As I mentioned in one of my previous postings, I am currently working on my next book project which will be a massive tome on US Infantry Weapons of WWII, similar in structure to the book I did on the subject 20+ years ago. This new book will be much, much larger with a ton of photographs, most of them in color.
While in the course of writing the book, I pondered whether or not to include some obscure or prototype weapons which may not have seen actual use in the war. I decided to cover many of these weapons as they help give a clearer picture of the development that went into the weapons our guys used so successfully during the war. One of these was the subject of several articles I've done in the past and is arguably one of the rarest American military weapons in existence. This was the Johnson "Auto-Carbine" that Melvin Johnson developed during WWII for potential sale to the Dutch government (which had previously contracted for the M1941 Johnson rifles and Light Machine Guns) as a weapon that might be useful for the colonial troops garrisoning the East Indies. The Dutch weren't interested, largely because the East Indies had fallen to the Japanese by this time.The standard Johnson rifle was a fairly heavy weapon and Melvin felt the smaller and lighter "Auto-Carbine" might be more appealing. The weapon used a standard M1941 Johnson semiautomatic rifle receiver but had some features inspired by the Johnson LMG (although the Auto-Carbine retained semiautomatic-only operation). Only five of the guns were made and the only one that left the factory was "lent" by Johnson to the famous Marine paratrooper Harry Torgerson who used it in combat in the Solomon Islands. The only known extant Auto-Carbine was undoubtedly one that Torgerson retained after the war. I have had this gun in my collector for over a decade and never fired it due to its rarity. However, during the course of filming some episodes of American Rifleman television, I was persuaded to shoot the gun on camera. I agreed, but would only fire eight rounds (the magazine held ten). The gun performed flawlessly but had a bit more recoil than I had anticipated. Shooting the gun didn't harm it at all but I likely will never do so again. It was quite a thrill to be able to fire a gun that had not been shot in over seventy years by anyone. I have a small section in the Johnson rifle segment of the new book on the Auto-Carbine and mention that if it had been refined and developed further, it could have proven to be an "ace" weapon of the war. Instead, it remain just an obscure footnote to history. Here is a still shot of me shooting the gun for the tv episode. It really is a cool weapon!
As you've probably noticed, I haven't had many postings on the site lately. This isn't due to any lack of interest but my plate's been pretty full these past couple of months and I hope to resuming posting on a more or less regular basis. I've in the midst of working on my next book and cranking out a few magazine articles as well. In the meantime, I've been giving some thought as to what may be the collecting trends for U.S. martial arms for 2017. The only change from the past few years that may happen is a bit more interest in the weapons of the First World War since 2017 represents the centennial of America's active involvement in the war. On the other hand, the weapons used by our Doughboys in the conflict; the M1903 rifle, M1911 .45 pistol and M1897 and M1910 trench shotguns are already extremely popular with collectors and its hard to imagine these weapons increasing in value and desirability more than they already have. It also seems that the M1917 rifle (which was widely used by our guys in the war) is beginning to gain more traction with collectors. I've always thought it was an under-appreciated and under-valued collectible so it is about time the M1917 was duly recognized as a historic, and very interesting, U.S. martial arm. We'll see how the year plays out but I wouldn't expect that 2017 is going to be terribly different than 2016 or 2015. In any event, I wish you and your family a great 2017.
A Real Piece of History
When I was in Springfield last month for my M1 Rifle lecture, I met a gentleman who lives in the general area and has an amazing U.S. martial arms collection. He graciously invited me to view it and there was truly some historic stuff there. This photo is of me holding Melvin Johnson original prototype firing mechanism that he developed and was the basis for his famous M1941 semiautomatic rifle. I have a couple of photos of the item in my book my never imagined I'd have the opportunity to handle it. Truly a piece of firearm history.
If anyone is going to be in the Springfield, Mass. area on October 22, 2016, you might want to drop by the Springfield Armory National Historic Site (National Park Service). There will be a program to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the adoption of the M1 Garand Rifle with was developed and anufactured at Springfield. I am honored to have been asked to present a lecture on the Development and Manufacture of the M1 Garand Rifle. The lecture will be followed by what should be an amazing virtual tour of the facilities at the Armory that produced the M1 Rifle. The following is a press release regarding the program:
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the US Army's adoption of the Garand M1 Rifle, produced at Springfield Armory, and a major contribution to United States’ victory in World War II.
The Armory was the birthplace and major producer of the rifle, delivering over 3.5 million by the end of the war. It was one of the largest employers in the area, with over 14,000 employees at the peak of wartime production, about 42 percent of them were women, an important factor for introducing women into the local workforce.
In commemoration, the Springfield Armory Alliance is sponsoring a talk and a virtual tour of the birthplace of the M1 at Springfield Armory, on October 22.
The speaker is author and researcher Bruce N. Canfield, author of “The M1 Garand Rifle” and 11 other books on US military weapons. The virtual tour will be presented by Alex Mackenzie, Curator of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. The event, like the Armory Historic site itself, is designed to appeal to people of a wide variety of interests, not just local, military or firearms history.
Date and time: October 22, 2016, 8:30-12:00 AM
Location: Springfield Armory National Historic Site, 1 Armory Square, Springfield, MA
Sponsor: The Springfield Armory Alliance, the support group for the Springfield Armory NHS.
09:30 The Design and Adoption of the M-1 Rifle, Bruce N. Canfield, author of “The M1 Garand Rifle”
11:00 A Virtual Tour of the locations used in the Design and Manufacture of the M1 Rifle at Springfield Armory, Alex Mackenzie, Curator, Springfield Armory NHS.
11:50 Closing Remarks, James Woolsey, Superintendent, Springfield Armory NHS
Program fee: General public: $15.00. Springfield Armory Alliance members, Smith & Wesson employees, and Smith & Wesson Collectors Association members: Free.
This program is made possible by an educational grant from the Smith & Wesson Corporation.
In addition to this special program, visitors can enloy the permanent and special exhibits on display at the Armory, including "A Century of Service."
This exhibit, dedicated to the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service,will highlight the compelling connection Springfield Armory has with other NPS sites through the history of firearms and the park's unique museum collection. There are pistols from the Alaska National Parks, which were used to protect rangers and visitors from bears, another which was issued to a Director of the National Park Service, a shotgun which on September 11, 2001 was used to defend the Federal Hall National Memorial, and one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite rifles: a Model 1903 sporting rifle made by the Armory in 1905 and carried by Roosevelt for 10 years on three continents. This rifle was formerly on display at Roosevelt’s Long Island home, Sagamore Hill.
Visitors are invited to interact with a giant map of the United States. This map will be coded with images and Springfield Amory Museum case numbers, showcasing the Armory's connections to the other 411 National Parks.
Parking and Admission to the Armory site are free. The Springfield Armory Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/SPARNHS/
They're still out there
A few weeks ago I was invited to have a book signing at a large area gun show. I have only been to one gun show in the last ten years, but had a free weekend and took the organizers up on their gracious offer. On the second day of the show (Sunday) I at was at my table and a gentleman walked in and inquired if I might be interested in a Smith & Wesson M1940 9mm Light Rifle. These are very uncommon and rarely seen on the market. I had written an article on the weapon for American Rifleman several years ago and used the specimen in the NRA's National Firearms Museum to illustrate the piece.
Since the gun does not exactly fit my collecting criteria (post-Civil War U.S. military weapons) I never looked for one of these weapons before but sometimes the best things happen when you aren't seeking them. Anyway, to make a long story short, I told these guy I'd be interested in looking at it and he went back to his car and brought in a beautiful pristine S&W M1940 Light Rifle complete with the magazine (which are impossible to find "on the loose") and a factory sling in matching condition (which the NRA Museum's example lacked). We talked a bit and came up with a mutually agreeable price. He knew the gun was valuable so it wasn't a "sleeper" but neither did he expect to retire on the proceeds of the sale. The gun followed me home and is now safe and sound.
As events transpired I was scheduled to film some additional episodes of American Rifleman television a couple of weeks later. I thought it might be interesting to fire the gun for the program and the American Rifleman guys jumped at the chance. Even though the gun was mint, I didn't have any real qualms about shooting it but made sure it was cleaned very thoroughly after use. It still looks like it did when I bought it. For those who aren't familiar with the gun, below is a link to the article I mentioned above.
I won't go into detail here, but the gun was made under contract by S&W for the British government (hence the 9mm chambering) but it was never used. The weapon was beautifully crafted with the typical gorgeous S&W bluing on the finely milled parts. I've mentioned previously that the "good stuff" rarely shows up at gun shows any more which is true. On the other hand, sometimes you can get lucky. While one's chance of winning the lottery is akin to being struck by lighting, it is zero if you never buy a ticket. Maybe I need to start rethinking gun shows.
Link to American Rifleman article:
World War II - In Color
There have been several television programs over the past couple of years featuring Second World War film footage in color. Many of us who have seen countless black & white films and photographs of WWII over the years found the color footage put different perspective on things and, in many cases, made the conflict that happen 7 decades ago more vivid. There are also a number of original color photos dating from WWII exhibiting various degrees of tint and tone...some look like they could have been taken yesterday and others are faded and washed-out. Most of the really great images from the war, however, are the traditional B&W photos.
My latest book on the M1 Garand Rifle was the first which had color photos, mainly of the rifles and various components, which I think that added a lot to the book. As I started planning my next book, which will have a Second World War theme, I decided early on to use as many color images as possible. Virtually all of the photos of the various weapons will be in color as most were taken fairly recently. However, there just aren't that many good color WWII vintage images.
It occurred to me that with today's digital technology, it possible to "colorize" B&W photos. I looked on the Internet and saw some examples that were very, very good and appeared to be genuine color photos and others where it was glaringly obvious someone didn't really know what they were doing. After some research, I contacted was able to contact a couple of "colorists" who, incidentally, are from Europe who were literal artists. I have "commissioned" several color photos and they have turned out even better than I expected. I'm saving those for the new book but above is "before" and "after" examples of WWII colored photos that was done by another colorist and will not be in the new book.
I think the key to whether or not the colorized images are a good idea is directly proportional to the skill of the artist and the research that was put into the work. For example, if a uniform or equipage has an incorrect color tint, then the historical significance of the image is greatly diminished. On the other hand, if everything is "spot on," I don't think any can legitimately argue that the image is not greatly enhanced. Sure, it may not be the "original" black & white photo. However, it should be remembered that the subject of the "original" photo wasn't black & white either.
History vs. Hardware
After a number of months, the revamp of my website has been completed. The Home Page now features scrolling images of key weapons in each of my books with an ordering link for each. However, the coolest new feature is that I can now upload images onto “Canfield’s Corner.”
As you have already noted, there is an image of a M1941 Johnson rifle along with a bayonet and scabbard and a Marine Paratrooper unit patch. This rifle is one of the favorite pieces in my collection as it is one of relatively few U.S. military weapons of WWII that can be attributed to an individual serviceman and utilization in a specific battle. The fact that this particular rifle was only issued in small numbers to an elite unit makes it even more special. I’ve covered this rifle before a couple articles and in my book on Johnson weapons so I won’t go into detail here. Basically, it is a Johnson rifle with a couple of minor “in theater” modifications found on a number of these rifles issued to the USMC First Parachute Regiment. This was the only U.S. military unit to have had Johnson rifles as part of their TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment). This particular rifle was issued to Marine Paratrooper Clifford Goodin of the 1st Para Reg. and used in combat on Bougainville where it accounted for three Japanese KIAs. The bayonet and scabbard pictured accompanied the rifle during its overseas duty. When I acquired the rifle from Mr. Goodin (who is now deceased) a number of years ago, I was able to get rather detailed hand-written comments from him about his acquisition and use of the rifle. A lot of subsequent research using primary Marine Corps documentation confirmed what he told me. Mr. Goodin later gave me his Marine Paratrooper wings (which are rare since there weren’t many Marine Paratroopers), two of his .45 pistol qualification medals and various and sundry items related to his service in the 1st Parachute Regiment.
All of this is to say that as I get older (there seems to be a lot of that going around), I am more interested in the “back story” of the weapons I collect and write about, along with the story of their development, production and use. This isn’t to say I don’t care about the “hardware” any more, but I get a lot more satisfaction than I used to from researching the context in which the weapons were used. I am now working on my 13th book which will be even more comprehensive and detailed than my last book, The M1 Garand Rifle. I’m not ready to divulge the subject of the book but it will be a massive rework of a book I wrote many years ago. Yes, there will be a lot of information and photos on the actual weapons but there will also be even more documentation and background information on why they were developed, details of their production and their utilization by soldiers and Marines. As the book progresses, I’ll probably start giving some more details. The fact I mentioned the Johnson rifle is a hint as to the subject of the book but, no, it’s not a new book on Johnson weapons.
A magazine article is not a book
After reading the above, you’re probably thinking “duh, that’s obvious.” Well, maybe not. I am prompted to make this comment after reading yet another letter from a reader of an article of mine in American Rifleman magazine. While there have been more than a few on previous articles, the last letter of this type was forwarded to me by the NRA staff regarding an article I wrote a few months ago about the Ithaca Model 37 military shotgun. To quote the first paragraph of the letter…”As always, I enjoyed the history and information in the May Rifleman article ‘Ithaca Earns Its Stripes.” However, I was disappointed that there was no mention of the Mossberg 500 which, I believe, also has as long and colorful military history.” The gentleman then went on the give some information on a Mossberg shotgun he owns that he believes is a military variant (although it isn’t).
After the letter was forwarded to me, I decided to answer the missive with the following reply:Thank you for your recent letter regarding your Mossberg shotgun. I’m sorry you were ‘disappointed’ that my article in the May, 2015 issue of American Rifleman about the Ithaca Model 37 shotgun didn’t mention the Mossberg guns. The reason the Mossberg wasn’t mentioned is the same reason the Winchester, Remington, Stevens and Savage U.S. military shotguns weren’t mentioned; the article was solely on the Ithaca Model 37.” I then went on to mention that my latest book on the subject gives a lot of information on the Mossberg (and all the other) U.S. military shotguns.
Am I missing something here? I can understand if a reader thinks an article is too long, too short, full of misinformation or simply boring, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why someone would complain that it didn’t discuss a subject unrelated to the topic of the article. As I’ve mentioned before, a big challenge in writing magazine articles is the very tight inherent space constraints. A few extra paragraphs, or even pages, is no big deal in a book. However, even a few extra words in a magazine article will result in the editor chopping part of it off. This can be a problem because editors often delete stuff that is important to the overall context of the piece.
It just occurred to me that I recently read an article in Car & Driver about the new Ford Mustang. I think I’ll sit down and send the magazine a letter that I am disappointed that the history of the Chevrolet Corvette was completely left out of the article. Jeez, can’t these people get anything right?
New in the wrapper?
I recently noticed a post on one of the more popular Internet military firearm discussion forums that got me thinking about a topic I don’t believe we’ve discussed here lately. The post in question pertained to a guy who recently acquired a M1903A3 rifle that was covered in cosmoline and “still in the wrapper” and wanted to know whether he should clean the weapon or leave it as is. The responses were fairly evenly divided between “leave it alone” and “clean it up and shoot it.” As I pondered my thoughts on the subject, several things came to mind.
First, let’s dispense with one very common misconception; i.e., any gun found today slathered in cosmoline and wrapped in paper or cloth is a rare and highly valuable item that hasn’t been touched since it left the factory. This is a fallacy. When U.S. military weapons left the factory, they were not coated with cosmoline. They were oiled or given a very thin coat of light grease. The thick, gooey and malodorous cosmoline was intended solely for long-term storage. At the end of World Wars One and Two, the rifles deemed excess to the military’s current needs were typically prepped for long-term storage and generally coated with cosmoline. The vast majority of these guns were prepared in this manner after being rebuilt at some ordnance facility. There were some cases, however, when totally unissued weapons that did not require overhaul were also slated for long-term storage and prepared in the same manner as the rebuilt weapons. Interestingly, for some reason, a surprising number of unissued Smith-Corona M1903A3 rifles were prepared for storage (after being coated in cosmoline) at Ogden Arsenal and the only modification was a “OG” stamp applied to the left side of the stock. Otherwise, after removing the cosmoline, these rifles were exactly in the condition as when they left the S-C factory in 1943-44. A surprising number of cosmoline-coated weapons (rebuilt or otherwise) were sold in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by the DCM. These included M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, M1903s (and ‘A3s), M1917 rifles and M1911/M1911A1 pistols. By the early 1950s, VPI paper and other less messy means of protective storage were devised, much to the delight of many recruits who previously had to clean off the sticky and stinky cosmoline with gasoline and old newspapers.
In any event, the vast majority of purchasers back then were not collectors and bought the guns for shooting, thus immediately cleaned off the cosmoline and started banging away. A few of these guns, for whatever reason(s), remained untouched and put away in the attic or closet. When these weapons were subsequently acquired, especially if the new owner was a collector, he would immediately be faced with a dilemma. Should he clean the gun and have it ready for shooting and/or display it proudly on his gun rack, or should he leave it alone and keep it in the greasy wrapping? As mentioned previously, opinions seem to be almost equally divided on the topic.
While I am always in favor of maintaining a weapon is as close to “as manufactured” condition as possible, this issue still has me arguing both sides. Regardless of what they collect, collectors love and treasure stuff “still in the box.” Since the original box and/or wrapping was removed and discarded probably 99% of the time, almost any sort of collectible (defined here as things no longer made) is much more valuable and much more sort-after than the same item sans box. For example, I have two WWII military production Remington Model 11 riot guns that are, literally, identical except for the serial numbers. Both are absolutely in new and pristine condition. However, one is still in the original Remington factory box (with the serial number of the gun and “Military Contract” printed one end) and the other one isn’t. The boxed gun was originally packed (and still is) with the receiver and stock separate from the barrel with both assemblies in cardboard sleeves inside the box. By the way, the boxed gun is not, and never was, covered in cosmoline. Even though both guns are in the same condition, the one still in the factory box would easily sell for double the amount of the other gun. Someone may ask, what idiot would pay a thousand dollars or so for just a stupid cardboard box? The answer is, a lot of collectors. Actually, they really aren’t paying for the box itself, they are paying for a gun that still remains in its factory box. Some might consider that a difference without a distinction but it’s not. WWII Remington Model 11 shotguns, even in pristine condition, are not all that rare but precious few are still in the original circa 1943 factory boxing. I would never think of taking the gun out of the box, assembling it, and putting it on the wall.
“New in the box” military stuff doesn’t always have to be guns. I’m been fortunate over the years to pick up a number of martial items still in their factory boxes including a M4 Bayonet-Knife, several types of M8 grenade launchers, M10 cleaning rods, M15 sight devices (for M1 and M14 rifles), M15 grenade launching sights and lots and lots of ammunition of all types. As long as they are in my possession, all are staying in the containers in which they left their respective factories.
This still doesn’t fully address the issue of the cosmoline-covered ‘03A3 rifle that started this discussion. Would removing it from the grease and wrapping reduce the value and/or desirability? After giving it a lot of thought, I have reached the conclusion that it probably would…but not to the extent many people might imagine. After all, the cosmoline was applied well after the gun was manufactured and issued (assuming it was issued) and the weapon sat in long-term storage at some ordnance facility somewhere. The gun didn’t leave the factory with the cosmoline on it, so removing it, in my opinion, wouldn’t be nearly the sacrilege that taking a gun out of the original factory box would be. On the other hand, even though the odds are that any U.S. military weapon encountered today covered in cosmoline and in its storage wrapper is almost certainly a post-war rebuild, it is nevertheless kind of cool to find something that still remains in the same condition it was 60 or 70 years ago. Therefore, personally, I would probably keep the gun in the grease and then try to find another as similar as possible to display. On the other hand, your mileage may vary.
In conclusion, even though I am sort of in the “leave it alone” camp in this case, I don’t think those guys who would chose to remove the gunk and shoot the gun are monstrous and vile debasers of military history. I see it as a 51-49 percent thing.
Pay attention to baby carriages
In the four decades I’ve been collecting U.S. military weapons, I’ve encountered many unusual, interesting, bizarre and memorable things. Although I haven’t been to a gun show in over ten years, in the past, I routinely attended gun shows at least once a month. Most were small local shows but two of my favorites were large shows fairly close to home; the Market Hall show in Dallas and the Astro Hall show in Houston. I occasionally set up a table but usually just roamed the rows of tables looking for that hidden gem. When I started writing books, my publisher liked for me to display books at some of the larger shows so I was able to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone and often got a table at the Dallas and/or Houston shows.
One memorable situation occurred about twenty years ago at the Houston show. I was sitting at my table (near the front of the hall) and noticed a non-descript guy coming in pushing a baby carriage. That wasn’t particularly unusual as guys often came to shows with their wife and/or kids. However, when he got closer, I noticed the only thing in the baby carriage were two rifles in cloth cases. When he got in front of my table, I asked him what he had and he replied “…a couple of army rifles,” and from some subsequent comments I could tell he didn’t know much about guns. I asked if I could see the rifles and he first pulled a rather worn and ho-hum M1917 Enfield rifle out of the case. I glanced at it and politely decline any interest in the gun. From the other case he then pulled out a rifle which immediately got my attention. He handed me an extremely nice 1912 vintage M1903 Springfield rifle. It had the beautiful blued finish and lovely walnut typical of ‘03s of that era and was 100% original. It had seen some use but was in very nice shape and had been well-maintained (the bore looked like a mirror). However, when I looked at the left side of the gun, I saw something that made my heart sink. Someone had hand-stamped (and the letters were not very well aligned) the following on the left flat on the rear sight base:
HIRD, F.S. D.M. IA
I had no idea what this indicated and my first thought was that somebody ruined a great rifle by stamping these stupid markings. Although disappointed about what I perceived to be the desecration of a great rifle, I was still interested in buying it as a “project” if I could get it for the right price and thought I could perhaps have the markings buffed out and the sight base refinished. I asked the guy how much he wanted and he named a very nominal sum. I told him he might be able to get more if he shopped it around but he just wanted to dump it and move on, so I bought it. I didn’t think to ask where he got the gun. When I got home, I put the gun in my storage closet until I could decide what to do with it and almost forgot about it for a while.
When I got around to thinking about the gun again, the “Olympic Rifle” part seemed very strange. Since this ’03 was a totally unaltered military variant, I figured there was no way it could have been used in Olympic competition. I did a little research (this was pre-Google days) and found several interesting factoids about the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, including the fact that George S. Patton was a competitor that year in the Pentathlon event. This still didn’t shed any light on the cryptic markings on my rifle so I contacted some guys at the NRA and they sent me a long out-of-print book on Olympic shooting. I casually thumbed through the book to the section dealing with the 1912 Olympics and something immediately got my attention. One of the events was an “Army Rifle Match” which required the use of the unaltered standard military rifle of the participating nations. I had always thought that Olympic firearms were specially crafted precision shooting instruments and never imaged the 1912 U.S. team would have used a standard, unaltered current issue M1903 Springfield…just like the one I got from the guy with the baby carriage. The rifle was made in very early in 1912 and could have easily made it to the Olympics later that year.
I know that anyone can hand-stamp “Olympic Rifle” on a gun so that didn’t necessarily prove anything but it got me thinking about the other markings. More research revealed that one of the “stars” on the American shooting team in 1912, and a gold medal winner, was Captain Fred S. Hird from Des Moines and a member of the Iowa National Guard. All of the sudden, the other markings made sense; “HIRD, F.S. = Fred S. Hird” and “D.M. IA – Des Moines, Iowa.”
Now my attention was really piqued. To make a long story short, I found out everything I could about Captain Hird. I was able to obtain his complete service records including his stint with the Iowa National Guard and the fact he was recalled into service as a Lt. Colonel during WWII after his initial retirement. One of the more interesting documents was a list of the dates of his annual camps with the Iowa NG. The entry for the year 1912 was simply “At Olympics.” I was also able to obtain Hird’s death certificate and learned he had passed away from heart failure in 1952. I made numerous attempts to find any of his descendants, or even a photo of Hird, with no luck whatsoever. I contacted the U.S. Olympic Committee and they sent me a letter on their official letterhead detailing Hird’s shooting accomplishments at the 1912 Olympics. He also competed in the 1920 Olympics (there wasn’t a 1916 Olympics due to the unpleasantness in Europe at that time) but didn’t fare nearly as well as he had in 1912 when he won a Gold Medal.
Okay…so what now? When it comes to establishing the provenance of a gun I am, by nature, extremely skeptical. As I saw it, the rifle could only be one of two things:
Now let’s take a brief look at the relative merits of the two possibilities. First, stamping bogus markings to increase the value and/or desirability of a gun is hardly a rare phenomenon. Such markings can include fake US military stamps on a civilian gun or such other things as “USMC” and the like. It is actually fairly uncommon to find bogus names on guns. In most cases, all but the most hopelessly gullible wouldn’t fall for, for example, G.A. Custer on a Colt SAA revolver or Audie Murphy on a M1 Carbine. Names found engraved or stamped on guns are typically those of a previous civilian owner who, for whatever reason, thought it was cool to do so. Nobody is going to pay anything extra for a gun with Uncle Charlie’s name stamped on it. In fact, unless Uncle Charlie was somebody famous, such markings would seriously devalue the gun to anyone except, perhaps, Uncle Charlie’s close relatives. Since the entire purpose of fake markings is to increase the value of a weapon, it is not logical that someone would go to the trouble of stamping bogus markings which mean nothing to a potential buyer and which would certainly devalue the gun.
Given the above rationalization, it was (and is) my strong opinion that the gun was indeed the one Captain Hird used at the 1912 Olympics. The fact that the rifle would have been brand-new production at the time of the Olympics made sense as the shooting team would certainly have been equipped with the latest rifles. The barrel of my rifle didn’t have the star-gauge marking but since star-gauging of ’03 rifles didn’t start until the early 1920s, this meant nothing. It could have been the early equivalent of a National Match rifle since there were no special features or markings found on such guns. I would have loved to have gotten a letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee stating the serial number of the ’03 used by Hird in 1912 or his diary reflecting the serial number. Unfortunately, such documentation is very, very rare. In the vast majority of cases, all we can do is consider the preponderance of the available evidence and render an opinion accordingly. A pervasive myth is that a person cannot be convicted on just circumstantial evidence. Any lawyer who has been anywhere near a courtroom can tell you that people are convicted all the time on circumstantial evidence. If a court case was held to determine whether or not this rifle was Hird’s Olympic gun, I would rather be the lawyer arguing that it was rather than the one trying to persuade a judge or jury that it wasn’t. In any event, the research to which this this gun led me was an interesting and worthwhile endeavor.
