Note - Instead of working like I should have I ended up goofing off today taking pics and writing about my favorite subject - 1911s! I wrote this up for another forum where there is less specialized knowledge of 1911s. The idea was to share some of the unique history of the National Match pistols and hopefully hook a few more converts to the world of Colts and 1911s
I have no doubt that many on this forum have way more complete collections than what I present here. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy seeing my small collection of National Match pistols.
"Before you buy guns .... buy books!". This is a saying from wise collectors who have been in this hobby for a long time. Fortunately there are a number of great books that are invaluable to anyone interested in collecting 1911s. In fact, there are books dedicated to specific categories of 1911s. What I am about to write and share is simply a consolidation of data found from the sources below. All credit goes to the authors of the following references:
"A Short History of The National Trophy Individual Pistol Match" by Hap Rocketto
"Amerian Beauty - The Prewar Colt National Match Pistol" by Timothy Mulin
"The Model 1911 and Model 1911A1 Military and Commercial Pistols" by Joe Poyer
and of course the bible of commerical 1911 collectors ....
"Colt .45 Government Models (Commerical Series) by Charles Clawson
Part I - A "Splendid Little War" leads to the National Matches
In 1898 America entered into a relatively short 10 week war with Spain over the independence of Cuba. Teddy Roosevelt was attributed as saying that it was a "splendid little war" as the outcome was quick and positive for the United States. As a result of the war, the U.S. got almost all of spain's colonies including the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
However, Teddy Roosevelt observed first hand the dismal state of rifle and pistol skills of the american soldiers. Since the United States only kept a small standing army, it relied upon civilians to augment the army in times of war. Roosevelt felt that well trained civilians were necessary for the defense of the country. So when he became president he established a "National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice" (NBPRP). The National Matches were established in 1903 to create a competitive event to test team and individual skills and create interest around marskmanship.
In 1904 the charter was expanded to include pistol marksmanship. Since the idea was to train civilians to be prepared in times of war, the matches focused on service weapons -- in other words, rifles and pistols that were the same or similar to what the army was using. Originally the pistol requirement was the .38 service revolver -- either Smith and Wesson or Colt. Wtih the adoption of the 1911, the rules were modified to allow for 1911 automatic pistols (what they called it back then).
Only one problem with that -- at that time Colt had it's hands full just trying to fulfill the government orders. In 1912 Colt delivered about 17,000 pistols to the government, and just under 2000 for the commercial market. With just 2000 pistols for civilians it was very difficult to buy a 1911 to participate in the national matches.
Since the government wanted to encourage civilian pistol marksmanship, it worked with the NRA to establish a program where government pistols would be made available for purchase by NRA lifetime members. The program was run by the government arsenal at Springfield. There was an economic benefit as well, as pistols could be bought for $16.00 vs the $22.00 a Colt would retail for. Since the program was run by Springfield, the majority of these pistols are actually Springfield 1911s, made by Springfield from 1914-1917. While there is no definite documentation it was assumed that pistols were carefully selected for accuracy from the government inventory. These NRA marked pistols represent the first of the "match" 1911s.
The guns were stamped "N.R.A." to show that they were purchased through the NRA program and no longer US Government Property. It is estimated that only 100-300 guns were sold this way, making NRA marked 1911s valuable. But it seems simple to stamp three letters into a frame, how can you tell if it is authentic?
For collectors that is always the top question. How do you tell if something is authentic? In some instances it's easy -- there are factory records. But unfortunately that is not the case for NRA pistols. Either Springfield never kept track, or the records have been lost in time. In this scenario we have to revert back to comparing it to known good examples to make a judgement. Collectors spend a lot of time looking a "forensic" pictures trying to determine if something is real or fake.
For Springfield 1911s, a huge part of the value will be in the small parts. Springfield manufactured all of the parts on the gun and marked them with the letter "S". Collectors will want to verify that all of the small parts are properly marked -- that the gun is all springfield and not a mixmaster.
thumb safety, slide stop marked with "S"
Here is why I think my example is an authentic NRA pistol. Picture on the left is a close up of the NRA marking from a Springfield 1911 on display at the NRA museum. Picture on the right is a close up of the NRA marking on my pistol. Notice the similarities -- funny looking loop on the "R", low crossbeam on the "A" and the periods between letters increasing in size and depth. I'm convinced that these markings were made with the same stamp.
A number of National Matches were cancelled in the period between 1914 and 1918 due to WWI. The matches resumed in 1919 and started to become a popular spectator sport.