One helpful takeaway from this parable is that there are matters and venues that fail to support economic reasoning. In fact, social media promotes and maintains a systematic bias towards noneconomic reasons, motivation by sentiment or principle, independent of, and often contrary to, a dispassionate analysis of costs and benefits. Such are the motives that compel spendthrifts to waste hard-earned money on Veblen goods, tokens of conspicuous consumption that surpass any rationally defensible standard of quality and value for the money, acquired to proclaim the status of their owners. As witness Korth revolvers.
Made between 1964 and 2008, Ratzeburg Korth revolver actions were built like S&W turned inside out. The cylinder rotates righteously clockwise, Colt-like. The ejector rod locks on by sliding its cylindrical head into a cylindrical penal, rather than by being latched on its concave head. The telescoping mainspring assembly operates via a piston sliding inside another cylinder, Schmeisser SMG-like. The crane, its English nomenclature and function another nod to Colt, likewise limits the forward cylinder travel by its collar supporting the neck of the cylinder. Korth’s barrel has been tensioned against its shroud since long before S&W took that cue from Dan Wesson. One place where the design quite literally falls short is its less than full ejector stroke; the ensuing tendency to retain the empty shells at the mouth is somewhat mitigated by the exceptionally smooth, roller burnished inner surfaces of the cylinder chambers.
Willi Korth’s revolvers were benchmade by five gunsmiths at the rate averaging about 120 pieces a year. In contrast to the mass production standards, Korth revolver parts were neither cast nor milled out of billet. They were ground in the course of hard fitting from steel forgings that boasted a tensile strength of 1,700 psi. Each revolver required 70 man-hours that comprised 600 distinct operations. Their major components were surface hardened up to 60 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale. The original production of Korth revolvers ended in 1981 with the serial number series 33xxx, adding up to a total of 7141 revolvers in calibers .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm Para, .22LR, and .22 Magnum, with barrel lengths ranging from 3" to 6", fitted with 6-shot rimfire and both 5- and 6-shot centerfire cylinders. The three main variants were the Combat, the Sport, and the Target models, some of which were finished as engraved luxury pieces. Willi’s Ratzeburg successors outsourced the manufacture of some components, made some improvements to the rimless ejection system, and added some calibers such as various .32 chamberings and a 5-shot 10x25mm prototype. They also experimented with barrels detachable with hand tools and adding a third lock. I don’t know how many revolvers they ended up producing.
Starting with the 41xxx revolver series and autopistol prototypes first shown in 2012 and 2013, Korth Lollar continued making revolvers of the original Ratzeburg design. They changed minor features by mounting the rear sight with a transverse pin in the top strap of the frame rather than longitudinal wedging into a cutout in the top rear of the barrel shroud, and adding an external adjustment to the mainspring preload. (A tendency for weak ignition remains the Achilles heel of all Korth revolver designs.) Their National Standard design, as currently imported by Nighthawk, has moved closer to S&W. The cylinder now rotates “the wrong way”, counter-clockwise to bear outward against its latches, rather than clockwise, into the frame window. Its latch has been moved from the back to the left side, S&W-style. In a practical improvement, its yoke pivot has been moved outboards to allow more clearance for loading, and its bolt notches have been shifted away from the chambers, thickening and presumably strengthening their walls. The new revolvers are made from different materials, CNC machined cold-rolled billet rather than hand-ground hammer forgings. Lastly, they differ in construction, having been designed to minimize hand-fitting and optimize drop-in assembly. The ejector rod still falls short of a full stroke. The grip frame has been standardized to the dimension of the S&W L-frame, though the piston mainspring gets in the way of the grip screw on most S&W grip designs.
There are many objectively measurable performance factors according to which Ratzeburg Korth revolvers are far superior to their S&W counterparts. Thus the TriggerScan charts reproduced in the book by Veit Morgenroth, as well as a test published online, demonstrating that a mere 200 rounds of heavy loads readily digested by the Korth Sport stretch the frame of a S&W M28. I have no way of knowing how Korth Lollar revolvers compare to their predecessors in this regard.
Revolvers are akin to mechanical watches, rotating under power produced by the human hand. Especially in the case of the Ratzeburg Korth revolver, individual parts must be hand-fitted in order to ensure their correct sequences of interaction. Minute differences in production tolerances ensue in palpable effects in operation. Thus the trigger rollers that determine the feel of the double action trigger pull are meant to range in diameter from 7.2 mm to 7.45 mm, in increments of 0.05 mm, at a tolerance of plus or minus 0.01 mm. All individual action parts, down to the pins, are hand-fitted to each revolver. The net result is a consistently repeatable ergonomic feel broadly similar across each contemporaneous product line, yet specific to each particular specimen.
In his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses the authenticity of a thing, construed as the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history that it has experienced. The nature of handgun production instituted and overseen by Willi Korth embodies and exemplifies the summit of authenticity built into a hand-operated mechanism. Judged by these standards, Korth Ratzeburg is as close as handguns gets to the Patek Philippe Ref. 2552, and Mulhouse Manurhin MR73 and Korth Lollar, to the Rolex 1016. The S&W Triple Lock is comparable to the Hamilton 940; the modern S&W, to a generic Timex. In each case, the mechanism derives its authenticity from the degree of hand-fitting involved in its creation. To the extent that mechanical reproduction supplants hand-fitting, the ensuing mechanism becomes less authentic. In a nostalgic development, Benjamin proposes to define the quality that withers in the age of mechanical reproduction, as the aura of the work of art. The same aura can be found to a greater or lesser extent in an artefact that owes the circumstances of its creation and the qualities of its operation to individual and particularized observation and direct application of manual effort.
My two best watches are a Rolex 1016 Explorer I with a Tiffany-signed dial and a yellow gold Patek Philippe 2552 “Disco Volante”. But in all candor, my social standing and habits do not warrant a Patek Philippe Calatrava. For my public ventures and appearances, a Rolex Explorer I is a much better fit. Likewise my Mulhouse 5¼" Manurhin MR73 Sport, as opposed to my various Ratzeburg Korth Sport and Combat variants. That said, I prefer my forged heavy frame SIG P210-6 for social work. Long story short, if you are looking for a handmade gun with aura extolled by Walter Benjamin, arm yourself with an older Ratzeburg Korth or a forged SIG P210, or a current Manurhin MR73, still made the old-fashioned way, out of hammer forgings.