Collecting the Venerable Thompson Submachine Gun

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With only about 2,400 Thompson submachine guns in a transferable state today, the price for one of these beauties reaches well into five digits.

mint condition Thompson submachine gun
This nearly mint example of a Thompson Model of 1921 was manufactured by Colt's in Hartford, Connecticut.


These beautiful images are from the National Firearms Museum, and are featured in the full-color 16-page center section of the 2013 Standard Catalog of Firearms.

The first Thompsons to come to market were the Model 1921s, manufactured by Colt Patent Firearms for Auto Ordnance Corporation in New York, New York. Between March 1921 and April 1922 15,000 guns were built. Of those 15,000 manufactured, only about 2,400 weapons exist in a transferable state today, “transferable” meaning weapons that can be bought, sold, or traded legally within the U.S.

Originally made with 20-round magazines, eventually 30-round stick magazines and 50- and 100-drum magazines were manufactured for use on "the gun that made the '20s roar."
Originally made with 20-round magazines, eventually 30-round stick magazines and 50- and 100-drum magazines were manufactured for use on “the gun that made the '20s roar.”

Three models of the Model 1921 were produced. The Model 1921A had a fixed front sight and a rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute. The Model 1921AC has a Cutts compensator instead of a fixed front sight and an 800-rounds-per-minute rate of fire. The Model 1928 Navy was fitted with a Cutts compensator and a heavier actuator that reduced the rate of fire to 600 rounds per minute. All of these Navy models had the number “8” stamped crudely over the number “1” on the left side of the receiver.

Of the 15,000 Colt Model 1921s produced, approximately 25 percent were Model 1921As, 33 percent were Model 1921ACs, and 41 percent were 1928 Navys. A handful of Model 1927s were manufactured by Colt and left the factory as semi-automatics. However, the ATF considers these guns machine guns and requires that all NFA rules apply. These Model 1927s are quite rare and represent only about one percent of total production. They do not seem to sell for the same dollar figures that the machine guns do.

All Colt-manufactured Thompsons were bright blued; none were parkerized. All had walnut stocks, grips, and forearms manufactured by Remington. With the exception of a few prototypes, all Colt Thompsons were chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. All internal parts were nickel plated and all barrels were finned. All weapons had a Lyman rear sight assembly. A removable rear stock was standard. All weapons were marked with a “new york, usa” address on the right side of the receiver. “Colt patent firearms” was marked on the left side of the receiver. These Colt Thompsons would accept a 20- or 30-round box magazine as well as a 50-round “L” drum or 100 round “C” drum. Weight is about 10.75 lbs.

What's It Worth?

Prices for original Colt guns with original parts and finish range from around $35,000 for Excellent condition, to $25,000 for Very Good condition, to $20,000 for Fair condition.

Note that Model 1921As, early serial numbers, previous ownership, and documentation can dramatically add to the prices. Conversely, missing components, re-barreled weapons, etc, will see a substantial reduction in price, as these original components are almost extinct. Re-finishing or re-bluing will result in a substantial reduction in value by as much as 50 percent.

For Thompsons with historical background, such as Texas Ranger or gangster guns, prices can exceed 50 percent to 100 percent of above with documentation.

The ultimate guide to collectible military firearmsFor more fascinating history on military guns from around the world, as well as gun values for collectible military firearms, stop by the Gun Digest Store and pick up a copy of Standard Catalog of Military Firearms today.

For more stunning images of collectible guns from the National Firearms Museum, order the 2013 Standard Catalog of Firearms.

Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order. (Promo code fine print: Items which ship directly from the manufacturer do not qualify for free shipping.)