Carry a Colt 1908 "Cocked and locked"?


March 7, 2006, 10:00 AM
Hi all,

I just picked up a Colt Model 1908 .380 Pocket Hammerless and was wondering if it is safe to carry with a round in the pipe. This thing is paper-thin and a joy to carry and I would like to do so safely.

I wish someone would reproduce this gun in 9mm. I bet they'd sell a bunch of them.

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Steve C
March 7, 2006, 10:25 AM
Does the safety work? Is it positive enough that it won’t likely come off as you carry it? Do you trust it? Its mostly how comfortable are you in relying on a mechanical lever to prevent accidental firing. There is an alternative and that’s to use the Israeli method of draw and rack.

March 7, 2006, 10:35 AM

The frame mounted safety does work, as does the grip safety. I'm OK with carrying a 1911 this way, I was wondering if there was anything inherent in the design of the 1908 that I need to know about.

March 7, 2006, 10:46 AM
Well all I can say it, and the Rem 51 are alot safer than the Savage 1907 and other pocket pistols with loaded chamber carry!:)

March 7, 2006, 02:41 PM
I don't believe the 1908 has any sort of passive firing pin safety. It could potentially discharge if dropped.

I'm not familiar enough with that model to know if the thumb safety locks the hammer, the sear, or both. I also don't know how the grip safety interfaces with the firing mechanism.

My advice is to try to find out how the thumb safety and the grip safety actually function and then make your decision. I'd also take the age and general condition of the gun into consideration.

March 8, 2006, 01:43 AM
An M1903/M1908 in perfect mechanical condition should be safe enough to carry cocked n' locked. Just remember that there is no firing pin safety, however. The biggest concern lies with the fact that these pistols have not been made since World War Two, so they are all old firearms. Some of the surviving specimens are in better shape than others. Double check that the grip safety will prevent trigger movement, and also that the thumb safety will not allow any movement of the parts inside the pistol no matter how hard you squeeze the trigger with it engaged. I've tested quite a few at gun shows where I could feel a slight "squishy" sensation when doing so, then the hammer would fall as soon as the safety was disengaged.

If nothing else, racking the slide on these tiny pistols is very quick and easy, so even condition three shouldn't be a problem.

Old Fuff
March 8, 2006, 10:34 AM
dsk's points are well taken, but I would also point out that Colt changed the lockwork design in the 1903/08 Pocket Models in or around 1929 (serial number 489000 for the .32, and 95000 for the .380) by shortening the firing pin to make it an inertial type of the kind used in the .45 Government Model, and adding a half-cock notch to the hammer face. Obviously this made the pistols safer to carry with a loaded chamber.

To check a pistol to see: Remove the magazine and clear the chamber. Reinsert an unloaded magazine (to disengage the magazine disconect safety). Cycle the slide and pull the trigger to lower the hammer. At this point the manual safety should not go on, and the grip safety should be depressed. Pull the slide back about 1/4" and no further. If the pistol is of the latter type the grip safety will pop out and you will be able to engage the manual safety. The sear will be resting in the hammer's half-cock notch.

If the pistol is of the older kind, without the hammer with a half-cock notch, you will have to fully cycle the slide so that the sear is in the hammer's full-cock notch before the grip safety will pop out and the manual safety will work.

Johnny Guest
March 8, 2006, 10:42 AM
This was a well designed firearm, without an undue number of small, delicate parts. In using an old firearm, we must remember that early 20th century heat treat methods were not as well controlled as today, and there is always the possibility of cracking or crystalization. Before relying on a very early Pocket Model, it should be detail stripped, carefully inspected under magnification, and throughly test fired. The absence of a firing pin lock is a non-issue in my mind. This pin is slender and lightweight, compared to that of the 1911 pistol. With the hammer being completely enclosed, I doubt the firing pin has ever been a factor in an accidental discharge.

As stated, the Colt .32 and .380 "hammerless" pistols are just beautiful for concealed carry. In their heyday, men's clothing was cut with much deeper pockets and the size and weight of these little pistols were no real burden. They are amazingly sleek and modern-looking, even today. The thumb safety doesn't protrude even a quarter-inch, and the total lack of other projections, levers, latches, buttons, and switches makes this a true pocket pistol. Some old gunwriter mentioned that most other types were "about as easy to draw as a pocketful of fish hooks."

