As the name suggests, the private collection is closed to the public
“Sed Tamen salis petrae lurus mope can ubre et sulpuris, et sic facies tornitrum et coruscationem, si scias artificium”.
This is what the English monk Roger Bacon (Ruggero Bacone) wrote in the 13th century referring, even if in an a-grammatical form, to gun-powder, giving inconfutable proof about the exact time when this mixture was known.
Three centuries later in an account document, now kept in the Record Office in Venice, the following words were written:“Today, October the 3rd (n.t.1526) to Master Bartholomew Beretta from Gardone, in Brescia region, for 185 barrels for harquebus, to our House of the Arsenal, 296 ducats have been given”.This is the beginning of the History of the “Pietro Beretta Arms Factory”.
The Beretta Collection today is made up of 900 collectors’ items, all on show and each one different. Some items of more recent manufacture are kept in various departments of the Company for the time being. These no doubt will go to increase the Collection in the not too distant future.
The collection is at present housed in two main rooms:
the “Great Armoury”
the Board Room, which is next to the study of Mr. Pietro Beretta.
Flintlock muzzle loader pistol with two-stage barrel. Square to round barrel form, longitudinal ridges, partition and ribbed muzzle, bearing “Gio Ant Beretta” signature. Florentine type lock, punched inside “Giovanni Antonio Gavacciolo”. Walnut briar stock. Mid XVII century.
The rest of the center space of the Armoury is taken up by counter-high glass cases which house 350 handguns – pistols and revolvers – of different historic periods and origins.
Two cases are entirely devoted to the Beretta production, starting from the first semi-automatic pistol patented in 1915 in cal. 9 mm Glisenti to the modern production of pistols with double action and staggered magazine which have been adopted by quite a number of army and police forces all over the world.
The 92 series of double action pistols, the Model 92F in cal.9 mm. Parabellum, has been adopted, after extensive tests, by the Army, the Navy, the Airforce, the Marines and the Coast Guards of the United States, to replace the Colt 1911-A1.
News of the adoption of the Beretta pistol was communicated to Senator Giovanni Spadolini, Italian Minister of Defence, by Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger on January 15th, 1985.
Other cases contain pistols with wheellock, flintlock, percussion muzzle-loaders, pin-cartridge pistols, revolvers of varied origin and with various different technical characteristics; also some Beretta revolver prototypes.
Of particular interest is the (ex) Marciano collection, which comprises handguns mainly of German origin, among which are many Mausers, Lugers, carbine-pistols with holster stock. Rare examples are a Borchardt, a Schwarzlose 1893, and other makes like Simpleton and Bergmann.
Very interesting also are some Italian prototypes of semi-automatic pistols of the beginning of this century, like the Revelli, the Brixia, the Glisenti and the successive Sosso which have some distinguishing characteristics like double action, 19 round belt-feed and frame in light alloy.
At the end of the room are two punt guns, one made in 1856 and the other in the early 1900s; also some field and antiaircraft machine gun prototypes on tripods. A Breda 37 cal. 8 mm, built by Beretta during the Second World War completes the contents of the Armoury.
The main part of the Collection is housed in the “Big Armoury”, which measures over 200 m2.
The glass cases running along the walls are full of long firearms, sporting guns down one side, military weapons down the other. In the lower part of the wall cases at the end of the long room are displayed some weapons which show the evolutionary stages of the various systems of functioning of military firearms; in the top part of the cases there are Beretta Shotguns and shotguns manufactured by others, all of the 1600-1800 period.
Along the right hand side of the Armoury, as one enters, are numerous military weapons, from breech-loaders to more modern weapons used in the Second World War. All are grouped by family (manufacturers and nationality) and all follow a criterion of evolution of system and of construction techniques. The Dreyse needle gun, which is in the collection, was designed and made in 1837 as a breech-loading firearm, but it was adopted by the Prussian Army only four years later, for its innovation which allowed a rapid loading of the firearm with manufactured cartridges.
The locking system was, for the first time, the hinge principle, which worked just like the hinge of a door. The technical superiority of this gun contributed to the easy victory of the Prussians over the Danish army in 1864, and shortened the war against Austria two years later, which lasted only five weeks. Detail of flintlock muzzle loader fowling shotgun featuring “Giov. Ant. Beretta” signature. The Roman type lock with mask bears the date 1691 on the frizzen base. Walnut briar stock. Late XVII century. Another gun which adopted the breech-loading system and the needle percussion is the French Chassepot, used by the French Army in 1866.
On November 3rd, in 1867, the troops of Garibaldi met the French troops at Mentana.
The “Garibaldini” were 4,700 strong and had only 24 cartridges each and poor muzzle-loading guns but all the same they put the Zouaves to rout; until alas the French General De Failly arrived with his troops 11,000 strong and armed for the first time with the Chassepot which, as the General informed his Government, “did wonderfully well”.
An evolution of the military weapon, as designed by Dreyse, was the introduction of the manual repeater with cartridge magazine.
The Swiss Vetterli, a manual repeater with a tubular magazine of American design, was adopted by the Swiss Army in 1866; it was also manufactured under licence in the Italian Military Arsenal from 1871 onwards, in the single shot version however. Three glass cases are entirely taken up with the Paul Mauser (Oberndorf, Germany) guns. In 1868, Paul Mauser was able to patent, in the United States, his first gun with a metal cartridge case.
Three years later the Germany Army decided to adopt the weapon which was called Model 71.
