Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Continental Op

I love stumbling across obscure literary props. 

This collection of items based on Dashiell Hammet's "Continental Op" stories come to us from CaldwellB734.  His gallery features multiple shots of the collection, including the Op's distinctive Colt 1903, personal effects, and ephemera.


CoastConFan said...

That’s an outstanding tableau that incorporates historical items with manufactured props. Each reinforces the other. For CoC you can’t really go to a better source than of that iconic private detective, the Continental Op.

Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op is the original hard-boiled detective and he first appears in the 1 Oct 1923 edition of Black Mask in the story Arson Plus. It was written under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson. Many of Hammett’s novels were pieced together from his earlier short stories, which explains some of the choppiness and errors encountered in reading them. Note that the Continental Op is never named by Hammett.

The troika of Colt hammerless models that were popular for decades of the first half of the 20th century are the Colt 1903 (.32) was produced from 1903 to1946, the Colt Model M Hammerless (.380) from 1908-1945, and the diminutive Colt Model 1908 Hammerless Model(.25) made from 1908 to 1941. All three were very popular and very reliable. They weren’t cheap, but they were quite well made.

They didn’t supplant revolvers by any means, but they made a better concealed gun due to the flatness and compact size and by being hammerless, especially drawn from a shoulder holster, an anterior waist band holster (small of the back), a large pocket or from a purse. They also had a manual safety as well as a grip safety, which meant they could be carried with one in the chamber with reasonably security from a misfire.

In Europe, the FN M1900 designed by John Browning (who also worked for Colt) was highly popular. Although only in production for 11 years, 700,000 were produced and a number of copies borrowed the design and made for decades afterwards.

For those you adventuring outside of the US, there are plenty of pocket automatics, for example the FN M1910 (later M1922) was a sleeker weapon that was in production from 1910 to 1983. The M1922s were popular with police and military in European countries. I don’t have production numbers on this, but they appear to be considerable.

Webley produced some small autos about that same time such as the Webley & Scott 1908, which had a bobbed external hammer, which would not catch on clothing. They also made the M1910 in .380 and the M.P. 1911 Hammerless pocket as well as the quite small .25 cal Pocket 1906 Model.

As a side note, Harrington and Richardson (USA) licensed copies of the Webley automatics, but didn’t have a high production. For extra research try looking up Savages popular Model 1907 (32) and the M1907 in .380. All of these pocket pistols were quite popular, commonly available, and often encountered. An outstanding chronology of Hammett’s works (with the magazine covers) can be found at

Anonymous said...

That's fantastic – the weathering, the documents, everything! Love it.

Anonymous said...

A lovely, and seemingly carefully conceived collection, but the Social Security card seems a little anachronistic. I'm not sure of the full timespan of the Continental Op stories, but SS cards didn't exist until the creation of the Social Security Administration in the mid-1930s. Whatever else the Op might have had in his pockets if he was still working then, it seems unlikely he'd be holding a receipt from that time he bought ammo and cigarettes over ten years previous.

Thoroughly impressive overall, though.

Chris P. said...

Nice items, but the modern handwriting detracts a bit, to me.