Among the most sought after U.S. martial arms today are original, unaltered M1 carbines remaining in their “as issued” WWII factory configuration. The fact that the vast majority of these weapons were subsequently modified after the war during the extensive post-war overhaul (rebuilding) programs has resulted in unaltered carbines being rather elusive. The practice of restoring the overhauled carbines by replacing later and/or non-original parts is a widespread practice among many collectors today. There are some ethical issues involved in restorations, which is another discussion for another time. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with a competently restored carbine, if the fact it has been restored is passed along to a subsequent purchaser and the weapon is priced accordingly. Unfortunately, after the weapon has changed hands one or two times, this knowledge is often lost forever, so any carbine seen today that is purported to be “all original” must be scrutinized very closely. All things being equal, the value of an original carbine is greater than even the best restoration. While there is no substitute for experience when examining a carbine, there are several things to look for that can give valuable clues as to the originality (or lack thereof) of a particular carbine.
Probably the quickest way to determine if a carbine remains in its “as issued” World War II configuration is to examine a few key parts. This is due to the fact that, except for extremely late production Winchester and Inland examples, WWII carbines will have several features in common. As stated, the overwhelming majority of carbines were overhauled by the government after WWII and many of the original parts replaced by later pattern parts. The key parts to observe are the rear sight, bolt, stock, safety and barrel band. This is not to imply that only these parts are important as every component should be closely scrutinized. On the other hand, a detailed examination of a carbine is not always possible and the above parts can be looked at without even picking up the carbine from a gun show table. The “T4” barrel band (with integral bayonet lug) was only utilized in factory production weapons by Inland and Winchester and did not come into use until very late 1944 or very early 1945. Therefore, if any other carbine has this type of barrel band, it is not all original. The same caveat basically holds true for the rotary safety. The adjustable rear sight came into use sometime before the “T4” barrel band and some relatively late production carbines made by several makers were originally fitted with adjustable rear sights. However, the majority of carbines made in WWII had the non-adjustable “L type” rear sights.
All original WWII carbine bolts are believed to have been blued. Most were of the “flat top” variety although the rounded bolts came into use by a few makers before production ceased. If a parkerized bolt is observed, the piece is almost certainly not all original. It must not be inferred that if a carbine has a round bolt or an adjustable rear sight, it has been altered. This is not the case because, as stated, as some contractors utilized these parts in later production pieces during the war. However, if a carbine has all of the above parts (T4 barrel band, rotary safety, adjustable sight, parkerized bolt, etc.) and is not a very late production Inland or Winchester, one may rest assured that the piece is a post-war rebuild or has been assembled from parts. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with such a piece, but if someone is looking for an original WWII carbine, they need to keep looking.
Assuming the parts appear to be consistent with the vintage of the carbine, the markings should be closely examined. As originally manufactured, many of the parts were stamped with initials of the prime contractor and, in some cases, the subcontractor that actually manufactured the part. Each prime contractor was assigned a code letter:
- Inland = I
- Winchester = W
- Saginaw = SG
- Saginaw (Grand Rapids) = S’G’
- Standard Products = S
- Irwin-Pedersen = IP
- IBM = B
- Rock Ola = R
- National Postal Meter = N
- Quality Hardware = Q
- Underwood = U
Therefore, for example, a carbine made by Rock Ola would be expected to have all “R” coded parts. Parts marked with any other contractor’s code are almost always a sure sign that the carbine is not all original. There are some exceptions to this rule as several prime contractors are known to have utilized parts made for other prime contractors. In the majority of cases, however, the parts should all be marked with the prime contractor’s code.
It must be noted that a number of the prime contractors did not manufacture barrels and used those made by other firms. The only firms that made their own barrels were Inland, Winchester, Underwood, Rock Ola and IBM. Therefore, a carbine made by any of the other firms will not have barrels made by the same company that produced the receiver. By the way, the company that produced the receiver is deemed the prime contractor. The stocks were also stamped with code markings which are normally found inside of the sling recess on the left side. Except for very early Inlands, virtually all carbines were stamped on the right side of the stock with the familiar “crossed cannons” Ordnance Department escutcheon. Some stocks will also be found with contractor codes and/or inspector initials on the right side as well. A few very late stocks used with the M2 carbine are characterized by a very prominent bulge on the bottom of the forend. Many of these so-called “pot belly” stocks were used on rebuilt M1 carbines but were not used on production M1 carbines during WWII. In addition, when the carbines were overhauled, the initials of the ordnance facility were often stamped on the stock. Such markings can be sanded off by someone wishing to remove such evidence so any sanded areas make the stock suspect. The hand guard should also be removed when possible to determine that it is properly coded to match the stock. Most WWII carbines had hand guards with two rivets rather than the four rivet hand guards found on later production carbines and many rebuilds.
