Gun Review: 1903 Colt Automatic .32 Hammerless Pistol

Pretty Woman is a fabulous movie. A hooker with a heart of gold and no social diseases? Well grow my hair and call me Rapunzel. One of Pretty Woman’s most mythic moments: when Edward Lewis introduces Vivian Ward (a.k.a. Sugar Lips) to opera. “People’s reactions to opera first time they see it is very dramatic,” Eddy intones as the lights go down. “They either love it or they hate it. If they love it they always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I feel the same way about guns. The moment I cast my eyes on the Colt Automatic Pistol, Pocket Model, Caliber .32, Hammerless, I knew I’d found my funk soul brother. Check it out now . . .

The Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless is not hammerless. The hammer is actually shrouded. I said, the 1903 doesn’t have a . . . oh forget it. Why bother with technical analysis or Bonnie-busted-out-Clyde-with-this-gun historical trivia when you can click and clock John Browning’s genius.

You don’t need me to tell you that the 1903′s design is as classic as the original Coke bottle: both of its time and timeless. Scope those elegant lines and perfect proportions. Like a Michelangelo sculture, you couldn’t add or subtract a thing. Like an Alden Bristol sailboat, the 1903 affirms the old adage “if it looks right, it is right.”

The 1903′s details are equally subtle, similarly beguiling. Colt manufactured our test model model in 1921, three years before the company started selling the standard weapon with contrasting walnut grips. This gun’s high-tech (for the time) Bakelite grips are monochromatic masterpieces that say “I was a black gun before black guns were cool.”

The Colt name embedded therein is sized appropriately, framed within the checkering, aligned with the bottom of the trigger guard. The rampant horse rears up on both the bottom of the grip and the left rear corner of the slide, where it’s etched with infinite care. Form follows function—with style!

Which brings us to the 1903′s once and future utility.

Those of you who worship on the altar of “stopping power” will dismiss the 1903 as an antique piece, less suitable for self-defense than a nearby table lamp. An eight-round .32? Yeah that’ll annoy ‘em. In this you are not alone. A few months after the Colt 1903 first saw the light of day, American Rifleman gun reviewer J. V. K. Wagar wrote that the Colt wasn’t powerful enough for “defensive purposes against great beasts or armed men of great virility.”

Fair enough on the beast front; I’m told that bears take some killing. As for armed assailants, today’s bad guys are more likely to be motivated by methamphetamine than manliness, and that’s not a good thing. But I would disagree with Mr. Wagar and latter-day proponents of the big ‘n fast school of terminating terminal ballistics who reckon the 1903 isn’t up to the job of personal protection.

Not all armed antagonists are indefatigable zombies that need to leave a good portion of their fetid brain matter dripping down a wall before they’ll end hostilities. In real life, a few rounds of carefully placed hollow-point .32s will de-motivate all but the most virile of men. Granted, there are 300-pound drug and adrenaline-crazed homicidal maniacs who can Mike Myers their way through a hail of lead to axe your ass. But are you preparing for the worst case scenario or the most likely assault?

If you’ve got an Armageddon mindset, well, fair enough. Get thee to a higher caliber. Follow Clint Smith’s dictum that a self-defense gun should be comforting, not comfortable. Muzzle Tov! If, however, you place carrying comfort, accuracy and speed over simple caliber considerations, this 89-year-old Colt 1903 is as good a self-defense gun as anything its size.

Needless to say, I’m cheating. There isn’t a similarly-sized, latter-day .32. No modern gunmaker would try to sell a 24-ounce .32 caliber carry gun with a 3 1/4″ barrel to a market hooked on palm-sized plastic pistols holding a plethora of 9mm bullets, or an octet of .45s. But the jacket-pocket-compatible Colt’s configuration offers two important advantages that give it modern relevance.

First, extremely low recoil. You can count on the fingers of one stinging hand the number of small concealed carry guns that don’t punish your paw for daring to fire them. Even the Colt 1908—the seven-shot .38 caliber variant of this design—is a bit “peppery” in action. The Colt 1903 is as smooth as silk. And that means you can fire eight rounds through the Colt 1903 really, really fast. Here’s Wayne from The American Firearms school, doing to do.

As you can now imagine, dry firing the Colt 1903 offers only a marginal improvement in the muzzle flp department. And this is where accuracy comes into the mix. Not only can you fire the 1903 quickly, but you stand an excellent chance of hitting what you’re aiming it; albeit using some of the smallest iron sights ever fit to a handgun (snaglessness has its price).

In the video directly above, Wayne was aiming, obviously. But I can assure you that the 1903 has the kind of point-and-shoot accuracy that’s more than welcome in real world combat, where you just might forget to line-up your shots. Or run out of time to do so. Or find yourself firing from the floor with your weak hand with blood pouring out of a brand new orifice. Or throwing the gun to someone who doesn’t know jack about guns and sights and Mr. Weaver’s stance.

Last but by no means least, there’s reliability. My man Solomon recently reviewed a box-fresh Springfield EMP which displayed not one but two egregious failures to fire. So much for bigger bullets. In contrast, I shot over 500 rounds through this 1903 without one problem. Not one. And 300 rounds through another 1903 with similar results. Would I bet my life on an 89-year-old Colt? Yes, I would.

With pleasure. And that, for me, is what seals the deal. The 1903 is an extremely pleasurable gun to fire. It’s not one of those small(er) concealed carry guns you take to the range and shoot at the end of your session just ’cause you have to maintain proficiency with the little snub-nosed bastard. It’s one of those guns you handle with, dare I say it, love.

And that builds confidence—one of the best things you can take into a gun fight. I’m not saying that everyone would feel confident carrying a 1903 Colt Hammerless .32 Pistol, or using it in most concealed carry self-defense situations. (I could see where a target’s heavy winter outerwear would be a problem.) I’m saying I would.

The fact that the 1903 is a gorgeous weapon favored by historically-significant gun-slingers (Al Capone, General George S. Patton) is neither here nor there. You can have your original Colt boxes and authentication papers. Just give me a mint condition Colt 1903, a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition and some quality time on the range. Done.

