Pre-war National Match Pistols - Pistolsmith

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Old 12-10-2002, 07:35 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Texas
Posts: 57
Pre-war National Match Pistols

Here's a little history on these special pistols:

The Colt Government Model was introduced in 1912 and was quite successful. When WWI ended there were many veterans who were comfortable with the big .45 Auto and N.R.A. sponsored shooting matches became quite popular. However, shooting bullseye targets at fixed ranges demanded a level of accuracy that was often missing from the standard Government Model. Early 1911 gunsmiths like Pachmayr and Buchanan would fit better sights and barrels to improve performance, and Colt got into the act with specially fitted “Match Barrels” that were marked with a circled MB on the left lug. A survey of the Colt shipping records of the 1920’s show many special order guns with tweaked trigger pulls, match barrels, and wider sights to improve functionality.

Finally, in January 1932, the Colt catalog listed the first National Match model with “a hand-honed velvet smooth target action—selected ‘Match’ barrel—and ‘partridge’ type sights.” In 1935 the Stevens adjustable rear sight became standard, even though their use was prohibited in the competitive matches of the day.

The number of National Match pistols produced is open to speculation. They were not given a special serial number, nor were they identified in the production ledgers. They fall randomly in the serial number range from C162000 (1932) to C215083 (1940) which covers about 53,000 pistols. However, approximately 25,000 of those pistols were shipped overseas and 6,575 were transferred to Colt’s military contract in 1942, which leaves about 21,500 pistols available for the American market. Timothy J. Mullin, author of American Beauty, The Prewar Colt National Match Government Model Pistol, estimates fewer than 5,000 National Match pistols were made, but located less than 150 examples before publishing his book in 1999. Charles W. Clawson, author of Colt .45 Government Models (Commercial Series), puts the estimate at fewer than 3,000. I have managed to locate and verify another 35 or so, not included in Mullin’s survey. Given the time period in which these guns were produced—1932 to 1940, i.e. The Great Depression—and the cost (more than double the cost of a standard Government Model), I suspect that the actual number produced may be much smaller than previous estimates.
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Old 12-10-2002, 08:57 PM   #2
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"A survey of the Colt shipping records of the 1920’s show many special order guns with tweaked trigger pulls, match barrels, and wider sights to improve functionality."

Kevin, just a quick question for you.
If the records of the '20s have had a quick review and "many" special order guns have been identified what is in effect a "pre NM" gun why are there only 3 or 4 documented pre NM guns listed in your and Mullin's info? (But that would need to also include the additional 14 guns listed with #C154337 that went to Camp Perry in 1927, so call it 19 "pre NM" guns at the moment, but obviosly Colt's version of a "National Match" gun) A search of the July and August shipping records of Colt between 1918 and 1932 would pick up a number of the guns going to Camp Perry in the Fall before the issue of the '32 on, slide marked, NM guns.

By the numbers we have 21,000 commercial guns that stayed in the US, about 200 documented NM guns and 20 or so guns documented from the '20s set up as match guns at the factory. Mullins in "American Beauty" speculated that less than 1100 NM guns were ever built.

Percentage wise you have 20 "pre" guns over a 14 year period (1918 to 1932) and 180 or so over a 9 year period (1932 to 1941). So far the "pre guns" look something like 20 times more rare! Call it a sub set of the 1000 or so NM guns I guess. All this needs more research IMO to get the details.

I guess I would define the "pre NM" guns as factory listed with special sights and MB barrels, as trigger pulls weren't always listed on the log books. I have to wonder what else was documented on the first MB gun #C130711 from 1921? Did it also have match sights and and a trigger job?
Since Fitz was doing conversions at the matches a Colt letter would be the only way to verify originality.


"Early 1911 gunsmiths like Pachmayr and Buchanan would fit better sights and barrels to improve performance, and Colt got into the act with specially fitted “Match Barrels” that were marked with a circled MB on the left lug."

My impression is that Colt and FitzGerald were the first to rework the 1911 with match barrels and new sights (documented as early as 1919) . According to Mullin's quote from Arms and the Man, Jan. 15, 1921 with Colts accurracy work dating back to at least the 1919 National Matches in New Jersy, predating Camp Perry. All that predates Pachmayr and Buchanan by a good many years. I would assume that 1919 wasn't the first use of those MB barrels by Fitz and Colt. There really wasn't much of a lap between 1912 production guns and turning out a better shooting "match" 1911. I don't be;lieve Colt waited till 1918 to get started.

The 1919 matches were the first National Match but serious target shooting had been going on since before the turn of the century in America and England. Again you would have to assume that the employees at Colt were deeply involved in the sport and that the 1911 was getting tweaked from day one by the master smiths that put the guns together at Hartford.

