Friedrich Langenhan and the Langenhan Dolla Air Pistols

This article will unveil the origins of the humble Dolla air pistol. We will discover the five variations of this air pistol, its manufacturers and some interesting personal relationships between them with Friedrich Langenhan central above all others. A story spanning two world wars which ultimately ends with the Soviet invasion of east Germany in 1945.

The story of Langenhan begins in 1842 Germany in the town of Mehlis, Thüringen with Valentin Friedrich Langenhan (10th June 1819 – 2nd March 1886). Valentin, who at this time was 23, along with his father, Johann Gottlieb Langenhan, 51, bought a shop in which they set up their gunsmith business. Together they produced and sold various gun parts such as flint-locks, hair-set locks, guards, caps, tools and knife blades. [1][2]

Johann (16th May 1791 – 15th January 1883) was a master gunmaker and personally trained his son Valentin in the art. It is said that Valentin preferred to use his second name Friedrich which is frequently seen on Langenhan company literature. Perhaps this was to differentiate himself from another Valentin Langenhan who operated an iron and steel works that was also located in Mehlis. [1]

Sächsischer Revolver Mod. 1873 [3]

In 1855 or perhaps 1861 (references tend to conflict on this date), Friedrich and his father purchased a hammer-works company in the very close town of Zella. The purchase of the hammer-works, whose history can be traced back as far as 1653, enabled Friedrich to expand his business to produce revolvers, pistols and luxury rifles. The business became so successful in Germany and abroad that in 1873 they received an order from the “Sächsische Kriegsministerium” (Saxon Ministry of War) to deliver four thousand Mod 1873 revolvers. [2][4][5]

Twelve years later, in 1885, Friedrich, now 66, was taken ill and his son, Hermann, took charge of the company on January 1st 1886. A year later Friedrich died just 3 years after his father. Rather oddly, despite previously supplying a large order of four thousand revolvers, the company employed just seven people. Hermann saw the potential of the company and invested in new machines, power plants and buildings. He expanded the production of guns to include rifles, teschings (small bore hunting rifles), recreational guns, hunting rifles, target pistols, self-loading pistols (semi-automatic), flare guns and of course airguns. [1][2]

“meteor” bicycle

Fr. Langenhan “Meteor” Bicycle Poster

Almost ten years later in 1894, Hermann took the company in a new direction and began production of bicycles. The company became known as “Gewehr- und Fahrradfabrik Fr. Langenhan” (Rifle and Bicycle Factory Fr. Langenhan) and their “Meteor” bicycle became a worldwide success. [2]

At around the same time, Hermann also introduced the production of airguns with the typical Gem air rifle. Production of which continued right up until the start of World War II. [6]

On March 3rd 1894, Herman raised British patent 4544 titled “Improvements in or applicable to Air-guns”. This patent described an improved barrel catch or breech lock for the Gem air rifle. Normally two hands would be required to open the Gem air rifle to allow it to be cocked. However, Hermann realised he could improve on this to allow the breech to be opened with a single hand. [7]

Gem air rifles

Langenhan British Breech Catch/Lock Patent [7]

The patent was raised in Britain through Martin Pulvermann who it appears may have been Langenhan’s British distributor. Martin Pulverman & Co (note the single “n”) of London and later Birmingham, was a hardware, arms and ammunition merchant. The airguns and firearms that he imported were typically sold on to British gunmakers who would apply their own brand marks and often enhanced them with minor changes and improvements. Certainly, it is known that in 1890, Pulvermann had applied to register the Langenhan trademark in Britain on behalf of Langenhan. [8]

A side point of note is that the patents and census records show a double “n” for Pulvermann whereas written on the front cover of catalogues a single “n” is used. Also of slight interest is that Pulvermann was German born and later emigrated to England where he became a British Citizen. I wonder of the mis-spelling of his name on catalogues was a deliberate attempt to appear to be more “British”. [9][10]

There is no sign of a similar German patent by Langenhan which could imply that Hermann either didn’t apply for a German patent or was not granted one. However, a British patent may well have given him the rights for his design in all British territories which, perhaps, covered much of the world at that time. We must remember not to get to hung up on patents though. After all his patent only covered a barrel catch / breech lock mechanism and not the whole rifle.