If you’re interested, find one (Colt manufactured over 530k of them) and try it. If you don’t like the Colt 1903 after the first shot, well, allow me to paraphrase the Archie Bunker conservatives of the 1970′s. The Colt 1903 Hammerless Pistol. Love it or leave it.

[Thanks to Steven Fusco at Estates Unlimited for loaning us both of his personal 1903s]

STATS:

Caliber: .32

Magazine Capacity: 8

Overall Length: 6″

Barrel Length: 3″

Height: 4″

Width: ¾”

Weight: 24 ounces

Sights: Fixed, rear half-moon, front peg

Muzzle Velocity (factory stats): 950 ft./sec.

Price: Approx. $1000 for mint condition example

RATINGS

Style * * * * *

One of the best examples of anti-style style extant. John Browning’s rep is well-deserved.

Ergonomics * * * * *

Loads, racks and shoots like a pair of sharp scissors, if you know what I mean. No fuss, no muss.

Reliability * * * * *

Not a hitch, not a glitch in 500+ rounds—in a nearasdammit 90-year-old gun. Do they still make ‘em like they used to?

Customize This

Don’t you dare. You’ll even have to commission a holster.

OVERALL RATING * * * * *

You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul.

NOTE: I’ve read one story (perhaps apocryphal) where a 1903 owner dropped his gun, shot himself and died of his injuries. While the 1903 has a grip safety, I’d recommend leaving the chamber empty when carrying.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

98 Responses to Gun Review: 1903 Colt Automatic .32 Hammerless Pistol

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Nice review. My dad has one of these in .380 caliber that he got from his dad, who bought it some time during the great depression. It was used on more than one occasion to thwart an armed robbery, so I've been told. I haven't fired Dad's .380 but now I'm going to have to.

  2. avatarRobert Farago says:

    Martin, a review of the Colt 1908 would be most appreciated.

    • I agree with the comment requesting a similar review of the Colt 1908. It’d be interesting to see how much more punch you get from an extra .06 of an inch ! Well, and a couple grains of powder :-)

      Mostly just wanted to say Thank You for reviewing these worthwhile old timers. They deserve it. Seems like everything I fire is “the most modern” this or “the fastest” that. I’d rather experience a lever action Henry — which I never have. Or a cap and ball revolver — which I never have.

      Arms like these helped change the world. Those .454 Webleys that opened up Africa, the 1903 that showed cowboys you could get more than six shots out of a sidearm and reload quick (I’ll bet that weapon came as a bit of a suprise in Texas even in 1903) and of course the Colt Peacemaker/New Army/Navy. I like history more than I like shooting, but it’s still a big difference between reading history and seeing (and hearing) history. Nice work.

  3. avatarJohn D says:

    Great review!- Robert, the 1908 is really the same gun, with a bit more kick, and a bit more bark- I just this weekend finished up a 1903 which seems to have had a period conversion to .380- have a couple pics and description if you'd like- how do I get 'em to you?

  4. avatarRobert Farago says:

    Way cool. guntruth@me.com

  5. avatarArc says:

    If you’re interested, try one.

    I'm very interested, but how would I go about trying one?

  6. avatarTimbo Marquart says:

    I have one of these, and I find it to be a delight to shoot. Is it perfect? No. For one thing, the sights suck. If you have the time to find the tiny little blade and line it up, this gun is capable of good accuracy. I would be a grade A moron to have them changed and so won't, but the fact remains that in a defensive sense, the sights blow. But man, once you shoot one of these little guys, you stop caring. So smooth, so pleasant. Just fun. I am with the author, if you get a chance to try one, do so.

  7. avatarDickB. says:

    Some how I have ended up with a 32, a 380 and one that started out as a 32 but somebody replaced the 32 barrel with a 380 barrel. Gotta stay away from auctions!

    I also bought one of the Cylinder & Slide 45 Pocket Models. It's not an exact replica but it is just as good looking and the cool factor is outta sight.

    Does anybody know the differences are between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd issues? When were the changes made?

  8. avatarKenny M says:

    Robert, welcome to the fold. I inherited a 2nd Gen. Pocket 32 some years back…it was my great-grandad's. He worked the railroad back then and bought this Colt in 1918. I could not agree more with your impressions of this fine handgun. I have several handguns, both wheel guns and semis…this by far is the sweetest shooter I own. As for the complaints about the minimalistic sights…(it's not a target model) this superb weapon points as natural as your finger. If you can't hit center mass at 25yds by just looking down the spine of the slide, maybe you should invest in a rifle?

  9. avatarRobert Farago says:

    Thank you very much.

  10. avatarBruce Kennedy says:

    I inherited a 1904 serial number colt depicted above. It has wavey lines above and below the colt and horse is in the circle on grip otherwise all the same in your pictures. I am not a gun enthusiast but would like to determine if this gun is functional as a occasional target gun or defense in my home. Can you direct me to information on how to safely use this gun. Or should I take to a gunsmith? I refuse to leave it in anyone's hands though, its a family heirloom.

  11. avatarRobert Farago says:

    Gunsmith. Every time.

  12. avatarRodrigo says:

    un saludo desde Costa Rica.Hace un año un arma de estas me salvó la vida contra 2 delincuentes(sicario) con un arma mas moderna y 9mm.Yo recibi 2 balazos en area no letal y uno de ellos 4 (rescum in pacem) el otro una herida todo lo dicho anteriormente en el articulo es verdad.

  13. avatarBon says:

    “But are you preparing for the worst case scenario or the most likely assault?”

    What foolishness, from someone who has VERY likely never had to confront an attacker.

    If you think you known when, how, or who will attack you, play the lottery, you are psychic.

    Those of us of a more realistic mentality will carry somthing with a MUCH higher likelihood of stopping an attacker, quickly.

    Pretty, well made gun, but in a HIGHLY substandard caliber for Self Defense.

    • avatarScrounger says:

      That’s not fair. The 1903 is a piece of masterful artwork that can also save your life. I will agree that the .32 cal. is less than I normally carry. But, one must gauge their particular individual needs and pending threats. Obviously, only a 4 inch S&W 500 magnum full house loads will suffice for your purpose. The Colt 1903 in .32 is a pleasant surprise for anyone wishing to confront me. At the point that I direct their attention to the muzzle, they could care less if the angry bullet chasing their epidermis is .22 long rifle or .45 acp. Their retreat is my goal. I’m neither a scalp hunting savage or a big game trophy safari Bwana. But, we’re all opinionated to some degree or another. That’s just my two cents.