My only regret is that I didn’t look at the M1917 Enfield rifle that was in the baby carriage closer. Who knows, if I had looked hard enough, maybe I would have seen an “A. York – Tenn.” hand-stamped marking!
This is my rifle, this is my gun
Anyone who was in boot camp in the pre-politically correct days or has seen the first half of the movie Full Metal Jacket is familiar with the none-too-subtle way a drill sergeant “helped” recruits distinguish the difference between a “rifle” and a “gun.” For obvious reasons, this specific method of indoctrination wouldn’t work today since we have female recruits in boot camp…but I digress.
The Corps’ long-standing abhorrence to using the word “gun” rather than “rifle” begs the question…is such vernacular incorrect? I’ve heard theories that the reason for such differentiation in the Marine Corps is because the Navy refers to the cannons on warships as “guns,” thus a small arm, such as a rifle, cannot be a gun. Even though they don’t like to admit it, the Marine Corps is part of the Navy, so I suppose this distinction makes some sense. However, is it wrong to refer to a rifle as a “gun?”
In course of research into U.S. military weapons over several decades and, specifically, while perusing boxes of documents and memoranda from Winchester’s “Pugsley Files,” it is undeniable that the U.S. military and related entities frequently used the terms “rifle” and “gun” interchangeably. This true is in untold numbers of documents emanating the U.S. Army, Ordnance and War Departments, Winchester company and scores of other sources. Additionally, I just looked at the Merriam-Webster dictionary and the first definition of “gun” is “…a weapon that shoots bullets or shells.” It certainly seems to me that a rifle fits the definition of a gun. While it wouldn’t have been wise to argue with your DI, there is nothing incorrect in calling a rifle a gun, and vice-versa.
While on the subject of incorrect firearm-related terminology, there is still widespread usage of terms that are actually incorrect. Among the most common is the word “clip” when “magazine” is appropriate. The M1 Garand rifle utilized a clip. The M1 carbine was designed to take a magazine. Clips and magazines are not the same thing but many otherwise astute people often confuse the two. This misuse is so ingrained today that it will still be around well into the next century. Likewise, use of the term “bullet” when “cartridge” or “round” is meant is equally widespread. A “bullet” is a projectile. A cartridge, or round, contains a bullet, powder and a primer. I guess if someone is out of ammunition, he really is “out of bullets” but he’s also out of the other stuff that makes the gun…excuse me, the rifle, go “bang.”
If anyone still wants to argue that a “rifle” should not be called a “gun,” I would refer them to the words of someone who knew a little something about military firearms; John C. Garand. When asked what he thought of the M1 rifle he designed, he commented “She is a pretty good gun, I think.” That’s good enough for me.
I enjoy getting feedback from readers of “Canfield’s Corner,” whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. A long-time reader recently sent me an e-mail and mentioned how helpful my new Garand book was with helping ID the 1941 Springfield M1 rifle he recently purchased. That’s always encouraging.
He also gently admonished me for dwelling too much on the subject of fakes and other “negative” topics and wanted me to get back to the more informative and fun stuff. After pondering his constructive criticism, I soon realized he may have a point. As you know, I am pretty passionate about the plethora of fake stuff around today and I’ve probably more than made my point. I was so focused on this important topic that I got a case of tunnel vision and perhaps didn’t give proper attention to other subjects in some cases. I’m certainly not saying that I’ll never mention fake stuff again, because I know I will, but I do want to pay more attention other topics relating to U.S. martial arms collecting as well.
Another e-mail I received the same day gives me a good opportunity to do this. Hopefully, this will count as an informative and useful brief discussion. This e-mail came from a gentleman who just bought a M73B1 Weaver scope and Redfield mount for the M1903A4 sniper rifle he is in the process of restoring. He is also looking for an original stock (good luck with that!). He asked about the type of finish on original Redfield mounts. He knew that the M73B1 scopes were blued and intended to send it to some outfit to have it reblued because the finish on his scope was rather worn and asked my opinion on the subject. I was able to tell him that the Redfield mounts used on the ‘A4 rifles were generally finished in the typical WWII gray Parkerizing. I mentioned that he might want to think a long time about having the scope reblued. Even if the people he was going to send the scope to could duplicate the original type of bluing (I have no idea whether they can or not), if the rifle and the stock he finds (assuming he does) have the typical wear and tear found on most 70+ year old weapons, a newly blued scope sitting atop everything would look a bit out of place. It is sometimes forgotten that original weapons have consistent wear on all parts. I don’t know how badly the finish on the scope was worn but it would have to be really bad before I’d consider, or recommend, refinishing. Once done, it can’t be undone. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. It should be considered on a case-by-case basis. We should always remember the old adage that a genuine gun may have only 15% (or whatever) of the original finish but a refinished gun has zero percent.
Are they any more genuine U.S. military shotguns around these days?
For those of you who read this site, you know that I often discuss the on-going problem with fake U.S. martial collectibles. Bogus inspection stamps, cobbled-together sniper rifles and refinished guns passed off as originals are rampant and many collectors are, understandably, wary about buying a collectible U.S. military weapon these days.
As I’ve noted before, one of the genres of collecting that is particularly affected is U.S. military shotguns. I’ve been collecting these arms for a number of decades and fakes have been around from the beginning. Many years ago, however, there was often no intent to defraud when an owner of, for example, a civilian Winchester Model 97 shotgun wanted to cut down the barrel and add a surplus handguard/bayonet adapter assembly because he wanted to “create” a trench gun. The guy just wanted a cool gun and either couldn’t find, or couldn’t afford, the genuine article. He wasn’t trying to rip off a sucker at the local gun show. This was back in the day when a real Model 97 trench gun would generally cost only a couple hundred bucks. However, when such a gun changes hands today and the buyer is told it came from "someone who owned it for over thirty years so it has to be real," the gun acquired a totally undeserved patina of originality along with a price tag to match.
While genuine U.S. military shotguns have always been relatively scarce, the demand wasn’t overwhelming until some ten or fifteen years ago when these guns began to attract the attention of collectors who finally realized their scarcity and historical significance. Today, a military riot gun or trench gun is a highly sought-after collectible and prices have reached levels that I never envisioned. Unfortunately, the same is true with fake military shotguns. To be perfectly candid, the overwhelming majority of military shotguns I’ve seen for sale over the past couple of years have been bogus. Some are laughably bad renderings and others are frighteningly good but truly original examples are extremely rare these days. The days of the $200-$300 genuine trench guns are long gone and have been replaced by $3,000 to $5,000+ trench guns. If somebody bought a trench gun in 1975 for $200 and later found out it was fake, there usually wasn’t too much heartburn because the bogus gun could still serve as a perfectly acceptable sporting or self-defense gun. Besides, back in those days, a convention of U.S. military shotguns collectors could be held in a phone booth. As an aside, I wonder if kids today even know what a phone booth is…but I digress.
I recently had an article on the military Ithaca Model 37 shotgun published in The American Rifleman which was followed by a flurry of inquiries from readers who wanted to know if their Model 37 was “the real deal.” As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m not in the business of appraising or evaluating guns but I might make some general observations if the inquirer asks politely. After viewing photos of some thirteen or fourteen guns sent in by readers of the magazine, I was appalled to realize that only one was a totally original military Model 37. The rest were either outright fakes or had some “problems.” Anyone contemplating the purchase of a purported original U.S. military shotgun would be well-advised to be extremely wary and consult a good reference book on the subject. As another aside, not all reference books on the subject around today are accurate.
This problem is not going to go away and there are going to be a lot more unhappy people around when they find out the shotgun they paid a lot of money for, and which is a centerpiece of their U.S. martial collection, is bogus. Unless someone is very, very, very careful and has lots and lots of money, I couldn’t, in good conscience, heartily recommend that they begin collecting U.S. military shotguns today. There are too many pitfalls and the handful of genuine articles floating around in the sea of fraudulent guns have price tags that would dissuade all but the most motivated buyer. While paying a lofty sum for a truly original U.S. military shotgun may still prove to be a sound investment someday, paying the same amount for a fake is a mistake that will still sting decades later. Caveat emptor.
Internet evaluations and other musings
I seem to be hearing from an ever-growing number of guys who have purchased, or are considering purchasing, a U.S. military firearm and ask me to pass judgment on the weapon based on a description of the gun and/or some digital photos. I always try to be helpful, but as I explain in my replies, it simply isn’t possible to adequate evaluate a gun without a detailed physical examination. There are just too many variables and nuances involved that aren’t always apparent from even detailed photos. Sometimes there are glaring “red flags” and I may make mention of the most obvious ones but still cannot (or will not) give my opinion of the weapon in question.
As we may have discussed here before, the internet has totally changed martial arms (and virtually all other types of) collecting. Until ten or fifteen years ago, we collectors had to be content with visiting gun shows or perusing dealer’s printed catalogs to find the stuff we’re interested in. Today, there are a plethora of guns and related items a literal mouse-click away. Is this good or bad? The answer is “yes.”
It is good because we don’t have to spend an entire weekend, a questionable motel room, a couple of tanks of gas and crappy food to search out-of-town gun shows for new acquisitions to add to our collections. It is good because weapons that might never appear at even the larger shows are available at on-line gun auction/sales sites. It is good because it probably brings people into our collecting field that otherwise might not be exposed to the hobby.
It is bad because finding a “sleeper” or hidden bargain at an on-line site is almost never going to happen because too many potential buyers are scouring the sites and an obvious bargain will be snapped up quickly. It is bad because more and more potential purchasers will obviously drive up prices (of course what’s bad for a buyer can be good for a seller). It is bad because the very high (and still escalating) prices have proven to be irresistible to con artists who are eager to cash in on the popularity of the hobby. As one example, the vast majority of U.S. military shotguns I’ve recently seen for sale online are either outright fakes or have some “problems.” This is not to say that fakes weren’t around 30 years ago because they were, but certainly not the extent they are today. There’s just not as much incentive to fabricate a convincing fake of a $300 shotgun as it is for a $5,000 shotgun.
Like it or not, internet shopping for everything is here to stay. As discussed, it is a two-edge sword. Being able to Google almost any question and find out the answer in a few seconds is gratifying and we have all gotten spoiled with such instant gratification. Unfortunately, it just isn’t a reasonable expectation to get a valid evaluation of a collectible firearm by just sending a few photos and hoping to get a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” by return email. I would be very wary of anyone who would give an unequivocal answer in such a manner.
On final piece of advice, if you do order a gun via the internet, make sure it comes with a reasonable return policy!
An Answered letter
I recently received a letter from a gentleman who has two purportedly all-original M1 Carbines that he is thinking about selling. Both of the carbines are supposedly “vet bring backs” and he was given one back in the early 1950s. The potential seller is apparently somewhat chagrined that the collectors and dealers he has contacted do not wish to pay what he feels should be a substantial premium because the carbines were previously in the hands of servicemen in WWII. We have discussed the “vet bring back” thing several times here before but, for some reason, it seems to be coming to the forefront more and more often. As I mention in my response (cited below) to the letter, unless the former owner was a famous or notable historical figure, there would be no real increase in market value even if the name of the “un-famous” owner is known. If it was a family member or friend, then there certainly could be some sentimental value but a subsequent buyer who does not know the former owner simply wouldn’t care and would have little incentive to pay extra for the gun. Such guns should stand on their own merits and “vet bring back” status (which in most cases isn’t true anyway) does not typically incentivize a potential buyer.
Below is my actual response to the letter:
“Dear Mr. ….
Thanks for your recent letter. Unfortunately, for those of us who love U.S. military weapons and, particularly, the history behind them, there is generally no way to “trace” the provenance of a specific weapon. Although this may not apply to at least one of your carbines, the fact that a carbine has been in one place for 50 years, or remains in its original (not-rebuilt) condition is, by no means, ironclad proof that it was brought by home by a WWII serviceman. For example, I have in my collection a like-new absolutely original early Inland carbine (1942 production) with paperwork from the DCM indicating it was purchased by a NRA member in 1963. I have a number of other carbines still remaining in their original WWII configuration (along with some rebuilds) but I do not know the prior lineage of any of these guns. Some may have been former DCM guns (sans paperwork) and others may well have been “vet bring backs” but I have no way of knowing. I always try to remember the sage collector advice of, “Buy the gun, not the story.” I bought the guns because they were desirable collectibles. I would love to have been able to ascertain their provenance but, as stated, that simply isn’t possible.
To be very candid, in my opinion, the whole “vet bring back” thing is quite overblown. Servicemen were not permitted to take weapons home although it is true that a number were “unofficially liberated”, i.e. stolen from the government and smuggled home after the war. That appears to be the case with the two carbines you own. However, unless a weapon can be documented to have been owned by a famous or infamous person (i.e., Audie Murphy) or documented to have been used in a specific battle (i.e., Iwo Jima), there should be little, if any, added value to the market price. A gun such as a carbine should be judged solely on the degree of originality and condition and, with the two exceptions previously noted, prior ownership, while it may be interesting, is essentially irrelevant as to the market price. The background story about these carbines should be preserved but it is doubtful if it would appreciably affect the market price.
In any event, these sound like very nice carbines and I’m sure would garner a lot of collector interest should you choose to dispose of them. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.
USMC ’03 Springfields
U.S. martial arms collectors have long had an affinity for weapons associated with the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines were “customers” of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department and procured the vast majority of the weapons from that source. Therefore, in many cases, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to positively identify a particular U.S. military weapon has having a Marine Corps provenance in the absence of compelling documentation. Such documentation can include discovery of a USMC equipment small arms inventory serial number roster or a citation in the Springfield Research Service (SRS) database. Unfortunately, such documentation is usually unavailable. This can be frustrating to a collector or researcher wishing to establish a semblance of provenance for a weapon he believes (or has been told) has Marine Corps origins. With few exceptions, the Marines did not typically mark their small arms to denote USMC ownership. However, many types of U.S. military arms may be found for sale today with added “USMC” or similar markings, usually accompanied by premium price tags. In virtually all cases, such markings are bogus and many otherwise desirable collectibles have been ruined by such wanton and nefarious actions.
The M1903 rifle has been a very popular U.S. martial arms collectible theme for several decades. Given the fact that the Marine Corps and the Springfield rifle were inexorably linked from the early days of the 20th Century through the end of the Second World War (and beyond) makes an ’03 with USMC provenance a very desirable acquisition. A fairly new phenomenon has arisen and there now seems to be some who are convinced that there are specific modifications to a standard M1903 rifle that somehow “proves” that a particular weapon was a former Marine Corps rifle. These features purportedly include:
· An added (or enlarged) gas escape hole on the left side of the receiver, typically referred to by collectors today as a “Hatcher Hole.”
· The serial number of the rifle etched on top of the bolt body.
· Stippling (a series of rather crudely-applied punch marks) added to a standard plain (non-checkered) buttplate.
· A 1941 or early 1942 dated Sedgley replacement barrel marked “USMC.”
· An unusual yellowish tint to the Parkerizing.
While some documented U.S. Marine Corps rifles have been observed with one or more (perhaps even all) of these attributes, with the exception of the “Hatcher Hole,” the majority of confirmed former USMC rifles have none. There are many Sedgley USMC-marked ’03 barrels seen today with 1943 or later dates and these can be almost dismissed out of hand as ever being used by the Marines. The overwhelming majority of these Sedgley barrels were never used and many were “out of spec” and later demilled by bending and sold as scrap. However, some of these barrels have been straightened (with varying degrees of skill) and added to an ’03 receiver and foisted off on naïve or ill-informed collectors as “genuine Marine Corps” rifles.
It should be readily apparent that any of the above purported USMC attributes can easily be done today by even a marginally skilled machinist or gunsmith. It really isn’t difficult. While these features might be suggestive of a former USMC ’03 rifle, by any stretch of the imagination, they aren’t absolutely definitive. They are simply too easy to fake. Some “internet experts” claim they can absolutely confirm USMC origins of an ’03 by simply looking at photos. To be charitable, such gentlemen have an inflated opinion of their expertise. It certainly would not be fair to dismiss each and every rifle with such features as fake but it would be just as wrong to automatically assume these features somehow prove a Marine Corps provenance. “Could be” and “are” are entirely two different things.
If someone offers you a genuine USMC ’03 rifle for sale but doesn’t have adequate documentation, you would be well-advised not to pay a penny more than you would for an identical rifle without these “attributes.” There is no substitute for convincing documentation.
The Garand “ping” sound again…seriously?
Some things just won’t go away. I’ve written numerous times on the ridiculous urban legend and baseless conjecture regarding the distinctive metallic “ping” sound when an empty M1 rifle clip is ejected. I previously covered this subject in this column, in an American Rifleman Q&A and, rather extensively, in my new M1 book.
At the risk of beating a long-dead horse even more, I’ll very briefly recap the issue for those who may have been living in a cave for the past six or seven decades. Some people are firmly convinced that the ping sound was a "deadly defect" in the M1 as it alerted the enemy that the rifle was empty which rendered said soldier helpless. This bit of fantasy has been repeated ad nauseam in books, articles and some faux-history television programs. I won’t repeat the variations on the tale nor the very valid reasons why this concern is absurd in the extreme.
Just when I thought I’d heard it all, I recently read on one of the popular Internet Garand-related discussion forums that someone postulated that Ordnance actually wanted the ping sound to “remind” the shooter that the rifle was empty. It is very seldom that I post on the forums but I just couldn’t help myself and made an exception in this case. I stated that if a clip ejected several inches in front of the shooter’s face didn’t alert him that the rifle was empty, he shouldn’t be turned loose with a M1 rifle in this first place. The initial poster then responded by saying that if the firing was done at night, perhaps the soldier couldn’t see the clip being ejected and needed the ping sound to alert him that the rifle was empty. Hmmm...I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I’m not the brightest porch light on the block, but if it was so dark that someone couldn’t see a clip being ejected about six inches in front of his face, wouldn’t it be a tad too dark to be shooting at someone several dozen or several hundred yards away? Other posters weighed in and repeated various theories about the negative aspects of the ping sound. At this point, I realized that I had erred in making a post in the first place and stayed silent on the sidelines.
As cited below, there are some interesting subjects that are worthy of debate and conjecture such as the risks of shooting a “low number” M1903 rifle or whether Alvin York was armed with a M1917 or M1903 rifle, among others. On the other hand, there are other subjects that are so silly as to not be worthy of serious discussion. It is clear that the “deadly ping sound” of the M1 Garand is in the latter category. It is firmly ensconced as one of the bulwarks in the pantheon of U.S. martial arms absurd myths along with such classics as the previously-mentioned Mattel M16 rifles and American Can Company M3 submachine guns. But maybe I’m being too closed-minded. After all, everyone knows that if it is in a book, on television or on the Internet, it has to be true.
Myth or Reality?
Those of us who are interested in firearms in general, and U.S. military weapons in particular, have to contend with a lot of controversial subjects and some enduring myths. The former include such things as the wisdom of firing “low numbered” M1903 rifles and what type of rifle Alvin York used in World War I. The latter includes things addressed in this site before such as the “deadly ping sound” of an ejected M1 rifle clip and that Mattel Company manufactured M16 rifles. On topic that touches on both categories is the combat effectiveness of the .30 caliber M1 carbine.
Even though most of you who read this column are aware of the origins of the M1 carbine, perhaps a brief recitation may be in order. The semiautomatic carbine was developed primarily as a light weight weapon for officers and some troops (crewed-served weapons personnel, etc.) whose primary duties would prelude carrying a standard full size and weight service rifle. The carbine was chambered for a .30 caliber cartridge much smaller than the .30-06 service rifle cartridge. In reality, the weapon was designed to be a replacement for the .45 pistol and was never intended to take the place of the Garand rifle.
Even though the carbine had less power, range and accuracy than the M1 rifle, its light weight and rapid-firing capability appealed to many combat soldiers who grew weary of carrying around the 10 pound Garand. Once in combat, the limitations of the carbine as a substitute for the service rifle became apparent and many soldiers ditched their carbines in favor of the heavier, but more powerful, Garand. Thus the misconception that the carbine was a badly flawed combat weapon was born. Yes, compared to the Garand, the carbine was much less powerful, had less range and was less accurate. No question about it. However, as stated, the carbine was never intended as a replacement for the Garand. When compared to the .45 pistol (the weapon for it was intended to replace), the carbine fares quite differently. Yes, the point-blank stopping power of the .45 ACP round is undeniable. The problem is that any pistol, including the superb M1911, is not very effective at ranges much beyond 25 yards or so in the hands of an average shooter. The U.S. WWII submachine guns (Thompson and M3 grease gun) made up for this lack of range and accuracy by throwing a lot of .45 ACP bullets downrange in a hurry. Even with the submachine guns, however, hitting a target more distant than 100 yards or so was pretty problematic. The carbine, on the other hand, was accurate in the hands of a decent marksman at several hundred yards. At that range, the comparatively high velocity of the .30 carbine round was more effective than the near-terminal velocity of the ponderous 230 grain ACP bullet. In other words, the average shooter could hit a target much easier with a carbine than with a pistol. This truism was the driving force behind the development of the carbine in the first place. Yes, a M1 rifle would be more effective than the carbine at all ranges but it is unfair and misleading to compare it to the Garand. They were designed for entirely different purposes. If a carbine was used in lieu of a Garand, it would indeed be judged deficient. On the other hand, a hit with a carbine bullet would be infinitely better than a missing with a .45 pistol bullet.
While the efficacy of the carbine can be rationally debated, the subject is not without its enduring myths, or at least questionable assertions, as well. One of the more pervasive of these is the oft-told tale about the miserable failures of the carbine against the Chinese Communists in Korea. The most common fable is how the carbine bullet was unable to penetrate the heavy quilted coats worn by our Chinese adversaries. There are numerous anecdotes of our soldiers and marines emptying the magazines of their carbines into on-rushing Chinese and having the enemy hardly flinch because their coats made them immune to the anemic .30 caliber carbine bullets. This fable seems to be somewhat akin to the infamous myth about the Garand’s “deadly clip ping” sound. In a number of cases, one wonders how many times the enemy soldier was actually hit. Most of the carbines employed in Korea were M2s which were notoriously inaccurate in full-automatic mode because of the high rate of fire. There were certainly numerous instances when magazines were, in fact, emptied but few of the bullets hit the target although the shooter undoubtedly assumed the opposite. Also, it is doubtful in the extreme that a carbine bullet could not penetrate an overcoat. This myth is easily deflated by taking a heavy overcoat (or multiple overcoats), quilted or otherwise, and setting it up a hundred yards down range and shooting it with a carbine. Unless the coat had a Kevlar liner, it will surely be penetrated with each shot (assuming the shooter was on target!).
Comparing the carbine to the Garand is like comparing a pickup truck to an 18-wheeler. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you want to move a dresser to a new apartment across town, both would work although the pickup would be much more practical. On the other hand, if you want to move tons of material across country, the 18-wheeler would be the only way to go. They are both useful and functional vehicles but if you try to replace a Freightliner with a Ford F-150, you’re going to be very unhappy indeed!
Should you "invest" in U.S. Military Weapons?
We’ve discussed this topic on this site before, but I continue to be asked if collectible U.S. military weapons are good investments. Having accumulated quite a few weapons of this type over the years, I’ve pondered the same thing. In my “day job” as a banker, I am well aware of the importance of maintaining a balanced investment portfolio.
Whether or not collecting U.S. military weapons is a sound investment strategy depends on several variables; one of most basic of which is how one defines an “investment.” In these days of a problematic national (and global) economy, a volatile stock market and almost zero returns on bank Certificates of Deposit and Savings account, we all are looking for relatively safe investments with reasonable rates of return. This still begs the question, do collectible U.S. military weapons, qualify as sound investments?
If an investment is defined as an asset that will experience future appreciation in value, the answer is a qualified “probably.” I’ve been collecting such weapons for several decades and, in general, prices have never experienced an across-the-board long-term retrenchment. Sure, there have been numerous “peaks and valleys” over the years but prices have generally shown an upward trend. Naturally, some types of weapons have gained in value more than others, most notably the Class III (full auto) stuff. Likewise, other guns such as 1911/M1911A1 .45 pistols, and high-quality examples of M1 Garands, M1 Carbines and M1903 rifles have steadily increased in value. Likewise, less common guns such as M1941 Johnson rifles and U.S. military trench shotguns continue an upward spiral in prices which still show no sign of abatement.
Since the best predictor of future behavior is past performance, then all things being equal, collectible U.S. military weapons should be desirable investments using the above-stated definition. However, this does not mean we should cashing out our 401Ks or divesting our stock holdings to buy weapons. Remember the key term “all things being equal.” There are a number of considerations to ponder and each individual’s financial situation is unique. Therefore, the byword is “caution” and the ancient adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is still appropriate. That being said, let’s look at some of the variables and considerations.
While almost any U.S. military weapon is worth more today than it was ten or twenty years ago, the examples that have appreciated, and will continue to appreciate, in value are those in excellent or better condition. Marginal guns will never have the value or upward price appreciation as those in stellar original condition. As one old-time collector once told me, “junk will always be junk.” I have always advised that, apart from originality, the most important criteria in deciding what type of weapon to buy is condition. Yes, a gun in premium condition will almost always cost a lot more than one in lesser condition but it will unquestionably maintain its value much better. A collector should always strive to buy a gun in the best possible condition he can find (and can afford). Buying a gun at a “bargain” price may not always be the best course of action. In my opinion, it is better to have one weapon in truly exceptional condition than a dozen junkers.
Secondly, liquidity must be considered. While quality original U.S. military weapons will likely maintain their value and experience future price increases, they should not be considered as liquid assets. Most of you are familiar with the concept of liquidity which, simply put, is how easily an asset can be converted into cash. Yes, a mint-conditioned original M1941 Johnson rifle, for example, can bring $6,000 to $8,000 but a potential seller must find a buyer willing and able to write a check for such a non-essential purchase. If said seller is in no hurry, he can probably find such a buyer but it will likely take more than a couple of days. However, if the seller has time constraints due to pending medical expenses, or a soon-to-be-delinquent mortgage payment, he may not have the time to find the right buyer to maximize the selling price. This can often mean selling the gun for a fraction of its real value due to time constraints. In other words, don’t buy a weapon unless you are reasonably sure you can hold it for an indefinite period of time.
