A Colt Love Story

colt-1911-newspaper-clipping

Reader Mike in Texas writes:

A few years ago, I inherited a John M. Browning special (thanks Dad!). Once I recognized its significance, I really only enjoyed it for a few short days before passing it along to my son, Logan. I think there are some things that simply need to be inherited far sooner than later. Logan and I then started searching for information on this representative sample of the greatest handgun ever designed . . .

If you’re older than 45, then you already know I’m talking about the venerable 1911 in .45 ACP. As a young Army Ranger I was issued one in my early assignment as a machine gunner (using the M60). My squad leader shared with me the story of how the Moro tribesman in the Philippines helped make ‘Moses’ the legend he is today.

The Moro tribesmen of the Philippines were warriors of the first order and when our American fighting men went to clean up the leftover Spaniards from the Philippines back in 1898, they ran into these people who didn’t like anyone on their islands. They were quite territorial and tended tended to go into battle with wicked long-bladed Kris knives while medicated with a local opiate they ginned up. The American soldiers’ rifles would stop them, but their .38 revolvers only really served to piss them off. Many reports were filed of Moro tribesman shot multiple times with .38 slugs while they continued hacking away at Americans with their “Berserker Swords”.

That experience led the Army to look for something a little more powerful. After a lot of testing and some recent advances in everything from metallurgy to ballistics to engineering, a new gun took shape. During testing, the gun fired 6000 rounds without a single malfunction (damn government lies). The Army just LOVED the new gun and signed a contract to have Colt produce them in, well, 1911 (though the first production models didn’t run until the following year). Colt turned out both military and civilian versions at the same time. This is what came off the line in the first week of the production run:

edP226 MK25_2

My son and I just call her, “C107”. The “C” indicates that it’s a commercial version of the gun. In every way, she’s exactly what was made for the military contract – even the deep, shiny bluing. The Army was actually a little torqued off about that shiny bluing and made Colt stop that after the first 200 were made.

C107 was birthed on March 10, 1912 but didn’t start travelling until November 11 of that year when she and 49 of her sisters trekked all the way down to Quintana Bros. in Mexico City. She was purchased there by a general in the Mexican Army who must have had a man-crush on an American admiral ‘cause he gave the gun to him as a gift. If I knew admirals got that kinda swag, I would have joined the Navy.

The Admiral was later deployed back to the US and after more than a few decades in a box in a closet, he gave C107 to an enlisted sailor who did some work for him on the side after he’d retirement. I don’t know the sailor, but my dad did. All I have is the sailor’s handle: “Indian.” Indian and my dad were tight buddies. Indian probably didn’t know what he had, but it looked great and it caught my dad’s eye.

Indian sold the pistol to my father in 1966 for a whopping $60 (at a time when he was getting paid about $182 per month). Dad gave it to me the year before he passed on to meet Jesus on Heaven’s Shooting Range. In fact when he handed it to me, I think I may have uttered Jesus’ name a few times. Hartford, Mexico City, San Diego, Mena (Arkansas) and now Boerne (Texas). We might be missing a few stops and a few details, but there she is. That’s the story I was told and now you’ve heard it as well.

She is in original condition in every regard and though some of you may think me daft, my son and I have shot her. It’s a piece of blue steel beauty. And if they could make a .45 out of butter and silk, C107 is what it would feel like when you shoot it.

I think the spring is a little less springy than it should be, but it’s still enough to cycle just fine. The accuracy is good, but honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention. We shot steel rather than paper. We hit it and it was *sigh* Nirvana.

A few cool peculiarities: The serial number is on the “wrong” side. It has all the patents actually stamped on the slide. The front sight is the original oval (super-prone to bending) and the grips are the originals. It’s missing a lanyard loop on the magazine well and it was re-blued in the 70s, but the re-bluing was consistent with the original finish.

I have had a few experts look at it for authenticity and used Colt’s archive service to learn about its birth. We also researched its value. I had some gun idiot post that it was worth about a thousand dollars. Looking at how they go at auction — sometimes in poorer condition and usually in the 400-600 serial number series — we guess it’s worth upwards of $80,000. My son has been asked what he wants for it and his answer has always been the right one: “No money, it’s priceless.”