    • avatarjim grotto says:

      I am sure a 32 hollow jacket will have you screaming in pain when it hits your ass at 20 to 50 ftaway . If thats not enough , one in your leg should do it, and if that dosent stop you well , there are still 5 shots left .

    • avatarBuck says:

      Bon,
      I understand your “power” point, but lets face a certain fact…ALL PISTOL CALIBER CARTRIDGES ARE INADEQUATE…period!
      They all suck, so any choice to bring a pistol to a gun fight is a substandard choice.
      Alas, if it is a choice between a light compact pistol that you actually have with you, or the zombie killer that you leave at home because it is too heavy and hard to conceal, well, the choice seems pretty clear.

      I’ve been a beat cop for 32 years in 2 of Americas top 5 cities. I’ve been one of the lucky ones and have never had to shoot a person…a few feral dogs and wounded deer yes. I’ve carried a concealed pistol my entire adult life and have brandished it several times when required to defuse a conflict.
      I carried a Colt 32 hammerless for many years (my Dept banned them a decade ago…drat).
      I’ve seen at least 100 people shot and there is no rhyme or reason as to how bullets and people interface. I saw a 350 pound weightlifter downed instantly by a 22 short Beretta Minx right to the heart (domestic) and a wigged out addict take 30+ hits at close quarters in the police lock-up and never loose consciousness ( he disarmed a cop and began firing in a room full of cops…very ugly). I saw a guy take a contact head wound from a 41 mag and live…not well mind you, but not dead either!
      Sure, I know this is all anecdotal, but my point, there are simply no predictable outcomes.
      So, solutions;
      1) carry a gun that is carry-able, so you will in fact pack it (legally).
      2) Situational awareness is critical, look at your surroundings!
      3) do not signal that you are packing, surprise is your friend.
      4) have an utterly reliable pistol and train hard. (I have found the Colt hammerless pistols amazingly reliable, I’ve owned and shot dozen of them and love them, they are accurate too)
      5) learn tactics and anatomy, make your shots count!

  14. avatarSean says:

    I’ve been intending to pick one of these up for a while. I actually found one at the last gun show I went to, $350. Alas, I didn’t have any expendable income at the time (just browsing), but that seemed like a steal considering what I’ve seen them go for online. Do you have any tips for what I should look for when I do get around to purchasing one? I’m only interested in operation, not aesthetics.

  15. avatarDaniel says:

    Very good review Robert.

    I am agree with your analysis, actually I own a Beretta 84 bb (.380 acp) and recently I bougth a Colt 1903 from 1919, I am not really sure yet, but I think even the Beretta is newer than the Colt, the 1903 becomes into my favorite.
    Really is a pleasure to shoot it.

  16. avatarOldgreenbay says:

    Tried to register for sites but failed so can you help me with a basic set of questions?
    1. 1903 Colt 32 longer barrel from my Dad in what might seem good condition
    2. probably not fired in 30 years though seems work, however
    3. missing magazine what do I buy and where is a reputable source
    4. who repairs these in the Northern area of Cook or South Lake County in Illinois
    5. what ammunition does it use
    Thanks for tolerating a newbie.

  17. avatargobo spring says:

    Great review! I recently inherited my father’s 1903, took it to a gunsmith to check it out and following his pronouncement that it was in great shape (and that he’d welcome the chance to buy it) find that it shoots beautifully and smoothly with virtually no recoil.

    I’m wondering – what modern ammo is safe to use in it? The gunshop had FMJ 4.75 g
    73 grs Lellier and Bellot Browning .32 auto, but I see some people suggest this might be too powerful a load for this old gun. Also – this ammo does have a rim. Any thoughts?

  18. avatarmichael says:

    I love this gun. my grandfather bout the 1903 hammerless .32 in 1921 to “run molasses” in NJ. I keep it at home for self defense and target shooting. This piece does have sentimental value to me, so perhaps I’m biased. But this is a wonderful fire arm for all levels of enthusiasts.

  19. avatarpadraig says:

    Inherited the .32 colt 1903 from my wife’s Uncle. He carried it for 50+ years as a banker in Kansas and Missouri. He tells a story about how Bonnie and Clyde robbed one of his banks and he fired his Colt at them as they were exiting the bank with the money. Didn’t know if he scored any hits. I’ve only fired two rounds through it and keep it in my gun safe. It is one of my prized possessions and a fine weapon.

  20. avataranthony shebanek says:

    It’s like the old Packard car slogan, “just ask the man that owns one” “A sweet firearm ,” discribes it best.
    ps…where would one purchase a clip for that Colt 32?

  21. avatarJim Taticek says:

    You can get clips for the .32 at the Sportsmans guide site, a 5 pack for around $60.00 plus shipping.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Magazines too!

    • avatarJim Taticek says:

      I am now warning anyone looking to buy magazines for the 1903 .32 cal NOT to get them from SPORTSMANS GUIDE . When I finally got the chance to use them only two of the five fit in the pistol and neither of them would feed into the chamber. I will now either have to take them to a gunsmith have them worked on so they will work or tear my house apart looking for the invoice so I can get my money back.

      • avatarChuck Loeffler says:

        I just found a place that still manufactures the 1903 Colt 32ACP 8 shot magazines and guarantees them to fit and feed. It is called Triple K manufacturing company in San Diego. They sell these magazines for $38 plus $9 shipping. They are also sold through Brownell’s. Sure beats the $216 and $363 tags I saw the last two magazines sell for this last week on eBay!

  22. avatarMack Denny says:

    To those out there who comment on “stopping power” or “knock down power” better wake up and read some facts (Marvin Fackler’s book are a good start). No handgun made will knock a man off his feet, if it did it would knock YOU off your feet. Shot placement is much more important than caliber. If a .40 or .45 bucks in your hand and knocks off your sight picture so you miss every shot, that bigger round does you no favors, but iff you hit your opponent 5 times in the heart with a .22, you will probably go home that day.

