Imperial Cyphers, Proofs and Acceptance

Cyphers, Acceptance and Proofs

The subject of acceptance and proofing is the most important element of German military rifle research, almost everything relevant about a rifle under discussion comes down to these markings found on the rifle and various components. Although this is an indisputable fact, it is also indisputable that very few collectors fully appreciate the importance of acceptance in an evaluation. Even the distinction between the three terms is lost upon most collectors, who casually use “proof” for any marking found on a rifle.

In view of this observation, the following will outline the differences and relative importance of the three general forms of markings that determine a rifles originality and ultimately value. This blog post will focus on the Imperial era, however a lengthy article is available that covers 1870-1945, which will feature in the Winter 2017 MRJ (Issue 214).


The Imperial era covers 1870-1918, this period created the framework that remained in existence until the end of the Second World War. Although each subsequent era made minor changes to the system of proofing and acceptance, there was continuity between the three periods that began with the Imperial era; what began in this period evolved, but the essential elements remained the same, both in purpose and application.

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the German Empire was formed under the Kaiser, however this Empire consisted of four semiautonomous states, – Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg, each of these states retained their own armies, there was no standing “Imperial German Army”. Only during war or national emergency did the control of the state armies passed to the Kaiser. The exception to this rule was the Kaiserliche Marine, or Imperial German Navy, which was from its founding an Imperial institution under the Kaiser and funded by the Reichstag (Imperial parliament).

Let us begin with a simple list of commonly encountered markings and their purpose:

Cypher (Crowned Letter)  The German Empire after unification consisted of four states, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg, each state having its own army and general staff and only during war or emergency did the control of the armies pass to the Kaiser. The prominent marking on the right side of an Imperial era stock is the cypher (crowned initial) of the ruling King of the state whose army it was issued to.

This marking is often a useful tool to identify the army the rifle was issued to, the vast majority of rifles will carry the Prussian King’s cypher, though Bavarian and Saxon marked rifles are common. Bavarian rifles are the most distinctive, not only was Bavaria the most independent of the semiautonomous states, it had its own State Arsenal and often dragged its feet on changes the Prussians undertook.  Further, the existence of the Kaiserliche Marine as an Imperial institution meant that the cypher and acceptance will have Imperial crown rather than a royal crown, underneath of which would be an “M” for Marine.

Proofs (An Eagle)  The only “proof” on a German military rifle is the fireproof (Beschußstemple); a marking that indicates the rifle has been proof tested using super-powered proof cartridges. This marking will be found three times on each rifle, the receiver, the barrel, and the bolt, – no other marking on a rifle is a “proof” and in all other cases it is incorrect. This marking is often useful in identifying the maker of the rifle, each state arsenal used a distinctive style of eagle, and the private manufacturers were supervised by state arsenals which used their respective arsenals stamps. The Kaiserliche Marine also used a distinctive fireproof, the Imperial Crown, this will follow the normal patterns along the left receiver, underside of barrel and bolt stem.

Acceptance (Crowned Letters)  This is the most important marking found on a rifle, it will tell you who made the rifle and when (roughly). Every factory engaged in military small arms production was assigned a military officer to supervise teams that inspected arms under his authority. These teams marked rifles and components with the inspection stamp of the officer in charge of their team. Every part will carry an inspection mark (crown over a Fraktur letter); what collectors call an “acceptance stamp” or acceptance. There are also numerous acceptance stamps that represent stages of a rifles assembly, the acceptance on the right receiver and on the barrel relate to receiver hardness and assembly/testing of the barreled receiver. The stock also has assembly acceptance that accounts for the assembly of the rifle.

The important thing to remember is that all of these markings are important when determining the authenticity of a rifle. No evaluation can be complete without an examination of these three types of markings, the most important of which are acceptance patterns. Every maker had their own distinctive pattern and they are remarkably consistent within ranges (date and suffix block). While the interpretation of these markings takes an extensive database, the general guidelines are simple:

  1. Fireproofs should match the maker, if it does not then look for other indicators the rifle was made by another firm.
  1. Be sure there are three acceptance stamps on the right receiver, if less the rifle probably was made by a depot and if four or more the rifle has been re-barreled.
  1. Lastly, acceptance on Imperial rifles is different than 1919-1945, it is common for several inspectors (different crowned initials) to be found on each rifle. The important thing looking for consistency of style of the markings. Each maker have distinctive styles and lettering, Fraktur tends to be distinctive to the author, each character can be written in a slightly different way and this applies to stamps also.