My only current example, made in 1916, lives in my computer desk. I have other handguns that would do as well or better for the purpose, but this is a good way to keep the old piece in limited service. Even with the tiny sights, it is amazingly accurate out to 70 yards with 95 gr. FMJ or Federal JHP ammo. Occasionally, on days when I knew I would be staying in the office, I would carry it in a 1920s-era holster, and it made a good conversation piece. (I always had an "agency qualified" piece in my desk, just in case someone got picky. . . . ;) )

EddieCoyle, I have also thought about an updated version. Imagine a locked breech 9x19, about an inch shorter, with an aluminum alloy or even a polymer frame. I would install slightly higher, flat top sights, and keep the single action, slender profile, with heel mag catch and grip safety. It should weigh about one pound, heavy enough to handle the cartridge, large enough to shoot comfortably, and small enough to conceal nicely. I can't imagine any firearms company producing such a simple, serious defensive arm, with a manual safety and requiring a certain amount of practice. :rolleyes:


March 9, 2006, 02:14 AM
Old Fuff,

That was very useful information, and thanks for sharing it. My M1908 was made in 1927, #96XXX, and it passed the half-cock test you mentioned.

Old Fuff
March 9, 2006, 09:35 AM
The 1929 date and serial numbers I posted are supposedly safe, but approximate. Colt would pre-number frames before they were assembled into guns, and changes were phased in along the production line. Also on a number of occasions when parts were easier to get I, (and I'm sure others) rebuilt older guns using the new parts, which easily exchanged.

I am delighted that your personal pistol passed the test, and I hope it happens to others too… :)

Incidentally, throughout production all of the hammers were casehardened, in the same manner done by Smith & Wesson. So lookout for a "Buba trigger-pull job" on a hammer that has no half-cock notch. A stock hammer has substantial full-cock hooks, the same as a .45 1911. The result is sort of a "roll-over" feel rather then a crisp break in most instances.

March 12, 2006, 02:31 AM
Given the continued popularity of these guns, you'd think somebody in the aftermarket would offer decent replacement parts. Every gun show I go to there has to be at least two or three for sale. Somebody really needs to offer reliable magazines, because in my experience they're much harder to find than the guns are!

March 12, 2006, 03:09 AM
Ditto on what DSK said on checking it proper safety function , there are times I like to just jam my 1903 in my front pocket and go .

March 12, 2006, 08:47 AM
" a half-cock notch to the hammer face. Obviously this made the pistols safer to carry with a loaded chamber..."

I didn't know that. I would feel awfully wormey about carrying one that didn't have the half cock notch.

The last issue of American Handgunner has a big write-up on these. There are a couple of modernized custom ones covered- one by Novak. It is a nice, flat pistol. A re-issue would be interesting and it would be neat if somebody would make a slightly scaled down 1911 type for 9mm. Something like the old Stars but for sure with inertia firing pins.

Old Fuff
March 12, 2006, 09:40 AM

They added the half-cock notch (actually more of a ledge) to catch the hammer if for some reason the full-cock notch didn't hold, and the hammer followed down. This was the same feature and reason the larger .45 automatic had a half-cock notch. I don't remember hearing of a model 1903 or 08's hammer following down, but I have seen it happen on 1911's and the half-cock notch did what it was supposed to, and prevented an unintended discharge. Unless a pistol has a positive firing pin block I consider the half-cock notch or ledge to be good insurance. It's likely you won't need it, but if you do you'll probably need it badly... :uhoh: ;)

March 12, 2006, 10:15 AM
" I consider the half-cock notch or ledge to be good insurance..."

So do I. I wouldn't want to carry one around if it wasn't there. What I didn't know is that the first ones didn't have one.

Old Fuff
March 12, 2006, 10:36 AM

I mis-read your post and thought you were saying that the half-cock notch was unnecessary...

Obviously having a senior moment this morning... :o

Sorry about that ...

But I'm in warm, wonderful southern Arizona, and we're having a "snow day" this morning. Obviously that's emotionally unsettling... :cuss:

March 12, 2006, 10:52 AM
I'm glad we straightened that out. I don't want to get famous for thinking THAT!

March 12, 2006, 06:30 PM
The last issue of American Handgunner has a big write-up on these. There are a couple of modernized custom ones covered- one by Novak. It is a nice, flat pistol.

Which issue is it? The current month's? A modernized Model M with better sights, some fine grip checkering, and perhaps a better purchase on teh thumb safety would be really cool to see.

March 12, 2006, 06:34 PM
March/April- The one with the new Smith 29 on the cover. Or you may be able to look it up on and buy the article as an e-zine.

Old Fuff
March 12, 2006, 06:45 PM

A modernized Model M with better sights, some fine grip checkering, and perhaps a better purchase on the thumb safety would be really cool to see.

