GRADING COLT THOMPSONS
by Steve Reed
You will often hear Thompson collectors refer to "that gun is 95%" or "its a 97% beauty." What does that really mean? What should I be looking for when examining a Thompson? Why are some guns priced higher or lower than others?
Unfortunately, there is no single answer to these questions, but there are some basic guidelines that you should take into account when grading a Thompson. Appearance and Originality are the two main areas that reflect the overall condition of the gun. Appearance is what you see on the outside of the gun; the exposed wood and metal surface and also include metal surfaces that are visible upon disassembly of the weapon. Originality describes the correctness of the internal parts, wood, and blued finish. Appearance and Originality combine to yield the Overall Grading of the gun. While not meant to be all-encompassing, this article covers the most important issues to consider while grading a Colt Thompson.
- The amount of original Colt blue finish retained on the metal surfaces. Look for blued areas that show wear from carrying, rusted areas, pitting, scratches and nicks. Rust spots and pitting are of greater concern than nicks and scratches. While neither is desirable, rust and pitting may tend to degenerate as years pass while a nick or scratch will remain the same.
- The appearance of the bore should be smooth and shiny. The rifling should appear crisp and well defined. When the bore appears dark, corrosion has set in which reduces the value of the gun.
- The buttstock and wood grips should have a dull luster or semi-glossy finished look. The color and shade of the wood will vary depending upon the wood itself, and the amount of ultra violet exposure on the linseed oil finish applied to them. The amount and size of dings and dents on the surface determine the grade of the wood. Splits and cracks in the wood are of greater concern. Thompson buttstocks have a tendency to split at the top corners of the metal slide that attaches the stock to the receiver.
- The gun should have all of the correct Colt internal parts; no military Savage or A.O. replacements. All Colt internal parts, such as the bolt and H-lock have no markings on them. A Colt-made bolt that was recently examined had a C stamped just behind the hammer along with a small J about two inches to the rear of it. A bolt or H-lock stamped with S or AO is of Savage or Auto-Ordnance origin and not by Colt. All Colt bolts were nickel plated; none are known to have been blued.
- In order for the gun to be correct, the serial numbers on the receiver and frame should match. There is also a serial number on the receiver under the fore arm; visible only by removing the grip mount. Some three digit Colts have the serial number stamped on the ramp face of the chamber. Although rare, some Thompsons have the serial number stamped on the underside of the compensator.
- The buttstock should be original Remington-made with serial numbers matching on the rear of the stock and the inside of the buttplate. Remington contracted to build the buttstocks for the 15,000 original Colt Thompsons. Remington-made stocks have an upside down anchor-like logo stamped in the front of them. Some of the stocks examined did not have this logo. It is possible that they left the factory without having been stamped with it. Remington stocks also have a script letter R stamped on the end, under the buttplate. The buttplate should also have a script letter R stamped inside it along with the serial number.
- Part of grading a Thompson includes determining the amount of the original Colt factory blue retained on the metal surfaces. Guns that have been re-blued will lose half or more of their value.
- Guns with a significant history associated with a famous person or event (for example, a gun confiscated from John Dillinger) can greatly enhance the value as a collectors item. Documentation that associates the person or event with the gun can be of great value to a collector.
- Original registration paperwork or a bill of sale can also enhance the value of a Thompson.
As we mentioned earlier, the overall grade of a Thompson is expressed as a percentage of the guns original condition. This percentage varies depending upon the person grading the weapon and is not an exact science. The N.R.A. "standard" for grading firearms is not being used by Thompson collectors; instead they continue to use the percentage grading system.
A good rule of thumb is to calculate Appearance and Originality as separate percentages, then average them together to get an Overall Grading percentage. For example, the Appearance is 90% and the Originality is 93%; the gun would be approximately 92% overall. This calculation is a good guideline but does not necessarily designate an exact percentage rating.
Experience is the best teacher when it comes to grading and collecting Thompsons. The best way to enhance your grading skill is to examine as many guns as you can. Gun shows are a place to start, but the one of best ways is to attend Tracie Hills Thompson Show in August. Keep an eye open for upcoming Thompson shows and events in you area. Reading TCN is a great way to stay informed of upcoming events. Networking with your fellow Thompson collectors is a great way to learn and enjoy the fascinating world of Thompsons even more.