1918 Rifle Production


It is well known among Imperial German rifle collectors that the last year of the war is the most difficult of the war years to locate in “Imperial” condition. By “Imperial” I mean as the rifle left the factory, no alterations, upgrades, signs of rework or service in another country.

The reasons for this are many, however the most important ones relate to the circumstance of the last year of the war, specifically the last months of the war and how it ended.

Due to the changes in doctrine, the methods the soldiers employed in warfare, the Gewehr98 was becoming less important on the battlefield, further production during 1917 was enormous and far exceeded demand, and therefore the rifles were piling up in ordnance depots.

As a consequence every manufacturer dramatically reduced Gewehr98 production, and a few dropped Gewehr98 production altogether and were redirected to other systems during late 1917 and early 1918. Spandau was the first to be redirected to other products and ended their involvement with rifle production in the middle of 1917. DWM was next, ending rifle production early 1918:

Spandau – ended rifle production 1917, increased production of MG08/15 (1918 dated receivers exist, they are not Spandau made or assembled)

Danzig – reduced Gewehr98 production dramatically, est. 60,000, restarted carbine (98a) production.

Erfurt – made some Gewehr98’s in 1917, but small numbers. Mostly produced Kar.98a, P.08 (Luger) and MG08/15

Amberg – strong numbers, comparatively, about 80,000 Gewehr98’s. Contemplates P.08 and Kar.98a production, never realized.

Mauser – strong numbers, highest production of all firms engaged, in excess of 170,000, much of it dedicated to the Turkish contract.

DWM – ended early in 1918, generally moves Gewehr98 production to its subsidiary, Oberspree, who made roughly 30,000 rifles in 1918.

Suhl Consortium – roughly 50,000 collectively

Simson – roughly 20,000

These are still strong numbers and it stands to reason being the last year of the war they would be far more common than they actually are. This reasoning is further strengthened by what occurred with the end of World War II, where 1944-1945 dated rifles greatly outnumber earlier war years, especially in upper grades. The difference is found in how the First World War ended, specifically Germany largely escaping occupation, only the west bank of the Rhine was occupied, and the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty. Added to this mixture was absolute anarchy in many parts of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war, Bavaria and eastern Germany essentially at war, militias battling communists and Poles alike.

When the war ended many of these rifles were in ordnance depots, the Armistice and Versailles Treaty demanded the near complete demilitarization of the German military, essentially reducing it to border defense and police functions. According to German records, General von Seeckt, Germany possessed 6 million rifles when the war ended. During the retreat to Germany’s borders after the Armistice, she lost 1,500,000 rifles, some by abandonment, some by surrender (to the Dutch they surrendered 60,000 when a German Army Korps was allowed passage through Dutch territory, thousands were lost in Poland), but most probably due to theft when soldiers walked home with their rifles. A further 1,690,000 were tuned over to the German war deposal board for destruction before Versailles was signed. At the Spa conference it was admitted that 2,000,000 rifles were unaccounted for and through determined efforts the German government was able to turn over nearly 3,000,000 rifles by January 1921, though many of these were not modern military rifles like the Gewehr98 and Kar.98a.

The totals destroyed immediately after the war, when the Entente was pressing for immediate disarmament, even before Versailles, these new rifles located in depots were probably the first destroyed, being readily available and a threat to security. It is known the communists raided ordnance depots for their weapons, probably right wing militias also. The presence of so many small arms in civilian and revolutionary hands undoubtedly concerned the left leaning socialist governments then in power.

Further, those rifles that remained in German hands, both legal rifles (152,000 allowed by Versailles and subsequent agreements) and “black rifles” (illegal rifles hid from the IAMCC and the German government by covert right wing elements and paramilitary groups) would have ended up in government hands eventually and then through the normal upgrade and rework process then in practice 1935-1939. So these are not “generally” in their original manufactured condition, the exception being the Bavarian militia’s that hid large numbers of original rifles and resisted surrendering their arms to the central government or the IAMCC, these rifles do occasionally show up in their original manufactured state.

