There are three late 19th and early 20th century semi-automatic pistols that most collectors regard as essential; the “Triple Crown” of primitive German autoloaders—the circa 1893 Borchardt (forerunner to the Luger 9mm Parabellum), Mauser C96 Broomhandle, and the Bergmann model of 1910/21. There were, of course, other self-loading pistols; such as the Mannlicher and Bergmann Models of 1896, but this trio—1910/21 Bergmann, C93 Borchardt, and C96 Mauser—comprise the best designs conceived during an era when the historic 19th Century single action revolver was about to become passé.
Indeed, the Colt Single Action Army and Colt’s contemporaries were American icons, but in the late 1880s, the idea of a self-loading pistol with a cache of cartridges stored within a self-contained or removable magazine was compelling. Initially, the autopistol was the work of an Austrian designer named Joseph Laumann, whose patent was assigned to the Österreichische Waffenfabrik Gesellschaft at Steyr in Austria. The Schönberger-Laumann pistol became one of the first autoloaders and was manufactured beginning in 1892. Not a commercial success, it was succeeded by the Mannlicher autopistol two years later, a superior design that caught the attention of armsmakers the world over.
The leading European gunmakers were working in earnest to design their own self-loaders and, though the Mannlicher was one of the earliest, the first real success was the Borchardt Automatic Repeating Pistol, patented in 1893 by Hugo Borchardt and his colleague Georg Luger. The Borchardt was an unusual-looking pistol, but within its design was the toggle lock action, the underpinning for Georg Luger’s first 9mm Parabellum introduced in 1900. Still, for any collector of early semi-automatics, ownership of a Borchardt is essential.