Missing serial number on old Colt 1911A1


May 10, 2005, 09:16 PM
Last weekend I went gun shopping with a buddy. We went to see a colt 1911 that he heard about from a friend of a friend. He's a newbie so I was obligated to go and save him from himself. It turns out to be a pretty old looking Colt 1911A1. It is authentic looking but it does not have any serial numbers or markings on frame. I looked all over the gun and did not find anything SN related. The only markings are on the slide, which appear similar to WWI and WWII 1911 I've seen. My friend was still interested but I eventually talked him out of it. I got suspicious because frame looked like it had some buffing marks and a slight tint that's slightly different vs. rest of finish. It is pretty worn so I maybe wrong. I've seen photos of old US property guns and the buffing area would appear consistent with US markings and the original serial #. The seller said it belonged to his grandpa who was a WWII vet and recently passed away. You must know what I was thinking about this connection.

Now the question is if it'd be legal to buy or possess this gun without any serial number. It would have been a local private buy, which is fully legal in this state without FFL transfer or paperwork.

Also was it a frequent practice for GI to come home with sidearm and just keep it? I'm guessing in this situation Grandpa ground off the SN and US Property markings so he won't get in trouble.

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May 10, 2005, 09:19 PM
I own guns w/o serial numbers made prior to 1968.

May 10, 2005, 09:58 PM
Assuming the pistol is early and original and has not had the original serial number ground off for some nefarious purpose, the pistol is known as a 'lunchbox special'.
A 1911 that came out of the factory one way or another without the serial and acceptance stampings.

A very old gentleman who worked many years for Colt told me that the guns aren't actually stolen but assembled by workers from rejected parts that the Factory allowed them to purchase.

The guns were assembled during lunch hours and because of the convenience, and to keep everybody and anybody from wanting to make their own gun which would have lead to many more than neccessary parts being 'rejected', and the factories from meeting their quotas, the guns were quietly 'smuggled out' in the workers lunch boxes.

He laughed and said he guessed people thought it was more satisfying to think the workers were out and out stealing from the plant.

These guns, when authenticated, enjoy the same status as a serialed early Colt, that of a Collectable Relic.

May 11, 2005, 06:52 AM
I have seen several old 1911s that had the US PROPERTY marking removed. Somehow, people often thought the markings made them unlawful to own.
Just as today many people don't understand those markings were there to signify to other governments whose military had been using these arms.

I could see where some returning doughboy who had "forgotten" to turn in his pistol might have removed them to avoid repercussions.

Serial numbers were not required on firearms in the US until 1968. They are still not required on firearms manufactured prior to enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968. So, it's nothing to worry about IF the numbers were removed prior to 1968.

This gun is clearly older than that and if ever sold, on the receipt, in the space entitled serial number, simply write "NONE".

IF you buy the gun and are uncomfortable with it not having a serial number, you can contact the ATF, explain that the numbers were removed in refinishing PRIOR to 1968 and they can and will issue you a serial number to be engraved onto the frame.

Old Fuff
May 11, 2005, 10:49 AM
While it is true that some guns (mostly .22 rifles and inexpensive shotguns) didn't have serial numbers, and as a general rule don't require them now if they were made that way before 1968, a serial numbered pistol that has had the number removed may be a different matter.

First of all, many states have statutes that prohibit removing serial numbers. Second it would be difficult to prove when the markings were removed - if this was the case. I suspect that if the owner of such a gun had a "law enforcement encounter" while carrying it the gun would probably be confiscated, and the owner would have to prove his case or be charged with possession of a firearm with a defaced or removed serial number, and that could be very serious depending on the circumstances and where it happened.

So-called "lunch box guns" were usually not finished, because the bluing, plating or whatever didn't go on until the numbers and other markings were stamped on the various parts. Some USGI .45 pistols were an exception to this rule however so far as the serial number (but not other markings) were concerned. I am pretty certain that in this case the numbers/markings were removed.

If I were to buy such a handgun (which at best would be unlikely) I would strip it for parts, and then rebuild it into a pistol on an aftermarket frame that was serial numbered and marked with the maker's name. This might be expensive, but it would keep me out of trouble.

Being charged and convicted of possessing an altered gun could result in the person losing all rights to leaglly have a firearm - or ammunition - for the rest of their lives. Is it worth it?

May 11, 2005, 10:56 AM
Did his grandpa ever work for the OSS? Not unheard of for various "spook" agencies to get special runs of unserialed small arms, for deniability reasons...

PS - how much do they want for it?

Old Fuff
May 11, 2005, 11:09 AM
Yes, the OSS/CIA did do that on occasion, but so far as is known USGI .45 pistols were not on the list of guns so provided. The more common practice was to obtain guns that were numbered, but couldn't be traced back to them. If an agent (or anyone else) was picked up with an unmarked gun that would call special attention to it right off the bat. So far as a 1911-A1 pistol was concerned, the source would be obvious, markings not withstanding.

Jim Watson
May 11, 2005, 11:40 AM
Lunchbox guns and spy guns are outnumbered by tens of thousands to one by issue weapons brought home by GIs.
Since there is a variation in finish at the serial number and US property locations, I figure it is a sure bet that the markings were removed in fear of prosecution.

I disagree with Bluesbear. While it was not required that the manufacturer apply a serial number before GCA '68, it is still illegal to obliterate a serial number that was applied at any time.

The only question in my mind is whether the BATF is there to help you and will assign a number with little fuss, or whether Old Fuff's course of scrapping the frame is safer.

I think there was somebody over on 1911forum.com that had actually had that done, in an earlier thread on this subject.

May 11, 2005, 09:24 PM
You may not be able to see the serial number but if it was ground off we have pretty good luck raising the numbers in the lab.

May 11, 2005, 09:33 PM
it is still illegal to obliterate a serial number that was applied at any time. I agree 100%. But prior to the GCA68 if the serial number was faded or even lost during refinishing no big deal was usually made over it. I probably should have said "So, it's prossibly nothing to worry about IF the numbers were accidentially removed prior to 1968."

I still recommend contacting the boys over at F-troop and have them issue me a new number for it.

May 11, 2005, 10:15 PM
I remember seeing a 1911-A1 with no serial number. It had not been removed, but had never been stamped.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have bought it.

Don't think that I would want one that had had the number removed, though.

Old Fuff
May 11, 2005, 10:24 PM
If I trusted "F-Troop" things might be different. But here in Arizona at least, if they refused and turned the matter over to local law enforcement they could in theory (if not practice) get a search warrant and come tear up my digs until the found the suspect .45 pistol. Then they could charge me with illegally having a firearm with an obliterated or defaced serial number. Under ARS (Arizona Revised Statutes) that's a felony. The consequences of that could really mess my shooting, as I could no longer possess a firearm, nor could I buy any more.

While in some cases I think they would issue a new number, I'm not sure about a handgun that was obviously ... ah ... "borrowed" from Uncle Sam and was AWOL.

Considering the odds, I don't think I would take the chance, except if I could make the gun legal by reconstructing it on a new frame.

Others can make their own choice.

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