Whatever the cause for the scarcity of 1918 dated Gewehr98’s the simple fact remains, the rifles are exceeding difficult to find, the only exceptions being Mauser and Amberg examples, which are elusive, but can be found. The remaining rifle makers are exceptional rarities, mere handfuls are known in any condition at all, needless to say finding them in original matching condition.

So, keep an eye out for these very rare rifles, they can often be had for the costs of more common years, as very few people recognize their rarity and fewer still the demand among serious collectors.

Photo courtesy of Mike Foley

Further reading:

MRJ 200 June 2000

Commercial Sporters in the Aftermath of World War One

At the end of the World War, Germany was awash in chaos; rioting, looting and Marxist revolutionary violence was widespread; together with hordes of young men returning to their homes, with no meaningful employment available, things quickly deteriorated. While the government had many worries, perhaps the most pressing one was this problem of unemployment, – it fed the unrest. This problem of absorbing returning men and maintaining stability always exists after costly and protracted wars, it was magnified in Germany’s case because losing the war meant there were fewer remedies to deal with it. Demobilization was a requirement of the armistice, the revolutionary atmosphere also made it difficult to deal with an orderly demobilization. Many men simply headed home, often with their small arms…

One thing that the government could agree on was the need to keep employment stable, this meant that it resisted all efforts to close down factories, and this included the state owned Arsenals at Spandau, Erfurt, Danzig and Amberg. Before Versailles, the “diktat”, the government had some flexibility, but this six month window was inadequate when faced with revolution in the streets and hostility from the Entente (the victorious powers, principally led by England and France), who did everything possible to add to the instability.


While little is known about the arsenals activities in this period, we do know the events that the arsenals had to cope with. Specifically, in December 1919 a state owned conglomerate titled Deutsche Werke AG was formed to absorb the former arsenals and military facilities (shipyards and depots). This corporation almost immediately came under fire from the Entente, who were obsessed with the dismantling Germany’s war industries, in particular the state owned operations. Versailles required Germany to dismantle the arsenals and discharge all employees within three months of the signing, however the Entente was nearly as concerned over the unrest and unemployment situation as the German government was. During February 1920 the stipulation that the arsenals be dismantled and employees cast out was modified, specifically, if the arsenals could be proven to have dispensed with all military related production, and the IAMCC confirmed peaceful production was the only intention, the former arsenals would be allowed to operate under this Deutsche Werke umbrella. Naturally this condition was not a simple process, it is known all the former arsenals were engaged in manufacturing implements of peace, tools, farm equipment, and knives, and all envisioned moving into sewing machines, typewriters and calculators, however such a process was not an overnight process. The transformation to commercial manufacture was slow and the Entente was dissatisfied with the progress, especially when they learned in 1921 that sporting rifles were still being made. This led to demands that Deutsche Werke close down more operations, especially in Bavaria. From this general outline we can assume that most sporting arms production came to an end sometime in late 1921.


Thanks to Dr. Storz (Rifle and Carbine 98), the arsenal at Amberg is the best known of the four arsenals. In his book he acknowledges that Erfurt, Danzig and Amberg competed in this postwar commercial arms market. He states that Amberg’s product was more expensive and therefore suffered as a consequence, but he does not suggest when it ended. The closest he comes to a possibility is where he states that the refurbishment of battle damaged Gewehr98’s continued until December 1919, which is six months after Versailles was signed. It is probable that Amberg continued making Gewehr98 based sporting rifles until it closed in October 1920.

Of the rifles observed, Amberg’s seem the scarcest; they range in serial numbers up to number 739, although far too few have been recorded to estimate how many were made. The are typically Gewehr98 receivers with Bavarian fireproofs, usually the full AMBERG/1918 is across the top, though often it is defaced by scope bases which are common on these. Not all have bases installed, but most do. All have “GWF” over “AMBERG” on the right side of the receiver and “Gwf./A” in a triangle on the right side of the stock. An early rifle, serial 65, is even marked to the EWB, a Bavarian militia that fought against Marxist revolutionaries.


