The Colt Model M. The Colt M1903. The Colt Hammerless Pocket Pistol.
As far as I can tell, these are three names for the same design. It is an early semi-automatic pistol, made by Colt and designed by John M. Browning.
In short, it was released by Colt for sale to the public in 1903 (which probably seems obvious from one of the names). The pistol was initially made in caliber .32 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) and was also designed – the cartridge, that is – by John M. Browning. The cartridge is also called 7.65 Browning by those of the metric persuasion.
In 1908, this design was somewhat modified and released for sale in caliber .380 ACP (European 9mm Short – or Kurz or Corto depending on language involved.) My interest and discussion is only in the .32 ACP version, the M1903. The .380 ACP is normally referred to as the M1908.
Colt introduced the M1903 (Pocket Hammerless) pistol in – taa daa – 1903. Don’t confuse this pistol with the 1903 Pocket Hammer – they are two different pistols. The Pocket Hammer pistol was chambered for the .38 Automatic or .38 ACP. Claimed (advertising again) more powerful than the 9mm Parabellum (9mm Lugar or 9×19). The .38 ACP was later ‘updated’ to the higher pressure Super .38.
The Pocket Hammerless was manufactured until just after the end of World War Two (one source says 1945, another says 1947; I wasn’t there.) According to one source, pistols were assembled from prior production until 1953. Production seems to have topped 570,000 or so. (I was there, but not watching.)
Although called “Hammerless”, there is actually a hammer in the design. However, one cannot see it, cock it or un-cock it. It is concealed within the rear of the slide. It cannot catch on clothing or a pocket or such. Popular opinion has it this title was a marketing device to advertise the convenience of carrying such a pistol. I think it may also have helped distinguish the “Pocket Hammerless” from the “Pocket Hammer” introduced the same year; the “Pocket Hammer” was in a different caliber and was a completely different pistol.
It should be noted the Model M is hammer fired and not striker fired. I’ve always suspected hammer fired handguns are more likely to ignite the cartridge than striker fired handguns. This is not widely accepted and probably doesn’t really make much difference.
There were five (manufacturing) “types” of the 1903.
Type I; serial number one to 71,999; 1903 to 1908.
The only version with a full four inch barrel. This type also had a separate barrel bushing similar to the Government Model or 1911 pistol.
Type II; serial number 72,000 to 105,050; 1908 to 1910.
This type still had the separate barrel bushing, but barrel length (and slide) was shortened to 3.75 inches.
Type III, serial number 105,051 to 468,789; 1910 to 1926.
Barrel still 3.75 inches, separate barrel bushing deleted, barrel bushing incorporated into front of slide.
Standard grips changed to walnut in 1924. Before grips had been hard rubber or perhaps ‘gutta percha’.
Type IV; serial number 468,098 to 554,099; 1926 to 1941.
Barrel and bushing unchanged, magazine safety added.
Type V; serial number 554,100 to end of production; after 1941.
Improved (more squared off rear sight, serrated rear on forward sight) sights.
Serial numbers 554,447 to 572,214 were type V variation with parkerized finish.
For more details on changes in grips and the slide legend and address, I suggest one check on line at http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/1903C/1903c.html .
Among other brilliant work, the above website has a bibliography for more reference.
I currently own three Colt Pocket Pistols of 1903 in .32 ACP. They are part of my art deco pistol collection and are just marvelous little pistols in many regards. Two are type II and the third is a type III. (With the idiotic magazine safety.) I am planning on getting at least one variation of the other four types. Everyone has to have goals.
The one under discussion is the most recent acquisition; a type III. I purchased it outright at a local gun store. It has a bit of holster wear at the forward edge of the slide – where a pistol rubs on the leather entering or leaving the holster. There are a couple impact injuries, commonly called ‘dings’ on the pistol. I’m not sure how a collector grades ‘dings’ but it appears to have at least 90% finish left, perhaps greater.
The bore is very clean. The other two Models M I have both suffer from corrosive primers and poor cleaning. The bores are pitted, dark and ‘nasty’ looking. They shoot fairly well in spite. The bore in this last Model M looks new.
This last Model M came with a box and papers. Frankly, the box looks suspiciously new and unworn. The documents inside are a mixed bag; some look freshly printed, some look folded and re-folded; taped and stained. Sadly lacking is a hang tag from the general mercantile or hardware store.
The serial number dates it as being made in 1930. (I hope I’m as functional in another twenty years!) It sports wood (walnut it seems) grips with Colt insets.
The earlier Models M I have come with rather marginal sights. The rear sight notch is a “U” shape. The later sight on the type III is a squared void, allowing an easier and more precise sight picture.
Of course I shot it. It’s not like it’s never been shot.
Trigger pull is at 5.25 pounds and releases well. Not a target modified trigger, but workable.
Chronograph velocity was 769 fps (243.3 mps). Despite the rather small sights (men and women just had better eyes on those days!) I managed to get five shots into the eight ring of a reduced “Prell” (NRA B-29) target at ten yards, one handed rapid fire. Then five shots into the group shown in the head of that same reduced target.