I dunno, maybe you’re a movie fan — the 1960s Beatty/Dunaway antihero film hasn’t aged well in my opinion, but more arty types still adore it. Maybe you don’t like cops — they killed nine of them, some of them, perhaps, with these guns.
If the guns are what the auctioneer, Mayo Auction & Realty of Kansa City, MO, claims. It’s hard to say. While the provenance on these two weapons is rock solid back to the 1960s, it gets a little thready prior to that. The story: a cop who survived an ill-fated raid in Joplin, MO, in 1933 (unlike two of his brethren), took these guns home and later passed them on to a friend. The guns are a 1921 Thompson, SN 4208, and a Winchester 97 pump shotgun, SN 670715. These particular guns don’t appear in the usual photos of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but they definitely did have a Tommy Gun. Even without the association with two notorious criminals, the Thompson has made its mark and has its own legions of fans (a good place for TSMG lore: the “Unofficial Tommy Gun Page“).
The owner amnesty-registered the Thompson in 1968, so it’s legally transferable on an ATF Form 4 — and a transferable 1921 Thompson is worth quite a lot of money. How much? Well, maybe not the $89k this guy is asking as a starting bid for a minty one, but probably more than the $7,600 this other guy is asking for a parts kit, which can be legally assembled a couple of ways, but not into a Form 4 transferable, original Colt Thompson.
The Winchester 1897 is a classic shotgun, but they were made for over sixty years (counting the similar predecessor 1893 model) and in vast numbers (six million plus), and they practically never wear out, so without the Bonnie & Clyde provenance it’s not really worth very much. It’s an awesome gun, though.
This exposed-hammer, all-steel, slide-action shotgun was designed by John Moses Browning, the Leonardo of gun designers.
The 1921 Thompson is interesting for a number of reasons. It was one of the earliest weapons still taught in SF Light Weapons school when I attended (it has since been dropped). At the time, WWII and prewar weapons were still found all around the world in caches and war stocks. Some nations even held such old hardware as second-line and reserve weapons. But that was 1983, and since the armies of the world have bought millions of modern assault rifles.
The TSMG is an archetypal 1st Generation submachine gun. SMGs are shoulder weapons, capable of automatic fire, that fire a pistol cartridge. The first generation of SMGs were made of machined steel and shaped wood (usually walnut), and beautifully finished. The 1921 and 1928 Thompsons were also mechanically different from the simpler wartime M1 TSMG. They used an H-shaped locking block that was made of aluminum-bronze alloy — the Blish Lock (after the American naval officer who postulated a principle of metallic adhesion under pressure) or the “adhesion lock.” In time, testing showed that the effect of the adhesion lock was trivial, so it was deleted from the M1 version. Bottom line on the Blish lock, file it under “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” No other service weapon ever had it.
The TSMG was conceived while WWI was still raging (all combatants were working on portable automatic weapons, but only Germany got a submachine gun, the MP18, to the troops by Armistice). So it is quite an interesting time capsule.
It’s also a joy to fire, if not to carry in the field. (True of both the beautiful 1921/28 Colt commercial versions and the roughhewn wartime M1). It’s quite heavy and its cyclic rate is low, so it’s controllable on automatic fire. The weight also means it’s accurate at combat ranges in semiauto mode, despite the weight of the bolt that flies forward when the trigger is pulled. The ergonomics are remarkable for the day, with all the controls falling readily to hand — at least for right-handed shooters.
Original Thompsons are rare now, in the hands of collectors, and (as we have seen) painfully expensive. But that doesn’t mean you need to be a Saudi prince to shoot one. There are a number of ranges that will cheerfully rent you one –usually you have to buy their ammunition. If you don’t enjoy it there’s something wrong with you.
But all that said, and notwithstanding my admiration for the Tommy Gun and its designer (engendered by this book as much as by the weapon itself), isn’t there something a bit… off… about celebrating the celebrity of Bonnie and Clyde? They were tawdry, violent criminals. One would hope a healthy society could distinguish between being Public Enemy Number One, and, you know, actually being Number One.
One would hope.
Anyway, auction’s on the 23rd, info’s at this link, and if you buy the Tommy I’ll buy the ammo.