Few people know it, but Colt's model M (1903/08 Pocket Automatic) has the same rear sight dovetail cut as the .45 1911. In those guns made from the middle 1920's forward the tenion cut for the front sight was the same too. It is not all that difficult to fix the Ol' Pocket Pistol up with better sights. I have also seen one that had the safety lock thumbiece along a USGI 1911 pattern. This isn't hard to accomplish either. :)

I think checkered stocks are available from somebody ... Altamont maybe?

March 13, 2006, 12:33 AM
Sounds really tempting Old Fuff, but I think I had better not start pulling my M1908 apart. It's about 95% condition.

Old Fuff
March 13, 2006, 12:52 AM
Ah.... NO! DON'T DO THAT!!!

But sooner or later a less-then-95% gun will come your way... Meanwhile thinking is for free... :evil: :D

March 14, 2006, 11:48 AM
I just took a look at the magazine article in question. The custom work on the featured pistol was done really nice, although I think the thumb-operated mag release was a bit unnecessary.

March 14, 2006, 07:56 PM
I'm reading this thread with great interest... so a 1914 model would be ok for pocket carry, or should some work be done to it... and if so, where?

Old Fuff
March 14, 2006, 08:17 PM a 1914 model would be ok for pocket carry, or should some work be done to it... and if so, where?

I would replace the recoil, magazine, extractor and firing pin springs, but do nothing else other then a good cleaning. Because this pistol has a blow-back action be sure the chamber is bright and corrosion free.

Check to be sure the manual and grip safety are functioning as they should.

You might experiment, but I stick to ball ammunition - the kind it was designed to use. Most guns are very reliable with these cartridges.

If you remove the firing pin's retaining pin in the slide be SURE you use a punch with a cup point (available from Brownells) or the punch will slip and ding the slide up. I believe that Brownells also sells a spring kit.

March 14, 2009, 09:00 PM
Help please! I can't seem to get the safety off my Colt .25 1908 & I'm not sure that something isn't wrong? The button/lever on the back won't move. Is there something that I'm missing? I have a shell in the chamber so I need to besure that it's done correctly. I don't want to force it? Please email me if you will at

March 14, 2009, 10:05 PM
Old Fuff, I thank you for your excellent contribution. During the Vietnam thing I bought my wife, as a surrogate husband while I was away on cruises, a 1908 Pocket Model. While I was gone, with our daughters clinging to her knees, she used it to repel boarders. One of two punks boosted the other into the bedroom window, at which point she stuck her pistol more or less up his nose. There was a pregnant silence, followed by chaos as they ran away, nearly tearing the picket fence down and strewing evidence all over the place. The police eventually came, and wouldn't even pick it up -- they had not actually entered the premises, so the worst charge would be trespass. Ah well.

My wife will never pocket her Pocket Model, but I am going to check the data on hers against your list. If it is as safe as a 1911A1, it's a thought.

Oh! I will never forget, during the movie "Key Largo", when Edward G. Robinson poked his empty Pocket Model into Humphey Bogart's gut and pulled the trigger twice -- click click.

Cordially, Jack

Old Fuff
March 14, 2009, 10:35 PM

Check your e-mail. ;)

Billy Shears
March 15, 2009, 10:11 AM
That auction of items from the Colt museum that went off about a month ago had a prototype of a slight redesign of the Model 1908 that Colt did in the '50s. It featured a shorter barrel, alloy frame, recontoured grip and thumb safety, added a slide release lever and moved the mag release from the butt to the frame. I put a bid in on it, but in the end, the price went much higher than I was willing to pay. It sold for about $3500 IIRC.

In the end, Colt decided not to go ahead with production. That's a pity too, since it would have been a great gun. But as for a reissue of either the original, or of this redesign, I doubt we'll ever see it. For one thing, the gun is like the 1911 in that it was designed in an age when labor was cheaper. The manufacture of this pistol would require more machining than most modern designs, and the gun would therefore cost more. Now add to that the fact that it's a single action and this would limit its appeal. There's nothing wrong with a good single action, especially with well designed safeties, but a lot of people just prefer DAO these days, especially in a pocket pistol. Finally, today you have Kel Tec and Ruger .380s that are much smaller than this gun, and Kahrs in 9mm and .40 which are the same size. So if the did reissue the gun, what you would have is a large (by today's standards), rather expensive .380, with a trigger action that would limit its appeal to a smaller segment of the market, competing with more powerful guns in the same size category. I don't think Colt or any other company would find this sort of thing economically viable.

JB Books
March 15, 2009, 06:03 PM
I have wondered why USFA doesn't make an replica. A 1908 or 1903 is about as "viable" as a Model 1910 IMHO.

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