A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

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A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by timmy » Mon Jul 24, 2023 3:29 am

from: https://www.americanrifleman.org/conten ... -n-pistol/

Click the pictures for expanded views.
A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

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By 1904, a 39-year-old John Browning had designed no less than a great single-shot rifle, the Model 1885 Winchester, three lever-action rifles, the Models 1892, 1894 and 1895, a pump-action shotgun, the Model 1893, and several semi-automatic rifles and pistols—too numerous to list here. There’s a story floating around that Browning wanted a small pistol that could fit in his vest pocket as he tarried about his farm outside Ogden, Utah. Concurrently, he wanted to come up with the smallest center-fire cartridge that would use the small pistol primer and replicated the power of the ubiquitous .22 LR.

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The nature of the pistol dictated that it would have to be of blowback design. Space requirements meant that a hammer—even an internal hammer like on the Model 1903 Colt—would not do. So Browning came up with an idea to eliminate the hammer. He separated the firing pin with an internal spring between the firing pin, proper, and a firing pin spring guide. The trigger was linked by a pin to a sear that engaged a point on the firing pin larger in diameter than the pin. Pulling the trigger disengaged the sear from the firing pin, allowing it to move forward under its spring tension and fire the primer. Thus, once again, John Browning provided another firearm innovation—the striker-fired pistol. Others had used the idea before—Borchardt’s 1893 pistol used a form of a striker under spring tension—but Browning’s design was the first to see widespread use. He also used a version of it in his Model 1910 pistol.

For his vest pocket pistol, the barrel had to be no longer than 2". In order to attain .22 LR performance, the bullet needed to be heavier than the standard .22 because it would be impossible to achieve rifle-like velocity in such an abbreviated barrel. He settled on a 50-gr. bullet in a .615”-long case with a head diameter of .302. To achieve all of those parameters, Browning settled on a .251”-diameter bullet—such a bullet has the same sectional density as a 40-gr., .22-cal. bullet—thus the .25 ACP was born.

Although Browning submitted the idea of the .25-cal. pocket pistol to Colt in 1904, the company did not accept the idea. Browning then pitched the concept to Fabrique Nationale, and that company jumped on it, issuing a pistol in 1906 based upon Browning’s design but with a few minor changes ushered in by Dieudonné Saive, an assistant to Browning when Browning was in Belgium, and who, coincidentally, later developed the FN 49 and FN-FAL rifles. The FN 1906, as it was known, eventually led to the 1927 Baby Browning, which is still being manufactured today. When Colt recognized the popularity of the diminutive pistol, they, too, brought it out in 1906 as the 1908 Vest Pocket, known inside the factory as the Model N.

Despite the cartridge’s notorious lack of power, the Vest Pocket model, as well as the FN 1906, posted brisk sales. Among the ballistically naïve, the notion of such a small, easily-concealable gat is so tempting, they ignore the fact that people shot with the cartridge very often, would become angry and resort to violent behavior. Their logic seems to be that no one wants to get shot with anything, which is probably true. Col. Jeff Cooper once opined that while the construction of the pistol may be fine—given Colt’s reputation for making robust and beautiful guns—about the only use for what would be commonly called the Colt .25 Auto would be as a watch fob.

Initially, the Vest Pocket model was equipped with two safeties, a slide-locking manual safety that also prevented the sear from disengaging and an integral grip safety. At somewhere between 139,000 and 140,000 produced pistols—around 1916—a third so-called safety was invented by Colt engineer George Tansley. That would be a magazine-disconnect safety that prevents the pistol from being fired without a magazine in place.

The Vest Pocket model was also one of the first to utilize what is now called the “gutter-snipe” slide sight. While the notion of sights on a pistol meant for very close shooting seemed—and is—useless, nonetheless the market of the day demanded some form of sighting on the pistol. The front sight is a typical tiny, half-moon, fixed sight; the slide has a round-bottom groove over its entire length save for a small part about 3/8" from the back of the slide with an even smaller notch. It’s doubtful that anyone whose eyesight isn’t phenomenal could even see these sights under the best conditions.

Fit and finish are typical Colt for the time. The all-steel pistol’s parts were polished brightly and given a deep bluing, save the trigger and manual safety which were color casehardened. Nickel plating was also a popular option. A few silver-plated guns were available by special order. Grips were hard rubber with the rampant Colt monogram, but checkered walnut, ivory and mother of pearl were also available. Quite a few Vest Pocket models were engraved either at the factory or by outside engravers since these pistols were often a gift.

During its 40-year run at Colt, some 420,705 copies were made, and as mentioned, its European cousin the Baby Browning from FN remains in production. There is some collector interest with pristine examples fetching north of $600 for blue and $850-plus for nickel-plated guns. Those with factory ivory or mother of pearl demand a bit more than a grand. If it is factory engraved and has an original box and paperwork, a 1908 Vest Pocket Model will lighten your wallet in the neighborhood of a couple of grand. It may not have the stopping power of the 1911, but its graceful profile reminiscent of its bigger brother the 1903 Model and the legendary Colt quality make the 1908 Vest Pocket Model a desired component of any serious Colt collection. That’s a high compliment for a pea shooter intended to fit in a watch pocket.
Please especially note the articles description of Browning using the 22 LR ballistics as a basis for designing the 25 Automatic cartridge.
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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by Peacefulguns » Tue Jul 25, 2023 8:00 am

Super informative. Wouldn’t mind such a pistol myself. Makes concealed carry so much better.