    • avatardabs2191 says:

      all you neeed is to learn a failure drill. two to the chest one to the head is going to stop anyone. caliber isn’t everything

  23. avatarTony says:

    Great review. I love my Colt 1903 and shoot it often. I do need to get a new recoil spring for it. Does anyone know were I can get parts for it.

  24. avatarRon Bray says:

    I have a 32 Pocket Colt S/n: 517459. I have a serious problem with mine. It goes off
    quite often without pulling the trigger. If I pull the slide back and release it sharply it will go off 5 out of 10 times. Suspect wear on the sear. Haven’t disassembled the gun
    to that point thus far, but talked to a gunsmith today and he said the guns were not made from very good steel and were subject to wear….It doesen’t completely eject the spent case always either..
    Have any thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated………

    • avatarwolfman says:

      B.S.
      Take the gun to a different gunsmith and don’t sell it. This is a COLT firearm designed by Browning. The steel is probably of a greater quality than what you can expect from El, Cheapo today. I shoot all kinds of rounds, usually the cheapest I can get. It does not jam and at the Public outdoor range I shoot ridiculuosly small targets at 25, 50, and 75 yard. I regurlarly hit a 5 gallo0n buket at 75 4 out of ten shots. You should not even be able to come close

    • avatarZzzeke says:

      Sounds like you may have a stuck firing pin. Take it to a DIFFERENT gunsmith. The comment about the quality of steel means he’s either an idiot or a liar trying to buy your pistol on the cheap.

      Here’s mine:

      http://www.zzzeke.com/Guns/colt32a.jpg
      http://www.zzzeke.com/Guns/colt32b.jpg

  25. avatarMichael says:

    I have a 1903, it’s a legit 1903, as the serial number is 2180, which puts it in the first year of production. Is this gun valuable?

  26. avatarJames Kelso says:

    I have a Colt 32 Automatic in mint condition probably hasn’t had two box’s of ammo shot through it, was cleaning it today, put it in lock position released the lock now it won’t slide back, it seems locked, Dec 03 416362 serial # I have had the gun for 50 years, it is locked closed

  27. avatarRon Bernert says:

    One of the finest pistols I own.. I just had mine re-blued, not really because I wanted a perfect one, but because I wear this one with a clipdraw so often that I wore the finish off of it. The re-bluing cost more than I bought the gun for, but I love the way it looks, and I get many “wow’s” out of it! A very pretty, functional, reliable gun! This gun is smooth as a baby’s bottom and tucks in the waistband and is comfortable to carry all day.

  28. avatarEd Hasley says:

    My wife brought one of these home today, it is reasonably clean for the age, dated apr 20, 1897 Dec 22,1903, ser number is 288953. The magazine is missing where may I find one? I already have one of these in .380 and am looking forward to shooting this one.

    • avatarAndrew Hollenback says:

      Bought one at Midwest Shooters Supply. Won’t accept hollow points. Just got one from Bob’s Gun Parts. Expensive ($40) but accepts all fodder.
      Keep your powder dry– It’s gonna get ugly!!!

  29. avatarDennis says:

    My father had one of these. Stupidly, we sold at his estate auction after he passed away about five years ago. It went for $150. Man, I wish I would have kept that thing. Incredible balance, small enough to fit in a pocket with barely a bulge and a great piece of machined art. Now, I’d love to buy one.

  30. avatartom from fairfax says:

    Mine was manufactured in 1911 and was carried by my grandfather on the B&O Railroad. My dad gave it to me a few years ago. It is one of the most reliable handguns I own: feeds and ejects flawlessly. Completley accurate at short ranges (that nub sight). When I cleaned the magazine, I realized it had never been disassembled before. Should have checked for grandad’s fingerprints!

  31. avatarVodoun da Vinci says:

    I just inherited one of these .32 caliber pieces of art from my father in law. Built in 1918, it has very little blue left on it, but it is tight in lock ip and very, very sexy to hold and point.

    I had a local gunsmith look at it and he has pronounced it safe to fire. And offered to buy it. Several buddies are terrified to shoot it but my father in law left me 3 full boxes of .32 ammunition for it and a test target. He carried it regularly…I suspect that a couple of generations of my inlaw kin carried it as well judging by how well used and loved it is.

    I’m gonna shoot it. I love the damn thing and I bet I can put 6 rounds of .32 thru a perps face at 30′ in less than 5 seconds with it.

    Video to follow eventualy…I love this gun and might have it rebuilt/reblued if I can come up with 1100 bucks to get it done.

  32. avatarBlaine says:

    I was given a Type V 1903 chambered in .32, by my grandfather. It is nickled but it has about a quarter wide portion of the nickel rubbed off on the rear portion of the grip (I assume from holster wear). Is that something that can be fixed, or is it even worth it? I don’t plan on ever selling the pistol.

  33. avatarJackie Robinson says:

    As far as stopping power, shot placement is more important than bullet size, but if it can’t be safely carried with a round in the chamber, it is not suitable for defence carry.

  34. avatarSpence says:

    I have a very early Type 1. The frame is a 1904 but the slide is a 1903 design. It is a pure pleasure to fire.

  35. avatareric says:

    I have two, that is how much i love them. one is a 1921 daily carry had it parkerized grey and put nice original wood grips. People can`t believe it is 100 year old gun ask why I carry it I say cause it works EVERYTIME. The second is type III parkerized Black with wood grips. Lookin for a decient priced 1908 in 380.

  36. avatarRobert Kramer says:

    I have a Model 1903 32 auto. Parkerized finish. Marked U.S. Property. Wood Colt grips. 95% Could you tell me a value? Thank you.

  37. avatarTelly Roberson says:

    I got a colt from an uncle. Serial number 2018. I don’t wanna sell it hell never really shot it. Is it worth anything??? Just curious.

  38. avatarJim T. says:

    I just got mine from my Dad he is 88 years young. He has owned it sense 1947 his uncle got it in a Pawn shop in Compton CA. in the early 40s. As far as punching power, it will knock bowling pins completely of a table at 25 ft. every time in 5 sec. and you never loose your sight picture. Best shooting gun I ever owned.

