The European market fell in love with it, a loss which was felt by Colt as their European sales took a hit. Colt wasted no further time in brokering a deal with Browning and FN to produce the handgun for US sales, marketing it as a small concealable firearm which could be easily tucked into a gentleman's vest pocket for discrete carry.
In military use, more than one was privately purchased during WWI and slipped in to the trench coat of the American Expeditionary Forces as a little extra protection as one slipped into the enemy's Trench. By the time WWII rolled around they were standard issue to General Officers of the US Army. General Dwight Eisenhower carried one, as did Patton and General Omar Bradley.
Although wildly popular in the United States, Colt ceased production after WWII, the machinery that made hundreds and hundreds of thousands of these firearms was wearing out, staff was retiring. A firearm that required a fair amount of hand fitting, Colt made the decision to let it slip from their catalog, the cost of reinvestment in equipment and personnel making the firearm too expensive for the average consumer.
But if Colt was no longer in love with the little Pocket Pistol, Hollywood still was.
A popular weapon of movie redheads, at least the kind that are "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way", Jessica Rabbit in "who Framed Roger Rabbit", had a Hammerless Pocket Pistol (though she filed the front sights off of hers). Another gold plated one showed up in the same film, carried by another character. George C. Scott carried one in "Patton" and there are dozens of other films, many I've seen, and some I haven't ,where the firearm made its presence known, even today.
It's early on popularity in motion pictures was due to a number of factors. In using blank rounds, the prop masters liked it because the .32 ACP blanks had a much lower decibel report when fired than the less reliable .45 ACP blanks so the technicians didn't have to fiddle so much with the settings for sound levels between shot and speaking sequences. Humphrey Bogart was said to prefer one as he had small hands and it made his hands look bigger, but rumor or truth, the forced perspective of the Colt's size would make the actors who carried them appear more threatening. Additionally, the recoil of the .32 was mild, and easily managed with one handed shooting, the style of hold that was popular in earlier films.
John Dillinger was said to have owned several and had one in the pocket of his pants the night he was shot in the alleyway next to the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Actor Johnny Depp carried one in his portrayal of Dilinger in the movie "Public Enemy".
Al Capone was known to have kept one on his night stand.
A lot of long retired cops will remember carrying one of these for undercover work or as a backup gun. Others will remember confiscating more than one of these from criminals back in the day.
I like the looks of it, history notwithstanding. Almost Art Deco in appearance, they are light and sleek and easy to tuck into a pocket. That made them quite successful for Colt when Americans were embracing larger calibers like .44's or .45's. Those firearms were fine for the outdoors, but pretty hard to tuck discreetly away in polite society (the term of which is a misnomer, as if society was polite, you'd not need a firearm for self defense).
Accuracy: The sight picture is small (think almost non existent). The sights consist of a dimple on the rear of the slide leading to a trench down the length of the aforementioned slide. A VERY teensy front site sits right at the front in the middle of the trench. This isn't a pistol for winning pistol matches, but at 21-35 feet the accuracy is pretty good.though for self defense though it's a weak caliber.
Six rounds of .25? Well, that will annoy them., you say? A few months after the Colt 1903 was out, American Rifleman gun review J.V.K. Wagar wrote that the Colt wasn't powerful enough for "defensive purposes against great bears or armed men of great virility". Ouch. Sure, some would say it's better than a poke with a Phillips screwdriver but a couple well placed rounds of .25 WILL kill you. I'm not saying it will be my carry piece, as more bad guys are fueled by meth, than by manliness. But .25, like .22 (below), in the vitals can do some harm. This was meant for an up in your face, NOW threat, not a distant one.
Capacity - Six round box magazine, held in place with a heel based-clip
Length 4.5 inches (barrel is 2 inches)
Weight .81 pound.
Magazine Release - on the heal of the grip which took me a little getting used to.
Safety: Early marketing proclaimed the "advanced" safety features of the Model 1908, including a standard slide-locking safety catch and grip safety. In 1916 Colt engineer George Tanley invented a third safety feature for the pistol, the magazine safety disconnector, which prevent accidental firing with the magazine removed.
Unlike the grip safety of a 1911 pattern pistol, the grip safety on the Vest Pocket takes a deliberate forward flex of the web of the hand; which a few hands will find hard to get used to. The grip safety takes some definite pressure which is a good thing, as with the small size of the piece it's possible to get a finger in the trigger guard when trying to pick it up.
If you have big hands, you're going to have to make a concentrated effort to hold low on the grip or wear gloves, because the slide will come right on over the top of your hand and those little edges will bite.
Loads: Remember most modern ammo runs hotter than loads prepared back in the early 1900's with considerable advances in metallurgy and heat treatment during later years as well. If you are purchasing one of these that's had a regular and steady diet of hot ammo you may want to check the frame or slide for cracks. Corrosive primers back in the day could have also taken a toll and some degree of pitting of the barrel may be expected, which can range from lightly pitted to sewer pipe. Unless you're an expert, I'd recommend a gunsmith take a look at anything you are thinking of purchasing, even through these aren't terribly expensive firearms.
SA: If you've been trained on double action or certain larger striker fired pistols, the little Colt single action may take a little getting used to as you wait for the longer, heavier pull that's not going to happen (bang before you expect it, is never fun for either of you).
Cleaning: To field strip the pistol for cleaning, after removing the magazine and checking to make sure the firearm was completely unloaded, including the chamber, and it is not cocked for the dis-assembly. Holding the gun in the left hand, push the slide back about 3/5 of an inch and hold it open with the left thumb. You should be able to see the barrel lugs line up with the slots inside the slide at the ejection port). With the barrel lugs lined up with the slots in the slide, twist the barrel a quarter turn (clockwise as if you face the front of the gun) and ease the slide and barrel off of the front of the frame.
Finish - The "vest pocket" was primarily produced with the familiar, high polished lustrous colt royal blue finish, which had cover-casehardening of the safety catch, grip safety and trigger. Another popular option was nickel place and a number of various specialty and customer special order finishes are out there, including gold and silver plating as well as very detailed engraving. There are three major variants of grip for the gun. The earliest grips were hard rubber, checkered, had the word COLT in a banner at the top of the grip, and the rampant colt over an elongated, stylized letter C below that. The second grip was identical except it eliminated the letter C behind the colt. In the 1920’s checkered wood grips were introduced that had the Colt medallion inset near the top. You will also see some collections that include special order grips that were available in pearl and ivory, either carved or plain.
Customization: Do NOT Pimp this gun. This is a classic best left alone, in my opinion. Commission yourself the world's tiniest but coolest holster instead.
If you see one, have a gunsmith check it out first, for the issues we talked about or other items, that someone more knowledgeable than I would know to look for. But consider it. Just because this firearm is never going to be your Battle Mistress, doesn't mean it can't be a nice piece of history to hold on to.
This may not end up as one of those small concealed pieces you shoot a few rounds through at the end of your range session just so you can stay proficient with the stubby little son of a gun. You may find that you truly enjoy it; for it's challenge, and challenge builds confidence which carries itself to any situation you may find yourself in, even those higher caliber ones.
But seriously, despite what Bonnie did with her pistol to free Clyde, don't tape it to your thigh. It's not a look I'd recommend and fast draw hurts like a bitch.