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Old August 20, 2014, 05:39 PM   #1
bangswitch
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Colt pocket pistols

Anybody own one, either .380 or .32 Auto? Do you know its history?

I was given mine by my stepfather, who got it when his brother passed away. I did not know for a long time about his brother until I read some stuff my mother researched (she's a hobby genealogist), and I carried the pistol as my first CC. When I realized its value, I immediately disassembled it and cleaned it, did a nice, light oiling, reassembled it and stored it along with the original owner's manual (actually a two page leaflet) and the three magazines I have for it.

My step uncle was a Lt. Col. in Patton's 3rd Army, and the .32 Auto Colt 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol was his issue sidearm. I don't know much more than that, but still digging. My stepdad passed almost 15 years ago, and there's no one left in the family who knows more about it.

It was a fun pistol to shoot, not much recoil, but it didn't like hollow points, the feed ramp was made for FMJ, and it would occasionally fail to feed.
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Old August 20, 2014, 07:19 PM   #2
CoalTrain49
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I believe the Army issued some of those. If it has U.S. Property stamped on it somewhere you have a very valuable collector. Otherwise it may have been purchased as a commercial model.
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Old August 20, 2014, 07:58 PM   #3
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I have one I bought at an auction years ago. Mine is .32 ACP, and is a real joy to shoot. Very accurate, minimal recoil, easy to handle, and did I mention that it is fun.

There was no history associated with mine that came with the gun.
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Old August 20, 2014, 08:58 PM   #4
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They were issued to general officers. Also used by the OSS. I have never heard of any being issued to officers under the rank of General but I am not an expert just reasonably well read. I have one 1903 and one 1908 .32 and .380. They both are used at times as carry guns. Both have been tweeked and fitted. They work fine with silvertip hollowpoints now.

One of the best pocket pistol designs.
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Old August 20, 2014, 09:30 PM   #5
Vodoun da Vinci
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These are fine pistols...I inherited one from my Father in Law which started a fascination with them. I have been out of hand gunning for over 30 years and started shooting again/training and reloading again because of this gun.

I now have 3 of them with one being at APWCogan getting a "Street Tune" and hard chrome to be used as a carry gun. If the feed ramp is lightly polished they seem to pretty much feed anything pretty well.



I hand load 75 gr. flat noses and shoot my Colt 1903's at least once a month. They are awesome point shooters and come on target very naturally - like pointing a finger. The pistol in the above pix is 96 years old, all original, and has been pocket carried by 3 generations of my Wife's kin. No finish left and plenty of dings and scratches but this gun runs and shoots as good as any pistol I have.



Never wanted to collect anything let alone guns but I am actively collecting Colt 1903's in .32. I love 'em.

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Old August 20, 2014, 10:07 PM   #6
Jim K
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It is generally believed that those pistols were issued to general officers (Patton had his personal one, and Eisenhower carried an issue one under his jacket) and the OSS. In fact, most of those issued went to doctors and nurses.

International law prohibits medical personnel from carrying "offensive" weapons, but they are allowed to carry "defensive" weapons to protect themselves and their patients. The M1911A1 was considered "offensive", but the Colt Pocket Model was apparently "defensive".

Many medical personnel, as you might suppose, chose not to carry any weapons, but I knew both a doctor (my GP for a couple of decades) and a nurse friend who carried Colt .32's; the nurse said one of her friends had a Walther PP she had gotten from a wounded GI.

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Old August 20, 2014, 10:09 PM   #7
AlexanderA
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I would be curious to see a picture of the right side of the gun. That's where the "U.S. PROPERTY" mark would be located, on the frame opposite the serial number.

If there is no "U.S. PROPERTY" mark, then it was not an issue gun, but rather a private purchase. If there is such a mark (and it's not bogus, such as some I've seen), then you have an extremely valuable "General Officer's Pistol" (although not all were issued to Generals).

I have two such "U.S. PROPERTY" marked pistols, one a blued .380 and the other a Parkerized .32. The .32 was issued to a named General in 1965; I was unable to find a record of issuance for the .380.

When an officer was promoted to Brigadier General, the usual procedure was to present him with a briefcase containing such a pistol, three magazines, a General Officer's leather belt with gilt buckle, a leather holster, a leather magazine case, and a one-star General's vehicular flag (among other things). (These accoutrements are actually rarer than the pistols themselves. An intact grouping for a named General would be almost priceless.) When a General left the service, he could purchase his pistol for a very nominal amount. That's how most of these get into the hands of collectors -- through the estates of deceased Generals.

It appears that of the issue ("U.S. PROPERTY" marked) pocket pistols, all the .380's were blued, and all the .32's were Parkerized. At least, in decades of looking, I've never seen a genuine blued .32 or Parkerized .380. If the OP's blued .32 is indeed an issue pistol, he has a great rarity indeed.