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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by Vikram » Tue Jul 25, 2023 10:27 pm

Tim,

Thank you for this article.
Among the ballistically naïve, the notion of such a small, easily-concealable gat is so tempting, they ignore the fact that people shot with the cartridge very often, would become angry and resort to violent behavior.
This really cracked me up. ROTFL ROTFL
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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by Peacefulguns » Wed Jul 26, 2023 7:30 am

Is it correct to assume that in a country like India where the weather is mostly on the warm side so people are not heavily clad , a smaller caliber with the possibility of accurate repeat shots can be considered?

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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by timmy » Thu Jul 27, 2023 5:25 am

I would observe:

The little 25 Auto pistols are not quite so easy to obtain repeat shots as one might think. The grip usually only allows one finger and thumb to control the gun, and the sights are extremely rudimentary and it can be difficult to reacquire the sight picture.

European and North American climates are cooler than India's, true, however this is only the case part of the year. The big issue regarding penetration isn't so much clothing as it is hitting bone or something else that blocks or slows down the bullet. Recall that when an attempted assassination of President Theodore Roosevelt occurred, The bullet did enter his chest, but was slowed by the folded papers of his speech that were in his pocket. He went on to deliver his speech before going to the hospital. Today, the equivalent circumstance might be a cell phone in the pocket.

Any gun can be considered, but the issue might be for what it is considered. Generally, one would only bring out a weapon if one's life was in danger. The goal in such an event would be to immobilize the attacker(s) -- here, it might be noted that there may be one or more attackers, and in these and other cases, the opportuity for a follow-up shot may not present itself.

Another issue to think about that is, unfortunately something that is present in society, is people under the influence of drugs. Some societies have even used drugs as a military tactic to deaden the pain of being shot -- in other words, the effects of drugs in cases of being shot are well known, and have been for many years. Two examples I can think of are the Moro wars against the US Army in the Philippines and in the Zulu wars, the Zulu charge at the Battle of Isandlwana.

One simply doesn't know what circumstances will present themselves when a gun is needed for self defense. It is good to have confidence about such things, but will the confidence be justified when the chips are down?

Most of my carry is with a 32 Automatic, but most folks I know of would say that this is not sufficient. There are lots of factors to consider when thinking about a self defense carry weapon, and each person's situation may not be the same. All of us make our own ultimate decisions in these matters, and all of us live with the results. Information is placed before us, and it's up to us to determine whether that information is useful, or if it applies to our situation, or not.

For myself, with regard to the 25 Auto and your question, I woud not make such a decision if a better alternative was available. I carried a 25 Auto long ago, but wouldn't do so now. But that's only what I think.
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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by Peacefulguns » Fri Jul 28, 2023 8:58 am

Thanks for the reply Timmy. I have a .32 revolver. I have been thinking of getting an auto with more cartridges in the mag. Maybe some of the newer entrants will come good.

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Re: A Look Back at the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket (Model N) Pistol

Post by timmy » Fri Jul 28, 2023 12:51 pm

Peacefulguns, my pleasure -- but the situation is not a pleasure, i know.

If we were back in 1915 or 1920, the choices available wouldn't seem so bad, but having things the same over 100 years later is simply not reasonable. Yet, reasonable or not, the cards that are dealt are the ones that must be played, so one looks to the best solution that can be managed.

I would have to say that the optimal solution available would be what Brother vineet got, or the full-sized version of this pistol:

viewtopic.php?f=12&t=29090

There's enough power to do most jobs, a reasonable magazine capacity, a real and proven "cocked & locked" carry safety, and what is reported as very good quality.

The problem is the cost: the cost of purchase, and the cost of practice. That is going to be beyond what most can afford.

Your revolver is a safe choice, when loaded with an empty chamber under the hammer, But the size and long-obsolete design is a drawback.

The Ashani is slim and trim (relatively speaking), but it doesn't have the sort of safety I'd accept for a loaded chamber carry weapon. The "Star" is much more powerful, with it's 7.62x25 chambering, but again, not safe to carry with a round in the chamber.

Short of following vineet's example, a Colt Police Positive/Police Positive Special or a Smith & Wesson Model 31 J Frame would be good choices, but my guess is that finding one in good enough shape to depend on would also be an expensive proposition.

What I think would be a good option would be a properly designed and made composite frame 32 Auto with a double stack magazine, with 10 to 12 rounds in the magazine, and a proper action and safety that would allow safe carry with a chambered round. Even a steel 8 round magazine pistol would be good, if it had an action and safety designed for carry.

Unfortunately, that's not here yet.

Like I said, many years ago, working in a very rough environment, I did carry a 25 Auto. Later, I used to joke that it would have been more effective if I'd have tied a long shoe lace to the trigger guard and swung it over my head. But seriously, even that gun would be a better choice than nothing at all.

The trouble with these little "mouse guns" is that one has very little margin for success, which can be only partially addressed with lots of practice -- and we all know the difficulties faced with that. The ammo quota isn't sufficient for enoough practice, no matter what is being carried.
“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

saying in the British Royal Navy

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