Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (2024)

Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (1)

Collectors who spend enough time around European firearms will often notice that the guns are littered with a variety of odd markings, letters, and other stamps that seem like some sort of secret code language from another world. Virtually every European pistol or rifle has these markings, but product manuals rarely cover what they mean. Despite this fact, decoding the stampings can be incredibly useful in determining the age and origin of a firearm. One country that seems to take these stamps to the next level is Germany; as products from Heckler & Koch, SIG Sauer, and Walther all feature prominent and similar markings on their receivers, frames, barrels, and slides. Today, we will take a look at what these stampings mean and what sort information we can glean from them.

Proof Marks

Officially, these markings are known as proof marks or proof stamps. Though the European tradition of compulsory proofing (and subsequent marking) dates back to the English Gun Barrel Proof Act of 1868, Germany did not adopt a similar law until 1891. Intended to help guarantee the quality of firearms produced in each nation, proof laws laid forth a set of standards that gun manufacturers must adhere to in order to market their products. Though the measures seem heavy handed, collectors largely believe that the regulations did improve the overall quality of European arms in the latter half of the 19thcentury. Over the years, the specific proof stamps employed by German manufacturers have varied somewhat (especially during and after World War Two), but the markings have remained fairly consistent for most of the past half-century.

The first stamp we will discuss is the “eagle over N” that is consistent on all German firearms. The eagle is a federal insignia in Germany and in this case is indicative of the firearm’s acceptance according to government standards.The N stands for nitrocelluloseand as you may have guessed, means that the firearm has been approved for safe use with nitrocellulose-based gunpowder. In order to obtain this certification, the firearm must successfully fire two rounds of ammunition that have been loaded 30% hotter than the accepted maximum caliber specification. In terms of mechanical assurances, this stamp is the most important on the weapon.

Proof Houses

The most obvious proof marks on German guns are the pictograms that can frequently be found near the firearm’s serial number. These symbols represent the proof house that performed the testing. Typically, each manufacturer uses the same proof house for all of their firearms, but this is not always true. Heckler & Koch and the Walther products that are produced in Ulm all exhibit a set of antlers, the insignia of the proof house in Ulm. Meanwhile, Walther products produced in Arnsberg (usually their .22 LR offerings) undergo testing at the Cologne proof house and feature that facility’s “three crowns in a shield” emblem. Lastly, SIG Sauer’s fully German firearms (manufactured and assembled entirely in Germany) pass through the Kiel proof house and carry the “leaves” of that house.

Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (3)

Date Codes

The final markings are often most interesting to collectors. Almost every German firearm features a two-letter date code that indicates the gun’s birth year. For dating purposes, each letter corresponds to a specific number (0-9) and together, the two letters represent the final two digits of the production year. Heckler & Koch and Walther both use the same system, featuring an “I”, but no “J”. SIG Sauer’s system is exactly the opposite with a “J”, but no “I”. The association table can be found below, as can a photo of my 2006 production HK USP 9.

German Date Codes

















I (SIG uses J)



Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (4)

Hopefully, this clears up some of the uncertainty that surrounds these European markings, especially the German proof marks that are so common on popular firearms today. Sometimes these symbols can be useful tools in assessing generational changes that occur over the lifespan of a firearm design. They are also critically important to collectors who seek examples from specific eras or date ranges. If readers have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below

Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (5)

Nathan Thornton( Editor )

An information security professional by day and gun blogger by night, Nathan started his firearms journey at 16 years old as a collector of C&R rifles. These days, you’re likely to find him shooting something a bit more modern – and usually equipped with a suppressor – but his passion for firearms with military heritage has never waned. Over the last five years, Nathan has written about a variety of firearms topics, including Second Amendment politics and gun and gear reviews. When he isn’t shooting or writing, Nathan nerds out over computers, 3D printing, and Star Wars.

Proof Marks, Date Codes, and German Firearms (2024)


Can I tell how old a gun is by the serial number? ›

You can visit the U.S. Military Dates of Manufacture page on Select whether your firearm is a handgun or a long gun and choose the appropriate link to be directed to the lookup tool. Then, simply search for the date your firearm was created by typing its serial number in the box.

What is a nitro proof mark? ›

This 12-bore is proofed under the Rules of Proof in force at the London Proof House from 1904 - 1925. 'Smokeless' powders were now widely used to the Britain. So, guns marked with these stamps show 'NITRO PROOF' unless they have been proof tested for black powder only.

Where is a firearms date stamp? ›

All firearm manufacturers use a data stamp on their rifles and ammunition. For rifles the data stamp is often located on the left or right side of the barrel.

