Shooting History: Colt 1908 Vest Pocket–Old Gun Review

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Shooting History.  This is the 2nd installment of our new series where we take an old classic, shoot it and review it like we do modern guns.  We kicked off the series with the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless and are continuing with another old Colt Pocket, the 1908 Colt Vest Pocket.  If there are any guns you would like to see us cover be sure to comment below and we will do our best to get our hands on one in shooting condition.

Specs

The Colt 1908 Vest Pocket.

The Colt 1908 Vest Pocket.

Here are the numbers on the  Colt 1908 Vest Pocket:

  • John Moses Browning designed
  • Produced from 1908-1948
  • Over 420,000 total production
  • .25 ACP
  • 6 round magazine
  • Fixed sights
  • Semiauto-Single action
  • Blowback
  • Striker fired
  • 13 oz empty
  • 4.5″ overall length with a 2″barrel

Design

Legend has it that John Moses made the first prototype of the Vest Pocket to carry in his, you guested it, vest pocket while walking around on his land in Utah.  He supposedly wanted a tiny pistol for defense against coyotes. True or not, Browning did design a great little pistol that will fit in a vest pocket.

Side-by-side the Pocket Hammerless and the Vest Pocket.

Side-by-side the Pocket Hammerless and the Vest Pocket.

The design was originally submitted to Colt in 1904 but they turned it down.  He then went to FN in Europe and they jumped on it and introduced their version in 1906.  The FN 1906 and the Colt 1908 (when they finally decided to make it) are almost exactly they same.  Browning had an agreement with FN and Browning for the production on his designs.  Simply put: FN made the ones for the European market and Colt them for North and South America.

Take a look at the photo of the Vest Pocket next to the Pocket Hammerless.  The Vest Pocket is basically a scaled down version of the bigger pistol.  There is one big difference, the Vest Pocket is striker fired.  It is not the first striker fired pistol, but it is an early one. Typical of the Browning designs from this era, the Vest Pocket has a grip safety.  The first models that FN produced did not have a manual safety that is on the Colt made ones.  Colt also added at magazine disconnect around 1917. The Colts were mainly offered in blue or nickel finishes.  There were silver or gold plated and engraved models that were available for custom order.  Most were shipped with hard rubber grips with checkered wood grips being available in the late 1920s.  Ivory and pearl grips were also available for order.

Very little original finish on this one but lots of patina.

Very little original finish on this one but lots of patina.

Review Gun

This is actually my wife’s pistol.  I bought it for her a few years back as a “dress up” pistol.  A night on the town pistol if you will.  It originally had rubber grips but I found a set of original pearls to fancy it up a bit.

As you can see there is very little of the original finish left on this example.  I thought about rebluing this one like I did to the 1903 in the previous article, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Not that the Vest Pockets are super rare or valuable but this one looks, for lack of a better word, cool with some natural wear.  We will address the to refinish or not to refinish in a future article.

This example was made in 1920 and has the magazine disconnect.  Before I shot it for the first time, I detail stripped it and replaced the recoil and striker spring.

Shooting

This is not as fun to shoot as the Pocket Hammerless.  The recoil is not an issue, a steel framed pistol in .25 ACP is not exactly a beast.  It is more of a size thing.  This pistol is tiny and getting a good grip while pressing the grip safety can be a challenge.  I have never had a problem with grip safety, hell I carry a 1911 more often than not.  But this one is, and other examples of the Vest Pocket I have shot, a bit clumsy to shoot. I don’t have particularly big hands either.  When I shoot it I have to squeeze the whole pistol to get it to go bang.  It reminds me of the old S&W Safety Hammerless, aka the Lemon Squeezer.  There is another good idea for a Shooting History article!

From 15 feet.  I have a hard time not dipping the barrel on the 1908. I think it is from squeezing the grip safety.

From 15 feet. I have a hard time not dipping the barrel on the 1908. I think it is from squeezing the grip safety.