The arsenal at Spandau had ended rifle production early in 1917; there is no evidence that they made any rifles, including commercial sporting rifles after 1917. Although many receivers are known dated 1917 and even 1918, none of these were made by Spandau. They were sub-contracted from other firms and these typically were delivered to other rifle makers to assemble, – or were stored. Most 1917 and 1918 dated receivers were made into rifles 1924-1942. It is doubtful Spandau would have any involvement in such a venture, being the premier arsenal, near Berlin, where the IAMCC was located, it would have been under intense scrutiny.


It is probable that what occurred at Amberg probably occurred at Erfurt, it is known both were incorporated into the new Deutsche Werke AG and conducted the transformation to civilian production. It is probable that it was the last of the former arsenals in Germany to make these sporting rifles. The arsenal would continue to exist through World War II, though it would take the name of ERMA in 1922 under the leadership of Berthold Geipel.


The rifles observed are all based upon Kar.98a receivers and are difficult to gauge, they do not exhibit a serial number above the stock, rather they are serialed under the receiver and barrel. For this reason it is impossible to estimate how many were made, because so few disassemble them to record a serial number. They do seem to progress in other ways, the use of maker markings evolves, the manufacturer is marked on the siderail, the early rifles seem to use “Gwf.E.” and later rifles seem to use “Rw.E”, the highest rifle I have been able to identify is 7683, however it is very likely more were made. They are more common than Amberg made, but without serial numbers shown above the stock it is impossible to know how many were made.


Perhaps the most prolific of the three arsenals to have made commercial sporting rifles was Danzig. This was primarily because the arsenals ownership was passed over to the city of Danzig and was beyond the scope of the IAMCC and demilitarization efforts. The situation was largely the same however, the new owners had to find a means to keep the factory open and keep as many people gainfully employed as possible. Fortunately for them, they had Poland who was more than eager to develop a relationship and utilize their facility. While the details are not known as to what Danzig made for Poland, it was certainly military related, probably refurbishing rifles and supplying components, but of course they had no interest in sporting arms. It is known that Danzig supplied Mexico with rifle barrels and attempted a number of arms contracts with South American countries, which eventually led to their undoing. Danzig was a League mandate, under the protection of the League of Nations and the international community (The United States never joined the League, nor ratified Versailles, – back then republicans were conservative and isolationist, they would have no part in either and signed a separate peace with Germany) would have nothing to do with a League mandate being involved in the arms trade. The city of Danzig was ordered to demilitarize the arsenal at Danzig on July 30, 1921 and turn over all arms making machinery to Poland. The former arsenal was to engage in peaceful production thereafter, primarily the manufacture of bicycles, although it is probable the factory was abandoned or broken up to other commercial ventures instead.

The rifles made by Danzig are by far the most common, it is clear they made many more rifles and they survived in larger numbers, probably because more were exported. They made two main types, the first based upon the Kar.98a receiver, these rifles are most often encountered with bases installed on top of the receiver, although many have been observed without bases, these are all scrubbed of their original markings. All have typical Danzig (Prussian) fireproofs and are serialed on the left receiver (above the stock) and bottom of barrel (under the stock). All also have “Gewehrfabrik Danzig” on the siderail. The highest observed is serial 8083, although it is probable many more were made, they are not rare.

The second variation Danzig made were a new design, a .22 caliber boys sporting rifle, handy little rifles that were probably introduced much later. They come in a number of variations, most are not adapted for scopes, but at least a few were. They too have “Gewehrfabrik Danzig” on the siderail and are serialed on both barrel and receiver above the stock. They have a crest on the top of the receiver over a “Mod.2.”, these are far more scarce than the Kar.98a variation, the highest observed is serial 1586.

If you have one of these rifles, especially an Amberg or Erfurt made rifle, please do report its serial number and characteristics.

Mauser Oberndorf’s Turkish Rifle Contracts and Their Markings

Recently Jon Speed brought up a subject that both interesting and mysterious, the question of how Mauser Oberndorf handled the Turkish rifle contracts. The actual documents relate to the Model 1903 Mauser made for the Turks, but Jon Speed states that the markings were used on earlier contracts, the Model 1887, Model 1890 and Model 1893 made for the Turks.

