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

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.

New Blog Post Series

I thought as good a place to start with this series of short articles would be the actual rifle makers. As many are already aware, I have done a series of articles on the state arsenals, the key firm Ludw. Loewe AG, and several smaller articles on DWM variations. However, here I will do short articles on each firm, smaller in scale and scope, which can serve the beginner as a quick reference (for the original article on the subject, refer to MRJ #196 May 2009).


General Freiherr von Lyncker, Paul Mauser and the Gewehr98


Recently Jon Speed decided to share one of his most prized documents from his collection, this one a personal letter from Paul Mauser to General Freiherr von Lyncker, Chief of the Military Cabinet, a personal aide to Kaiser Wilhelm II since 1908. By all accounts a man of impeccable character, from a family with a long and distinguished military tradition. The story of the General is a story unto itself; he was intimately involved with the path to war in 1914, entirely loyal to the German Army and Kaiser. Although like most German Generals of this period, he shied away from politics, he was one of the leading proponents of war, especially with France and Russia, the thinking being that it was an eventuality and best to get it done and over with, – that and it would relieve some of the domestic pressures (strength among the “liberal” political elements in Germany – typical of leaders then and today, they often look to war as a distraction for the public). He was a realist though, his loyalty was to the Kaiser and the Army above all and he had no political ambitions. Once the war began, his “hawkish” nature was extinguished with the death of his two sons, one in September 1914 and the second in February 1917 (a collision with a French aircraft in battle, killing both pilots), the consequence being that he began to side with the civilians in government (Bethmann and Lyncker’s Naval counterpart Georg von Müller) against OHL (Army Supreme Command, – Hindenburg and Ludendorff), seeking a more moderate course with peace in mind. He was never active in this pursuit though, the deaths of his two sons broke his spirit and he largely left official matters to others.

A prewar picture of the Kaiser’s entourage, Lyncker is number 6; Georg von Müller is number 13. Georg von Müller was an important figure during the war, possibly one of the most rational men around the Kaiser at the time, though apparently not well liked.

The letter itself is quite interesting, very courteous as you would expect from a man of Paul Mauser’s character and upbringing, but we lack the earlier correspondence from Lyncker that precipitated this letter. It discusses the delivery of the G98a, that the delivery date could be met after all, due to the material supply improving over previous months. I am uncertain what Paul Mauser means by the G98a, but he refers to parts for the rifles, which is probably the clue to meaning.

The research I have conducted dealing with pre-war rifle (Gewehr98) production suggests that Mauser was making very few rifles for the German Army by 1908. By 1911 the numbers seem to be trivial, and the only meaningful production being done by the Prussian Arsenal at Spandau, all the other Arsenals were engaged with Kar.98a production, and DWM was entirely off line making rifles for the German military. As far as can be determined, only Spandau and Mauser were making Gewehr98’s in 1911, and Mauser’s production was meager. So my interpretation of the letter is referring to component production, probably delivered to Spandau, or possibly the ordnance system.


The only question that remains is why would this situation demand the attention of such important men? It seems like a rather insignificant problem for such a high ranking General to be involved in, and one can only imagine Paul Mauser’s reply was only due to such an important inquirer.

Note the quality of the paper, Paul’s name embossed at the top, the signature using a quill pen, which Jon said was typical of Paul Mauser’s correspondence, but I am sure the importance of the recipient is also a factor.

Mauser Oberndorf Sg98/05 Bayonet Production During World War I

The Mauser Oberndorf Sg98/05 Bayonet


Mauser Oberndorf is a well-known manufacturer of the German “butcher” bayonet, which resembles a butchers knife, but few realize that Mauser Oberndorf was not the actual manufacturer of the bayonets. Some years ago Jon Speed revealed the facts behind the production of the bayonets, in his Collector Grade book titled “Mauser: Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles” page 50; however he left out much of the details of the relationship.


Today, Jon Speed tells us the rest of the story!

Jon Speed recently provided the documents from his archives that show the relationship in detail. During April 1915 Mauser Oberndorf contracted with “Unionwerk Mea G.m.b.H. Elektrotechnishe Fabrik Eisenwerk” at Feuerbach (northwestern suburb of Stuttgart) for the manufacture of 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 bayonets between July 1915 and July 1920, these bayonets were to be made at Mauser’s expense, who would cover operating costs and 1 Mark per bayonet. The contract also allows for a cancellation if the government doesn’t authorize the expenditure.


Although Mauser contracted for such a large number of bayonets, a million and half or more, the bayonets are not especially common, – though not scarce either. Many have been recorded and several studies list it in the “common” category of the manufacturers, however my own research suggests they are one of the “less common” amongst the commonly encountered makers. Known bayonets cover the range 1915-1918, the 1915 dated probably the most difficult to find, probably because production did not begin before July 1915, and 1917-1918 dated the most common date encountered.. Sawback blades are only known dated 1916 and 1917, my research showing 1917 more common than 1916 dated.


The bayonets can also be found with Mauser Oberndorf made scabbards, which are a little less common and in my experience command a small premium over unmarked scabbards. How many bayonets were actually delivered is unknown, or Jon Speed did not say (**), but I suspect many were sent to Turkey, and that probably explains why the Mauser made bayonets are less common than you would expect. I have seen many cut down bayonets that have signs of Turkish service, and it is likely many ended up there. P1020158

Here are some pictures of the actual contract between the two firms, with the signatures of Mauser directors Schmid and Doll.


** Update, Jon Speed was able to determine approximately how many bayonets were made:

Paul , checked in my Mauser records and can say that app. 1,105,900 Bayonets were made by /for Mauser during WWI. I am sure the figure could be a bit higher as the Bayonet data for 1914-15 is not clear. I have a 1916 Bayonet with metal sheath with WFM name on it in small letters. Regards, Jon

Vatikan Paepstliche Schweizergarde Gewehr98’s

As the’s first blog post, I thought we would start with a very interesting, and little known piece of Mauser history shared with me by Jon Speed, who found the story within the Hans Lockhoven files.


Sometime between 1908 and 1911 the Vatican contracted with Mauser Oberndorf, through an intermediate in Düsseldorf, for the purchase of 200 Gewehr98 rifles. These were commercial production rifles, but have the appearance of your typical Gewehr98. In 1989 the commander of the Paepstliche Schweizergarde (Swiss Guard) wrote a letter to Hans Lockhoven and included pictures of one of these 200 rifles, in this case a Mauser Oberndorf / 1908 serial number 77357. Note the condition and the commercial trade marks of Mauser envon the stock, the wrist marking (WM) and trademark on the buttstock are commonly found on commercial rifles of this period. The rifles do not seem to be specially marked, or even used to any appreciable extent.


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Jon Speed also discovered the recording of this sale in his bound books, dated July 1911, so the delivery was probably sometime after that but certainly during 1911. One can only wonder what purpose these rifles were intended to serve, but the Gewehr98 was the standard service rifle of the period, the Gewehr98 in its prime, so it makes sense the Vatican might want to have the most modern arms possible for their small armed guard.