A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Colt "Black Army" M1911

In May of 1918, to meet the demands of the US Army in the war to end all wars, Colt changed the way it finished the Model of 1911 pistol. The Army wanted production increased, and requested that Colt eliminate the final polishing process prior to bluing the M1911. As a result, the surface of the pistols would be left with a rougher appearance, unlike previous Colts. In addition, Colt began using a gas fired oven blued process. Between these two factors, the appearance of the M1911 changed from a lustrous blue to almost black. Collectors have since coined the term "Black Army" to denote the last of the M1911 pistols, with the finish phased in after serial number 312000.

To be sure, Hartford was cutting corners to produce as many pistols as possible. Many of the small parts such as the slide stops and thumb safeties were outsourced or previously manufactured, and were still polished and blued in the previous manner. Over time, the weaker "Black Army" finish wore off many of the slides and frames while the small parts remained blued. After ninety years, the uneven appearance from different rates of wear often gives the impression that all original pistols were put together from scavenged parts. Click to enlargeBecause of the mix master appearance when weathered and a greater chance of wear on these wartime pistols, many collectors are still seeking the elusive Colt "Black Army" pistols with a high amount of finish. When such a pistol appears on the market, it can command high prices.

All "Black Army" pistols will have the rampant Colt in the center of the slide. The prancing pony moved there sometime between serial number 275000 and 290000. They will also have the typical characteristics of a M1911, a smooth flat mainspring housing with a lanyard loop, an early M1911 slide stop, and a wide spur hammer with an itty bitty spur on the grip safety. Walnut double diamond grips are de rigueur.

I was fortunate to find my Colt "Black Army" walking into a gun show at a fair price. Although the wartime expedient finish is mostly absent on the exterior of my pistol, it has seen very little actual use. Click to enlargeThe interior parts are still as new, and the bore is bright. Prior to being accepted by the US Army, this M1911 was given the nod by Springfield Armory inspectors. The eagle proofmark is visible above the magazine release. I am happy to have an all original M1911 that can be handled without hesitation.

While the "Black Army" pistol is often viewed as a World War One pistol, it must be remembered that the Great War ended with the armistice signed on 11 November, 1918, a scant seven months after the "Black Army" variation began. Thousands of Colt "Black Army" M1911s languished in the armories of the US military, where they sat ready until war was again declared in 1941. The "Black Army" Colts were a common sidearm in the combat theaters of WWII until 1943, when production of the M1911A1 reached it's zenith. It's ironic that many pistols often associated with WWI finally saw combat after Pearl Harbor, and were brought home by the GIs of WWII.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

From "Anon" in CA:

I know I'm dying for the range report.

Keep us posted!


Your patient perseverance paid off.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Matthew Quon said...

Is there any way you can post a
picture of the eagle proofmark?

It seems very few know about the proofs that go along with the history of their pistols. Additionally, few US pistols have proof marks since they aren't required in the US like they are in other countries i.e. Germany.

The proofs and slide markings are an interesting bit of history all to themselves, and you can even learn a thing or two about the actual manufacturing process. Were the markings stamped, roll marked, etched; were the markings done before the slide was blued or after; when were the serial numbers added, etc.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Matthew, the SA eagle proof can be seenin the second picture in this thread at The 1911 Forum.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

It's a beaut Xavier! Looking forward to a range report too!

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got one of the Black Army 1911s, and replaced every spring with a Wolff spring pack before I shot it. A bit of insurance and piece of mind that protects both me and the gun.

Detail stripped and cleaned, like you did. Replaced springs. Standard pressure 230 grain only. Sweet.

Now it is used as a range relaxer, shooting a functional piece of American history. And it reminds me that you don't shoot high thumb with these old ones.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Tam said...

I hate you. But in a good and envious way.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Tam said...

PS: Should we cross paths on a range, I'll trade a mag through my 1902 for a mag through your Black Army...

4:19 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

You've got a deal Tam!

6:52 PM  
Blogger Scott said...



As you have always stated an interest in training green horns, I wanted to pass along something I came across today.

While searching for a video on basic shotgun training for a friend, I came across a video on how to unload shotguns from a group calling itself "Stay Safe 4 families" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrBVZyRca1c). After looking at this video, I decided to look at the "Stay Safe 4 Families" channel, and found just shy of 2 dozen videos on basic gun safety. Although nothing special, the production values appear decent.

I also came across a pair of videos that are an introduction to basic gun safety skills. Once again, the production values aren't anything special, but decent enough to show a friend. The first video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8Hm9PInOTY and I think it is a good introduction to the new shooter or to those who are uncomfortable around firearms.

It looks like the videos were produced around 2004, so this could all be old news. But they have relatively few views on YouTube, so I thought I'd pass it along.

Thanks again for all your work.



7:31 PM  

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