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Old January 20, 2011, 04:06 PM   #1
Series70
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Colt 1903 Pocket "Hammerless" .32 acp

Greetings,

This is my first request for information on this forum. My experience reading for the last few months gives me hope for some advice.

Today I visited my local Clean Well-Lighted Place For Firearms and was very impressed with the whole deal. Owners are polite, well-experienced and helpful guys my age (60s). What immediately caught my eye was a Colt's 1903 Pocket Hammerless. The pistol has (original, I assume) solid hard-rubber grips featuring the "Colt" banner and rampant pony. There is virtually no finish on the slide. I don't know whether it's the earlier 4" or the Type II 3 3/4" barrel, since I wasn't aware of that distinction until I got home and looked it up.

Due to lack of foresight, I had no light to inspect the bore. However, the controls work, safeties function per spec, and the slide and trigger action were smooth and unsurprising. The magazine looks clean and functional and dropped easily (despite the heel-mounted release button.) Also, I neglected to write down the s/n, but the gun features the barrel bushing, which to my understanding dates it between 1903 and 1910. They're asking $350, as-is-no-guarantees.

So, my questions are:

What are the possible weaknesses/dangers associated with this weapon in terms of breakage, parts availability, etc?

Who of y'all has experience with owning/shooting/carrying one of these?

My handgun experience, aside from fun with a Uberti 1851, is mostly limited to a 1911, as my forum name indicates. I'm probably aware of most of the arguments for different/newer/other handguns, but I'm very interested in a handy discourager due to my current neighborhood. And it's a Colt 1903, which I've wanted for awhile.

Therefore:

Will it function and hold up to familiarization/practice/fun etc?

Is it likely to break and cost me more than I can afford to fix it?

Will it be, or be able to be made, reliable?

Is that a reasonable price?

Thanks for any help, gentlemen and ladies. My experience here leads me to expect no shortage of opinions, so have at it.
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Old January 20, 2011, 07:12 PM   #2
James K
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The main trouble with those guns is usually the owner. If the gun has not been messed with, it should be a good, rugged and reliable gun. They are arguably the finest pistol ever made for the .32 ACP/.380 ACP cartridges. IMHO, only the Walther PP/PPK is in the same class and they are a generation newer.

Parts breakage is almost never a problem, and the guns are accurate within the parameters for a pocket pistol. One word of advice; if you consider taking the pistol apart beyond field stripping - don't. They come apart easy and go together hard, with none of the "how to" sites explaining the small trick necessary for reassembly.

One drawback for carry is the small safety, the other is the cartridge, since .380 is considered a bit marginal (in spite of the scads of pistols now coming out for that cartridge) and .32 depends a lot on shot placement for effectiveness.

As for the amount of finish, that means nothing in a defense firearm. IMHO, the price is a bit high for the condition described, $100 less would be more like it. Also, I would be leery of the "as-is" policy; it could just be normal good business on a 100 year old gun, or it could be they know something you don't about the gun.

Jim
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Old January 20, 2011, 07:20 PM   #3
rattletrap1970
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I have one and it needed a bit of work (someone dropped it on the muzzle and damaged the crown). I re crowned it and it is a great shooter. Very accurate well beyond what I would consider "self defense" distances. Has never jammed or malfunctioned in over 200 rounds. It's built like a tank and accessorizes nicely with my 1901 Elgin pocket watch. Mine was made in 1918. There are some very good resources online for information including finding out the manufacture date. Mine had some pitting and the bluing was a little rough. I buffed it and cold rust blued mine. It came out quite nice.




You weren't by any chance at a gun and sporting goods place in the Northwest corner of CT were you?

For $350 if I were you I'd get it. Nice piece of history there. I want to get another.
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Old January 20, 2011, 07:20 PM   #4
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Your main concern for parts breakage will be the mainspring. These can, and do break occasionally, and originals are expensive, and the repros generally are hard to fit, depending on where you obtained it. Other than that, they're pretty tough little guns. Also, if you have one of the early barrel bushing guns, there is a small screw that holds the thumb safety in the frame; Make sure that screw is still present (it screws into the end of the thumb safety shaft from the right side.)
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Old January 20, 2011, 08:48 PM   #5
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Jim, rattletrap and gyvel,

Thanks for the quick response and advice (and rattletrap, it sounds like you're a man after my own heart - nothing like a classic.)

The Colt is a consignment item, as are the other two in the case, which are a French MAB (asking $210) and a probably-'50s-era CZ 27 (asking $450,) all in the same caliber (.32 ACP/7.65mm.) The Colt would be my first choice, although I'm open to the CZ at a better price. My feeling is the consignment status is the reason for the "as-is" nature of the offering.

Since this is the case, and in response to your answers, I think I'll (a) ask whether I can have a smith check it out, and (b) offer the consignor $300 and see whether he'll go for it. All three are "marked down" from an earlier price, although whether this means the guy is in fact getting more realistic or merely some gun-shop razzle-dazzle is open to question, I guess. Like I said, the demeanor of the shop-owners inspires confidence, but I've been fooled before.

Thanks again, and I'll update as this process continues. Anybody else?
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Old January 20, 2011, 08:52 PM   #6
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$350 is high for one with finish problems. I passed up a minty one for that price a while back (and still kick myself regularly).
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Old January 20, 2011, 09:24 PM   #7
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My father in law has an old Colt .25 that looks very similar to the photo posted. Shorter barrel, similar finish & grips. 1 grip is cracked. How hard are they to find?
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Old January 20, 2011, 10:52 PM   #8
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Hmmm, I'd like the MAB (model D I'm assuming). I have one with a couple issues. I buy a lot of sub 300 dollar guns to practice working on. I end up with some nice stuff
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Old January 21, 2011, 02:24 AM   #9
Series70
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Two more questions....

Thanks again, guys - it's been an enjoyable day doing research on this, and your posts gave me some good steers.

So:

1. Regarding the safety retaining screw on the right side of the slide - if it's missing (I didn't notice,) can I find one easily?

2. Is this design safe to carry cocky-locky (my preference, if feasible)?
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Old January 21, 2011, 03:46 AM   #10
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The retaining screw is a tiny screw that was intended to keep the safety from working out of the frame toward the left. (It was basically found to be unnecessary and was dropped by Colt in later guns as you can see from rattletrap's gun.) It's more of a cosmetic issue and, if missing, can easily be fabricated.

Carrying the gun cocked and locked is a somewhat iffy practice unless you're going to carry in a holster and not just in your pants pocket. The 1903 safety doesn't have the same positive safety detent that the 1911 has, and is held in place by friction and pressure from the hammer itself.

This is strictly a personal preference of mine, but any concealed hammer or internal striker pistol I carry is done without a round in the chamber. (Luckily, I live in an area with a very low potential for crime.)
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Old January 21, 2011, 06:30 AM   #11
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I have been toting the .380 that my grand dad won in a 1927 raffle(.50 cent ticket) for the last 50 years or so , always cocked and locked, with nary an AD.
As I am as bone headed, clumsy and prone to bad luck a test subject as could be found for the safety system I would rate it as nearly foolproof. The possibility of the hammer slipping the notch at the same time the grip safety is depressed is pretty slim even with my usual pants pocket carry.
http://i971.photobucket.com/albums/a...es20220147.jpg
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Old January 21, 2011, 11:41 AM   #12
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Barbeque gun

Thanks again, everybody....

And rattletrap,

Some day:

http://www.collectorsfirearms.com/ad...p?itemID=35764
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Old January 21, 2011, 01:30 PM   #13
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I just picked up a Type I 1903 on saturday that was made in 1904. I now fully understand why this firearm was so popular back in the day. It's just beautiful, even though the finish has disappeared. However, it does have a nice, even patina that makes it look just as good (in my eyes)

There's just something about a 107 year old pistol that has had it's sharp edges lightly worn away through decades of careful use. It's got that slightly "melted" look that people pay good money for these days on their carry pistols, only mine got it through honest use
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Old January 21, 2011, 02:05 PM   #14
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colt 32

a fine little gun, my dad carried mine in the pocket of his flight suit during the Korean war in case he got shot down. They had the reputation of not treating POW well. I guess he wanted to go down fightin. He carried it with the chamber empty. It functions well for and old pocket pistol. My only complaints are the small sights typical of the era and the small grip makes it difficult to depress the grip safety.
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Old January 21, 2011, 02:22 PM   #15
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I have heard, like gyvel, of mainspring problems, but in years of working on handguns I never saw a broken one. I would say it is a non-concern. The majority of those I saw were either in for rebluing or because "...my kid took it apart and can't get it back together and I am too busy to work on it..." Sure. And his kid is five years old.

Jim
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Old January 21, 2011, 07:57 PM   #16
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I have both .32 and .380 versions, and have shot neither very much. The .32 keyholes, but is still accurate, even out to 15-20 yards. I got a replacement screw for the safety from Sam Lisker (coltautos.com), maybe twenty years ago, but you might try Gun Parts/Numrich. I carry the .380 occasionally, and do so hammer down on an empty chamber. I'm a lefty, so couldn't easily get to the thumb safety anyway. I've owned the guns for over twenty years, and my dad owned them prior to that, and as far as I know, neither had been fired in my lifetime. I've been cleaning them annually since a kid, so knew they were in good overall condition. Loading up with factory hardball, each gun got through 30-40 rounds without a hitch. Mags are hard to find. Factory mags are expensive - $50-$100 - and aftermarket mags tend to not work very well.
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Old January 22, 2011, 02:03 PM   #17
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Update Saturday 3/22

Gentlemen,

Thanks for all the responses to date. I just went to take another look at the 1903 at the gunshop, and learned the following:

s/n is 491xx, which I think probably indicates 1906 based on the published serial number lists.

The consignee is characterized as a 96-year-old man in a wheelchair (and yes, I'll definitely try to contact him re history if I buy the pistol.) According to the gunshop guy, when his original ask of $450 didn't move he was persuaded to lower the price to $350 - but when asked about offers he said "Hell, no. If I can't get that I'll take it back and keep it." Sounds like a man I'd like to know. The gunshop guy also, btw, didn't want anybody field-stripping the weapon due to breakage liabilities.

Finally, the gun has been whacked on the muzzle at some point sufficiently that it'd probably be like throwing small rocks. I can't get ahold of the local smith (left a message,) so I don't know what it would cost to get it crowned. Anybody got any estimates?

Thanks, all.

Last edited by Series70; January 22, 2011 at 02:05 PM. Reason: s/n correction
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Old January 22, 2011, 02:38 PM   #18
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More and more it sounds like this 1903 is not worth getting. Keep in mind that there were over 500k made. $350 isn't a steal considering the condition. Couple that to the relative low power 32 acp with RN or FMJ standard round nose bullets (the gun was not designed to feed hollow points) and I say keep looking if you plan on carrying at all. If it was a 1908 380 then everything would be different (only 65K of those made). This particular 1903 isn't a great collectible due to condition and high production and its today a poor choice for SD due to caliber and bullet types for the gun.
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Old January 22, 2011, 03:05 PM   #19
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I have the .380 (shown here with my .25 ACP Vest Pocket) and it's a wonderful gun in many ways - shooting, admiring and disassembling/reassembling. It's very accurate (consistent), but it does shoot a bit low. A real precision piece of old-time handmade Colt artistry.

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Old January 23, 2011, 12:03 PM   #20
Series70
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Crowns

Anybody got an estimate what it would cost to have the muzzle crowned?

I appreciate the good advice from those more knowledgeable. It's possible that I may purchase this piece as a platform for a Turnbull resto rather than a dedicated carry piece, btw.

We're obviously talking more about a Fatal Attraction here than practical shooting suitability.
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Old January 23, 2011, 12:23 PM   #21
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I don't think a restoration would be cost effective. If you pay $350 for the gun and $400 for the restoration, you arrive at a price that would buy you a pretty nice unrestored gun. I respect Turnbull and their work, but I have never seen one of their restorations that I would have taken for original; good restorations, but restorations, not originals.

Jim
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Old January 23, 2011, 12:38 PM   #22
Series70
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Jim,

OK, what should it cost to get it crowned?
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Old January 23, 2011, 03:33 PM   #23
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Quote:
Jim,

OK, what should it cost to get it crowned?
Even if it was $20 (which it would not be), it sounds like you're going to pay $350+ for a $300 gun so why is crowning even an option? Its not a valuable Colt. I don't know how else to explain it - NOT worth looking into, bad idea, look elsewhere, keep shopping, many are available, poor investment, won't get your money back, etc. No hablan?
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Old January 23, 2011, 06:54 PM   #24
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Sigh....

Quote:
Quote:
Jim,

OK, what should it cost to get it crowned?
Even if it was $20 (which it would not be), it sounds like you're going to pay $350+ for a $300 gun so why is crowning even an option? Its not a valuable Colt. I don't know how else to explain it - NOT worth looking into, bad idea, look elsewhere, keep shopping, many are available, poor investment, won't get your money back, etc. No hablan?
Yes, you've made your point again. And again.

You may not have noticed, however, that you've failed to answer the question (again.) Whatever my reasons for wanting this pistol, it certainly wouldn't seem necessary to justify it to a stranger, n'est ce pas?

I get it that you think I'm stupid. I'll keep my opinions to myself.
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Old January 24, 2011, 01:33 AM   #25
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Quote:
I get it that you think I'm stupid. I'll keep my opinions to myself.
Please don't try to infer anything unsaid from my words. I can't see you knowing me well enough (through a message board) to where its a worthwhile endeavor for you to attempt.

Quote:
Whatever my reasons for wanting this pistol, it certainly wouldn't seem necessary to justify it to a stranger, n'est ce pas?
You should be thanking us. We all were trying to help you. After reading your first post, I got the feeling you didn't know much about these and magically you later discuss a Turnbull restoration and this Colt as a CCW, of which neither is a great idea. You're not wrong to want a Colt 1903, theres just better options out there for a 1903. If you want to pound a square peg into a round hole and go against the grain (paying a high cost initially then paying to have repairs done) then go ahead. I'm not sure why you started this thread when you're not interested in the meaningful advice of the knowledgeable.

If it makes you happy, then do what you intend to do.

I don't know if you ever go on Gunbroker but see whats there and take what you were rationalizing spending, $350 to $450 (after paying for the gun and to have it recrowned) and there should be a host of other 1903s in that price range. Your dedication to this gun would make more sense to me if it were a family heirloom but its all your choice as I said.
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