Another factor to consider is the future of firearm ownership in this country. Frankly, this isn’t something I lose a lot of sleep over, but should be a definite consideration. As long as the stuff we collect can be freely sold, those nearing retirement age, or who are faced with unforeseen financial considerations and need to dispose of their collections, should be okay in this regard. However, if there are more onerous government restrictions put on the ownership of guns, then all bets are off. By the way, this doesn’t necessarily have to be on the Federal level. Just ask those Californians who started collecting M1 carbines twenty-five years ago how state laws can put a crimp in one’s collecting aspirations.
In conclusion, I don’t think anyone should buy a U.S. military weapon solely as an investment. We should purchase the stuff because we enjoy collecting it. The fact that it will likely increase in value in the future is, as we say in Louisiana, “Lagniappe” (you can look it up if you don’t know what that is!) but should not be the prime motivation for parting with your hard-earned bucks.
Any investment including IRAs, 401Ks, mutual funds, individual stocks, real estate, cash, commodities, etc., etc. have advantages and drawbacks. On the other hand, a M1 Garand is much more fun to have around than a R.E.I.T. or second-tranche Ginnie Mae MBS. Just remember to hedge your bets!
On a closing note, I had a friend who recently told me that if things really go down the drain in this country, I should be ready by stocking up on gold and canned food in order to survive. My response was that I have a lot of guns and ammunition, so if it really “hits the fan,” I can get all the gold or food I want!
Combat use of the M1903A3 Rifle
It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog but reviewing the galley proofs for the new Garand book, filming for the TV show and general work stuff have taken a lot of my time. I will comment at some point on the current hysteria in the national media over “assault weapons,” high-cap magazines, etc. but want to wait to see what occurs with the pending legislation. In the meantime, I thought I’d try to answer a question that seems to be the subject of a lot of confusion and incorrect assertions. The question is “Was the M1903A3 rifle used in combat in WWII?” Some guys claim it saw no use whatsoever and others insist it was widely used. Both are incorrect.
The short answer is “yes,” but a bit of clarification is necessary. For some reason, a lot of people apparently believe that all M1903 Springfield rifles are ‘03A3s. This, of course, is totally wrong. In actuality, the ‘A3 was a WWII bolt-action rifle designed to be an expedient weapon to be manufactured on existing M1903 production machinery in order to supplement the limited supply of the standardized M1 Garand. The ‘A3 had a number of differences from the earlier ’03 including a receiver-mounted rear sight and numerous manufacturing shortcuts including a lot of stamped metal parts to replace the forged parts. It is a fact that the ’03 (not the ‘03A3) saw a lot of combat use in WWII, especially by the USMC in the early Pacific battles. In fact, the initial campaign of the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal was fought with ‘03s. The HBO series “The Pacific” depicted ‘03A3s in the hands of the Marines on Guadalcanal but this is historically inaccurate. The Marines used the earlier standardized M1903 rifles during the campaign. Even after there were sufficient M1 Garands on hand to equip most Army and Marine combat units, a number of ‘03s still remained in use as grenade launching platforms due to problems encountered in developing a satisfactory grenade launcher for the M1. Some modified M1903A1 rifles were fitted with Unertl target telescopes and used by the Marines as sniper rifles. The standard U.S. Army sniper rifle of WWII was the M1903A4 which was simply a slightly modified M1903A3.
All of the above still doesn’t answer the original question. While the ‘03A3 was intended to be a supplemental weapon to augment the standardized Garand, there were some limited cases where ‘A3s found their way to combat units. This is confirmed by a number of WWII vintage photos depicting ‘A3s in combat. One famous photo clearly shows a M1903A3, along with a M1903A4, being fired at the Japanese from a hillside position in Burma. Also, while most of the grenade launching rifles were standard ‘03s, there were some ‘A3s “drafted” into grenade launching service as well. It is true, however, that the majority of ‘A3s that were issued were used by support units, MPs and other ostensibly non-combat units. Actually, the majority of the almost one million‘03A3 rifles produced never left the states. This explains why it is one of the more common WWII U.S. military weapons found in unaltered condition today.
In conclusion, I suppose the best answer to the question of the ‘03A3 rifle saw combat service in WWII would be, “yes, it did see some limited combat use.”
Alvin York – ’03 or M1917?
I have always found it interesting, if not amusing, when a particular topic elicits a lot of controversy on an internet forum discussion site. It is appalling how some of the respondents can really get nasty and call someone with an opposing point of view all sorts of ugly names. None of these people would say anything remotely like that to the other guy’s face which, of course, is nothing but cowardice…but I digress. That is another discussion for another time.
nother contentious ’03-related topic that pops up from time to time is the question as to what type of rifle Alvin York used during his amazing and heroic exploits of World War I. Some guys are absolutely convinced that he used a ’03 Springfield and other are equally sure he utilized a M1917 “U.S. Enfield.” Both sides come up with various reasons or conjecture that purportedly support their respective positions. Before I chime in with my opinion, let’s look at some of the more common arguments made:
Contention - One of Alvin York’s sons stated that his father used an’03 during the war.
Response - This means nothing. Does anyone know that York’s son knew anything about guns and could tell the difference between a ’03 and a M1917? More importantly, children can be wrong about what their parents had or did. A good example (which I think I related here sometime ago) was an incident a number of years ago at a large gun show. A guy (probably in his 30s at the time) came up to my table and asked if I’d like the see the gun his father carried ashore on D-Day. I said sure, and he produced a Universal M1 carbine. Despite the fact that this was a commercial production weapon made in the 1980s, he was still absolutely convinced this was the gun his father had with him on Omaha Beach in 1944. I’ve also heard kids claim that their grandfather used a .30-30 rifle in WWI or their dad had a Mattel-made M16 in Vietnam. So much for the veracity of offspring! Also, at least two of York’s sons did not even agree on the type of rifle their father used.
Contention – The 1940 movie “Sgt. York” (starring Gary Cooper) pictured the intrepid Tennessean armed with a M1903 rifle (actually it was an Bannernam ersatz ’03). Since York was a “technical advisor” on the film, this had to be the correct weapon he used or he would have said so and insisted that the proper rifle be depicted.
Response - If York was so insistent on historical accuracy regarding firearms in the film, then why was Gary Cooper carrying a Luger instead of the M1911 .45 pistol that York actually used? Supposedly, it was because the M1911 could not readily function with blanks, but that still doesn’t excuse its inclusion if A.Y. was so concerned with technical accuracy regarding the weapons used in the movie. Also, why was Gary Cooper clean-shaven when York had a prominent mustache? If someone looks to Hollywood to support their historical assertions, then any of their conclusions are, to say the least, suspect.
Contention – A statue depicts York with an ’03 rifle.
Response – So what? I’ve seen works of art supposedly depicting a Civil War soldier armed with a .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield rifle. Most paintings, and many statues, either depict the subject with an incorrect gun or one that is barely recognizable. An artist is rarely concerned with such details and concentrates on the person that is the subject of the painting or statue. Few give a rip about the type of gun shown. In any event, the statute in question was commissioned after York’s death so he hardly had an opportunity to confirm or refute that the proper rifle was depicted.
Contention – York was a noted marksman and would have preferred an ’03 because it was more accurate and he could have picked up one from the battlefield.
Response – Where to start? First, the ’03 is certainly an accurate rifle. However, for combat use, I don’t think it is any better, indeed probably not as good, as a M1917, primarily because of the design of the latter’s rear sight (the receiver-mounted peep aperture close to the eye).
Secondly, York’s unit was definitely armed with M1917 rifles. There is no doubt about this. He may have seen an ’03 somewhere, but his issue weapon (and the one for which he was accountable) was a M1917. Remember, he was a Corporal at the time of his exploits and would almost certainly have been reluctant to throw away a perfectly good rifle (which he had trained with and was intimately familiar) for a discarded ’03 that may or may not have functioned properly. Sure, he could have picked up and used an abandoned ’03, but “could have” and “did” are entirely different matters. He “could have” used an abandoned French Lebel, British SMLE or German Mauser but I wouldn’t bet on it.
OK, by now I suppose you can guess where I come down on the subject. Suffice it to say that all reasonable evidence points to the fact that York used a M1917 rifle for the reasons cited above. Is it remotely possible that he could have used an ’03 instead? Sure, almost anything is possible. However, in the absence of proof, we have to go with what is more logical and more likely. In this context, I think the M1917 wins out hands down over the ’03 theory. I know this posting probably won’t change anyone’s mind one way or the other and the controversy will go on.
By the way, if York did use an ’03, I wonder if it was a “low number” or “high number”!
It may be happening faster than I thought!
I recently got an e-mail from a reader of this site who is tracking the prices of M1A1 carbines on today's market. Below is his e-mail (I'll leave his name out in the interest of privacy) in which he cited an article I wrote on this site back in 2008 that was apparently more prescient than I originally anticipated!
The auction house description is in blue, the reader's comment in red and the original (2008) article is in black.
RIA M1A1 carbine sold $8,050 December 2011
I keep thinking back to your article written in 2008 as shown below.
"Yet Another Look at Prices. (2008)
6 Common Mistakes Collectors Make
One saying I’m fond of is, “make new mistakes” which is another way of saying “learn from your mistakes.” None of us are immune to making mistakes and I certainly have made more than my fair share along the way. Below are several common mistakes made by some fledging (and sometimes not so fledgling) collectors:
1. Acquiring a group of guns with no discernable theme.
There is a difference between a collection and a bunch of guns. Of course, there is nothing wrong with owning a number of unrelated guns but I believe that in order to be fairly categorized as a “collection,” there must a discernable theme to the accumulated guns. For example, I think one would be hard-pressed to describe a grouping of a Browning A-5 shotgun, a Luger pistol, a Ruger .22 rifle, a S&W Model 10 revolver, a replica Colt M1860 percussion revolver and a Glock semiautomatic pistol as a “collection.” Other than the fact they are all obviously guns, there is no common thread or theme tying them together.
The scope of a collection can range from very broad to quite specific. As an example, one might want to assemble a collection of U.S. military firearms ranging from the Revolutionary War through World War II. Such guns as a M1795 Springfield flintlock musket, a Model 1842 percussion musket, a M1861 rifle-musket, a .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield, a .30-40 Krag, a M1903 Springfield, a M1917 Enfield, a M1 Garand and M1 Carbine would give an interesting and appropriate glimpse of the progression of U.S. military weapons over almost 200 years. I don’t think anybody could argue that such an assemblage of weapons can properly be called a collection.
On the other end of the spectrum, I know guys who want to own an example of every single variant of a particular weapon. One gentleman is really into U.S. Krags and has almost 100 examples reflecting the minutest variants possible and can talk ad infinitum about the intricacies of each one. Is this a collection? Obviously so. Most collections fall somewhere between the two extremes but the point is that a collection can be as broad or narrow as the collector wishes, but there should be a common theme to the grouping.
. Focusing on quantity rather than quality.
Certainly all of us, regardless of the size of our disposable income bank account, want to get the best deal possible whenever we buy a gun. However, there are many times when cheaper is not better. In the collecting world, other than originality, the most important attribute of a gun is condition. As one old-time collector sagely advised me years ago, “junk will always be junk.” It behooves a collector to buy a gun in the best possible condition that he can afford. Sure, he may be able to buy three mediocre guns for what one pristine original may cost but which will give the greatest satisfaction of ownership and which will appreciate more in the future? There is no question but that a one really quality gun will always be worth more than a few more guns in much lesser condition. Even in these uncertain economic times, the really high-quality collectible firearms are selling at ever-increasing prices while the run-of-the-mill examples continue to fetch ho-hum prices, if they sell at all. Quality will always be King.
3 Not doing their homework
Another bit of valuable advice is to “buy a book before you buy a gun.” I have heard some beginning collectors say they would like to buy a book on a particular gun before they make a purchase but don’t want to spend the money that could otherwise be used to buy firearms. This is a perfect example of “pennywise and pound foolish.” I have never understood why someone would spend several hundred to several thousand dollars on a gun without really knowing what he was buying. Regardless of the type of gun, there are probably a number of collector-oriented books on the subject that could be consulted before parting with one’s hard-earned money. It must be said, however, that some books are better than others and none should be taken as absolute infallible gospel. I think I own almost all books that have been published on U.S. military firearms. While all contain errors, most give valuable information. Even the bad ones usually have some redeeming features. In fact, I can only think of one such book (on the M1 Garand) that I found to be absolutely worthless and regret buying. Someone contemplating the purchase of a collectible weapon should consult as many books as possible on the subject and cross-reference the information to see where the authors agree and disagree. While there is always a risk of getting screwed when you buy a gun, there is no excuse for not obtaining as much information as possible before one opens their wallet or checkbook.
4 Believing everything they read or hear
This mistake is somewhat related to the one above. Just because something is in a book, does not mean it is correct. Likewise, just because someone decides to disseminate their knowledge at a gun show or other venue does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that their bloviating is accurate. The sheer amount of “BS” often spread around at gun shows is nothing short of amazing. The same is true, perhaps even more so, on internet firearms discussion forums. When I have a bit of spare time, I sometimes log in to see what is being discussed. It is always amusing when a particular topic results in a flurry of postings. Some of the opinions given are right on target while others are hilariously wrong. The problem is that some neophyte collectors can’t wade through such discussions without becoming perplexed as to what is valid information and what is bovine excrement. As stated above, it is vitally important for one to acquire as much correct information as possible in order to keep from getting hosed by those wishing to take advantage of ignorance or naiveté.
5 Using stocks or other parts with fake markings when restoring a gun
I know from first-hand experience how frustrating it can be when trying to find genuine parts of the appropriate type and condition with which to restore a gun. This doubly true when it comes to finding the right stock with right inspection markings. It is inarguable that a gun having the proper stock with genuine markings is much more desirable (and valuable) than a gun with an unmarked or incorrectly marked stock. This fact has resulted in the widespread practice of having bogus markings stamped on stocks in order to replicate the correct markings. Several collecting themes, especially M1 rifles and carbines, have been adversely affected by this insidious practice and any stock with a visible inspection stamp is often looked upon today with the utmost suspicion, often with good reason.
As tempting as it may be to “enhance” a stock by having bogus markings applied, it is a much wiser course of action to wait until a stock with the proper markings can be obtained. I’ve seen some very nice original stocks ruined by the application of fake markings in order to turn them into something they never were. As I’ve said here before, a rifle with an unmarked genuine stock is infinitely preferable to a rifle having a stock with bogus markings. Even if every other part is genuine, the presence of even one fake component casts doubts on the entire gun.
6 Buying the story and not the gun
Those of you who have been reading this site for some time probably knew this one was coming! Without question my one of my favorite sayings is “Buy the Gun, Not the Story.” There are numerous examples where this saying is apropos. These can range from tales that a particular gun was owned by a famous or infamous person without a shred of proof to a WWI or WWII U.S. military weapon that is touted as being a “vet bring-back.” As we have discussed here before, in the vast majority of cases, this isn’t true or, at best, can’t be verified. Without proof of provenance, one should buy a gun based solely on its merits (originality, condition, etc.) and not pay a penny extra for the fanciful story that may accompany the weapon. If, by some miracle, the story is later confirmed as being true, well and good. If not, then the collector bought a good gun at a fair price and didn’t pay a premium for a fairy tale.
Some Garand musings
From time to time, I still try to pop in and visit some of the Internet firearm/collector-related forums to see what is going on. Not surprisingly, interest in U.S. martial arms continues to be strong. As we have discussed here before, the M1 Garand is among the most popular collecting genres as well as being a favorite among many shooters (casual and serious). The availability of M1s via the CMP is a prime catalyst for the continued popularity of the weapon and I see no sign of this abating anytime soon. Back in “the good old days,” the CMP did not hold their really premium rifles to be auctioned. Initially, the CMP didn’t grade their offerings and a buyer got the “luck of the draw.” Naturally, some were luckier than others. I recall seeing brand-new Winchester WIN-13s, unaltered WWII Springfields and a number of new post-war IHC, HRA and Springfield M1s sold at the same price as the typical post-1945 arsenal rebuilds. The CMP eventually wised up and started the “Collector Grade” program with prices raised to a level well beyond the typical overhauled example. There are supposedly only a few collector grade rifles to be had, and the handful that would qualify as such are now auctioned off to the highest bidder. This would certainly seem to make sense as it is the CMP’s goal to raise as much money as possible for the litany of programs the entity sponsors.
I have noticed with a mixture of amusement and consternation some of the comments posted on several of the more popular military firearm-related internet forums. The common thread seems to be that the CMP is screwing the average Joe who can’t afford the prices that the really primo M1s are bringing at auction. I can understand the desire to want something we can’t afford. More often, however, it is a matter of priorities. A lot of these guys who complain about the CMP’s “flagrant disregard” for capitalism and the free market could probably afford one of these gems if they cut back on their discretionary spending on other things. No, they would rather keep all their other goodies yet get their panties in a wad when somebody throws a lot of money at a rifle that the CMP is auctioning off. Maybe the guy who spends that much on one of the auctioned rifles is Daddy Warbucks but, in a number of cases, he is simply an average working guy who cuts back spending money on stuff he doesn’t really need in order to buy something he really wants.
Some of these same guys who decry the CMP’s “greediness” (I’ve actually seen that term used in this context) denigrate pristine collector Garands as “closet queens,” often with the subtle suggestion that the guy who owns one is somehow less masculine than the guy who buys and regularly shoots an average CMP rebuild. This is akin to the famed Aesop fable about sour grapes. As I’ve mentioned here before, there is sometimes a running feud between collectors and shooters, but I see no reason it should be an “either-or” situation. If a guy wants to buy a nice Garand and keep it in a bank vault, whose business is that but the owner’s? On the other hand, if a guy wants to buy a Garand (pristine, well-worn or somewhere in the middle) and shoots it every day until the barrel melts, who cares? It is his gun and if he enjoys blasting away, fine and dandy. I fall somewhere in the middle ground but do not fault guys on either side of my position. As I get older, I become more and more of a “live and let live” person. If someone wants to do something and it doesn’t negatively affect me or harm others, I really don’t care. Life is way too precious and short to worry about what other people do or don’t do. Both “Safe Queens” and “Range Sluts” (I just made that term up!) have their place in the grand scheme things. I own and enjoy both types and don’t really care if someone doesn’t like one type or the other. People are free to spend their money however they wish.
Some semi-random thoughts on gun collecting today
It’s been a while since we’ve discussed the current situation regarding gun collecting and related issues. Arms collecting in general, and collecting U.S. military weapons specifically, continue to attract many individuals from all walks of life. Even in today’s uncertain political and economic times, interest in the hobby remains strong. While many collectibles have plunged in value, I have seen no discernable retrenchment in prices for quality U.S. martial arms. It does appear that some items remain on the market longer than may have been the case in the past, but the good stuff continues to fetch decent prices. Even second-tier quality items are moving and prices seem to be stable, if not increasing slightly. All types of arms continue to attract buyers and among the most notable are:
M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, military shotguns, M1911/M1911A1 pistols, M1903 rifles (all variants), Johnson rifles as well as bayonets and many other types of accessories and accouterments. Prices for the Class III (full auto) stuff are amazingly high and are still climbing. I wish I had bought a lot more machine guns back in the 1980s as they have increased in value much better than almost any other commodity I can think of. I think the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the First World War (2014) will result in additional interest in the relics from this conflict. World War I M1903 and M1917 rifles, M1911 pistols, M1917 Colt and S&W revolvers and trench shotguns are already highly sought-after items and the desirability will almost certainly accelerate in the next couple of years. Those waiting for the prices to come down before they buy are going to miss the boat. It might be wise to bite the bullet (no pun intended) and acquire some of these weapons now. However, as I always caution, be extremely wary of fakes as the high prices these things are bringing make fakery a very profitable enterprise.
The WWII weapons remain among the most popular collectibles and the prices have remained strong and show signs of going even higher. M1 Garands and M1 Carbines continue to dominate the collectible market. The availability of Garands from the CMP is more than sufficient to satisfy the market for those interested in shooting or simply want to own a “representative example” of a M1 rifle. Very few truly collector-grade Garand emanate from the CMP any more although they do appear on the open market from time to time, typically with hefty price tags attached. The problem with fake stuff on Garands, especially stock inspection stamps, is still a huge problem and collectors who are seeking original items must tread warily. The same is true with M1 Carbines although, possibly, to a slightly lesser extent.
This high demand (with matching prices) naturally narrows the field of potential buyers. This has resulted in the growing practice of turning more common variants into rarer and more valuable variants. Among the most common practice of this sort today is mounting a Redfield mount and Weaver-type telescope on a M1903A3 rifle to create something that looks like a M1903A4 sniper rifle. Such converted rifles are often referred to as “clones.” Most of the guys who do this are doing it for their own satisfaction with no nefarious intentions involved. While opinions regarding such practices vary, it can be argued that anybody should be able to do whatever they wish with their personal property. No argument here. I would only add a caveat that it would be unfortunate to take an original ‘A3 and drill and tap it to create a “look-alike” ‘A4. On the other hand, if someone runs across a rifle that has previously been drilled and tapped, then all bets are off and such rifles are fair game. I have a friend who recently brought by my office a very nice late 1930s Springfield M1903 with Type C stock that he wanted to drill and tap to create a “replica” M1903A1 USMC/Unertl Sniper rifle. I convinced him (I think) to keep the original rifle intact and look for a receiver that has previously been drilled and tapped by a prior owner (they’re not hard to find). By the way, I’ve written on this site before my thoughts regarding the various euphemisms for put-together guns including the afore-mentioned “clone.” I recently heard another one that I want to add to the list. Somebody had turned a M1903A3 into a M1903A4 “clone” and called it an “A-Forgery.” It took me just a moment to get the humor but it is one of the better ones I’ve heard in a while. In closing, good luck in your collecting endeavors and I humbly give the following advice:
Buy the gun, not the story.
Buy a book before you buy a gun.
Buy the best quality you can afford.
Don’t ruin a perfectly good gun by trying to turn it into
something it’s not.
The “Deadly Ping”
Long-time readers of this site probably remember my posting some time ago titled “An Enduring Urban Legend” that discussed the widespread and oft-repeated (even on some television faux-history programs) myth regarding “danger” involved with the distinctive metallic ping that the M1 Garand rifle’s clip makes when ejected. I don’t want to repost the original blog here, but I subsequently covered the topic in a fairly recent Q&A in the American Rifleman (repeated below):
“Q. Despite all the accolades that have been heaped on the M1 Garand rifle, a deadly defect is rarely mentioned. It is my understanding that the pinging noise made when the clip was ejected resulted in many of our troops being killed because it signaled the enemy that the rifle was empty and the soldier defenseless until he could reload. I was wondering why this flaw wasn’t envisioned and fixed when the rifle was being developed so as to prevent such unnecessary casualties.
A. While there were multiple variations, most of the associated stories to which you allude generally involved tales of a wily Japanese or German hearing the distinctive metallic “ping” of an ejected clip, charging across open ground and shooting or bayoneting (depending on the story) the hapless GI or Marine while he fumbled around trying to reload his M1 rifle. A novel twist on the tale involved dropping empty M1 clips on the ground and then mowing down the bad guys when they fell for the ruse and foolishly revealed their positions. Such stories were not limited to World War II as similar situations were related as having occurred during the Korean War when empty Garand clips could be heard hitting the frozen ground.
If examined with any degree of objectivity, such a scenario is quite implausible. As anyone who has experienced combat can testify, a battlefield is a noisy and confusing environment. To believe that an enemy soldier could hear the sound of an ejected M1 clip several hundred, or even several dozen, yards away is illogical. Even if the enemy could hear the ping, there wouldn’t be much he could do about it as an infantryman with a little practice, and a lot of incentive, can reload a M1 rifle surprisingly fast. Even if a GI couldn’t reload fast enough, there were fellow squad members around with loaded weapons who would have been only too willing to send the bad guys to their fate in the hereafter.
This alleged defect of the M1 rifle apparently began making the rounds soon after the weapon’s introduction into service in 1936. Despite the ubiquitous claim that has been around over seventy years, there has not been one documented instance of an American serviceman being killed (or wounded) because of the noise of an ejected M1 clip. When asked to produce evidence that this actually happened, some vague answer is usually given that somebody, somewhere, knew someone who somehow had been killed because of a noisy M1 clip. To use today’s vernacular, this “urban legend” will probably be around for another seventy years. While there may be legitimate reasons to criticize the M1 rifle, the sound of its ejected clip being some sort of “deadly defect” is not among them.”
The Q&A elicited a lot of comments, both on some Internet firearms discussion sites, and correspondence to the American Rifleman staff. The vast majority of the comments were along the lines of “Thank you for putting that ridiculous myth to rest." Of course, some of the “Internet Experts” as well as a few readers of the magazine took me to task for daring to contravene the well-established “fact” about the extreme hazards of the M1’s noisy clip ejection. One letter that was forwarded to me was most interesting. Below is the letter and my subsequent response (both were printed in the magazine):
“I just got off the phone with my Dad to confirm the Garand clip experiences he had told me. First off, he is Robert Emary and served in the 101st 506th Regiment I Company. When the war ended he was a Tech Sergeant and First Sergeant for I Company. He was a replacement and fought from Market Garden to Berchtesgarten. He said at Bastogne it was very common practice to bait the Germans by squeezing and releasing an empty clip to get the ”ping” and a lot of times somebody would stand up and that was the end of them. Initially the Germans always seemed to know the exact time to expose themselves to put accurate fire on someone who just emptied their Garand. We knew they could hear the clips coming out and also figured they were counting rounds. He said this happened pretty regularly at Bastogne because there were a lot of close range engagements in the woods and dug in positions. He said he always carried a couple empty clips in his field jacket pocket and said you’d simply squeeze the clip and let it slide out of your fingers and hit the ground and be ready to shoot. He said after we started doing this the Germans got a lot more cautious.
He also told me some of the other tactics they used. He said especially when we were badly outnumbered, which was almost all the time, the BAR man would initially never fire other than a couple semi-auto rounds. They were baiting the Germans and trying to get a number of them to get bold and expose themselves. When this happened the BAR man would let them have it. He said this was very effective and several times got them out of some bad situations.”