The grip safety squeezing aside, the Vest Pocket does work and shoots well for a pistol of its size.  This is especially true when you take into account the size of the sights.  But this was not designed not intended to be a target gun.  This is a hold out or “belly” pistol.  From 15 feet if will easily put 6 rounds into a man sized target in a hurry.  But they are tiny little holes.  See the pictures for an idea on group sizes.

For this review we ran about a 100 rounds FMJ and Hornady XTP.  Both preformed without a problem.  I had never tried hollow points in the Vest Pocket until this review and was pleasantly surprised with the way it handled them.  Its big brother 1903 has never liked them.

Relevance

So is the old Colt Vest Pocket still relevant?  In my opinion not as much as the Pocket Hammerless.  For one the .25 ACP is not exactly a great carry round. You can also get a new pistol that is about this size in .32 or .380 now.  I also would be leery of carrying a Vest Pocket with a round in the chamber.  I do not feel confident in the striker holding if it was dropped.  But it is sure is a good looking little pistol.  It does go well in the vest pocket of a 3 piece suit.  Not that I wear many of those. If I did, a Pocket Hammerless would be in the coat pocket.

The business end.

The business end.

Single stack magazine.

Single stack magazine.

Not a whole lot to hold on to.

Not a whole lot to hold on to.

The front of the trigger guard is a good place to rest your finger.

The front of the trigger guard is a good place to rest your finger.

The tiny front sight.

The tiny front sight.

The rear is tiny too.

The rear is tiny too.

Tiny safety on the side and a prancing pony!

Tiny safety on the side and a prancing pony!

The magazine catch.

The magazine catch.

Group from 15 feet.

Group from 15 feet.

Two where I was aiming and the others lower.

Two where I was aiming and the others lower.

My finger is almost as long as the slide.

My finger is almost as long as the slide.

External extractor.

External extractor.

 

{ 53 comments… add one }
  • George G. March 5, 2015, 1:31 pm

    I inherited this same Colt in factory nickel finish. In new condition? Purchased in Monroe La. 1932. Any idea on the value?

  • don hoyle March 3, 2015, 1:19 pm

    Hi, I’m a 22 boy but have never even handled, much less fired a Browning Medalist I would like to see a review on this beauty!

  • Russ Wilson March 3, 2015, 9:55 am

    I am very interested in the 410/45 pistol, and see that Colt has the Governor, and Tarus has the Judge, or Judge Defender. Which is the better gun, and why? Colt is running around $300.00 more than the Tarus, and I want to know if it’s just because it’s a Colt, or if it is actually a better gun.

  • Justanobody March 2, 2015, 10:02 pm

    My father has a nickel plate/pearl grip version. Near perfect condition. LOVE this little pistol except for how I have to grip it. Because of that grip it will always be a show piece/family heirloom.

    For the guy asking about it, there is a website that can tell you when yours was made, just wish I could remember it for you. Just google colt 1908.

  • Bill Koke March 2, 2015, 6:54 pm

    I have an original one of these jewels. I made the same decision about not refinishing it. The finish has a real nice patina; so I opted to leave it as is. However, where can I get a set of those neat pearl grips?

    • Bill Koke March 2, 2015, 6:56 pm

      Where can I get a set of those pearl grips?

      • David December 28, 2016, 9:36 pm

        I’m trying to sell or trade mine new grips the gun it’s self is in used condition unsure what’s a fair price?

  • Bill Koke March 2, 2015, 6:52 pm

    I have an original one of these jewels. I made the same decision about not refinishing it. The finish has a real nice patina; so I opted to leave it as is. However, where can I get a set of those neat pearl grips?

  • Steven March 2, 2015, 6:48 pm

    How about a test on the H&R pocket autos of the early 1900s? Would like to know more about their performance.

