John Dillinger’s? Colt 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP Pistol, MFD 1922 C&R
SOLD FOR: $6500
Model: 1908 Type III Pocket Hammerless
Serial Number: 58845
Year of Manufacture: 1922 (https://colt.com/serial-lookup)
Caliber: .380 A.C.P.
Action Type: Single Action Semi-Auto Pistol with Removable Magazine
Markings: The left side of the slide is marked “COLT’S PT. F.A. MFG. CO. HARTFORD, CT. U.S.A. / PATENTED APR. 20. 1897. DEC. 22. 1903”, and at the rear with a Rampant Colt logo. The left side of the frame is marked “58845”, the bottom of the slide is marked “58 / 845”. The right side of the slide is marked “COLT AUTOMATIC / CALIBRE .380 HAMMERLESS”. The left front of the trigger guard is marked with a “VP” in a triangle and “W”, the right is marked “34”.
Barrel Length: 3 3/4”
Sights / Optics: The front sight is missing, there is a slot in the top-front of the slide where the sight was originally staked in place. The rear sight is a round-top “U” notch dovetailed into the rear of the slide.
Stock Configuration & Condition: The grips are two-piece faux-stag Franzite panels. Each grip has a crack behind its screw escutcheon. The cracks were likely caused by shrinkage which also shows in the fit of the panels to the frame. The grips show scattered light handling wear and discoloration, including loss of some of the dark paint in the grooves. Overall, the grips are in about Good condition.
Type of Finish: Blued
Finish Originality: Original
Bore Condition: The bore is semi-bright and the rifling is defined. There is scattered light erosion in the bore.
Overall Condition: This handgun retains about 15% of its metal finish. Most exposed surfaces have worn to white, with finish remaining in protected areas such as along the top edge of the frame, around the grips and rear sight, and in the bottom-front of the slide in front of the dust cover. The worn areas show scattered light surface oxidation and minor erosion. There is some more notable oxidation inside the dust cover. There are some scattered light nicks, scuffs and scratches. The action shows operational wear. The screw head is tool marked with a strong slot. The markings are clear. Overall, this handgun rates in about Good condition.
Mechanics: The action functions correctly and the slide has minor play to the frame. It has a grip safety and a manual safety. The safety can be used to lock the slide back. We did not fire this handgun. As with all used firearms, a thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance standards.
Box, Paperwork & Accessories: This pistol comes with one 7-round magazine, marked “CAL. 380 / COLT”, showing moderate operational wear, some scattered surface oxidation, intact feed lips and a strong spring. Also included is a series of documentation including a Colt Historian letter, a notarized letter from the man who found the pistol, Arlo Smith, newspaper clippings about the gun and John Dillinger, documentation from the previous owner and others which goes over the known chronology of John Dillinger’s movements in the 1930s, two consecutive 1997 editions of “Gun Journal” with articles about the guns of John Dillinger and a 1978 edition of “Argosy” with an article about Dillinger.
Our Assessment: The Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless is a semi-automatic pistol designed by John Browning, and was the 2nd of the Colt concealed hammer models, following the Model 1903. Despite the title ‘Hammerless’, the M1903 and M1908 pistols do have a hammer, which is covered and hidden from view under the rear of the slide. This allowed the weapon to be carried in and withdrawn from a pocket quickly and smoothly without snagging. These pistols were popular civilian firearms for much of their life, and also served as United States General Officer pistols from the 1940s until their replacement by the M15 General Officers pistol in the 1970s. The Office of Strategic Services issued the Model 1903 to its officers during World War II and it was a popular backup/off-duty model with police officers in the United States. Gangsters also favored this pistol, including Bonnie Parker and John Dillinger.
It is possible that this pistol has a closer attachment to Dillinger than your average 1908. It comes with a series of documentation which makes a plausible case that the gun was left by Dillinger in a couch inside an abandoned house in Terre Haute, Indiana. According to the included, notarized account of Mr. Arlo Smith, Dillinger came through their town and stayed in an old two-story house for about 10 days and left suddenly. After leaving, a large number of police arrived and searched the house for Dillinger. After the police left, Smith and his brothers went in to see if Dillinger had left anything behind and this pistol was found under a cushion of a couch.
With the Colt letter indicating the pistol was first sold to a hardware store in St. Louis, Missouri in 1921, there was plenty of time for the pistol to have made its way into Dillinger’s hands. He could have acquired it before his first imprisonment in 1924 and left it with his father while he was incarcerated, or he could have acquired it anywhere in his travels. After being released from prison in 1933, Dillinger and his gang traveled extensively, from Daytona, Florida to Tuscon, Arizona, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Racine, Wisconsin, and all over Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Additional documentation includes independent research on the movements of Dillinger after his 1933 release from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City until his death in Chicago, 1934. Correspondence is also included from noted Dillinger author Tony Stewart, the crew of History Detectives on Lion television, historian Dr. Roger McGrath (guest on Tales of the Gun). The general consensus is that the available information makes it plausible that the pistol was left in the house on 13th Street and Voorhees in Terre Haute, but that there is not enough evidence to make the association definitive. The included documentation should give a nice head-start to the lucky winner if they wish to continue pursuit of definitive proof.
It’s also interesting to note that the pistol is equipped with Franzite grips. While they were undoubtedly changed outside the Colt factory, Peter von Frantzius who founded Franzite was referred to by contemporary press as “The Armorer of Gangland”, believed to be a supplier of arms to the Chicago Outfit, though he was never prosecuted. He began making Franzite grips in the 1930s, and the shrinkage of the panels indicates that they are quite old, so it is possible that they were even on the pistol in 1933 or 1934, the era in which Dillinger would have been pursued so hotly by police.
In any case, the documentation included with the pistol will make it a fascinating addition to a collection, at the very least, and could be the seeds of a research project to prove the pistol’s connection to America’s Public Enemy Number One. Please see our photos and good luck!