My response: “I found Mr. Emary’s recollections to be most interesting and they correspond with similar reports regarding the M1 rifle during WWII. He and other combat veterans of the Second World War were truly heroes and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude. The point of the recent Q&A was to refute the widespread myth that the pinging noise made when the M1’s clip was ejected cost the lives of many American soldiers during the war. As stated, in the vast majority of cases, the ping could not be heard even a few dozen yards away over the din on a typical battlefield. There were certainly isolated exceptions, such as related by Mr. Emary, when an enemy may have been able to hear the noise. Even in such instances of close-quarter combat when the ping may have been audible, the American solider with the empty Garand would usually just keep his head down for the few seconds it took to reload a fresh 8-round clip. Rather than being a “deadly defect,” Mr. Emary’s experiences suggest that, in isolated instances, it could actually be an advantage. While the M1 rifle can be justly criticized for several reasons, to maintain that the ping of an ejected clip resulted in the wholesale deaths of American soldiers simply wasn’t the case.”
I certainly wasn’t going to argue the point with a gentleman who purportedly “was there” and who, along with countless other brave men, put their lives on the line to preserve our freedom. However, I still was not dissuaded from my original position on the subject.
Not too long ago (a month or so after the Q&A appeared in the magazine), the following letter was sent to the American Rifleman staff (and forwarded to me) that bolstered the “urban legend” aspect of the subject:
“I read with interest Dave Emary’s recounting of his father’s experiences with the Garand and the so-called “deadly defect.” While I do not discount the veracity of the senior Emary’s account, nor those of other vets who have made similar observations in the past, I do think Mr. Canfield correctly observed that it was actually a very rare thing for the “ping” to be heard in combat, and an unlikely factor in most individual engagements. This is something I too had heard many times over the years, and as a career soldier myself, I often wondered what role this might have played.
I had an opportunity to travel to Bastogne in 2004 with several well-known veterans of “Band of Brothers” fame, and while overlooking Foy and listening to them discuss their experiences, I could not help but notice a number of older gentlemen on the path at the edge of the forest who were watching our activities, but maintaining a respectful distance. When I approached them after a few minutes, I was surprised to discover that they were members of German units that had fought in and around Bastogne -- to include the Company Commander of the troops in direct opposition to Easy Company. I spoke at length with these gentlemen, and later, with a number other vets from various Panzergrenadier and Infanterie units that had fought against the “Amis.” I asked each one of them about this matter of the Garand and its distinctive “ping.” Who would know better than the men who actually faced it in combat, right?
The reality is that every Alte Kaempfer with whom I spoke with found it laughable. Not only was the ping totally inaudible during engagements, they said, but even in the still of the night, the ruses of cycling a bolt or clearing a clip were well-known to both sides. Sure, an en bloc clip clearing the breech might mean that a GI was reloading, but it told them nothing about who else from his squad was likely waiting around the corner with him that was ready to engage. In other words, while the “deadly defect” has become a popular part of the M1’s lore (and makes for a great story), it seems to be a uniquely American construct, with little-to-no validation from the Wehrmacht troops who actually faced them in combat. Not from those that lived to tell about it, anyway.
- CW5 Charles D. Petrie, Fort Bragg, NC.”
I’ll let the subject rest for now and everyone is free to make whatever conclusions they wish regarding the above disparate views on the subject.
Thoughts on Guns and Collecting
Those of us who are really into arms collecting and/or have an abiding interest in firearms sometime forget that many (probably most) people have little or no knowledge about guns. I am reminded of this almost daily in the form of inquires I get via my website or questions from readers sent to me by the American Rifleman or the Man at Arms magazine staffs. Some of the questions are really insightful and show that the inquirer has more than a passing knowledge about firearms. Others are so inane so as to be almost comical. However, whenever I start to inwardly chuckle about a reader’s lack of knowledge on the subject, I quickly remind myself that there are many, many subjects about which I am equally, if not more, clueless. If I should ever find myself pondering a question, for example, about Mitochondrial DNA Gene Sequencing (yea, like we all talk about that subject over a beer) and pose a query to some knowledgeable research geneticist, he will quickly come to the conclusion that I know nothing about the subject. Hopefully, however, he will answer my inquiry in a manner that I can vaguely understand without making me feel like an idiot. I always try to keep this in mind when I get a question that is really…how I can say this…dumb. I could fill up several pages of cyber paper with examples but many questions are along the lines of: “I have a gun that belonged to my grandfather. It is very old and has a long barrel with some writing on it. Can you give me the history of the gun and its current value?” OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. I honestly do get questions almost that ridiculous much more often than you can imagine.
If a question is posed in a polite manner, I will make every effort to answer but, in such cases as cited above, I will respond that much more information, preferably along with some good photos, are required to even begin to answer the question. However, there are some inquiries that are rude and thoughtless in nature. When these are received, I will usually hit the delete button if sent by e-mail or drop it in the “round file” if sent via snail-mail. Such things include brusque demands such as “Give me the serial number range of Standard Products M1 carbines” without so much as a “please” or “thank you.” Others are simply absurd in the scope and nature of the request such as “I want the history of the use of the metallic cartridge by the U.S. military and a detailed list of all the weapons of this type used by our armed forces along with manufacturers, quantities produced and serial number ranges for all the guns. I need this as soon as possible.” No problem. I’ll drop everything I’m doing and tell my lovely wife not to bother me for a couple of weeks while I research the random request. Sometimes the question may be reasonable and phased in a not-impolite manner and sent via the U.S. Postal Service but a stamped, self-addressed envelope is not included. Admittedly, 45 cents (or whatever the postal rates are this week) isn’t a big deal, but it displays a lack of common courtesy to request someone to take the time and trouble to answer a question and then have to pay for sending it back to the inquirer.
Often, an inquiry is made as to the value of a weapon. Years ago I adopted a policy of not giving values for firearms for several reasons. First, without a physical examination, it is extremely difficult (actually it is impossible) to properly evaluate a gun. While clear and detailed digital photos can be very helpful, there are often details that are not depicted or nuances that photographs do not capture that can have a big impact on the value. I learned long ago that even giving value ranges is problematic. For example, if I should say that such-and-such gun, if in original condition, is probably worth in the $1,000 to $1,500 range, most people will only hear the last figure and will overlook the “original condition” qualifier. Such an example happened to me years ago which, in large measure, is responsible for my unwillingness to assign values to guns. A guy asked me via a letter how much a Remington M1903A3 rifle was worth without giving any details or photos. While I forget the exact figures I gave back then, I told him if the rifle was in original condition and in NRA fine or better condition, it should be worth between $500 and $600 (or whatever). Armed with this information the guy took the rifle to a gun show to sell it and told the potential buyer he wanted $600 for it. The potential buyer looked at the gun and quickly determined it had been butchered in an ill-advised “sporterizing” effort and was in terrible condition to boot and was worth maybe $100 as a “shooter.” The erstwhile seller then told him he was full of beans because Bruce Canfield, the guy that writes books and is a Field Editor for American Rifleman magazine told him personally that it was worth $600. I don’t know what the potential buyer told him back, but he probably thought I was an idiot and the NRA should request my immediate dismissal from the staff due to my utter incompetence. Such incidents dissuaded me from any further attempts at giving values. I simply won’t do it. An exception is when a friend will drop by my office with a gun they have bought, or are thinking about buying, and want to know if it’s worth the price. Of course, I have no problem doing that, but that’s an entirely different matter from pulling some value out of thin air on a weapon I have never seen and to which the recipient of the information will almost certainly not pay any attention to the various qualifiers given.
A common error that many people who are not gun-savvy make is to equate age with value. Some believe that just because a gun may be 100 (or more) years old, it is automatically worth a lot of money because it is an “antique.” Actually, while some old guns are indeed valuable, many more aren’t worth their weight as scrap metal. An old double-barrel shotgun produced by a non-descript maker in the 1890s that is brown with rust and has a stock that could be used as a fence post has virtually no value. An exception would be if it could be definitively (i.e., with proof) tied to a famous or infamous person, but that is almost never the case. If the ratty old shotgun belonged to the current owner’s great-grandfather, it would have some indeterminable sentimental value as a family keepsake but the value on the secondary market would be nil. Many people are surprised when they learn that the old gun that had been sitting in Uncle Bill’s closet for years is not very valuable after all. In fact, some of the newer weapons have much greater value than older weapons. A good example is an unaltered “gas trap” M1 Garand rifle. Even though is over 70 years old (not even close to being an antique in the commonly-accepted definition), it is much, much more valuable than, for example, a standard .45-70 “Trapdoor Springfield” rifle that might be twice as old. Age, at times, may be a component in determining the value of a gun but the main factor is good old “Economics 101”…supply and demand. If a lot of people want something that is in short supply, prices are high. However, even if something is in short supply, but few people want it, the prices are low. If something is both available in quantity and has limited demand (such as rusty old double-barrel shotguns), prices are going to be extremely low, even if it is 150 years old.
I didn’t intend for this posting to be so verbose but this is an interesting topic for me. Those of us who appreciate the significance of firearms in our nation’s history and who want to help the image of guns and gun collectors, should be patient with those novices who know little or nothing about guns and we should try to “coach them up” whenever possible. Who knows, once they learn something about guns, they may try to sell you a rusty old double-barrel shotgun. If they do, don’t ask me to give you an estimated value!
What can be done about fakes?
written a number of previous columns here regarding the growing problem
with fake U.S. martial stuff. I’m not talking about reproductions,
etc., but the purposeful creation of bogus inspection stamps, markings
on parts and similar practices. U.S. martial arms collectors are not the
only ones wrestling with this problem as fake items have long plagued
collectors of Lugers, stamps, pre-Colombian artifacts, etc., etc., etc.
The list is endless. However, back to the subject of this website. As
we’ve discussed, the recent rapid increase in interest and, hence,
prices has attracted the attention of the crooks in our society. A
cursory glance at most Internet sales sites, gun shows and other venues
where collectible U.S. arms are sold will reflect that a great many
collectible arms offered for sale today are fakes, or at least have some
fake parts. Long-time collectors are worried that their weapons may
become less valuable in the future as potential buyers will increasingly
look at any item offered for sale with a jaundiced eye (and with good
reason). I remember the day when a M1 rifle with a nice, clear final
inspection stamp was a desirable find. Nobody worried about fake stamps
back then because there weren’t any around. Today, the same rifle will
be approached very warily and many buyers will assume that the
inspection stamp is bogus. I have seen (and own a number of) rifles that
have stocks with absolutely pristine and absolutely original inspection
stamps. On the other hand, you can bet that most stocks offered for
sale today with pristine inspection stamps are fake. Maybe not all, but
certainly the majority. By the way, the fakers have wised up and are now
applying the stamps in such a manner as not to appear too perfect or
too deeply stamped. A number of U.S. martial arms collecting themes are
plagued by the fakes but, near the top of the list, the most prevalent
problem (at least in the sheer number) exists in the M1 Garand rifle
collecting fraternity. Some collectors are insisting that “someone do
something” about the problem. Suggested “someones” range from the Garand
Collectors Association (GCA) to the NRA to other various and sundry
suggested “authorities”. Unfortunately, the problem is not going to be
solved by turning it over to the auspices of some organized entity,
august as it may be. In fact, at the risk of sounding defeatist, I don’t
think the problem is going to go away anytime soon. Why do I say this?
Let’s look at some facts.
Pet Peeves – Part I (maybe)
A number of years ago I listed some of my “pet peeves” as pertain to firearms in general, and collecting U.S. military weapons in particular. I thought it might be time to update the list. In the grand scheme of things, pet peeves are unimportant and simply represent one person’s opinion. What might drive one person up the wall doesn’t bother another person whatsoever. C'est la vie.
· A writer using pretentious French words to sound smarter
Wait…scratch that one!
· Referring to ammunition as “bullets.”
How often have you heard someone say they need to buy some bullets to go hunting or something of the sort? Hopefully, they’ll buy cartridge cases, powder and primers as well if they want to hit anything. A bullet is simply the projectile, not the entire round.
· The term “P17 rifle”
This one really bugs me. There is not, and never has been, any U.S. military firearm called a “P17.” This term is often used to identify a Model 1917 “U.S. Enfield” rifle. The M1917’s predecessor was the British Pattern 14 rifle which can properly be referred to as a “P14.” The British never adopted the Model 1917 rifle and the United States did not, and does not, use the term “Pattern” or “P” to denote weapons. Someone may say, “not so fast Canfield…you just used the term “U.S. Enfield” and that isn’t official nomenclature either. Sounds like you have selective indignation.” Nice try, but it doesn’t wash. For starters, I enclosed that term in parentheses to denote that it is not a standard term. Secondly, I have no problem using common descriptive, albeit unofficial, terms to describe weapons. Good examples are “.45-70Trapdoor Springfield” or “Garand” rifle. While neither term was official nomenclature, they are not incorrect pseudo-nomenclature terminology like “P17.” Rant mode now off.
Using the term “furniture” to denote wooden components of a firearm.
This one is really rampant and some very astute writers and some experienced collectors fall prey to it. Although the term can be considered almost archaic today, when it comes to guns, “furniture” properly denotes the metal fittings (usually attached to the stock) such as barrel bands, band springs, buttplates, patch boxes, etc., etc. In this context, stocks, handguards and forends are not furniture. I guess since coffee tables and china cabinets are made of wood and are classified as furniture, then the wooden components of guns can be called furniture as well. This reasoning is perhaps logical, but it is also incorrect.
· The term “cartouche.”
If I would have written this six or seven years ago, this one wouldn’t be on the list as I routinely used the term for many years. The vast majority of collectors today still do. In this context, the term “cartouche” is simply collector jargon. I’ve never seen a scholarly treatise on the derivation of the term as it applies to guns. It has been postulated that it was derived from the French word cartouche which means “cartridge.” During the mid-to-late 19th Century, the French were really into Egyptology and someone noticed that some of the pictographs on Egyptian hieroglyphics had a similar configuration to the oval-shaped, paper-wrapped, black powder charges of the muzzle-loading muskets of the era. There is another theory that the oval or elongated-oval inspection stamps on some military musket stocks of the same period were also called “cartouches” because of their shape. While this latter theory may explain why collectors today use the term to mean inspection markings, I find it doubtful that the French would use the same word to denote both powder charges and inspection markings. There may well be some other explanation, but I find the hieroglyphic-shaped derivation to be a bit more persuasive. Someone with authoritative knowledge of the subject can tell me that my assumptions are ridiculous and have nothing to do with the derivation of the word. If so, I would love to find out where the term really came from.
In any event, I’m not sure when “cartouche” moved from a perfectly acceptable collector term to a pet peeve for me, but it happened because of over-use. For many years, most collectors of U.S. military weapons referred to the Final Inspections stamps, typically on the left side of the stock, as “cartouches.” This included Trapdoor Springfields, U.S. Krags, Model 1903 rifles, M1 rifles, etc. Even a novice collector knew that the “SA/GAW” marking on a WWII M1 rifle stock was a cartouche. While unofficial, it was a widely-recognized term. So far, so good.
However, within the past few years, it seems many people refer to any and every marking on the wood or metal of a military firearm as a “cartouche.” Nowadays when someone uses the term, you can’t be sure if they mean a Final Inspection Stamp, proof firing stamp, sub-inspector mark, arsenal rebuild stamp, or anything else. The term has devolved into meaninglessness. A few years ago I vowed not to use the word “cartouche” any more but, instead, use the specific type of marking (examples of which appeared two sentences back). The number of people who agree with me on this could probably hold a meeting in a telephone booth but, hey, to each his own.
· Using the word “site” to mean “sight.”
Anyone who types even one sentence can easily make typos. We all do. You may have noted some in this posting. Computer spell check is useful but if a word is typed wrong, but it is still a real word, it will pass unnoticed. This isn’t the case with the guys who use “site” when they mean “sight” because it is typed the same way over and over. They obviously don’t know the difference. A site is a place and a sight helps you shoot more accurately. Geez, don’t they print dictionaries anymore?
I’ll stop at this point and may add some more pet peeves later. In reality these are just minor things in life and getting worked up over this sort of stuff is silly. We all need to lighten up just a bit and have a laugh from time to time. The Good Lord is always in charge, regardless of what we may think, and life is too short not to enjoy a bit of levity on occasion. Like the old saying goes, “No one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at the office.”
A New Feature - Unpublished Q&As
Since I’ve finally finished my 4+ year quest of writing a massive tome on the Garand rifle, I thought it might be time to resume some regular postings here. When contemplating what to post, it occurred to me that some of you might like to see some of the Q&As that I receive via my capacity as Field Editor for American Rifleman magazine but which were not published. I receive a fairly large number of questions regarding U.S. military weapons and try to answer every one of them. However, space constraints in the magazine typically result in only one or two (at most) being printed each month. Below are the first of a number of Q&As for your consideration:
Q. I have seen the term “M1” written with a dash (“M-1”) and without. Which is correct?
A. There should not be a dash between the “M” and the number. This holds true for the M1903, M1911, M1, M14, M16 and all other U.S. military small arms and related items. The only "official" exception I can think of is the nomenclature of the telescope and mount used with the U.S. Marine Corps’ M1 sniper rifle variant, the MC 1952. This weapon was equipped with the “MC-1” scope and mount.
Q. My Springfield/Remington Model 1870 USN rolling block rifle does not have a bayonet lug on the barrel. There appears to have been one there at one but looks like it was ground off. Was this an official modification?
A. As originally adopted, the M1870 USN rifle was fitted with a bayonet lug to accept the M1870 Ames sword bayonet. However, many will be encountered today with the lug ground off. There is some uncertainty regarding this modification. Some collectors have stated that the lug was ground off by the Marine Corps in order to use the standard M1855-type socket bayonet. Therefore, according to this theory, rifles of this type with the ground-off lugs are desirable Marine Corps variants. I have seen no documentation to confirm this theory. I believe this modification was actually done by Bannerman’s or one of the large surplus dealers of the time in order to be able to sell the common socket bayonets as an accouterment with the rifles of this type in their inventory. I cannot document this so it must also be labeled as a theory. However, the Marine Corps explanation just doesn’t ring true and cannot be confirmed with credible evidence.
Q. Did Irwin-Pedersen actually deliver any carbines to the government?
A. No. The company did have perhaps as many as four thousand essentially completed carbines on hand at their plant when Saginaw took over their failed contract but none are believed to have been delivered. There were, of course, thousands of receivers and other parts made prior to the company’s demise that were used by Saginaw to assemble carbines at the Grand Rapids, Michigan plant.
An Enduring and Fruitless Quest
I’ve been hearing for many years about somebody making a “replica” Pedersen Device but, for a variety of reasons, this hasn’t happened. Most of you who read these postings probably have at least a rudimentary knowledge what a Pedersen Device is. For those who may not, briefly, the Pedersen Device was a mechanism developed by John D. Pedersen in WWI to convert a slightly modified M1903 rifle into a semiautomatic weapon firing a .30 caliber pistol-size cartridge from a detachable 40-round magazine. In order to insert the Device in the rifle, the regular rifle bolt was removed and the mechanism slid in place. It could just as easily be removed, thus returning the rifle to its original bolt action operation firing the powerful .30-06 cartridge. The only substantive change from the M1903 rifles modified to operate with the Pedersen Device (designated as the Model 1903 Mark I rifle) was the incorporation of a lozenge-shaped hole in the left side of the receiver to function as an ejection port for the fired cartridge cases. The trigger, sear and magazine cut-off were also slightly modified but none of the changes prevented the rifles from functioning as standard bolt-action ‘03s. By necessity the .30 Pedersen round was quite puny and useful only a very short range.
Some 65,000 of the Devices were made by Remington and given a Top Secret status. The plan was to surprise the Germans with these “semiautomatic ‘03s” during the “Grand Offensive” planned for the spring of 1919. As events transpired, the war ended before the Devices could be used. They remained in storage until the early 1930s when our government determined the Devices were no longer worth the storage space and orders were given for them to be burned and the resultant hunks of metal sold as scrap. Virtually all were destroyed but a literal handful were quietly slipped into a coat pocket, lunch box or otherwise carried home, some showing signs of being burned. Most of the Mark I rifles had the special Pedersen Device-related components removed and issued as standard service rifles. Needless to say, surviving Pedersen Devices are quite rare and are highly coveted collector items. Depending on condition and accompanying accessories (magazines, metal carrying cases, etc.) prices can range from $15,000 or $20,000 to upwards of $50,000.
For many years some guys have come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be exceedingly difficult to make a Pedersen Device either by finding a copy of the Remington production drawings or “reverse engineering” an existing Device. To my knowledge, there are no extant copies of the manufacturing drawings/blueprints so that option is probably off the table. Apparently the reverse engineering idea hasn’t come to fruition either because, at least to my knowledge, there have been no “replica” functioning Pedersen Devices made. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and from time to time somebody will get all charged up with the idea of making a Pedersen Device. However, their ardor soon cools down when they come up against the harsh reality that such a project sounds easier than it really is.
I suppose with enough time, talent and money, almost anything can be duplicated. However, in the case of a Pedersen Device, it would seem that the negatives far outweigh the positives. I think it highly unlikely a replica Pedersen Device would be feasible unless someone was willing to invest a lot of time and money and had no desire to see any return on their “investment.” Maybe some extraordinarily talented craftsman/machinist with a lot of money and time on their hands might be able to fabricate a Pedersen Device but I’ve not heard of that happening. Even more unlikely is the possibility that some entity will bite the bullet (no pun intended) and go into production on a replica PD for the mass market. Why not? Good question. Let’s take a look at the realities:
· For starters, I doubt if the potential market is big enough to justify tooling up to make a reasonably accurate Pedersen Device copy. It would cost a small fortunate to acquire the necessary machine tools, fixtures and jigs to make the many intricate machining cuts necessary to fabricate a working Pedersen Device. I don’t know if it would feasible to make such a mechanism using the investment casting method of production. Even if it could, while this would be less expensive than machining, it wouldn't be, by no means, cheap.
· Not only would they have to machine the rather intricate Device, no mean feat in and of itself, they would also have to make the special parts. While not rare, M1903 Mark I rifles are not available in large numbers. Even if a Mark I rifle can be found, virtually all have had the special Mark I parts (trigger, sear, cut-off, etc.) removed, thus making them useless for firing a Device. Surplus triggers, sears, etc. are few and far between, thus the would-be replica Pedersen Device magnate would have to go into production on these small, but somewhat complex, components.
· Eventually the limited supply of Mark I rifles would be exhausted and it would be necessary to convert standard ‘03s by annealing the receiver and milling out the hole for the requisite ejection port. This is not a job for a hobbyist in his basement workshop and would run up cost of ownership of a replica Pedersen Device substantially.
· Even if the above obstacles could be addressed and remedied, it must be remembered that surviving .30 Pedersen ammunition is quite uncommon and typically priced at several dollars per round. Additionally, all of the ammo is well over 90 years old which makes functioning problematic, at best. Convincing an ammunition manufacturer to go into production on such a limited item would be quite unlikely. I suppose ammo could be hand-loaded, but that would also be cost-prohibitive if the cartridges were needed in any appreciable quantity. I’ve heard some speculate that such as Device could be chambered for the .30 carbine round or the .45 ACP. Leaving ballistic considerations aside, such suggestions obviously come from folks who don’t have the slightest idea as to how a Pedersen Device works. In the case of the two afore-named cartridges, the .30 carbine cartridge is much too long to function in such a manner and entirely too powerful for a blow-back action as used in the PD. In the case of the .45 ACP, I wouldn’t want to be the poor schmuck that tries to fire a .45 caliber bullet through a .30 caliber barrel…the math just doesn’t work!
· There are also serious product liability issues involved and obtaining insurance to cover them would be extremely expensive. This would further add to the already hefty price tag involved.
I’ve heard it said that a manufacturing company in China or Mexico could produce a replica Pedersen Device much less inexpensively than a domestic firm. Perhaps so, but lots of luck getting approval from the government to import such items. Also, this still doesn’t address the issue of having to convert M1903 rifles or making the ammunition.
In conclusion, I think it extremely unlikely that you’ll be seeing ads for replica Pedersen Devices in the Shotgun News or American Rifleman. If this was feasible, you’d have seen them a long time ago. Trying to make such an item would soon prove to be highly impractical and a waste of time, effort and money. Sorta sounds like Obama’s economic policy.
Vet “Bring Backs” – Redux
I’ve commented here on this several times before, but the subject of “Vet Bring Backs” seems to be popping up more frequently on a number of Internet discussion forums. As stated in a posting a couple of columns down (“Weapons and Veterans”), it was very uncommon, but certainly not unheard of, for a veteran to smuggle back a weapon after he departed from service. As more and more of the “Greatest Generation” are leaving us, a number of their artifacts, including firearms, will be coming on the market and many will promptly be sold by their widows, children or other heirs. As mentioned, for some reason, it is common for such individuals to assume that any gun remotely related to the military must have been “carried back” by Dad or Grandpa. In a very small fraction of the cases, this may be true but in the vast majority of times, it was simply a gun that the now-deceased former owner purchased through the CMP, bought at a gun show or gun store, or won in a crap game. Regardless, it is more interesting to claim (often with no malice intended) that this was the gun that their beloved relative “carried in the war.” Perhaps, not coincidentally, such stories are often accompanied by an inflated price tag. Some buyers of these guns who bought into the “vet bring back” story have convinced themselves that they stumbled upon a real treasure because, for example, the M1 carbine or M1 rifle they bought had never been through a post-war rebuild, thus has to be legit. It is true that a rifle rebuilt in the 1950s certainly couldn’t be the same rifle that Uncle Bob carried in WWII and which has remained in his closet since 1945. Leaving out the possibility that some former owner “restored” the gun in the past and it truly is still in its factory-original configuration, the “vet bring back” story is still most likely hokum. The DCM and CMP sold a number of such weapons that were never rebuilt, but also probably never left the United States and certainly weren’t war veteran “bring backs.”
Speaking of Internet discussion sites, I just saw a posting where some individual asked how many M2 carbines were brought back home by veterans. Naturally, such an inane question resulted in many smart-alec responses by guys who gave varying answers with tongues firmly in cheeks. Everybody knows that 26 M2 carbines were brought back home by veterans (sorry…I couldn’t resist the urge to join the smart-a** crowd).
Shoot ‘Em or Collect ‘Em?
