Compact, slim, accurate, and simple. All mantras for the most modern concealed carry pieces today. They all apply to a design introduced 118 years ago as well – the Colt M1903.
While well-engineered semi-auto pistols abound today, the same statement simply wasn’t true in the early 20th Century. Most early autoloaders were downright funky (see the Bergmann 1896), had bad ergonomics (Borchardt C93), were overly complex (C96 Broomhandle, which are notoriously hard to disassemble), and proved to be evolutionary dead-ends (the Luger – not a lot of toggle actions in production these days).
Enter the gun guru of Ogden, Utah, Mr. John Browning, who largely hit it out of the park with his freshman semi-auto handgun, the FN M1900 of 1896, the first pistol with a slide – let that sink in. A simple blowback single-stack chambered in .32ACP – which he also invented – he followed that up in 1897 with his short-recoil operated Colt Model 1900, a larger gun whose action was recycled into the Colt M1902, which we have talked about before, then scaled down to make the Colt M1903.
And with a “carry melt,” easy maintenance, and outstanding ergonomics, the new gun is surprisingly modern when compared to today’s offerings.
More on the Pocket Hammerless in my column at Guns.com.
Here we see a .32 ACP Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless self-loading pistol carried by General (later Field Marshal) Sir Gerald Templer, KG, GCB, CB, GCMG, KBE, DSO. The S/N (377681) dates to 1921 production.
UK National Army Museum NAM. 1998-01-118-2
Dubbed “The Smiling Tiger,” Sir Gerald commanded infantry and armored divisions, as well as the German Directorate of the Special Operations Executive, during the WWII and later went on to lead British forces during the Malayan Emergency, one of the few successful counter-insurgency operations undertaken by the Western powers during the Cold War.
He was also something of a gun buff.
General Sir Gerald Templer (left) testing a .45 inch De Lisle bolt action silenced carbine during a visit to 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, Perak, 1952. He may very well have a Colt in his pocket.
The signed 1954 card in the pistol’s case reads:
“The .32 Colt revolver and ammunition, in this case, was one of about 20 purchased by me when I was GSO I (1(b)) at GHQ, BEF. It was necessary for some of my officers to/ have a small automatic in their pockets on a good many occasions. I carried this one throughout the War, and when I was High Commissioner and Director of Operations in Malaya it never left my side. It was under my pillow every night whilst I was in country, ready and cocked.”
Sir Gerald died in 1979, aged 81.
In the early 1900s, John Browning was perhaps the most prolific and most ground breaking firearms engineer of the day. As it turned out, he produced an all-steel, 24-ounce, 9-shot pocket pistol whose design is still very relevant today.
John Moses Browning, the famous Utah gun genius, spent most of his formative years selling his designs to big name firearms makers to include Winchester. By 1900, he started a long relationship with Colt Firearms of Connecticut, which included such guns as the Model 1900, M1902 and the legendary 1911. These handguns however were large framed firearms for field service in the military. For home defense and use by police and detective bureaus, the company wanted something smaller than the 37-ounce M1902 with its 6-inch barrel. That’s where Browning came in at again.
Welcome to the world of the Colt 1903 Hammerless.
Read the rest in my column at Firearms Talk