Which came first, second, third etc? That's a great question that has motivated many collectors to seek answers, collect data, and spend countless hours trying to put the puzzle together. Most collectors will agree the Russian Tula star stamped receiver "Soviet-Sinos" are comprised of mostly Russian parts if not 100% Soviet in origin. They are likely the result of tooling, sub-assemblies, parts, supervision etc given to the Chinese during the initial start-up/transition to the SKS platform. This "could have" taken place in either late 1955 or early 1956. There are only 12 known/documented Soviet-Sino rifles and their serial #s range from 0396 to 1999. This very limited range indicates these rifles were not built over a full production year and were likely some type of first-run or perhaps were complete barreled actions or sub-assemblies supplied to China from the Tula plant.
Now for the good stuff. What variation shows indications of an entire years run in 1956??
Until recently it has been preached that the so called "Sino-Soviet" 1956 slot belonged to the rifles with a letter prefix and a 4-5 digit serial #. Unfortunately the only basis for this claim is that a letter prefix "must" indicate Soviet influence/involvement during the serialization of the first year production. Unfortunately, the Russian SKS serialization always consists of a Cyrillic letter/letters prefix and or suffix. There has been no other tangible evidence produced to support this theory that has been widely accepted as "fact" for many years. With that said, shown below is another theory along with supporting evidence so you can decide for yourself.#1 Latin letters
The letter prefix shown on the so called "Sino-Soviet" rifles are not Cyrillic at all, but rather seem to be a form of Latin adopted by the Chinese government in 1958 called Pinyin as shown below in a quote from Wikipedia."Pinyin, formally Hanyu Pinyin, is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in China, Taiwan,and Singapore. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and may be used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into computers.The pinyin system was developed in the 1950s based on earlier forms of romanization. It was published by the Chinese government in 1958 and revised several times."
Note: We are not sure why the Chinese decided to use Latin letters as a prefix for these carbines. All we can say is they did, and they are NOT Cyrillic. One argument that can be made, is to simplify the process as apposed to using complex Chinese characters. More on these Latin letters further along in this article.
Below is an example of the Pinyin alphabet and the common letters borrowed from the Latin alphabet.
As you can see when observing the Constant and Vowel single
letters, all 26 letters of the Latin alphabet are present in pinyin minus the 'V'. We do have letter 'V' serial prefixes found on the letter series carbines because the letter 'V' is a common substitute for the letter ü,especially when you consider the conflict it would have in this circumstance with the already used normal letter 'U'. You can imagine confusion between the two with the only difference being two tiny dots, especially considering this particular application of hand stamping into steel. Next we will take a look at where these letter prefix rifles may may have been produced by observing the serial numbers of the early Chinese t56s of the same era.#2 Soviet-Sino to Ghost transition
There is another little animal known as a "ghost" or "sanitized" or "sterile" rifle.... whatever you like to call it. These rifles are practically a mirror-image to the Soviet-Sino in terms they also do not have a letter prefix, do not have a /26\ arsenal stamp, they are loaded with Russian proof/QC stampings throughout, and seem to have an arctic birch like stock including a bottom sling swivel. All specimens observed were highly scrutinized for determination of original configuration, and 100% matching numbers etc. They just don't have the Tula Star.
Lets take a look at the serial numbers recorded in both the Soviet-Sino and "ghost" rifles to see if the letter guns were after the Soviet-Sino and before the ghost.
Soviet Sino: 0418 to 1999
to 213617 ... 211k rifles <------- Full year worth of production.
It is clear that the Chinese did not haphazardly stop and restart their S/N sequence from Soviet-Sino to the ghost guns. If the Soviet-Sino guns are the first produced , then logically the ghost guns immediately followed them based on S/N data alone.#3 Ghost to 6-digit transition.
So the letter guns are not 56, lets look at 1957. There is another variant we call a 6 digit /26\ variation with low serial numbers and tons of serial data recorded. These rifles retain many Russian characteristics including but not limited to QC stampings, arctic birch like hardwood stocks, and a bottom sling swivel. These are the lowest serial number rifles containing the /26\ arsenal stamp indicating this to be the first appearance of the stamp. This also may indicate when/where within the timeline the Chinese took control of production from Russia.
Lets take a look at the serial numbers recorded in both the "Ghost" and the 6 digit /26\ rifles to see if the letter guns were after the Ghost and before the 6 digit /26\ rifles.
Ghost: 2292 to 213617
... <--------- 211k rifles.
6 digit: 213928
to 325497 ... <--------112k rifles.
