Buried Treasure or Baloney? A Tale of Two Springfields

By Art Merrill

Some of the fun in collecting historical arms is that we’re sometimes confronted with interesting puzzles that appear to contradict what we think we know. Take our example here: a beautiful, supposedly original Springfield M1903 Mark I rifle that just doesn’t look right. Having no taste for eating crow, I learned a long time ago to never say about rifles, “They never made one like that.” Still, the more I examined the breathtakingly pristine rifle, the more I believed that this one, indeed, was never made.

Buried Treasure

The Mark I was a consignment item on the rack of a local gun shop. Its most remarkable feature was its pristine condition, and so the first natural thought was that it must be one of those recent rebuilds being turned out by several makers today to satisfy demand created by Vintage Military Rifle competitions. This one, however, was a Mark I model. What makes the Mark I immediately and obviously different from other M1903s is the cut in the left receiver wall, an ejection port to accommodate the use of the Pederson device (see sidebar). While it is perhaps not unheard-of to rebuild a Mark I for shooting competitions, it certainly seems unusual. But the $2,000 price tag on this baby was more than twice the going price for M1903 rebuilds or typical Mark I’s. Odd.

According to the gun shop owner, the consigned rifle’s owner claimed the rifle to be an absolute original that Springfield Armory had placed in a safe immediately after manufacture to be kept as an unissued, pristine example of the Mark I. That would account for the unblemished metal finish and unmarred stock, and it makes a great buried treasure story, but let’s separate fact—the rifle we see before us—from statements.

Memory, like hope, is a terrible thing to rely upon. What memory served at that moment in the store was that Springfield Armory had turned out something like 100,000 Mark I rifles for the Pederson device up until around 1920; while not especially “rare” or “scarce,” they certainly qualify...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N2 (February 2018)
and was posted online on December 22, 2017


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