  39. avatarEverett Tipton says:

    Sometime during the war my father who had joined the navy in January 1941 and was discharged some eight months later because he broke his collar bone while carring five inch shells while stationed aboard the USS St. Louis decided he wanted to buy a handgun. He found two for sell one was a S&W .32 long and the other was a S&W .38. The problem was that the 38 had a swell in the barrel. My father said that the swell was caused by bad ammo a common occurrence during the war. So, he went to his uncle and asked him which gun he should buy. His uncle told my father if he shot someone with the .32 he would just make them mad to buy the .38. and send it back to S&W and they would replace the barrel. So my father followed his uncles advise and bought the .38. You see Uncle Doc was a poker player and a good one. And when men lose at cards, they are not always happy about it. And Uncle Doc had killed two men and wounded a third in gun battles. He was called Doc because his mother named him after one of her favorite uncles, Dokter a Swedish name giving to him by his Swedish mother. My great grandmother Caroline Peteersson.

  40. avatarBoolander says:

    I have just received one of these from my father (1920-built). He had bought it new, and to my surprise, he said that it had never been fired. I believe him as the gun shows no sign of wear and it is in immaculate condition. I had wanted to try this gun out at the range but I got to wondering, should I just leave it alone and keep it “virgin” or will firing rounds through it degrade the value?

  41. avatarEd Med says:

    Very pleased to find this thread on the 1903 Colt Pocket Auto – A wonderful little pistol ! The design and finish work present are non-existent on today’s production guns. And, this was a production gun. The Sears catalog sent many examples to homes and farms across the USA for many years.
    I acquired my 1919-20 gun from a friend who inherited it in pieces – the owner having disassembled it and unable to re-assemble, put in a box in the attic for 40-50 years. I replaced a [bent] recoil spring and was in business.
    This gun is flawlessly reliable with any ammo I have tried. Most importantly, my wife says it is the only gun I own that does not “offend her senses” when firing. This is a victory !
    For defense ? I would not want to place the gun in that role for many reasons – but it certainly would work if you were reasonably accurate and sufficiently aggressive. In response to an earlier post, I WOULD NOT shoot and unfired, collectable gun. Get a shooter of the same model and enjoy, keeping the other pristine.

  42. avatarKelli McDade says:

    I have learned some very interesting facts from this article.I have just recently inherited the same exact pistol only my handle is different. Its a brown color with two silver looking colt stamps on either side of the grips. The pistol has a couple of bruises from over the years but it still fires very well. It has the colt symble ingraved on the rear left side of the slide. The pistol itself reads; automatic colt ,calibre 32, rimless smokeless on the right side of the slide. On the left side it reads; patented April 20 1897 Dec 22 1903, colts pat F.A.M’F’G CO. HARTSFORD CONN. U.S.A. I guess what i want to to know is if it’s authentic and if it is how much is it worth? I can provide pictures upon request.

    • avatarR.Parrish says:

      Around 1926 they started putting walnut grips on them. That sounds like what you have.
      If you can send a couple of photos I will try to help with your questions.
      I actually have both the .32 and .380 versions of this pistol.
      I love mine!!!

    • avatarNick says:

      On coltautos.com, you can go to the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless page and check your serial number against the Colt production dates (how I found out mine was from 1917). I recommend the page for lots of interesting information as well.

  43. avatarKevin Galvin says:

    Can’t seem to find a detailed diagram of this particular firearm. Buying this non-working and missing a part its near impossible to figure out how to fix it . So if anybody can send me a parts list and assembly picture I would be thankful.
    Thank You ,
    K . Galvin

    • avatarShannon Riegle says:

      I have an original list/photo of component parts, would that help you at all? I know nothing about guns but I love to research and my husband asked if I would find out more about this pistol that was his grandpa’s and see if I could locate some ammunition for it. I’d be happy to scan this page and e-mail it to you if it is of any use to you.

  44. avatardwight says:

    My Dad, and WWII army air core vet passed on September 29th. A couple weeks ago my Mom gave me this gun. She said he brought it home from the war. Glad to know that the old man left me a little history. Your article will cause me to cherish it all the more.

  45. avatarJim W. says:

    My dad gave me one of these many years ago. Is there any way to find out if a particular gun has a history to it, like if it was ever used in law enforcement?

  46. avatarMatt says:

    “Fair enough on the beast front; I’m told that bears take some killing.”
    When it was new, IIRC a man being mauled put a round of .32 ACP up the nostril of the Grizzly bear, colt talked about it in advertisements of the day if I’m not mistaken.
    This had been getting a lot of action on Boardwalk Empire the last 2 seasons.

    I’d rather have the 1908 .380, virtually identical, and I’d rather have it than the Remington 51, which was supposedly the best, but Patton is the only person I ever heard of having one. In a .32 would have to get the art-deco, double stack Savage, which are still a great bargain.

  47. avatarNeil Evangelista says:

    The 1903 was my first carry piece. Paid $65 in 1972, and packed it until I “upgraded” to a 9mm Beretta in ’84. Loved it’s size and accuracy, and it handled the Winchester silver-tips with aplomb. Ran like a Swiss watch…

  48. avatarchris keatts says:

    This article sold me! I looked at 1931 in the box with all the paper work and looks not to of ever been fired, today for 799. I thought it was a real high price but I’m on my way back right now to get it!!

  49. avatarRAHUL PATHANIA says:

    Respected Sir,
    According to http://coltautos.com the Barrel Length of this pistol are 3-3/4 inch (Type 2 to 5) and according to you this is 3 inch. I am confused kindly tell me the exject Barrel Length of Colt Hammerless Pocket 32 and 380 acp calliber. I am also Paste here the GeneralCharacteristics by the http://coltautos.com

    Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless .32 ACP & Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP – General Characteristics

    GENERAL SPECIFICATIONS

    LENGTH OF BARREL: 4 inches (Type I), 3 3/4 inches (Types 2 – 5) CAPACITY OF MAGAZINE: Cal. .32, 8 Cartridges. .380, 7 Cartridges
    LENGTH OVERALL: 7 inches (Type I), 6 3/4 inches (Types 2 – 5) SIGHTS: Fixed.
    WEIGHT: 24 Ounces FINISH: Blued or Nickel, Special Order finishes.
    STOCKS: Black Checkered Hard Rubber, Checked Walnut, Special Order Grip Materials
    SPECIAL FEATURES

    Serrated slide to prevent slipping while charging chamber with first cartridge Three safety features
    Magazine easily removed for loading

  50. avatarTorben Gade Espensen, Boegevangen 1, DK-4200 Denmark says:

    I’m in prosess to write a book of small arms used in the Danish Forces. I need 2 pictures of the Colt 1903, cal. 7.65 ACP, pictures from each sites of the gun. The pictures must be in perfect condition. I hope you can help.