The serial number transition from the ~213617 ghost to the ~213928 six digit /26\ is much too clean to be another 230k to 360k differently marked letter guns stuffed in between them. Please note, there is evidence suggesting the /26\ was added in April of 1957 when Jianshe became state owned and was named accordingly. This would mean that 4 months worth of the Ghost guns were actually produced in 1957. More detail as to the estimated serial range this happened can be found at the bottom of the page in the year by year breakdown. #4 6-digit to 2m transition
So the letter guns were not produced before the 6 digit /26\ marked guns. There is another variant we call a 2m also with tons of serial data recorded. This is the first appearance of the millionths placeholder designating the (year into production) in the exact same fashion as the T53 Mosin and T54 Tok pistols which are directly marked with the year of manufacture.
Lets take a look at the serial numbers recorded in both the 6-digit /26\ and the 2m rifles to see if the letter guns were after the 6-digit /26\ and before the 2m rifles.
6 digit: 213928 to 349367
... <--------136k rifles.
2 million: 2377947
to 2441820... <------- 64k rifles.
The serial number transition from the ~349367 6-digit to the ~2377947
2m is a clear indication the 2m year designation was added mid year and it retained the rolling high serial number from the 6-digit. Again, this is much too clean to be another 230k to 360k differently marked letter guns stuffed in between them. It appears that both the 6-digit guns and the mid year introduced 2m guns were both produced within the same year of 1957. It is very important to remember, the 2m is the only millionths place year designation that does not start back at zero as it started where the 6-digit left off.#5 2mil to 3mil transition
This is where the progression simplifies. Below I will simply show how the millionths placeholder is the year into production indicator and from this point forward changed each year with the actual number produced (everything after the year indicator) reset to zero each year.
Lets take a look at the serial numbers recorded in both the 2mil and the 3mil rifles to see how the serial number reset to zero each year from here on out. Please note, these are simply the low/high serials we have pictures of. Our serial data shows even closer spreads.
2 million: 2377947 to 2441820
... -------- 64k rifles
3 million: 3025478
to 3227681... -------- 227k rifles
And the high 3mil serial number photo documented below.
The information above is very important as it shows the 1958 3mil was the first year the actual serial number reset to #,000,001 after the new year designator unlike the 6 digi to 2mil transition which happened mid year with a continuation of a rolling sequencing serial number. All years of Chinese SKS production from the 1958 3mil onward will reset each year. #6 Chinese serialization
Past dating methods of the /26\ rifles claims the millionths place corresponds to the model adoption year 'plus' the millions-spot (in this case 1956 plus 2 for a 2m) which lands the 2mil rifles in 1958 which is incorrect
. By observing Chinese serialization practices on the T53 Mosin Nagant and the T54 Tok which actually had the year stamped directly onto the firearm, it is very clear the SKS was no different. The millionths place is simply a (year of production) indicator making a 2m a 1957, a 3m a 1958 etc. Adding the 2 or 3 to 1956 as previously done incorrectly displaces the dating by one year. The T53
data collected clearly shows in 1954 to sometime in 1955 they had a "rolling sequential serial sequence" and in mid-year 1955 the /26\ stamp suddenly appears and they completely dumped the 1 mil rolling serial and jumped to a 3 mil serial number. Then in 1956 they jumped again to a 4 mil serial number with extremely low production #s indicating that the SKS production appears to have ramped up that year, diverting precious resources away from the T53 line. Then production stops all together on T53 rifles from 1957-1959 until they suddenly reappear in 1960 utilizing a totally different serial number system consisting of a Latin letter prefix before a 4 digit serial number (sound familiar?). Please note, it took them 8 years before deciding (for whatever reason) to start utilizing a changing letter prefix on the T53.
1953: A00,001 thru A62,000 for a total of 62k rifles.
1954: 1,000,001 thru 1,305,000 for a total of 305k rifles.
1955: 1,305,000 thru 1,402,000 for a total of 98k rifles.
,000,001 thru 3,330,000 for a total of 330k rifles. <----- First year with 26 stamp.... (no triangle)
,000,001 thru 4,063,000 for a total of 63k rifles.
1957-1959: No production.
1960: Letter series starts: A through K, Assuming 9999 per letter, that leaves around 110K rifles. <--- now has trangle around the 26
Here is an example of a 1955 dated 3rd year production.
And a 1960 showing the use of a Latin letter prefix in the same fashion as the sks letter guns.
