SOLD FOR: $25360
Model: 1900 U.S. Navy Contract, Unaltered Sight Safety
Serial Number: 1146, US Navy numbered 146
Year of Manufacture: Shipped 10/22/1900 to the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Caliber: .38 Rimless Smokeless (.38 ACP)
Action Type: Single Action, Semi-Automatic Pistol with unique flip up sight safety. This safety blocks the hammer from contacting the firing pin when pressed down. When lifted, the sight notch becomes visible and the firing pin becomes exposed. The military rejected this safety early during trials, causing the factory to alter many of the original sight safety’s and completely remove the feature by the next model of 1902.
Markings: The left side of the slide is marked “”BROWNING’S PATENT” / PAT’D APRIL 20. 1897″, “COLT’S PATENT FIRE ARMS MFG. CO. / HARTFORD. CONN. U.S.A.” and behind the plunge-cut slide serrations with a circled rampant colt logo. The right side of the slide is marked “AUTOMATIC COLT / CALIBRE 38 RIMLESS SMOKELESS”. The left side of the frame is marked “U.S.N. 146”. The right of the frame is marked “1146”, found again marked on the bottom of the slide at the left-rear. The right of the trigger guard has a trident Navy inspection mark, found again on the bottom of the slide at the right-rear. The left of the trigger guard has a “B” in triangle Navy inspection mark. The let frame rail near the front is marked “1”. The base of the magazine is marked “PAT’D SEPT. 9. 1884”.
Barrel Length: 6”
Sights / Optics: The front sight is a fixed blade. The rear sight is the sight safety (as described above), which presents a “U”-notch when the safety is not engaged.
Stock Configuration & Condition: The grips are two-piece smooth walnut panels. The grips show light handling wear with scattered light nicks, scratches and compressions. There is some discoloration around each of the screw escutcheons. There are no chips or cracks. Overall, the grips are in Very Good condition.
Type of Finish: Fine Charcoal Blue, Fire Blue & Case Color
Finish Originality: Original
Bore Condition: The bore is mostly bright with sharp rifling. There is infrequent, very minor erosion, mostly at the muzzle-end.
Overall Condition: This handgun retains about 95% of its original metal finish. The balance is mostly in evenly scattered minor nicks, scuffs and scratches. The slide flats have a few more notable scratches and there is a nick on each inside edge of the trigger guard. The grip areas show very minor handling wear. There are tool marks at each link-pin on the right of the frame and there is minor wear at the takedown aperture on the bottom of the dust cover. The action shows minor operational wear. There is strong case color on the spur-type hammer and sight-safety and strong fire-blue on the trigger, magazine latch and three of the grip screws. The top-right grip screw’s finish has muted from handling wear. The grip screws are sharp. The markings are clear. Overall, this handgun rates in Fine-Excellent condition.
Mechanics: The action functions correctly and the slide is tight to the frame. We did not fire this handgun. As with all previously owned firearms, you will want to give this a good cleaning to meet your maintenance standards.
Box, Paperwork & Accessories: An original nickel plated magazine is provided, marked “PAT’D SEPT. 9. 1884”. This magazine retains about 90% of the finish with minor losses at wear points, intact feed lips and a strong spring. Also included is a copy of a Colt Historian letter confirming that this pistol shipped October 22, 1900 to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in a shipment of 50 pistols of the same type.
Our Assessment: Colt’s Model 1900 was designed by John Moses Browning. Books can and have been written about the genius of this Utah-born firearms designer, whose influence can be found in virtually any firearm developed since the late 19th century. There may not be a better example of how deeply Browning affected handgun design than the Colt Model 1900. Take a look at semi-automatic handguns made today, and keep in mind that the 1900 introduced “the slide” as well as the tilting-barrel locking mechanism which are ubiquitous, but all started with Browning.
Douglas Sheldon’s book “A Collector’s Guide To Colt’s 38 Automatic Pistols” notes:
“The Model 1900 was only made for three years, 1900-1902, and only 4274 were produced. The early pistols had the slide serrations at the rear and were equipped with a spur hammer and a sight-safety mechanism. It was found hard to grasp the slide by the serrations, and they were moved to the front at about serial number 2001. The rear sight was too small for effective use and it was difficult to engage and disengage the safety. Eventually, it was decided to eliminate the sight-safety mechanism and replace it with a sight dovetailed into the slide. A plug was added to fill-up the hole at the front of the dovetail. In order to use up the existing slides, it was first decided to modify odd numbered pistols with the new sight and a round hammer, and to continue manufacturing the sight-safety mechanism with a spur hammer on the even numbered pistols. At about serial number 3500, all production shifted to the modified sight and at serial number 4274 all of the original slides built for the sight-safety system were finally used-up.”
The United States Navy determined that they were interested in an autoloading handgun, ordering 250 from Colt’s for trials. This makes the Navy pistols slightly more rare than Army guns, for which there were a total of 300 ordered in two separate contracts. The Navy contract pistols were delivered in five batches of 50 each, with consecutive serial numbers from 1001-1250. The pistols were further marked with Navy numbers from 1-250, matching up with the last three digits of Colt’s serial numbers. This example was in the third shipment and is the 146th pistol made for the Navy Contract. The pistol is matching with proper Navy inspection marks and, perhaps best of all, is un-altered, retaining its original safety sight.
While neither the Army nor the Navy would go on to adopt it, the Model 1900 allowed minor modifications to become the Model 1902 and finally to the 1905 and M1911 which would go on to serve American armed forces from the Great War through Vietnam, still seeing some limited military use, today. All of the 1911, 1911A1, their developments and derivatives started with this.
For reasons which should now be apparent, the 1900 Model pistols are VERY collectible. It doesn’t hurt collector interest that there are several variations: serrations in the front or back, spur or round hammer, sight-safety or dovetailed rear sight, commercial/Army/Navy, etc. The variations create several combinations and this has inspired collectors, and this pistol is one of the rarest variations in Fine-Excellent condition. Despite its age and Navy trials, the pistol retains the vast majority of its original finish, a nice bore, strong mechanics and has not been altered.
This pistol represents a crossroads of Colt, John Browning, the United States Navy, technological revolution, rarity, and high condition. It is a gorgeous piece which will add to even the most advanced collections focused on any of these. With only 250 made, several of which were altered to remove the sight safety, and a decent chunk retained by the Quantico Marine Base Museum, there won’t be many opportunities to acquire an example such as this. Please see our photos and good luck!