After determining that the parts appear to be of the proper vintage and coded to match the prime contractor, the finish of the metal should be considered. While most major component parts such as receivers, barrels (with a few exceptions), trigger housings, etc. were parkerized, the tint and texture of these parts varied. Since many of the parts were produced by subcontractors often hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart, the parkerizing found on such parts would certainly not be expected to be uniform. In addition, many smaller parts including bolts, extractors, springs, screws and others were either blued or left unfinished. Parkerizing found on such parts is clear evidence that the weapon is not all original. Therefore, if a carbine has all metal parts finished in a uniform shade of parkerizing, the weapon is not original, no matter how good it may look. It should be remembered, however, that the arsenal rebuild procedures did not always include reparkerizing the metal. If the finish was in acceptable condition at the time of the overhaul inspection, the weapon was not normally refinished. Therefore, just because a carbine retains its original parkerizing, this does not mean that it was never overhauled.
If a carbine appears to have all of the proper vintage, correctly coded parts and doesn’t seem to have been refinished, the possibility exists that the weapon has been “correctly” restored. Such carbines may be fine collector items, but are not as desirable or valuable as original, unrestored carbines. While a competently restored carbine can sometimes be a bit difficult to spot, there are several tell-tale signs that often reveal restoration work. Two of the most significant areas to observe are the barrel and rear sight base. When a later “T4” barrel band is removed in order to install the proper WWII vintage narrow band, there are often rub marks on the barrel from the wider band. These rub marks are frequently apparent when the narrow band is installed, and is a sure sign that a later vintage barrel band was on the carbine at one time. Also, any indention in the wood at the tip of the stock covered by the barrel band should be examined. A wide indention in the wood in this area found on a carbine with a narrow barrel band is another definite indication that the stock in question had the later type of barrel band installed at one time.
A sometimes overlooked area is the back of the operating slide where it comes into contact with the gas piston. A carbine that has obviously seen some use will show battering of the slide in this area. Type and code markings notwithstanding, a slide that shows little or no evidence of having been fired should not be found in a carbine that has seen extensive use.
When the narrow “L” type non-adjustable rear sights were replaced by the adjustable variety during overhaul, the later types were generally staked into place by punch pricks on both sides of the sight base. Typically these punch marks are rather deep and readily apparent. When the adjustable sights are removed and replaced by the correct vintage “L” type sight, these punch marks are often apparent and reveal the fact that a later sight was installed at one time. Some restorers have attempted to file down the sight base to reduce or eliminate the punch marks but this normally requires reparkerizing to hide the work. Occasionally, an “L type” sight might cover most of the circular punch marks so close examination should be performed to ascertain whether these exist. Some enterprising fakers have welded up very deep staking punch marks, ground off the excess and refinished the receiver. Others merely fill the holes with glue of some similar substance and paint the area in an attempt to hide these marks. Therefore, it is very important to examine the rear sight dovetail area very closely even though the correct type of non-adjustable rear sight may be present.
Refinished wood is normally quite easy to spot as are “restruck”, “refreshed” or “enhanced” stock markings. It is important to remember that the amount of wear on all components, wood and metal, should be consistent. A brand new condition stock on a carbine with well-used metal components is a sure indication that something is amiss. Normally, sanded and refinished wood is quite easy to spot. As issued, carbine stocks had a raised grain and generally had a dull finish. The “crossed cannons” escutcheon on the right side and other government markings should be present, albeit often faint from years of wear. Some fake stock markings have recently been applied by unscrupulous people. Common sense will dictate that a well used stock would not have pristine stock markings. Another word of caution is that brand new reproduction carbine stocks have been produced within the past couple of years. If these are stamped with bogus, but seemingly proper markings, such stocks could appear to be highly desirable “mint” original stocks. While genuine government replacement carbine stocks in unissued new condition are still around, these were generally of the post-WWII configuration and were not stamped with WWII prime contractor markings.
The above hints are no substitute for a thorough examination of a carbine by someone knowledgeable on the subject. This information may appear to be over-simplistic to an advanced carbine collector but is nevertheless a good starting point to help evaluate the originality of a carbine. Collector references books such as my “Complete Guide to the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine” and Larry Ruth’s excellent “War Baby” books are recommended for anyone wishing to explore the subject in greater depth. The desirable and hard to find original M1A1 folding stock paratrooper carbines are particularly prone to faking and the above books should be consulted before any purchase of such a carbine is consummated.
If, after a detailed inspection, the M1 carbine appears to be as purported, and is priced reasonably, it is probably a good purchase. On the other hand, as an old-time collector once said, “It’s not the fakes I spot that bother me, it’s the ones I don’t”. Caveat Emptor!