The important thing to note in the above data is they changed from utilizing a rolling serial, then changed to a millions placeholder, and then to a changing Latin letter prefix in 1960. This change to the Latin letter prefix is exactly what we propose occurred with SKS production as well.The T54
data collected also clearly shows the Chinese using the same dating system as the T56 and T53 by the use of a 'year into production' designatior at the beginning of the serial number. As you can see once again, the old "1954 + the millionths place" does not jive with the date which is stamped directly into the pistol frame. There were no T54s produced in 1960/61 and it looks like when production resumed in 1962 they considered it the "next production year of the T54" and resumed with the 7 million. THEN in 1964 it looks like they decided against the offset and jumped back to the 11m where it should have been "11th year of the T54"
Forum board member yej0001 surveyed the data shown below.
1954 - 1 million range
1956 - 3 million range
1958 - 5 million range
1959 - 6 million range
1960 - supposedly no T54 was made
1961 - supposedly no T54 was made
1962 - 7 million range
1963 - 8 million range
1964 - 9 million range; some in 11 million?
1965 - 12 million
1966 - 13 million
1967 - 14 million
And here a 1964 dated 11th year production
And here a 1966 dated 13th year production
To summarize the proper year of the Chinese Letter guns.
The above data and information clearly shows the letter guns were not made first, but rather should occupy the 1959/60 slot. The old dating system has a gap for the 1959/60 (missing 4-5 mil) years, and there are well documented 1961 '6mil' rifles. If the 1958 '3mil' SKS rifles fall directly after the 1957 '2mil' rifles, then the letter series rifles should land in the 1959/60 time-frame which corresponds exactly to when it is known that the T53 rifles had a changing Latin letter prefix also. It is reasonable to believe that the Chinese would have applied somewhat consistent serialization practices to both production lines at factory /26\.#7 24 letters = 2 years production.
The serial data collected on the letter series rifles hold important information. Shown below is the list of letter prefixes found on the letter series rifles minus the 'L'. We have reports of them being identified in the wild, but have not acquired a picture. Regardless as to what letters there are, how many there are, and what they look like.... Its only one data point out of many. The letters by themselves do not prove when they were made, even if they were Egyptian hieroglyphs . We can only agree on the fact they are Latin, not Cyrillic. The following will be an explanation as to what we believe may be going on.
24 letters: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-YThe 'C'
There is a funky looking (ς) letter that is believed to be nothing more than a funny shaped (C). It has also been claimed to be an "omega" symbol because some have been observed with a "hook" at the top as well as the bottom. If this is the case, I then ask what on earth would the reason be to rotate the symbol 90° counterclockwise like that? Furthermore the omega symbol in Greek stands for O, and there is already a well documented O letter prefix. We believe this to be nothing more then a font/stylized letter C.Backwards 'J'?
Adding to the confusion, you may notice a backward (J) on the list. This symbol/letter is likely not a backwards J in the first place as it is not Cyrillic, Modern Roman, Latin, or Greek. In fact, it would appear to be more like a block style letter G or an L. You can clearly see in the picture below how the bottom of the letter is not curved, but bock shaped. Also worth noting is that the upper left portion of the top line is much shorter than the right. We believe this to be nothing more then a font/stylized G or an L, in similar fashion to the C and T letters.... It's that simple. Where is the Q?
The letter Q has never been observed on this series rifle. It was used in ancient Latin but lost favor to C and G and was relegated to the Qu pair for a <k> or <kw> sound. (There are those "odd" letters again C and G). The belief as to why the letters C and G were slightly modified/stylized from their original/normal looking state is a matter of correcting a possible mis-identification between a hand-stamped O, G, and C. A slight error in the angle of the stamp when struck can easily produce a C out of an O or a G etc. Where is the Z?
Similar to the Q, we have never observed a letter Z or even had a report of one. If our theory is correct that the letter series of rifles represent two production years, and 24 letters would be all that's required. Its very possible this letter was simply not used, and it may also have pronunciation conflicts with other letters. Regardless as to the exact classification of each letter, the important information is how many there are and how many in each letter. Our serial collection and other data shows 24 letters with a possible 10k to 15k rifles each. If the letter prefix represents 1 month of production, as many believe, then we have 240,000 to 360,000 rifles. Compared to production estimates calculated by serial number data collection on the other early rifle variations, this would represent TWO years worth of production, especially if these rifles were made at the height of the Sino-Soviet split.
360,000 divided by 2 = 180k rifles per year. = These could easily be the missing 4-5mil rifles.
Here is an example of a Latin block style G.... It is actually found in the Old English Latin alphabet.#6 Other hard evidence
Now lets take a closer look at the letter series rifles in question and determine if they have features that more resemble early (1956-59) rifles, or later guns post 1961 which would be 6mil to 10mil. At the 11mil place we see it transition back to the bottom swivel, but more on that later.