Langenhan’s Lever Action Breech Lock [12]

Through Pulvermann, Langenhan raised two further airgun related British patents. One on September 5th 1900 and the other on May 17th 1905. Both of which were also specific to designs relating to breech locks or barrel catches. [11][12]

Also in around 1900, Langenhan produced their first air pistol, the “Pull Rod”. This is an exceptionally rare air pistol as only one example is known to exist. Images of the pistol are even rarer! [8]

In 1905, Langenhan began production of the Dolla pop-out with the black lacquered Langenhan Nr. 1 and the nickel-plated Langenhan Nr. 2. This is considered to be the second variant in the range of Dolla air pistols with the first two variants produced by Eisenwerke Gaggenau. Production of the Langenhan Nr. 1 and Nr. 2 Dolla pistols is considered to have ceased in 1927 when the fourth variant was introduced. However, the Nr. 1 and Nr. 2 have been seen in catalog advertisements as late as 1934. However it is possible that this could be a case of printing plate reuse. [8]

“millita” style air rifles

From around 1906, Langenhan introduced the Millita Model D Club air rifle which continued into production until the end of World War II. [6]

The Fr. Langenhan Factory in 1913

Langenhan’s next air pistol was designated the Langenhan Nr. 6 and Nr. 7 and was introduced sometime around 1911. It was a direct copy of Mayer and Grammelspacher’s (later Diana) 1892 MGR air pistol. The only difference was that it was missing the MGR inscription. Similar to the Langenhan Dolla Nr. 1 and Nr. 2, the Nr. 6 and Nr. 7 were also available in black lacquered and nickel-plated finishes respectively. I wonder how Langenhan was able to produce the pistol considering it was still in production by Mayer and Grammelspacher until around 1914. Perhaps Langenhan had requested permission to manufacture the MGR as their own air pistol under license. [8]

“FL-Selbstlader” semi-automatic 7.65mm 32 ACP calibre pistol [13]

By the start of World War I, the company had expanded into additional buildings and employed about 310 workers. Inevitably the Langenhan company supplied arms for the German army during World War I such as the “FL-Selbstlader” semi-automatic 7.65mm 32 ACP pistol. It is estimated around 50,000 of these pistols were produced. [2][4]

Despite the loss of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles and the detrimental effect that the restrictions of the treaty had on Germany, the Langenhan company managed to survive by developing firearms for the civilian market. [2][4]

Langenhan also continued to manufacture its range of airguns and in 1925 a strange air pistol called the MAKO or Novelty Patent pistol was introduced. I say strange because you would push the barrel in to cock it yet pull it out again and break it open to load it. Again, this is also a very rare air pistol with only two known survivors from the estimated four-year production period that is considered to have ended by 1929. [8]

The Langenhan “Mako” or Novelty Patent air pistol [14]

In around 1926, Langenhan introduced the FLZ Mod 1 or the Millita pistol. It was a scaled down version of the Millita patent rifle albeit with a pistol grip rather than a full shoulder stock. Production lasted until approximately 1940 and it was the last airgun produced by Langenhan under Hermann’s management. [8]

In 1929, following the death of Hermann, the company became a limited partnership between his widow and children. His sons, Fritz and Ernst Langenhan took the reigns as the company’s managers and continued to grow the business and develop Lagenhan’s range of airguns. Between 1930 and 1940, Langenhan added various air rifles and pistols to their range of airguns such as the FLZ Mod 2 pistol and the Favorit range of air rifles. [1][2][6]

By the start of World War II, the company hand 400 employees and was soon ordered to manufacture military goods such as machine guns parts that would be assembled at the Gustloff-Werke. There is some confusion regarding the fate of the company at the end of World War II. On the one hand, one source suggests that the company was dissolved following the occupation of East Germany by the Soviets. Whilst on the other hand, another source states that the company was combined with others and nationalised to from a company called “VEB Meteor” which made bicycle components. However, I have been unable to corroborate either version of events. One fact is certain though, no more Langenhan guns were produced since the end of World War II. [1][2][15]

variant I

Could this be the first variant of the Dolla? [14]