  • FRANK BERT THOMAS March 2, 2015, 4:25 pm

    I owned one forty plus years ago. The little gun surprised me with ease of shooting accurate with it. Sure it is belly gun but firing it ten to fifteen feet was easy to hit smaller targets. Using the WW CARTRIDGE HOLLOW POINT WITH THE BB INSERTED IN IT I found an explosive effect on low hanging pears. Some body please reproduce this little gun.

  • LongColt March 2, 2015, 3:50 pm

    How about a review of the Enfield (Webley) No. 2 Mk. 1 ?? Shoots the still-available .38 S&W. I have a 1931 model (inherited) which saw service with the British in WWII. These guys have a very cool, unique look about them, and I seem to see them often in local gun shops at very reasonable prices. A review of the Webley in .455 would also be fun.

    Very nice review and photos of the 1908, by the way – I’ve always wanted one. I particularly liked your review of the 1903 PH, as I have a pristine parkerized specimen that my Dad’s cousin carried as a B-25 pilot in WWII. Keep up the good work!

  • Gary Hauslerr March 2, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Great review on grand old gun. How about a review on a C 96 Broomhandle Mauser?

  • David Brown March 2, 2015, 12:24 pm

    As a lover of the old shooting irons
    I would like for you to do a reviews on some of the pistols in my collection:
    Remington model 51
    Any model of the Savage autos
    Colt Police or Pocket Positives.
    S&W Break-tops
    S&W Victory model
    And of coarse the German Luger.

  • RAC55 March 2, 2015, 12:04 pm

    I have an early FN 1905 version of this pistol I picked up years ago for real cheap because it ‘didn’t shoot’. I found the firing pin broken when I stripped it and I had a hard time finding another. I took a chance that being it was similar to the 1908 Colt VP, I bought a firing pin for the Colt and tried it in my FN….it worked great. Long story short, it’s a fun little pistol to shoot, and my FN is in mint condition. Got the pistol and the firing pin both for well under 100 bucks!

  • Lee Otterson March 2, 2015, 12:00 pm

    I got one that was a bring back from WWII, with a Walther P-38. They were nickle plated and had a custom made leather holsters for them in Germany. A lot of soldiers had Walther P’s nickle plated and that devalued the guns by 50%. It still had the Nazi markings on it. I think it still has value because it is representative of the post war climate where civilians would nickle plate the guns for rations or very little money.

  • Bill Hindin March 2, 2015, 11:59 am

    Hitler used a Walther PP in 7.65mmBr. (same as 32acp) His niece also used a Walther PP in 32acp to kill herself (supposedly} in her Berlin apartment. The PPK is a smaller PP.

  • bob stone March 2, 2015, 11:44 am

    great article, i have a pretty minty one made around 1916 which i carry. i recently purchased a colt mustang with the intention of carrying that instead of the 1908,so at a gun show in tucson this past weekend i was going to trade the 1908 for something else. glad i did not, going to hang on to it for a while as it is much easier to carry then the mustang.

  • Rick March 2, 2015, 11:32 am

    I used to have the 1906 FN version the author notes, and once I replaced the extractor, it ran extremely well.

    This past weekend I picked up a \”Baby\” Browning, even smaller than the 1908 Colt, and in better condition than the author\’s 1908.

    It shot flawlessly with two different mags, and is flawless internally, including the small parts.

    [URL=http://s294.photobucket.com/user/rmccleery/media/Mobile%20Uploads/photo-9.jpg.html][IMG]http://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm115/rmccleery/Mobile%20Uploads/photo-9.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

    [URL=http://s294.photobucket.com/user/rmccleery/media/Mobile%20Uploads/IMG_0087.jpg.html][IMG]http://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm115/rmccleery/Mobile%20Uploads/IMG_0087.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

