Unblinking Eye
The Zehna Pistol

 

The Zehna Pistol

by Ed Buffaloe
with additional photographs by
Francis Kennedy, Jim Stoddard, and Don Hill

Type I Zehna Pistol

Photograph by Jim Stoddard

Type II Zehna Pistol

There are not a lot of books that mention the Zehna pistol.  Ian Hogg devotes a few paragraphs to the Type I and II Zehna pistols his various books, though it is completely missing from Ezell’s Handguns of the World.  W.H.B. Smith has a picture of the Type II Zehna in the back of his Pistols and Revolvers, but there is no mention of it in the main text.  A.B. Zhuk has drawn the Type II and Type III in his book An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns, though he does not comment on their differences.  The Zehna does not merit a mention in the 26th Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values. It does appear in the 2005 Standard Catalog of Firearms, but only the Type I variant is described.

In his book German Handguns Ian Hogg lists Emil Zehner as the maker of the Zehna pistol, and the Zehna box I have located is labeled “Emil Zehner, Metallwarenfabrik.”  However, A.B. Zhuk lists the maker of the Zehna as Eduard Zehner.  John Walter, in his Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers, under the entry for “Zehna,” also states unequivocally that the Zehna was “made in Suhl by Eduard Zehner;” and under the entry for “Zehner” he says “Eduard Zehner...is also renowned as the designer of the 6.35mm Zehna semi-automatic pistol.”  However, he further notes:  “Emil Zehner, Suhl in Thüringen.  This German ‘gunsmith’ is recorded in the 1914 Deutsches Reichs-Adressbuch as a specialist screw maker.  ...there is no evidence to suggest an involvement in gunmaking after 1919.  Operations were still being listed in 1939 as ‘metalworking’...  Zehner is believed to have marked his guns with ‘E.Z.’ or an ‘EZ’ monogram.”

Thuringia has been important in mining and metalworking since at least the 8th century, and remains a major manufacturing region.
In 2007 the GDP of Thuringia was over €48 billion
.

If one searches the web for “Eduard Zehner,” no hits relevant to gun making are returned.  If one searches for “Emil Zehner,” the top listing is for a locksmith or blacksmith named Emil Zehner who was, for a short time in 1933, secretary of the Freie Arbiter Union, known by the acronym FAUD, which was an anarcho-syndicalist workers union in Erfurt, a town in the Thuringian heartland of central Germany only 30 miles or so from Suhl where the Zehna was made.  The FAUD was a member of the IWA (International Workers Association) an international anarcho-syndicalist organization which still exists today.  I’ve been unable to locate any information regarding what became of Emil Zehner of FAUD after the war.  1933 is the year that Hitler’s Nazi party effectively took control of the Weimar Republic.  By sometime in 1937 or 1938 the Gestapo had arrested nearly 90 FAUD members, some of whom were murdered or otherwise did not survive the war.  I think there are good reasons to suspect that Emil Zehner the union member is the same Emil Zehner whose name appears on the Zehna pistol box, particularly since locksmiths, blacksmiths, and gunsmiths were all in the same union in Germany.  Perhaps someone from Germany will write and provide more information.
Photograph by Francis Kennedy

Type III Zehna Pistol

There was also a Fritz Zehner who was known for designing a number of important handguns for J.P. Sauer und Sohn, located in Suhl.  A very interesting letter appears on Alain’s Littlegun.Be site, which asserts that Hugo Schmeisser’s wife was a member of the Zehner family, and that Hugo Schmeisser was buried in the Zehner family gravesite.  “The grave of Hugo Schmeisser is still in Suhl today. The stone on the grave however reads not Hugo Schmeisser but it reads Fritz Zehner.”  A correspondent informs me that the Suhl Archive lists a fabricant, Fritz Zehner, as being captured by the Russians in 1945 and never repatriated.

The Zehna pistol is often linked with the Haenel Schmeisser pistol, which bears a very strong resemblance to it.  Both guns are clearly based on an earlier design by Louis Schmeisser, which was manufactured as the Dreyse Vest Pocket, probably beginning in 1909.  Under his listing for Eduard Zehner, Walter states, “His business may have been sold to Haenal c. 1925, but details are lacking.”   Most authorities date production of the Haenel Schmeisser to the same time period (1922-1927) as the Zehna.

Photograph by Francis Kennedy

Top:  Early slide serrations & extractor.
Bottom:  Late slide serrations & extractor.