The Dolla air pistol is thought to have been introduced by Eisenwerke Gaggenau of Germany in around 1893. However, according to various catalogues, it probably wasn’t until the late 1920’s when it was given the Dolla name. The Dolla range of air pistols had a 47 year production run. Throughout which, John Griffiths of the Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, has suggested that there were five variants of the Dolla that were produced by various manufacturers. The first variant has only been seen in drawings in early catalogues with no actual physical examples known. It is distinguished with a kidney-shaped grip and a semi-circular trigger guard aperture. If the pistol actually existed, it may have been manufactured between 1893 and 1897. However, it is entirely possible that this variant never existed at all and that the image used in the catalogues was purely for advertisement. After all, the image in the advertisement was used to illustrate the packaging that the pistol would be supplied within. If such a pistol had been produced, I would have expected some to have survived considering how sturdy the later variants are and how many of those still exist today. [8]

variant II

Eisenwerke Gaggenau Nr. 2 or second variant Dolla [14]

The second variant Dolla was also manufactured by Eisenwerke Gaggenau with production dates between around 1898 and 1905 according to known catalogue advertisements. It was listed as the Eisenwerke Gaggenau Nr. 2 and supplied in a wooden box in both black lacquered and nickel-plated finishes. Adverts suggest it was previously called the “AG” and was perhaps renamed along with the Nr. 3 which was formally called the “EG”. Rather than the full semi-circular trigger guard aperture of the first variant, this model has a quadrature shaped trigger guard aperture. It is also noted that both the first and second variant pistols have two externally visible trigger pivot pins. The last distinguishing feature is a pronounced convex curve on forward edge of the grip which leads to a pronounced point at the grip’s base. [8]

It is not easy to confirm what the pin-seal should look like for this variant as not many of these variants are thought to exist. However, one example shows it to be teardrop shaped and made from nickel-plated brass. [8]

There is speculation that Langenhan also produced this variant of the Dolla as it is known that they had potentially worked closely with Eisenwerke Gaggenau on other airguns. It is certainly known that both manufacturers were producing identical Gem air rifles at this time. Whether they were working together or whether they were working individually under license from designs provided by Henry Quackenbush is difficult to say with any certainty. However, we should remember that it was Quackenbush who invented the pop-out air pistol and also owned the rights to the Gem style air rifle. [8][17]

variant III

Langenhan Nr. 2 nickel-plated “Dolla” – Variant III

The third variant of the Dolla air pistol was manufactured by Eisenwerke Gaggenau. It was available in both finishes and  was also called the Nr. 2. For certain this time, Langenhan also manufactured the pistol and designated it the Nr. 1 and Nr. 2 in black lacquered and nickel-plated finishes respectively. Production dates of the third variant is believed to be between 1905 and 1927 but possibly up to 1934 as discussed earlier. [8]

All the pistols in this classification have the same common characteristics. They all have a quadrature trigger guard aperture and they all have a locating notch along the lower rear seam of the grip. However, the second, or forward, pivot pin that is visible on the second variant is now hidden inside the grip. The forward edge of the grip retains the curve of the second variant, however the corner is now round rather than pointed. [8]

There is one visual variation that may distinguish between Eisenwerke Gaggenau and Langenhan pistols. Illustrations for the Eisenwerke Gaggenau show a tapered trigger blade tip whereas the Langenhan models trigger tips are squared off. At least one example of the tapered trigger variant is known to exist and its weight and length are consistent with those quoted in a 1902 to 1903 Eisenwerke Gaggenau catalogue. That example does not have a compression chamber lining and has a brass barrel with brass piston. [8]

Variant III Dolla stripped

Conversely, Langenhan pistols are known to have brass compression chamber linings, brass barrels and steel pistons. [8]

Both Eisenwerke Gaggenau and Langenhan pistols are thought to have nickel-plated brass barrel nuts. The pin-seals of both manufacturers have nickel-plated steel tapered bodies and are not compatible with later variant Dolla pistols. [8]

Again, as with the previous variant, the compression chamber is sealed around the barrel with a leather seal placed against the inner bulkhead.

