Of the millions of American servicemen who joined the colors to go "Over There" to France during World War I, only a small portion carried the famed model M1911 .45 ACP Colt Government on their belt. 

Colt won a hard-fought battle in 1911 against an international list of competitors to get a nod from the U.S. Army for a new handgun contract. As part of the win, one of the John Browning-designed single-action semi-auto pistol prototypes that was submitted for evaluation reportedly fired over 6,000 consecutive shots without a jam, misfire, or broken part. The initial contract was for 31,344 pistols from Colt, for an all-up price, including spare parts and tools, of $459,000.
 

Colt's period ad copy announcing the success of its new Automatic. 
Colt's period ad copy announcing the success of its new Automatic. 


With a 5-inch barrel, 8.5 inch overall length, and a weight of about 2.5 pounds, the gun was large by today's standards. The semi-auto used a seven-shot magazine, had negligible sights, and two frame-mounted safeties. A lanyard ring was standard to help keep the pistol attached to the user should it bounce out of the hand, say while on horseback in a cavalry charge. Keep in mind that some of the first combat users of the pistol were the horse soldiers of "Black Jack Pershing's" Punitive Expedition that chased Pancho Villa around the deserts of Northern Mexico. 

However, early production of the hand-fit, luxuriously blued handguns by Colt was slow, with just 17,500 pistols made in 1912. By 1916, with Pershing in Mexico and the U.S. as a wary neutral in the "Great War" between the European powers, production had declined to just 4,214 guns from Colt. The year that Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on the Kaiser, 1917, saw a fundamental shift in American gun production in every aspect, and Colt ramped up to deliver over 70,000 M1911s. By the next year, through time and cost-saving measures such as switching to a simpler finish that looked blacker than the famed deep blue – variants known today as "Black Army" models – Colt was able to crank out over 360,000 M1911s in 1918. 

What we have here is a beautiful Colt Model of 1911 U.S. Army whose serial number, 164462, puts its production squarely in the range of guns made in 1917, during the ramp-up between American pre-war examples and the simplified Black Army Colts: 
 

M1911 Colt U.S. Army
The frame is correctly marked with the "GHS" stamp of U.S. Army Major Gilbert H. Stewart, who was the inspector of ordnance from Sept. 1914 to Jan. 1918. Accepted martial Colts in the serial number range between 101,500 and 230,000 should have Stewart's initials. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
It also has the "long" smooth trigger as opposed to the shorter triggers with knurled or grooved fronts. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
M1911 Colt U.S. Army
The rollmarks are crisp, with "MODEL OF 1911 U.S. ARMY" on the right-hand of the slide along with the serial number on the frame. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
M1911 Colt U.S. Army
The double-diamond grips show wear and light chipping in places. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
M1911 Colt U.S. Army
The left-hand side includes Colt's assorted patent dates on two lines in two blocks and the company's "HARTFORD, C.T. USA" rollmarks on the slide along with a rampant colt logo. The frame is marked UNITED STATES PROPERTY along with the GHS cartouche. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
M1911 Colt U.S. Army
The bluing has thinned in spots, likely from holster wear. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)


Intact M1911 models are rarely encountered even though some 650,000 or so were made between 1912 and 1925. After that time, most in military hands were reworked to the updated M1911A1 standard, which saw a different mainspring housing and small parts. Further arsenal rebuilds saw blued finishes often redone with a heavy parkerized coating. Likewise, such reworks will have a variety of arsenal codes (AA, SA, RIA, etc.), which this pistol does not carry. 
 

correct pre-1926 M1911s, the gun has a smooth flat mainspring housing and "double-diamond" checkered grips.
As with correct pre-1926 M1911s, the gun has a smooth flat mainspring housing and "double-diamond" checkered grips. Later M1911A1 model pistols have a relief cut in the frame at the rear of the trigger guard, an arched mainspring housing, long-spur beavertail grip safety, and a longer hammer. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
It includes a non-lanyard looped, two-tone magazine. Such magazines have a distinctive finish due to how they were dipped in hot cyanide solution to temper the feed lips after the mag body was blued. 
It includes a non-lanyard looped, two-tone magazine. Such magazines have a distinctive finish due to how they were dipped in hot cyanide solution to temper the feed lips after the mag body was blued. 
Included are a worn M1916 style canvas pistol belt with a magazine pouch.
Included are a worn M1916 style canvas pistol belt with a magazine pouch. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)
And leather flap holster, U.S. marked, with the leg tie-down strap intact. (Photo: Guns.com/Samantha Mursan)

 

An MP of the 26th Infantry Division in uniform, between 1917 and 1919. Note his pistol belt. (Photo: Library of Congress)
An MP of the 26th Infantry Division in uniform, between 1917 and 1919. Note his pistol belt. (Photo: Library of Congress)

 

This battle scene was painted in 1919 by artist Frank Schoonover, depicting the bravery of Alvin C. York in 1918. Note the ubiquitous M1911. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)
This battle scene was painted in 1919 by artist Frank Schoonover, depicting the bravery of Alvin C. York in 1918. Note the ubiquitous M1911. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)


While we can't ask this pistol where it has been between 1917 and now, it is a great collectible that is likely well-traveled and is in a grade that is getting harder and harder to find outside of reproductions. As the price of even Black Army models skyrocket, nice blued military-marked M1911s will likely continue to gain value. 

After all, it is a tangible relic from the time of "Doughboys," Sergeant York, Liberty Cabbage, and the push through the Argonne Forest

By comparison, check out this 1918 Black Army in the Guns.com Vault, which is still a beautiful pistol but shows what a difference a year makes: 
 

A Colt Model of 1911 U.S. Army manufactured in 1918 according to the serial number (498760). Most of the original finish is gone, there is moderate discoloration on the slide/frame, some pitting, handling marks, and patina is starting to form. It carries an Eagle's head inspection mark rather than the GHS of the gun detailed above but still has the long trigger and full, non-relieved frame with a straight mainspring housing.  

 

If you like cool old guns like these, check out our carefully curated Military Classics and Collector's Corner sections!

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