An Interesting P.38 — and What’s Different About Collectors?

This interesting Walther P.38 up for auction is interesting both due to the quality of the listing — there are over 100 pictures with it (also available here, which may require you to accept a certificate mismatch) — and the degree to which small details drive the collector market (or try to). This particular pistol presents as an ordinary, Walther-made, 1943-production P.38.

p38-ac-43

What makes it unique, and a bestower of bragging rights on the owner, is that it is the highest known pistol of Walther’s 1943 production. In that year the pistols were marked, “ac 43” and serial number, and Walther serial numbers were one to four digits and a letter suffix (all running in numeric and alphabetic succession, with Teutonic precision). Previous reference sources have documented ac 43 “Third Variation” production from serial numbers 218m to 7932n. This pistol is 9248n, and records suggest it was made in December, 1943, after which month Walther transitioned to marking pistols ac 44.

p38-9248n-ac-43

It may have been the last one made that year; it’s definitely the last one to turn up so far. 

p38-9248n-ac-43-front

It’s a nice condition, all matching example, but the buy-it-now is set at $1,700, which suggests that the reserve (unmet at press time) is also high.

p38-9248n-ac-43-right

(For the record, “First Variation ac43” production ran from ac 43 1 to ac 43 8xxxg from Jan 43-Jun 43, and “Second Variation ac 43” from approximately ac 43 9000g and ends in the -l or -m range, made from June to October. Third variation was produced from about Oct 43 to Dec 43. If you were fuzzy on the three variations of 1943 Walther-built P.38s, you’re not alone, but as in all things Nazi, they’ve been exhaustively researched. The auction says this of the differences:

The Second Variation differs from the First Variation by the following: 1) the lightening hole in the frame, located in the front of the partition between the take down lever well and trigger well, was omitted; 2) elimination of the narrow secondary extractor spring plunger relief slow on the slide; 3) the left side of the slide’s cavity now included the extractor spring relief cut, which became standard on all subsequent models; and 4) increasing the thickness of the area between the trigger axel hole and the trigger guard to eliminate a weak spot in the frame.

The Third Variation ac43 P.38 differs from the Second Variation in several key respects. First, the previously used stacked code was eliminated and, in its place, the new line code was first introduced. This resulted in a new slide marking configuration: P.38 on the far left on the slide center line, the serial number, which is now just above the center line and beginning at the point of the slide parallel with the breech face, followed by the company code “ac 43.” The second principal difference is that, beginning with the Third Variation, the barrel was now left with the milling marks on the outer surface. Prior to this, the barrel had been polished smooth prior to bluing. This change was undoubtedly implemented to speed production.

With what we know of industrial production, this certainly sounds like collectors are sperging out and trying to bundle normal running production changes, something that happens on every production line for everything, into sets that they call “Variations,” a distinction that would have been quite meaningless to any of the production planners in Wehrmacht ordnance offices or in Walther’s production-engineering spaces.

All these serial number calculations assume, of course, that Walther retired the ac 43 stamp with a ceremony on 31 Dec 43 and opened the new year stamping guns ac 44 — firearms factories don’t often work with such military precision, but maybe all these Germans did. In the real world, stampings and serial numbers often get out of sequence and overlap.

This all matching gun has been bid up only to a low price for an all matching generic P.38, with a few hours to go in the auction (we think it’s very likely to be relisted). But that’s the sort of thing that collectors dig deep into, and one reason many people with quite a few guns don’t think of themselves as capital-C Collectors.

One last note — the collection of well-lit and well-shot pictures is a good look at the internal workings of this very interesting, world’s first DA/SA service pistol, if you’re not already familiar with its many innovations (for its era).

Update

With three hours remaining in the auction, the bid is now $855, and the reserve price remains unmet. The $855 strikes us a low to average price for a superior condition P.38 like this (collectors also prize condition), but we are not experts in the Nazi pistol market. The question is, does the rare nature of this very-late-1943 gun justify its price?  After all, it might be the last known ’43 Walther gun forever, or just until some higher number n-suffix ac 43 firearm turns up. It’s a very nice high-condition wartime P.38, though, and clearly one that hasn’t been buried in a bunker in Belarus for the last seventy years.

8 thoughts on “An Interesting P.38 — and What’s Different About Collectors?

  1. Cap'n Mike

    Cool Pistol.
    Collectors seem to like the first or last of something, perhaps because its a story thats quick and easy to tell.

    I bet there was a neat story about the GI that captured that and brought it home.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah, I have made a point to write down the story for each of my guns, to the extent I have been able to document it. Some of it is “as told by.” Some of it, I am the provenance, because I was the first owner, the guy who carried it downrange, etc. Ten years from now no one will care, probably, but 100 years from now that letter might mean something to the owner of the piece then.

      1. C Otto

        Nailed it on the head Hognose! The little piece of paper can make all the difference between an SKS and an SKS brought back from Nam. Or the Luger I’m trying to acquire. The luger is nothing special, a WW1 pistol that was reworked by the nazis. Has an original WW1 holster painted black. It’s nothing special in terms of Lugers, but it does have the paperwork and the story. In the same vein, my friend who picked up the SKS gave me a ring the other day asking about a piece of rope maybe six inches in length. This certain piece of rope ended up hanging General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya. Someone apparently offered her 700 bucks for the rope (which I thought was more than fair offer) and the associated War Department Paperwork certifying that the rope did indeed hang Gen. Yamashita. But that was a couple of years ago. Now she’s asking almost as much for that piece of rope as the seller is for that P38 ($1500!). Without the paperwork, it’s just a piece of rope that isn’t long enough to do anything with it. It’s a piece of history now, but it’s worthless rope without those papers. But back to your point, the piece of paper might make all the difference to a collector.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Yep, but the P.38 seller is not asking anyone to believe anything that is not evident in examination of the pistol itself, and comparison of it to published information.

        1. Cap'n Mike

          As an example of provenance, here is Hognose lounging in his workshop at Hog Manor, Randall Knife at his side.
          You cant put a price on this kind of documentation.
          ;)

  2. 10x25mm

    Slide markings – except for serial numbers – on P.38 pistols were applied after slide machining operations were completed, prior to heat treating and [slide only] WaA inspection. Batches of machined & hardened slides were then transferred by hand cart to Walther’s assembly hall in a different building. At this point, things got a little chaotic. Some parts were fed to the assembly line on a FIFO basis, others on a LIFO basis depending upon the exigencies of the time.

    P.38 parts were serialized at the outset of assembly operations under the control of WaA inspectors who actually maintained the official records and dictated the numbers to be used. WaA inspectors selected serial number blocks in accordance with HWA dictates, which in turn were created to make Speer’s production reports look consistent with their master plan.

    The serialized parts were then sent to the assembly area. After assembly, the pistols went to proof firing and WaA functional inspection, then were WaA stamped and sent to the finishing hall. Pistols were stripped down, bores were cleaned, parts were blued, and pistols were reassembled. Finally the pistols were packed in wooden crates and Walther recorded quantities as they were shipped. Unlike commercial production, Walther took no responsibility for serializing military production P.38s. Commercial HPs and P.38s were serialized earlier in the production process on different equipment, on different locations on the pistols.

    P.38 slide date codes were routinely applied three months in advance of pistol assembly, even earlier in the case of slides made by FN and the Czechs and then shipped to the Walther plant. Mauser production of the P.38 was even more chaotic. ‘byf 42’ marked P.38s were made in 1943 to satisfy contract terms which required deliveries in 1942 which actually never took place.

    This P.38 was almost certainly produced in 1944 by any objective standard.

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