Doughboy 45: Vintage Great War-era U.S. Army Colt 1911
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.
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:
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.
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: