View Full Version : General info, Colt 1903 hammerless

March 24, 2009, 05:38 PM
I bought one of these fascinating pistols this weekend. .32, made in 1920. Good mechanically and surprisingly accurate, sweet trigger in my opinion. Frame and slide are original to each other. 10-15% blue left, some rust patina and just the beginning of rust on the slide and frame. I may have it refinished

I know that they were "popular" with gangsters, etc as they were concealable. I know a variant was a General Officers' sidearm in WWII. I know that production ceased in 1945, or at least this is what I have discovered

Who can tell me more about them?

March 24, 2009, 09:36 PM

FWIW, the Colt 1903 and the later 1908 were very popular with many people, not just gansters. Back in the early 20th Century, many men carried a "pocket pistol", there are many examples of very slim pistols from those days. It was not necessarily polite, but it was common and did not raise many eyebrows. The negative association of firearms with gangsters and lawbreakers is a product of the movie industry.

March 25, 2009, 11:31 AM
Thanks Scorch. :) I try to distance myself from Wikipedia though. I have read too much on Wiki that is just plain in error, and everyone starts thinking it's fact because it's on Wikipedia...

March 25, 2009, 12:40 PM
I agree about Wikipedia. It is the worst of the best and the best of the worst. After all, WIKI means "what I know is . . .", and some folks are very eager to show what they know.

Here are some more

March 25, 2009, 03:21 PM
I've carried mine on a few occasions, in an old pocket holster. In slacks or suit pants, she works just fine. Jeans are a little troublesome, apparently pocket openings are much smaller today than they used to be, she'll catch the top of the slide or the rear of the grip on the corner of the pocket opening.

She's a sweet little shooter, fires just like a 1911. Same ergonomics, just point where you want the bullet to go, but there's a little less recoil and the hole is smaller. I'd use her as a daily carry, but she does throw the occasional failure to feed.

March 25, 2009, 03:34 PM
Here's mine, made in '04, re-blued with ivories. It's a natural pointer and shoots great too. I've read early corrosive ammo tended to corrode the barrels on some of these if they weren't kept clean.


March 25, 2009, 04:32 PM
Thanks guys

I'm in love with my 1903, such a nice pistol and so well made. It's my very first Colt, as well. I'm seriously considering shipping her out to get a refinish as I want to stop the corrosion process

March 25, 2009, 04:52 PM
Did anyone here see the movie "We're No Angels" with Robert Deniro & Sean Penn as escaped prisoners posing as preists? Penn gives a speech in it and reads a Colt pocket pistol pamphlet. I got a kick out of it. It was pre Penn looney tunes activist.

Chris, there are 2 schools of thought on reblueing. Some folks are inclined to prefer them as is. Mine was already reblued when I got it. Colt can do a quality reblue & Fords is is highly regarded as well. Depending on the amount of polish work needed to smooth out pits, dings, & scratches; it may be better to leave it as is. Some loss of edge crispness and roll marks can be expected too. It's your call, either way you have a great little pistol there.

March 25, 2009, 06:15 PM
Thanks :)

Here it is, this shows it's wear very well. The rust is something you can hardly feel, it's mostly a patina.


I have talked to Colt. They are not overly willing to do the refinish for a few reasons and they seemed slightly crestfallen when I told them about the job. I would have liked Colt to do it. They cite the age of the pistol for one thing (why the heck do they think I want a refinish on a pistol made in 1920, because it's looking new?! :confused: ). They also told me the job needed to be "within reason". Well heck, I've been around the block and I know what that means...if something breaks, they don't want to be liable, and they don't know how to fix it anymore. I've also been told they will have zero parts availability

While having Colt do it would be great, they also will not do it with the original process, which is charcoal bluing, even if they agreed to do it on inspection.

I've talked to a few other places, and they don't care what the age is, they'll do it, with the correct process, becasue that's their business.

I was turned towards a place called Doug Turnbull restorations in New York State, and I talked to them. Their price is actually reasonable, it's the shipping to and from, and the need for an FFL01- they cannot accept a shipment from my FFL03, which bums me out, I go through the trouble of getting a Federal 03 license, keeping books, etc., and it doesn't help me in this case.

March 25, 2009, 07:05 PM
I'd go ahead & do it. I know plenty of others would not agree.

If it were a model 1873 Colt revolver for example of the same vintage, I wouldn't. That's because IMO the high collector value of some models would overide my preference for having beautiful finishes.

If you do send it off, consider taking the grips off and keeping them at home. They crack easily and could be broken in transit.

March 25, 2009, 07:38 PM
Good thinking on the grips, Darren. I agree.

I know lots of folks would not refinish. But let's see...I've seen "mint" Colt 1903s for a couple grand. It's only original once, and that's great if it's in fine or good condition appearance-wise. if it's in the condition mine is in, you start to consider that time is only going to make it worse and worse

Quick anecdote- I'm an ex-muscle car restoration hobbyist. A couple grand is nothing in that arena, and "original unrestored" is very apparent when put against "restored" at a show, because most "restored" cars get over-restored. In other words, care is taken during restoration that the factory never did, for the sake of protecting the investment, or making the car superior in fit and finish

I'm a Buick guy, put my '70 Skylark Custom convertible in a coupe shows. I eventually cloned it to a GS455 convertible as I decided that it was about what I wanted to do and not a bunch of rules. Anyway.

At one show, a guy with an original, unrestored 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 parks next to my '70. How do I know it was unrestored? It was a rust bucket. I could have put an Xmas ham through one of the rear quarters. The owner was talking about "original paint". Yeah. Lots of classics in the junkyard have original paint, too. It was a shame, but his devotion to "originality" probably meant that rare classic car rusted to nothing and was scrapped. There's a point at which "original GM sheet metal and paint" must lose out to "preserve the car before it is ruined"

In the case of the pistol, it's an easy choice to preserve the pistol before time makes it un-saveable. Right now it's possible to refinish and have a good job of it, so to my mind, it's not really a hard decision

March 26, 2009, 11:17 AM
First let me qualify what I am about to say. I am a smith and I build rifles and do restoration work, but usually on Winchester rifles. I very seldom see handguns any more, not because I don't like them or want to do them, but because my customers are rifle guys.

The 1903 is a beautiful pistol, and is a period piece. I have restored many Colt pistols to like-new appearance, and whenever possible I use the process that will give me the proper look and results. This typically requires hand polishing, not wheel polishing, to preserve roll marks and flatness of the slide and frame panels, and to keep from washing out holes. I finish down to 600 grit, then wet sand the metal with oil to give it a "glow". Find a smith that is experienced with what you are trying to restore, many well-intentioned smiths over-polish these pistols when trying to restore them. You can also find replica grips to replace the originals and try to match the appearance of the restored pistol. Good luck with yours.