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Discussion Starter #1
I have noted here a couple of times regarding the purchase of an Essex-framed 1911 with a Colt slide. I have been on the prowl for these. I have 5 now, all with Colt slides (2 are US Army slides, 2 are pre-WWII consumer slides and 1 is a pre-Series 70 Government Model slide). The sights on 1 gun are standard issue, 1 has an adjustable Millett set and 3 have Bomar adjustable sets. Internal parts vary, but all of these pistols function fine and 1 of them, in particular, has an exceptional fit. Whatever gunsmith did the work seriously knew what he was doing! That pistol locks up so tight and the slide/barrel relationship is very, very consistent. Well worth the $450 I paid for it! I have plenty of 1911 pistols I have purchased and built throughout the years, but I have been finding these so affordably, I have been buying these! I know that the pre-'46 slides were not heat treated, but I have spot hardened around 50 or so of these in my career successfully, with the exception of 1 that had a crack I didn't notice. I established a hardening procedure long ago, that when done in the right order, hardening the next spot tempers the spot I previously hardened. It has worked well. I harden the front, the lugs, the bottom of the breach right on the corner, and the slide stop notches, and the relief that's cut for the sear disconnect. Right now I have all but 1 at Craftguard in Waterloo, Iowa getting them reblued. I prep them myself, then they reblue for $160 and do a fine job. Because I took 4 frames and slides I am getting a discount.

This isn't so much about the guns in general. I am here to discuss Essex frames. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of 1911 pistols that I customized or built during my career, I never once came in contact with an Essex frame. I have heard a wide range of opinions regarding them. I have 5 of them now. I will throw in my two cents.

I have discovered through ownership and research that Essex frames were manufactured in 2 different locations. The majority of them were made at their factory in Island Pond, Vermont. The last 2-3 years they were in business they had relocated to a new facility in Hardwick, Vermont. When they relocated to Hardwick, they also purchased a state of the art casting system that actually casts the frames under pressure. The machining was performed with their newly purchased state of the art CNC machines. This would have been a period of around 1999-2002. They were purchased by Iver Johnson with the intent of IJ manufacturing an all-American 1911, but IJ did not have the knowledge to do so. They got in deep enough with warranty work that they let the Essex plant go into foreclosure and the facility, the tooling and inventory were all liquidated. IJ went on to have their 1911 pistols built by S.A.M. in the Philipines and the shooting world has been better for it.

The Island Pond Essex frames were investment cast. The material at both factories was 4140 alloy steel. Essex always heat treated their frames. In Island Pond the casting equipment lacked sophistication, they had to manually machine them. I have a story or two about that!

I have 2 Hardwick frames (the newest ones) and 3 Island Pond frames. Both of the Hardwick frames are very nice. The casting quality is clearly better. The machining is of better quality. The machine work is smooth. Everything is in the right place. It appears that both frames went together without modification or fitment. Frankly, very nice frames!

I have 3 Island Pond frames. 1 of them is essentially flaw-free with the exception of the castings being rougher and the machine work being rougher than the Hardwick frames. This is the frame that has was used to build the match pistol; the one I mentioned earlier that was built by an extremely talented and knowledgable gunsmith. The frame rails are peened and filed. It has a Government Model slide with Bomar sights. The barrel is Colt. The hammer and internals all appear to be Colt as well. I don't know who made the trigger, but it is of very high quality. All of these parts were meticulously fit together. It's quite a pistol. He even stippled the frame and mainspring housing. Tests in a Ransom Rest revealed a pistol capable of shooting better than me and anyone at my club! The other 2 Island Pond frames have issues. Both have casting flaws in the grip area of the frame. The flaws are not visible with grips on and they pose no structural compromise, but they reveal a casting process that was on the crude side. With one of them, that's the only flaw. The OTHER frame has another issue. The holes drilled for the plunger tube are not even, so the plunger tube is at an angle. It's enough of an angle that the pistol grip was modified to allow for the plunger tube! I simply could not let these things go by..... I tigged one of the holes shut, smoothed it and re-drilled it. I also tigged then smoothed the casting flaws. All is well now. Something to note, the frames with problems had serial numbers under 20,000. The Island pond frame that was OK is 3X,XXX. My Hardwick frame serial numbers are 7X,XXX and 8X,XXX.