For some reason, there has long been something of a running feud between collectors of U.S. military weapons and those who enjoy shooting same. Opinions on both sides are often posted on various Internet discussion sites, gun shows and other venues and sometimes the opinions expressed are less than civil. I’ve never really understood this disagreement and see no reason why it has to be an “Either/Or” scenario. While I consider myself much more of a collector than a shooter, I have no qualms about taking out some of my pieces and cranking off a few rounds from time to time. The Class III stuff is really a blast, literally and figuratively, to shoot! I don’t go to the range a great deal because:
1. I don’t always have the time.
2. Have you priced ammunition lately?
3. I hate cleaning guns.
Now this having been said, there are guns that, in my opinion, should never be fired. Guns in this category are those in pristine condition and those that are old, rare and/or valuable (age, value and rarity do not always equate but this is another discussion for another time). For example, if someone owns a weapon that is in unfired condition, I think it would be a travesty to shoot it. Yea, I know all military weapons were test-fired and proof-fired at the factory, thus there is technically no such thing as an “unfired” gun, but you know what I mean. Likewise, a weapon that is ultra-rare and/or very valuable should not be fired, even if it may not be in pristine condition. While the odds may not be very high that it will happen, a ruptured cartridge case, blown primer, etc. could damage the weapon and substantially reduce, if not destroy, its value. Who would risk firing an original .30-03 Rod Bayonet ’03 or a genuine Officer’s Model Trapdoor Springfield?
On the flip side of the coin, I’ve heard many shooters disdainfully refer to collectors, sometimes in NSFW language, because of their reluctance to fire their cherished collectibles. Mint conditioned guns are derisively categorized as “Closet Queens” (it may be no coincidence that most of these critics don’t own any guns of that type). While I may not share their hard-line attitude that “all guns must be fired,” I understand where they’re coming from. Everyone is entitled to engage in whatever activities they enjoy as long as no laws are violated and nobody is harmed. However, it should be remembered that this works both ways. If a guy wants to shoot all of his guns…fine and dandy, but don’t criticize a collector who chooses not to do the same.
In closing, I remember having a friendly debate with a “hard core” shooter who also considered himself a collector. He was adamant when he said he “…would never own a collectible that couldn’t be used for the purpose it was made.” My response was that it was a good thing he didn’t collect stamps!
Weapons and Veterans
I’ve written on this site several times previously about the so-called “Vet Bring-Backs” which are generally described a weapon (or other item) that a soldier used while in service and brought back home as his personal property. As I mentioned before, a serviceman wasn’t simply allowed to retain his Garand, carbine, M1911A1 pistol, BAR, or anything else. These items were strictly accounted for when a soldier “mustered out” and he would be in a world of hurt if caught with such things in his possession. This was theft and was generally dealt with rather harshly. It was usually no big deal to carry home “captured” enemy weapons such as Luger and Nambu pistols, “samurai swords,” Arisaka rifles, Nazi daggers, etc. It was a simple matter for a solider to obtain a release form from the military and carry such things home. However, the exact opposite was true for U.S. military weaponry, etc. Such things as blankets, uniforms and similar items were not usually accounted for and a soldier could generally retain such things with no negative consequences. Having said this, there were unquestionably some instances where servicemen did smuggle home various types of U.S. weapons when departing the service. This is not a new phenomenon. It is said that over 50% of the M1911 .45 pistols issued to the AEF in WWI were “lost in combat” but managed to find their way home in Doughboy duffel bags. Certainly, such things happened in WWII, Korea and Vietnam but hiding a pistol or bayonet in a bunch of underwear is an entirely different matter than smuggling out a Garand or M1903A4 sniper rifle. Again, this happened on occasion but it was very much the exception and not the rule.
What prompted this posting is the frequency with which certain U.S. military weapons are being sold today with claims that the guns are “Vet Bring Backs.” These claims are normally prefaced by the statement that the previous owner was a WWII (or whatever conflict) veteran and the gun was bought directly from him. The implication, sometimes stated and sometimes implied, was that this was THE gun he used in while in the military and carried home. In the vast majority of cases, this simply isn’t true. The previous owner may well have been a veteran, and may well have served in WWII, but he likely bought the gun from the DCM in the 1960s or at a local gun show three years ago. There are occasions when the seller falsely claims that the gun was his issue weapon but, in most cases, this tale is concocted by a subsequent buyer, often based on nothing more than wishful thinking. I can count on the fingers of two hands the verified “vet bring backs” I’ve seen over the past three decades. I’ve seen a lot more that could have been but, with no supporting documentation, it is impossible to confirm its prior origins. The fact that a weapon “could have” been used in combat in WWII is a far cry from “was.”
In conclusion, when you run across a weapon that is purported to be a “vet bring back,” be extremely skeptical and don’t pay a premium for the story. The fact that a prior owner of a gun was in the military means nothing beyond a debt of gratitude we owe to all of those who sacrificed to preserve our freedom. As I’ve repeated here numerous times, one of my favorite admonitions is “Buy the Gun, Not the Story.”
What Can I Collect Without Having to Take Out a Second Mortgage?
While some of the weapons we have previously discussed are quite expensive, there are other collecting topics that can be enjoyed by someone on a limited budget or someone who chooses not to invest a large amount of money in the hobby. In these uncertain economic times, many collectors are seeking something less expensive, but still interesting and worthwhile, to collect.
As martial arms collectors, we sometimes forget that there are items other than firearms to collect and many of these non-gun items are also escalating in price rapidly. Fifteen or twenty years ago a nice M1905 or M1917 bayonet, complete with scabbard, could be found in the $50 range. The same items today will typically fetch between $250 and $350 (or more) depending on vintage and condition. Most U.S. martial edged weapons have experienced similar increases and now can hardly be characterized as “budget” collectibles.
What options are available to collectors, or potential collectors, today when seeking new, interesting and reasonably priced collectibles? Let’s explore several collecting themes that might fill the bill.
M7 Rifle Grenade Launchers and related accessories
Many types of U.S. military rifle grenade launchers range from fairly expensive to very expensive. For example, the WWI vintage V-B launchers for the M1903 and M1917 are quite rare and can easily bring in the $2500 to $3500 dollar range. A bit farther down the spectrum are the WWII M1 launchers (for the ’03 rifle) and the M2 launchers (for the M1917 rifle). These are more common and less expensive than the V-B launchers but can still run up to $1000.
On the next rung of the ladder is the WWII M8 carbine launcher. These are available in much greater numbers than the V-B, or even the M1/M2, launchers but examples will still routinely bring $250 to $400 depending on maker and condition.
However, the M7 launcher (for the M1 rifle) is often available today at quite reasonable prices. Examples in the $35 to $75 range are typical. These launchers saw a lot of use in WWII and are historic and interesting collectibles. There were at least six different manufacturers of these items. Also, some “line-out” M7 launchers may be encountered. These were made by one contractor and subsequently acquired by another contractor. The original maker’s name was lined-out and the newer company’s name or initials stamped in close proximity. This was very similar to the “line-out” M1 carbines. There are also “early” and “late” variants of the M7 launchers. The first type had a removable nut on the front and a flat retaining spring while the later pattern had a solid tube and a coil spring.
Therefore, an interesting collection of M7 launchers can be assembled to include six different contractors, several “line-outs” and an early and late pattern. Some of the contractors may require a bit of searching but none are usually extremely expensive. A collection of this type would be of interest to Garand and WWII collectors and would be a very worthwhile theme. A big bonus is that the entire collection would probably cost quite a bit less than even one “collector grade” M1 rifle or carbine. With the continued high interest in Garands, such related accessories will remain popular for a long time.
ncillary items such as the rubber recoil boots, M3 grenade launching cartridges and M15 grenade launching sights are still available at relatively reasonable prices. All would add more color and interest to a collection of M7 launchers. Want more? Some of the post-WWII Garand launchers are available at prices not too much higher than the WWII variants. Only the M7A1 launcher and, to some extent the M7A2, would be considered relatively uncommon and fairly expensive. The later M7A3 launchers are around, normally for $75 or so.
As can be seen, an impressive collection of M7 (and variants) launchers plus some ancillary items can be assembled for a few hundred dollars. Even though some of the variants will require a bit of looking, this is part of the challenge (and fun) of collecting.
Most of the weapons adopted by the U.S. military had a corresponding Field Manual and/or Technical Manual. For the post-Civil War era, these can be found at least as far back as the “Description and Rules for Management of…” the M1866 “Second Allin” rifle. The subsequent “Trapdoors” all had such manuals printed and most included information, data and drawings for the M1873 Colt SAA revolver as well. Manuals of this type continued in print for the Krag rifle (and carbine) and the M1903 rifle. A different manual was printed when there were noteworthy changes to the various weapons. For example, these manuals for the ’03 will be found dated 1904, 1906, 1909, 1911, 1917 and 1918. Prices for these “Description and Rules for the Management of…” manuals can vary somewhat. Except for the very rare M1866 manual, which is worth several hundred dollars, most will bring $100 to $200 depending on condition. There are also WWI “Handbooks” for the ’03 and M1917 available. These can sometimes be found for $50 to $75.
The most fertile field for weapon manuals is World War II. Very large numbers of Technical Manuals and Field Manuals were printed for a wide array of weapons including bayonets, handguns, M1903 rifles, M1rifles, carbines, shotguns, grenades, Thompson submachine guns, M3 submachine guns, BARs, machine guns, bazookas, mortars and about any other weapon you can think of. Some of these manuals are still fairly common today while others are scarce. All are very collectible. Prices for the WWII manuals usually run between $35 and $75 although the shotgun manuals can easily exceed $150.
There are also similar manuals available for post-war weapons as well. Prices for the post-1945 manuals usually range from $25 to $50 depending on the weapon covered, the vintage of the manual and the condition. Many of the WWII and post-WWII manuals have been commercially reprinted. The reprints are usually easy to spot but some may look authentic at first glance. For collecting purposes, be sure that you are buying an original. The reprints are fine for informational purposes but have no collector value.
Printed material such as manuals is a fertile field for collectors. Many original manuals can be found at very reasonable prices but there are enough variants to satisfy those collectors who really “get into” the subject. Whether you collect Indian War, Span-Am War, or Second World War stuff, the manuals are interesting collectibles in their own right. An original manual for a M1873 Trapdoor, for example, is a historic item that is much cheaper to own than the corresponding weapon.
Don’t overlook these interesting and collectible manuals.
I think one of the most promising fields for aspiring collectors today is that of M1 carbine magazine pouches. These items are still available for extremely reasonable prices and there are a number of interesting variations. Even today, a nice example of a WWII carbine magazine pouch can often be found for around $20 or less. There are several major variants. The first type is the so-called “stock pouch”. This was the original pattern adopted for use with the carbine. It was made with two pockets that held one 15 round magazine each. The pouch is characterized by a wide belt loop with a snap fastener inside. The fastener was intended to mate with the corresponding snap on the standard pistol belt. It didn’t take long for an imaginative GI to discover that the pouch could be slipped on the carbine’s stock. This enabled two magazines to be available with the carbine at all times and many WWII photos depict these pouches used in such a manner although they were not originally designed for this purpose. Original “stock” pouches have risen in value over the past few years, but nice examples can still be found in the $50 to $75 range. These pouches are typically made of khaki material and are marked “US” on the outside of the flap and dated (usually “1942” or “1943”) inside the flap along with the name of the maker.
The next pattern pouch was made with two narrow belt loops on back and could not be installed on the stock. Extremely large numbers of these were made during WWII and production resumed after the war as 1950s dated versions are common. Early WWII examples were made of khaki material, often with contrasting piping around the outside. Later versions were made of darker OD material. The pouches were also marked “US” on the outside of the flap and dated inside along with the name of the maker. Some of the post-WWII pouches were also marked inside the flap to indicate that they could carry two 15 round carbine magazines or two 8 round Garand clips. There were a number of different makers of these pouches and an impressive collection can be assembled. As mentioned, prices for such pouches today are typically quite low. Prices can range from a low of $15 to perhaps as much as $35 although about twenty bucks seems to be a good average.
There are also some WWII and post-WWII pouches made for the 30 round carbine magazines. The WWII variants are a bit uncommon and can sell in the $75 to $100 range. The post-WWII 30 round pouches usually bring about half of this amount.
The scarcest type of carbine pouch is the so-called “Rigger made” pouch produced in early WWII for issue to the newly formed airborne units. These pouches are hard to find and can easily run $75 (or more) each. One pouch will hold four 15 round carbine magazines or three 8 round M1 rifle clips. All types of carbine magazine pouches are illustrated in my M1 Garand/Carbine book. A similar “rigger made” pouch was produced during the same period for 20 round Thompson SMG magazines. These are much rarer than the “rigger made” carbine pouches.
A few years ago, there was little concern regarding reproduction carbine magazine pouches as the originals were simply too common and inexpensive to warrant copying. This has changed. A number of reproduction pouches, including the desirable “rigger made” items, are now on the market. A potential buyer should look at the pouch in question and, if possible, compare it with a known original. The type of stenciling, weave of the canvas fabric, and manner of stitching can all be clues as to originality. An old gun show trick is to smell the pouch. Before you think I’ve gotten weird, 65+ year old canvas items will very frequently have a distinctive musty smell. It’s hard to describe an odor, but once you’ve encountered it, you’ll know it. The newly made reproduction items made in China, India or Pakistan (or wherever they’re made) do not have this peculiar “fragrance.” This is not a foolproof method but it can help sort out fakes from the genuine articles.
The above are just a few suggestions for relatively inexpensive but interesting collection themes. There are many others out there, limited only by your imagination. To use a current buzzword, think “outside the box”. Even if your net worth is a bit less than that of Bill Gates, you can still come up with interesting items to collect that can be challenging and rewarding but don’t require you to hit the lottery or mortgage the homestead.
Martially marked World War I Winchester Model 97 trench guns; separating fact from fiction.
Among the most popular and sought after U.S. military shotguns are the Winchester M1897 trench guns. This was the first officially adopted military issue combat shotgun and was the prototype for such weapons even through the present day. As most collectors are aware, the term “trench gun” refers to a short barrel riot type shotgun having a bayonet adapter and protective hand guard. The term “trench gun” was actually short-lived as military nomenclature but is now widely used by collectors to differentiate these weapons from other types of shotguns such as the plain barrel riot guns.
The shotgun was initially adopted as a trench warfare tool by the Americans soon after our entry into the First World War. Shotguns had been in limited use for combat and other purposes for many years prior to WWI but no combat versions had been officially standardized. The Winchester Model 1897 was selected to be our first combat shotgun due to its availability and proven success in the commercial marketplace. A unique bayonet adapter unit with an integral ventilated sheet metal hand guard was jointly developed by Winchester and the government’s Springfield Armory for use with the newly adopted weapon. The bayonet adapter was designed for use with the Model 1917 rifle bayonet since this item was in mass production by Winchester (and Remington) and large numbers were available. The new “trench gun” was initially tested by several U.S. Army units in the summer of 1918 and by early fall began to be issued to front line combat outfits. Remington Arms Company also delivered a relatively small number of trench guns based on their Model 10 slide action shotgun. The M10 trench guns utilized an entirely different type of bayonet adapter and separate wooden hand guard as compared to the Winchester trench gun. Both types, however, were designed for use with the M1917 rifle bayonet. Winchester delivered over 25,000 M97 trench guns to the government during WWI and Remington a much smaller number of M10 trench guns (possibly just a 1,000 or so). In addition, a number of plain barrel riot guns of both types (M97 and M10) were also produced.
The trench gun only saw limited use prior to the Armistice in November of 1918 but quickly garnered a reputation as an effective and fearsome close combat weapon. Large numbers were beginning to come into front line service as the war ended. The First World War vintage Winchester Model 1897 or “97” trench gun is rather easily identified. The weapon was essentially a standard 12 ga. Winchester Model 97 shotgun with a 20” cylinder bore barrel and fitted with the afore-mentioned hand guard/bayonet adapter assembly. Sling swivels were fitted to the bottom of the adapter and the bottom of the butt stock for use with the standard service rifle slings of the period. The guns were finished in standard commercial grade blue and had uncheckered walnut stocks and grooved forend slides. The weapons were stamped with standard Winchester factory markings on the barrel. Normally, hallmarks of military issue shotguns are the various types of martial markings stamped on the receiver, barrel and/or stock to denote acceptance into military service and government ownership. For example, all known original Remington Model 10 trench guns were stamped on the receiver with the initials “US” and well as the Ordnance Department’s “flaming bomb” insignia. The “US”, of course, indicates that the weapon was United States property and the “flaming bomb” signifies that the weapon had passed all ordnance inspections and was accepted into service. During WWII, military issue shotguns of all types were marked with a number of various types of U.S. military markings including, in some cases, final inspection stamps on the stocks.
However, for some reason, a number of World War I vintage Winchester Model 97 trench guns known to have been procured by the government were not stamped with martial markings of any sort. These weapons were fitted with the proper hand guard/bayonet adapter assemblies and sling swivels but had only the Winchester commercial markings. On the other hand, a number of weapons of this type have been observed stamped with “US” and flaming bomb markings similar to those found on the Remington Model 10 trench guns. The format and placement of these markings on the WWI vintage M97 trench guns are generally extremely consistent. They were stamped on the right side of the receiver above the ejection port and were obviously applied by hand due to the misalignment of the letters.
Collectors and students of the subject today have logically wondered why some guns of this type were martially marked while others weren’t. Unfortunately, this situation has led to some unwarranted and careless speculation; hence the purpose of this discussion. As readers of my previous books and articles probably know, I try to take great pains to separate fact from speculation. There is nothing wrong with speculation if it is clearly labeled as such and has some logical basis from which to assert the speculation. In the course of researching my book, Complete Guide to U.S. Combat Shotguns, I sifted through reams upon reams of government reports from the 1917-1945 period regarding military shotguns and was unable to find anything relating to this subject. We will discuss what is known on the subject, some theories that have been expounded and, hopefully, some reasonable points to consider. It must be stressed, however, that unless irrefutable official documentation is discovered, the question will remain open.
Determining what is known on the subject to be unquestionably true is easy:
(1) Some Model 97 trench guns known to have been purchased by the United States government during the WWI period were stamped with the above-described martial markings and some weren’t.
(2) All known Remington Model 10 trench guns of the same vintage were stamped with martial markings.
(3) Military shotguns procured after World War I were normally stamped with martial markings of some sort.
I don’t believe anyone can rationally argue with the above points. However, the question remains why some of these WWI Model 97 trench guns were martially marked and some weren’t. Unfortunately, some collectors and persons interested in the subject have proposed theories that have been accepted as gospel by others and have been repeated as fact in subsequent articles and books. The most ubiquitous theory is that the martial markings were applied sometime after the World War I period when some trench guns were distributed to the United States Post Office Department in the 1920s. The theory is that these guns were so marked to identify them as government issue weapons. It has also been widely reported in many of the same sources that 20% of the weapons were martially marked and the remaining government owned M97 trench guns were never stamped with military markings.
While one cannot prove a negative, there is no credible government documentation (at least that I and several other advanced collectors are aware of) to confirm the fact that such guns were martially marked in the 1920s when some were transferred to the Post Office or anywhere else. Likewise, the 20% figure appears to have been plucked out of thin air or, possibly, is based on a very small sample of observed shotguns. For example, if five shotguns of this type are seen and only one is martially marked, one could infer that only 20% were so marked. While this might be true of the sample of five, no reasonable statistician would even begin to draw any hard and fast conclusions based on a non-scientifically drawn sample of 5 guns, 25 guns or 250 guns out of a universe of over 25,000 guns. Unfortunately, this 20% figure has been repeated so many times that is now accepted as fact by some collectors. This percentage is extremely questionable and it is foolhardy to give it any credence whatsoever without demonstrable government documentation.
As far as the business about marking the guns after WWI prior to the transfer of some to the Post Office, this is likewise highly suspect. Like many myths, it has a grain of truth. Some First World War vintage M97 trench guns were definitely transferred to the Post Office during the rash of mail robberies in the 1920s. However, most of the security for the mails during this period was provided by the U.S. Marine Corps and some of the marines were armed with M97 trench guns. (There is an interesting photo of a marine guarding the mails during this period in my combat shotgun book.) This brings up a logical question… Since the Post Office and USMC were branches of the United States government, what would have been the point in going to the trouble of stamping such weapons to denote government ownership when they never left government service?
This, of course, still doesn’t address the reason for marked vs. unmarked guns. To reasonably explore this issue, one must look at the military procurement practices of the time. Unlike many military weapons that were only built under contract, such as the M1917 rifle, the M97 trench gun was nothing more than a slightly modified civilian gun that was pressed into government service. These guns were apparently manufactured by Winchester and delivered to several ordnance facilities for subsequently shipment to other army units. As stated, the war ended before many of the trench guns could be issued. Therefore, by no means, were all of the approximately 25,000 that were manufactured actually issued. This meant that a number of the guns were sitting in various ordnance depots after the Armistice and never issued to the troops.
It seems a more logical assumption that the martially marked guns were those that were actually issued. In addition to denoting government ownership, the Ordnance Department “flaming bomb” insignia often served to identify weapons that passed inspection and were accepted into military service. This logically explains why some guns were martially marked and some weren’t. The guns that passed inspection were then hand-stamped to denote this and issued to the troops. The guns that remained in packing crates after the war and not issued had no need to be so marked and weren’t. Many were subsequently disposed of and were never martially marked. They were, of course, government owned guns but were not issued during the WWI era as were the martially marked guns.
There are several things that give credence to this assumption. It is inarguable that the non-martially-marked Model 1897 trench guns were not military weapons (double negative sentence!). This is proven by the acquisition of the “Ivanhoe” guns which were 70+ unmodified Model 1897 trench guns acquired by the Richmond (VA) Police Department in the early 1920s from the Virginia National Guard. The military provenance for those guns is unquestioned. None were martially marked. All were former Army (National Guard) weapons.
Secondly, there were some Winchester M1894 .30-30 carbines procured by the government during the 1917-1918 period for issue as supplementary martial arms (stateside guard use, etc.). These were stamped with martial markings identical to those found on the WWI martially marked M97 trench guns. I don’t believe any of these were sent to the Post Office Department after the war! These carbines were certainly marked during the same time period they were issued. Why would one expect the trench guns to be treated any differently? Both were commercial weapons procured under government contract from Winchester and stamped with the exact same type of marital markings. It is not logical to believe that one type of weapon was marked at the time it was accepted into government service in 1917-1918 and the other type was not marked until it supposedly “left” government service five or ten years later. Also, as stated, all (or at least the overwhelming majority) of the Remington Model 10 trench guns extant are martially marked. Since the M10 was made in much smaller numbers than the M97, it is reasonable to conclude that a much larger percentage were actually issued than was the case with the M97.
There can certainly be reasonable disagreement on the subject and divergent viewpoints are to be expected. However, unless unquestioned documentation is presented, all theories and assumptions must remain as strictly speculation. While most collectors would probably prefer to obtain a martially marked specimen, the fact remains that any World War I vintage Model 97 trench gun in decent condition, martially marked or not, is a desirable and interesting collectible. One must be very cautious when asserting an opinion or repeating someone else’s opinions. There are too many supposed “facts” floating around out there that are not true to spread any more. When someone expounds on the fact that only 20% of the Winchester Model 97 trench guns are martially marked and those are the ones that were not issued, ask for proof. The fact it may have been printed in some article or pamphlet does not necessarily constitute proof. Skepticism is a healthy and desirable trait for martial collectors.
Spotting a Restored or otherwise non-original M1 Carbine
Among the most sought after U.S. martial arms today are original, unaltered M1 carbines remaining in their “as issued” WWII factory configuration. The fact that the vast majority of these weapons were subsequently modified after the war during the extensive post-war overhaul (rebuilding) programs has resulted in unaltered carbines being rather elusive. The practice of restoring the overhauled carbines by replacing later and/or non-original parts is a widespread practice among many collectors today. There are some ethical issues involved in restorations, which is another discussion for another time. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with a competently restored carbine, if the fact it has been restored is passed along to a subsequent purchaser and the weapon is priced accordingly. Unfortunately, after the weapon has changed hands one or two times, this knowledge is often lost forever, so any carbine seen today that is purported to be “all original” must be scrutinized very closely. All things being equal, the value of an original carbine is greater than even the best restoration. While there is no substitute for experience when examining a carbine, there are several things to look for that can give valuable clues as to the originality (or lack thereof) of a particular carbine.
Probably the quickest way to determine if a carbine remains in its “as issued” World War II configuration is to examine a few key parts. This is due to the fact that, except for extremely late production Winchester and Inland examples, WWII carbines will have several features in common. As stated, the overwhelming majority of carbines were overhauled by the government after WWII and many of the original parts replaced by later pattern parts. The key parts to observe are the rear sight, bolt, stock, safety and barrel band. This is not to imply that only these parts are important as every component should be closely scrutinized. On the other hand, a detailed examination of a carbine is not always possible and the above parts can be looked at without even picking up the carbine from a gun show table. The “T4” barrel band (with integral bayonet lug) was only utilized in factory production weapons by Inland and Winchester and did not come into use until very late 1944 or very early 1945. Therefore, if any other carbine has this type of barrel band, it is not all original. The same caveat basically holds true for the rotary safety. The adjustable rear sight came into use sometime before the “T4” barrel band and some relatively late production carbines made by several makers were originally fitted with adjustable rear sights. However, the majority of carbines made in WWII had the non-adjustable “L type” rear sights.
All original WWII carbine bolts are believed to have been blued. Most were of the “flat top” variety although the rounded bolts came into use by a few makers before production ceased. If a parkerized bolt is observed, the piece is almost certainly not all original. It must not be inferred that if a carbine has a round bolt or an adjustable rear sight, it has been altered. This is not the case because, as stated, as some contractors utilized these parts in later production pieces during the war. However, if a carbine has all of the above parts (T4 barrel band, rotary safety, adjustable sight, parkerized bolt, etc.) and is not a very late production Inland or Winchester, one may rest assured that the piece is a post-war rebuild or has been assembled from parts. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with such a piece, but if someone is looking for an original WWII carbine, they need to keep looking.
