This Day in History: North American Arms Obtains 1911 Contract

(Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)
(Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

Quebec, Canada -(AmmoLand.com) On July 1, 1918, the North American Arms Company Limited in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, secured a contract with the US Army for 500,000 M1911 pistols. The United States was in the throes of World War I and needed all of the guns it could get, so they couldn't turn down any manufacturing opportunity.

The goal was to produce 2,000 guns per day for $15.50 each. With no manufacturing facility of their own, North American Arms leased the recently-defunct Ross Rifle Company factory. Ross closed after the Canadian Army switched from the Ross straight-pull rifle to the British Enfield rifle.

The serial number can be found under the left grip panel. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)
The serial number can be found under the left grip panel. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

In addition to North American Arms, M1911 contracts were made with Winchester Repeating Arms Company, National Cash Register, Caron Brothers Manufacturing Company, Burroughs Adding Machine Company, Lanston Monotype Company, A.J. Savage Munitions Company, and Savage Arms Corporation in an attempt to produce a total of 2,550,000 pistols.

It would take some time to prepare the raw materials and get the machinery and laborers set up to make the guns. Over the next four months, only 100 pre-production “toolroom” samples had been made in the Quebec facility. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, none of the other companies listed above had made a single gun before the war ended. For example, Winchester never even got past the blueprint stage.

On December 4, 1918, the North American Arms contract was cancelled; the others soon followed.

The right side of the slide is devoid of info. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)
The right side of the slide is devoid of info. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

Internally, the guns are identical to all of the other 1911s made during this same time period. It's the gun's external markings – or, in some cases, lack of markings – that set the North American Arms pistols apart from the rest.

All of the company markings are located on the left side, directly in front of the slide serrations. The serial number is the only other marking on the guns, and it can be found in three places, all on the left: directly behind the slide serrations, under the grip panel, and on the side of the trigger. The slide's right side is devoid of any markings whatsoever, and the frame will appear completely unmarked on both sides when the grips are on the gun.

Because of their extremely limited pre-production numbers, M1911 pistols made by North American Arms hold the distinction of being the rarest 1911s in existence. Aside from the 100 sequentially-numbered guns, it is believed that five guns with repeating numbers (111, 222, etc) were completed as presentation pieces. One such gun bears the number 1111.

Serial number on the left side of the slide behind the serrations. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)
Serial number on the left side of the slide behind the serrations. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

On average, they bring between $35,000 and $45,000 at auction, with the Blue Book Of Gun Values putting a 60% condition gun in the $16,000 range. Sometimes, though, prices can go wild, which was the case with serial number 73. It sold in 2018 for a staggering $218,500.

Before parting with such a large amount of money, collectors should examine the gun thoroughly to ensure it isn't a well-done fake. Since the examples that were made never got submitted to the US government, there are no inspector markings, so if you find a North American Arms slide on a frame with inspector markings, it's not the real deal. Another concern is condition: any guns seen above 90% condition are believed to have been refinished, so the price should reflect that fact. Don't get fooled into paying the premium price that comes with a 95%, 98%, or 100% gun!


About Logan MeteshLogan Metesh

Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.

  • 2 thoughts on “This Day in History: North American Arms Obtains 1911 Contract

    1. When I lived in Ohio I was a member of The Ohio Gun Collectors Association . At different shows they would have members showcase events . One of the shows was about The Colt 1911. It was fantastic ! There had to be hundreds of pistols on display. I do remember a gentleman displaying North American Arms Co. Ltd. 1911. Never heard of Canada producing 1911’s ,only Browning HP. It was always a time machine, a museum at those shows. Great people , great firearms , great times.

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