Don’t worry, I can explain that.

Posted by Bruce Canfield

Have you ever bought something and later questioned whether or not that was a wise move? If so (and we all have felt this way at one time or another), you probably got a case of “post-purchase cognitive dissonance.” I was always fascinated with this phenomenon when it was introduced to me in a college marketing class many moons ago. While there are numerous permutations, it is somewhat akin to “buyer’s remorse.” In other words, after we spent good money on something we sometimes regret the decision or, at least, have second thoughts. Manufacturers have long recognized this situation and frequently take steps to counteract or minimize it. This is why we often see inserts in the packaging of some of the stuff we buy that boldly proclaims something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you are the proud owner of the Flummox Widget, the most advanced widget on the market. You are obviously a wise and discerning person to have made the decision to purchase this amazing item that will provide you with many years of satisfaction.” Such pronouncements are, in large measure, intended to assuage any lingering regrets or uneasiness with having blown some hard-earned bucks on something you may not have needed after all and to keep you from returning it to the retailer the next day. 

OK, you’re probably asking, that’s fine, but what does it have to do with collecting martial arms? As collectors, most of us have likely acquired an item that had one or more seemingly “incorrect’ features but, for one reason or another, which we fancied it nevertheless. Sometimes we may have been aware of these questionable features before we bought it. All too often, however, we didn’t notice, or didn’t realize, that something might be amiss until we got the item home and starting examining it more closely. If it didn’t look “right” after comparing it to a genuine item in a reference book or other source, we usually became rather chagrined at ourselves or, perhaps, the lying sack of scum that sold it to us and assured us it was 100% legit. This usually is followed by a full-blown case of PPCD as used guns (or whatever we bought) don’t come with a manufacturers’ “feel good” insert nor do we always have the option of going back to the gun show or flea market to return the item and get our money back.

What often follows is our trying to rationalize or “explain away” the incorrect or questionable features that gave us such heartburn in the first place. I have seen this happen numerous times and have even fallen victim to it myself more than once. Our minds get busy to come up with one or more explanations as to why the item that appears to be “incorrect” is actually okay after all. A recent inquiry from a young collector reminded me of this common situation. The gentleman had just purchased a Winchester Model 12 riot gun that was manufactured circa 1942. As a fledging collector of U.S. martial arms, he was anxious to acquire a military shotgun for his collection. His reason for contacting me, however, was the fact that the gun had no martial markings whatsoever. The Winchester shotguns made under government contract in WWII had several types of martial markings, including a “US” and “flaming bomb” on the receiver, a “flaming bomb” on top of the barrel and an inspection stamp on the left side of the stock. The young man in question was perplexed because the gun was apparently made early in WWII and reasoned that it had to be a military weapon. He was, of course, bothered by the lack of martial markings. He inquired if it was common practice for the military to purchase shotguns of this type having no martial markings (Yea, I know about the “Blanket Procurement" shotguns). He also theorized that since it was wartime, and guns were badly needed, the necessity to stamp these markings was dispensed with in order to deliver the guns faster. I tried to explain to him as gently as possible that the gun in question was not manufactured under government contract even though it was made circa late 1941 or early 1942 and that Winchester manufactured a number of such shotguns for non-military entities during this period such as weapons for plant guards, law enforcement agencies, etc. I’m sure he was disappointed but most collectors have been in a similar situation before (I certainly have).

The young man’s theorizing about the rush of wartime production resulting in various anomalies is a very common practice among guys trying to come up with a reason why their “incorrect” gun is actually perfectly acceptable after all. In such cases, one often tries to explain away a missing marking by stating that the inspector “forgot” to stamp the gun or that there wasn’t time to apply the marking because the guns were badly needed by our soldiers and had to be rushed out of the factory as soon as possible. I’m certainly not going to tell you that there was never an occasion when a final inspection stamp on a stock was not applied, especially during wartime production. However, probably 99.9% of the time, a missing inspection stamp on a stock seen today is because the stock was refinished or replaced. However, in the case of the above Winchester Model 12 riot gun, the martial markings on the receiver and barrel were applied prior to the metal being heat-treated, thus the “overlooked inspection stamp” scenario doesn’t hold any water whatsoever. The various martial markings on military weapons had a specific purpose and weren’t applied to make the guns “sexier” for today’s collectors. For example the final acceptance stamp indicated that the weapon passed all requisite inspections and was accepted into government service and the manufacturer could get paid. The ordnance inspectors assigned to the factory took their duties seriously and if any “forgot” to apply the inspection stamps with any degree of regularity, they would probably find themselves at the local draft office or assigned to duty at the Fairbanks Ordnance Depot in the middle of January.

Through the years, I’ve seen more creative, and normally much less plausible, explanations in an attempt to rationalize incorrect guns. Among the most common of these attempts are the “prototype” or “experimental” angle. For example, if a weapon has a different sight, different barrel length, different stock or whatever, it must be an “experimental” or “prototype” weapon intended to test the suitability of the different sight, different length barrel or different stock. The fact that the sight looked like it came from the neighborhood hardware store or that the workmanship of the shortened barrel and/or stock was on a par with a junior high school shop class was certainly no reason to doubt the “experimental” or “prototype” explanation.

Probably the most amusing (and my personal favorite) of these attempts to justify a “problem” gun is the “clandestine” postulation. I’ve seen a number of military weapons which had some, or all, of the markings buffed out. Most still had the serial number as removing that could get you a visit from your friendly local BATF agent. Anyway, as most of the stories go, these markings were removed because the weapons were intended to be carried by “special ops” guys and, if caught, the guns couldn’t be traced back to Uncle Sam. Yea, I’m sure that the bad guys would be really perplexed if they encountered a M1 carbine or M1911A1 pistol with the name of the maker and the “U.S.” marking removed. There would be no way they would ever assume such a weapon came from the United States. Removing such incriminating markings to disguise a United States weapon would be a fool proof measure that would foil even the most astute foreign military intelligence types!

I guess we all need to be on the lookout for a rare and valuable “experimental prototype clandestine” gun with no markings for our collections. Even if we may harbor any doubts, these could be quickly erased if the seller gave us a “certificate of authenticity” along with the gun. Such ironclad documentation would prevent us from getting a case of the dreaded “post-purchase cognitive dissonance” and allow us to enjoy that unique, rare and valuable weapon resting with the boring old unmodified standard issue guns in our collection. Just when we think we’ve run out of stuff to collect, another interesting field awaits us.

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