Never play peekaboo with Comrade Stalin.
The Great Soviet Propaganda Plane,
At the time it was the largest and most advanced airplane in history. Designed by Andrei Tupolev, the ANT-20 was a Soviet airplane that pushed the boundaries of aviation. It wingspan was similar to that of a modern day Boeing 747. To power such a massive plane, the ANT-20 utilized eight 900 horsepower engines. It was also the largest airplane made of corrugated sheet metal. Finally it was the first airplane to use both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).
Named after Maxim Gorsky, a popular Soviet writer and founder of the Socialist realism art movement, the ANT-20’s purpose was to spread Stalinist propaganda across the Soviet Union and Europe. To do this, the ANT-20 was equipped with a radio station whose transmitter (called the “voice from the sky”) could override all but the most powerful local radio stations, a printing press that could distribute propaganda leaflets from the air, a library, a photography lab, and a film projector with sound to show movies to the plane’s 75 passengers. It was Stalin’s plan that a whole fleet of such airplanes were to be built, which were to cruise the world’s skies while spreading communist propaganda across the globe.
On May 18th, 1935 the Maxim Gorky made it first demonstration flight over Moscow escorted by two I-5 fighters. While the ANT-20 flew over Moscow spreading Soviet propaganda, the two fighters were to perform a series of dazzling aerial maneuvers around the massive plane. Unfortunately the two planes simultaneously crashed into the Maxim Gorky, sending it plummeting to the ground where it crashed in a residential district near the present day Sokol Metro Station. The crash killed 45 people, including two pilots, all 33 passengers, and ten people who were family members of the airplane’s designers.
After the devastating crash, the Soviet government made a scapegoat of the deceased pilot Blagin, claiming that he had made a reckless maneuver causing the crash and that he had a “cocky disregard of authority.” A year after the fatal crash, a replacement airplane, called the ANT-20bis went into production. It was similar to the Maxim Gorky, but with more powerful engines. In 1942 it likewise crashed when the pilot allowed a passenger to take his seat momentarily and the passenger apparently disengaged the automatic pilot, sending the airplane into a nosedive from an altitude of 1,500 ft and killing all 36 on board.
Stalin’s grand scheme of building a massive fleet of gigantic propaganda planes was scrapped in 1939 after several purges of the Soviet aviation industry resulted in a shortage of qualified engineers.
The German MG-34 General Purpose Machine Gun,
Perhaps the most advanced machine gun design of the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the MG-34 was a new concept of warfare called the general purpose machine gun. During World War I and the post war era, machine guns came in two general classes. Heavy machine guns were large mounted weapons used primarily in defensive roles because of their exceptional firepower and lack of mobility. Light machine guns were made to be man portable, and thus used for offensive actions. However they often lacked the firepower of the heavy machine guns. During World War II, the German Wehrmacht revolutionized warfare by introducing the concept of the general purpose machine gun, a man portable machine gun which also sported exceptional firepower, and thus could be utilized in a number of roles.
The MG-34 was designed in 1934 by Rheinmetall and based on an earlier design called the MG-30. It was first introduced to the German Army in 1936 after Adolf Hitler formally denounced the Versailles Treaty and began the large scale rearmament of the Germany Army. It was also supplied to the fascist government in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During the 1930’s and throughout World War II, the MG-34 would serve as the primary infantry machine gun of the Wehrmacht. What made the MG-34 truly unique among other machine guns of its era was its incredible firepower at 800 rounds a minute. Most other machine guns of the time, whether light or heavy, could only manage around 500-600 rounds per minute. This combined with its portability gave the common German infantry platoon an incredible amount of firepower. Such high rate of fire was accomplished using an open short recoil action. The MG-34 was both semi and fully automatic, utilizing a special double crescent trigger. The upper trigger fired the weapon in semi auto, the lower trigger fired it in full auto.
The MG-34 was air cooled, but had a detachable barrel which could be quickly switched out in case of overheating. It was chambered for 8x57 Mauser, also the standard infantry rifle round of the Wehrmacht.
The most important aspect of the MG-34 was its versatility as a general purpose machine gun. In different forms it was used in three main roles; as an offensive machine gun, as a light machine gun, and as a heavy machine gun. In its light machine gun form, it was carried by only one man, firing from a 50 or 75 drum magazine. In its light machine gun role, it was operated by two men, firing from an ammunition belt. In a pinch, the MG-34 could even be fired from the back or shoulder of another soldier.
In its heavy machine gun role, the weapon was mounted on a large tripod for added stability, which also included a range finder and telescopic sight. In addition, the MG-34 could be mounted on vehicles and aircraft, or mounted in groups of two or four as light anti-aircraft guns.
Throughout World War II German infantry tactics, both offensive and defense, revolved around the general purpose machine gun, with two or three MG-34’s serving as the backbone of a German platoon, while it was the duty of the other infantry to support the machine guns. Later, an improved version of the MG-34 was introduced called the MG-42. Simpler to mass produce, it had a blistering rate of fire at around 1,200 - 1,500 rounds per minute. As great as it was, German production could not produce enough for wartime demands. As a result the MG-34 remained the most popular general purpose machine gun in the German Army. After World War II, the concept of the general purpose machine gun became a mainstay of almost all modern military’s.