  • Dan March 2, 2015, 11:19 am

    My uncle gave his 1908 25 Auto a few years back, he died in 2012 at the age of 94. this one was made in 1925 and has the standard rubber grips showing no wear. He told me his Uncle bought it for his Aunt to carry in her purse. It came with the box, sheepskin shamy sleeve and the cleaning brush. as well as 47 rounds of the original box of shells, evidently she didn’t shoot it much. I shot a magazine of new shells through it. I agree with the authors description of the grip issues, neat looking little gun though. Mine is 95% in my opinion and I am not a pro at rating guns but it’s in pretty good shape. the box is pretty rough though. I got his Model 37 Ithica when he died too in 20 gage. as well as 40 or 50 Federal paper slugs in one of his cigar boxes. Also a Winchester 1908 Pump 22 round barrel. Not sure on the model.

  • aj March 2, 2015, 11:07 am

    I also have a colt .25 got it from my mom and it was in pretty bad shape. Had a lil rust and the barrel looked bad. Sent it to a gun Smith had him pressure test barrel and it turned out to be worthy of firing. So I cleaned it up ordered new grips and now it looks great.it also has a 5 digit serial number so the value is alot higher. Love this lil gun.

  • Frank aka Diver March 2, 2015, 10:15 am

    I have 2 both in great shape and early models, ser # 54xxx and 94xxx. I would like to know what year they were made?
    The early one is 95++ % and has the original magazine. The other is about 80%… They bot shoot just fine and I do carry the older one fro time to time.
    One was my mothers given to her by my grandfather. Who was a mine supervisor in the gold rush days of Colorado.
    Thanks for the great article on this pistol.

  • Frank Hughes March 2, 2015, 10:05 am

    I need parts. Especially a barrel. No rifling left. Any ideas. Thanks

  • john creveling March 2, 2015, 9:59 am

    How about doing a review of the Springfield Trapdoor Carbine?I would like to see what kind of accuracy could be achieved at semi-long range.150 t0 200 yards? Thanks John

    • Administrator March 2, 2015, 10:02 am

      We have one and can do that! But don’t get your hopes up. They are generally not very accurate rifles and you are much better with a Sharps or Winchester Highwall.

      • Charly Busey March 2, 2015, 8:58 pm

        Suggest that you reaquaint yourself with trapdoor springfields. Given decent ammunition they are very accurate and are often used in black powder matches with good results. Much of the ammuniton sold today is undersized and under loaded for the trapdoor. The bullets need to be soft lead and true holy black is best. Also remember that the sights minimum setting is for 200 yards so if shooting at 100 yards your rounds will impact quite high given the trajectory of a 405 grain (carbine bullet) or 500 grain (rifle bullet). Read up on the 1879 Sandy Hook trials where they tested the trapdoor at distances of up to 2 miles and against rifles such as the Martin-Henry. Do not be so quick to write them off as inaccurate.

      • john creveling March 16, 2015, 10:31 am

        Great Thanks! How about 75 or 100 yards and maybe see how many shots can be achieved in 60 seconds?I have one made in 1880 and its fun to shoot.It sits in a boot I made from original drawings on a 1918 McClellan saddle in my office. John

  • ibjj March 2, 2015, 9:48 am

    When Colt started ramping up for War production, Astra took over the Vest Pocket production for them. Astra also produced a thinly disguised copy under the “Firecat” moniker. In all, Astra produced almost 60K pistols for Colt with no tell-tale markings. Astra versions can be discerned by the slightly poorer surface finish. The Colt produced versions had a smoother finish, and a better blue job. The hard rubber grips usually had smoother edges and a slight “ring” around the screw holes on the Colts. The slide serrations were finished after the polish work on the Colt and thus are sharper than the Astra production, which had serrations finished before final polish, which left them not quite as defined.

  • Jeff Long March 2, 2015, 9:21 am

    The Colt is a nice design, but I prefer the Baby Browning. A review of it and the late model modern variants (Bauer, PSP, PSA, and others I may not know), would be appreciated. I understand someone is making a high end version still.