I only owned that thing for about a week and passed it on to a great man.

edP226 MK25_1

 

comments

  1. avatar PeterC says:

    Lovely. Just lovely! What a treasure!

    1. avatar Zarba says:

      +1. An American treasure.

  2. avatar Gunr says:

    Wow! Couldn’t help but notice the adds,
    $10 to $12 a week for a deluxe hotel room! Times have changed.

  3. avatar Ted Unlis says:

    $80,000? Wow. Just imagine what an early 1911 in actual original condition not re-blued or missing a lanyard loop might be worth!

    http://www.newmarketarms.com/fine-colt-government-model-1911-1916-p-1188.html

    http://www.armslist.com/posts/3256887/charlotte-north-carolina-handguns-for-sale–colt-1911—1912

    1. avatar Mike in Texas says:

      LOL. I hear this a lot. Oh! It’s re-blued. Oh! It’s missing the lanyard loop. I never really get the folks who have to actually LOOK for the negative in what was offered as a sincere and fun story. But, peeps gonna be peeps.

      1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

        Maybe I ought to re-blue my original condition numbers matching 38-40 SAA, a shiny blue finish would sure look better than the old patina on my Colt. Where did ya’ll get that $80K 1911 re-blued at Mike?

        1. avatar Mike in Texas says:

          Ted, you seem a little snarky for reasons I don’t fully understand. As such, this will be my last response to you. However, in your snarkiness, there may be some questions others might also be interested in.

          As for refinishing, I would suggest that Turnbull is a reputable source (as is Colt) and you can see their restoration results on SN 494 below.

          http://www.turnbullmfg.com/gun/colt-model-1911-mfg-1912-sn-494/

          As for value, well – something is worth what someone will pay and for what someone will sell. This, as DDavis said, is priceless since my son has refused offers and states his intention never to sell. But, others have:

          SN 147 went for $52,750 and SN 33 went for $109,250. See Rock Island Auctions.

          I hope this resolves your issues with blueing and my missing lanyard loop.

          Good day, sir.

        2. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          So Mike, were 147 and 33 original condition re-blued pistols as well?

        3. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Here’s a first year production C prefix three digit serial number http://www.rockislandauction.com/viewitem/aid/59/lid/1779 with 97% of original finish (that means it hasn’t been re-blued Mike) with lanyard loop on pistol and original magazine that was estimated between $15-$25K and sold through Rock Island for $23K. FYI, re-bluing significantly affects collector interest and drastically drops the value of desirable antique firearms. Great story except “original condition in every regard” doesn’t jibe with re-blued and missing the lanyard loop. Your pistol is worth between $3k-$8K to the right buyer so your son is lucky to have inherited a desirable early 1911 that’s still quite valuable and priceless in his mind, but you’re kidding yourself (and your son) with that $80K number.

        4. avatar RocketScientist says:

          Ted – Jesus Christ man, who shit in your cheerios this morning? If you’re always this much of a prick, you must be a complete bear to deal with. Dude tells a heartwarming story about a family heirloom that’s also a piece of American firearms history, and finishes it off with “yeah, not really sure what it’s worth, could be a few grand, could be 80 grand, but it doesn’t matter cuz we’re never selling”, and your first reaction is to shit all over it? Do you also take great pleasure in telling kindergartners that there’s no Santa or Easter Bunny? Do you go to wedding receptions and walk up to the happy groom, and whisper in his ear a reminder about all the other dicks that have been inside his bride?

          Seriously though. We get it, you’re obviously a much better man than the author because you own a SAA in better condition than his 1911. Probably have a bigger penis too. We’re all very impressed over here, seriously. Will that shut you up?

        5. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Like I said RocketScientist, it was a great story until $80K for a re-blued early 1911 with missing parts set off my bull$#it meter; and no, my worn patina 1st gen Colt SAA is only worth about $1500 to $2500 but would be worth less than $1000 if I lost my mind and had it re-blued.

        6. avatar RocketScientist says:

          DUDE. WE GET IT. YOU OWN AN ORIGINAL SAA. YOU’RE COOLER THAN ALL OF US.