Both the Eisenwerke Gaggenau and Langenhan pistols were supplied in a wooden box with sliding lid, push rod and six darts. [8]

Langenhan Nr. 2 Dolla with original box, wire rod and six darts

variant IV

Langenhan Nr. 2 nickel-plated “Dolla” – Variant IV

The fourth variant was also manufactured by Langenhan with some examples known to be inscribed with “F.R. Langenhan, Zella-Mehlis. made in Germany”. The pistol may also have been produced by J. G. Anschütz, also of Zella, although how one would determine any such pistol to be accredited to Anschütz is not clear. The pistol was advertised between 1927 and 1940 and supplied in a cardboard box rather than the sturdy wooden boxes of the previous variants. Similar to Langenhan’s previous pistols, it was also available in black lacquered and nickel-plated finishes. There are also some adverts which indicate that this pistol was also available with a blued finish. [8]

Langenhan Nr. 1 black lacquered “Dolla” – Variant IV

This pistol is easily distinguished from the earlier variants by its oval trigger guard aperture. It retains a kidney-shaped grip, however it loses the convex front edge. The visible locating notch that is present on the rear of the grip of the third variant has also been removed. Instead, two locating lugs were added to the inside the grip.

Earlier variants had a trigger blade that appears to be a crudely cast bar of metal. However, whilst still cast, the fourth variant appears to have a refined and fully formed curved trigger blade. The design of the trigger mechanism is similar in principle to that of the third variant, however, where the third variant uses a return spring made from a piece of flat spring metal, the fourth variant uses a coil spring located in place by a lug on the rear of the trigger blade and a socket within the grip.

I noticed that the pivot pin on Jimmie Dee’s nickel-plated fourth variant was not a cast item. Instead it is a machined part pressed into the trigger blade. However, the pivot pin on the black lacquered fourth variant is part of the cast. It would be useful to know if any other fourth variant pistols have a machined pivot pin or whether this is a repair however unlikely it sounds.

Nickel-plated variant IV Dolla stripped

According to John’s encyclopedia, the barrel of the fourth variant is usually steel with a steel piston. However, Jimmie Dee’s nickel-plated example has a steel barrel whilst the black lacquered example has a brass barrel. The compression chamber is also not lined unlike some third variant pistols. Perhaps by now the casting process had been perfected. However, just like the previous variant, the compression chamber was sealed around the barrel with a leather seal placed against the inner bulkhead. [8]

Top to bottom: Variant III, Variant IV (black), Variant IV (nickel), Variant V (Cub)

Another discrete variation is the shape of the piston. Both of the fourth variant examples have rounded breech faces whereas all other variants are flat. Perhaps this is further evidence of the added effort to refine the pistol. Also note that the barrels of the fourth variant are the same length as each other and longer than that of the third variant. Whilst the fifth variant, the Cub, is longer than the third variant.

Black lacquered variant IV Dolla stripped

It would appear that the pin-seal on this variant is not consistent. For example, the example in John Griffiths’ encyclopedia has a straight neck whereas the black lacquered example of Jimmie Dee’s is tapered. To add to the confusion further, the nickel-plated Jimmie Dee example is straight necked but with a gap splitting the knurling into two. Also, the threads of the Jimmie Dee nickel-plated and black lacquered fourth variant pistols are incompatible with each other whilst also being incompatible with the other variants in the collection. [8]

Pin-seals. Left to right: Variant III, Variant IV (black), Variant IV (nickel), Variant V (Cub)

However, there is some doubt whether the pin-seal of the nickel-plated fourth variant pistol in Jimmie Dee’s collection is authentic. The split knurled head does not match any known examples and it is also devoid, not that the photo shows it, of any nickel-plating which perhaps further suggests that it is a replacement.

There is no mention of the barrel nuts in John’s encyclopedia however both barrel nuts of Jimmie Dee’s fourth variant Dollas are nickel-plated steel.

