Ask Dolf: Importers

Dolf Goldsmith has kindly offered to answer questions that pertain to his experience and expertise (primarily Korean War and earlier machine guns), for an occasional column. If you have something you would like to ask him, please drop us a line at –Ian

John in North Carolina sent in this question:

I’d be very interested in the history of importation and distribution “back in the day”.  Who imported these things, how did they get them from the
original sources? What were the difficulties faced, the prices paid, the nature of the transactions.

I’ve always been fascinated considering how machine guns (or any surplus gun) gets from the source country , to importers.  I can’t see googling the
weapons ministry of  Italy for example and saying “hi, I was just wondering if you had any machine guns for sale”.  I’ve read some sketchy information
about Bannerman and others, but anything along these lines would be very interesting to me at least.

European countries were selling surplus MGs (and almost everything came in) through Interarms, from France, Britain, Argentina, to name a few. Norway, Holland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Sweden among others destroyed everything they did not need or thought obsolete. A great pity, there are no Swedish Brownings and Schwarzloses, Dutch Schwarzloses, Vickers and Lewis guns, Norwegian Brownings and Madsens, Italian Revellis and Vickers, French St Etiennes and Hotchkisses, plus all the LMGs those countries had. Not a single example of any of these guns is privately held. In some cases they were still guns on active inventory, but most were obsolete by then.

Argentina, Greece, Turkey, El Salvador, Ecuador and Costa Rica among others sold surplus guns in USA, but the quantities they had were miniscule. Later, Portugal, Argentina, Australia and Guatemala sold their surplus guns to USA but by then 1986 Gun Control act was in force, and all that could come in was parts kits. Interarms sold to various dealers such as Potomac Arms, Navy Arms Co, etc. There was one outfit in California, I think the name was Golden State Arms, who brought in some of those nice wood stock German and Austrian SMGs. Don’t know where they got them, often they were picked up in other countries where the makers sold them.

As for prices, they were so cheap that it makes one ill. I think the brass Maxims were bought for $10.- each, FOB Argentina, and everything else did not cost that much. It generally cost at least as much as much to import the stuff than what was paid for it overseas, due to freight charges, duties, customs brokers fees, trucking once the goods were in USA, port of entry charges, etc.