        7. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Apparently you don’t “GET IT” RocketScientist, while my SAA is much less rare, less valuable, and less “COOLER” than a C prefix 3 digit serial number 1911, (even one that’s been re-blued and has missing parts), it would lose essentially all collector interest and most of it’s value once re-blued.

        8. avatar RocketScientist says:

          Oh no Grandpa, we ALL get it. You have an original numbers matching Colt SAA, with the original finish. You’ve mentioned it in at least 4 comments so far. This means you win the “I’m a better colt collector” competition. What YOU missed entirely is that the market value of the gun, and the impact the non-originality of the finish has on the market value of the gun, has absolutely NOTHING to do with the author’s story. Which is why he mentions it in passing, at the very end, and then only as a way to make the point that it doesn’t matter what the market value of the gun is, as it’ll never be sold. The only people to whom the originality of the finish of that gun will EVER matter are the author, his son, and hopefully his grandson, great grandson, etc etc etc. I can pretty much guarantee you that none of them give a flying fuck about whether its been re-blued, or what some crotchety old man with nothing better to do with his time thinks about it. Stop being a prick.

        9. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Oh come on now RocketScientist, don’t leave out my favorite part about how my less rare, less valuable, and less “COOLER” worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA would lose all collector interest and most of its value if I lost my mind and had it re-blued.

          But should the day come when I do lose my mind and ruin my worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA by having it re-blued, I promise not to piss on your leg and tell you it’s raining by pretending re-bluing a desirable antique firearm doesn’t drastically decrease the value.

  4. avatar jwm says:

    If a firearm means nothing to you but a monetary investment, don’t fire it. Lock it in a vault and simply wait to turn a profit.

    But if you love guns, shooting and the people that do likewise, shoot it and enjoy it.

    You can believe that if I had the surplus cash to buy the million dollar luger I’d have that sucker at the range as soon as possible.

    1. avatar Juanito ''Johnnie'' Ibañez says:

      Since it was factory-proof-fired, the few rounds it’s had since don’t mean squat to its value now.

      Needless to say, I am envious! 🙂

  5. avatar Handprop says:

    I received my dad’s Remington Rand from ’43 after he died, only 300 rounds ever shot thru it and treasure it as it’s the one heirloom I have of his due to a large family. Reluctant to shoot it so far, due to the high value (3 other current manufacture 1911’s in my possession to shoot) but will break that taboo next time to the range. I have fond memories of watching him shoot tracers at night, on the rare occasion we kids could convince him to pull it out for a summer nights display at the family lake place in Montana…

  6. avatar Geoff PR says:

    Whooooooaaaaa!

    Sweet!

    I hope he keeps it under lock and key….

  7. avatar Bill Kohnke says:

    Mike, I also had an early commercial 1911 made in 1915, but it was quite ‘doggy’ by the time I bought it. Even so, it was the best feeling 45 I ever owned. It had a checkered history, and was once involved in a murder in Miami (on the losing side, but that’s another story). The point I want to make is that the early 1911s were made with steel and hardening processes that are inferior to those used today. I learned this the hard way when my slide started to crack and had to be replaced. I wasn’t running any heavy loads through it, or shooting it that often. A retired Air Force Gunsmith friend replaced the slide, and warned me about these early 1911s, and said that many WWII production 1911A1s also had what are often called ‘soft slides’, meaning not heat treated or else improperly heat treated. You definitely have a rare piece of history there, so please treat it tenderly, lest yours wind up like mine.

    1. avatar Mike in Texas says:

      Bill, thanks for the advice. As an earlier commenter mentioned, part of the history and charm is being able to fire it. Though I can’t be positive, it appears to only have been fired a few hundred times. It remains in exceptional shape but like any vintage collectible, it will likely be used only infrequently, with loving care, and careful maintenance and inspection.

      I am a total .45 fanatic and prefer the 1911. But I have a little crush on my truck gun (FNX .45 Tactical) with a standard barrel. I really can’t explain how well this thing shoots because doing so would sound unbelievable.