What does NP mean on a shotgun? ›

NITRO PROOF - the mark was introduced in 1896 and discontinued in 1954. NP with crown over- the Birmingham Nitro Proof mark, introduced in 1896.

Can you Google a gun serial number? ›

A gun dealer can run a serial number search, but may charge a small fee for doing so. The documentation that came with the gun will also have this information. In many cases, this will come from the owner's manual.

Is there a website to look up gun serial number? ›

eTrace. eTrace is web-based firearms tracing system available to accredited domestic and international law enforcement agencies to assist in the tracing of U.S.-sourced firearms.

What is a firearm proof mark? ›

Definition of proofmark

: a distinctive symbol stamped into the metal of the barrel or other part of a firearm to indicate that testing of the part bearing the stamp by firing proof loads has been carried out.

What is proof round? ›

A "proof round" is an ammunition assembly designed to be used in proof testing; this can use a fixed cartridge, a semi-fixed cartridge, or separately loaded projectile, charge and primer. A "proof shot" is a special projectile used in a proof round or other projectile weapons, electromagnetic guns for example.

Is my shotgun steel proof? ›

A: Check the barrel of your gun. The gun will be stamped 'steel shot' and have a fleur de lys proof mark. This shows it will handle high performance steel. These cartridges should only be used in shotguns that have passed the special steel shot proof and bear the words “steel shot” and a fleur de lys proof mark.

What is printed on a barrel stamp? ›

Barrel stamp – A stamp pressed into the side of the barrel of a firearm that typically states the manufacturer, the gauge or caliber, and the chamber size.

What kind of gun do I have by serial number? ›

You can look up a gun by its serial number using certain resources like the NRA website and the Blue Book of Gun Values. Additionally, many firearms manufacturer websites have databases of their guns, and you can look up the serial numbers of firearms they manufacture.

What is bullet stamp? ›

A headstamp is the markings on the bottom of a cartridge case designed for a firearm. It usually tells who manufactured the case. If it is a civilian case it often also tells the caliber: if it is military, the year of manufacture is often added.

What does Le mean on a gun? ›

Enfield, Rifle, Carbine. Enfield, Rifle, Carbine. 1. LE. Limited Edition.

What does NS mean for guns? ›

No Sights. Rifle, Sight, Supply.

What does LR stand for in guns? ›

Long Rifle

Can I run a serial number on a gun to see if it's stolen? ›

Contact your local police department or sheriff's office to run a gun serial number search if you are looking to purchase a pre-owned gun from a dealer. Police records will indicate whether the gun has been used in a crime or has been reported lost or stolen.

What year did they start putting serial numbers on guns? ›

In 1968, the Gun Control Act (GCA) imposed numerous additional requirements in the arena of gun manufacture. As per the GCA, all firearms manufactured or imported into the United States are required to bear a serial number.

How many numbers are in a gun serial number? ›

Locate the Gun Serial Number

There is no typical serial number. For example, a Browning serial number can range in length from eight to ten characters, a Glock number is only five characters long. Serial numbers can contain both numbers and letters. A serial number is stamped in metal so it doesn't wear easily.

How are guns traced? ›

Tracing Process

Firearms tracing begins when ATF or another law enforcement agency discovers a firearm at a crime scene and wants to learn where it came from. NTC receives the trace request and uses the gun's serial number to identify its original manufacture or importer.

Can bullets be traced to buyer? ›

At the time of purchase, the code or serial number would be recorded along with the purchaser's information by a licensed dealer. Later, when a bullet or cartridge case is found at a crime scene, the bullet or spent cartridge could be quickly traced back to the purchaser.

What year is Marlin 336? ›

Marlin 336 year of manufacture

It is also valid for determining most other Marlin firearm build dates from 1946 to the present. Starting in 1973, the year of manufacture can be determined by subtracting the first two digits of the serial number from 100: Example: SN 2512345 would have been made in 1975 [100 - 25 = 75].

How are gun barrels proofed? ›

Proofing is a type of (potentially destructive) testing whereby a firearm is discharged with appropriate dimension ammunition that has been overloaded with powder on purpose. Shooting a round overcharged with powder produces higher than normal pressure inside the barrels and action when the gun is fired.

How many yard can a small shot travel? ›

A centerfire bullet can travel several miles. Small shot can travel 200–350 yards. Larger shot can travel over 600 yards.

What is shotgun proofing? ›

Its three major activities are: proof, safety and de-activation. Proof is the process of testing the safety of a gun barrel. It is still done as it has been since the Company was established in 1637: by firing the gun with an over-pressure charge of powder. If the gun survives undamaged, it will be safe to shoot.