Triangular mold stamps inside both halves of the grips

Despite the different barrel materials and the different pin-seal threads, the two Jimmie Dee examples have similar markings within each half of the grip. The black lacquered example has a single triangle indentation whereas the nickel-plated example has three triangles. It is anticipated that these markings identify a specific mold and aid pairing for assembly once the finish had been applied. I would expect the marks to be manufacturer specific and this could indicate that both pistols from the same manufacturer. This leads to a possible conclusion that a change to the barrel and pin-seal may have been made during the production lifetime of the pistol.

Overall, the fourth variant appears to be quite refined compared to earlier variants of the Dolla. Even the grip plate screws are far superior than those of the earlier variants. With its larger compression chamber and overall length compared to the third variant it is certain that a lot more effort had gone into the design of the fourth variant Dolla.

Before we move on, I should tell you that there is at least one other example of the fourth variant that is noticeably different. In this example, the trigger pivot pin is replaced with a screw and the forward screw is removed. The rest of the pistol appears to be the same as the other fourth variants including the oval trigger guard aperture. [18]

variant V

Notice the word “CUB” at the front of the compression chamber

The fifth and last variant was called the Cub or Dolla Cub. It was produced between 1928 and 1940 which was mostly the same period as the fourth variant. Oddly, this pistol was also manufactured by Langenhan and perhaps J. G. Anschütz. Why would either company produce almost two identical models of the Dolla at the same time? [8]

Regardless, this pistol is distinguished from the earlier variants by its squared off grip base. It retains the oval trigger guard aperture and the grip locating notch from the third variant also makes a return on the Cub pistol. Some of these pistols were marked “CUB” on the left hand side and fewer were marked “F.R. Langenhan, Zella-Mehlis. Made in Germany”. However, most were not marked at all were only available in a nickel-plated finish and supplied in a cardboard box. [8]

Variant V Dolla “Cub”

The pin-seal is nickel-plated steel and the thread is again unique to this variant. The barrel nut is also nickel-plated steel. The compression chamber is unlined and the barrel is brass with a steel piston. However, the piston varies from all the other variants in that it has a leather piston washer sandwiched between two halves of the piston. It is likely that one half of the piston, if not both, can be unscrewed from the barrel in order to fit the leather seal. This seal would have added improved power by sealing the compression chamber at the piston along with the inner leather seal that forms a seal between the chamber and the barrel.

Variant V Dolla “Cub” stripped

The trigger mechanism is similar to that of the previous variant. It uses the same coil spring and spring retainers. However, on first look, there appears to be a second pivot pin on the trigger blade. This pin is only present on the left hand side of the trigger blade and fits into a slot in the left hand grip plate. Perhaps it acts as a guide and helps to keep the trigger blade straight.

trademark

The Langenhan trademark registered in 1922

Despite Langenhan registering their trademark as the letters F, L and Z each within a sector within a circle in 1922, none of the Dolla air pistols are known to include this trademark. It is only the fourth and fifth variants that were sometimes stamped with “F.R. Langenhan, Zella-Mehlis. Made in Germany”. [8]

Whilst Langenhan continued to produce and enhance the Dolla pistols, Eisenwerke Gaggenau continued to produce its original designs. Except for the Nr. 2, they all included the ornate floral pattern on the frame above the trigger guard that was present on Eisenwerke Gaggenau’s first pistol, the “MF”. These pistols were named the Nr. 1, the Nr. 3 (formerly the “EG”) and one other whose name is unknown. The Nr. 1 is thought to have been produced from the late 1890’s to about 1905. Whilst the Nr. 3 is thought to have been produced from about 1895 to sometime in the 1930’s. Whilst we already know that the Nr. 2, Eisenwerke Gaggenau’s Dolla, was produced sometime between 1898 and 1927 or 1934. However, it has been considered that the Nr. 3 may have also been manufactured on behalf of Eisenwerke Gaggenau by Langenhan or J. G. Anschütz. [8]

Eisenwerke Gaggenau Nr. 1 (left) and Nr. 3 “formerly EG” (right) [12]