Old 12-11-2002, 07:01 AM   #3
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Texas
Posts: 57
Dane, you raise some good questions. I'll try to address a few--

I define 'pre-NM' as any gun from the 20's that has an MB marked barrel in it. Colt's record keeping was spotty with respect to special features, and their out-of-sequence manufacturing and shipping practices creates a real challenge to unravel. How could they know that 75 or 80 years later that collectors would pour over this stuff looking for trivial details?

One can find notes in the records of 'selected' guns, 'smooth pull,' 'front sight 1/10" thick,' 'selected and targeted,' etc. going back as far as 1912 shipments. Starting in 1913, there are ones noted 'Camp Perry Sale' and perhaps those guns had some special features or 'smithing on them but it isn't noted in the records. In 1914 is the first instance I see of trigger work: 'Chkd. trigger, 5-lb. pull.' Silver and ivory bead front sights start appearing in the late teens as do Lyman #19 rear sights. C121505, shipped in 1919 is the first one I see that mentions slide to frame fit - "as tight as possible."

C130711 is the earliest shipment with 'Sp., Match barrel' as noted by Mullin. But the lowest SN with a match barrel is C128625, shipped in 1922 to Von Lengerke & Antoine (?). They gook deliver of a number of GM's with the Match barrels so it would be interesting to know who they were and where they were located. I consider these the start of the "pre-NM" guns but that is my own, admittedly arbitrary, definition. Goddard's book (where the shipping records are summarized) stops around 1928, just when it begins to get interesting, with respect to NM and pre-NM pistols. Someday I hope to examine the Colt records of the late 20's and 30's. I suspect that we would see an increasing frequency of guns fitted with match barrels and other features leading up to the introduction of the actual National Match model. I think there are several reasons there aren't more documented cases of pre-NM weapons: (1) Goddard's records stop in 1929. (2) the pistols have no external markings to indicate that they have special features so unless there is something obvious, like wider sights, you have to take the pistol down to see the MB barrel. And, the original barrel might have been changed later. (3) Colt's record-keeping was less than perfect. (4) Some of these guns undoubtedly got "chopped and channeled," refinished or suffered other 'improvements' later in life, masking their origins.

Certainly these are interesting guns (to me, at least) and more research need to be done.
Old 12-11-2002, 10:08 AM   #4
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Thanks Kevin, looks like any commercial gun from 1920/21 on a person would be wise to take another look at

Mullins implies an estimate of 1100 or so NM guns in the commercial guns that stayed in the country. Between 1920 and 1932 there should be something like 41000 commercial Colts that stayed in the country. I would think if the info got out on what to look for more of these "pre NM" guns will turn up.

Great topic!

Old 01-27-2003, 01:34 PM   #5
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Texas
Posts: 57
I realize I may be writing for an audience of one (me) but I want to correct an error in my first post about the price of prewar pistols. Mullins reported in his book that the NM cost about double what a standard Government Model did at the time of introduction (1932). However, after doing my own research I have found that the difference was only about 11%. A Colt GM cost $36.75 and a NM cost $40.75.

Also, for anyone interested in buying one of these pistols I currently know of three for sale. There is one on Guns America for $6,500 in pretty good condition but no box. There is another on (auction # 7203107) in fair condition but no box. I have one of mine listed on in the classifieds section. It is 98% and in its original box for $6,250.
Old 10-05-2003, 10:24 PM   #6
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 260
V.L.& A. I suppose everybody now realizes was Chicago A&

As I suspect almost everybody knows V.L. & A. eventually morphed into the Chicago branch of Abercrombie and Fitch (original version) and the store continued to be marked V.L. & A. over the front door up until the bankruptcy and dissolution of A&F if I recall correctly. My impression is that they eventually hit a dry streak where they couldn't even buy high quality high margin stock let alone sell it.

For anecdotal details I'd ask any old Chicago hand; Corky Sundeen if he's still around Chicago. Fred Browning used to make 1911 screw machine parts, grip screws and bushings for Brownell's and there are plenty of others from Chicago who'd have personal knowledge.
Old 08-12-2004, 11:46 PM   #7
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 8
Times past

You have to remember that the Revolver was the Match weapon of choich until the 1930's....when I was still a whipper snapper I got to talking to a retired Army colonel who shot at the Camp Perry matches in the 30's...his statement was that when he started out they were using revolvers then they discovered in the mid thirties that the auto could do just as well so they switched. I can't remember his name but he owned the Pomona Gun Shop in CA.

BTW he was very partial to the Glock as well.

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