Gun Collecting: Swiss Vetterli Rifles

The Vetterli was the first bolt-action magazine-fed rifle used by the military.All Vetterlis were chambered for the 10.4x38R rimfire cartridge. It is loaded with black powder and the bullet weighs 334 grains. This cartridge is usually called a Swiss .41 rimfire here in North America and Remington once manufactured the .41 rimfire here. Many Vetterlis were imported in the early 20th century. It was one of the first foreign military surplus arms that were available to American shooters for very low prices.

They were even somewhat popular as hunting rifles and many gunsmiths built shortened “sporters” out of them. In 1942, Remington dropped the .41 Swiss from their line and the Vetterlis fell into the oddity category where they languished for years.

When I started selling at gun shows in the mid 1980s there were a few firearm models that seemed to turn up frequently but very few buyers were interested. These would languish on sellers’ tables or be carried around by attendees looking for a buyer. They were not worth much money. I remember seeing examples of these guns sell in the $50-100 range all the time.

And even then it was a hard to find a buyer. If ammunition was not readily available, shooters had no interest in these historical relics. A few of the under-appreciated rifle designs that come to mind are the Dutch Beaumont, Austrian Werndell and the Swiss Vetterli. Of all these models, the Vetterli has a unique distinction that makes it special to collectors of military firearms. The Swiss Vetterli was the first bolt-action magazine-fed rifle ever adopted as a service weapon.

The days of $50 Vetterlis are long gone. The current going rate for a Vetterli is $250-500 depending on variation, maker and condition. The Stutzer and carbine versions bring as much as three times what a rifle will. Be aware that there were many carbines made by shortening standard rifles. This was done by importers such as Bannermans that had thousands of long rifles on hand that were hard to sell.

For detailed information on the Vetterli rifles I recommend the book, Swiss Magazine Loading Rifles 1869-1958 by Joe Poyer from North Cape Publications. It is as an excellent reference on Swiss rifles. Also there is an excellent website that features Swiss firearms, www.swissrifles.com.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in shooting the old black powder cartridge rifles. The original 10.4x38Rmm being a rimfire round does not make reloading a practical option. The answer is simple. Change the Vetterli bolt to shoot centerfire ammunition.

This is a fairly easy conversion to make for someone with access to a lathe and a bit of machining skills. All that is done is adding a centered firing pin to the striker and drilling a hole in the center of the bolt face. New centerfire 10.4x38Rmm brass can be formed from .348 Winchester brass. The forming dies are not inexpensive but once the investment is made a 130-year-old Vetterli can once again belch smoke.

This article appeared in the December 3, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to learn more and load up on a subscription.


Resources for Military Gun Collectors

Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, 6th EditionThe Standard Catalog of Military Firearms

The Greatest Guns of Gun Digest

Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values

Gun Digest 1944 – 2013 3-Disc Set

Gun Digest the Magazine

Gun Digest 2013

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