Colt’s classic 1911 still remains America’s favorite handgun, and there are a host of different models that draw in premiums on the collector’s market.

Things to know about the classic 1911:

  • It was the official U.S. military sidearm from 1911 to 1986.
  • One of John Browning’s many designs, the 1911 proved itself utterly reliable.
  • During field trials, it fired 6,000 rounds without a single malfunction.
  • There are loads of different models and variants of the 1911 — perfect for collectors.

More has probably been written about the Colt 1911 series of pistols than any other handgun. Without a doubt, it’s the most popular handgun design in the United States and in many other parts of the world. The .45 Auto 1911 was the official U.S. military sidearm from 1911 to 1986 — through WWI and WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. To this day, the 1911A1 is still in service with some Special Forces units of the Army, Navy and the Marine Corps, in part because of to its popularity among the troops.

During the past 100-plus years, many manufacturers have made 1911-style pistols, but most of the collector interest is with Colt, where it all began. There are dozens of Colt variants — too many to include them all here — but we will cover some of the more significant models. Many collectors are interested in the U.S. Military Series made by Colt and several other manufacturers.

1911 -1
This is one of the finest early production Colt Model 1911 pistols in existence. It sold for $109,250 at Rock Island Auction Co. in 2011. This pistol was assembled by Colt during the first week of production of its U.S. Government contract on December 28, 1911, and shipped to Springfield Armory on January 4, 1912. It has the high-polish blue finish on the hammer, thumb safety, slide stop and trigger. The serial number is 33.

The Birth Of A Champion
During the last years of the 19th century, famed firearms inventor John M. Browning was working on a self-loading pistol design that had a moveable breech block/bolt carrier that operated by sliding along the frame. In 1897, he received a patent for the design that would become Colt’s first successful semi-auto pistol, the .38-caliber model of 1900. This gun evolved into the Colt Model 1902 and then the 1905.

The U.S. Army Ordnance Corps wasn’t satisfied with the performance on the battlefield of the .38 caliber and decided that a .45 caliber similar to the .45 Colt Single Action Army revolver cartridge was the answer. Browning, working with Brigadier General John T. Thompson of the Ordnance Corps, developed a .45-caliber pistol cartridge that fired a 230-grain full-metal-jacketed bullet. The cartridge came first, and then the gun. (Thompson went on to develop the famous machine gun that came to be known as the “Tommy Gun.”)

1911 -5
You have a piece of history in your hand when you pick up this 1911 A1 pistol. The simple rollmark “S. MFG. CO.” identifies the manufacturer as the Singer Corporation, maker of one of the rarest models of the WWII Military Series.

Browning worked on improving his earlier pistol designs and, in 1906, when the Army sent invitations to several manufacturers to compete for the government contract for the next-generation military pistol, he was ready. Among the competition were Smith & Wesson, Luger, Savage, Webley and several others.

Except for Colt and Savage, all the tested models had problems and were eliminated. When the final field trials were held on March 15, 1911, John Browning took a hands-on position and personally supervised the assembly of every part of every Colt pistol. Each Colt and Savage fired 6,000 rounds, and the Savage 1907 model had numerous malfunctions. The Colt had none. On March 29 of 1911, Colt’s Model 1911 became the U.S. Army’s official handgun.

1911 -3
This is a Military 1911A1 made by Remington Rand during World War II.

A Pistol Of Many Faces
We want to thank renowned Colt 1911 collector Karl Karash for the following excerpt on the early days of the pistol from Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, 8th Edition from Gun Digest Books, 2016. Karash also provided a lot of the information on the various models and their values.

“The first 40 pistols were assembled on December 28, 1911, with an additional 11 pistols assembled the next day. The first shipment, a single wooden case of M1911 pistols serial number from 1 to 50 was made on January 4, 1912, was shipped from the Colt factory in Hartford, Conn. To the Commanding Officer, Springfield Armory. This single crate, marked on the outside ‘Serial Numbers 1 Through 50’ has become ‘the stuff that (M1911 collectors’) dreams are made of.”

The M1911 pistol was the most advanced self-loading pistol of its time, and in the eyes of many, it has remained so to this date. Yet, while this is probably an exaggeration, elements of its design have become adopted in most subsequent self-loading designs.

