Original Italian Vetterli-Vitali M1870/87 10.4mm Infantry Rifle made in Brescia dated 1880 - Serial MN6170

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. The M1870 Vetterli was the Italian service rifle from 1870-1887. The M1870 was a single-shot bolt action rifle chambered for the 10.4mm Vetterli centrefire cartridge, at first loaded with black powder and later with smokeless powder. The M1870 was based upon the M1869 Swiss Vetterli but simplified for economy. Starting in 1887, all model 1870s were updated to the M1870/87 Italian Vetterli-Vitali variant, which has a 4 round magazine. Many were later converted to work with 6.5mm ammunition after 1915, so unconverted examples like this are hard to find.

This example bears serial number MN 6170 on the barrel nocks form and butt stock, and is offered in very good condition. It is marked BRESCIA over an 1880 date on the barrel, indicating manufacture in Brescia, a major gunmaking region of Italy. There is a maker symbol on the top of the nocks form, but it is unfortunately not one that we recognize. The stock does not look to have been reconditioned at arsenal, so the serial number is still clear, and there is a clear stock cartouche on the right from when the rifle was updated to the Vitali magazine system:

(Italian Coat of Arms)
* 1888 *

This is one of the best cartouches we have seen on an Italian Vetterli, and it indicates that this rifle was converted to the Vitali magazine system at Artigiana Fabbrica D'Armi Terni (Artisan Weapons Factory Terni).

The metalwork still has a lot of the original bluing present, with a rust speckled patina. This could probably be cleaned away, but we feel it adds to the history of the rifle, which really is a great example. Mechanically it functions great, cycling correctly with a good dry fire. The stock is lovely, with original finish present, and the usual dents and dings from service. The bore on the rifle is simply excellent, with little to no sign of wear. We would not be surprised if this rifle was never used after the proof firing. The rear sight is fully functional, with an intact adjustment button, and both sling swivels are still present. The only thing missing from this rifle is the cleaning rod, which unfortunately was lost over the past century or so.

Overall a great example of this somewhat rare and desirable weapon, ready to display!

History of the Vetterli Rifle

The 19th Century proved a critical one for the advancement of firearms. Up to this point, the flintlock muzzle-loading system was the adopted standard but all this changed with the advent of the percussion cap system and breech-loading configuration. Add to this the arrival of the self-contained cartridge and the gun of the late 1800s was a far cry from that of early part of the decade.

In Switzerland, Johann-Freidrich Vetterli had developed a new cartridge-based, breech-loading, bolt-action rifle that entered service with the Swiss Army in 1869 - the "Vetterli Rifle". This long gun was based around the 10.4x38mm Swiss cartridge, a rimfire cartridge with black powder content. The rifle went on to provide service from the period of 1869 to 1890 with some of the 36,700 units seeing combat service into World War 1 (1914-1918) on the side of the Russians.

The Italian Army, in search of a modern cartridge-based long gun themselves, adopted the Swiss gun a short time later and these came to be known as the Model 1870 "Italian Vetterli". The Italian model differed somewhat from its original Swiss design in that attention was paid to streamlining the product for Italian Army requirements. The rifle - once an 11-round tube-fed weapon - was reduced to just single-shot firing and rechambered for the 10.35x47mmR, a centerfire cartridge with black powder content. On the whole, the rifles maintained the same design form as the Swiss version with its long wooden stock, ornate trigger guard, and turn-down bolt handle. A large rear sighting assembly was an identifying feature of the Italian mark and a two-banded arrangement was seen on the long wooden body leading up to the muzzle.

In 1887, the rifle was upgraded with a four-round projecting magazine case for repeat-firing, this afforded much efficient use out of the bolt-action arrangement. The magazine was of a local design by Italian artillery Captain G. Vitali - his surname making it into the revised designation of Model 1870/87 "Italian Vetterli-Vitali". This magazine was fed by way of Mannlicher-style preloaded clips while still chambered for the 10.4x47R cartridge. The modified guns were appropriately marked along their butt stocks.

By the time of World War 1 (1914-1918), the Italian government - as with other world powers - found itself desperately short of many viable war-making products including service rifles. It committed to the war effort on the side of the Allies in 1915 and quickly scoured its stores for useful weapons of all types. This meant that the aged Model 1870s were still in play, numbering in the hundreds of thousands by this point. However, local conversions were forced upon the design in an attempt to produce a more modern end-product - chief of these changes being the conversion to the 6.5x52mm Carcano standard Italian rifle cartridge with smokeless powder content. The move also required new barrel lining and new magazine (Mannlicher type).

The 6.5mm Italian Vetterli guns were issued to second-line Italian Army regiments in the hope that these groups would not be pressed into serious combat action - but if they were they could carry with them a somewhat useful infantry rifle. This did not prove the norm on the whole however for the rifles did see direct combat action against the enemy during several of the Italian offensives of the war.

The Italian Vetterli was still in circulation throughout the inter-war period following and some even played a role in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936), the Italians claiming a decisive victory.


Year of Manufacture: 1880 - converted 1888
Caliber: 10.4×47mmR
Cartridge Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 34 inches

Overall Length: 53 Inches
Action type: Bolt-Action
Feed System: 4 round magazine

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