Colt 1903 and 1908: value and marking question


July 14, 2012, 09:05 PM
I recently acquired the following guns at auction for about $925 including fees, packaging and shipping:

- 1903 Colt Pocket Hammerless (Model M, Type II), .32 ACP, made in 1909.
- 1908 Colt Vest Pocket (Model N), .25 ACP, made in 1915 with factory pearl grips.

Both guns are original and in 90 to 95% condition. Absolutely gorgeous. Both appear to have been used very little, and are in tip top shape. Schedule permitting, I hope to get out in the next week or so to try them out.

First, I am curious what these guns are worth. I've got a fair idea on the 1903, but 1908 prices seem to be all over the map, perhaps because most people seem to hate 25 ACP to the point that they ignore otherwise interesting, collectable handguns such as this. Safe to say I think I did well on the transaction.

Second, the 1903 has a number hand engraved into the right side of the frame (see one of my pics below). My best guess is that this is a case number. Your thoughts?

Thank you! Hope you enjoy the eye candy ... :cool:

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July 14, 2012, 09:09 PM
My best guess is that this is a case number.They must have had a lot of cases!!

9 digit.
Looks like an old social security number to me.

Regardless, it devalues the gun well below the 90-95% condition a collector would pay for it.

They both appear to be very nice however!


July 14, 2012, 09:11 PM
And here's a photo to give you an idea for the 1903's high polished bluing ... you can clearly see my camera and my hand reflecting in that mile deep hand polished finish. Gotta love that old craftsmanship.

July 14, 2012, 09:12 PM
Hadn't thougth of the SSN. That is very likely, thanks RC.

July 14, 2012, 09:12 PM
Hate to be the bearer of bad news again, but:
It has been polished & reblued.

No colt 1903 came out of the factory like that.

Go here for representative photos of factory finish and roll marks.


July 14, 2012, 09:25 PM
Well, that figures. But to tell you the truth, I've gotten my butt kicked so badly by unexpected, expensive house related repairs lately that if I overpaid a bit for a pretty Colt (refinished and all), I actually don't care too much (though the fact it was represented as original finish is a little annoying). Maybe I've just becomed numb. Oh well, I'll enjoy it just the same.

July 14, 2012, 09:39 PM
Hang on a sec, I was looking at the link you provided and found another with more photos and variations, and I do see one with similar markings (see the example about 4/5 of the way down, S/N 43306):

Not that it really matters in the end, I don't plan on selling it and I still love it the same.

EDIT, Correction:

This is a more appropriate example as it is a Type II (see s/n 85068 about 1/5 of the way down) in my s/n range.

Jim Watson
July 15, 2012, 12:22 AM
The .32 definitely looks very bright and I would suspect a hard buff and blue; but the trigger and safety retain the "peacock blue" of the day. Did Bubba the Buffer set those parts aside while he polished the rest nice and shiny?

July 15, 2012, 02:29 AM
While it's kind of hard to tell with the photos, I'd also guess that the 1903 has been refinished. It's a little too shiny for a 100+ year old gun.

However, the polisher actually appears to have done a pretty decent job. The "Bubba'd" guns usually have all of their sharp edges severely rounded over with the roll marks barely readable and the pin/screw holes dished out. The roll marks are still pretty crisp on this gun, and the finish is certainly mirror bright without the gun looking like a used bar of soap.

July 15, 2012, 02:40 AM
Jad, its an old SS number out of PA.

July 15, 2012, 07:58 AM
Part of the reason the gun is so bright is that I spent about 5 to 10 minutes hand wiping/polishing off the oil on the surface with a soft cotton terry cloth. I reapplied a thin film of oil before putting it in the safe which of course dulls the shine a bit. Now that I think about it, I would agree that it was buffed and polished more than a typical 1903, but as I look at it the roll marks they appear as clear and defined as other 1903s I've examined (my little pocket camera really doesn't pick up small details all that well). So I suppose it could be the original finish, but I guess I'd have to get the gun examined by a Colt expert in person to find out. I also agree that the polishing job was well executed. The finish is even all over the gun, from tip to tip, with no variance or rounded off areas. At that time, would Colt have done extra polishing at customer request?

Thank you for all the information.

I did edit my original post to remove the photo of the SSN. I figure the guy doesn't want his SSN posted for the world to see.

rob i
July 15, 2012, 08:41 AM
these are two stunning guns right there. beautiful. If the 1903 was refinished, it was on heck of a job.

congrats on these two stunning pieces.

July 15, 2012, 09:50 AM
The stampings look too crisp and clear for a re-bluing and polish job.

I found these pictures from another forum and they are a perfect example of what reblueing and polishing does to stampings:

Old Fuff
July 15, 2012, 12:34 PM
Take a strong magnifying glass and look at the alleged S.S. No. If the numbers are blue at the bottom it was likely refinished. If they are bright, showing that the stamping was done after the original finish was applied the finish is likely original.

Jim K
July 15, 2012, 03:06 PM
The photos posted by Creature show a very bad polish job, though I have seen worse.

But a good polishing job can look very good and that IMHO is the situation with jad0110's Model 1903; it is too well polished.

In the gunsmith books of the old days, a lot of emphasis was put on achieving a "mirror finish" as the highest goal of the polishing art, and many gunsmiths did get just that. The problem was that while the finish was shiny, it didn't look like a factory finish simply because no factory could possibly spend enough time on an ordinary production to get that kind of finish.

So I will join those who suggest that the M1903 has been reblued, but it was done by a good workman who didn't blur the markings or round off all the corners (he did round a few). Of course, he removed all the internal parts, including the trigger and safety, before working on the gun, so the finish on those parts is original.


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