Pistols & Mysteries

The Adolph-Weber single-shot .22 target pistol as displayed in the Rock Island catalogue. Now really, who could resist?

Always somethin’ new…

by Terry Wieland

The name “Fred Adolph” prompted the vaguest of memories:  A custom gunmaker?  Gunsmith?  What?  As for “M. Casimir Weber of Zurich”—never heard of him.

What, then, pray tell, is an “Adolph-Weber” target pistol, that it should be described by an impartial observer as “an arm so fine as to be little short of perfection,” yet in 60-plus years of reading anything and everything about guns and gunmakers—including indulging a passion for .22 target pistols—the name means absolutely nothing to me?

The question arose when I was going through the catalogue for the most recent Rock Island premier auction.  Lot #3537, up for bids on December 10, was described as a “Scarce Adolph-Weber .22 Single Shot Match Target Pistol.”  It was accompanied by two photos (left side, right side) of a pistol that was ungainly even by single-shot .22 standards, yet exhibited all the hallmarks of fine gunmaking in the best European tradition.

So where on earth did it come from?  The definitive answer to that question still eludes me, but I’ll tell you what I know so far.  First, Fred Adolph.

Adolph was a German-born, naturalized American, gunmaker who set up shop in New York in the years before the Great War.  Undoubtedly skilled and talented, he was also a tireless self-promoter and issued lengthy catalogues—unusual even for large companies at the time—some of which have survived.  He was particularly skilled as a stockmaker, and was associated with Griffin & Howe in various capacities.

In a nutshell, the British naval blockade of Germany after 1914 cut off his supplies, cost him a lot of money, and this eventually put him out of business.  In 1926, his house was repossessed and he more or less disappeared from the gunmaking world.

One of the European companies Adolph worked for before coming to America was the then-well known firm of Casimir Weber in Zurich, Switzerland.  According to later catalogues, he imported single-shot target pistols from Weber, which he fitted and finished, and customized to the desires of individual customers, at his shop in Genoa, New York.

There are various sources of information about him.  The good folks at Rock Island consulted books by Walter Roper, a well-known handgun writer from around the years of the Great War, and it was he who called the Adolph-Weber pistol “little short of perfection.”  They also quote Adolph himself as saying each pistol was an individual—“no two alike”—much in the way each Purdey shotgun is an individual.

The best information about Fred Adolph himself I found in two books by Michael Petrov, who wrote a series of articles on American custom rifle makers of the early 20th century for the magazine Precision Shooting.  These were collected into two volumes, with a third planned but never, as far as I can find out, completed.  Volume one has a quite long chapter on Adolph, and volume two a shorter one containing additional information Petrov discovered along the way.