1911 -4
The 1911’s flat surfaces have long been a favorite of engravers. This postwar Combat Commander shows the work of Dennis Reigel. Photo courtesy Dennis Reigel.

Colt’s manufacturing changes, Ordnance mandated changes (including M1911/1911A1 improvements), marking, commercial derivatives and part variations amounted to over 200 variations, enough to keep even the most ardent collector in pursuit for decades.

Students of the 1911 place these pistols into several different categories. Not long after the first military models were shipped in January of 1912, the Commercial “Government Models” followed. Technically, the civilian commercial pistol was a “Government Model” and the military version was the “Model of 1911.”

It should be remembered that military pistols would most likely have seen service duty on the battlefield. The condition standards should not be expected to be the same as those of Commercial Models.

ESTIMATED VALUES COLT 1911/1911A1 (courtesy Standard Catalog of Firearms 27th Edition, Gun Digest Books 2017)

EARLY COMMERCIAL GOVERNMENT MODEL
Serial numbers through approximately C4500. All parts had a high polish with fire-blue finish on the trigger, slide stop and thumb safety. Pistols through about serial number C350 had a dimpled magazine catch. Mainspring housing pin rounded on both ends through about C2000. Add 30 percent for 3-digit serial number, 60 percent for 2 digits, up to 100 percent for 99 percent finish.

Exc.              V.G.               Good              Fair              Poor

$15,000        $10,000          $7,500           $3,500         $2,000

COMMERCIAL GOVT. MODEL WITH UN-NUMBERED SLIDE
Serial number C4500 to about C127300bgb

NIB              Exc.             V.G.               Good               Fair              Poor

$8,000        $5,000          $2,500           $1,500            $1,100          $850

COMMERCIAL GOVT. MODEL WITH NUMBERED SLIDE
Serial number C127300 to about C136000

NIB               Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$8,500          $5,300          $2,700           $1,600           $1,200         $950

MODEL 1911 U.S. MILITARY SERIES
Serial No. range 1-17250 (aka Model 1912)

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair               Poor

$12,500        $8,500          $5,500            $3,000          $1,500

Colt 1913-1915
Serial No. ranges: 17251-72570, 83856-102596, 107597-113496, 120567-125566, 133187-37400

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair               Poor

$7,500          $6,000          $4,000           $2,000           $1,400

Colt 1917-1918
Serial No. range 137401-594000

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair               Poor

$4,500          $3,000          $2,000           $1,000           $500

Springfield Armory 1914-1916
Serial No. ranges 72751-83855, 102597-107596, 113497-120566, 125567-133186

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$9,000          $6,000          $4,500           $2,640          $1,600

Remington-UMC 1918-1919
Serial No. range 1-21676

Exc.               V.G.                Good              Fair              Poor

$7,500           $4,750            $3,500           $2,000          $1,300

North American Arms 1918
One of the rarest 1911 models. Less than 100 were manufactured. Made in Canada but none delivered to U.S. military forces. Beware of fakes. Get an expert appraisal.

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair             Poor

$110,000      $55,000         $40,000         $25,000       $10,000

COLT 1911A1 COMMERCIAL GOVERNMENT MODEL PRE-WWII
Manufactured from 1925 to 1942. Serial number range C136000-C215000

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$4,500          $3,500          $2,500           $1,000          $500

Super .38 1929 Model, Pre WWII
Identical to .45 ACP model in outward configuration. Chambered for .38 Super cartridge. Marked “Colt Super .38 Automatic.”

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$10,000        $7,000          $5,000            $3,000         $1,000

Super Match .38 1935 Model
Specially fit and finished target grade with adjustable sights. Only 5,000 made.

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$11,500        $8,000           $5,000           $3,000         $2,000

MODEL 1911A1 U.S. MILITARY SERIES
Manufactured for U.S. Military Forces between 1924 and 1945.

Colt
Serial number range 710000-734xxx
Add 100-400 percent for Army or Navy variations with blue finish, made 1937-1941.

Exc.               V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$3,500           $3,200          $2,500           $1,000          $500

Ithaca

Exc.               V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$2,500           $1,800          $1,200           $900             $600

Remington Rand

Exc.               V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$2,250           $1,700          $1,200           $900             $600

Union Switch & Signal

Exc.               V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$7,000           $4,800           $3,800          $3,000          $2,000

Singer Mfg. Co.

