V/L -- named after van Langenhoven, the developer at Daisy -- relied on compression of air ignition of a propellant charge molded to the base of a .22 caliber projectile. While innovative, the design also ran afoul of the law when government officials ruled the design to be that of a firearm and not an airgun, which Daisy was not federally licensed to manufacture.
Offered in both .22 rimfire and .38 centerfire versions, the Dardick guns were built in Hamden, Connecticut in rifle and handgun versions. With the turn of a screw, a Dardick handgun barrel could be removed and the action mounted into a carbine frame. Firing ammunition packaged into triangular-shaped casings, the Dardick had a revolving rotor that fed from an integral spring-loaded, 15-shot magazine.
Relying on Z-shaped grooves cut into the cylinder for indexing, this hinged frame revolver was the first design by the Mauser brothers submitted for German metallic cartridge handgun trials. It was to be Paul Mauser’s first and only revolver design. The cylinder locking lever at the front of this circa 1878 single-action revolver’s frame required an awkward tip-up extraction system.
Intended to circumvent the Rollin White bored-through cylinder patent held by Smith & Wesson, this brass-framed revolver was loaded from the front. The individual chambers were sliding fixtures held in cutouts in the cylinder that were pushed forward for loading and ejection. About 10,000 of these five-shot Civil War era revolvers were made in Brooklyn.
Produced in great secrecy, the Pedersen Device was a World War I conversion unit for certain Model 1903 Springfield rifles, converting a bolt-action .30-06 rifle to a 40-shot semi-automatic rifle firing a .30 caliber pistol cartridge. While more than 101,000 Model 1903 Mark I rifles were produced, only about 65,000 Pedersen Devices were created. The vast majority of the Pedersen Devices were later destroyed.