    BR Torben

  51. avatarMichael G. Shanks says:

    I saved for months to get me one of these that the local gun store had for $600.00. It’s condition is very clean, inside and out. Stopped at a friends place and fired a couple of mags. At a range of 65 feet, I hit a 14×14″ steel target box with 5 out of 8 rounds.

    When I got home, I got online and looked up instructions for disassembly so I could clean it and found a nice video of how to do it. Discovered the recoil spring and guide assembly was installed backwards and the spring was slightly bent but its working great and is a pleasure to shoot.

  52. avatarNathan Hoehn says:

    Hello, I have a 1903 Colt .32 ACP that I would be interested in selling. It’s been in my family for atleast 50 years. It is in really good condition but was Chrome Plated by my great grandfathers brother. If there is anyone interested, please feel free to email me for pictures and pricing at nathanmhoehn@yahoo.com

  53. avatarianlacy85@yahoo.com says:

    I just purchaced a mint, perfect blueone with the black grips. It has zero wear or marks and i haven’t fired it yet but now im super pumped to try it.

  54. avatarMax Strider says:

    Thank you for all the great information. Any one know where I can purchase a couple magazines for a 1903 Colt type III 32 cal.?
    thanks
    Max

  55. avatarRio Dental says:

    This is one of my all time favorite guns. The beautiful lines just call out to you. Unless you have really large hands, it fits very comfortably. And it’s so slim. Designer Browning was a genius and this is one gun that is still relevant 100 years later. Mine shoots on target every time with recoil no more than a .22. It is a shame that no after market magazines work well in these classics.

  56. avatarJoe V says:

    Does anyone know where I can purchase the recoil spring for this gun?
    Thank you in advance

  57. avatarUsmcthorpe says:

    Hey man,
    I’ve been looking for days on info on a gun past down from my great grandfather( navy ) to my grandfather( army ) and now to me( marines ). My grandfather has told me my great grandfather used this pistol in WWII. I just want some history on it. It’s a silver colt .32cal simi rimless/smokeless pistol. On the side it says. April 20th 1897- December 22nd 1903. Hartford Connecticut. The serial number is 305354.

  58. avatarMattG says:

    I have to agree with the assessment of the beauty of the 1903/1908 Colt design. It’s a timeless classic.

    I have two 1908 pocket Hammerless Colts in .380 ACP. My first is a 1912 example with a fair amount of wear and corrosion in the barrel and chamber. It does fire but won’t eject the spent shell as the expansion causes it to stick. The second is a 1927 vintage that looks amost new. I haven’t had an opportunity take this one to range but hope to soon. It’s a lovely thing.

    I’d suggest ordering replacement springs from Wolff: http://www.gunsprings.com/

    Also, other parts may be available from Popert’s (http://www.poppertsgunparts.com/) and Numrich (http://www.gunpartscorp.com/).

    The Colt Forum is invaluable for assistance with these (and other ) old colt handguns.

    I hope this helps,
    Matt G

  59. avatarBob Van Elsberg says:

    I tested German RWS .32 ACP FMJ ammunition against American (Winchester) .380 ACP FMJ ammo and found the .32 penetrated about 25 percent deeper and tumbled during the process. If you feel that the only way to ensure adequate penetration with these calibers is to use FMJ bullets, go with the .32 and try to find European loads. The RWS ammunition I used clocked an average 1,024 feet per second through a chronograph at 15 feet. If you compare that to the typical .380 ACP load, you’ll discover the energy edge goes to the .32. It’s no .45, but there is a reason more .32 ACP handguns were produced than any other caliber during the 20th Century. If it was the failure some modern gun writers suggest, why was it so incredibly popular?

  60. avatarNADEEM says:

    I HAVE A COLT AMATIC CALIBRE 32 RIMLESS SMOKELESS, WHAT IS ITS PRISE IN MARKET NOW A DAY

  61. I have one of these passed down to me from family. Mine is nickle plated with mother of pearl grips. It is so gangsta and elegant. One of my favorite all time guns and one with which I can really identify. I supposed the grips were added on later but I don’t know.

  62. avatarBill York says:

    At age 86 I still salivate over guns. My first was a Springfield 22 caliber single-shot rifle bought from Montgomery Ward for $2.95 in 1936, when I was ten years old. I killed maybe a thousand rusty cans and a few squirrels with it. Guns have saved my life twice, a pissed-off grizzley in Canada with a 3000 Savage and a turban-swathed bad boy on a dark street in Bizerte with my 45 Colt (military issue) in 1944

  63. avatarSabah Saeed says:

    Hi, Im from India and we have a colt model M 1903 pocket hammerless .32 ACP, factory master engraved by William Gough and factory gold plated pistol bearing serial number 296948 with mother of pearl handle and a presentation plaque on one side. There were only twelve such pistols made. We are interested in selling this weapon. Hope someone can help us with the details. This gun was also gun of the month (August 2003) at colt autos.com. you can contact us at sabahsaeed75@gmail.com

  64. avatarSteve G says:

    My dad bought his 1903 used about 1922-23 when he worked hard labor on the Santa Fe RR in Arizona. Colt website says it was manufactured in 1920. It is scratched up and the bluing is worn off where you grip the slider but after a rough beginning it spent the rest of its life in a drawer. About 15 years ago my son gave me a day at the range for my birthday and we each shot up a box of cartridges. I did pretty well at 10 to 15 yards both one and two handed. He had a 357 magnum revolver at the time. I had the Colt cleaned and put it back in the drawer. About 5 years ago, as my wife was taking the TG turkey out of the oven I got a call that there was a sick raccoon in the creek and I was the only one available that day with a gun – live in a rural area in Texas and the sheriff dispatcher said “don’t let it bite you.” So I dispatched the poor thing and not knowing what disease it had built a fire and cremated it. Then went in to eat a cold Thanksgiving dinner. It never even occurred to me that the pistol might not work – faith in Colt.

