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Signaling an Interest in Flare Guns

by Sonal Panse (03/16/09).

hebel-flare-gun-flippedEditor’s Note: There are all manner of gun collectibles and antiques. One of the more interesting types is World War I flare guns.

Guns enthrall collectors for a variety of reasons—for their mechanical design, for their historical value or for a liking of weapons. They collect them by type, make, style or period. If you are into collecting World War I guns, flare guns could add an interesting highlight to your collection.

Lt. Edward Wilson Very, of the U.S. Navy, invented the flare gun in 1877, and the U.S. Navy first used these guns for signaling and communication purposes in 1882. By 1910, flare guns, referred to as “Very” pistols, were being used the world over. During the First World War, they either played an important role in guiding soldiers to safety and in bringing them succor or helped send them to their doom.

Flares Guns in the First World War

The flare guns of the First World War were larger in size than Very’s 10-gauge shell original. Common bore sizes were 1 inch or 1.5 inch, but different design styles developed in different countries. Lighter, one-hand grip models replaced heavier, two-hand grip guns. Instead of a single barrel, some guns had two to four barrels. Webley & Scott, J. G. Anschütz, Remington, Inman, Meffert Gewehrfabrik and Greifelt & Co were some leading manufacturers of flare guns. Some well-known flare-gun models were Hebel, Druckknopf, Eisfeld, Pioneer and Remington Mark III.

World War I Hebel (photo courtesy of Bob Adams)

World War I Hebel (photo courtesy of Bob Adams)

Flare guns operated like normal guns. Pulling the trigger made the hammer strike the detonator cap, and this unleashed the flare. The gun, pointed upward, shot out a bright-colored flare, usually of magnesium, that glowed for around 5 to 40 seconds and was visible for miles around in clear weather conditions. Usually, firing flares in quick succession was necessary to catch attention. The flare sequences, the intervals between firing and the flare colors used were predetermined, so there would be no confusing friendly flares for enemy ones or vice versa.

Remington Mark III

Remington Mark III

remington-mark-iii-opened

Take a closer look at this flare gun on GoAntiques.

Although, primarily meant for signaling, there were instances of downed pilots or cornered soldiers using flare guns as defensive weapons.

Collecting World War I Flare Guns

The first step in beginning a collection is to get well informed. Gather good reference materials including price guides. Read up on different makes and types of World War I flare guns. Learn about gun serial numbers, manufacturer markings and inspector stamps.

Attend online as well as offline gun shows, gun auctions and gun collectors’ shows. Rare gun collectibles often surface in these places. You also get to meet gun vendors, dealers and more-seasoned collectors. They may have the right leads, information or advice for you.

Join historical societies, and subscribe to gun and auction magazines. These are good sources for research and may also have guns-for-sale advertisements. Check the ads in local papers, too. Advertising your interest in collecting flare guns may also help.

Visit antique and gun shops specializing in war memorabilia, gun- or war-memorabilia-related Web sites and estate sales.

Check if there are WWI flare guns for sale on GoAntiques and other online retailers, and what the current bids on the items are.

Royal Air Force flare gun

Royal Air Force flare gun

royal-air-force-flare-gun-opened

Click here for more details on this RAF gun.

As far as possible, buy flare guns in fine condition. Inferior ones won’t appreciate in value over time in case you’re thinking in investment terms.

Make sure the provenance is in order before buying. The flare gun you want should come with a valid proof of authenticity—photographs, written letters, official paperwork, clear manufacturer’s marks and proper serial numbers, a verifiable record of how the seller came to possess it, etc.

Get the flare gun authenticated by an expert in World War I gun memorabilia. The Birks Foundation may be able to help you with this.

Maintaining your flare-gun collection

Flare guns fall in the firearms category, and as firearms manufactured more than 50 years ago, WWI flare guns come in the curio or relics section of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ CFR Title 27, Volume 1, 178.11. You may have to get them deactivated and/or get a legal permit to have them around. Check with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and go through the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the National Firearms Act Handbook. Also visit the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association Web site.

Implement gun-safety rules. Keep the flare guns unloaded and securely out of reach of children and casual visitors.

Consult an expert before cleaning a flare gun.

If you want to try out the flare gun, check online for manufacturers making compatible flares. Don’t use any old flares. Flares, past the use date or incompatible, could explode and cause accidents.

Resources to check:
FineOldGuns
ArmsBid
GunBooksSales
RutgersGunBooks
Buchverlag Delphine Kern
Buchhandel
Antique Advertising, Arms & Accoutrements

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16 Responses to “Signaling an Interest in Flare Guns”

  1. amanda says:

    pretty cool guns. Indeed, you have a nice collection there. I envy you.