  • Kevin March 2, 2015, 8:53 am

    You make reference to having found a set of original pearl grips for the pistol in the article. The pearl stocks shown in the pictures are not original Colt pearls.

  • Jim Dowdell March 2, 2015, 8:38 am

    My uncle was with the OSS in WWII. He give my father a FN 1906, that he took from a bodyguard of Himmler. There was a nice shoulder holster – custom fitted, not adjustable. Gun was perfect in every way, and looked unfired. This gun was stolen from our house in Albany, GA in the 1970’s . The thief had no idea what he had stolen, only a gun with a shoulder holster. Sad memory!

    • Russ March 5, 2015, 8:40 pm

      Don’t worry, your Uncle is haunting the crook relentlessly.
      He and good karma may get it back to you some day.
      Keep your eye’s open.

  • mark March 2, 2015, 8:30 am

    I carry an Astra Firecat as my main carry weapon.
    This is their version of the Colt. And colt mags will fit, with a little filing , as the bottom of the grip is a different angle.
    I do handyman work, and anything larger is too big when I am crawling around on scaffolding, ladders etc., BUT I keep a Beretta 84 in the lockbox in my van , with its 13 +1 capacity, and 2 spare mags.I feel safer with it down the back of my belt while in bad neighborhoods.
    But back to the firecat.
    I use a Sticky holster in my back pocket, and I can work all day without it catching on something.And a spare mag in. My watch pocket.
    The sights are like the Colt.and I put dayglo orange paint on the front sight.
    I can usually hit 5 out of 6 cans at 20 feet with it.And I feel confident I could place my shots with it.
    I would rather have a.25 than nothing at all.
    And I picked it up on gunbroker for $110 vs the $300 plus for a Colt around here.
    It’s only flaw is it is not stainless.
    After working in rain or snow all day I have had to remove rust from it.

  • Jim L March 2, 2015, 8:09 am

    I own an FN Model 1906, Third Variant made somewhere between 1912-13. I own it because I saw it on Gun Broker, and the bid was so low, I thought I’d make a low bid one myself just because it was a neat looking little pistol…and, I forgot about it until I received an email congratulating me on winning the auction. Surprise! I thought I’d just turn around and sell it locally, to make my money back. However, I played with it, learned to disassemble and clean it…the longer I kept it, the better I liked it. I finally took it out to the shooting range, and was pleasantly surprised. I don’t think I would run higher pressure defense ammo through it, but it handled standard .25 ACP rounds without a problem. It’s a fun little pistol with lots of history, so I’m not about to sell it now.

  • petru sova March 2, 2015, 7:44 am

    Like most small pistols they are ammo sensitive and grip sensitive and are well known for jamming but since they were made of quality materials i.e. steel they do not crack behind the trigger guard like many of the modern made plasticky junk. They look and feel like a real pistol not a plasticky toy gun. The twin brother of this gun is the gun produced by FN which was later updated in a newer model sans grip safety and the manual safeties location was greatly improved. Still they all were striker fired guns that are best carried with the chamber empty which is also true for modern plasticky striker fired guns even though many have passive firing pin safeties. The reason for doing this with modern plasticky pistols is that the single action (pre-loaded striker) usually have no manual safety like the Glock which makes them very hazardous to carry with a round in the chamber much to the surprise of the average Jethro Bodine who does not understand how they work until he has an accidental discharge.

  • Brucd March 2, 2015, 6:35 am

    I dont believe that colt was the first one to build this wepon.
    I think that the Germans had produced this first, their wepon is called “CG Haenel, Suhl 25 cal. Built by, or had a Schmeissers Patent”. They had 2 verisions of this pistol, and I believe that this is the one Hitler shot himself with also. This little pistol sells really cheap and fires Great, mthe one I shot could fire very fast and unlike most small cal. Pistols it would Never Jam no matter how fast you fired it! Its a great dependable little wepon.

    • petrusova March 2, 2015, 7:37 am

      No Hitler used a Walther PPK in .32acp and it is well documented and the pistol still exists.

