(Editor’s note: The following article has been syndicated with the permission of its author, Joel Kolander of Rock Island Auction. It was originally published on the RIA website on July 7, 2017.)
With Independence Day in our rearview, I thought it a perfect time to take a look at a rifle that elicits fresh patriotic excitement in anyone who holds one for the first time: the M1 Garand, well known as “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” it still holds a tight grip on the heart of many an American gun collector. Even considering the M1911’s significantly longer service life, many consider the M1 Garand to be the quintessential U.S. military firearm. The power, the speed, the “ping,” and the history are all things that draw collectors like moths to a walnut-stocked flame.
Everybody is after an M1 Garand for sale, but some are more desirable than others. We’re not just talking about finding a Winchester-made version versus one produced by Springfield Armory. There are some very special M1 Garand rifles out there and Rock Island Auction Company has had the distinct pleasure of selling many of them, often at prices that induce hyperventilating in the average wallet. Let’s take a look at the 10 of the top M1 Garand rifles sold to date.
10. British Rifle Trials M1 Garand in .280
Sold by RIA in December 2013 for $12,650
If you ask me (and nobody did), this price seems like an absolute steal. Trials weapons often see a spike in value thanks to their extremely limited numbers and their determination in what guns find unprecedented success and which are relegated to distant memories. This rifle not only is a trials rifle and an M1 Garand, it’s also in the .280 caliber (7mm), extremely unusual for either British or American military arms. Later this would be known as the 7mm MK1Z or .280 British cartridge, among many other names. This is one of five original Lend Lease M1 Garands converted by the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield into this caliber for trials testing. Only three are still known to exist and this one was accompanied by documentation from the then-curator of the Pattern Room, Herb Woodend.
9. M1C Sniper Rifle with M82 Scope
RIA sold in September 2015 for $16,100
Sniper rifles are already wildly popular items. Besides their undeniable cool factor, sniper rifles are obviously produced in far fewer quantities than their standard-issue counterparts, increasing their rarity. M1C Garands fall into this category, but they become even rarer after being quickly phased out for the M1D sniper conversion rifles. Less than 8,000 were originally produced during World War II, but extra parts would later be used to bring the total up to 13,000 during the Korean War. This Korean War-era example’s scope base is numbered to match the rifle, and this number is in the known range of those rifles that were shipped to Griffin & Howe for installation of that scope plate. Original condition like that is difficult to find, let alone add to one’s collection.
8. M1 Garand with Experimental Fiberglass Stock
Sold by RIA in April 2015 for $18,400
As much as I enjoy the meme stating “Polymer is for sissies,” at one point the U.S. Government was considering a synthetic stock for the M1 Garand. This experimental M1 Garand is found wrapped not in the usual walnut, but with a fiberglass stock. While the M1 Garand has been lauded both in its heyday and today, that doesn’t mean the U.S. government was going to leave good enough alone. There were numerous experiments and variations to improve the battle rifle, even well after the hostilities of World War II. In true government fashion, one of the ways they tried to do this was to find a stock that was lighter and cheaper to produce. Enter the fiberglass stock. The prototype shown here also wears an experimental multi-aperture rear sight, likely for duplex and triplex “salvo” ammunition.
7T. M1 Garand with Collimator rear sight
Sold by RIA in April 2015 for $28,750
Tied for seventh place on this list is a post-war production Springfield M1 Garand with two unusual features. First and foremost is the collimator optical rear sight. For those unfamiliar, a collimator is the precursor of today’s red dot sights. Using an often illuminated aiming ring or single point these allow shooters to see a point of impact regardless of eye position relative to the sight. These sights were tested by the U.S. in the late 1950s/early 1960s with the idea that shooters could leave both eyes open to track one’s targets while firing. This one has no magnification and uses a single vertical post reticle with two horizontal hash marks above it. This M1 Garand also is marked “01” in the space where the serial number typically resides. The true serial number 1 M1 Garand is housed in the Springfield Armory museum, so the marking on this rifle is most curious. As if further proof of post-war M1 development was needed, this rifle also is fitted with a T-37 flash hider instead of the standard gas cylinder lock, as well as a hinged M14 type buttplate. It’s a fascinating illustration of U.S. military rifle evolution.
7T. M1 Gas Trap Garand, SN 2838, with bayonet
Sold by RIA in December 2012 for $28,750
Only the earliest of M1 Garands utilize a “gas trap” system instead of the standard gas port drilled into the barrel, and with the low serial number of 2838, this rifle readily qualifies. Gas traps are well documented elsewhere (most notably in Billy Pile’s The Gas Trap Garand), so I’ll not go into detail here, but these guns are not only extremely early, but also remarkably rare since most rifles using the problematic gas trap systems were later converted to usable gas port versions. Only 18,000 were completed, with parts made for another 33,000. In 1947, the Army destroyed all remaining gas trap rifles. For those wondering about the photo, no the barrel is not off-center. Gas trap styles use a false muzzle “cap” to redirect the gas backward to cycle the weapon. While the gas trap assembly may not have a perfectly centered opening, by necessity it was in-line with the perfectly centered bore of the barrel.
