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Thread: M1903 Springfield Custom by H&H Zehner

  1. #1
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    M1903 Springfield Custom by H&H Zehner

    [Hopefully I will be succeed in cleaning up my posting mistake]

    Not too long ago I acquired an engraved M1903 Springfield done by H&H Zehner in Frankfurt and would like all the information anyone might provide about its maker and likely history.

    The link shows pictures which I am 99% sure is the specific rifle I bought over a year later.

    http://www.cowanauctions.com/peek-in...x?ItemId=83987

    You can find other examples of rifles from this maker by Googling various combinations of H.&H. Zehner Frankfurt or H.u.H. Zehner.

    Two other Zehner rifles on the web have been attributed to American general officers as owners. To the extent this was true, I suspect this rifle was built for an American officer in occupation forces immediately postwar. I guess this because a M1903 was probably then readily available through the PX, I think the buyer was a fairly sophisticated rifleman with reasonably refined tastes, and the work just seems, even in postwar Germany, above the typical enlisted man's pay grade.

    I may be able to add some better pictures later if anyone is interested or they are necessary to clarify an opinion.

    The price was right when I bought the rifle I think because the Hensoldt scope had problems and the then owner did not have good contacts for repair. The scope I think is prewar, perhaps from as early as 1930. Claw mounts and sights seem the type that would have been in a prewar guild maker's inventory and are nicely engraved.

    On examination, the metal work is exceptionally nice with full oak leaf coverage and the game scene stock carvings are skillful, if a bit cookoo clock like. The floorplate includes a game scene. The trigger guard is ornately engraved with what appears to be "ATF" as owners initials. If the wood carving was not present, from checkering, shape, and ebony cap, I would think the stock was prewar American rather than German. So it is possible that Zehner completed metalwork, added scope, and added stock carving to a previous professional Springfield conversion.

    "H&H Zehner"
    "Gunsmiths"
    "Frankfurt"

    are engraved in script on the floorplate.

    During metalwork, most original markings were polished off including Springfield serial number. Strangely, there are no German proof marks. This perhaps (opinion?) dates the piece to immediately postwar before proof operations were restored.

    Mechanics are exceptionally smooth, balance is superb for offhand shooting, and the rifle is MOA capable off the bench.

    From web sources and present site management, I have the following tidbits which may or may not be accurate or may or may not include contradictory elements.

    "H&H" stands for two brothers "Helmut" and "Hermann" (1 source) or "Hans" (another source). I suspect "Hans" might have been Hermann's nickname.

    The firm dates to 1934 (raising I suppose possibility that the rifle is prewar). If this is the case, then the story might be very interesting.

    Helmut was a gunsmith in Suhl (possibly working for Sauer) prewar.

    Helmut did the gunwork while Hermann ran the business (sporting goods shop?)

    Firm relocated to Frankfurt am Main postwar & was closely associated with a shooting club or range. Since there is reference to this postwar relocation, I am pretty sure it pegs the rifle as postwar just because it is labeled to "Frankfurt".

    The firm may still be in business, perhaps as a successor firm called "Ziemainz" where Helmut's son "Peter" might still be doing gunwork.

    I like to tie a story to a rifle like this one and would appreciate any thoughts. I figured I would gather a few firmer facts and then place a call to Germany.

    I have seen this type of rifle dismissed as a "cigarette gun" but the workmanship seems much better than examples I have seen that were so called. But if it is a "cigarette rifle", I think this raises an interesting question of what else might fall into this class.

    Perhaps there are some still about that may have stories about this gun maker to American GI's.
    Last edited by Penultimate; 04-08-2013 at 10:39 PM. Reason: fix link

  2. #2
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    Pen, maybe it's me or my computer or server but the link didn't come up for me.

  3. #3
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    Not sure if I fixed link because this board seems to change it after I paste. Here it is again with "XX" to maybe prevent automatic edits. Cut, paste, & edit "XX"s should work if link is still broken.

    XXhttp://www.cowanauctions.com/peek-in-warehouse/item.aspx?ItemId=83987XX

  4. #4
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    Called Ronny Ziemainz www.waffen-ziemainz.de/ today. Yes, he is the successor to the Zehners. Peter Zehner is long retired and moved away from Frankfurt, adress unknown. Ziemainz knows the Zehners worked for US personell during the post-war era, but there are no records left. IF such records ever existed??? From 1945 to 1952 all gunmaking was illegal in Germany. Even having a gun in shop made a German a criminal. The Zehners, like many other German "Name" gunmakers, could only keep up their business under protection of higher-ranking allies, who themselves compromised allied laws. Under these conditions it would have been rather unwise to keep documents that might serve as evidence for both illegal gunmaking and for illegal protection by customers.

  5. #5
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    Thank you Axel E. A topic that interests me (and probably others) beyond this particular "Zehner" rifle is emerging. Broadly, I think it might best be called "Cigarette Rifles."