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        Mike, thanks for the great post, I am glad someone like you and your son ended up with such a treasure. That’s where it belongs.
        Also, I am having the same experience with my FNX-Tactical. That gun really surprises me with it’s accuracy. Shot it with a new can this weekend and I was once again getting 1 1/2″ groups with hand loads at 25 yards.

    2. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Great advice Bill. Once the slide cracks, the value of C107 will be whatever price the surviving parts may bring.

      1. avatar John L. says:

        You know, Ted, in all seriousness I’d ask the guy in the mirror why he’s so unhappy about someone else’s gun.

        Why is it so important to you to (try to) beat MiT down? And not the answer you have above about your BS-O-meter, something seriously tweaked you. I suspect you may be a happier person if you get yourself figured out.

        1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          John I guess you didn’t pick up on Mikey’s “part of the history and charm is being able to fire it” reply to Bill’s advice about preserving a historic pistol with a real or imagined value somewhere between $3K and $80K.

          But then again if the value of the priceless C107 is unaffected by re-bluing and a missing lanyard loop the value would remain unaffected by a crack in the slide.

          Hell, if Mikey adds a line or two to the story about the Admiral cracking the slide while pistol whipping a sassy bandit down south of the border, the price will probably go up.

  8. avatar FortWorthColtGuy says:

    What an awesome story! Great gun too!

  9. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Very cool.
    I’m guessing the photos just don’t do justice to that beauty.

    1. avatar Mike in Texas says:

      Remember in the Star Trek movie where Picard just had to TOUCH the first warp ship? It’s kinda like that. My son has some other pics on his Instagram account. .45_or_die_guy.

  10. avatar Gregolas says:

    Thanks for the great personal tale.
    I have my father-in-law’s. It’s true, some guns are priceless.

  11. avatar TX Gun Gal says:

    I have a Colt Government .380 from the 80’s, nothing special about it except it was my Dad’s from his estate making it priceless to me. And every once in a while sister-in-law and I shoot it and think about him.

  12. avatar Gordon Wagner says:

    Nice.

  13. avatar DDavis says:

    “It’s priceless.”….. Enough said!

  14. avatar jsallison says:

    I was the unit armorer for C/2-1 Cav 2AD for a couple of years. We had 2 ‘X’ 1911’s still on the books in ’77-’78, X3910 and X3959. Our oldest evah SFC, Virginian by the name of Payne packed X3910 and I ‘arranged’ to be the guy packing X3959, position has it’s privilege, don’tcha know. Unfortunately, when Brigade ’75 packed it in and turned into permanent-ish deployment of 2AD(FWD) a brigade set of equipment at Ft Hood got turned in to the breakers, including said examples of JMB’s artistry. As a mere corporal my protestations about the destruction of history went unrecorded and unacknowledged.

    1. avatar jsallison says:

      I only ever saw 2, count em, 2, army commendation medals awarded in 20 years service. One to the aforementioned SFC Payne. The other, to moi, your correspondent. This was for going through an AGI, in ’78, in the arms room with NDN in all areas noted. This was the first time in 5 years that any arms room in 2-1 Cav passed an AGI and the first time in 10 years that any arms room in 2-1 Cav achieved an NDN (No Deficiencies Noted). My S2 sent over courtesy inspectors who recommended painting floors and wall lockers. I told them to go away. My S2 questioned my sanity. I told him ‘I got this’. He’s the guy that wrote my award recommendation. He was thoroughly shocked.

  15. avatar Bigred2989 says:

    In the shop I work in, a young man sold us a Remington Rand in fairly good condition recently. He knew it’s value, but was at a point in life where he needed money more than he needed the gun. We gave him a good price on the gun, and it recently sold to an individual we know well as a collector, so it went to a good home at least.

    1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Let me guess, you work in a pawn shop. I’m sure the cash strapped lad was paid a really “good price” and the gun went to a good home with a collector who paid a reasonable markup price.

      1. avatar Mike in Texas says:

        Ok! Now I understand! Your just a jerk. In fact, perhaps it wasn’t the amount I had referenced. Perhaps it was my mention of Jesus’ name that got your panties in a wad.