By examining the original rifles that have not been refurbished in any way for US buyers, we can determine a few things in regards to configuration and consistency.A: Quality stamps
Starting with the 55/56 Soviet-Sino, the bottom of the receivers have many QC stampings in a typical Russian fashion. These QC stampings drastically diminish in the progression through the early variants and are basically not existent by the time you get to the letter guns. This shows an evolving progression in Chinese quality-control practices, and further adds to a proper timeline/order of the early variants. These QC stampings are found at the bottom rear, middle, and front of the receivers. Shown below is the progression illustrated by the mid-receiver stampings as this is where most of them were applied.
Receiver star stamped Soviet-Sino.. Non /26\ stamped.
Ghost.. Non /26\ stamped
6 digit /26\ stamped.
2 mil /26\ stamped.
3 mil /26\ stamped.
Letter guns /26\ stamped.
Similar QC stamps on the under side of the bolt carrier and sides of the bolt. These stamps also show a similar pattern as they are greatly reduced during the progression of early variations. Shown below you can see this progression.
55/56 Soviet -Sino Non /26\ stamped
2 mil /26\ stamped
3 mil /26\ stamped.
Letter guns /26\ stamped.B: Swivels
The letter series rifles (in original configuration) all have a side mount sling swivel in the exact same fashion as 6mil and higher rifles. This is important to note because it is illogical to think that this transition would go from bottom, to side, and then back to bottom again in such a short timeframe. It just so happens we have found this transition to occur mid-production of the 3 mil rifles as shown below.
Bottom swivel 3.09 mil...
Side swivel 3.18 mil....
Letter series side swivel...C: Fonts
The letter series rifles (in original configuration) have a combination of narrow and wide font stock serial numbers. This shows a progression of font size through the series of early /26\ rifles. Again, it is illogical to believe this transition would go from narrow, to wide, and then back to narrow again within such a short timeframe. The letter guns are the only early variant in question to have this wide font feature as shown below. This wide font that shows up during the letter series rifles continues into later production years averaging .25" tall and .20" wide while the earlier variants are an avg .10" wide. The current observed letters containing the wide-font are B,C, D, E, F, H, R and W. There is no indication as to what order the letter series rifles were produced and the wide font letter guns may very well have been last. This feature is also consistent with a long finger cut-out groove above the trigger, and this configuration is consistent on post-letter series rifles.
Narrow font ghost: (.25" avg height and .10
" avg width)
Narrow font 3 mil: (.25" avg height and .10
" avg width)
Wide font letter series: (.25" avg height and .20
" avg width)
Post letter series wide font: (.25" avg height and .20
" avg width)
To conclude this timeline, many of us are confident enough in the evidence and research to conclude the following order of the early and very collectible Chinese SKS variations.
1955/56: "test run" of Soviet Sinos, ~ 2k guns
1956: non-/26\ marked (ghosts, sterile) ~160k guns, sequincially serialed from the Soviet-Sinos
1957: non-/26\ marked (ghosts, sterile) ~51k guns,
1957: six digit /26\, ~136k guns, sequincially serialed from the "Ghosts"
1957: 2 mil /26\, ~64k guns, first appearance of the year designator mid year
1958: 3 mil /26\, ~215k guns, first appearance of the side sling swivel and long finger groove stock.
1959/60: Letter prefix /26\, possibly up to ~360k guns (360k guns would indicate two years worth of production)
Additional info on later years:
1961: 6 mil /26\ long-lug, side-swivel, large-font stock <----First arrival of the (type 56) Chinese characters on the receiver.
1962: 7 mil /26\ long-lug, side-swivel, large-font stock
1963: 8 mil /26\ long-log, side-swivel, large-font stock
1964: 9 mil /26\ long to short lug swap at 9.1-9.2m, side-swivel, large-font stock, bayo change to spike
1965: 10 mil /26\ short-lug, side swivel relocated to bottom mid year, large-font stock
1966: 11 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock <---- First arrival of stamped trigger housings, two piece gas-tube, plus the deletion of the carrier and bay lug lightening cuts
1967: 12 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1968: 13 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1969: 14 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1970: 1.5 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1971: 1.6 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1972- 1977: Rifles were not produced at /26\. Production shift to other arsenals for Jianshe /26\ to focus on the T63
1978: 23 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock, <--- first arrival of the "french tickler" handguard
1979: 24 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
1980: 25 mil /26\ short-lug, bottom-swivel, spike-bayo, large-font stock
There are several areas in which to investigate that we have not included in this post on the basis of lack of evidence. The production numbers shown within represent the high/low serials recorded, not the total in each variant.