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Choosing a Thompson: What Collectors Should Know

By Frank Iannamico

The Thompson submachine gun needs no introduction to most firearm enthusiasts. It was made popular by television shows from the 1960s and was often envisioned around the world as a “gangster’s” gun primarily used by criminals. Although somewhat true, its criminal use has overshadowed the Thompson’s service in World War II by the United States and many of her allies.

The Thompsons of the Roaring ‘20s

The first Thompsons made infamous by the likes of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and others were manufactured by Colts’ Patent Fire Arms in 1921-1922. Colt was subcontracted by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation that did not have any facilities to manufacture the weapon. Only 15,000 were made. Later, due to slow sales, Auto-Ordnance reinvented the Thompson with the introduction of “new” models. These were nothing other than 1921 Models that were reconfigured to promote sales. Although the Thompson was tested by the U.S. military, few were purchased. In the end, Thompson sales were very slow, and with the bad publicity, the future of Auto-Ordnance Corporation appeared quite bleak. By all appearances, the concept of the Thompson submachine gun was a failure. The Thompson would have to wait for nearly 20 more years for its widespread acceptance by the U.S. military.

In the years following the Thompson’s production, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation was deep in debt. By all accounts, the Thompson submachine gun was a financial disaster.

Russell Maguire

During the late 1930s, war clouds were gathering in Europe. Russell Maguire was a shrewd businessman who believed that there soon would be a great worldwide demand for weapons. Maguire decided to purchase the failing Auto-Ordnance Corporation. Through some financial dealings and last-minute ultimatums, Maguire was able to obtain controlling stock in the Corporation.

Collect Colt or GI?

The dilemma facing many potential purchasers is which model to choose: the 1920s Colt-era Thompson, a military 1928 series or a military M1-M1A1 (Colt-era Thompson Models 1921A, 1921AC, 1928A, 1928AC, 1928 Navy or 1927).

The Colt-era model started life as a Model of 1921 The AC suffix designates that the muzzle has a Cutts compensator.

All Thompson submachine guns are expensive,...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N3 (March 2018)
and was posted online on February 9, 2018

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