    I suspect that I am not alone in not really appreciating the time scope and details of the 1945-1952 gunmaking ban. For example, from discussion of work done for occupation troops, I had thought that a "gunsmith exception" for work done on a lawfully (non-German) owned weapon and that this was adopted early on as a means of getting a skilled set of the German workforce back to work. The technicality I thought was that a German smith could convert a captured Mauser 98 into a sporting rifle as a "service" if it was brought to him by a member of occupation forces but could not legally pick-up such a Mauser himself, do whatever, and then sell it. This fit my view of "why" a M1903 Springfield was a starting point for my Zehner. I have no idea where what I thought came from and my understanding may just be echos legitimatizing how technically illegal things were actually done. But are you saying (clearly and with authority) that even this was "officially" illegal? It would be nice to have an unequivocal understanding of this ban.

    Returning to my Zehner rifle and your mention of "named makers", my Zehner is clearly and professionally marked as to smith and origin. Do you think the work thus postdates 1952, or just that there were "named" makers who were pretty gutsy or had particularly potent protectors? I find in these thoughts opportunity to discover fun stuff like who were the protectors! For example, were "named makers" just better protected than "unnamed makers?" All previous rifle I have seen identified as "cigarette" were unmarked as to maker AND cruder than my Zehner example.

    As a detail tied to this, I recall stumbling on pre-1952 information that associates Zehner with (absent a better term) the gun club that it appears that gave him business space. Pre-1952 it seems they hosted "air rifle meets" which I assume were legal under the ban. Was this also "cover." for illegal gunmaking activities?

    So, let us start with how to define a "Cigarette Rifle." At the moment, I suggest that it means a firearm made or converted illegally during the ban on German gunmaking between 1945 and 1952.

  6. #6
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    The link worked this time.....wow, that is a nice piece.

  7. #7
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    Penultimate,
    From the end of the war, until sovereignty was returned,the authority in any "Zone" was the "Allied" force responsible for that zone ie the American Commander was responsible for the American zone; the French, for the French zone, etc. It is known that American Rod&Gun clubs employed gunsmiths, by permission of authorities;the uncle of our founder Dietrich Apel was one of these. I expect other work was done, "under the table", a man will do many things to feed his family in desperate times. One of my old friends built rifles for both American and Russian officers, with Actions brought to him, and generally using machinegun barrels(heavy enough to turn to desired contour). Payment was usually cigarettes or coffee, which were used to barter for other items.

  8. #8
    Not that it matters all that much, I was informed today by my good friend, Martin Krause of Germany, that H and H Zehner refers to Fritz (Hans) and O.(Hans Jr.) Zehner who were the firearms geniuses of the pre-war firm of J.P.Sauer & Sohn of Suhl, Germany. In some of the Archiv data Krause and I noted that Fritz's son was referred to as Junior (Hans Jr.). Martin told me they did gunsmithing in Frankfurt after the war was over. Personally, if this is true I am glad they were able to escape and continue on in an occupation both enjoyed. At the moment I have no way to document their presence in Frankfurt postwar. At any rate, it is a nice story. Regards, Jim Cate, author of the Sauer books.

  9. #9
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    There were several Zehners active in the German guntrade, so there is a lot of confusion about the individuals. Flintenkalle's "BÜLEX" directory lists 7, 3 of them with "Hans" as first name. Friedrich (Fritz) Zehner (1866-1946) was indeed the chief designer of Sauer & Son, his son Hans Zehner (1903 - 1973) taking over the development department of S&S. Of course he was called "Zehner junior" at Sauer & Sohn, Suhl. Pre-WW2 first names were rarely used in Germany, besides "senior" and "junior" men with the same family name in the same company were simply sorted as f.i. "Meier I, Meier II, MeierIII". After WW2 he reconstructed the lost construction drawings, not only for the Soviets, but he also worked for the ETW until the early 1950s. After going west, he was instrumental in establishing the Sauer & Sohn, Eckernförde production. IMHO this Sauer & Sohn Hans Zehner may or may not be identical with the Frankfurt Hans Zehner. A Hermann Zehner is listed as a Suhl engraver from about 1915 to about 1950. Other gunsmith Zehner first names were Adolf, Emil and Reinhold. At least Helmut Zehner opened the Frankfurt on Main shop in 1934, some time before Suhl was taken over by the Soviets. "Zehner" is not a really rare name, the telephone directories of both Suhl and Frankfurt show eight entries each, but no Hermann, Peter or O.
    Last edited by Axel E; 04-10-2013 at 07:17 PM.

  10. #10
    Axel, I don't have a clue as to what the 'O.' represented in Zehner Junior's name. I never found this information in the Suhl Archiv. With the information you have provided I've decided to dig deeper whenever I return to Suhl. I wonder if 'Junior' is buried in the family Grabstatte in Suhl. I'd like to knowas I saw no evidence of his grave when I visited the cemetery in 1994 or '95. Suhl!! What a great little city! I wish everyone of our members who love German guns would make a committment to visit this city in the "green heart" of Germany. Nice hotels, great food, friendly 'volk' and excellent German beer. Best regards, JIM

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