Manufactured in 1909-1910, this prototype 9.8mm Colt is one of the rarest of all Colt manufactured automatics, being one of only five known, and one of only four which are serialized. The development of these scarce pistols came about, at least partially, due to the escalating competition in the manufacture of John Browning's pistol designs between Colt and Fabrique Nationale (F.N.) This began 13 years prior when Browning agreed to license his designs to Colt from production in the United States and its territories, as well as the British Isles on 24 July 1896. Approximately a year later, on 7 July 1897, Browning made a separate agreement with F.N., allowing them to produce and market his designs on mainland Europe including Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Austro-Hungary, and any other nation not already granted to Colt, with the caveat that they obtain patent rights in Browning's name in any country in which they wished to sell. In 1899 the two firearms manufacturing giants came to an agreement themselves to respect these boundaries, and agreement which lasted for approximately 10 years. In 1910 however, Colt began paying more attention to the expansion of F.N., and started feeling the heat when F.N. manufactured Browning designs started turning up in the western hemisphere with more regularity, primarily in South and Central America, which Colt hadn't previously prioritised. In early 1910 discussions of a possible Rumanian contract took place amongst the Colt board but they also decided to pursue a further non-competition agreement with F.N., which was secured on 11 March 1910. This new agreement secured barely a year of peace for the two companies. William Skinner, Colt's outgoing president in December of 1910 told the board of directors that, over the past year, the company had drastically increased their sales in Cuba as well as Central and South America, and just a month later, the incoming president, C.L.F. Robinson declared to the board that F.N. had breached the 1910 agreement and that he was seeking legal guidance in the matter. It appears that Robinson was advised by the legal team to try to secure another agreement with F.N. rather than taking legal action, but by the fall of 1910 no agreement had been reached. At this point, in the fall or winter of 1910, with no new agreement on the table, it appears Robinson and Skinner, who was now the head of the board of directors, decided to employ some aggressive diplomacy with F.N., by deploying their prototype .38/9.8 mm pistol which appears to have been in the works since late 1909. The cartridge for this pistol had come about after the warm reception of the Model 1910 prototype in .45 ACP and Colt's management setting their sights on markets outside of the United States. They had worked jointly with Union Metallic Cartridge Co. and Winchester Repeating Arms Co. to develop a European style pistol cartridge, and by August 1910 had settled on the 9.8 mm rimless cartridge, a fairly large quantity of which was manufactured by Winchester. The Colt model room was then tasked with creating a pistol based on the finalized Model 1910 designed but chambered in the new .38/9.8 mm cartridge. The result was a downsized version of the Model 1910 which was presented to the board of directors on 6 October 1910, who made no requests regarding the design. Shortly after that meeting the project took a significant hit as the Model 1910 was plagued with barrel and frame failures in the November 1910 government ordnance tests. Fixing these issues with the .45 ACP Model 1910 became an immediate priority for Colt and the 9.8 mm project was put on the back burner until the fall/winter of 1910 when, as we've discussed, Robinson and Skinner sought to apply a bit of leverage to F.N. in regards to their expansion. To encourage F.N. to see things there way, Colt's plan was to send Robinson and pistol expert Eugene Reising with the Model of 1911 Special Army to the British Enfield pistol trials in September of 1911. They would then continue on from there to the Rumanian pistol trials the next month in Bucharest with the Model of 1910 in 9.8 mm Colt. Three weeks after their departure, Chairman Skinner was reading a message of Colt's success at the trials to the board, which also included the details of a new agreement proposed by Colt. Robinson returned with Rumanian patent records should they be needed to mount a legal defence of Colt's sales interests there, but no such defence was necessary. Colt's aggressive diplomacy with their little .38 had successfully brought F.N. to the table and on 1 July 1912, a new five-year agreement was signed. The little .38 was put on the back burner for some time while Colt focused on fulfilling their contract with the United States Government for Model of 1911 Pistols, but was again presented to the board along with John Browning's design for the Colt Woodsman Pistol in 1913. The board initially approved both of the designs for manufacture, however upon further review, decided to only continue on with the Woodsman design. From here the examples of the Model 1910 as well as some unassembled parts were left to collect dust along with countless other Colt prototypes, when in 1922 serial number 2 Model 1910 was booked out to an H.S. Campbell, who was a South American salesman for Colt. Serial numbers 1 and 4 eventually ended up in a private collections, and the unnumbered example is kept in the Springfield Armory Museum. This leaves the example we offer here, serial number 3. This specific pistol is photographed and described on p. 120-121 of "The Government Models: The Development of the Colt Model 1911" by Goddard. These pages as well as p. 473 of "U.S. Military Automatic Pistols 1894-1920" by Meadows describe these prototype pistols, both stating that this specific example was retained by the factory who reconditioned it in .38 ACP and re-rollmarked it with contemporary markings in 1929 and placed in their reference collection before eventually ending up in the collection of William Goddard himself. Information about these prototype pistols and their unique cartridge can also be found on p. 192-194 of "Colt Automatic Pistols" by Bady, who states that at the time of his writing only the unnumbered example retained by the Springfield Armory Museum was known. The slide on this pistol is marked with the two-line address and patent dates ending with 1913 which were applied in 1929, and the right side is marked with "AUTOMATIC/CALIBRE .38" with "COLT" and a Rampant Colt to either side. The only other visible marking is the serial number "3" on the left side of the frame. It appears likely that when the pistol was reconditioned in 1929 some contemporary parts were also installed such as a long grip safety, short stamped trigger, and an arched checkered mainspring housing. It is also fitted with blade and notch sights, checkered slide stop, thumb safety, and magazine release, a set of fully checkered walnut grips, and is furnished with a two-tone magazine which is marked "MIL./COLT/38 CAL." Provenance: The Dr. Robert Azar Collection
Excellent, retains 99% plus of the bright high polish blue finish which was applied after initial manufacture at the factory in 1929 with a few scattered light handling marks. The grips are also excellent with only the slightest handling marks. Mechanically excellent. This is a truly unique opportunity to own an outstanding and exceptionally rare example of the Colt Model of 1910 9.8 mm prototype pistol that could become the centerpiece of even the most extensive Colt automatic collections!
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