It is important information for Gewehr98 rifle collectors also, as the marking also have relevance for the rifles Mauser Oberndorf made for Turkey during World War I. The rest is in the words of Jon Speed, who is intimately familiar with Mauser Oberndorf and the German documents he possesses:

Paul, many folks on Gunboards have questioned over the years what various markings mean on Turkish rifles made by the Mauser firm. I have a complete set of photocopied blueprints of the well known Turkish Model 1903 rifle, of which over 200,000 were made over a 5 year period. In this set of drawings are a group of images that Show all the Revision (Inspection) markings found on this model. The Most important is for the barrel which has a set of 6 markings. We will explain these marks as listed under the barrel image:

  1. Chart of Revision marks for the Turkish Model 1903 rifle. Note Turkish terms on top of receiver ring which honor the existing King
  2. Closer image of the main parts
  3. Close up of Barrel to show the 6 marks with explanation chart under this. These same markings were used on Turkish Model 1887 rifle and carbines, Turk Model 90 and Model 93 rifles. The marks are not always found in this order.

Chart from top to bottom:

  • Inspection after barrel is Bored
  • Proof after Barrel Pressure test
  • After Rifling and Chamber completed
  • After Front and rear sights mounted
  • After System with Barrel Proof
  • Final inspection

I hope this will help those interested in the Turkish Mauser’s. The Model 1903 system was the first use by Mauser of what we call the Intermediate system. Receiver ring is 4-5mm longer than on Standard action, Bolt is slightly shorter than Standard bolt.

          Chart of Revision marks for the Turkish Model 1903 rifle. Note Turkish terms on top of receiver ring which honor the existing King         Closer image of the main parts   Close up of Barrel to show the 6 marks with explanation chart under this. These same markings were used on Turkish Model 1887 rifle and carbines, Turk Model 90 and Model 93 rifles. The marks are not always found in this order.

Model 1903 Rifle with Stock Carved and Metal Engraved for King of Turkey (Sultan of the Ottoman Empire)

More information on the Model 1903 Turkish contract from Jon Speed:

To add to the Turkish Model 1903 story:

1. Chart that shows the Month, Number, Total numbers of test Round, Average Rounds per rifle. 5728 wood cases with 25 rifle /case.  Total delivered in the period indicated 143,200 Rifles. Contract went to slightly over 200,000 units. Total Rounds need 1,001,693

2. Photo from Glass plate shows a Model 1903 rifle with Stock Carved and Metal Engraved for King of Turkey (Sultan of the Ottoman Empire).

3. Close up to show carving and engraving.

4. Right view Butt Stock with large Turkish Crest inlaid

Similar Model 1903 rifles in other calibers were offered on Commercial market.





7 6

Prussian Arsenal Spandau

MVC-217FThe Prussian State Arsenal at Spandau was at the center of small arms development and production throughout the Imperial era. Located to the west of Berlin, Spandau was the center of German ordnance and everything relating to small arms originated from the various offices and facilities located there.

The beginnings of the State Arsenal date from 1722, when the Arsenal was located in Potsdam (17 miles southwest of central Berlin). In 1733 a branch was opened at Spandau and by 1855 the Potsdam Arsenal was closed and relocated toSpandau. Here it would remain, in one form or another until 1945.

While Spandau was involved in almost every rifle variation the Germans manufactured through 1918, for our purposes here, I will concentrate on the rifles that one is likely to encounter.  They made the Gewehr88 from 1889 through 1897, every year has been observed, though 1890 and 1891 seem to be the most commonly encountered. Serial studies vary in estimating totals made, as most of these studies are based upon a relative small sample and many of the rifles are of dubious value (condition, postwar service, alterations), one must use caution in placing too much value in them from a “collectors” perspective. It seems some of the later years Spandau made many more than surviving examples suggest, – going from serial ranges. Perhaps the best view to take, from a collector’s perspective, is to collect the very best examples possible (original, matching and good condition) and focus on the later years; 1894-97 seem to have survived in fewer numbers. One must also consider that these rifles were disposed of in large numbers before (exported) and during the war (aid to Turkey), and after the war were destroyed in great number. Huge numbers in fact, the early disarmament measures taken by the Germans typically focused upon lesser quality rifles and many of these rifles were targeted even before Versailles was signed, – the Entente inspectors were just that, they verified destruction of weapons, but the Germans actually did the work, and this work began long before the first IAMCC inspector arrived in Germany.