The overwhelming majority of Essex frames were made at the Island Pond facility. The Island Pond frame I have that has no problems was the frame used to build that super-duper match pistol by the unknown killer gunsmith. For all I know, he tigged stuff on that. Due to Island Pond manufacturing starting in the '70s and going through 1998, it's not hard to figure out why there is occasional negative feedback concerning Essex. Concerning the Hardwick frames, based on the quality displayed by the 2 I have, I will not hesitate to snap up any Hardwick frame if the price is reasonable.
 

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Interesting conversation.

When I started building 1911s for my own use and later for the public the Essex frames were considered the bottom of the 1911 barrel. And could be had for around $50. For perspective a NIB Colt could easily be had for $300. Less if you looked around some. $250 not being an exceptional deal.

After you had built a few Colts it was obvious that the Essex frames were not within Colt specs and the amount of fiddle time simply didn't seem worth the effort to me. Pin holes were close but seldom, if ever, perfect. Trigger race ways a night mare to fit. Thumb safety cut often way too tight.

Most don't realize the late '70s and early '80s were still the days of when you needed a 1911 part you gas welded it up and cut it down by hand to fit your needs. And the parts you might buy, like a Videcki trigger, were still expensive by comparison to stock Colt parts.

You could fit a Essex frame up with all Colt parts but generally nothing would be interchangeable when done. Every part would sometimes end up being a one off piece. Ramps generally needed recutting and barrels fit to them as required. Most of the time you could get acceptable results with 7 round Colt mags and hard ball ammo. If you wanted much more it was gonna be a crap shoot. Forget the after market mags or the older styles of HP ammo.

Dust covers and front strap frames were often over size making for an odd holster fit or odd grip.

But can't say much more for the Safari Arms frames or the early Caspian frame either. At least the first Springfield guns/frames from Brazil got the pin holes right, generally. Fast forward a decade or two. Springfield and Caspian got a lot better. Then Kimber showed up and out did Colt with the forged Nowlin, CMC (both made by Kimber) Kimber frames.

By the end of the Century when the "new" 'Series 70s started coming out of Colt they were $900 wholesale.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
All very good points. Based on the Hardwick Essex frames I have, they are very uniform when compared directly to each other and when compared to my Colt and Springfield frames. The Hardwick era was very, very short though. My Island Pond frames are just what you said: Lots of fiddling and poor uniformity. Because I can get these cheap as complete pistols, it is worthwhile and somebody else did all the crap-work for me! The one pistol has a Government Model slide, barrel, bushing all from an Air Force Match pistol (including the Bomar sights). I have refurbished a number of the Air Force Match Pistols for customers and I am certain that is the upper I have. The internal parts within the frame are Colt, no doubt about that. There was a great deal of fitting by an excellent gunsmith with this pistol! If I could only find the correct frame to go with the upper...... THAT would be something!
 

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I recall seeing hundreds of Essex frame 1911's at gun shows in the 1970-1980's. They were very cheap when compared to original military 1911's. They usually were sold to people who were not serious gun collectors or shooters. I think I owned a couple that were traded to me on guns I really wanted to get rid of. Unfortunately, I had an even harder time getting rid of the Essex frame 1911's.
 

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Here's one for our viewing pleasure. My dad bought it from a local store here in the mid 80s. It was the first 1911 I shot. I busted a few rabbits with it as a teen. There's a few other darker memories as well. Fast forward to 2010. By now, we'd somewhat renewed our relationship and were getting along quite well. He died December that year and right next to his bed was this old blaster. I've shot it some since. It runs just fine with ball ammo. It doesn't like any of the duty hollow points more than a few at a time. Shelf value - about $250 I reckon. My value - priceless and won't go before I do.
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Sorry for all the repeat pictures - I'm still figuring out this "new" forum style with things. I'm afraid if I go to edit, it'll take longer than I care and fix it up worse. I've forgotten just what "parts" guns these really were.
 

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Neat gun I'd be proud to own. Even better story. Enjoy the gun and the memories, good and bad!

I've been cleaning up my shop that got moved haphazardly 5 years ago and never set up again. 30+ years of gun parts and pieces stashed away there. Amazing just how many bare bones guns one can make up from the odd frame and slide. Reminds me of making up a parts gun with a Essex or the other off brand frames available in the late '70s and early 80s. Kinda a fun way to go back some in time.
 

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I defer on both Essex and MS Safari/Olympic Arms frames.

I believe that proper forging produces a superior centerfire pistol and revolver.
 
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