Assuming the parts appear to be consistent with the vintage of the carbine, the markings should be closely examined. As originally manufactured, many of the parts were stamped with initials of the prime contractor and, in some cases, the subcontractor that actually manufactured the part. Each prime contractor was assigned a code letter:
Inland = I
Winchester = W
Saginaw = SG
Saginaw (Grand Rapids) = S’G’
Standard Products = S
Irwin-Pedersen = IP
IBM = B
Rock Ola = R
National Postal Meter = N
Quality Hardware = Q
Underwood = U
Therefore, for example, a carbine made by Rock Ola would be expected to have all “R” coded parts. Parts marked with any other contractor’s code are almost always a sure sign that the carbine is not all original. There are some exceptions to this rule as several prime contractors are known to have utilized parts made for other prime contractors. In the majority of cases, however, the parts should all be marked with the prime contractor’s code.
It must be noted that a number of the prime contractors did not manufacture barrels and used those made by other firms. The only firms that made their own barrels were Inland, Winchester, Underwood, Rock Ola and IBM. Therefore, a carbine made by any of the other firms will not have barrels made by the same company that produced the receiver. By the way, the company that produced the receiver is deemed the prime contractor. The stocks were also stamped with code markings which are normally found inside of the sling recess on the left side. Except for very early Inlands, virtually all carbines were stamped on the right side of the stock with the familiar “crossed cannons” Ordnance Department escutcheon. Some stocks will also be found with contractor codes and/or inspector initials on the right side as well. A few very late stocks used with the M2 carbine are characterized by a very prominent bulge on the bottom of the forend. Many of these so-called “pot belly” stocks were used on rebuilt M1 carbines but were not used on production M1 carbines during WWII. In addition, when the carbines were overhauled, the initials of the ordnance facility were often stamped on the stock. Such markings can be sanded off by someone wishing to remove such evidence so any sanded areas make the stock suspect. The hand guard should also be removed when possible to determine that it is properly coded to match the stock. Most WWII carbines had hand guards with two rivets rather than the four rivet hand guards found on later production carbines and many rebuilds.
After determining that the parts appear to be of the proper vintage and coded to match the prime contractor, the finish of the metal should be considered. While most major component parts such as receivers, barrels (with a few exceptions), trigger housings, etc. were parkerized, the tint and texture of these parts varied. Since many of the parts were produced by subcontractors often hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart, the parkerizing found on such parts would certainly not be expected to be uniform. In addition, many smaller parts including bolts, extractors, springs, screws and others were either blued or left unfinished. Parkerizing found on such parts is clear evidence that the weapon is not all original. Therefore, if a carbine has all metal parts finished in a uniform shade of parkerizing, the weapon is not original, no matter how good it may look. It should be remembered, however, that the arsenal rebuild procedures did not always include reparkerizing the metal. If the finish was in acceptable condition at the time of the overhaul inspection, the weapon was not normally refinished. Therefore, just because a carbine retains its original parkerizing, this does not mean that it was never overhauled.
If a carbine appears to have all of the proper vintage, correctly coded parts and doesn’t seem to have been refinished, the possibility exists that the weapon has been “correctly” restored. Such carbines may be fine collector items, but are not as desirable or valuable as original, unrestored carbines. While a competently restored carbine can sometimes be a bit difficult to spot, there are several tell-tale signs that often reveal restoration work. Two of the most significant areas to observe are the barrel and rear sight base. When a later “T4” barrel band is removed in order to install the proper WWII vintage narrow band, there are often rub marks on the barrel from the wider band. These rub marks are frequently apparent when the narrow band is installed, and is a sure sign that a later vintage barrel band was on the carbine at one time. Also, any indention in the wood at the tip of the stock covered by the barrel band should be examined. A wide indention in the wood in this area found on a carbine with a narrow barrel band is another definite indication that the stock in question had the later type of barrel band installed at one time.
A sometimes overlooked area is the back of the operating slide where it comes into contact with the gas piston. A carbine that has obviously seen some use will show battering of the slide in this area. Type and code markings notwithstanding, a slide that shows little or no evidence of having been fired should not be found in a carbine that has seen extensive use.
When the narrow “L” type non-adjustable rear sights were replaced by the adjustable variety during overhaul, the later types were generally staked into place by punch pricks on both sides of the sight base. Typically these punch marks are rather deep and readily apparent. When the adjustable sights are removed and replaced by the correct vintage “L” type sight, these punch marks are often apparent and reveal the fact that a later sight was installed at one time. Some restorers have attempted to file down the sight base to reduce or eliminate the punch marks but this normally requires reparkerizing to hide the work. Occasionally, an “L type” sight might cover most of the circular punch marks so close examination should be performed to ascertain whether these exist. Some enterprising fakers have welded up very deep staking punch marks, ground off the excess and refinished the receiver. Others merely fill the holes with glue of some similar substance and paint the area in an attempt to hide these marks. Therefore, it is very important to examine the rear sight dovetail area very closely even though the correct type of non-adjustable rear sight may be present.
Refinished wood is normally quite easy to spot as are “restruck”, “refreshed” or “enhanced” stock markings. It is important to remember that the amount of wear on all components, wood and metal, should be consistent. A brand new condition stock on a carbine with well-used metal components is a sure indication that something is amiss. Normally, sanded and refinished wood is quite easy to spot. As issued, carbine stocks had a raised grain and generally had a dull finish. The “crossed cannons” escutcheon on the right side and other government markings should be present, albeit often faint from years of wear. Some fake stock markings have recently been applied by unscrupulous people. Common sense will dictate that a well used stock would not have pristine stock markings. Another word of caution is that brand new reproduction carbine stocks have been produced within the past couple of years. If these are stamped with bogus, but seemingly proper markings, such stocks could appear to be highly desirable “mint” original stocks. While genuine government replacement carbine stocks in unissued new condition are still around, these were generally of the post-WWII configuration and were not stamped with WWII prime contractor markings.
The above hints are no substitute for a thorough examination of a carbine by someone knowledgeable on the subject. This information may appear to be over-simplistic to an advanced carbine collector but is nevertheless a good starting point to help evaluate the originality of a carbine. Collector references books such as my “Complete Guide to the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine” and Larry Ruth’s excellent “War Baby” books are recommended for anyone wishing to explore the subject in greater depth. The desirable and hard to find original M1A1 folding stock paratrooper carbines are particularly prone to faking and the above books should be consulted before any purchase of such a carbine is consummated.
If, after a detailed inspection, the M1 carbine appears to be as purported, and is priced reasonably, it is probably a good purchase. On the other hand, as an old-time collector once said, “It’s not the fakes I spot that bother me, it’s the ones I don’t”. Caveat Emptor!
M1 Rifle Final Inspection Stamps
There are some widespread misconceptions regarding the markings found on the stocks of World War II production M1 rifles. This posting is prompted by an American Rifleman “Q&A” inquiry I recently received. The gentleman had just acquired a WWII Winchester M1 Garand rifle and noticed the “WRA/GHD” stamp on the left side of the stock. He was told that these were the initials of the rifle’s inspector and wanted to know if I could identify “GHD” as he thought it would be cool to know the name of the guy who actually inspected his rifle during the war.
I told him that I could identify “GHD” but he may be disappointed learn that he did not actually inspect the rifle. I related that “GHD” was Colonel (later Brig. Gen.) Guy Humphrey Drewry who was appointed Deputy District Chief of the Springfield Ordnance District in June 1942. I went on to explain that in this capacity, Drewry did not actually inspect the weapons but, rather, they were inspected by ordnance inspectors operating under his authority. As I also mentioned, Col. Drewry was preceded in this position by Col. Robert Sears (“RS”) followed by Col. Waldemar Broberg (“WB”). None of these officers were actually inspectors but were Ordnance Department bureaucrats (no disrespect intended) even if they did wear a spread eagle or a star on their collars who had the significant responsibility of monitoring the manufacture and inspection of the small arms produced under government contract by commercial firms in their Ordnance District. My Q&A answer also briefly mentioned that WWII Springfield Armory Garands were also marked in a similar manner but with the initials of the Commanding Officers of the Armory at the time the rifles were manufactured.
This incident got me thinking (which can be a dangerous thing!) about the entire subject of inspection markings. Some of the misconceptions mentioned about are, as the inquirer was told, that such initials were of the actual inspector of the weapons As shown, in the case of the M1 Garand Final Inspection Stamps, this was simply not the case. To some extent, the same was true for other weapons such as Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal M1903 rifles that had also initials stamped on the left side of the stock. For example, WWI and pre-WWI M1903 rifles may be observed with several differed initials. One common one was “JSA” which signified John Sumnar Adams. He was Springfield’s “Master Armorer” during this period and, while Adams may have inspected a few arms himself, he was actually more of a supervisor than an inspector. Likewise, a well-known final inspection stamp found on pre-WWI M1903 rifles manufactured by Rock Island Arsenal is “CN” (over the date of assembly). Once again, Conrad Nelson was the foreman of small arms inspection at the Arsenal and his stamp found on an ’03 does not, by any means, indicate that he actually inspected the weapon.
In the case of weapons that were rebuilt, especially after WWII, the initials typically found on these arms may indicate the inspector that actually approved the overhaul job on that specific rifle. Unfortunately, unlike the Final Inspection Stamps of newly manufactured weapons, we do not know the identity of the vast majority of these guys. M1 rifles rebuilt at Springfield Armory in the early 1950s were often stamped “SA” over a single initial. It is presumed that the initial represents the inspector who approved that specific overhaul rather than a chief of inspections as there are a number of different letters extant. The same is true of weapons overhauled after WWII at such facilities as the San Antonio Arsenal (Texas) or Anniston Arsenal (Alabama). These inspection stamps normally consist of “SAA” or “AA” followed by a letter suffix. Some Anniston inspection stamps have been observed with a digit rather than a letter. Again, these probably were the actual person who inspected the overhaul but the identity of these individuals is not known. One exception is the fairly common post-WWII rebuild stamp found on weapons overhauled at Raritan (NJ) Arsenal; “RA-P.” In this case “RA” indicates “Raritan Arsenal” and “P” is Harry Petersen who was in charge of small arms inspection there. However, in this case, it is probable that Mr. Petersen, like Messrs. Adams and Conrad, was more of a supervisor than the person who actually inspected the arm after rebuild.
In summary, while it is technically correct to call such markings “inspection stamps,” in the case of WWII M1 rifles, this should be not construed to mean that the individual represented by the initials on the stock actually inspected, or even saw, the rifle in question. They didn’t. This was done by the ordnance inspectors who labored daily diligently checking the rifles as they came off Springfield's or Winchester’s assembly line. At least for now, these unsung but dedicated workers will remain anonymous.
Should we modify the use of "Modified"?
Any collector of U.S. martial arms that has been at it for more than a couple of days should be quite familiar with many of the various unofficial terms and jargon that make up a collector’s lexicon. To list all of these would take up several reams of cyber paper but some of more common are:
Rod Bayonet ‘03
Gas Trap Garand
Gap Letter International Harvester M1
M1 carbine flip sight
Low number Springfield ‘03
High wood M1 carbine stock
I could go on, but you get the idea. One such term that falls into the category is the use of “Modified” to identify WWII Remington M1903 rifles manufactured between the earliest rifles and the later M1903A3 variant. Even though some Remington factory documents from this period use the term “Modified,” it almost certainly does not refer to these, in effect, transitional rifles. However, years ago, many collectors adopted (“hi-jacked”) this term to differentiate the early production, finely crafted Remington M1903 rifles that were very similar to the ’03s made by Rock Island late in the First World War from the mid-WWII roughly-hewn ‘03A3 variant. I was one of the many collectors who found this to be a handy term although I knew early on it was not official nomenclature.
When I began my writing “career,” I used this term to denote such rifles in several of my books and articles but always took pains to make it clear this was collector jargon and not any sort of official terminology. Apparently, some guys who read my stuff skipped over this disclaimer and got bent out of shape about my (paraphrase quote) “continuing to perpetuate the myth about M1903 “Modified” rifles” or words to that effect. Maybe I should have used bolder print in my disclaimer!
The use of the term “Modified” by many of today’s collectors to denote such rifles is not a myth, it is reality. On the other hand, if anyone suggests the term was official Remington or Ordnance Department nomenclature, then that would be in the mythical category. Some of the guys who are into ‘03s and who get all upset about my use of the term “Modified” in this context have no problem talking about “high hump” ’03 handguards or “no bolt” stocks which have exactly the same degree of “official-ness” (I made up that word!) as the dreaded “m” word in question. Obviously the aversion to the term “Modified” in this context is a case of selective indignation. Perhaps “Transitional” Remington M1903 would be a better descriptive term for these rifles but “Modified” is so ingrained in the collector lexicon today that any change is rather unlikely.
While I have discontinued use of the term “cartouche” for a variety of reasons, I don’t get my knickers in a twist if someone uses the word as it is such a prevalent term that it will always be among us. I’m certainly not going to berate them for “perpetuating the myth” of the word that originally meant something else but has been high-jacked by collectors to describe any and every marking on a military rifle.
Let’s just agree to add Remington M1903 “Modified” to the lengthy list of unofficial collector-jargon terms. If anyone should insist it was an official term to denote such rifles, then all bets are off and the self-appointed internet gurus can consider such individuals fair game. Otherwise, the complainers should read the text of a book very closely before complaining.
Will you be able to "cash out" when you're ready?
Interest in U.S. military weaponry continues to grow with corresponding increases in price and shortages of many types of collector-grade specimens. A number of long-time collectors have expressed some concern that new (and younger) collectors are not coming into the field due to the astronomical prices that some weapons are now fetching. While some specific types of weapons are beginning to be priced out of the reach of many collectors, I am seeing quite a few younger collectors coming into the hobby. Part of the reason is the availability of the CMP M1 rifles and other weapons. Many people can afford a $700 CMP Garand and this has seemed to whet the appetites of many persons with a passing interest in U.S. martial arms. As most of us can testify, a passing interest in collecting U.S. martial arms can easily become something of an addiction if we’re not careful. There are still a number of military long arms, handguns and edged weapons available at reasonable prices today. Sure, they’re quite a bit higher than they were ten years ago but what’s not? We sometimes focus too much on the weapons costing thousands of dollars each when there are interesting items that can be had for much less. Keeping new collectors coming into the field every year is vital if this hobby is going to continue to grow. Always do your part to encourage fledging collectors. While this is the right thing to do for several reasons, there are also some less altruistic motives for this. Most of us in our 40s, 50s or 60s have given some thought to the possibility of disposing of our collections at some future date. The reasons for doing so can range from a hedge against inflation, to supplementing our retirement income to a change in interests and/or lifestyles. We may decide some day that we’d rather travel the world and spend our kids’ inheritances than continue to pursue our hobby of collecting U.S. military weapons. When (and if) that time comes, we probably assume there will be a bunch of eager collectors with handfuls of cash jumping up and down to buy our weapons. While this might be the case now (or will be when the economy rebounds), what about fifteen, twenty or thirty years from now? If there aren’t any new (and younger) collectors coming into the field today, who will be these future buyers? Few 22-year-old beginning collectors can afford several thousand dollars for a collector-grade trench gun or Spencer carbine today. However, when these same gentlemen are in their 40s and 50s, many will then have the disposable incomes to purchase non-essential “big ticket” items such as martial collectibles. The big question is “will they choose to do so and will there be enough of them around to constitute a reliable source of buyers?” Thirty years from now, we won’t have much luck trying to sell our collections to other old geezers who will be having the same thoughts we do about the subject. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not yet in the geezer category (but I sure will be in 30 years if I’m still around!) and have no intention of selling my collection. My point is, however, that I would like to have that option in the future. Without a new generation of dedicated and committed collectors, this option might not be available to us. Hopefully, this will give you something to think about and another reason to encourage young collectors to pursue the hobby.
Refinish it or Leave it Alone?
Every collector will eventually be faced with a decision as what to do with a weapon he encounters that is not in the condition he desires. When does it make sense to refinish the wood or metal or both? The answer depends on several factors, the most important is the personal preference of the owner.
Before we talk about when refinishing may be an option, we should discuss when refinishing would unquestionably be an unwise course of action. I can think of several scenarios when refinishing would not be recommended under any circumstances. First, a weapon with historical importance should be left in its present state of preservation, regardless of how it may look. For example, suppose someone bought George Armstrong Custer’s personal .50-70 rifle (it did sell a number of years ago). Since the approximately 130 year old gun saw field use, it shows the nicks and dings of such usage as well as some wear to the finish. However, the rifle remains essentially in the same condition as carried by Custer. Does anyone think the rifle should be refinished? I think any rational person would agree that the weapon should be left alone. What about other less historic weapons? A good example would be the M1941 Johnson rifle that is confirmed to have been “carried home” by a former member of the USMC’s First Parachute Regiment. The rifle was used in combat in the Solomons and the gentleman surreptitiously carried the rifle home after being ordered to bury all of the unit’s Johnson rifles on a beach on Bougainville. He took the rifle down and slipped it into a jump bag and sent it home. He kept the rifle undisturbed for the past 55 years and only parted with it a few years ago. The rifle remained exactly as he carried in on Vella Lavella and Bougainville. Fortunately, the rifle is in amazingly good condition considering it is a combat veteran. Even if it wasn’t in such good shape, however, I do not think a reasonable case could be made for subjecting it to any sort of refinishing. The rifle survived for over a half century without anybody messing with it and it would be a disservice to posterity to monkey with it now. The rifle is historic as one of the few known Johnson rifles with a Marine Corps provenance and combat duty to its credit. I don’t think any sort of refinishing, regardless of the condition, would be warranted for a weapon of this type.
We can all probably agree that weapons with demonstrable historical backgrounds should not be subjected to refinishing. How about “run of the mill” weapons that have no historical connection? This is where the subject can get really tricky. I think the main determining factor is the condition of the weapon. In other words, is the condition so bad that refinishing makes sense from an aesthetic and economic standpoint? This is really something everyone will have to decide for himself. I know of some people who have refinished guns that were in very nice condition because they exhibited a bit of wear on the high places of the metal from being put in a holster or a scabbard. To me, this is very unfortunate as the guns were truly nice condition and refinishing was not only unnecessary but extremely damaging to the value. However, the owners were apparently pleased so it can be argued that it’s nobody’s business. This may be true but it is also true that future generations have been deprived of the opportunity to own an original weapon because of such ill-advised refinishing.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen collectors with guns that are brown with rust and/or have no original finish remaining with stocks that are one step above firewood. The owners are reluctant to do anything to these guns because they don’t want to alter their originality. I understand this sentiment but guns of this sort are in such bad condition that they have marginal value anyway. It is my opinion that careful and appropriate refinishing might enhance the appearance and, perhaps, the value of such weapons.
The difficult decisions lie between these two extremes. We are essentially back to the original question….. How bad does a gun have to be before refinishing begins to make sense? I wish there were some perfect guidelines that we could all agree on but, unfortunately, there’s not. It becomes simply a matter of degree and opinion.
I think the decision whether or not to refinish a gun is similar to the decision whether or not to get married! That is, if you have any doubts, DON’T DO IT!! A gun can always be refinished later but once it’s done, it can’t be undone. Refinishing is a permanent alteration that can have a drastic impact on the desirability and value of a weapon. The impact can sometimes be positive but, more often, the impact is negative. As stated, there are several factors to consider regarding whether or not a gun should be refinished including any historical association and the overall condition of the piece.
Once the decision to refinish has been made, be sure that the person you select knows what he is doing. Almost any “shade tree gunsmith” can reblue a gun but precious few can even come close to duplicating the original factory rust bluing found on many older weapons. Likewise, a lot of people today advertise parkerizing services but only a fraction can get close to the greenish-gray parkerizing of WWII vintage weapons. The wrong tint and texture of refinished metal is worse than an original blotchy finish or even no finish at all. The same is true for wood. Any idiot can sand the imperfections out of a stock but the result is usually a disappointment at best and a tragedy at worst. There are a few craftsmen who can make a rough piece of wood look surprisingly good while maintaining the original contours and markings. A properly refinished stock is not as good as a nice original but can often be an improvement over a dented and dinged original. While on this subject do not, under any circumstances, allow someone to “refresh” or re-stamp an inspection stamp on a stock. This practice is getting to be very prevalent and is never a good idea. No inspection stamp is infinitely preferable to a fake inspection stamp.
In summation, unless a weapon is in such bad condition that properly refinished metal or wood will not detract from the value, it should be left alone. However, if a weapon falls into this category, a professional and properly done refinish might be worthwhile. Just be sure that the person doing the work knows his stuff and doesn’t overdo it. A bright new finish on an otherwise well-worn weapon can be as off-putting as splotchy brown metal or badly banged up wood.
Before any decision to refinish a weapon is made, be sure you’ve considered every angle. The final question to ask yourself is whether the rifle will be more desirable and more valuable if you leave it alone or if you have the metal and/or wood properly refinished. Many decent original weapons have been ruined by thoughtless or inept refinishing. As mentioned previously, if you have even the slightest doubt, leave it alone. Remember, a gun in marginal condition may have 5% or 10% original finish but a refinished gun has 0% original finish.
Price Gougers vs. Economics 101.
While perusing an internet firearms-related site recently, I came across a thread pertaining to the alleged “gouging” by a dealer at a gun show who was hawking something that the poster fancied (I think it was cartridge primers). In any event, the guy was incensed at the price that was being asked by the seller and vehemently denounced him as a “price gouger.” Several respondents joined in and bemoaned such “unseemly” behavior while others who commented had a more balanced approach to the subject at hand.
I figuratively scratched my head and tried to see the complainant’s point but, frankly, I had no sympathy whatsoever for his plight. Very basically, the potential buyer wanted to purchase something at a price less than the seller was willing to accept. OK, I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation many times before. In such cases, we normally go our merry way and seek out other sellers who may have item we’re looking for a price we’re willing to pay. If we can’t find anyone agreeing to sell this item for the price we want to pay, it should be assumed that we have an unrealistically low expectation of what the true market value is for said item. This is the beauty of Capitalism. Maybe we should keep this on the hush-hush as capitalism is a dirty word in high political circles these days… but I digress. In any event, if the demand for an item exceeds the supply, the price will go up. If the supply exceeds the demand, the price will drop. This isn’t rocket science.
To apply this to the issue mentioned above, if the seller has an absurdly high price on his primers (or whatever he was trying to sell), he won’t sell much, if any, of his stuff and will go home empty-handed (especially if he bought some of the typically atrocious “food” at the gun show). If he is asking an absurdly low price, and assuming there was even a modicum of demand, he would quickly sell out and probably kick himself for leaving a lot of money on the table. Again, basic Economics 101. Was this seller “price gouging?” I think not. Price gouging is when a seller has a product that the buyer absolutely must have and then jacks the price up well beyond its normal market value. Note I said “absolutely must have,” not “would like to have.” There is a huge difference. A good example is when fuel supplies or basic food and water needs are disrupted because of a pending hurricane or other potential calamity and the sellers of this stuff mark it up substantially higher than normal because, in this instance, the buyers have no choice if the seller is the “only game in town.” After the perceived dire situation passes, the price returns to normal. That is “price gouging” and is reprehensible. Personally, I would be hard-pressed to ever again be a patron of an establishment that acted in such a manner. This is entirely different than the person who fancies something but wants to buy it at a lower price than the seller is willing to take. This might be primers, automobiles, houses or a myriad of other things. In a normal world, a seller wishes to maximize his profit and a buyer wishes to minimize his spending. That’s how it should be. Just because a seller doesn’t want to lose money on a transaction doesn’t mean he’s evil. The tables can be reversed and one might say that the whiny buyer who complains about “price gouging” is actually too cheap or too spoiled to pay a fair market value and believes he is being taken advantage of or that society in general and the seller in particular “owe” him something. Gee, that sounds like a typical liberal democrat.
In conclusion, let’s try an experiment. Let’s all walk into our local BMW dealer’s showroom and offer to buy a brand-new Z4 Roadster for $1,000. When the salesman looks at you like you just fell out of a tree, holler and accuse him of price gouging. If you raise too much of a ruckus, you can complain about the dealer’s “price gouging” to the policeman who comes to arrest you for disturbing the peace I’m sure he’ll be totally sympathetic. After all, the evil capitalist dealer shouldn’t be denying you the pleasure of driving an automobile that you really, really want at a price you want to pay. What this country coming to? Oh wait, with the current administration in Washington and their lackeys in Congress, that question may be answering itself.
Thoughts on Writing
Along with martial arms collecting, one of my favorite hobbies is writing. My 12th book has been published by Mowbray Publishing. In addition to writing books, I have been fortunate to have numerous articles (over 100) on martial arms collecting published in several national magazines, primarily American Rifleman, The Gun Report and Man at Arms as well as several foreign publications (Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Japan). I initially began my writing endeavors when an article of mine on U.S. WWI trench guns was published in Man at Arms magazine back in 1983. That eventually resulted in a great working relationship with Andy Mowbray, the founder of Man at Arms magazine and Mowbray Publishing. Andy regrettably passed away a few years ago and his son, Stuart, assumed control of the company and has done a great job. I can’t imagine an author having a better working relationship with a publisher than the one that Stuart and I enjoy. These endeavors also led to my association with American Rifleman magazine. When Mark Keefe took over the helm of the Rifleman several years ago, he improved the quality of the magazine tremendously and I am pleased to count him as a great friend.
I occasionally get inquires from individuals who would like to “get published” and ask for advice. Some are interested in having a book published and others are looking to get a magazine article in print. My first bit of advice is usually the hoary, but nevertheless true, cliché of “write what you know” coupled with the admonition that an author should have a demonstrable interest in whatever subject he decides to write about. In addition, the subject must be of sufficient interest to enough individuals to warrant publication. Publishers are businessmen. They will not invest time and capital in a project that they do not think will result in a reasonable return on their investment. For example, I’ve seen a number of manuscripts from individuals who simply write about their life experiences, often in the military. With due respect, the vast majority of such efforts are of interest only to the writer and, perhaps, his immediate family. Occasionally a writer will have sufficient talent to craft an interesting narrative of his experiences in the military that might appeal to a broad segment of potential readers but such efforts are very much in the minority.
Of course, the above applies only to non-fiction work as fiction is another matter and requires an entirely different skill-set (which I do not possess). The type of writing I typically engage in is not related to my personal experiences (which would be extremely boring to 99.9999% of potential readers) but, rather, to U.S. military weapons, their historical application, or both. Such writing requires adequate research and sufficient writing ability to make what might be a rather “dry” subject to some readers palatably interesting to the majority. Also, the subject must have broad enough appeal to make it a viable topic in the eyes of a publisher. For example, even though a number have been written, a book on the M1 rifle or M1 carbine would potentially appeal to an infinitely larger market than a book on chromed-plated French pocket revolvers made in the 1920s which would be of interest only to the two or three guys in the country who collect such guns.