The Eisenwerke Gaggenau “EG” is listed in a 1902 Oscar Will Venus-Waffenwerk catalogue alongside a picture of the first variant Dolla. This is the same picture used in other catalogues to indicate how the pistols were packaged with a hinged wooden box, six darts, a wire rod and a small tin of pellets. This further indicates that the first variant may never have existed and the image was only used to illustrate the packaging offered by Eisenwerke Gaggenau. It is unlikely that Oscar Will produced the pistols and instead purchased them from Eisenwerke Gaggenau wholesale. Certainly it is known from the Eisenwerke Gaggenau catalogues that the pistols were sold by the dozen and therefore probably to the trade. [19]

Speaking of Oscar Will, a little known and interesting point of note is that Helene Langenhan, the daughter of Friedrich, married Oscar. I’m sure many airgun aficionados are familiar with the name Oscar Will as he produced many sought after collectable airguns of the period such as the Tell I and various crank style pistols and rifles. Probably the most notable and rarest airgun produced by Venus-Waffenwerk is the Tell III Luger style air pistol. [1]

Whilst it seems that the Dolla pistols were no longer manufactured following the end of World War II, pop-out style air pistols of the same principle continued to be manufactured in various guises and by many manufacturers until recent times. The most prevalent is probably the “GAT” by T. J. Harrington and Sons.

I guess we have Henry Quackenbush, Eisenwerke Gaggenau and at least Friedrich or should it be Hermann Langenhan to thank for the GAT.

game of darts anyone?

A game of Dolla darts!

Now I expect that you all know how these pistols work by now. Push the barrel in against a piece of wood or carpeted floor until the piston engages on the trigger sear. Unscrew the pin-seal and load a dart. Aim and shoot.

These pistols can still be used today without any real fear of breaking them despite being over a hundred years old! Typically you would play a game of darts with a dart board or shoot at paper targets stuck to a piece of wood or cork board.

Of course I had to have a game and believe it or not, these pistols still buried darts deep into a cork board! They’re probably performing just as well as when they were new over one hundred years ago! They’re not a bad shoot either. I aimed at the bull for the first shot. I was quite surprised when I hit the 25 circle. Then I tried for triple 20 and got it. Then I went for triple 18, missed. That’s pretty good going though! Ok, ok, it was close range but good for a bit of fun.

So there you have it, the history of the humble Dolla air pistol.
 

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee

 

References:

  1. Langenhan Family, German Hunting Guns by Larry B. Schuknecht
  2. Gewehr- und Fahrradfabrik FR. LANGENHAN, Zella-Mehlis / Deutschland
  3. Sächsischer Revolver Mod. 1873, Lot 4826, Hermann Historica GmbH
  4. Pistols of the World, Ian Hogg and John Walter
  5. Langenhan advertisement, 1873 Handbook of Industry
  6. The Collectors Guide To Air Rifles, Enlarged Fourth Edition, Dennis Hiller
  7. British Patent 4544, “Improvements in or applicable to Air-guns”, March 3rd 1894, Martin Pulvermann, European Patent Office
  8. The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, John Griffiths, ISBN 978-0-95595-160-2
  9. Martin Pulvermann, England and Wales Census 1901, FamilySearch
  10. Martin Pulvermann, England and Wales Census, 1891, FamilySearch
  11. British Patent 15,802, “Improvements in Air Guns”, September 5th 1900, Martin Pulvermann, European Patent Office
  12. British Patent 10,411, “Improvements in Air Guns”, May 17th 1905, Martin Pulvermann, European Patent Office
  13. Lot 2088, German Langenhan Open Model semi-auto pistol, 7.65mm cal., icollector.com
  14. Langenhan “Mako” or Novelty Patent air pistol image courtesy of Larry Hannusch
  15. Meteor plant Zella-Mehlis, The DDR Bicycle Wiki
  16. Eisenwerke Gaggenau Catalogue, The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  17. Henry Marcus Quackenbush and the Quackenbush Model 1 Air Rifle (mfd. 1876 to 1938), Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  18. GATS A guide to Junior Push In – Pop Out Airguns, Malcolm Atkins
  19. 1900 and 1902 Ocsar Will Catalogue, The Vintage Airgun Gallery

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