I have located two German patents that were granted to Emil Zehner.  The first was number 350727, filed on 20 February 1920 and granted 24 March 1922.  The second was number 358103, filed on 13 May 1921 and granted on 5 September 1922.  Neither patent appears to have been used in the Zehna pistol.

Hogg states that the Zehna pistol was manufactured between 1921 and 1926.  Zhuk states the dating is “...the subject of dispute.” He indicates the gun was probably designed prior to, or during, the First World War but that production was delayed until after the 1918 armistice.  Gerhard Schoenbauer indicates that production did not begin until 1921, and that the gun was still listed in catalogues as late as 1927.  The New York-based J. Galef  Sporting catalog of 1925 lists the Zehna, as does their World’s Fair catalog of 1939.  It is possible that the gun continued in production into the 1930’s, but equally possible that J. Galef was simply advertising old stock.

The Zehna is nearly identical to the Dreyse Vest Pocket, except in its means of field stripping.  It is of a typical blowback design, utilizing a non-inertial striker to ignite the primer, with an external extractor on the right side.  The trigger connector bar runs inside the frame on the left side of the gun.  Its uppermost extension forms a disconnector which extends up into a semi-circular cut in the bottom of the slide--as the slide moves to the rear the disconnector and attached trigger bar are forced down and out of contact with the sear.  Like the Dreyse, the backstrap of the Zehna is a separate piece to which are attached the sear, mainspring, and magazine release.

There are three major types of the Zehna pistol.  It is not possible to determine dates of production.

  • Slide Inscription SN 2271

    The Type I is marked ‘Zehna’ in script over the smaller block letters ‘D.R.P.a.’ or D.R.G.M. on the left side of the slide just in front of the serrations.  D.R.P.a. stands for “Deutsches Reich angemeldet” (German patent applied for); D.R.G.M. stands for “Deutsches Reich Gebrauchsmuster” (German Reich Registered Design).  Zehnas marked “D.R.P.a.” should be the earliest production guns, however, many of the later Type I and most Type II Zehnas are marked as patent pending, and I have been unable to locate a patent for the gun.  The serial number is stamped on the right side of the frame.  The last three digits of the serial number are stamped on the barrel and slide.  The barrel has a cylindrical piece projecting at right angles beneath the chamber that fits into a hole in the frame and is held in place by the recoil spring guide rod, very much like the 1910 Mauser.  At the front of the gun the pin ends in a rectangular plate at the top of which is a round peg which fits into a recess just beneath the barrel of the gun.  A few guns may have a checkered safety latch, though most safeties I have noted have circular cuts.  The extractor pin is inserted from the top, but angles through the slide and emerges through the right side of the slide.  The slide has 15 (or in a few cases 16) plunge-milled serrations on either side.  The groove on the top of the frame and barrel is about 8mm across.  Hogg states that the quality of these early guns was not as good as the later variants.  Hogg also states that about 5000 of the Type I were made, but I have seen a serial number as high as 8677, so I would estimate that closer to 9000 were made.  I would appreciate hearing from owners of Type I Zehnas who would be willing to share their serial numbers, in order to estimate more precisely how many were made.*
  • Early Zehna Grip Logo
    Type I

    Late Zehna Grip Logo
    Type II and III

    Type I & II Muzzle

    Type III Muzzle

    There are two variants of the Type II.  The First Variant slide is marked in block letters on a single line ‘“ZEHNA” CAL. 6,35 D.R.P.a. E. ZEHNER, SUHL’.  The peg holding the front plate in position has a rectangular cross section and has been broadened to the full width of the front plate.  (Note:  Some early Type II pistols retain the round pin, and may also retain the early grips, e.g. serial number 9099.)  The end is rounded.  The EZ grip monogram is redesigned to make it somewhat more elegant-looking.  There are 15 slide serrations.  The groove on the top of the Type II is much more narrow than on the Type I--about 4mm.  The Second Variant of the Type II is the same as the First Variant, but a cocking indicator is added.  The extractor is moved further down on the right side of the slide, and the pin it turns on is inserted straight down from the top and emerges at the bottom, rather than the side, of the slide.  The slide serrations are shortened slightly and moved further to the rear of the slide, so they no longer extend beneath the extractor.  The Type II Second Variant is the most common type of Zehna, though exact production figures are not known.  I would appreciate hearing from owners of Type II Zehnas who would be willing to share their serial numbers, in order to estimate how many were made.*
  • The Type III Zehna pistol had its method of barrel retention redesigned.  The long pin through the center of the recoil spring guide rod is eliminated in favor of a transverse pin through the frame.  The serial number is moved to the left side of the frame.  Production numbers for the third variant are not known.  I do know that a serial number as high as 26,426 exists.  I have been unable to locate print references to the Type III.  Zhuk has a drawing of the gun, but makes no comment about it.  I would appreciate hearing from owners of Type III Zehnas who would be willing to share their serial numbers, in order to form an estimate of how many were made.*

