John Browning’s 1911 is arguably the most iconic handgun of all time. Everyone knows what you’re talking about and can picture one in their head. A total of 2.7 million 1911s were made during its unprecedented 75-year-run as the standard sidearm of the United States military. And that doesn’t take into consideration the massive number of civilian guns made in that same timeframe and right on up to current production.
So you’ve decided that you want to collect 1911s. Or maybe you just want to know a little bit more about them as you peruse the tables at your local gun show. Whatever the case, with so many 1911s floating around out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It can be hard to figure out what makes a 1911 rare. In an effort to make life a little easier for you, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the Holy Grail of 1911s.
In an effort to fulfill the need for 1911s during World War II, unconventional companies started making handguns. Union Switch and Signal put their railway equipment aside and made 1911s. Remington Rand put away the typewriter components and made 1911s. But the rarest of all 1911s were made by sewing machine maker Singer Manufacturing Company – and all of their guns were made prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Testing the feasibility of 1911 mass production, the Ordnance Department contracted with Singer in 1925 for an engineering study to see how many guns they could produce in a month. After the study was complete, it was determined that Singer could turn out as many as 25,000 1911s in a month.
In 1939, the Ordnance Department awarded a production study to Singer. This allowed them to fine-tune their production methods, come up with standard sizes for raw materials, and research the best production methods. The following year, under Educational Order W-ORD-396, Singer set out to make 500 1911A1 pistols. The goal of the order was a lofty one: eventual achievement of a production rate of 100 guns per hour.
Singer never hit the production rate goal, but they did fulfill their contract for 500 1911A1s. By 1941, Singer had divested themselves of the 1911 business and transferred their tooling and documentation to Remington Rand. As a result of this, Singers have the lowest production numbers of any 1911 model.
Obviously, this makes them incredibly rare and very valuable. It also makes them susceptible to fakes and forgeries. So how do you spot a genuine Singer 1911A1?
First off, start with the serial number. The range for Singers was S800001 to S800500. Anything outside of that range is bogus. Next up, check the markings. The left side of the slide will say, “S. MFG. CO. / ELIZABETH, N.J., U.S.A.” Then, look for a “P” in front of the rear sight and point the gun muzzle up. If the “P” appears upside down, it’s genuine. The left side of the frame will also be marked “JKC.” These are the initials for Col. John K. Clement, the Army Inspector of Ordnance, in the district where Singer Manufacturing Company was located.
With all of these clues, you’ll be in pretty good shape to spot a genuine Singer 1911A1 if you every run across one, but you still have to be wary of well-made fakes. After all, this is a gun that can sell for $30,000 or more, depending upon the condition.
At any rate, if someone offers to sell you an old 1911 that was made in Elizabeth, NJ, for $500, pay the man and run. Then, once you’re in a safe place, you can evaluate it to see if it’s a real-deal Singer. If it is, you just scored big-time. If it isn’t, well, it’s still a John Browning-designed 1911.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.