    I did not clean the gun after that. Then at a gun show a few weeks ago I saw a 1903 in about the same shape as mine for $425 and resolved to take better care of this one.

    At age 75 I am considering applying for Concealed Handgun License and after reading this blog I am convinced my Colt 32 will do just fine. I had been listening to the stopping power argument and was considering moving up in pistol caliber. Instead, for home defense I am getting a 12g short barrel shotgun. As one old codger said, I am getting too old to fight and too slow to run.

    First a pistol check up by a gunsmith then a few trips to the range to see if I need proficiency training. Thanks to all who contributed to this blog.

  65. avatarRick Duncan says:

    Man – What a GREAT description and story!! All the responses were fun, interesting, & educational to read. I inherrited my grandfathers 1903 .32 years ago; it is very prestine. Very few rounds have been fired from it. I understand he bought it in 1919 (?) – I believe it is a ‘Third Issue’. S/N seems very low – 1540xx. Of the 9 pistols I have, it is by FAR the BEST! My son-in-law is a Spl. Fed. Agent with ICE & I had him & their gunsmiths clean & check it – They ALL wanted to buy it. At 67 it’s listed on my will to my oldest grandson (also an ICE Agent). Thanks for all the GREAT information. Rick D

  66. avatarPaul says:

    Interesting site and mostly informative comments. I sent emails out to some of the parts suppliers noted to see if they still had parts for my .32. The Colt has been in the family since my Grandad left the army in WWI. I noted some unusual markings on the frame ( A in a diamond) and it had checkered woods grips , so I contacted Sam Lisker of Coltautos.com to see if he could help. He told me that my Colt was part of a World War I contract between Colt and the Belgian government to supply Belgium with a large number of Colt Model M pistols in .32 caliber. Never knew how Grandad wound up with it since he was stationed in Texas. Perhaps won in a poker game…

  67. avatarJim says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this review and subsequent thread. Just so ya know, I’m not a gun enthusiast per se, i.e., I don’t hunt (although I don’t have anything against those who do and would if I had to), I’m not a collector, or target shooter. In fact, up until last month, I hadn’t gone target shooting for at least three years, and in the last 20 years, haven’t shot but perhaps 3 or 4 times (excluding the dispatch of several sickly ground hogs and ‘possums).
    I inherited one of these 1908 Colt .380s from my father when he passed away a few years ago at the age of 87. I looked up the serial number and it was manufactured in 1912 and overall it is in excellent condition. He was an officer in the Air Force for 27 years.
    My father began his flying career right out of high school building and flying bi-planes and pylon racers in the in the early 1930′s. In the mid-’30s, he flew for American Airways flying “tri-motors” carrying passengers and mail. Back then mail air carriers were, by law, required to be armed. As such, he acquired this nifty .380.
    He joined the Army Air Corps in 1936. On December 7, 1941, he was a P-40 squadron leader stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. He told me many stories about that infamous day and his subsequent service in the Pacific theater during WWII and Korea, not the least of which included his Colt .380.
    He told me that although he was issued a model 1911 .45, he found it difficult to carry in the early months of war due to the cramped cockpit of his P-40s and similar pursuit/fighter planes of the day (he was 6’2″). So, he opted to carry the smaller.380. As the war progressed, he flew larger transports, bombers, and seaplanes (much larger accomodations, he said), in which he carried the .45 as primary and the .380 as backup.
    He told me the argument about stopping power was very real even then. He said they had had reports of other US personnel during search and rescue missions encountering armed pacific island natives, who were in collaboration with the Japanese Army, and were on some type of natural drug and had tightly bound their bodies with vines. The result being it literally took the knock-down power of the .45 to stop them, that even M-1 carbines weren’t particularly effective. Again, I’m no expert.
    He carried his Colt .380 all through WWII, Korea, and onto his retirement. As a child in the 60′s, I always knew he slept with it in under the mattress or in the drawer of the his nightstand. For all I know, he could’ve carried it to all my little league games, etc.
    Last month, I took it out to a range and put 50 rounds through it. As I said, I’m not what you would call experienced, but I was able to put virtually all my rounds within 2 inches of center at 7 yards. It’s extremely easy to shoot with very little recoil. I did have several casings hang up upon ejection. But, I’ve tracked that down to a loose safety latch creeping up and engaging the slide during cycling. Having that fixed as I write this.
    As a self-defense gun, I’ll let the pros argue that. For me, this .380 is a bit small for my large hands, but I can see it would be very concealable. Also, removal of an empty magazine is a bit awkward compared to the newer guns of today. The release latch is on the bottom of the handle, which causes you to turn your wrist and gun horizontally to disengage the catch/latch and then you have to pull the magazine from the handle, as opposed pressing a latch with your gun thumb and the magazine dropping out under spring pressure as with newer guns, such as a Glock, etc.
    I am really glad my dad kept this piece of history and I will cherish it always.

  68. avatarJoe says:

    I have two .32s and a .380, and love them all. They shoot like a dream, and
    have never misfired of failed to eject. Looking for a new barrel for the .380, but
    not really serious about it, the old one just has a little wear.
    Nice website.

  69. avatarBenjamin says:

    I stumbled on this review & comment section while researching some ballistics data for the .32acp, re: RWS 73gr., for relative safety in these old guns. There had been some speculation that the Dynamit Nobel RWS round might be of sufficiently high pressure as to present hazard to the shooter and pistol. The main question was to determine if European manufacturers stayed with in SAAMI or similar specifications for velocity & pressure. I am pleased to report that all the information thus far shows that the RWS is well within safe operating range of these elegant pistols.
    I own 3 model Ms: 2 1903s and a 1908 in .380. One of the 1903s is a 4 digit from 1904 and is, for all the world, exactly the same as the first year model. My 1908 is a very good one, condition-wise. The others bear the dings, dents, scrapes, scrapes, corrosion, and general appearance of true working carry pieces from a bygone era.
    They all exude charm, mystique, nostalgia, elegance of design , both in appearance and in engineering, that has not and will never be duplicated.
    I understand and appreciate the inspired attraction that these things have for those of us with a keen sense for tangeable elements of historic objects as well as the the intangeable attributes mentioned above.
    For more insight into these fine old chunks of steel, see Colt Forum and Coltautos.

