LEMON / LEMONADE
There are very few milestones in life which can compare to the acquisition, after years of anticipation, of an original 1921 Thompson. I did this in 1991, and it was a real thrill. This gun (#6942) has been to three All Thompson Show and Shoots with me, although it has yet to function flawlessly through any one of them. It has also been adapted to shoot blanks. In any given year's time, I probably shoot more blanks than live rounds. The 30's reenactment hobby I participate in, has allowed me to shoot with (and at) my two older boys over the years, and enjoy a great deal of travel and entertainment. The rush of playing cops and robbers with real guns, and real cars, on real streets, is pretty tough to top.
Reflections on the combined forces of (probably) more government intervention and (visibly) rapidly escalating Thompson prices caused me to decide in 1998 to take the plunge and buy a second 1921. By early 1999, it looked like about $8,000 for an 80% gun, and about $9,000 for a 90%, if I could get to an available one before it sold. I told myself that I wanted to get a good enough gun to pass it on to one of my sons eventually, but not a museum piece, as we would be shooting it a great deal, both live and blank fire. Of course, I would be having a lot of fun with it before passing it on.
I was excited in late January when I called on an ad in the Shotgun News which said "We currently are stocking ... Thompsons." The seller said he had a 1921 AC, about 80%, for $8,200. I tried to get him to throw in a drum for that, or any other concession on price, as you always feel you have to do, to get the best bargain possible, then agreed to the $8,200. I sent my check February 1, 1999 to Russell Jones of Allentown, PA, and it cleared on February 8. For comparisons sake, I might mention that, on the same day I ordered the Thompson, I also bought an Erb tube MP40 for $3,300 from a different fellow. I mention that for comparisons sake, as the transfer of the MP-40 was approved by BATF on February 11, and I had the gun in my hands March 8. This shows that there was a 10-day turnaround at BATF in February. It wasn't an Erb, but that's not a Thompson story. This just wasn't my year for mail-order machineguns.
I set about preparing to convert this 1921AC, as soon as it would arrive, to shoot blanks. In accordance with my experiments as reported in the Thompson Collectors News of December 1993, and January and March of 1994, I first bought a finned barrel and new compensator and blade sight from Sarco. Then I had the barrel drilled and tapped, and the chamber enlarged, by a very capable Dallas machinist and former Class 2 manufacturer, and former Class 3 dealer, Harry O'Connell. Everything was in order for the gun to come, get parts swapped and tuned, and be ready for the annual Bonnie and Clyde Festival in late May in Gibsland, LA. I was looking forward to the surprise in both of my sons' eyes and in those of the other Thompson owner's in the Reenactments, ETC club, Keith White, when I suddenly pulled TWO of these hummers from the trunk and handed them out.
February went, and March came, my MP-40 came, and March went. I checked with Russell, who was working on it, and hadnt heard from BATF. I was getting a bit antsy, because I had seen a 10-day turnaround at BATF in February. As April came, I called him weekly, as I really wanted to get the gun and prepare it for the May event in Gibsland. It came out that he really didnt have the gun, yet. Oh. In May, it was determined that the $200 check and the Form 4 paperwork to get the gun to him, had not connected with each other in Washington DC, so BATF wasnt about to transfer it TO him. The next issue was my SOT, which, as always, expires the end of June. 1 didnt really look forward to paying another $200 just to transfer the Thompson to me in the first few days of July, after this much waiting. There was some phone calling involved, and I suggested faxing our transfer in, so the examiner could have it in hand when the transfer TO him came in, and, being acquainted with the situation and gun, could immediately transfer it from him to me. When I called for an update in June and found that out that the gun had made it to Russell, that was great. He did mention that there was something about the serial number under the buttstock, though. The gun is #7308, and the lower seemed to be stamped as #2308, but overstamped or etched with a 7. What are the odds of a lower with the last 3 numbers matching, anyway? Oh, I know, bells and whistles are going off in your minds, but I was 5 months and $8,200 into this now, so I didnt even ask him about the fire selection wording (early, below 3,000 vs. later) to check if the lower WAS really #2308. So I asked him to send it on, and ask the seller about that.
February 1 order, to June 30 BATF approval, to August 2, 1999, and it finally came. Wow! It looked like a 90% gun! Beautiful dark blue, smooth finish, and all oiled up. Hmmmm That finish is too good. It is too dark. It is too smooth. The lettering is not as distinct as on my other gun. To me, as uninitiated as I am, it dawns. Oh, crud, its been reblued!!! And the receiver has been pinched in a vise or otherwise dented in, on opposite sides, and there was a hole drilled through the bottom front of the receiver, right across where the foregrip tang goes, and the gun is an A, with a bent-up pin, and the foregrip is filed down, the buttstock is a 50% with non-original hardware, and. So I called him. Yeah. Yeah, hell try to get a price concession from the seller. Yeah.
I also found out that even the barrel was "manufactured." Harry OConnell, who made his share of barrels for Roger Cox in the 70s, could see the non-Colt machining marks. It was a reblued parts gun, through and through. Just then, I came across a 90+% gun with a drum for $9,200. But I had to free up my capital from this one to get the "good" one. No such luck. As I took it to the local gun show in Dallas not many travelling Thompsons in the aisles of those - I visited with Nick Tilotta and other Class 3 dealers in the area, The assessment was that I had maybe a $6,500 gun. So I decided to make lemonade of the lemon. With a new buttstock, courtesy of Sutton Coffman, a new foregrip from DW Richardson, the barrel drilled and tapped, and the lower receiver silver-soldered at the front edge to form a tight fit with the upper, I tuned it to shoot blanks just fine through a 15/64 opening (TCN, March 1994).
The most telling aspect of it all was, that as I related my story at the gun show, one Class 3 dealer recognized Russell Jones of Allentown, PA from a transaction he had had with him, in which he felt ripped off. And a second related a sad tale of woe with over $50k in HK sears which involved Russell Jones, of Allentown, PA. So when you are considering a transaction, stick with names you recognize. Remember these three experiences.