The success of this gun was immediate and when it later became a repeater and was technically improved, it was adopted by the armies of various European and non-European countries.The Italian Carcano, in various versions, takes up two cases. In cal.6.5 mm, manufactured in large numbers also by Beretta, the weapon was adopted by the Italian Army in 1891.
Some versions produced in 1938 were in cal. 7.35 mm.
A variation of this Model 91, denominated Arisaka, was produced in Italy (80,000; of which 40,000 were produced by Beretta) for Japan. The last delivery left Venice by submarine in 1941. Other interesting items of the collection are the European and American military weapons, such as the Lee-Enfield (England), Mannlicher (Austria), Gras (France), Mosin Nagant (Russia), Springfield (U.S.A.), to name just a few.
In the next case are some prototypes of Beretta semi-automatic weapons (Mod. 30 and Mod. 37) with short recoil, which were submitted to the Military Authorities in the years between the two World Wars but the outcome was not what was expected.
Two German weapons produced in the last stages of the Second World War are of particular interest: the automatic rifle FG42 in cal.7.92 mm, semi-automatic in closed-bolt position for maximum precision of fire, automatic in bolt-open position to permit cooling; the other is the Sturmegehewer MP44, in cal.7.92 Kurz, deemed to be the father of the modern assault rifle.There are various versions of the Beretta assault rifle BM-59 (a conversion of the American Garand) which was issued to the Italian Army in 1960.
In the sub-machine guns section there is the Beretta Model 18, cal.9 mm Glisenti, derived from the Villar Perosa light-machine gun, which contends with the German Schmeisser MP18 I for the title of first sub machine gun in history (the Beretta Model 18 was issued to the Arditi troops in the last months of the First World War).
Various derivations of this model are also displayed, among which is the semi-automatic carbine Model 18/30 and various versions of it.
The evolution of the MAB (Moschetto Automatico Beretta) Model 38, designed by Tullio Marengoni, is amply represented, from the 1935 prototype to the Model 5 (38/49) with automatic push-button safety.
In another case the PM12 prototypes are grouped. Study on the project of this weapon began in 1952, under the supervision of Engineer Domenico Salza. The weapon went into production in 1958 and in 1961 it was adopted by the Italian Police Force and by the Carabinieri.
In 1977 the sub-machine gun underwent an important change by having the safety and the selector combined in a single lever, and as such it became PM12S.
The success of this design is well demonstrated by the fact that many countries’ Police Forces have been issued with this Beretta weapon.
In the next case are grouped numerous prototypes of machine pistols of Italian manufacture among which it is imperative to mention the Armaguerra Cremona OG44 (Oliani G.) which is probably the first to use an overhung bolt to minimize the upward movement of the muzzle during automatic fire, and the Isotta Fraschini, designed by Albertini, for the aeronautic constructive technique of the riveting (the only complete piece remaining of a preproduction of 500 pieces manufactured in March-April 1945).
The last exhibits of this side of the “Big Armoury” are a collection of 45 Stutzen type target guns, made in Austria, Bavaria, Tyrol, at the end of 1800. Here are represented the first diopter aiming systems, the artisan’s advanced research in the field of anatomical stocks for custom made firearms and of the construction of heavy barrels on which bolts were fitted of military origin (Martini, Peabody, Werndl).
On the other long side of the Armoury are the sporting guns, with numerous examples of the various systems, breech-loading, flintlock, percussion; also manufacturing processes and construction of twisted and damascened barrels, stocks carved and decorated with arabesques.
One case displays some excellent side-by-sides, which represent the evolution from the earlier shooting firearms to the modern double-barrel: two needle percussion Dreyse system shotguns, some breech-loading double-barrelled guns with Darne type rotating bolt and precious damascened barrels, another with T bolt and percussion pin, a Webley & Scott with external hammers, a Beretta Model 101.
Wheel – lock muzzle loader pistol. One-stage barrel with ribbed muzzle, bearing “Gioseffo Beretta” signature among three-lobed motifs on the breech. Perforated and richly engraved iron furniture. Walnut briar stock. First half of the XVII century.
Further along the room are the Beretta shooting guns: side-by-sides with external hammers, the first prototypes of the over-and-unders with Holland type sidelocks, which are the SO series of 1933, the various versions of the Beretta AS with Anson sidelocks, the complete series of the famous Beretta S-55 which represent the first example ever of a hunting over-and under of quality at a reasonable price and the first series of shotguns to be assembled with the component parts treated and finished before assembling.
There are also firearms which remained at the prototype stage but are interesting because of some original technical and functional ideas, like guns with push-button triggers, safeties and selectors.
The tall, handsome central display case shows, in the lower part, samples of twisted and damascened barrels, as opposed to the ones made from steel bars bored and coupled by the Monobloc system (introduced by Beretta as long ago as 1912/1913), some locks of particular interest, swordsticks, gunsticks.
In the top part of the case there is a complete collection of the Beretta sporting firearms manufactured in the last twenty years, with some very fine engravings on some of the models, signed by noted Master Engravers such as Corombelle, Slatnik, Bregoli and Tononcelli.
Yet another central display case shows a precious pair of flintlock pistols by Lazzarino Cominazzo, a cartridge belt in leather and velvet of African make which belonged to Francesco Crispi, some priceless Beretta shotguns of the 1700s among which is a “Giovan Beretta 1°” richly ornamented with embossed silver. An interesting piece is a shotgun of the middle of the XVIII century, of reduced dimensions, probably made for a scion of a noble family, with Giovan Beretta marked on the diminutive barrrel.