What is the plus P in ammo? ›

Overpressure ammunition, commonly designated as +P or +P+, is small arms ammunition that has been loaded to produce a higher internal pressure when fired than is standard for ammunition of its caliber (see internal ballistics), but less than the pressures generated by a proof round.

Is plus P ammo better? ›

The +P designation for ammunition has absolutely nothing to do with the potential for the ammunition to be more effective at stopping bad guys. The +P designation only means that the ammunition is loaded to a higher pressure.

What is a proof check? ›

Proofs allow you to check the layout, color breaks, fold positions and other details so you can make necessary changes before your order goes to press. This is especially important if the job involves typesetting, color separation, or any other layout work done after the job leaves your office.

Is it safe to shoot steel shot in older shotguns? ›

Current guidance when using standard steel shot is to shoot no tighter than half choke. Using tighter than half choke risks damaging the barrel. It is quite difficult to blow up a barrel, and a blockage in the barrel itself is usually the cause.

When did steel shot become mandatory? ›

With the advent of the 1991-92 season, steel shot will be required for goose and duck hunting throughout the nation. The switch to steel is being made because spent lead pellets accidentally ingested kill millions of waterfowl annually.

Does steel shot damage shotgun barrels? ›

Steel shot could damage a shotgun barrel if the right precautions aren't taken. Some shotgun barrels aren't compatible with steel shot. Choke tubes that are too tight can also cause issues with large steel pellets.

What information does the data stamp on the barrel of a shotgun indicate? ›

20 Cards in this Set
What can be done to increase the accuracy of slugs in a shotgun?Use rifled barrels or chokes
Which of the following shotgun barrels has the smallest bore diameter?20 gauge
What information does the data stamp located on the barrel of a shotgun indicate?The gauge and length of the ammunition
17 more rows

What is the difference between breech and ejector marks? ›

Breech marks can also show no obvious pattern. They may have a stippled or mottled appearance as seen below. Now back to ejector marks. Ejector marks are sometimes created when cartridges or cartridge cases are ejected from the action of a firearm.

Why are there marks from the barrel of the gun on the cartridge? ›

A barrel will produce individual markings in addition to a bullet's land and groove impressions as the bullet passes through, and it is these unique markings that an examiner evaluates to determine whether a given bullet was fired from a particular firearm.

What is my gun model? ›

The Easiest Way to Identify a Gun Model Type

Firearms manufacturers, you see, stamp a certain amount of information on the outside of the gun. Long guns tend to have that information stamped directly on the barrel. Pick up a rifle or shotgun and you'll see it, usually where the barrel meets the rest of the gun.

Why do guns have serial numbers? ›

The serial number includes information related to the date and location of the weapon's manufacturing. Additionally, if the weapon is stolen, it can help link the firearm to the original owner when the government places the serial number into a national database.

Why do guns have numbers in their names? ›

The bullet is propelled along the barrel of the gun by gases created by burning gunpowder. Shotgun ammunition is sized by gauge, a number that represents how many pellets, each the size of the diameter of the barrel of the weapon, can be made from a pound of lead.

What does Rp stand for on ammo? ›

RP stands for Remington-Peters (ammunition headstamp)

Can you tell when ammo was manufactured? ›

The vast majority of ammunition is marked at the time of manufacture for internal (proper safety, quality control and record-keeping) and external requirements (clients' demands based on regional or national requirements).

What does RP mean on a bullet? ›

SP-RP stands for "spire point - recoil proof," and the design of this bullet eliminates the problem of tip deformation during recoil.

What does RM mean on bullets? ›

Reactive Materials Means Bullets with a Bang | WIRED. To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories. Reactive Materials Means Bullets with a Bang.

Is SKS on ban list? ›

The government conveniently left the SKS off of the banned list because they know a large number of people own them, and they weren't prepared to spend what little political capital they have left with law-abiding gun owners.

What year is my Remington serial number? ›

A two or three letter code on the left side of the barrel identifies the month and year of manufacture. The first letter identifes the month, the other letter(s) identify the year.

How old is my gun Smith and Wesson? ›

Look up the pistol's full serial number -- including all letters and numbers -- in the back section of the "Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson" book. These listings inform you of the pistol's date of manufacture, based on the serial number.

What kind of gun do I have by serial number? ›

You can look up a gun by its serial number using certain resources like the NRA website and the Blue Book of Gun Values. Additionally, many firearms manufacturer websites have databases of their guns, and you can look up the serial numbers of firearms they manufacture.

What is ATF eTrace? ›

eTrace is a web-based application that traces the purchase and/or use history of firearms used in violent crimes. The system, available in both English and Spanish, is key in generating investigative leads to help solve violent crimes across the country.

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