If an individual is convinced that he has a viable topic, has done sufficient research and presented the material in an interesting and cogent manner, then his next task is to find someone to publish it. This is true for both magazine articles and books although, as might be expected, it is normally much easier to have an article published than a book because of the capital expenditure required for the latter as compared to the former. In the case of a book, there are only a handful of publishers who specialize in books on U.S. military weapons-related topics. A “generic” publishing house almost certainly would have little interest in such topics because, relatively speaking, it is a “fringe” market with limited appeal to the population as a whole. We collectors and gun enthusiasts are avid buyers of books on our pet weapons but the vast majority of individuals do not share our interests in such things. Some fledging authors may decide to self-publish their work or, perhaps, engage the services of a “vanity press” publisher who will produce and print books on a contract basis with the author paying for their services. Any method of publishing will have pros and cons.
If a book is published by an established publishing company, the author will have the luxury of professionals handling the layout, printing and marketing of his book with little effort (after submitting the manuscript) and no financial risk on his part. He will also, typically, receive a percentage of the sale proceeds as royalties. The primary “con” is that he will only receive this royalty percentage and the publisher will obtain the lion’s share of the revenue from the sale of the book. Of course, the publisher bears all the risk and much of the effort as well so it would seem to be a fair trade-off. Probably the biggest hurdle is finding a publisher who is willing to risk his time and capital on an unknown or untested author.
f someone chooses to self-publish, he will have to do the layout of the book himself (which is more involved than one might contemplate), pay for the printing (after finding a suitable printer which may not be as easy as it sounds) and associated costs out of his pocket and market the book (with the attendant expenses of advertising, shipping, etc.). The major “upside” is that he will receive all the revenue from sale of the book. Many times, however, an author unhappily discovers that the revenue is far less than the expenses and the book project is a money-losing proposition. Still, sometimes the pleasure of seeing one’s efforts in print is worth the financial burden involved.
Likewise, engaging the services of a “vanity” publisher is a mixed bag. The author will have a professional (hopefully) handling the layout, etc. of the book and not have to search for the services of a printing firm. Otherwise, that’s about it. The publisher’s fee will include the costs of putting together the book, having it printed and then adding a (usually) rather hefty profit. The publisher will normally ship the books to the author and, from that point on, it’s up to him to find buyers. Such arrangements very rarely result in anything remotely resembling a profit accruing to the author.
None of the above is intended to dissuade anyone from attempting to write a book as it can be a rewarding experience, albeit not always financially. Keeping with the subject of this website, if one does manage to have a book published on U.S. military weapons or a related topic, he will quickly find out that a thick skin is a necessity. Collectors and enthusiasts of the hobby are generally nice guys but some can become extremely critical of anyone’s efforts in publishing a book on their pet subject. Admittedly, some of the books that have been offered over the years are not very good and reasonable criticism is justified. However, there is not, and never will be, a perfect book on the genre as all contain errors and questionable information or statements. It’s a matter of degree. If there are errors on every other page, then the book is, at best, marginally useful. If there are only a handful of questionable or erroneous statements, that’s a pretty good effort. Regardless, some guys get pathological in the tone and tenor of their complaints. After doing this for over two decades, I can testify first-hand. Sometimes criticism is valid but other times it borders on the absurd. As one example of the latter, in one of my early books, the publisher had a typo regarding the length of the M1905 bayonet’s blade and stated it was 16’ long rather than 16” long. Of course, a writer will routinely get blamed for publisher typos, etc. but that comes with the territory. Anyway, one guy (who apparently was off his meds) wrote an extremely nasty letter to the publisher and to the NRA (since they were selling this book in their museum’s book store at the time) stating that someone who thought that a bayonet was 16 feet long was obviously too incompetent to write a book and that the book should be immediately withdrawn. I’m not making this up! My publisher and the guys at the NRA thought this was hysterically funny. Of course, this is an extreme example but you get the idea. Whenever a book is published, all the errors and shortcomings are “out there” in perpetuity as there is no way to fix problems after publication. With the possible exception of politics, book authors are among the most vociferously criticized individuals and should learn to have a thick skin and good sense of humor. One should learn from the valid criticisms and forget the others.
Writing magazine articles for national publications is, in some ways, similar to writing a book. However, writing a magazine article has its own inherent challenges. One of the most difficult things to do is to write a cogent and interesting article using a finite number of words. With a book, a few extra pages are not a big deal. Magazines, on the other hand, have a limited amount of space available for an article and anything longer will either not be printed or will be severely edited. Sometimes such edits can result in leaving out the “meat” of the article so it behooves a writer to limit his manuscript to the available space. The editor will let a potential author know beforehand how much space is available and in such cases the “word count” feature of most word processing software can be your friend. After writing scores of articles for the American Rifleman and other publications, I’ve honed the ability to write what I need to say within the space available. Sometimes, however, this also leads to complaints. For example, I recently wrote an article on the “other” trench gun of the First World War, the Remington Model 10. Sure enough, a week or so later I saw a complaint on an internet discussion forum that the article didn’t cover the Vietnam era trench guns! If the guy was interested in Vietnam trench guns, he either needs to look for an article on that subject (I’ve done several in the past) or a book on the subject (ditto). Likewise, some guys who are really into a collecting theme will complain if an article is too “superficial” and doesn’t contain any “new” or “useful “ information. What such guys seem to forget is that probably 90% of the readers of a magazine have, at best, only a passing interest in a particular topic (such as the M1 carbine or whatever). While much of the information presented in such articles may be "old hat" to the long-time collectors, it is often unknown to novices on the subject (who usually comprise the majority of readers). Interestingly, an editor of a magazine can sometimes receive two letters on a particular article on the same day, one complaining that the piece was too superficial and the other unhappy because it was too detailed! Again, a good sense of humor is an attribute that every writer should possess.
I didn’t initially intended for this posting to be so verbose but, as you might imagine, I find this to be an interesting topic. Of course, I’ll probably receive e-mails that it was too lengthy and e-mails that I should have gone into more detail. In such cases, the delete button can come in handy!
Some thoughts on the ‘03A4 Rifle
As discussed here previously, demand, and consequently prices, for quality U.S. military weapons have increased at a rate seemingly unimaginable a decade ago and still remain relatively strong even in the current economic climate. While prices for all of these arms have gone up significantly in the past few years, several have raced ahead of the pack. Among these are M1A1 carbines, M1941 Johnson rifles (not necessarily a U.S. military weapon but very popular nonetheless) M1911/M1911A1 .45 pistol and M1904A4 sniper rifles. Portions of this article were previously posted on “Canfield’s Corner” but the continuing popularity of the M1903A4 rifle warrants something of a repeat.
As most of you probably know, the M1903A4 rifle was the primary U.S. Army sniper rifle of the Second World War. It was a slightly modified M1903A3 and was only made by Remington Arms Company. There are basically five differences between the M1903A3 and the M1903A4.
(1) The markings on the receiver ring are offset in order to be read with the scope mount in place.
(2) The front sight assembly is not mounted (although the milling cuts are present).
(3) The bolt was concavely forged to clear the scope body.
(4) The stock is inletted to make room for the curved bolt.
(5) A Redfield “Junior” scope mount is attached to the receiver.
That’s about it. Unlike most other U.S. military sniper rifles, it is almost impossible to convincingly fake a M1903A4 because of the unique placement of the receiver ring markings. I have recently seen one attempt to create a fake M1903A4 by buffing off the markings on a standard M1903A3 and restamping them in the “correct” location. It was obvious that the markings were not original and the profile of the receiver was slightly altered due to the amount of metal that had to be removed in order to remove the factory markings. Most fake ‘03A4s around today are simply the result of someone attaching a Redfield mount on a ‘03A3 rifle and modifying the bolt to clear the scope body. Such fakes are easy to spot because the markings on the receiver ring are partially covered. In all fairness, in many cases, these rifles were not created with any larceny in mind and were done for the owner’s satisfaction. Regrettably, this satisfaction was usually purchased at the price of ruining a perfectly good M1903A3 rifle. A common name today for these ersatz ‘A4 rifles is “clone” which, as we discussed in a recent posting, is simply a euphemism for harsher words.
For the past four or five years, M1903A4 prices stayed fairly constant (relative to inflation) but the weapon is now among the hottest collectibles of the genre. I’m not sure what caused the ‘03A4 to take off but I suspect there were several factors including the fact that the majority of other U.S. military sniper rifles on the market today are fake whereas the ‘A4 is, as we discussed, almost impervious to convincing fakery. Another reason…and don’t laugh…was the movie “Saving Private Ryan” which prominently featured a M1903A4 rifle. Although the rifle in the movie was depicted with not one, but two, incorrect telescopes, it nevertheless seemed to whet the appetite of many collectors who wanted an example. While it may sound silly, it is a fact that many guns have become popularized by movies. From Dirty Harry’s Model 29 S&W .44 Magnum to the Garands and carbines featured in countless WWII films and television mini-series (Band of Brothers, etc.), movies have undoubtedly influenced collecting patterns for many years. The western movies from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” (1930s and 1940s) were, at least in some measure, responsible for the exploding popularity of lever action Winchester rifles and Colt SAA revolvers in the 1950s (which continues even today).
Regardless of the reason(s), the M1903A4 has become a poster child for many U.S. military arms collectors. Even though, as mentioned above, realistic fake ‘A4s are not a big problem, that doesn’t mean a collector can blithely purchase an example with no fear of getting burned. The biggest factor for a potential purchaser to consider is the telescope on the rifle, or perhaps, not on the rifle. A fair number of M1903A4s were sold via the DCM in the early 1960s and virtually none of these came with a telescope. It has been said that the Kennedy assassination in 1963 resulted in the Army removing the telescopes from the ‘A4s in the DCM sales program to alleviate fears of the government peddling “evil sniper rifles” to the public. Reportedly, the original telescopes removed from the rifles were destroyed and the lenses given to schools for science classes, etc. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but given what the Federal government does, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The M1903A4s sold by the CMP in recent years didn’t include scopes either.
In any event, the fact that almost all of the ‘A4s that came on the market were sans telescopes, meant that collectors had to find the correct type of their rifle because, after all, a sniper rifle isn’t much good without a scope, especially the ‘A4 which didn’t have any iron sights! It has been pretty well known that the Weaver 330C and M73B1 telescopes were the primary scopes supplied with the ‘A4 during WWII. I won’t go into extreme detail here, but early examples used “off the shelf” 330C scopes and this same telescope made under government contract was designated as the “M73B1” (and was so marked). Most of the 330C and M73B1 scopes mounted on ‘A4 rifles at the Remington plant had serial numbers (not related to the rifle) hand-etched on the tube. Since these scopes have been rather scarce on the collector market for the past couple of decades (partially due to the fact many were destroyed), collectors have been looking for alternatives. The commercial Weaver 330 scope was a popular item on sporting rifles since the 1930s and are still pretty common today. These scopes differed from the 330C in the fact that the latter had knobs that could be hand-turned for windage and elevation adjustment while the former required a screwdriver for such adjustments. Some guys have fantasized that any type of Weaver 330 series was used with the ‘A4 rifles because “it was wartime and they used anything they could get.” Sounds good but it’s wrong. The military specifications specifically stated which scope(s) were authorized and those, and only those, were used. While the Lyman Alaskan, designated as the “M73” was authorized for use with the M1903A4 rifle, none were procured by the government for the ‘A4 production program and the Weaver (330C and M73B1) were THE telescopes used with the rifle in WWII, with one possible exception. The only exception would be the Weaver 330-M8. This scope is very similar to the M73B1 except it does not have the same type of adjustment knobs and most have a tapered post reticle rather than the cross-hairs of the 330C/M73B1. Few, if any, have been noted with added serial numbers. There is some question whether the 330-M8 scopes were actually used with the ‘A4 and I understand why some may doubt it. I believe the scopes to be correct, based in large measure on a letter that the late sniper historian Peter Senich obtained from Weaver many years ago which stated that the M8 was, in fact, used on the ‘A4 to a limited extent during WWII. Unless something else comes to light that proves this to be incorrect, it’s good enough for me. Therefore, it can be said with a high degree of certainty, that the only types of telescopes that would be correct for a M1903A4 rifle remaining in its WWII configuration would be the Weaver 330C (with added serial number), M73B1 and, probably, the 330-M8, wishful thinking to the contrary. If I had to select only one scope to put on a WWII M1903A4, it would clearly be the M73B1 as its “correctness” cannot be questioned.
The picture gets a bit less clear for ‘03A4s that made it into the post-war period. The ‘A4 actually remained in military service until at least the early days of the Vietnam War and, like most WWII military weapons that remained in service, the majority were overhauled one or more times in the post-war period. The Weaver was not a great scope and most of them were replaced during overhaul. By the mid 1950s, the M84 was the standard Army sniper scope and most of the rebuilt ‘A4s had this scope mounted. Some of the WWII vintage M81 and M82 scopes (originally made for the M1C rifle) were also used on some post-war overhauled ‘A4s, but not nearly to the same extent as the M84. Again, some collectors have maintained that commercial Lyman Alaskan scopes (which are still pretty common) were used on ‘A4s after WWII but there is no evidence to suggest this was the case, although a few such scopes were used on M1Cs during the Korean era. It has also been claimed that the Weaver K-4 scopes were on A4s used during the Vietnam period. A few K-4s were mounted on M1D rifles (which required a special 1” mount) in the late 1960s but, again, there is nothing to confirm the scopes were also mounted on ‘A4s and any such use is extremely doubtful.
In summary, the “correct” scopes for the M1903A4 rifle are:
WWII ……………………. Weaver 330C (with added serial numbers), M73B1 and, probably the 330 M-8.
Post-WWII………………. M84 and to a limited extent, M81 and M82 during the
early to mid 1950s.
Any other scope found on a M1903A4 rifle today is almost certainly incorrect, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
That takes care of the scopes, so let’s look at a few other things that should be considered when evaluating a M1903A4.
Since most of the rifles were overhauled after WWII, certain features will be found on such rifles including arsenal rebuild stamps on the left side of the stock and parkerized components, including furniture. As originally made, the M1903A4, like the ‘A3, had some blued parts including barrel bands, band springs and a few other small components. As production continued some of these parts began to be parkerized, including the front band and, perhaps, the magazine/buttplate assembly. Regardless, an original M1903A4 will still contain some blued parts and an example with all parkerized components has definitely been refinished, likely as part of a post-war arsenal overhaul. Such rifles are still fine collectibles but don’t have the value of an example remaining in its WWII factory configuration. The same is true for all other weapons of this era including Garands and carbines. If a ‘A4 has been determined to have been overhauled, a collector should not go to the trouble to look for one of the scarce (and generally very expensive) WWII Weavers since few of these were retained on the rifles after the war. The best choice for such a rifle would be a M84 which, fortunately, are still pretty available and certainly less expensive than the genuine WWII Weavers and the M81/M82 scopes.
The majority of the M1903A4 rifles left the Remington with WWII production “Type C” (full pistol grip) stocks although some of the later production rifles had the scant (“wart hog”) stock. This was the only example of the scant stock being used on new production rifles and any seen today on a M1903 or M1903A3 has been added, possibly during and arsenal overhaul. In such cases, the stock should have the appropriate rebuild stamps on the left side.
One other thing to look for is to determine that the barrel is an original ‘A4 barrel and the rifle hasn’t been rebarrelled with a M1903A3 barrel that had the front sight assembly removed. In such cases, the area of the barrel under the front sight band will be smooth and devoid of finish whereas it would be the same texture and color as the rest of the barrel on genuine M903A4s. Of course, an added ‘A3 barrel could be reparkerized, thus making it difficult to determine its originality as an ‘A4 barrel.
Even with the current woeful national economy, I don’t see any signs that demand or prices for quality M1903A4 rifles are noticeably falling. Any genuine example with a correct telescope, especially one still in WWII trim, is a great find and such rifles are avidly sought by collectors. If you should ever run across a genuine Weaver M73B1 scope at a reasonable price, you might want to consider grabbing it even if you don’t need it. There are many collectors out there who would pay a substantial amount of money for such an item to complete their treasured ‘03A4. I wish I’d had the foresight to buy several dozen M73B1 scopes at $25 each back in the early 1960s but I was a kid in junior high school then and didn’t have the money or the clairvoyance to engage in such an enterprise. If I had done so, it would make the performance of my 401K look anemic today by comparison!
Say What You Mean
We are all familiar with “collector shorthand” words or phrases that are used to describe certain types of weapons and/or components but which aren’t, and never were, “official” terminology. Examples are myriad and include such well-known terms as “Trapdoor Springfield,” “gas trap Garand,” “M1 “locking bar” rear sight and “low wood” M1 carbine stocks, to name just a few. While these words and phrases can be useful as descriptive terms, others have devolved into all but meaningless terms. A good example of this is the word “cartouche” which typically meant the final inspection stamp on the stock of a martial firearm but is now often used to denote any and every marking on a weapon. For this reason, I’ve ceased using the term “cartouche” in favor of the actual term such as “final inspection stamp, “Ordnance Department escutcheon,” firing proof stamp,” etc. We touched on this before, but another type of collector terminology that has really gotten out of hand is the use of “Types” to differentiate variations of martial arms. The following was posted here previously and I think it may be helpful to repeat it.
An acquaintance recently asked me about a M1A1 carbine which he was contemplating purchasing. He said the seller indicated it was a “Type 2” and wanted to know what things he should look for. My first question was, “What is a ‘Type 2” carbine?” He said he didn’t know, hence the inquiry. I gave him a brief synopsis on the key points to observe on a M1A1 carbine but the episode got me thinking about the prevalent use of various “Types” by U.S. martial collectors. There may be a few exceptions that escape me, but the U.S. military did not use the term “type” to identify a model or variation of a weapon. This was routinely done by the Japanese in WWII but it wasn’t an American practice. However, today’s collectors have embraced the use of “type” or “types” to differentiate variants of weapons. In some cases, this may make sense if all parties are familiar with the vernacular but in many other cases it can be a cause for confusion (such as the above M1A1 example).
In the interest of full disclosure, I have used informal “type” designations in several of my books. However, this was almost always done to distinguish variations in parts and not for complete weapon “types.” For example, keeping with the M1 carbine theme, I routinely use the terms “Type 1,” “Type 2,” and “Type 3” to identify the three variants of M1 carbine bands. The first was the narrow band without bayonet lug, the second the wider band without bayonet lug and the third the wider band with bayonet lug. The terms are also sometimes used to denote the three distinct types of rear sights (non-adjustable, milled adjustable and stamped adjustable). Regardless, even though these terms have been in widespread use by carbine collectors for 25 or 30 years, I always try to take pains to make it clear that such terminology is informal and also generally enclose the term in quotation marks to reinforce the point. If there is any doubt as to the variant of part being discussed, then it would be better to use a bit lengthier, but much clearer, description such as “milled adjustable rear sight.”
Some collectors, and even some writers, take this several steps further by using the term “Type” to describe variants of weapons. This may have been intended to simplify identification but, to my mind, it only confuses the issue. Still staying with the M1 carbine theme, let’s try to figure out what constitutes the three “types” of M1 (or M1A1) carbines. It certainly can’t refer simply to the type of barrel band on the carbine in question. If so, how does one distinguish a post-WWII rebuilt carbine with a “Type 3” (wide band with bayonet lug) from a late WWII example still in its factory configuration with the same pattern band? Does a “Type 2” carbine have a “Type 1,” “Type 2,” or “Type 3” rear sight? Does it have a “high wood” (“Type 1?”) or “low wood” (“Type 2”) stock? How about a “Type 1,” “Type 2,” “Type 3,” or “Type 4” magazine catch? Does it have a “flat top” or “round top” bolt? Are those two bolts classified as “Type 1” and “Type 2?” I could go on, but you probably get the idea.
This is not restricted to carbines as I’ve seen “Type 1," "Type 2,” or “Type 3,” etc. used for other weapons such as M1903 rifles and Krags (just to name two) by collectors and some writers. I recently heard of a “Type 4-C” Krag carbine being offered for sale. I’ve got a fair number of Krag rifles and carbines and am pretty familiar with the different variants, but I couldn’t tell you what a “Type 4-C” Krag carbine is if you held a gun to my head (regardless of the “type classification” of said gun!).
While the informal use by collectors of different “Types” to identify variations of parts is pretty well established, the same is not true of complete weapons as, in many cases, there are just too many variables involved to categorize them in such neat and tidy packages. Throwing about made-up “type” terms, especially when it comes to denoting variants of weapons, can be utterly confusing. If you want to make it clear to someone exactly what type of weapon to which you’re referring, I think it would be better to take a bit more time and clarify exactly what you mean. Rather than ask what to look for on a “Type 2” M1A1 carbine, the better question would be what to look for on an early 1944 production M1A1 carbine purportedly remaining in its original factory configuration (if that is indeed what a “Type 2” is). Likewise, if someone is trying to describe a Model 1896 Krag carbine that has been restocked with a Model 1899 stock and fitted with another pattern rear sight, then they should go ahead and say that without resorting to some made-up arbitrary and possibly misleading term.
By the way, I just saw a post-war rebuilt M1 Garand rifle. It looked like a “Type 6” but had some features of a “Type 3” and some of a “Type 7.” I’m going to call it a “Type 5.33” (add the three types and divide by 3). Anyone interested?
Don’t worry, I can explain that.
Have you ever bought something and later questioned whether or not that was a wise move? If so (and we all have felt this way at one time or another), you probably got a case of “post-purchase cognitive dissonance.” I was always fascinated with this phenomenon when it was introduced to me in a college marketing class many moons ago. While there are numerous permutations, it is somewhat akin to “buyer’s remorse.” In other words, after we spent good money on something we sometimes regret the decision or, at least, have second thoughts. Manufacturers have long recognized this situation and frequently take steps to counteract or minimize it. This is why we often see inserts in the packaging of some of the stuff we buy that boldly proclaims something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you are the proud owner of the Flummox Widget, the most advanced widget on the market. You are obviously a wise and discerning person to have made the decision to purchase this amazing item that will provide you with many years of satisfaction.” Such pronouncements are, in large measure, intended to assuage any lingering regrets or uneasiness with having blown some hard-earned bucks on something you may not have needed after all and to keep you from returning it to the retailer the next day.
OK, you’re probably asking, that’s fine, but what does it have to do with collecting martial arms? As collectors, most of us have likely acquired an item that had one or more seemingly “incorrect’ features but, for one reason or another, which we fancied it nevertheless. Sometimes we may have been aware of these questionable features before we bought it. All too often, however, we didn’t notice, or didn’t realize, that something might be amiss until we got the item home and starting examining it more closely. If it didn’t look “right” after comparing it to a genuine item in a reference book or other source, we usually became rather chagrined at ourselves or, perhaps, the lying sack of scum that sold it to us and assured us it was 100% legit. This usually is followed by a full-blown case of PPCD as used guns (or whatever we bought) don’t come with a manufacturers’ “feel good” insert nor do we always have the option of going back to the gun show or flea market to return the item and get our money back.
What often follows is our trying to rationalize or “explain away” the incorrect or questionable features that gave us such heartburn in the first place. I have seen this happen numerous times and have even fallen victim to it myself more than once. Our minds get busy to come up with one or more explanations as to why the item that appears to be “incorrect” is actually okay after all. A recent inquiry from a young collector reminded me of this common situation. The gentleman had just purchased a Winchester Model 12 riot gun that was manufactured circa 1942. As a fledging collector of U.S. martial arms, he was anxious to acquire a military shotgun for his collection. His reason for contacting me, however, was the fact that the gun had no martial markings whatsoever. The Winchester shotguns made under government contract in WWII had several types of martial markings, including a “US” and “flaming bomb” on the receiver, a “flaming bomb” on top of the barrel and an inspection stamp on the left side of the stock. The young man in question was perplexed because the gun was apparently made early in WWII and reasoned that it had to be a military weapon. He was, of course, bothered by the lack of martial markings. He inquired if it was common practice for the military to purchase shotguns of this type having no martial markings (Yea, I know about the “Blanket Procurement" shotguns). He also theorized that since it was wartime, and guns were badly needed, the necessity to stamp these markings was dispensed with in order to deliver the guns faster. I tried to explain to him as gently as possible that the gun in question was not manufactured under government contract even though it was made circa late 1941 or early 1942 and that Winchester manufactured a number of such shotguns for non-military entities during this period such as weapons for plant guards, law enforcement agencies, etc. I’m sure he was disappointed but most collectors have been in a similar situation before (I certainly have).
The young man’s theorizing about the rush of wartime production resulting in various anomalies is a very common practice among guys trying to come up with a reason why their “incorrect” gun is actually perfectly acceptable after all. In such cases, one often tries to explain away a missing marking by stating that the inspector “forgot” to stamp the gun or that there wasn’t time to apply the marking because the guns were badly needed by our soldiers and had to be rushed out of the factory as soon as possible. I’m certainly not going to tell you that there was never an occasion when a final inspection stamp on a stock was not applied, especially during wartime production. However, probably 99.9% of the time, a missing inspection stamp on a stock seen today is because the stock was refinished or replaced. However, in the case of the above Winchester Model 12 riot gun, the martial markings on the receiver and barrel were applied prior to the metal being heat-treated, thus the “overlooked inspection stamp” scenario doesn’t hold any water whatsoever. The various martial markings on military weapons had a specific purpose and weren’t applied to make the guns “sexier” for today’s collectors. For example the final acceptance stamp indicated that the weapon passed all requisite inspections and was accepted into government service and the manufacturer could get paid. The ordnance inspectors assigned to the factory took their duties seriously and if any “forgot” to apply the inspection stamps with any degree of regularity, they would probably find themselves at the local draft office or assigned to duty at the Fairbanks Ordnance Depot in the middle of January.
Through the years, I’ve seen more creative, and normally much less plausible, explanations in an attempt to rationalize incorrect guns. Among the most common of these attempts are the “prototype” or “experimental” angle. For example, if a weapon has a different sight, different barrel length, different stock or whatever, it must be an “experimental” or “prototype” weapon intended to test the suitability of the different sight, different length barrel or different stock. The fact that the sight looked like it came from the neighborhood hardware store or that the workmanship of the shortened barrel and/or stock was on a par with a junior high school shop class was certainly no reason to doubt the “experimental” or “prototype” explanation.