It also appears that the .380's were issued to Generals first, and when those ran out, the .32's were issued. (None of these were made after WW2.) When the .32's finally ran out, sometime during the Vietnam era, special customized .45's were issued to Generals. Then this tradition was apparently discontinued altogether.
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Old August 20, 2014, 10:24 PM   #8
Jim K
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Actually, the General Officers' Pistol (there were several versions over the years, including modified M1911A1's) was presented to the general and became his personal property; he did not have to purchase it. It is, in fact, the ONLY U.S. issue firearm that a service member was allowed to keep as his personal property on leaving the service. Those who brought home U.S. issue pistols, M1 carbines, M1 rifles, etc., were not authorized to do so and risked prosecution and imprisonment for theft of government property. (Enemy weapons, except machine guns, could be brought back during WWII, and millions were; current regulations ban that practice.)

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Old August 20, 2014, 11:11 PM   #9
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I know that not all of the "issue" guns were marked "U.S. PROPERTY" as I had one from one of my wife's estate sales 3-4 years back which was accompanied with the appropriate War Department purchase paperwork and release letter.
This one was the side arm of a full Colonel and he took it with him in 46 or so upon separation from the service.

His were fascinating papers as he had already separated once prior to WWII and had those papers but sadly none of the purchased equipment. The prices and issue were truly cool as his equipment was Cavalry or at least horse mounted.
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Old August 20, 2014, 11:30 PM   #10
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It's interesting that during WWII both the United States and Germany fielded .32 autos. The PP And the PPK (along with the Mauser HSc and a few others) and us with the Colts.

Today, the .32 is regarded as a very marginal back up gun by many.
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Old Yesterday, 12:13 AM   #11
bangswitch
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexanderA View Post
I would be curious to see a picture of the right side of the gun. That's where the "U.S. PROPERTY" mark would be located, on the frame opposite the serial number.

If there is no "U.S. PROPERTY" mark, then it was not an issue gun, but rather a private purchase. If there is such a mark (and it's not bogus, such as some I've seen)

It appears that of the issue ("U.S. PROPERTY" marked) pocket pistols, all the .380's were blued, and all the .32's were Parkerized. At least, in decades of looking, I've never seen a genuine blued .32 or Parkerized .380. If the OP's blued .32 is indeed an issue pistol, he has a great rarity indeed.
I'll post the right side picture here. It is marked "US PROPERTY" on the right side of the frame above the trigger guard, and it is a genuine marking, There is no doubt that it was carried by a US Army officer, as my step uncle, who carried the pistol, was in the US 3rd Army in France in 1944, and he gave it to my stepfather before he died in 1988. My stepfather gave it to me in 1995, just before his death.

The .380 version is actually a Model 1908, and is identical to the 1903 except in caliber, and the magazine holds 7 rounds instead of the 1903's 8 rounds. Both models were manufactured up to 1945.

The 1908 was blued, the 1903's were mostly blue, but later production models were also provided with a Parkerized finish, and there were examples of both that were nickel plated, which I suppose were custom orders. My pistol falls within the SN range of the Parkerized guns, but it is an original blued finish. The sources I've read from are somewhat conflicting at times with SN ranges, but mine is a Type IV, according to its serial number. Mine has the grip safety, slide safety, as well as a magazine disconnect, which only the Type IV and V had.

Pistols issued to General Officers were engraved with the officer's name and in some cases (Patton, for instance) had stars for their rank. Patton's pistol was a 1908 .380. They came with a fine leather pistol belt and holster, rope lanyard and leather 2-magazine pouch with two extra magazines. Fittings were gold metal, and leather color was black or brown, according to service branch.

I looked up its value several years ago, and it was listed as $800-$875 in good condition. My grips aren't perfect, and there is a bit of wear in the bluing near the muzzle and some fine scratches along the slide and frame, but you have to be close to see them. If I could prove provenance of ownership by name and when it was issued, it would raise the value about 15%, and if it were a general officer issue, it doubles the value unless it was a noted general, (such as Bradley, Patton, Marshall, Eisenhower) and then it is priceless. Those particular officer issues are known and accounted for.

I mentioned that I have the original instruction booklet for it, and I have included pictures of that as well. I omitted one page that is just print material.

Speaking of issues to medical officers, when we flew into combat zones for medevac (I was a USAF Flight Nurse from 1987-1995), we were issued S&W Model 14's with 4 inch barrels. I made a trip into Panama during Just Cause and a couple of trips into Saudi Arabia from Germany during Desert Storm. I wore mine in a shoulder holster inside my flight suit.
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Last edited by bangswitch; Yesterday at 12:29 AM.
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Old Yesterday, 12:30 AM   #12
sgt127
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$800 is very low. I own a .32 and a .380. Both refinished, great shooters. I don't collect them at all but, I would give you $800 for one in good condition with correct US stamps and run before you change your mind.
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Old Yesterday, 12:40 AM   #13
bangswitch
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The book I looked in was sort of the Kelly Blue Book for guns, they probably under value them. Mine is priceless as far as I'm concerned; my stepdad has a natural son, but he gave the pistol to me instead. He was a fine human being, took better care of my mother than my Dad ever did, and left a sizable trust for her to live on when he died. There is something, somewhere, that will tell me more about my step uncle. It is true that these pistols were not usually issued to ranks below full Colonel, but aides could be authorized by their commanding officer, and it is known that paymasters sometimes carried them. My stepdad was also a WWII vet, but unlike his brother, he went in as an enlisted man because he had not yet gone to college when the war broke out.
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Old Yesterday, 12:49 AM   #14
sgt127
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I'm with you on the priceless statement. My dad was in WWII. He (not alone, of course) took over the Walther factory at the end of the war. He got along well with all the German workers and when he left, they gave him a fully engraved PP.

