Curious Relics #016: Hugo Hensel and The Mystery Revolver Part I
Welcome, if you are a newcomer to this fun bi-weekly segment of AllOutdoor.com! The last time around I extensively covered the Swedish M96 Mauser and some of its accessories. Originally, it was not my intention to have five whole parts dedicated to that specific gun, but to not inform I felt would be a disservice to anyone out there that follows the segment. Today I have a cool story and a firearm shrouded in mystery. The Hugo Hensel name and the H. Hensel mystery revolver. Let’s dive right into the rabbit hole!
Welcome to our recurring series of “Curious Relics.” Here, we want to share all of our experiences, knowledge, misadventures, and passion for older firearms that one might categorize as a Curio & Relic – any firearm that is at least 50 years old according to the ATF. Hopefully along the way you can garner a greater appreciation for older firearms like we do, and simultaneously you can teach us things as well through sharing your own expertise and thoughts in the Comments. Understanding the firearms of old, their importance, and their development which lead to many of the arms we now cherish today is incredibly fascinating and we hope you enjoy what we have to share, too!
Explanation: Hugo Hensel and The Mystery Revolver
In the early fall of 2020, a gentleman had walked into the gunshop I work at looking to sell a handful of handguns he had bought a long while ago. In this lot of guns was a peculiar-looking revolver. Accompanied with the revolver was a tag that read “Gun #83 Hensel Military Pistol German. Taken from German soldier.” The tag strikes me as something that would be at an auction or gun show and that being said there is really no way I can know if the tag was true or just some lore to help sell an old revolver. Nonetheless, I was fascinated and bought it hoping to find out more. Little did I know it would turn into an exciting rabbit hole.
Fast forward to January of 2021. At this point, I did all the digging I could on a gun that only had a handful of markings on it. “H. Hensel Breslau” and some proof markings. I decided it was time to throw it into the machine that is Wheelgun Wednesday over on our sister site TheFirearmBlog.com. I shared all my speculation and curiosity. In an introductory statement regarding my initial research I said:
“I am going to tell you upfront that this is fairly open-ended and nothing is terribly set in stone. I put in a lot of time looking into this enigma and this is what I found. H. Hensel stands for Hugo Hensel and Breslau used to be a city in Poland and is now known as Wrocław. At the time of this revolvers creation, Breslau was most likely a part of Germany. The proof marks (two crowns and a U beneath them) are German as well dating 1891-1939. The Hugo Hensel name can be found on a myriad of side-by-side shotguns and drilling guns throughout the internet. I also found it on an old munitions box dated from 1900.”
After my little article went live I decided to check the comments for a few days to see if anyone else out there had something similar or with the Hugo Hensel name attached to it. This is how I met (via the internet) Armin Hensel. Armin lives in Germany and his great-great-great-great grandfather Carl is the founder of the Hugo Hensel brand and his great grandfather was one of the master Gunsmiths who worked at the Hugo Hensel factory.
Corresponded History: Hugo Hensel and The Mystery Revolver
I have had a good amount of correspondence with Armin and he has been extremely helpful and informative. Armin mentioned that neither he nor his father has ever seen a Hugo Hensel revolver so they were very curious to see my article on it (link here). He and his father are interested in their family’s past and have done a lot of their own research and digging. That being said the information compiled below and some of the photos are from them and with their kind blessing I am happy to share it with you.
“In 1846 Carl Hensel (born 1817) founded a small shop for hunting rifles in Breslau, now Wroclaw, which was the capital of Schlesien. He was a “Buechsenmachermeister,” I think something like “Master Gunsmith” in American English.” – Armin Hensel
Carl Hensel’s son (Robert Gustav Hugo Hensel, born 1846), Carl’s grandson (Max Georg Hugo Hensel, born 1872), and Carl’s great-grandson (Walter Hugo Erich Hensel, born 1899) all worked as gunsmiths in the Hugo Hensel gun factory in Breslau. The best financial period for the factory was from around 1910 to 1918. When World War One ended so did the gun factory due to the new firearm and firearm manufacturing restrictions put on countries such as Germany.
When the Great Depression hit in 1929 Germany was not doing really well either. Armin’s Great Grandfather (Walter Hugo Erich Hensel) decided to go to the United States in hopes of making money to support his family. He moved to a city that had a few major firearm manufacturers. Armin had guessed Detroit (he assured me it was only a guess) and if I had to guess it would be somewhere on the east coast like Connecticut or Massachusetts. Regardless where, Walter got a job as a gunsmith and would return to Germany two years later to help his father at their family’s shop as a gunsmith and engraver.
Meanwhile, at his family’s shop in Breslau, Walter’s father Hugo was allowed to manufacture firearms only intended for hunting. These were mainly shotguns and rifles most of which Hugo engraved. There you can find scattered around the internet on various old auction pages and articles like my own. Armin had sent me some photos he said I could share and one below is a document by the Hugo Hensel shop.
As with so many other things at the time, the Hugo Hensel shop came to a final close in 1936. This was due to regime changes of the time in that part of the world. Fast forward to the end of World War Two and the Hensel family had been “chased away from Breslau” as Armin put it in some of his correspondence with me. Most of the documents regarding the Hugo Hensel shop and gun factory history are presumed to have been burned and firearms were taken by allied troops (this is one reason why you may find them in the US) or destroyed. The shop was torn down and Breslau would eventually become Wroclaw Poland under the Soviet regime.
The family tied to the Hugo Hensel shop and gun factory were spread all over Europe as refugees like so many families. They carried with them no documents of their history nor firearms of their lineage. They never set up to build or tinker with firearms again.
Happy End to a Sad Story: Hugo Hensel and The Mystery Revolver
Even though the family was spread all over there is still an ongoing interest in the past by the Hensel family, especially with Armin and his father. Eventually, Walter and his son Lothar (born 1919, Armin’s Grandfather) moved from northern Germany to the south and found work, and raised their respective families. Lothar had a son (also named Lothar born 1948) and a daughter. Lothar eventually had Armin who has been so very helpful in supplying information on his family’s firearm connection. The two of them love to hunt, talk about older firearms, and research the Hugo Hensel name.
Armin informed me that Hugo Hensel hunting guns are still used around Europe today even though they are almost 100 years old. Armin has given me permission to share his email with you all in hopes of learning more about his family history and the Hugo Hensel firearms history. If you have such information feel free to message him at this email: [email protected]. I am sure he would be happy to hear if you own any H. Hensel firearms or have any further information. Please be polite and considerate!
End of Part I: Hugo Hensel and The Mystery Revolver
Well folks you know the drill! I hope I adequately explained the beginning and end of the Hugo Hensel factory and store. Big thank you to Armin Hensel and his family for being so helpful and informative. I am sure that there will be many people out there that will find help or at the very least some interest in this topic. It is a pleasure to share my findings and I am excited to share the rest with you in Part II.
In closing, I hope our Curious Relics segment informed as well as entertained. This all was written in hopes of continued firearm appreciation and preservation. We did not just realize how guns were supposed to look and function. It was a long and tedious process that has shaped the world we live in. So, I put it to you! Is there a firearm out there that you feel does not get much notoriety? What should our next Curious Relics topic cover? As always, let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.