Probably the most amusing (and my personal favorite) of these attempts to justify a “problem” gun is the “clandestine” postulation. I’ve seen a number of military weapons which had some, or all, of the markings buffed out. Most still had the serial number as removing that could get you a visit from your friendly local BATF agent. Anyway, as most of the stories go, these markings were removed because the weapons were intended to be carried by “special ops” guys and, if caught, the guns couldn’t be traced back to Uncle Sam. Yea, I’m sure that the bad guys would be really perplexed if they encountered a M1 carbine or M1911A1 pistol with the name of the maker and the “U.S.” marking removed. There would be no way they would ever assume such a weapon came from the United States. Removing such incriminating markings to disguise a United States weapon would be a fool proof measure that would foil even the most astute foreign military intelligence types!
I guess we all need to be on the lookout for a rare and valuable “experimental prototype clandestine” gun with no markings for our collections. Even if we may harbor any doubts, these could be quickly erased if the seller gave us a “certificate of authenticity” along with the gun. Such ironclad documentation would prevent us from getting a case of the dreaded “post-purchase cognitive dissonance” and allow us to enjoy that unique, rare and valuable weapon resting with the boring old unmodified standard issue guns in our collection. Just when we think we’ve run out of stuff to collect, another interesting field awaits us.
A Rose by any other name…Should you use a nicer word or is “fake” OK?
In the previous incarnation of “Canfield’s Corner,” I wrote a number of pieces regarding various aspects of fake U.S. martial collectibles. I soon found myself in something of a minefield of semantics as some individuals objected to my use of the word “fake” to describe items that were crafted to resemble the genuine article but weren’t original. Most of the objections to this particular “F word” centered around the contention that the intent of the maker or seller of the article in question should determine the proper word to be used. Many of those who felt this way believed that the word “fake” should be reserved for items that were being offered for sale with the expressed intent of cheating the buyer by telling him that something was real when it wasn’t. Otherwise, a less objectionable word should be used. This got me to thinking and I went to the trusty dictionary to see if I erred in using the word fake as a generic term rather than in a narrower context that takes into consideration the intent of the seller. Virtually all of the reference sources I consulted more or less agreed on the following definition… “Fake…Anything that is not genuine or authentic.” That’s exactly what I thought. None of the dictionaries or thesauruses alluded to the intent of a seller to cheat a buyer. Armed with this grammatical support, I continued to use the word “fake” to denote any U.S. martial item (weapon or otherwise) that is not genuine.
What prompted this posting is the increasing popular practice of fabricating what appear to be desirable martial collectibles using more common (and less valuable) weapons. The reason for this practice becoming even more prevalent is the continuing interest in U.S. martial arms collecting combined with the paucity of genuine specimens and the typical hefty prices tags attached to such items. A recent example of this practice are the products of at least one commercial enterprise that uses a common 03A3 receiver and some newly made components (including stocks and telescopes) to assemble something that resembles a real M1903A4 sniper rifle. Purportedly, some of these receivers were salvaged from drill rifles but I don’t know if this is correct or not. In any event, these ersatz ‘03A4 sniper rifles are being offered for sale from several sources and some guys are buying them. For the record, the purveyors of these rifles (at least the ads I’ve seen) are not misrepresenting them as genuine sniper rifles. I must stop at this point and clearly state that anyone should be free to spend their money on anything that makes them happy. If someone wants to buy a fake…oops, pardon me… a “replica” M1903A4 rifle, that’s their prerogative. I must say that the non-original stuff isn’t my cup of tea but, as the cliché goes, “different strokes for different folks.” If that makes them happy, it certainly doesn’t give me any heartburn. None of the buyers of these rifles have to explain to anyone their motivation and it’s really nobody’s business. An exception to the latter, however, is if someone posts on an Internet discussion board requesting comments on their recent purchase. That act automatically turns it into anybody’s business who logs on to such websites. The comments range from “Wow, those are cool. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those really neat rifles also,” to “Why would anybody waste their money on such junk?” Most comments seem to be somewhere between these two extremes.
As a writer, words are interesting things to me. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a brief list of some of my favorite euphemisms for the dreaded word in question. I’ll list them in inverse order with my favorite being last:
..and the winner is…
“Rendered in the spirit of the original.”
I didn’t make the winner up…I actually read it on a website. The guy who came up with this one should receive some sort of award. That term is so much more lyrical than the ugly word “fake.” Perhaps, someone will buy the item so creatively described and pay for it with currency that was also “rendered in the spirit of the original.” I’ll bet the Secret Service guys who would subsequently arrest him for counterfeiting would get a big laugh.
Maybe I’ll reconsider my wanton use of the word “fake” after all. Actually, plastic surgeons long ago shunned the word “fake” to describe the results of a certain popular elective surgery for ladies in favor of the word “augmented” or, perhaps, “enhanced.” Euphemisms usually sound so much classier. Maybe the practice of substituting euphemisms for more common words or phrases will catch on and we’ll start reading in the newspaper about women who were arrested for being (pick your favorite):
“Ladies of the evening”
Now don’t these terms sound so much nicer than crass words that are usually used to describe such ladies? Maybe it’s time for me to stop using the word “fake.” On second thought…forget it.
While I don’t want to use a lot of recycled material, a number of readers have said that they enjoyed this posting when it appeared here a year or so ago so I’m making an exception.
More thoughts on “tracing the history” of a Gun.
I get a lot of inquiries from guys wanting to find out the “history” of a particular U.S. military weapon and the question seems to be asked with more and more frequency. As we have mentioned here before, in the vast majority of cases, that simply isn’t possible. Even on those rare occasions when some information can be garnered, it is normally just a “snapshot” of the weapon at a given point. For example, factory letters can often be obtained for some U.S. military firearms manufactured under government contract. The most common of these are the various Colt handguns such as the Model 1911, Model 1909 and Model 1917 as well as some of the Smith & Wesson revolvers made for the government. Even in such cases, however, the information only reveals the date and destination of the shipment from the factory. While interesting, there is no subsequent information revealed regarding the gun in question. Likewise, for those fortunate enough to obtain a “hit” on their weapon in the Springfield Research Service database are only going to find out a snippet of information in the gun’s “chain of custody” while in military service. As mentioned before, this information can range from the mundane and relatively unimportant (i.e., the rifle was turned into Springfield Armory for refurbishing on a particular date) to extremely important and noteworthy (i.e., a M1896 Krag carbine was issued to a member of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry (“Rough Riders”) or a M1873 “Trapdoor Carbine” or Colt SAA was issued to member of the 7th Cavalry and used in the Little Big Horn battle. Most of the SRS “hits” are in the former category and, while interesting, hardly constitute a complete history of the gun in question. Since only an estimated 3% or less (probably a lot less) of U.S. military firearms are reflected in the SRS database, the odds of discovering even this modicum of information are pretty low.
Some have wondered why records regarding a particular weapon’s subsequent disposition after it left the factory weren’t maintained and available today. They point out, correctly, that there was strict accountability for the weapons issued to a particular unit, thus those records should still be around. The primary reason why this is not the case is because such accountability only existed while the weapons were in the possession of the unit to which they were issued. During peacetime, such records were maintained until the weapons were transferred to another entity or turned in for some other reason. After the guns were “off the books” of the unit, the records were destroyed as there would have been no reason to keep them. Pity they weren’t thinking of us collectors today! When a unit deployed overseas, all bets were off regarding accountability of weapons as it would have been impossible to account for guns lost, destroyed, abandoned (yes, it happened), “carried home” (yes, that also happened on some occasions), captured, traded for another weapon, etc. Theoretically, the weapons were all supposed to have been accounted for when a unit was withdrawn from a theater of operations but the realities of the situation usually meant that any gun that was missing was simply shown as “lost in action.” Even these incomplete records were destroyed when the weapons were turned in upon the unit’s return stateside. To the average supply clerk or weapon’s room sergeant, a rifle was simply something else to account for along with blankets, overcoats and socks and not the treasured and valuable collectible as we view it today.
In a perfect world, we would be able to have complete documentation on a particular weapon consisting of when it was made, every soldier to whom it was issued and when, where and how it was used. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Ideally, I would love to be able to respond to such an inquiry as follows:
“Q. Can you give me the history of my M1 rifle, serial number 123456?
A. Your rifle was assembled on March 16, 1943 beginning at 1:03 PM by Springfield Armory employee Robert Charles Wilson. The weather was unseasonably warm for mid-March in Massachusetts and Wilson wished he could have taken the day off. When he started assembling the rifle, Mr. Wilson had just finished lunch at the Springfield Armory cafeteria where he dined on broiled chicken (which was a bit overdone) and green beans that were too salty for his taste. Wilson was the youngest of four siblings (two boys and a girl). He got along with his mother but he and his father has issues that he never talked about. He tried to enlist in the Army but was flat-footed and near-sighted, thus took a job at Springfield. He was dating Cynthia Morgenstern, a rather plain-looking young lady but with a great personality who he met at a church picnic a year earlier. They talked about marriage but she insisted that he have a “paying job,” hence his employment at the Armory.
After cutting his finger on a screwdriver and smashing his thumb with an assembly mallet, Wilson completed assembly of the rifle at 3:47 PM. He would have finished it earlier but the overdone chicken resulted in some intestinal distress which resulted in several “delays.” The rifle was then passed to Bob G. Willett, an employee of the Ordnance Department for inspection. It was found to be satisfactory and he applied the proof firing mark and the final inspection stamp. He always found it curious that the stamp was “GAW” when his initials were “BGW” but he never asked anyone as he didn’t want to appear dense. The rifle was packed in a wooden crate with nine other rifles and shipped out via truck express the following day (March 17) at 9:10 am en route to the Springfield Ordnance District receiving facility. It remained in storage there until March 23 when it was sent to Camp Beauregard (near Alexandria, Louisiana) and arrived on March 31 at 4:14 PM. On April 3, 1943, the rifle was unpacked and logged into the arms room records by supply sergeant Timothy “Tiny Tim” (don’t ask how he got the nickname) Jones. Jones was a recent draftee from Skunkworks, New Hampshire and was not at all happy about being assigned to Camp Beauregard. He wanted to do his job, “keep his nose clean,” and get out of the Army as soon as possible. The rifles in the shipment were eventually issued to Company B, 3rd Infantry and your particular weapon was assigned to 19 year old Pvt. Millard Duckworth, (ID #5589689878) who had just joined the unit the previous month after volunteering at the recruiting center in his hometown of Ames, Iowa. He often thought about what on earth possessed him to volunteer. Duckworth played baseball in high school (left hand pitcher) and imagined himself going to the big leagues after his stint in the Army. However, he wasn’t nearly as good as he thought himself to be as his fastball was actually pretty lame and his control wasn’t up to pro standards, however he was a decent hitter (for a pitcher). Pvt. Duckworth qualified with the rifle at Camp Beauregard but thought it was too heavy and recoiled too much and he much preferred his Marlin .30-30 lever action that he used back home for deer hunting. On the evening of June 2, 1943 Duckworth and his squad had detailed-stripped their M1 rifles and he accidentally got the trigger assembly mixed up with the one of the rifle belonging to PFC George Wray (rifle serial # 222098) which had different drawing numbers on the housing and hammer. It worked fine and neither soldier was aware of the switch even though the rifle became “non-original” at that point.
On November 17, 1943, Duckworth and three other members of his unit were transferred to the Camp Sludge motor pool at Bayonne, New Jersey. It may not be coincidental that all four were given poor fitness reports by their first sergeant. Pvt. Duckworth dutifully turned in his rifle and the supply sergeant commented that he didn’t take very good care of the weapon and made him clean it again before he would accept it. The rifle remained in the arms room as newer Garands had been received just before the unit shipped out to Great Britain to train for the rumored cross-channel invasion. Rifle #123456 along with three other rifles (serial numbers 345681, 199098, and 333598) were shipped to the Hartford Ordnance District depot on February 12, 1944 for storage and subsequent disposition and arrived at the facility on March 3, 1944. Your rifle was cleaned by a part-time worker, Phil Hendershot (middle name not known) and put back into storage where it remained until after the war.
On March 7, 1946, your rifle, along with several hundred others in storage at the Hartford OD, were sent to Raritan Arsenal for inspection and overhaul where they arrived on March 15. In an amazing coincidence, Pvt. Duckworth was discharged from the Army from the Army the same day in the same state (New Jersey).
The rifle was logged into Raritan’s records the following day and on March 17, it was one of the rifles assigned to Armory worker Ralph Waldo Fosdick for inspection and refurbishment. Fosdick, a native of Troy, New York, had worked at the Raritan for about a year and a half was glad he was able to miss getting drafted. As Fosdick looked at the rifle he muttered, “Gee, what idiot had this rifle? The stock looks like a fencepost and the barrel a sewer pipe.” Fosdick rebarrelled the rifle and replaced the stock along with some worn springs. He stamped the stock with a “RA-P” inspection stamp. He had always been curious about the letters and guessed that the “RA” meant Raritan Arsenal but couldn’t figure out what the “P” mean until somebody told him it was the initial of his boss, Harry Petersen. When preparing to send the rifle to the warehouse for storage, he accidentally bumped it on the side of the rack which is why you see that 2 ¼ “ ding on the left side, below the stock ferrule (assuming you haven’t sanded it out yet). Fosdick looked around to make sure no one else saw what happened and the rifle was sent to the “cosmoline room” (Fosdick pitied the poor schmucks who worked there) before being sent to the warehouse where it remained until May 5, 1951. This rifle, and 671 other M1s, were shipped to Benicia Arsenal for possible use in Korea. The rifles, including yours, arrived in California on June 1, 1951 where they were sent to the storage facility there after being logged in by Arsenal employee Selma Frump. As events transpired, the rifles were never issued and remained in storage at Benicia until August 15, 1961 when they were ordered to be transferred to Anniston Army Depot. As these rifles, including #123456, had been unused since being overhauled at Raritan they didn’t require any work and were logged into Anniston upon arrival in Alabama by Depot employee Lester F. Myers who dutifully checked the serial number and general condition of the rifle. Since it was covered with cosmoline and was slippery, Myers accidentally dropped the rifle on the concrete floor which is why the buttplate is indented a bit . He shrugged and then picked up the rifle and placed it in a wooden crate along with hundreds of others for long-term storage. The rifle remained in storage at Anniston until January 18, 1999 when it was acquired by the Civilian Marksmanship Program for sale to qualified purchasers. CMP armorer Wesley G. Rogers cleaned and degreased the rifle and inspected it for functioning, etc. and it was placed in the “sale rack.” The rifle selected to fill an order by Clark W. Griswold of Brokeback, Texas on April 16, 2000. He used his income tax refund to buy the rifle which seriously ticked off his wife who wanted new drapes for the living room. Griswold had to sleep on the couch for a few days until he wised up and sent her some flowers which got him out of the doghouse. He received the rifle on May 7, 2000 at 5:33 PM and eagerly opened the FedEx box. Upon examining the rifle, he was a bit disappointed as he had hoped to have gotten lucky and received a M1 still remaining in its WWII configuration rather than the usual post-war rebuild. He took the rifle to the local range and fired 4 clips at the target with mediocre results and took the rifle back home and gave it a cursory cleaning. After getting fed up with his wife’s constant complaining about the old drapes, he took the rifle to the Dallas Market Hall Gun Show on September 18, 2000 to sell it and stop the old bag’s (excuse me…”concerned spouse’s”) incessant nagging. The rifle was bought by Doug Surpie, a part-time gun dealer and flea market merchant for $75.00 more than it originally cost Griswold. On October 5, 2000, Surpie had the rifle on his table at the local gun show in your town. Dan Stickett saw the rifle and wanted to buy it but only had a personal check which was refused (which is a good thing as it would have bounced as he only had $14.31 available in his account at that time). Several other people at the show looked at the rifle until you came along at 11:47 AM and bought it after haggling $25.00 off the price, giving Surpie a total profit on the rifle of $175.00 (some of which went to buy watered-down soft drinks, stale nachos and a greasy barbeque sandwich at the gun show concession stand).
I apologize for not having any information on Pvt. Duckworth’s E.R.A. when he pitched in high school or Phil Hendershot’s middle name. Regardless, I still hope the above thumbnail sketch of your rifle’s history is of some interest to you. Please let me know if you require any additional information regarding your rifle as time didn’t permit me to fully research the weapon so I could give you a more detailed response. Best wishes.”
OK, I guess this proves that I occasionally have too much time on my hands. Anyway, if such a scenario could happen (yea, right!), we would have an answer to the age-old collector wish….”If this old gun could only talk.” In the case of M1 rifle #123456, somebody would quickly tell it to shut up.
The “I vividly remember something that never happened” Syndrome.
As I’ve researched my books and articles over the years or have interviewed veterans regarding the weapons they may have used while in service, there is one
phenomenon that I’ve encountered with surprising frequency. Basically, this “Syndrome” involves veterans insisting that they saw, or were issued, weapons that never existed. Are they lying? I don’t think so. In virtually all cases, I am absolutely convinced that the gentlemen in question sincerely believe what they are saying is true. I may have touched on this topic in a posting on one of my previous “Canfield’s Corner” columns but I am prompted to revisit it again because of recent events.
I recently did a “Q&A” in American Rifleman regarding an inquiry about a M3 submachine gun purportedly made by American Can Company. As I explained in this article, the ONLY makers of the M3 and M3A1 submachine guns were the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors (M3 and M3A1 in World War II) and the Ithaca Gun Company (M3A1 in the mid-1950s). The American Can Company (or any other entity) did not make the weapon for the U.S. military or anyone else. I casually mentioned in the Q&A that such claims are akin to the urban legend about Mattel Toy Company making M16 rifles during the Vietnam War.
I initially thought I had conclusively made the point I was trying to make but, boy, was I wrong. The American Rifleman staff forwarded me several letters from readers who wanted to “correct” my mistakes. One gentleman absolutely insisted that he had a M3 submachine gun in Korea made by the “American Canning Company” and that I obviously needed to do more research on the subject. A couple of others insisted that I didn’t know beans about the M16 rifle because the U.S. Army used lots of them in Vietnam made by the Mattel Company. One respondent stated that Mattel may not have made the complete rifle, but they did manufacture the plastic stocks and forends and he saw packing cases with the Mattel name on them. I could go on, but you get the idea.
In the course of a subsequent conversation with Mark Keefe, editor of American Rifleman, we discussed this phenomenon and found it to be a bit puzzling and somewhat amusing. Mark had the former head of Colt’s M16 program (who unquestionably knows more than anyone else about the subject) write a brief letter stating, unequivocally, that the Mattel company most assuredly did not manufacture M16 rifles or any parts for the weapon. He pointed out that Mattel did make a really neat toy M16 rifle in the late 1960s and postulated that was perhaps what got some people confused! That's probably not going to go over very well with some of these guys when Mark prints it in the magazine.
This situation is, by no means, confined to American Can M3 submachine guns or Mattel M16 rifles. Over the years, I’ve heard similar claims regarding Singer M1 carbines and/or M1 rifles, Remington M1 rifles, Universal M1 carbines being used during the D-Day invasion and M1903 rifles chambered for Winchester .30-30 cartridges in WWI, among others. One could understand someone believing typical “Gun Show BS” or misunderstanding something they read but, in many cases, the individuals swear they had used, or had seen first-hand, these mythical weapons while in service. I learned long ago not to argue with these gentlemen or try to “set them straight.” Rather, it’s usually best just to nod in agreement and go your way. It can be a bit difficult, however, when you’re berated for presenting "erroneous" information in a book or article. It’s times like this when a good sense of humor comes in handy. As I mentioned, in the vast majority of cases, these guys sincerely believe what they’re saying. I suppose memories of things that happened 60, 50, or even 40 years ago can become cloudy and something that was originally a joke or misunderstanding morphed over the years into an indisputable “fact.”
In closing, there is another humorous aspect to this topic. Not long ago after my Q&A appeared, a friend forwarded me a digital image of a M16 rifle receiver with the name “Mattel Toy Co.” boldly stamped thereon. It looked very realistic and very impressive but it took me about two seconds to remember that my friend is a wiz with Photo Shop. It’s amazing what that software can do in the hands of an expert such as my twisted friend! I messaged him back that I am embarrassed and stand humbly corrected and that he needs to do a book on such esoteric weapons as the Singer M1, American Can M3, Mattel M16 and myriad others profusely illustrated with such expertly rendered markings. Boy, would that mess with a lot of guys’ minds! After all, if you see it in a book, it must be true.
The “I vividly remember something that never happened syndrome” – Part Deux
One of the things I missed when I temporarily suspended postings on this forum was feedback from readers who had opinions, positive and negative, about my ruminations here. Well, it didn’t take long for someone who read my observations about individuals vividly remembering things that never happened to chime in. A gentleman who stated he served in the Marines in the late 70s attempted to take me to task about my (as he put it) “…blowing off a fascinating piece of history…” by my "erroneous" assertions that the Mattel Company never made the M16 rifle or any parts for the weapon. He also apparently felt that my use of the term “syndrome” to describe this phenomenon meant that I believe such persons are “senile” or “nuts” (his words) despite my prior explanations to the contrary. I politely responded to his e-mail and suggested that he take a look at the current issue of American Rifleman magazine as it contained the brief article I alluded to previously written by the former head of Colt’s M16 production program who, in no uncertain terms, confirmed my initial “Q&A” response in the magazine. I thought this would probably satisfy the gentleman and give him pause to reconsider his opinions but he responded by stating that such a “…summary dismissal ” was exactly the attitude he didn’t like and closed by saying that “…It seems that I am going to have to put this one together somehow. Not my imagination.”
It appears that this situation regarding vivid memories of non-events may be even deeper-rooted than I realized. Perhaps this “syndrome” is old hat to the psychologist or psychiatrist but, as a layman, I still find it a bit surprising that some individuals are absolutely 100% convinced that they saw something that could not, and did not, exist. I know we all have, at times, thought something was correct and later discovered we were in error. In such cases, when presented with evidence to the contrary, we realized we were incorrect and chalked it up as a learning experience. This has certainly happened to me on numerous occasions. However, for the guys who swear they saw something that is actually mythical in nature, all the proof in the world often won’t convince them of their faulty memories. The human mind is an amazingly complex mechanism and contains mysteries we have not yet fathomed.
To stay within the boundaries of this forum, a few comments should be made on the subject of U.S. military arms collecting. As a writer, researcher and historian of such weapons, I learned long ago that it is very dangerous to state “always” or “never” when it comes to such matters. For example, the M1 carbine is a particularly treacherous topic about which to make such blanket statements. It has been pretty well established which barrels the various carbine prime contractors used. However, there were some “lateral transfers” and other “off the books” transactions in which a barrel made by a subcontractor was, in fact, used by one of the prime contractors even though it isn’t reflected (or at least hasn’t been preserved) in official documentation. Therefore, if a WWII veteran would tell me he is convinced he had an unaltered National Postal Meter M1 carbine issued to him with an Inland barrel, I certainly would not argue with him even though Inland was not one of NPM’s “normal” barrel suppliers. Such an instance might be unusual but certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility. On the other hand, if he told me that he had a M1 carbine made by the “Singer Sewing Machine Co.” and so marked on the receiver, I would put that clearly into the “urban legend” or the IVRSTNH Syndrome” category. While the former claim (Inland barrel in NPM carbine) may very well fall into this category as well, it cannot be totally discounted. However, the Singer-made carbine can be (to use the words of the above-referenced respondent) “summarily dismissed.”
While there are some things regarding U.S. military weapons that are not in the books or reference materials and are subject to debate or theorizing, there are many other things that are extremely well documented and are indisputable facts. Such things include the fact that Mattel did not make any M16 rifles. Anyone claiming otherwise is mistaken.
On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t summarily dismiss such a claim as I wouldn’t want to overlook a fascinating piece of history. Perhaps the government embarked on an absolutely top-secret program akin to Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” or the Manhattan Project in which Mattel was given a contract to make M16s specifically to arm the fabled “Mouseketeer Battalion” during the Vietnam War. The unit, which the government still won’t acknowledge even today, utilized their caps with mouse ears attached as a form of diabolically clever camouflage although they did experience problems with the overly large white gloves they had to wear along with the uncomfortable shorts with fake tail attached. Surely, such an elite unit wouldn’t be armed with the boring old Colt M16s and needed weapons made by a more familiar entity…who better than Mattel Toy Company?
The I Vividly Remember Something that Never Happened Syndrome” – Part Trois
I was going to make my previous posting the last one on this subject, but I just learned something that may, at least partially, explain the origins of the surprisingly widespread myth that Mattel made M16 rifles during the Vietnam War. Two different guys (who both state they are Vietnam veterans) said that it was not uncommon for soldiers to write home to their dad or younger brother to peel a sticker or remove a decal from a Mattel toy and mail it to them. They would then affix the sticker or decal to their M16 rifle which undoubtedly was good for a few laughs with some of the guys in their unit. It would also explain why some former vets are absolutely convinced they saw “Mattel M16” rifles in Vietnam. I don’t know how widespread this practical joke was at the time but, if you think about it, is actually pretty funny. This still doesn’t explain why there are claims made about seeing Mattel M16 rifles in the 1980s or later but may partially account for some of the Vietnam tales (which seem to be heard with much more frequency).
Perhaps there may be a similar explanation for the “Can Company M3” submachine gun but, if so, I haven’t heard it. I suppose it’s possible that a unit armorer with a good sense of humor and too much time on his hands utilized metal stamping dies to embellish the fictitious name on the side of a grease gun or two. It wouldn’t take much effort to stamp “American Can Co." or something of the sort on the rather soft sheet metal body of the M3. However, permanently defacing government property in this manner (as opposed to adding a sticker that could be easily peeled off) would have been frowned on by the armorer’s superiors so I doubt if this would have been the explanation. I still believe the “Can Co M3” was simply the result of a joke that morphed over the years into an indisputable “fact."
I’ll try not to add a “Part Quatre” to this topic unless some new information comes to light. Maybe somebody will claim they were issued a Hasbro M16 while in Vietnam. Actually, that would probably make sense as Hasbro wouldn’t want Mattel, their main competitor, to gain market share on the lucrative contracts for military weaponry. I wouldn’t put anything past those dastardly toy companies. Who knows, maybe we’ll hear someone claim that Fisher-Price made M79 grenade launchers. At this point, it really wouldn’t surprise me.