Apr 17, 2011

Collecting Firearms and You

I don't consider myself a firearms expert - not by any stretch of the imagination. If you want expertise on antique and/or collectible guns, there are plenty of other sources out there. I know a little bit more than the average bear about a few particular guns, and one of those is the Ithaca 1911. It's my one and only Grail Gun at the moment; I would gladly trade almost anything in my safe for a correct sample.

I was curious when I got an email from Goose Hillock that they would be listing used handguns online, so I clicked over and saw that they had a listing for an Ithaca. Sure enough, it's a 1911, and listed for $1400 - a pretty fair price if the gun is correct.

"Correct" to a collector means a few things: proper markings (slide, barrel, frame, inspection, ordnance, etc), proper parts (grips, mainspring housing, trigger, hammer, grip safety, etc), and does not necessarily put "overall condition" high on the list. These are things that the average counter ninja at $BoxGunStore isn't going to know to look for.

An "Ithaca Gun Co" slide can be had on Gunbroker for as little as a hundred bucks, and a cheap 1911A1 can be another $500. Put them together and you've got a gun that clearly says "Ithaca" on it, but there's only about $600 worth of investment. Turn around and take it to $BoxGunStore and ask for $1000 trade value; leave with a new AR or what-have-you and you're money ahead, and the store is sitting on a worthless gun.

So, here's a few things to look for - or at least the things that caught my eye.

We'll start with the overall gun:


Looks like a pretty decent gun. Some wear, but that's to be expected with a 65-70 year old gun, right? But a few things jump out...
The trigger:

Ithaca used a knurled trigger face on their 1911s, and it had a fairly significant radius to it. You should be able to see the knurling on the leading edge from that angle. Also, there should NOT be a gap between the trigger and the frame - along the bottom half of the back edge. Additionally, a gun of this age should have much more wear on the sides of the trigger.

In the same photo, above and to the right of the trigger is where the ordnance inspection mark should be stamped. "FJA" was the inspector at the Rochester Ordnance Depot and was responsible for ALL of the Ithaca 1911s. (Cite.) There should also be a "P" under the magazine release - indicating a proof test.

Same photo, note the difference in wear and patina between the slide and frame.

The mainspring housing:

Ithaca used a seven-groove MSH for their 1911s. This one *appears* to be un-grooved; in other words, a replacement. Also note the significant color/patina difference between the MSH and the frame.

The right rear of the frame:

To the left of the grip panel is where the ordnance acceptance stamp (crossed cannons) should be.

The hammer looks ... wrong. Can't quite pin it - perhaps short? - but it's not right, either. Same for the grip safety. Again, finish and patina consistent with the overall gun should be a big clue.

And, last but not least, the serial number:

Government-purchased 1911 serial number ranges are very well documented. Ithaca did not produce ANY in the 400,000 range. On top of that, all the Ithacas should be stamped "US GOVT PROPERTY" immediately under the serial number.

There is a LOT of money in collectible guns - no question about it. If you choose to get into it, arm yourself with knowledge before buying, and take a second set of eyes if you're looking at a large price tag. This Ithaca is stickered at $1400, but the reality is whomever buys it is probably getting a mix-master pot-metal gun with an Ithaca slide slapped on, worth perhaps $4-500.

Caveat Emptor.


Old NFO said...

Good post and an excellent point! Caveat Emptor is the least of it... The gun pictured is a pretty lousy job, but you can see some that are damn near perfect... and wrong...

ZerCool said...

NFO, you are absolutely right - there are some AMAZING forgeries out there. The money isn't there in the Ithaca 1911s to make it worth the time and effort for a really good forgery, but something like a Singer or USS&S - well, those tend to bring premiums because of rarity.

I guess the bottom line is: know what you're buying, and buy somewhere you trust - not because they'll necessarily have the knowledge to spot fakes, but because you can (hopefully) trust them to do right if you discover you did get a fake.

Anonymous said...

You're making it increasingly difficult to buy your thesis that you're not a firearms expert.

ZerCool said...

@MHA - I have spent a lot of time reading about Ithaca 1911s because I want one and want to make sure I don't get taken. There are plenty of people out there who can look at an old S&W at a show and know if it's a Model 1, 1-1/2, 2, etc... I can't. Don't need to.