Unblinking Eye
The Zehna Pistol

The Zehna Pistol
Part 2, The Production Pistols

by Ed Buffaloe


A note on typology: In a previous article, I referred to the variations of the Zehna pistol as “types” rather than “variants.” I was justifiably criticized for partly defining the types in reference to slide inscriptions. In reality, the Dreyse 6.35mm vest pocket, the Haenal Schmeisser, and the Zehna pistols are all variations on the same fundamental design, by Louis Schmeisser, all primarily differing in the method of barrel retention, and hence, of disassembly. It now seems more accurate to use the word “variants” and to define the Zehna variants by changes in the method of barrel retention.

The prototype Zehna pistol, as shown in the patent, was probably redesigned to speed up production and to reduce manufacturing costs which is the usual reason for minor changes like we see in this gun.

The earliest production Zehna pistols (I have documented examples from serial number 71 through 2805) were marked “D.R.G.M.” which means that a Gebrauchsmuster, or utility model, had been issued for the design. The Gebrauchsmuster was a form of limited (three year) patent protection that required registration of the design but not examination of it. Waffenschmied reported, in its 25 November 1919 issue, that Emil Zehner had been granted a Gebrauchsmuster for a “barrel fixation method for self-loading pistols.” It seems to me that, with his design registered at the patent office through a Gebrauchsmuster and a patent application filed, he could have begun commercial production as early as December of 1919.

Advertisement: Waffenschmied, 25 September 1920

Advertisement, Waffenschmied, 25 Sept. 1920


In any case, as previously noted, Mathews, in Firearms Identification, states that production began in “mid-1921.” But an ad was placed in the 25 September 1920 issue of Der Waffenschmied, by the firm Valentin Christoph Schilling (VCS) of Suhl, which included a listing for the Zehna pistol, among others, indicating that production was already under way at this time. The first variant Zehna is also listed in the 1921 Geco catalog and is illustrated with an early first variant pistol marked “Zehna D.R.G.M.”

GECO Catalog,1921, No-30, p.7

Advertisement, GECO Catalog, 1921


An interesting sidelight is that VCS was a member of the “Suhl Consortium” which was made up of the C.G. Haenel company, the J.P. Sauer company, and the Valentin Christoph Schilling company. This consortium had a long history of working together on military contracts for rifles and revolvers. Since we know that Fritz and Hans Zehner worked for Sauer, that Hugo Schmeisser worked for Haenel, and that VCS sold Emil Zehner’s pistols, the consortium is another clear and important link between the Zehner and Schmeisser families.

Early and Late First Variant Zehna Pistols

Early First Variant Zehna Marked D.R.G.M and Later First Variant Zehna Marked D.R.P.a.


A few final remarks on dating the pistols before I move on to describing the variations: by at least serial number 4072, and possibly earlier, the marking on the Zehna pistol had changed to D.R.P.a., which is an abbreviation for Deutsches Reichs Patent angemeldet [applied for]. The Deutches Reichs Gebrauchsmuster (D.R.G.M.) designation had come to be perceived as indicating that a patent was not likely to be granted, whereas D.R.P.a. seemed more hopeful, or at least less dubious.

Interestingly, the very last Zehna pistol I have documented, serial number 27030, still bears the D.R.P.a. stamp. This indicates to me the possibility that all known Zehna pistols were made prior to the granting of the patent on 13 July 1923; it seems reasonable that, as soon as the patent was granted, Emil Zehner would have switched the inscription to D.R.P., Deutsches Reichs Patent, to indicate the design was fully protected. On the other hand, since the design changed three times after the patent was filed, and the claims of the patent were relatively limited, perhaps Zehner felt he should simply stick with “patent applied for,” since the patent did not cover the exact design he was manufacturing.


The Zehna Pistol Variations

Zehna Variations
Zehna Variations

Prototype Zehna,                First Variant Zehna,                Second Variant Zehna,                Third Variant Zehna


The First Variant Zehna

The first variant Zehna pistol is characterized by a 2.5 inch barrel with short rails at the front that fit into cuts in the slide, and there is a hole just beneath the barrel opening for the pin on the end-plate of the recoil spring guide rod. The end plate has cuts on either side to allow it to be grasped with fingernails.

Zehna First Variant Barrel Zehna First Vairant Detail

First Variant Zehna Barrel and Front Plate Details


There is a wide groove (approximately 8mm) cut in the top of the breech block and barrel, with a sighting notch at the rear, and a raised front sight.

First Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 2271 First Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 2271

First Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 2271


There are sixteen triangular-cut slide serrations at the rear of the slide. Somewhere between serial number 2271 and 2470, the serrations were reduced to fifteen. On the early guns, the manual safety lever has a round checkered area where the thumb operates it. Somewhere between serial numbers 2271 and 2470, the safety lever was made slightly narrower and features a round area with two concentric circles.

On the left side, just in front of the serrations, is the inscription:

Zehna
D. R. G. M.

Somewhere between serial number 2271 and 4072, the inscription was changed, as follows:

Zehna
D. R. G. a.

The finish is rust blue with the trigger, safety, end plate on the recoil guide rod, and the grip screw and nut being fire blued. Grip plates are of checkered hard rubber with the EZ monogram in an oval at the top. The magazine has two slots for viewing cartridges on the right side only.