The tongue that holds the rectangular plate in position on the front of the gun was broken off on both the Type I and Type II Zehnas I examined.  I suspect both styles of this tongue were easily broken off and the changes in the gun were probably efforts to eliminate this problem.  The final solution, which was to redesign the method of barrel retention, probably made the gun easier and cheaper to manufacture.

Many Zehna pistols came into the United States as war booty after World War II, and at least one person wrote me that his father obtained his when he was a merchant seaman.  I have also noted Zehnas in the 13,000 and 15,000 serial number range marked either “Germany” or “Made in Germany” on the left side of the frame, and the gun appeared for sale in some U.S. catalogues, as noted above.

Field Stripping the Type I and Type II

  1. Clear the chamber and press the trigger.
  2. Draw the slide back and lock it open by rotating the manual safety counterclockwise and pressing it up into the slide detent.
  3. Pull the rectangular front plate away from the front of the gun until the peg clears the hole beneath the barrel and rotate the plate 90 degrees so that the tip of the peg rests against the front of the frame.
  4. Lift the barrel straight up out the top of the frame.
  5. Release the slide lock and ease the slide off the front of the gun.

Field Stripping the Type III

  1. Top:  Dreyse Vest Pocket
    Bottom Left:  Haenel Schmeisser
    Bottom Right:  Zehna

    Clear the chamber and press the trigger.
  2. Draw the slide back and lock it open by rotating the manual safety counterclockwise and pressing it up into the slide detent.
  3. The half-moon cut in the slide should now be aligned with the barrel retention pin on the right side of the gun.  Turn the slotted barrel retention pin 90°.
  4. Lift the barrel straight up out the top of the frame.
  5. Turn the barrel retention pin back to its original position, release the slide lock, and ease the slide off the front of the gun.

 

The Zehna has the same feel of quality manufacture as the Colt 1908.  As noted above, the two guns look very similar despite their internal differences.  The Zehna barrel is 6mm longer than the Colt barrel.  The second variant gun shown here is well finished, though not as highly polished as the Colt.  The manual safety on the Zehna must be rotated a full 180° to engage or disengage, and so is not as easy to operate as the safety on the Colt which clicks up or down a mere 30°.  At the range, the 90 year old Zehna fed and ejected with no problems.  The trigger was smooth and accuracy was comparable to the Colt--typically it shoots a 3 to 4 inch group at 25 feet, which is perfectly adequate for self defense.  Both guns hold six rounds in the magazine.


*  I would appreciate hearing from owners of Zehna pistols of any type.  I have observed the following guns:

  • Prototype:  8 or possibly 88
  • Type I:  S/N 917, 1274, 1690, 1799, 1843, 2271, 2812, 4072, 4596, 5895, 6155, 6751, 7648,  7781, 8677.
  • Type II First Variant:  9099 (w/ Type I grips), 9213  (w/ Type I grips), 9443, 11539, 11897, 12050, 12132, 12591, 13149, 13386, 13452, 13891, 13937, 13949, 14364, 15068.
  • Type II Second Variant:  14220, 14615, 14644, 14646, 15340, 15348, 15520, 16465, 17161, 17216, 18414, 19771, 21504, 21566, 21920.
  • Type III:  22777, 22951, 22970, 23476, 24206, 24665, 26179, 26420, 26426, and 27353.

There is no way to determine the exact date of production of these guns.

Copyright 2008-2010 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click on the pictures to open a larger version in a new window.

References

Arms of the World 1911 (ALFA Catalogue).  Follett, Chicago:  1972.
Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers, by John Walter.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
German Handguns, by Ian V. Hogg.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
German Pistols and Revolvers, 1871-1945, by Ian V. Hogg.  Galahad, New York:  1971.
History of the Manufacture of Iron in All Ages, by James Moore Swank. Philadelphia: 1884.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns, by A.B. Zhuk.  Greenhill, London:  1995.
Pistols of the World, by Ian V. Hogg & John Weeks.  Arms & Armour Press, London:  1978.
Pistols of the World, by Ian V. Hogg & John Walter.  Krause Publications, Iola, WI:  2004.
 

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