Is this a case of Bubba the Gunsmith devaluing a collector gun?
The ad says: LUGER, NUMBER 42, 9MM, DRESS/PARADE NICKEL, MATCHING #. Parts of that are true, and parts are not. Here’s the other side, and then we’ll comment a bit:
The true parts: It is a Luger; since it’s clearly a P.08, it’s almost certainly 9mm; it’s definitely nickel-plated; and it appears to be matching, serial number 7190.
The uncertain part: Code 42. We’ll take their word for it, but it also makes sense for a 1940 production Luger to be coded 42 (Mauser-Werke).
The false part: “Dress/Parade.” The Wehrmacht did have some dress bayonets that were plated, but (unlike US veterans organizations) they never inflicted that treatment on their firearms. Also, why would there be a “dress” version of a pistol that was carried in a holster? It makes as much sense as
Furthermore, if you look closely at the firearm, you can see that the finish is somewhat beat up with scratches and abrasions, but also is letting some rust come up:
It sure looks to us like plating overlaid over holster wear (on the side plate and takedown latch, for example) and possibly even pitting (on the slide under the serial number, but also along the barrel, if you look at the left-side picture blown up). Here’s another fishy-looking angle on the gun:
No German plated this gun, unless it was after he emigrated to the US and set himself up as a gunsmith. It looks like it might have been polished and plated perhaps to cover up a bad finish, extensive holster wear, or surface rust. Whoever did it, though, wasn’t Bubba, because the plating is generally well done and has held together for quite a long time. Crap plating is slapped on over the extant bluing, and flakes off in a couple of decades; quality plating is done in three layers, usually on bare metal, and is how the factories did it (albeit not the Mauser-Werke with military P.08s).
It’s also perhaps halved the value of the pistol, now.
So who did it? It was almost certainly done in the period from 1945-70 or thereabouts. Lugers were common pistols in regular commerce (TV shows and movies of that era often armed bad guys with Lugers and P.38s, even if the bad guys were, say, Russian). And nickel plating was the third most common gun finish at the time (after rust bluing and Parkerizing).
But in 1960, a Luger wasn’t anything special. It was just another used gun. It had a little bit of war-trophy cachet — we remember a guy who carried one as a young SF troop in Vietnam, because Luger, which you either get or you don’t. And, decades before stainless-steel firearms, the first of which stuttered haltingly into the market in the mid-70s, nickel was enormously more popular than it is now: the whole Smith and Colt catalogs, basically, could be had in blue or nickel, and nickel had a durability and cleaning edge.
A Luger was just another used gun. It’s hard for 21st century collectors to get their skulls around this idea, especially if they came late to the 20th (and soon, we will have a generation of collectors for whom the 20th century might as well be the 16th in terms of personal experience).
So some guy with a beater Luger took it to a smith he knew, or some Smith bought an el-cheapo, cosmetically-challenged Luger, and plated it up. And the new shiny Luger went on the shelf — maybe it had the bullshit “Dress/Parade” story already attached, a story impossible to check in those days where there was not only no Intertubes but also no 18-pound three-volume comprehensive Luger collector books — and it sold for more money than it would have done in its “original” condition, because better original condition Lugers were in every gun shop in the land. It was just another gun.
The Luger in these pictures, on a Florida gun site, has already sold. The asking price was $1,150, and maybe the guy got it, which is a lot less than the gun might have drawn in original worn condition.
But there is a silver lining in all this. We have all seen how collectors treat their most prized arms: spotless cleanliness, an OCD level of attention to temperature and humidity, handle with cotton gloves. There’s an awful lot of cherry-condition Lugers that will never fire another shot, and this P.08 isn’t one of them. Its buyer can shoot it to his heart’s content, and get the peculiar delight that comes from watching a toggle action eject spinning brass cases from behind the gun. Lugers are fun to shoot. Now, it’s a free country, and if you want to take rare Lugers and lock them up in a dark room, you’re welcome to do so. Knock yourself out. Meanwhile, we will buy the plated, reblued, numbers-mismatching or otherwise “polluted” guns that a collector disdains: and shoot the living daylights out of ’em.
After all, it’s a free country.