There's more to the story, but, I'm pretty sure it was the last engraved Walther to leave the original factory.

I imagine its intrinsic value is quite high. But, I would only find that out through an auction. And, that's just not going to happen.
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Old Yesterday, 05:30 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim K View Post
It is generally believed that those pistols were issued to general officers (Patton had his personal one, and Eisenhower carried an issue one under his jacket) and the OSS. In fact, most of those issued went to doctors and nurses.

International law prohibits medical personnel from carrying "offensive" weapons, but they are allowed to carry "defensive" weapons to protect themselves and their patients. The M1911A1 was considered "offensive", but the Colt Pocket Model was apparently "defensive".

Many medical personnel, as you might suppose, chose not to carry any weapons, but I knew both a doctor (my GP for a couple of decades) and a nurse friend who carried Colt .32's; the nurse said one of her friends had a Walther PP she had gotten from a wounded GI.

Jim
Interesting.

My uncle was a surgeon in Italy during WWII and said they were not issued handguns. But, I supposed that does not mean medical personnel could not request one. My uncle was not a "gun guy" by any stretch of the imagination.

My grandfather was a surgeon in France during War to End All Wars. He bough a Colt 1908 before shipping out and carried it in France. My grandfather was an outdoorsman who hunted and fished on a regular basis.

The Colt 1903 and 1908 pistols were great pistols. Too bad they don't make them like that anymore.
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Old Yesterday, 09:32 AM   #16
AlexanderA
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bangswitch wrote:

Quote:
I looked up its value several years ago, and it was listed as $800-$875 in good condition.
Wow! From the pictures, it appears that yours is in excellent condition, it has the correct "U.S. PROPERTY" mark, and it has an original blued finish.

The so-called "General Officers' Pistols," with the "U.S. PROPERTY" marking, in excellent condition, sell for well upwards of $2,000. As a collector, I would pay at least $3,000 for a pistol like yours, because of the unusual (for a .32) blued finish.

Quote:
Pistols issued to General Officers were engraved with the officer's name and in some cases (Patton, for instance) had stars for their rank.
Actually, as issued, they weren't engraved. (I have a documented one that was issued to a General in 1965, and it isn't engraved.) Officers would sometimes have them engraved later, on their own.

Quote:
Fittings were gold metal, and leather color was black or brown, according to service branch.
The Army was the only service to issue these pistols to flag officers. (The Air Force was part of the Army until 1947.) The leather color changed from russet (brown) to black in 1956, as part of the changeover of the Class A uniforms from OD (brown) to Army Green.

Jim K wrote:

Quote:
Actually, the General Officers' Pistol (there were several versions over the years, including modified M1911A1's) was presented to the general and became his personal property; he did not have to purchase it.
That is incorrect. According to AR 725-78 (1956), paragraph 3, the pistols were "accountable property" and had to either be returned or purchased at the time of the officer's separation from service. (This was the first time the subject appeared in formal army regulations, but they codified the previous practice.) I can quote the exact language if you like. (As a matter of fact, some of the returned pistols were reissued to other Generals later.)
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Old Yesterday, 02:40 PM   #17
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I have my grandfather's 1903. The finish is well worn, but the bore is good and it is a fun pistol to shoot. My grandfather was a Detroit police officer from 1925-1955. As the story goes, this gun was confiscated when he made an arrest on a member of Detroit's infamous Purple Gang in 1930, and he was allowed to keep it after all the legal issues were final. I wish he would have opted to purchase his service revolver at retirement, a S&W 38/44 heavy duty revolver, but he wasn't much of a gun guy, viewing it as just part of his uniform, but talking to one of his fellow officers at his funeral, it sounds like he was very proficient with it and shot it often at the department range.
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Old Yesterday, 05:25 PM   #18
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Hi, AlexanderA,

That is the current rule also, now in Chapter 3, AR 725-1. But I am fairly sure the rules in WWII were different and that the pistol was issued to the general with cessation of government accountability on issue. In other words, it was his to keep. I have been unable to locate copies of the AR from that time, so I can't be sure.

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Old Yesterday, 08:36 PM   #19
bangswitch
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oldschool shooter View Post
I have my grandfather's 1903. The finish is well worn, but the bore is good and it is a fun pistol to shoot. My grandfather was a Detroit police officer from 1925-1955. As the story goes, this gun was confiscated when he made an arrest on a member of Detroit's infamous Purple Gang in 1930,
Bonnie Parker used a 1903 to break Clyde out of jail once, by strapping it to her leg when she went for a visit. Capone kept one in his jacket pocket, or so it's said, and Dillinger had one on him when he was killed.
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