The last few hundred first variant guns received new grip plates and a new slide inscription. The only difference in the grip plates was a redesigned EZ monogram with a more elegant look. The new slide inscription was on a single line, in all-capital sans-serif characters, as follows:

„ZEHNA‟ CAL. 6,35 D.R.P.a. E. ZEHNER, SUHL

The last serial number I have identified, as a first variant, is 9887. Please write to me if you have a later first variant Zehna.* Hogg states that the quality of the early guns was not as good as the later variants. All I can say for certain is that not many of the early guns remain in pristine condition. I have not noted any first variant guns that are marked for export.

At this time, I estimate that approximately 10,000 first variant guns were made.


The Second Variant Zehna

I have noted several first variant Zehna pistols with the long pin on back of the front plate broken off, so I suspect that Emil Zehner decided it was necessary to redesign the front plate to be a little more robust. This required a slight redesign of the barrel. Later, he made other changes to the second variant. The redesign of the front plate and barrel took place at about serial number 10000. Please write to me if you have a serial number between 9900 and 10100 and send photographs of your gun.*

Zehna Second Variant Barrel Zehna Second Variant Detail

Late Second Variant Zehna Barrel and Front Plate Details


The new front plate is L-shaped with a tongue that fits into a slot in the lug beneath the barrel. The side cuts on the front plate are eliminated and serrations are added to the bottom. Somewhere around serial number 12000, we begin to see Zehna pistols that are marked for export, usually on the left side, with the stamp GERMANY or MADE IN GERMANY. Please contact me and share photos of your export-marked Zehna.*

Early Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 13870 Early Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 13870

Early Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 13870 - Marked MADE IN GERMANY - Photos by Bill Chase

By serial number 14615, the barrel is shortened to 2.37 inches. The top of the slide is machined differently; the sighting groove is narrower by about 4mm and the front sight is not as tall. The overall weight is reduced by about 23 grams. The position of the extractor is moved down on the right side so it lies even with the bottom of the right barrel flange, and the pin that holds the extractor now runs through the slide vertically, rather than at an angle, as on the earlier guns. The slide serrations are moved a little further to the rear. Finally, an indicator that the striker is cocked is added; the recoil spring guide rod now has a pin on the end which extends through a hole in the striker spring backstop when the striker is cocked.


Late Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 18340 Late Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 18340

Late Second Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 18340 - Marked MADE IN GERMANY


This sub-variant, with the changes described in the paragraph above, might be regarded by some as differing significantly enough to warrant being considered a variation of its own but, as I have defined the variations by method of barrel retention rather than other characteristics, I will to refer to this pistol as a late second variant.

The highest serial number I have recorded for a second variant Zehna is 22382. At this time, I estimate that approximately 12,350 second variant Zehna pistols were made. Please write to me if you have a late second variant Zehna.*

Zehna Third Variant Barrel

Third Variant Zehna Barrel


The Third Variant Zehna

The third variant Zehna pistol has its method of barrel retention redesigned again. 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. There continues to be 15 slide serrations. The barrel on my third variant measures 2.355 inches, slightly shorter (by .015 inch) than my second variant gun. The third variant Zehna retains all other features and markings of the late second variant. I have not documented a third variant pistol that was marked for export.

Third Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 24206 Third Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 24206

Third Variant Zehna Pistol - SN 24206


I have recorded serial numbers for third variant Zehna pistols between 22899 and 27030. I estimate that only about 4250 third variant guns were made. I am still collecting serial numbers of third variant guns so please write to me, especially if you have a very early or very late specimen.*


Field Stripping the First and Second Variants

  1. Early Second Variant Zehna Field Stripped

    Early Second Variant Zehna Field Stripped
    Photograph by Bill Chase

    With the safety off, clear the chamber and press the trigger to release the striker.
  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 Third Variant

  1. Third Variant Zehna Field Stripped

    Third Variant Zehna Field Stripped

    With the safety off, clear the chamber and press the trigger to release the striker.
  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.


* Write to edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com.

The Zehna Pistol, Part 1, History and Prototypes

Copyright 2008-2022 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click on small pictures to open a larger version in a new window.


References

  • Cate, Jim and Van Gijn, Nico. J. P. Sauer & Sohn: A Historical Study of Sauer Automatic Pistols. Walsworth Publishing Company, Marceline, Missouri: 1996.
  • Hogg, Ian V. German Handguns.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
  • Hogg, Ian V. German Pistols and Revolvers, 1871-1945.  Galahad, New York:  1971.
  • Hogg, Ian V. and Weeks, John. Pistols of the World. Arms & Armour Press, London: 1978.
  • Konig, Klaus-Peter and Hugo, Martin. Taschenpistolen. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 1965.
  • Matthews, J. Howard. Firearms Identification. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison: 1962.
  • Schroeder, Joseph J., editor. Arms of the World 1911 (ALFA Catalogue).  Follett, Chicago:  1972.
  • Walter, John. Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
  • Zhuk, A. B. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns.  Greenhill, London:  1995.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Klein for his assistance in researching German sources and explicating German word usage. Special thanks to Bill Chase for his always excellent photographs. Thanks to Michael Carrick for assistance in researching sources, and to Al Gerth for proofing and corrections.

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