6. Experimental 22-06 Duplex M1 Garand
Sold by RIA in April 2015 for $31,625
As alluded to in #8, the M1 Garand rifle was being fiddled with quite a bit behind the scenes in attempts to improve the existing rifle or modify it into something more efficient – either economically or on the battlefield. One of those experiments was the salvo project, an idea that banked on hyper-velocity, multiple projectile cartridges to improve hit probability (see photo below). This particular rifle is a late 1957 production prototype chambered in the .22-06 cartridge. Essentially a necked down .30-06, the .22-06 had two 50-grain .22 caliber bullets stacked on top of another in an elongated neck. Note the red tape on the buttstock and the fore end, likely to indicate the non-standard chambering. Besides the rarity of being a prototype M1 Garand, this rifle was still in excellent shape and an amazing addition for one lucky collector.
5. Gas Trap M1 Garand with Theater Made Blast Deflector
Sold by RIA in December 2013 for $37,375
As we explained earlier, gas trap Garands are early and rare: two things collectors love. Something else the M1 Garand shown here can boast is an all original unaltered configuration. This is not a parts gun, or one that was assembled with reproduction parts – this is the real deal. Manufactured in November or December of 1939, this gas trap only features one addition, but it is an extremely desirable one. It is one of three known to be fitted with what is known as an “Alaskan blast deflector.” These deflectors were made in the field during World War II by soldiers serving in the Alaskan Rangers of the Alaskan National Guard. If a soldier were firing while laying prone in the snow, the blast from the rifle would inevitably result in a cloud of snow, giving away the shooter’s position. The blast deflector, directed the muzzle blast up and away from the snow, helping to conceal the location of the shot.
4. Japanese Type 5 Semi-Automatic Rifle – The M1 Garand clone
Sold by RIA in April 2016 for $63,250
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Japanese Type 5 semi-automatic rifle is a perfect example. After attempting a semi-automatic rifle in the 1930s with several different copied designs, the Japanese tried again in 1943/44 but this time focusing solely on copying the M1 Garand. This rifle is one of those rare copies and was produced by the Yokosuna Naval Arsenal for 7.7mm cartridges. Some parts are exact copies of Garand parts, others are modified slightly, such as the receiver, and others maintain their Japanese roots, such as the front sights which are identical to those found on a Type 99.
3. M1 Garand Serial Number 7
Sold by RIA in April 2015 for $97,750
By now we all know that gas trap models are the earliest M1 Garands, right? Well, it turns out that the earliest 80 production M1 Garands are a special set known as “Shop Models.” These early models are extremely rare and are some of the most enviable pieces in a U.S. military rifle collection. The shop models were the very first true M1 Garands ever produced. Since the production lines had not yet been set up, these rifles were hand produced using individually machined parts.
Number 3 on this list is the unbelievably early serial number 7. A true shop model, at the time of sale this rifle maintained nearly all of its original parts save for a few minor replacements unquestionably done in the tool room at Springfield Armory (as were all 80 shop models).
2. JFK’s National Match M1 Garand
Sold by RIA in September 2015 for $149,500
One might be a bit surprised to find an “off the rack” M1 Garand from the CMP this high on the list. Just looking at it, the rifle has clearly had some modifications, but in this case it’s not the rifle itself that is so unusual, but who owned it.
This National Match M1 Garand was the documented personal property of a young Massachusetts Senator named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. RIAC wrote an in-depth article on JFK’s M1 Garand back when it was sold in September 2015, detailing how Kennedy came to possess it and what special modifications were made to it by the CMP. It is arguably the most historically significant M1 Garand offered at auction and would be an immediate cornerstone in any firearms collection.
1. 1931 Dated M1 Garand Prototype – T3E2 in .276
Sold by RIA in April 2016 for $172,500
Finally, we’ve arrived at number one, but truth be told it’s not a true M1 Garand. It is simply known as T3E2, a test model rifle designed by John Cantius Garand for the U.S. rifle trials, seven years since they began. In 1931, twenty T3E2 rifles were built each chambered in .276 and shown here is number 15. After only a slight revision, involving a redesign of the bolt, the T1E2 was designated. When finally chambered in the abundant .30-06 at the behest of General Douglas MacArthur, it became formally known as the “semi-automatic rifle, caliber 30, M1” which could then begin field trials. It would take numerous tweaks before it was battle ready and standardized, but by 1937 deliveries to the Army had begun and a legend was born. To date, this is the world record for the most expensive M1 Garand ever sold.
While this has been a look at the top of the mountain, so to speak, Rock Island Auction also regularly hosts dozens of “normal” M1 Garands in any given auction. Pickings at the CMP are getting pretty sparse, so if you’re still looking for one of these American classics, RIA is a reliable source — visit the website to learn more.
Stay tuned for a future article investigating the recent price trends for these rifles and what you can expect to see going forward.
Plus, RIA next Premiere Auction is right around the corner, Sept. 8- 10, 2017!!! Don’t miss out! Visit the website to see all the incredible offerings up for sale.