Micro-1911s are all the rage now, as compact carry guns, and Michael Bane has got a great post on ’em on his blog. He compares in depth three .380 ACP micro-1911s, the Rock Island “Baby Rock”, the Colt “Government Model,” and the Browning 1911, and mentions at least in passing everything from the old Colt Pocket Hammerless .380 and the late lamented Llamas to the SIG Sauer P238. The post is good enough to Read The Whole Thing™… keep going or you’ll miss the zinger in the specs.
But before there was even the first Colt Mustang, before there was a Llama (the Spanish/Basque guns, not the Andean camelid), Colt made a completely different gun that has been called the Baby 1911… because it is, exactly, a scaled down 1911, in a smaller caliber. It was the Colt Model 1910 in 9.8 mm.
The 1910 was Colt’s name for the pistol that the Army would adopt as the 1911. In hopes of landing European contracts, Colt made 7/8 scale 1910s in a 7/8 scale round, a proprietary 9.8 mm cartridge (also called a .38, it measured .380 across the bullet, not the .357 of typical American “.38s”). While a quantity (perhaps as few as a thousand rounds) of ammo was made, only a few guns were hand-crafted. At least two of the firearms were left in the white at Colt; one was in the Springfield Armory collection (and may still be), and one, Serial Number 4, later passed into the collection of Edward S. “Scott” Meadows, who had it professionally refinished (!). Curiously, Meadows’s book, US Military Automatic Pistols, says that only Serial Numbers 1-3 and one unnumbered piece are known.
In any event, Serial Number 4, whatever its provenance, is generally accepted as authentic, and was sold by Rock Island Auctions in September, 2012. This is the RIA description (noting that RIA later corrected the description, noting that the finish was a reblue).
The experimental Colt Model 1910 pistol was developed by Colt as a possible replacement for the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammer Pistol and to compete against Fabrique Nationale in Eastern European markets. Although Winchester manufactured several thousand rounds of 9.8 MM ammunition for the experimental pistol, it did not enter production and only five examples of this pistol were manufactured by Colt circa 1911. Four of these ultra-rare handguns are in museums and private collections. An example of a Colt Model 1910 9.8 MM Pistol is illustrated and described on pages 472-473 of “U.S. MILITARY AUTOMATIC PISTOLS 1894-1920” by Edward S. Meadows. The 9.8 MM Experimental Pistol is a scaled down copy of the very rare Colt Model 1910 .45 ACP Pistol. The slide is shorter and narrower and the 4 1/2 inch barrel has four concentric locking rings. The hammer has flat sides and a checkered spur. The slide has the early rounded rear sight. The slide stop and safety lock appear to be Colt Model 1911 Special Army components. The magazine is a modified Model 1902 Military magazine with un-marked floor plate and a full blue finish. The checkered walnut grips have small diamonds surrounding the screws and are similar to those on the Model 1911 Special Army. The pistol has the high polish Colt commercial blue finish on major components and the bright niter blue finish on the rear sight, hammer, slide lock, trigger and other small components.
As noted, RIA was contacted by a smith who noted that he had blued the gun (not “reblued” because it had never been blued. Because the slide stop and safety of the pistol-in-white shown in US Martial Handguns were also 1911 Special Army parts, this may be the same gun.
The right side of the slide is marked “AUTOMATIC COLT/CALIBRE 38 RIMLESS SMOKELESS” in two unequal lines. The left side of the slide is marked “PATENTED/APR.20.1897.SEPT.9.1902.DEC.19.1905” in a two-line block followed by “COLT’S PT. F.A.MFG. CO./HARTFORD.CT. U.S.A.” in two lines. The left side of the frame is hand-stamped with the serial number, “4” above the trigger guard. “40 CAL/MODEL” are stamped in two vertical lines beneath the slide stop; “40 CAL” is hand-stamped and “MODEL” is stamped with a single die. “RAD 40” (Research and Development) is hand-stamped vertically above the magazine release. “98” is stamped on the lower left side of the barrel chamber above the lug. The pistol is complete with two cartridges with the head-stamp “W.R.A. CO. 9.8 m/m A.C.” and a “U.MC. .38 A..C.P.” cartridge. Included with the pistol are a First Place Award from the 2007 Colt Collectors Association (CCA) Show at Reno, Nevada, a CCA 2007 Display Award, a Texas Gun Collectors Association Spring 2008 Most Historical Award, a Texas Gun Collectors Association Display Award and a notebook entitled “LOST BABY FOUND/COLT’S 9.8 m/m AUTOMATIC PISTOL” which contains the specifications of the pistol and copies of articles written about the pistol’s development.
The nice color pictures are from the Rock Island Auction and illustrate how one might never tell this pistol from a 1911, without having them side by side.
Serial Number 3 showed up in a June, 1988 American Rifleman article by William H.D. Goddard, who noted at that time only two complete guns, counting one held by Springfield that was made of parts. He did use several A-B comparison pictures.
Goddard took an interesting view of the Colt project. In his view, it was never that serious a product for the Hartford firm; instead, it was a bargaining chip to be use to pose a credible threat to what Fabrique Nationale saw as their home market for Browning designs, Europe. Colt representative Eugene Reising (later of H&R and the Marines’ least loved weapon, ever) was a distinguished marksman and demonstrated the pistol at Bucharest, Romania, outperforming entries from Luger, Mauser and Dreyse, as well as a hapless Steyr entry that failed immediately.
Whether the 9.8 and Reising’s trip (“nothing looked so good to him… as when the Statue of Liberty flashed into view” on his return) was a bargaining chip or not, FN executives, who’d been dragging their feet, quickly cut a new non-compete deal with Colt dividing up the world into two spheres of influence again.
The Romanians? They bought Model 1910s…FN Browning Model 1910s, a simple, sweet blowback pistol. Later, they bought Model 1922s, the same basic gun with a longer barrel and grip.
FN took a similar path to make a gun that they called the Grand Browning in a different proprietary caliber, 9.65 mm. The sources disagree about how many of them were made, but they were made in 1914 just before Herstal and Liège were overrun by the Kaiser’s merry men, which put paid to the idea of production. It is possible that the Grand Browning was another entry in the Colt vs. FN cartel wars, as the five-year agreement concluded after the Romanian competition was signed on 1 July 1912, and would have been up on 30 June 1917. As it happened, the war intervened and made a mess of all orderly arrangements to divide up arms sales.
Still, you can’t look at the 1910 and not want one, although perhaps in a more popular caliber. “We can lament that this design was not produced in quantity, as it is a most appealing size and weight,” Goddard wrote. Indeed. If anyone made them, we bet Michael Bane would race us to be first in line for one.
Not in the office at the moment, so we’ll give you .pdfs of the relevant pages of US Military Pistols and American Rifleman, June 1988.
If we get to the office we’ll replace these The original .pdfs have bee replaced with OCR’d versions.