    • Sandra Lee Stuart says:

      Hi Amanda,

      I’m WorthPoint’s feature editor. The guns in the World War I flare-gun story are not from Sonal’s collection. I cull them from GoAntiques pages and elsewhere to merely serve as illustrations.

  2. B.C.King says:

    Legally,under U.S. federal law-flare guns are classified legally as non-firearms and are available w/out legal restriction.Their ammunition is also unrestricted.
    However some states and local governments do have restrictions as do most foreign countries.
    There are inserts for 12ga. 1-3/4 shotshells,.410 shotshells,and .38 special-possession of a flare gun w/an insert and bulleted/shotshell ammo in it is highly illegal (and unsafe)-shotshells are classified as destructive devices (DD’s) and .38 special are classifed as Any Other Weapon (AOW)/smoothbore pistol when used in that way.
    Both carry the same penalties as an unregistered machine gun or sawed-off shotgun.

  3. hunter says:

    How much is a Webley and Scott mark III flare gun. It also has London and Birmington engraved on the handle.

    • Peter Wells says:

      Hi Marc
      I am interested in your pistol described as I am possibly acquiring something that seems very similar but also unknown origins.
      Any chance of e-mailing me a pic/pics.
      Many thanks
      Peter Wells

  4. Marc says:

    I am a bit of a flare pistol collector, I started a bout a year ago and so far have over a dozen flare pistols. I have one trench flare pistol that has me totally baffled as to history, providence and value.

    It is a heavy double barrels brass (Side by side configuration) unit with external hammers. It has an under barrel release and single two stage trigger the grips are wooden. Under the grip engraved into the brass there is the following marking “apt.” perpendicular to this in cursive scrip there is “J.L’ “No. 440”, which seems to be engraved. Stamped into the back of the grip is “1757” and inside the action under the barrels stamped “440”. There are no other markings visible on the pistol it is 22cm in length from back of grip to end of barrel.

    The unit is in excellent condition and well made.

    Does anyone know anything about this flare pistol any information would be greatly appreciated.

    • signalman says:

      Hello, It is a German flare pistol from WWI or earlier. I could tell more from a photo. apt is the manufacturers identity code.

      • signalman says:

        I should also mention that 440 is the serial number, and that I am interested in purchasing or trading for flare pistols of that type.

  5. Gerald Roberts says:

    Where can parts for flare guns be obtained? I have a very nice Remington Mark III that is missing the hammer, and open button/latch, and has a broken spring.

  6. Peter A Meyer says:

    Gerald, Have you tried Gun Parts Corporation, West Hurley, NY?

  7. Gerald Roberts says:

    Numerich Gun Parts doesn’t carry it. I don’t like to deal with them because I HAVE HAD BAD EXPERIENCES WITH REPRODUCTION PARTS FROM THEM.

  8. NT says:

    Hi, I have a WW1 Hebel flare gun I would like to sell.

    Contact me at groovynt@gmail.com. Thanks =)

  9. Colby says:

    I have an antique flare gun, that resembles a Hebel from world war II. My dad has had it for as long as i can remember. It is blue and white. It looks like the barrell is 1″, but i haven’t measured it. It is in great shape. How can i find out exactly what type it is and where would i find flares to fire it?

  10. Brett Murton says:

    I have in hands what I believe is an flare pistol . My father was A Bristish CoastGuard for 13 years , the handle and trigger mec looks like the old Webly Flare guns of birmigham .Ok here is the strange bit the barrel is 14 inches long and at one time I remember it had a handle on the top of the barrel. At the base of the barrel there are 6 evenly spaced what look like vent holes. Can anyone tell me please what it is . to me it looks like a grappling hook gun , but do not know and father now 88 years old tells me it was a flare pistol. Well if it is, its a blooming big one .

  11. Bruce Henry says:

    I have 2 Remington Mark III flare guns for sale

  12. Victor stevenson says:

    Hi. I have a flare gun from ww1 brought home by grandpa. I believed it to to be British for many years until I visited some museums in France and UK ( the tank museum at Bovingdon for example) to see identical guns displayed described as German in origin.This led me to believe it was probably a Hebel. On a recent visit to the Royal Greenjackets (The Rifles) museum in Winchester UK in a WW1 display case of weaponry etc issued to the Rifle Brigade was …..an identical gun. I am now completely puzzled, did the makers supply the British army prior to hostilities or what??? no one at the museum the day I visited could answer. There are no makers names on the gun but there are some numbers etc. Can anyone help explain this mystery.

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