A beautiful pair of snaphuance pistols originating from Tuscany, late 17th century.
Sold at Auction: € 10,400
Civil War Hardtack
This cracker was a Union soldier’s main ration. Popularly known as “sheet iron crackers,” they were notoriously difficult to bite into and chew. Unlike leavened bread, hardtack was quite durable and would keep for a veeeerrrry long time. This cracker was signed by two soldiers of the Eighth Pennsylvania Infantry and kept as a souvenir of their service.
OH MY GOSH.
"Veteran Reserve Corps. Wash., D.C. Apr. 1865"
Real life historical figures who would make excellent Bond villains.
Grigori Rasputin: Russian mystic, psychic, faith healer, and adviser to the Romanovs in the early 20th century up to World War I. Was supposedly almost impossible to kill when he was assassinated.
Pithole Come and Gone —- The Great Pennsylvania Oil Rush,
As someone born and raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania I was always fed the legend in school that in 1859 Col. Edwin Drake drilled the first artificial oil well. While I know now that is not true, there are many who drilled wells in the 19th century, not to mention the Chinese who drilled for oil as far back as ancient times, it was Drake’s accomplishment that would create the birth of the modern oil industry. As a result of Drake’s discovery, hundreds of thousands of prospectors from around the world flocked to Northwestern Pennsylvania seeking opportunity and riches. Most settled in the area of Venango and Crawford County, founding towns that exist today such as Oil City, Franklin, and Titusville.
The cities and towns that were created as a result of the Pennsylvania Oil Rush were much like the gold and silver boom towns of the old west. Populations exploded rapidly, but when the riches ran out, all that was left was a series of empty ghost towns. One of the most famous of the PA oil region was Pithole. Located in between Vengango and Forest Counties, Pithole was a boomtown that was often compared to Dodge City in the West. In January of 1864 Pithole was founded when an oil prospector named Isiah Frazier struck black gold. By July 2,000 people settled in Pithole, by Novemeber that number had exploded to 15,000 people. By Christmas day of 1864, Pithole was home to around 25,000 immigrants.
A bustling boomtown, Pithole sported 54 hotels, 3 churches, a number of stores, and numerous saloons, gambling dens, and brothels. In addition, the landscape would have been littered with scores, if not hundreds of oil wells. Most residents of Pithole were oil prospectors who were there on a temporary basis, moving in to drill a claim, and going home when they either busted out or struck a fortune. Along with oilers were a number of other people such as merchants, lawyers, land speculators, doctors, craftsmen, and skilled people necessary for a healthy town. The boom also brought a number of less desirable people such as gamblers, prostitutes, outlaws, gangsters, thieves, and con artists.
The fall of Pithole began when in early 1866, a mere two years after its founding, oil wells in the town hit peak production. By spring of the same year financiers began to flee pithole in search for greener pastures. When the financiers left, so did the oilers, and when the oilers left, so did everyone else. By December of 1866, the population of Pithole dropped to only 2,000. By 1870 only 237 lived in Pithole, and by 1880, it was an abandoned ghost town. Unlike western ghost towns, where the town is preserved by dry conditions, Pithole was quickly overrun by forest and foliage. Today all that remains of Pithole are the foundations of streets and buildings, protected by the state as a part of Oil Creek State Park. Pithole was not unique among PA Oil Rush boomtowns, as dozens of other boomtowns suffered similar fates and were quickly wiped off the map. In 1891 Pennsylvania oil production peaked at 31 million barrels. Soon afterword, other oil regions such as Ohio, California, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Alaska would draw oil booms of their own. By 1901, the PA Oil Rush had moved on, leaving dozens of empty boom towns like Pithole with it.
The Velodog Revolver,
A creation of the French pistol maker Charles Francois Galland in the late 19th century, the Velodog was a small pocket revolver popular in France and Belgium in the late 19th and early 20th century. While there were many makers of Velodog revolvers in Europe at the time, most share common characteristics. First, they were small five or six shot double action revolvers, often hammerless and lacking a trigger guard. Instead of a trigger guard, for the safety most Velodogs had a folding trigger, which also made the pistol more compact for carrying. Secondly, most Velodogs were of small caliber. At first they were produced in a caliber called 5.75 Velodog, a 5.5mm (.22 caliber) jacket cartridge similar to the .22 magnum today. Later Velodogs were produced in other small calibers such a .22 long rifle and .25 ACP.
The purpose of the velodog was very specific, for bicyclers to defend themselves against dog attacks. The name “velodog” is a portmanteau of the words “velocipede”, an early type of bicycle (pictured above), and “dog”. While this may seem laughable today, remember that at the time, bicycles were crude, slow vehicles and that 19th century Paris was infested with thousands of dangerous, rabid dogs. For those seeking a more humane solution, 5.75 Velodog cartridges were produced loaded with cayenne pepper.