Colt 1908 Vest Pocket: The One That Started It All

Colt 1908 Vest Pocket: The One That Started It All

One of John Browning’s many revolutionary designs, the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket is the one that got the pocket pistol ball rolling for decades to come.

Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Features:

  • .25 ACP, 6+1 Capacity
  • Direct Blowback Action, Single-Action Trigger
  • OAL: 4.5-Inches
  • Weight: 13 Ounces

Technically speaking, the Browning design that first kicked off the pocket pistol trend was released in Europe as the FN M1905. But it was virtually identical to the version Colt would begin to sell on the American market a short while later as the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket. Whichever name you know it as, this iconic little mouse gun was Browning’s attempt to make the smallest centerfire pistol possible utilizing his new .25 ACP cartridge.

It was the turn of the century and automatic pistols had only just begun to take off, with most designs being full-sized duty pistols intended for military service. Cowboys may not have taken issue with wearing their irons proudly on display, but Browning recognized that the modern gentleman preferred to carry concealed, and he preferred to carry comfortably. Acknowledging the inherent reliability issues with .22 rimfire cartridges, he set out to design the .25 ACP centerfire and a new pistol to go along with it. His design was first introduced by FN as the M1905 onto the European market, and Colt followed suit in America shortly after under the name “Model N” (more commonly known as the Colt Model 1908 or Colt Vest Pocket). Their collectability makes these guns less than ideal for practical CCW today, but the design that birthed the automatic pocket pistol as a concept deserves a second look.

Colt 1908 Vest Pocket
Colt 1908 Vest Pocket. Photo:Rock Island Auction Company.

Design Details

Not only was the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket the first automatic pocket pistol, it was also the first pistol in common usage to feature a striker-fired design. Too small to incorporate a hammer, shrouded or not, the only way for Browning to make his pistol as small as he wanted was to design a new firing mechanism that would fit inside. Other guns had utilized striker mechanisms before, but none this small or efficient.

1908 Vest Pocket striker
Colt 1908 Vest Pocket back of slide, striker mechanism is contained inside in lieu of a hammer. Photo:Rock Island Auction Company.

The low-pressure nature of .25 ACP enabled the design to use a blowback action, and like all other semi-auto pistols of its time the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket was single-action only. The original design incorporated two safeties, a manual thumb-safety and a grip safety, similar to what would eventually be seen on Browning’s 1911 pistol as well. As a gun that was designed to be concealed close to the body and quickly accessed for self-defense, these features were obviously wise inclusions. The magazine holds 6 rounds of .25 ACP and is removed via a magazine heel release. Like virtually all pocket pistols, the iron sights on the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket are nearly non-existent. This gun was clearly intended more for point-shooting across a card table than hitting bullseyes at the range. Colt would go on to produce this pistol until 1948, where it would remain many people’s pocket pistol of choice for decades to come. While there have been many innovations made on the pocket pistol concept since its introduction, many people stayed loyal to Browning’s original design.

Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Maltese Falcon
A Colt 1908 Vest Pocket being held in “The Maltese Falcon” (1931). Photo: IMFDB

While ultra-small pocket pistols like the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket have certainly fallen out of common usage since at least the 1980s, there are some that still believe in the utility of a gun small enough to be smuggled in a cup of coffee. Caliber choices in a gun this small are essentially limited to .22LR and .25 ACP, and the greater reliability of .25 makes it the clear winner in my mind especially since the two are so ballistically similar. There have been a plethora of pocket pistols released since Browning started it all, some cheap imitations and some legitimate innovations on the concept. If you have a Colt 1908 Vest Pocket at home, its historical provenance and value probably mean that it’s best left as a safe queen, but if the right situation warranted it these guns would still make for a great backup or deep concealment piece.

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  1. Gramps had one of these. He passed away in ’87 and my cousin has this pistol now. He told me that in 1920’s Montreal this pistol was very popular among um..”soiled doves”. I forgot to ask him how he knew that.


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