        If I may, I learned a while ago not to impute my own butt hurt feelings on things upon which I had imperfect knowledge. You may lead a more fulfilled life if you actually TRY to be a bit more humble and understanding. Looking at the bigger picture might help too.

        You know where I made a mistake, Colt ran 2600 on their Army contract before switching the finish. Oops. You may not know that TTAG edited my submission a bit – for the most part well. But, a few words got mixed up and an explanation about the “original” condition got dropped. And as several have pointed out, the monetary value of the piece was not the point. Tx Gun Gal, HandProp (and most others) GOT the POINT.

        Now, you seem to have some mystical insight about BigRed being in a pawn shop, cheating some kid, and perhaps overcharging some collector to boot. Dude, give yourself a break. Take a few minutes and meditate, or even better, pray. Life doesn’t need to be as hard as you are making it. I will say a prayer for the Peace of you n your family.

        BTW, thanks RocketScientist. That was a hell of a post. You get to a point in an ‘argument’ where it really makes no sense anymore. Your post was exceptionally witty and cogent and made me smile.

        I feel compelled to mention that I am quite well endowed, married a virgin, and personally got a present from Santa last year. And, of course, the Easter Bunny is hokum.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          NO EASTER BUNNY? YOU MOTHER……

        2. avatar RocketScientist says:

          I was afraid I was a little harsh on ole’ Teddy. I mean, i get it. Must be tough when you get to his age, and all you have to look forward to is Jello Tuesday in the nursing home activity room (and even then, that bitch Mrs. Johnson always takes the last blueberry!!!), and showing off on the internet how you are the ultimate Colt collector because you have an original NUMBERS MATCHING Colt SAA (with the original finish even!!!). I mean, he mentioned that gun it at least 4 comments I’ve counted so far. Lets let grandpa have his moment.

        3. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Mike, I’m not sure which was more entertaining, your latest line of bull$#it or your original line of bull$#hit about a re-blued C107 with missing lanyard loop that’s in “original condition in every regard” and “we guess it’s worth upwards of $80,000”. Too funny!

        4. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Oh come on now RocketScientist, don’t leave out my favorite part about how my less rare, less valuable, and less “COOLER” worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA would lose all collector interest and most of its value if I lost my mind and had it re-blued. Did I mention it was manufactured in 1895?

          But should the day come when I do lose my mind and ruin my worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA by having it re-blued, I promise not to piss on your leg and tell you it’s raining by pretending re-bluing a desirable antique firearm doesn’t drastically decrease the value.

      2. avatar mrlyle says:

        Ted Unlis is an anagram for the word insulted

        1. avatar Mike says:

          LMAO

          U2 jwm LMAO

      3. avatar John L. says:

        Mike: laughter is contagious, me too.

        RS: actually I was picturing him as a younger guy who got seriously burned buying his first (and possibly last) “collectible” gun.

  16. avatar PeterK says:

    Thank you for sharing. The story and the pistol. What a great read.

  17. avatar beetle says:

    Mike, thank you for sharing your first year commercial 1911. A three digit Colt made in 1912 is special regardless of what condition it is in. Whomever did the reblue did a great job with it. A couple of comments and corrections to your fun article:

    Colt was able to produce 44 units actually in 1911. These very first military Colts are highly prized by collectors today.

    Military 1911s are worth double or triple the value of the commercial variant. So while #33 sold for $104,000 the commercial version would only be worth maybe $20-$25K. You can’t compare military serials to commercial C serials.

    I don’t want to seem nitpicky, but the slide stop lever is from a later M1911A1 variant.

    Regardless I’m sure most would be happy to have this gun in their collections. Congratulations on a very historic 1911!

    If you are interested on this topic I posted a similar story about a first year 1911 in an earlier TTAG article here: http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2013/11/jeremy-s/happy-101st-birthday-old-colt-still-got/

    1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Mikey, If I’m not mistaken beetle just informed you in an extremely polite, courteous, and gentle manner that your re-blued non original condition and incomplete C107 is worth between $3K and $8K, which as I’ve said previously, is still an extremely desirable, and to most folks, an extremely valuable firearm, just not the jackpot winner you imagined or wanted it to be.