Exc.               V.G.              Good              Fair               Poor

$100,000       $70,000         $50,000         $29,000         $15,000

Only 500 models were made of this highly collectible variation. Beware of fakes. An appraisal from a Colt expert is advised whether buying or selling. Deduct 50 percent for un-serialed or presentation models.

COLT 1911A1 POST WWII 1946-1949
Serial number range C220000-C220500
No “Government Model” marking. Many parts are leftover military. Add 50 to 100 percent for 99-100 percent finish.

NIB              Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$8,500         $6,000          $4,000          $2,500            $1,500         $1,000

Serial number range C220500-C249000
Marked “Government Model.” Add 20 to 30 percent for 99-100 percent finish. Deduct 30 percent for foreign markings.

NIB              Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$4,500         $3,500          $2,500          $1,500            $1,000         $750

Serial number range 249000C-335000C
“Government Model” marking.

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$1,600          $1,100          $750              $500            $400

Add 20 to 30 percent for 99-100 percent finish. Deduct 30 percent for foreign markings.

Serial number range 334500C to about 336169C
BB marked for barrel bushing. “Government Model” marking.

NIB              Exc.              V.G.             Good              Fair              Poor

$3,300         $2,200          $1,750         $1,350            $1,000         $750

Add 20 to 50 percent for 99-100 percent finish.

ACE MODEL PISTOL
This .22 Long Rifle rimfire variant appeared in 1931. With a highly modified frame and a straight blowback operation, it was designed for use as a training firearm. Features include an adjustable target rear sight, 10-round magazine and “Colt Ace 22 Long Rifle” marking on the slide. About 11,000 were made. There were functioning and cleaning problems and in 1937 Colt introduced an improved version, the Service Model Ace.

NIB              Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$7,000         $4,500          $3,000           $1,800           $950            $700     

Service Model Ace
Approximately 13,800 were made between 1937 and 1945. Slide is marked “Colt Service Model Ace .22 Long Rifle” with serial number prefix “SM.”

Blue Finish up to serial number SM3940

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$11,000        $7,500          $4,000            $1,500         $1,000

Parkerized finish after serial number SM3940

Exc.              V.G.              Good              Fair              Poor

$5,000          $3,000          $1,800           $950             $700

SUGGESTED READING
Many reference and historic books have been published about the Colt 1911 pistol. Listed here are several that are recommended by the author. Most are available through Amazon.

  • Collector’s Guide to Colt .45 Service Pistols by Charles Clawson (AbeBooks.com, Note: rare and expensive)
  • 1911 – The First 100 Years by Patrick Sweeney (Gun Digest Books, 2010)
  • The Model 1911 and 1911A1 Military and Commercial Pistols by Joe Poyer (North Cape Publications)
  • U.S. Military Automatic Pistols 1920-1945 by Edward Scott Meadows (IDSA Arms Books)
  • The Government Models: Development of the Colt Model of 1911 by William H. Goddard (AbeBooks.com)

Editor’s Note: This “Collector’s Corner” column is an excerpt from the January 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Now we re seeing more and more commercial adds because the CPM will be releasing 1911 Military Guns to the public. In the past the DCM was supposed to provide low cost military arms to attract new shooters but since the organization has been turned over to the CPM its transformed itself into a greed monger money making outfit that rapes every penny of profit it can from the general public. Unlike the M1 Grand rapes this time its going to be much different as most collectors today are graying old men that will not even consider paying $1,000 and up for a worn out and repaired with commercial parts rattle trap surplus junker. I think the CPM is in for a shock and after they sit on thousands of them with no buyers and later you will see how fast the price will come down. These worn out cracked frame junkers are not even worth more than $200 bucks a piece if that let alone the outrageous prices the CPM thinks they can rape people for. Let them sit on all of them as we are not the suckers they think we are. When you can get a plain jane reproduction 1911 made with modern steel and much closer tolerances for often as low as $400 dollars one would have to be nuts to pay the CPM $1,000 dollars for a worn out piece of junk and remember many have cracked frames and were made with soft slides to add insult to injury.