Should we modify the use of "Modified"?

Posted by Bruce Canfield

Any collector of U.S. martial arms that has been at it for more than a couple of days should be quite familiar with many of the various unofficial terms and jargon that make up a collector’s lexicon. To list all of these would take up several reams of cyber paper but some of more common are:

  • Trapdoor Springfield
  • Rod Bayonet ‘03
  • Gas Trap Garand
  • Gap Letter International Harvester M1
  • M1 carbine flip sight
  • Cartouche
  • Paratrooper carbine
  • Low number Springfield ‘03
  • High wood M1 carbine stock

I could go on, but you get the idea. One such term that falls into the category is the use of “Modified” to identify WWII Remington M1903 rifles manufactured between the earliest rifles and the later M1903A3 variant. Even though some Remington factory documents from this period use the term “Modified,” it almost certainly does not refer to these, in effect, transitional rifles. However, years ago, many collectors adopted (“hi-jacked”) this term to differentiate the early production, finely crafted Remington M1903 rifles that were very similar to the ’03s made by Rock Island late in the First World War from the mid-WWII roughly-hewn ‘03A3 variant. I was one of the many collectors who found this to be a handy term although I knew early on it was not official nomenclature.

When I began my writing “career,” I used this term to denote such rifles in several of my books and articles but always took pains to make it clear this was collector jargon and not any sort of official terminology. Apparently, some guys who read my stuff skipped over this disclaimer and got bent out of shape about my (paraphrase quote) “continuing to perpetuate the myth about M1903 “Modified” rifles” or words to that effect. Maybe I should have used bolder print in my disclaimer!

The use of the term “Modified” by many of today’s collectors to denote such rifles is not a myth, it is reality. On the other hand, if anyone suggests the term was official Remington or Ordnance Department nomenclature, then that would be in the mythical category. Some of the guys who are into ‘03s and who get all upset about my use of the term “Modified” in this context have no problem talking about “high hump” ’03 handguards or “no bolt” stocks which have exactly the same degree of “official-ness” (I made up that word!) as the dreaded “m” word in question. Obviously the aversion to the term “Modified” in this context is a case of selective indignation. Perhaps “Transitional” Remington M1903 would be a better descriptive term for these rifles but “Modified” is so ingrained in the collector lexicon today that any change is rather unlikely.

While I have discontinued use of the term “cartouche” for a variety of reasons, I don’t get my knickers in a twist if someone uses the word as it is such a prevalent term that it will always be among us. I’m certainly not going to berate them for “perpetuating the myth” of the word that originally meant something else but has been high-jacked by collectors to describe any and every marking on a military rifle.

Let’s just agree to add Remington M1903 “Modified” to the lengthy list of unofficial collector-jargon terms. If anyone should insist it was an official term to denote such rifles, then all bets are off and the self-appointed internet gurus can consider such individuals fair game. Otherwise, the complainers should read the text of a book very closely before complaining.

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