  70. avatarVodoun da Vinci says:

    I posted in this thread some time ago – I have finally had the opportunity to test fire my inherited Colt Model M in .32 ACP at the range today. I fired about 150 rounds of varying ammunition from some flat nosed Winchester stuff to some hardball that was so old the box was falling apart.

    While cycling this pistol a while back I found that the flat nose bullets failed to feed about 30% of the time so I polished the feed ramp. At the range it fed all 35 rounds of the flat nose with no failures. In fact, even with ammunition that was so old no one else wanted it (my late father in law saved hundreds of rounds of .38 special, .357 magnum and 5 boxes of .32 ACP) I had not one single failure even with an after market second magazine purchased from Numrich Arms.

    I have handled and cleaned this pistol for 2 years now and felt completely comfortable with it at the range. Loaded up 8 rounds of hardball 71 grain in the original magazine, racked the slide, and dumped all 8 rounds into the head of a silhouette target at 21′. Took less than 3 seconds and I was instantly in love even though I have not been to a range with any of my guns for almost 7 years.

    The first 8 rounds were grouped tightly enough to cover with my hand – I have small hands for a guy 6′ 3″ and my hand is almost exactly 4″ across the palm…so, if you put your hand to your forehead you’ll see that all 8 of these rounds would have been fatal had the target been a perp. :-)

    I’m in love with this pistol and I’m looking for another one as I intend to carry it concealed as soon as Illinois gets that enacted. I’d not have a second thought about using this one in self defense as I’m gonna go back to the range tomorrow and get down and dirty with re establishing my skills and confidence. I can confidently place multiple hits in a 3 -5 round volley in extremely vital areas on a target and consistently managed to put a triple tap into the throat, forehead, eyes, and upper chest (between the armpits) in practice today with a 95 year old Colt 1903 Model M.

    I’m in love with this caliber and this particular pistol. If bullet placement is the show stopper in self defense with a handgun (and I do believe a .32 to the forehead followed by 3 more in less than a second will stop anyone) then this is now my choice for concealed carry and as a bedside pistol.

    Sorry for the diatribe – I’m stoked and very happy with my 95 year old art piece.

  71. avatarRobert says:

    I have a Colt Automatic Caliber 32 Rimless Smokeless, Patented April 20, 1887 ded. 22. 1903 serial # 229630 what is it worth thanx Rob

  72. avatarRobert says:

    I have a Colt Automatic Caliber 32 Rimless Smokeless, Patented Apr. 20.1887.DED.22.1903 SERIAL # 229630 What is it worth ? Thanx Rob

  73. avatarVodoun da Vinci says:

    Robert: I just bought another Model M built in 1930 that has nice blue and has been shot very little. It has some scratches and is not a collectible gun…it’s a shooter.

    I paid $625 plus shipping and it is my Wife’s gun…we took it to the range and she says it “shoots like butter”…..It shot 150 rounds of Fiocchi 73 grain hardball accurately and never missed a lick/ These pistols are selling for between $500 and $1000 for decent shoot able examples depending on condition of the finish.

    I just bought 3 more magazines and now own 2 pistols and 6 mags. The journey continues.

    VooDoo

  74. avatarDrexel says:

    I have a Colt 1903 .32 type III that belonged to my Father. Serial number shows it was manufactured in 1922, the same year my Dad was born. Not sure how long he owned it but I remember it from as far back as I can remember. I have only shot it on 1 occasion back in the 70′s….it just felt right as if I was born to hold and shoot it….now it’s mine. These guns are truly a work of art, probably one of the best handguns ever made.

  75. avatarRoger says:

    I have a Colt 32 auto I picked up at a flea market in Mississippi for $75.00 twenty five years ago. We didn’t have the internet back then so wasn’t sure if it was a good deal at the time. I just fell in love with the way it looked and felt in my hand. I have since fired hundreds of rounds through “Old Faithful” and would not part with it for any price. This pistol will be passed down to my son and grandson who I hope will love it as much as I do. As for accuracy…it’s not always the pistol but who is standing behind the pistol that counts. This pistol is by far the most accurate I have ever shot…as an old Marine I have shot allot of fire arms…when the chips are down I want something that will fire true and accurate. Granted it’s not a 1911 .45 cal. cannon but it is allot easier to conceal carry and has never snagged up on the draw because of the sights. This article was awesome….keep up the good work. By the way my “Old Faithful” just turned 101 years old this year…I wonder if the plastic they sell these days will pass the test of time?

  76. avatarPete Overman says:

    Is this gun not safe in a drop situation when the thumb safety is on?

  77. avatarLee Goodenough says:

    I inherited one of these several years ago that had originally belong to my uncle who was a Georgia patrolman at some point in his life (I am thinking in 1930′s or 40′s). I finally took it to the range yesterday and it fired like a champ! Very accurate! Probably the first time it had been fired in over 50 years. I love it!

  78. avatarkabir says:

    hi,I’m from Bangladesh and I need a gun for my person use,money doesn’t matter bt gun must’ll b colt,Armani,any international brand new/used 32 clbr,I’ve my own way from out,thx my mail is salluunique@gmail.com

  79. avatarROGER B WILKINS says:

    I want to sell a “pristine” 1903 Colt 32 Type 1 mfg 1907 #59836
    Includes original and 2nd magazine. $1,300.
    E-Mail photo’s available for serious buyers.
    thecanopyguy@aol.com

  80. avatarRick says:

    I have a colt 32 for sale,# 5110. the pat’d says April 20 1887. Rimless smokeless. Stamped USN, I guess U.S. Navy. Good shape, 2 mags, best offer…

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