      • Ralph March 2, 2015, 9:05 am

        My great uncle brought back from Germany,one of those officer’s Walther PPK .32’s.I know nothing.

    • Sam Trisler March 2, 2015, 8:00 am

      FN was the first to build this design. Never heard of a German version of this John Browning design. The CG Haenel you are talking about is striker fired, in .25 auto and is small… but the the slide and barrel function is a lot different. I am pretty sure the Browning designed Colt 1908 and FN 1906 predate the Haenel by 5 or so years too. Like petrusova commented, Hitler used a PPK.

  • Neil Jonielunas March 2, 2015, 6:19 am

    Nice review on a great old pistol. It was featured in “The Maltese Falcon”. I had to have one after watching Peter Lorre hold one on Bogart. I now have 3. I will soon take one to the range. Thanks again.

  • Mark N. February 27, 2015, 1:42 am

    My daughter is working on selling off the assets of an estate, and among other things, they found a tiny little Beretta 950 Minx in the micro-mouse ultra anemic .22 short. (Not that I’d care to be shot by that either.) It was also produced in a .25 ACP. (Jetfire) One has to wonder, in this day and age, why such tiny little vest pistols good for little more than contact distances were made and sold in rather large quantities.

    • JH March 2, 2015, 10:39 am

      A .22 short will penetrate a half inch pine board, up close and personal, which used to be a military standard for lethality. Would love to find a Minx.

      • Bill McGraw March 2, 2015, 10:27 pm

        I had the 22 Short Beretta 950. Its frame alloy resisted the barrel pin, loosening such that it had to be peened to stay together, also slide tended to stay locked back if manually loading from the magazine, had to push on the trigger bar to release it. Loading the barrel and firing worked fine loading from the magazine. I sold it, still looking for an AMT Backup all steel pistol in 22 RF or 380.

    • Mike March 2, 2015, 12:34 pm

      .22 shot from a mouse gun like a Sterling auto will penetrate a two by four ten feet away. Test fired a .25 shot at the same distance from a Colt 1908 and the bullet bounced off the same board. Won’t make that mistake again.

    • KMacK March 2, 2015, 2:41 pm

      As the name suggests, this is not intended as a target pistol. My take on these “mouse guns” is that they are intended to do one thing, and that is to buy you time to run like hell. Admittedly, neither .22 short or .25acp is a very strong cartridge, used at belly to belly distances they will let you run away by shocking and maybe seriously injuring your attacker. It ain’t a fighting gun, this is a running-away gun.
      And as such, for smaller women and elders with poor grip strength, it works perfectly. It’s a get-away gun!

    • Scott March 3, 2015, 1:24 pm

      I carried a Jetfire for decades. It fit perfectly in the front inner pocket of a pair of Sansabelt slacks. I actually had a seamstress install like kind “holsters” inside the slacks pockets of my suits. This tiny little vest pistol saved my life on more than one occasion, Though it of course does not have the stopping power of a 1911, the first well placed round will could well give one who can keep his head the time to place the next 5 to finalize the threat, especially in a contact distance.

  • Will Drider February 26, 2015, 10:02 pm

    Anyone who has owned a AMT 380 Backup will recognize the exact identical sights. It also has a grip safety and heel mag release. Bugs aren’t everyones cup of tea but there is a practial application for them.

  • Al February 26, 2015, 11:59 am

    I have to say it is an attractive design on a little gun. True, .25 auto is not quite a manstopper; just that no one in their right mind wants to get hit by one. I recall an episode of ‘Cops’ where a guy shot his brother who was later seen pacing the backyard and moaning. You could see the round missed his vitals and lodged behind his ribcage just beneath the skin on his back. He wasn’t too happy. Maybe Colt could reprise this as a .380 or the original .25 auto – It’s the esthetics that made this a classic mouse gun. I would definitely want one if they still made it.

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