Collecting the Military 1911 and 1911A1: It can be a "BLAST!"

My interest in collecting 1911’s started on December 15, 1967 when I raised by right hand and took the oath to join the Marine Corps.  It never fully manifested itself until about 25 years later when I really got into collecting military weapons in a serious manner.  Actually, I don’t think I had even ever held a 1911 until I started getting trained in the Marines.  Having said this, I would like to make one point very clear.  I am not an expert on the Model 1911 or 1911A1.  I am a user of both and I have had the opportunity to demonstrate my skills utilizing them when I served in Vietnam.  That was the weapon I was issued.  I can take it apart (field strip it) and put it back together with my eyes closed.  I know how to keep it clean and functional.  I know what it’s capabilities are in a combat environment.  I leave it to the experts to explain “why it works the way does.”  I just know how to use it.

You might be curious as to how I got involved in collecting 1911 and 1911A1’s.  It was nothing more than one day I decided I would like to have one for my personal use.  It had been about 25 years since I had fired one and I guess I was reminiscing about my military days.  I just decided I wanted one.  I started out by finding out when the next gun show was in the area.  I went to the show and bought the first one I saw.  I thought I had just won the lottery I was so excited.  I was hooked!  I went home and tried to see if I remembered how to take it apart and put it back together.  I needed some help so I decided to get additional guidance on doing so.  The internet was not as available as it is today, so I did my investigating by talking with other people.  I learned that a similar group of people attended most of the same local gun shows in the area.  I talked with them and I learned that the best thing I needed do was to get the book entitled “Colt .45 Service Pistols Models of 1911 and 1911A1.”  Complete Military History Development and Production 1900 through 1945, by Charles W. Clawson.  I promise you that all the information that you would ever want to know about these pistols will be found in this book.   I bought this book for under $30.00 new and today it might cost you substantially more.  It has gone up in value just as the pistols he described have.

Money.  Now that is an interesting topic.  When you choose to collect military weapons, you had bettered get used to spending some real money.  My wife thought I was throwing our children’s college education away, but I was convinced of just the opposite.  When I started doing the needed research on the topic, I saw where the value of these weapons have increased over the years at a very steady rate.  Remember, they have not been manufactured since 1945.   I never looked at in the manner that I was spending money on a hobby; I looked at it that I was making an investment with a hobby that would eventually pay off handsomely for me.  My wife did not buy into it all the way, but she tolerated it.  This brings me to probably the most important point for a serious collector.  If you do not know what you are doing, it could become very costly for you.  The only way to gain the knowledge is to read books like Clawson’s and ask a lot of questions.  I would advise you to consider everything you look at as being a potential fake.  There are lots of them out there and things can be faked in many different ways.  You have to educate yourself if you want to be a serious collector!

Now, what is the difference between a 1911 owner and a 1911 collector?  If your sole objective is to own a couple 45’s and have little concern about its history, then you probably are just an owner.  Look at the money you spend as a cost of having fun.  If you want to obtain a military 45 for some other reason and you are concerned about the originality of the weapon, then you are more of a collector.  You probably would not want to buy a weapon for the sake of owning it, but you want to buy a weapon for a reason like full filling your collecting objectives.  I decided a year or so after I started that I wanted to collect one from each of the different manufacturers.  I had no idea how difficult this objective would turn out to be, nor how costly it would become.  Oh well, I have never been known for doing the easy things so I just went forward with the objective of succeeding in my quest.

I learned early on that if I had a Federal Firearms License (FFL) is would open many new doors for me.  I decided to apply for one and I got it.  The FFL gave the potential seller the vision that you were serious and that you probably knew more about what you were doing that the regular gun buyer.  It gave you a degree of credibility and that is important when you are making deals that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.  The best way to buy a weapon at a gun show is to have cash in hand.  You will always get your best deal when you are holding that green stuff in your hand while you negotiate.

The Clawson book will give you the history about the 1911 and the 1911A1 and what certain things mean.  There are markings on each pistol that have specific meanings.  You need to become familiar with them.  One marking over another marking could have a substantial impact on the value of the weapon.  One interesting point about these weapons is that several manufacturers made them.  All of them had to have interchangeable parts with each other.  This means is that the military armorer could take parts from one weapon and interchange them on another weapon.  This results in collector terms as being a “mixed and matched” weapon.  The objective of any collector would be to get an original weapon as opposed to a mixed and matched one.  It is very difficult and very infrequent to find an original 1911 or 1911A1.  That is why it is very important to become well versed on these weapons as soon as possible.  I carried the Clawson book with me to every gun show I attended to use it as a reference when I did not know the correct answer to my question.  Actually, that happened more times than it did not.

I got within one weapon, a “Singer” of having a complete collection of each manufacturer.  I had the opportunity to buy a couple of them, but I was too concerned about it being the real thing.  I had talked with Mr. Clawson on a number of occasions and he agreed to authenticate it for me.  The cost at that time, for a Singer, was around $25,000 and I was just too unsure about myself and no one wanted to allow me to send off their prize weapon to someone to be authenticated without me putting the money up first.  I was not willing to invest that kind of money betting on the come.

It became apparent that after you get into collecting seriously that people will learn about what you are doing.  I acquired many 45’s and the value got way up there.  It then become necessary to get a big safe to keep them in.  Be sure and think about what impact that might have on your family when the word gets out what you are doing.

All in all, collecting 1911’s and 1911A1’s was a blast in more than one way.  I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot in doing it.  It has proven to be very rewarding, not only in the enjoyment of doing it, but the increased value that has resulted.  The main thing you have to do is to educate yourself to be sure it turns out the way you want.