Pre WWII Colt National Match
Government Models

The Colt Government Model was introduced in 1912 and was quite successful. When WWI ended there were many veterans who were comfortable with the big .45 Auto and N.R.A. sponsored shooting matches became quite popular. However, shooting bulls eye targets at fixed ranges demanded a level of accuracy that was often missing from the standard Government Model. Early 1911 gunsmiths like Pachmayr and Buchanan would fit better sights and barrels to improve performance, and Colt’s offered specially selected “Match Barrels” that were marked with a circled MB on the left lug. A survey of the Colt shipping records of the 1920’s show many special order guns with tweaked trigger pulls, match barrels, and wider sights to improve functionality.

Finally, in January 1932, the Colt catalog listed the first National Match model with “a hand-honed velvet smooth target action—selected ‘Match’ barrel—and ‘
Patridge’ type sights.” In 1935 the Stevens adjustable rear sight became standard, even though their use was prohibited in the competitive matches of the day.

The number of National Match pistols produced is open to speculation. They were not given a special serial number, nor were they identified in the production ledgers. They fall randomly in the serial number range from C162000 (1932) to C215083 (1940) which covers about 53,000 pistols. However, approximately 25,000 of those pistols were shipped overseas and 6,575 were transferred to Colt’s military contract in 1942, which leaves about 21,500 pistols available for the American market. Timothy J. Mullin, author of American Beauty, The Prewar Colt National Match Government Model Pistol, estimates fewer than 1,500 National Match pistols were made, but located less than 150 examples before publishing his book in 1999. Charles W. Clawson, author of Colt .45 Government Models (Commercial Series), puts the estimate at fewer than 3,000. I have managed to locate and verify another 65 or so, not included in Mullin’s survey. Given the time period in which these guns were produced—1932 to 1940, i.e. The Great Depression—the actual number produced may be much smaller than previous estimates.  At the time, a standard Government Model cost $36.75 and a National Match cost $40.75.  During the depression, 90% of the population made less than $5,000 per year and probably half of those employed made less than $2,500 per year.

Military Prewar National Match Pistols

The National Match proved to be popular with military shooting teams as well as civilians.  Several batches were known to have been purchased for competitive use.  The Coast Guard bought seven pistols (C162997 – C163003) in 1932 and another batch of six in 1940.  Also in 1940 the Marine Corps bought 15 (C201076 – C201090).  Individual officers sometimes purchased Government Models or National Match pistols privately.  At least two were shipped to CCC Camps in the 1930’s and one is known to have gone to an officer in the Panama Canal Zone.

The Postwar National Match

In 1957, Colt reintroduced a "National Match" pistol that had adjustable sights and trigger, and slanted slide serrations. It was officially designated the "Colt Gold Cup National Match," although "Gold Cup" wasn't added to the slide until 1970. These pistols are serial numbered 26-NM to 37025-NM.

Pre-WWII Government Models

Colt started assembling M1911 pistols for the Ordnance Department in December 1911 and by March 1912 they were also producing the “Colt Government Model Automatic Pistol, Calibre .45.”  It was a huge success and was manufactured exactly like the Model 1911 pistols except for markings, hammers and bluing.  The early mirror-like finish and fire-blue small parts of the early commercial pistols are incredible.  

The pistols evolved with the M1911 service model but commercial pistols were not manufactured or shipped in numerical sequence.  This fact, coupled with overlap of old practices and transition periods, leads to confusion about when changes to small parts, finish, markings and other features were actually implemented.

From the very beginning, other countries were as interested in the big Colt as the U.S. military was and many countries bought Government Models for their own troops and officers.  Some, such as Norway and Argentina, purchased licenses to manufacture their 1911 pistols.  Great Britain commissioned a version of the pistol in its standard calibre—.455 Webley.  A surprising fact that isn’t appreciated by many collectors is that more Government Models were shipped overseas than stayed in the U.S.  From 1912 to 1919 there were 110,696 Government Models produced and 80,978, or 73%, were shipped to other countries.  Another 26,532 were manufactured between 1919 and 1924, of which 3,648 went overseas.  In the period of February 1924 to May 1942 foreign sales accounted for 49,033 pistols and 6,575 were transferred to U.S. contracts, leaving only 48,779 for commercial sales in the U.S.  So, in total, about 133,000 pistols went to fill foreign contracts out of a total of 238,000 made before June 1942.
Sources: Charles W. Clawson,
Colt .45 Government Models (Commercial Series)
William H.D. Goddard, The Government Models

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Text provided by Kevin Williams
Images provided by Kevin Williams and Karl Karash