Classic Guns: “Vintage Carry” and the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pistol

Classic Guns: “Vintage Carry” and the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pistol

In the world of carrying handguns, a number of phrases have evolved to describe exactly what reason or method a handgun is carried in a particular way. There is “open carry” which is simply to carry a sidearm in plain sight. There is “concealed carry” which is self-explanatory. There is “constitutional carry” where a person is not restricted by law or permit to carry a firearm. There is the concept of “home carry” where a person carries the handgun around their home at all times because they want to be ready for a possible home invasion. “Backyard carry” is another one. That is for rabid raccoons and off-leash pit bulls.  Related to that is “barbecue carry” which is to open carry a very fancy looking sidearm to a social gathering like a barbecue for the sole purpose of showing it off. There is also “church carry” where a person carries a firearm in a place of worship since a violent scenario could just as well happen there. There is also “bath carry” for those that think they might be attacked while in the shower like in the movie Psycho. They keep their handgun in plastic baggies. Likewise there is “swim carry” for self-defense options at the beach against man-eating sharks or armed sand-kicking bullies. There is also “sex carry,” usually done with an ankle holster since a belt or shoulder holster could get in the way of the lovemaking gymnastics. This type of carry is smart for those that fool around with other people's spouses and want to be prepared when the scorned other half barges into the love nest with a loaded shotgun.

Adding to this lexicon is “vintage carry.” It will be first coined in print in the upcoming May 21, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. In his Collector's Corner column, Phillip Peterson defines vintage carry as using older handguns for concealed carry. He writes, “One of my favorite vintage carry guns is the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pistol. Designed by firearms genius John Browning it was introduced in 1903. This single-action, semi-automatic pistol was known to Colt as a Model M .32ACP but was marketed as the Model 1903 Hammerless. It is chambered for the .32 automatic / 7.65mm cartridge. It has a 3 ¾-inch barrel. The dimensions of the gun are 6 ¾ inches long, 4 ½ inches high and one-inch wide at the grips. It has both a grip safety and a manual safety.  The magazine holds eight rounds and is marked “CAL. .32 COLT” on the base. The magazines usually have what is called a two-tone blue finish. The top section is bare white metal with the rest being blued. The gun weighs 26 ounces with a loaded magazine.”

He continues, “Colt made the Model 1903 Hammerless from 1903 to 1945. There were over 570,000 Colt 1903s made during that span.”

So the Colt that Mr. Peterson carries, depending on when it was manufactured, could be around century to over a half-century old. Imagine that. And he trusts the firearm enough to use it to defend himself in a dangerous encounter. And if it is mechanically sound, dependable and accurate, why not?  I know of plenty of people that carry modern Glocks, Kimbers, Kel-Tecs, and other modern pistols but rarely have I met someone that carries what would be classified as a “vintage” handgun being used for concealed carry use.

It is an interesting concept in today's new-is-better world. And maybe the older handgun is already combat-proven. The Colt Model 1903 that Mr. Peterson writes about were given to agents of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, and also to US military officers during and after WWII.

The vintage carry challenge: if you were to carry a pre-WWII handgun for concealed carry, what would it be?

After paging through the Standard Catalog of Handguns, the Collector's and Price and Reference Guide (763 pages), I realized that the pre-WWII requirement really knocks out many of the handguns in existence and limits of the pool of sidearms to choose from (unless you want to carry around a flintlock pistol). After some perusal, I decided on a Smith & Wesson .32 Automatic pistol. Only 957 were manufactured between 1924 and 1936. Seems like it would fit the bill.


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  1. While I’ve always been a fan of the .380ACP version of the firearm mentioned in the article, the Colt Model 1908 Pocket Model Hammerless, I think that I would have to simply go with an older version of what I carry now: the 1911 in .45ACP, although a 1911 in the Colt .38 Super Automatic would be a good choice too! Or maybe a 4″ S&W Model 27 in .357 Magnum…or a Colt New Service ‘Fitz Special’ in .45 Colt (except with the trigger guard left intact!)…or maybe a Merwin & Hulbert Pocket Army in ‘.44 Winchester’ (.44-40)…or…well…there are just too many good options to choose from!!!

    Still, the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pistol would NOT be on that list. The gun itself is fantastic, but the .32ACP was too underpowered then, and it is too underpowered now!!!

  2. I suppose it wouldn’t be much different than the one above, except that it is much more powerful. I would carry a Russian Tokarev TT-33 in 7.62 x 25mm. (Or any of the European satellite state copies) The round can penetrate body armor, and the gun itself is fairly compact. With a little work I’m sure it could be cut down to accommodate even smaller spaces. The Russian rounds have really been ignored by Americans due to their prejudice towards Soviet era anything.

    I’m one of the converts that heard what his enemy combatant instructor was saying about their superior small arms when we were briefed on strategy back in the 80s. The explosion of AKs and Dragunovs in the U.S. after embargoes were lifted is no accident.

    I realize that the TT-33 doesn’t strictly fit the pre-war category just because the U.S. waited to join WWII until Dec. 7th. 1941, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

  3. The vintage Gun I carried for awhile was a C96 broomhandle in a shoulder holster under a field jacket. Impressive but not practical.

  4. S&W model 3 safety hammerless in 38 S&W. Pre-1899 antique status gives certain legal advantages many places. If you get stuck overnight at an NYC airport, you will not get arrested. You can even ship it to yourself in the mail. Gotta be willing to reload your own ammo. Alternate: cut-barrel S&W new Model 3 in 44 Russian or 44/40. Seen several– must have been a common modification for pocket carry. ALL are antiques.

  5. Among pre-WWII handguns, I would choose a Walther PP in .380 (9mm Kurz) caliber. A fine double action pistol with a good safety and a bit more powerful than the .32 Walther
    PP in .32 (7.65mm) caliber I used to wear when I had a carry permit before gun laws were unduly over-tightened here in Brazil.


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