    2. avatar Mike says:

      Thanks for your comments, especially about the slide stop. There are several small internal markings on the weapon which all seemed to indicate it was complete. No one else mentioned the slide stop when it was reviewed, even by a guy who is an expert at these things. I am no curio or historical firearms expert but I will take the information provided. Might have to see if I can replace it with a consistent part. Thanks for the information on potential valuation – nice to know. That said, and has been said, it’s a first run so whether $200 or $200K, it’s not something that will ever be known since it won’t be sold.

      I just found reference about the 44 in 1911, there is just so much interesting history, if the 1911 is of interest at all – even one of the earlier posters looking at adverts from the period.

      Thanks again!

  18. avatar jwm says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never been a 1911 fan. But on the occasions I’ve owned or used one I preferred the later arched mainspring housing.

    Now on the subject of SAA’s. Ruger does a better SA. As does Uberti. Colts are only so valueable cause John Wayne, Matt Dillon , Hoss Cartwright, etc. carried them.

    I’m not a collector. Nice patina means used to me.

    1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Well jwm, if you’ve got any of those “nice patina” “used” old Colt SAA’s that “John Wayne, Matt Dillon, Hoss Cartwright” preferred to carry laying around, you’ll have no problem finding someone to take them off your hands in a swap for new, shiny, and “better” Ruger’s and Uberti’s. Too funny!

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Teddy, you’re a real expert. X being the unknown factor and spurt being a drip under pressure.

        I aknowledged that colts have value to collectors. But there are better single actions out there. The only reason colts have such a high mark up is the hollywood connection. Are they better or more important in the history of our country than Remingtons, Smith and Wessons and dozens of other name brands carried and used by the folks fullfilling their dreams of nation building?

        But the sheeple followed Hollywoods lead and accepted the colt as the cowboy gun.

        1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Really? Well I never knew “sheeple followed Hollywoods lead and accepted the colt as the cowboy gun”, and here all along I thought it dated back to when the Single Action Army revolver was designed and introduced by Colt in 1873, adopted as the primary issue U.S. military sidearm in 1874, remained the primary issue sidearm until 1892, and earned a well deserved reputation not only among soldiers, but pioneers, settlers, lawmen, outlaws, and yes even “cowboys” during westward expansion in the latter part of the nineteenth century as a simple yet sturdy and reliable quality firearm that was both rugged and affordable and that had something to do with the great demand by Americans and why the Colt SAA became known worldwide as the ‘Peacemaker’, an iconic symbol of the American West.

          Thanks jwm, now I know it’s only because “sheeple followed Hollywoods lead and accepted the colt as the cowboy gun”. Good to know real “X spurts” such as yourself are drawn to this forum.

        2. avatar jwm says:

          Teddy, ain’t you the guy trying to pretend to have inside info on the waco biker mess?

          The colt certainly is a part of American history. Along with dozens of other equally important firearms brands.

          But the colt was obsolete before it went into production. When colts were still cap and ball the brits had already got a cap and ball double action into service. One of those soldiers you talk of, Custer, carried a pair of double action brit revolvers.

          Modern single actions like Rugers, Freedom arms, Uberti, are better guns than the colts. As firearms.

          But fan bois have an effect on the market. The only reason you, a fan boy, has any skin in this game is you need to prove your superiority.

          Not healthy, dude.

  19. avatar Dave says:

    C107…I love you…sigh

  20. avatar RocketScientist says:

    In This Thread: Ted Unlis wants EVERYONE to know that he has an original numbers matching Colt SAA with original finish, and that any gun that ISN’T an original numbers matching Colt SAA with original finish is crap, and anyone who owns a gun that isn’t an original numbers matching Colt SAA with original finish is a rube who should just quit life altogether.

    1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Oh come on now RocketScientist, don’t leave out my favorite part about how my less rare, less valuable, and less “COOLER” worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA would lose all collector interest and most of the $1500 to $2500 value if I lost my mind and had it re-blued.

      But should the day come when I do lose my mind and ruin my worn patina numbers matching 38-40 Colt SAA by having it re-blued, I promise not to piss on your leg and tell you it’s raining by pretending re-bluing a desirable antique firearm doesn’t drastically decrease the value.

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