With the Gewehr98 Spandau played a dominate role. They are the only rifle maker that is known (confirmed) to have made the Gewehr98 every year 1899 through 1917. Like all the makers of the Gewehr98, Spandau made very few rifles in 1899, probably little more than 5,000 rifles. Danzig and Mauser would make nearly three times that many in 1899. Prior to the war, Spandau would be a lead manufacturer of the Gewehr98, though with early production it is difficult to know just how many rifles each maker made. Spandau seemingly is one of the few early makers that rolled over serialing each year, which aids in estimating production totals.  Fifteen years of research suggests that they were the primary maker, along with Danzig through 1906-1907. At this stage many of the firms were redirected elsewhere, possibly because enough Gewehr98’s were made to fill initial requirements (arming the regular Army Corps), but also due to new developments. In Spandau’s case, we have the introduction of the Maxim machinegun, known as the MG08, which Spandau and DWM had worked on together developing a lighter weight version for the German Army. While they are rare today, and little production information is available, it seems clear from what little is known of the pre-war production, that Spandau took the lead in numbers made prior to the war.

The most remarkable thing about this introduction of the MG08 into their production line up was the fact it doesn’t seem to have dramatically affected rifle production. While Gewehr98 production is known to have fallen sharply in 1908 and 1909, this is probably more due to the introduction of the Karabiner98 (Kar.98a) during those years. Adding the two rifles known production roughly brings total rifle production back inline with early production totals (though slightly depressed).Spandau would make the Kar.98a from 1908 through 1910, these rifles are very desirable and few have survived.

Up until the beginning of the war (1914), Spandau is clearly the main manufacturer of the Gewehr98, from 1909 through 1913 they are the primary maker a collector is likely to come across, some years, 1910-1911, only Spandau and Mauser are known to have made any Gewehr98’s at all! With the start of the war this would all change. All the makers would ramp up production quickly; most of all Spandau and Danzig, both top producers 1915-1916, but the course of the war would soon remove Spandau from rifle production.

During 1917 Spandau would redirect its efforts almost exclusively to machinegun production. They did make a modest number of rifles in 1917, about 120,000, but the vast majority of 1917 dated rifles collectors will encounter will be made by some other maker.  Most would end up at Danzig and Dresden, made up as sterngewehrs, but some would end up at Mauser and Hannover, which is an ordnance shop that assembled the parts into rifles. All of these rifle variations are very distinctive, but too little space to go into them here. While 1918 dated Spandau receivers were made, made by subcontractors, Belgium’s Pieper and the Berlin firm Siemans & Halske, they were not assembled by Spandau. Once again, some show up at Danzig, Dresden and Hannover, but most were never assembled during the war and were later build by ordnance depots in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

For the collector, Spandau offers a great deal of interesting rifle options. Early production in higher condition are elusive and very expensive if factory original. The most desirable rifles known are Spandau made rifles, primarily because they were largely supplied to Colonial (KS) and Garde troops. These rifles are identifiable by unit marking on the stock, and once again they are distinctive, both in how the unit markings are applied and certain features. Although after 1903 the best unit marked rifles seem to drop off, there are still great opportunities, 1904-1913 production is rather stable, the range of known production each year stays about 30,000-40,000, but any “original” rifle that is largely matching would command a good price if attractive. The war year rifles are naturally far more common, even in higher condition, and there are no known “variations” of value. While the 1917 dated rifles, made by Spandau, are rather elusive; about the only 1917 dated Gewehr98 that is, very few people would differentiate between one made by Spandau and the other assemblers. Same applies to 1918 dated rifles; most collectors would have a difficult time distinguishing between the variations.

Next up, Danzig, so stay tuned and feel free to ask questions.