Most collectors recognize the Astra 300 by its unique tubular shape and finely checkered hardwood grips. Many thousands were “bring backs” by returning U.S. servicemen from WWII. Many thousands more were imported in the 50 and 60s, prior to the GCA of 1968. While the Model 300 (M300) began production in 1923, the volume was low until WWII, when Germany ordered large quantities of them for the Wehrmacht. By the time production ceased in 1946, over 150,000 were produced, with more than two-thirds during the Spanish Civil War / WWII era.
Because production was so low in the beginning, the early pre-WWII M300s are much less common and hard to find. The focus of this article is the very early Model 300s and a purchase I made a number of years ago.
One morning as I was searching various websites, I came across an M300 that caught my eye. The photos weren’t great, but I could see it was a very early serial number. I could also see there were other things that at the time didn’t seem right. However, my instinct was to take the risk and purchase it anyway with a BuyNow, before another collector jumped on it. It was serial number 350032 in 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP). The condition looked pretty good. Astra began manufacturing the M300 in 1923, starting with serial number 350001. It was the 32nd one manufactured. Unfortunately, very little is published on the early models.
In addition to the serial number, it was immediately obvious by the E/U (ESPERANZA Y UNCETA) slide logo and E/U logo grips that it was an early production gun. Now, with the gun in hand, the things that didn’t seem right when purchasing it were staring me right in the face. I was having difficulty understanding them in spite of many years of collecting experience and all the published information on the M300 I could find.
The first thing that jumped out was the lack of serial number on the right tang of the frame. All other M300s I had seen had matching external serial numbers on the frame right tang and on the right rear slide. It was evident that the frame was original and it apparently never had a serial number.
The second thing that perplexed me was that the internally numbered parts didn’t have the rightmost two or three digits of the external serial number on them. The external serial number ended in 32 and the barrel and other parts were marked 37. A mismatched gun? Maybe not, the internal numbers all matched, including the externally serialized slide. Third, the left tang did not have any of the customary proofs that are normally found on M300s. Lastly, the frame did not have any provision for a lanyard ring.
The gun looked completely original, but I couldn’t explain it with my understanding of how the M300 is customarily serialized, internally numbered, proofed, and equipped. I was a little down about the purchase. Maybe the gun was the original 32nd made, maybe it wasn’t. I just wasn’t sure and there were no books or websites that I could find that helped me. My research stalled, and the gun sat in my safe for several years.
The Breakthrough Discovery
One day in late March, I was running through my email with a cup of morning coffee. A fellow collector from the Bluegrass State I’ve known for many years had forwarded me information on an unusual M300. When I looked at the photos, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was an early M300, serial number 350095, and it didn’t have a serial number on the frame. It also didn’t have any proofs on the left rear of the gun. I was looking at the 95th M300 manufactured and its similarities with the 32nd were remarkable and unmistakable. The guns are only 63 numbers apart, both in the first 100 made in 1923.
It couldn’t be a coincidence that two very early M300s are marked so differently compared to all the others I had seen. The owner of 350095 was happy to share more detailed photos and what I saw was the catalyst for me to purchase it. I now own 350095, pictured below.
The Deep Dive
M300 350032 has 37 on most of the parts that are customarily stamped with the last digits of the serial number. This includes the 1) frame under left grip, 2) slide underside behind breach block, 3) barrel rear opposite ejection port, 4) ejector, 5) slide stop, 6) hammer, 7) grip safety, and 8) trigger bar. The magazine catch, normally numbered on later M300s, was not. I didn’t inspect the trigger, sear or magazine safety.
M300 350095 has 1 stamped on the same parts listed above for 350032. Like 350032, the magazine catch is not numbered and the trigger, sear and magazine safety were not inspected.
350095 uses exactly the same method of keeping the key components together during manufacturing. The frame, slide, barrel, ejector, etc. are all stamped 1. Note that oddly, the slide stop is numbered on the exterior side. Like 350032 using 37, 350095 uses 1, and in neither case do we see commonality or relationship between the internal assembly number and the external serial number.
What’s Going on Here?
Two very early M300s, 63 numbers apart, both with respective matching internal numbers. Neither set of internal numbers matches the last digits of the external serial number. Interestingly, both sets of internal numbers are five digits higher that the last two digits of the external number, if we assume that after internal number 99, it rolls to 1.
The 37 and 1 stampings are most certainly internal assembly numbers that gave the factory a method of keeping the key components together during manufacturing, including fitting, finishing, and final assembly. But, why this method and not the customary relationship between the external serial number and internal assembly numbers we are used to seeing?
I Think This Could Explain Why
At the time of initial M300 production in 1923, the M400, aka M1921, had been in production since 1921, with over 10,000 produced. The M400 was using the customary process with the external serial number on the frame and slide, and the all internally numbered parts using the last three digits of the external serial number. Astra knew how to do this when M300 production started, but did not do so initially. Why? Either they were too busy / pressed for time producing a brand‑new firearm or they lacked necessary information.
At this early point in the life of the M300, the factory was most likely very busy and under a great deal of pressure to get production up and running, achieve a high level of quality, cut in inevitable design changes, and work out the bugs in the manufacturing processes. While the M300 was designed as a scaled‑down Model 400, it was still a new gun with differences. The Model 400 was in production, so the M300 team could very well have been new and less experienced. The more time‑consuming process where the last two or three digits of the external serial number are used as the internal number to keep parts from getting mixed up just wasn’t the priority early on - that came later as volume increased and production stabilized. At the start, a simple system that keep the parts together using a 1-99 number and ultimately, an unrelated external serial number might make sense.
Another explanation is that the first batch of one or two hundred M300s began manufacturing before the company decision was made on the serial range to be used, i.e., the manufacturing team lacked information. Rather than hold up production, they used the 1-99 internal numbers independent of the ultimate external serial number. That would be applied at the end.
In either case, at a later date, M300 production did implement common internal / external numbering on frame, slide, barrel, and critical parts. This numbering scheme is what we are familiar with today for volume production Astras, including the M400, M300, and M600.
Some Other Odds & Ends
One of the more interesting attributes of 350032 is that it does not have lanyard ring and the frame has no provision for a lanyard ring. This particular frame simply wasn’t designed to accommodate it. Interestingly, 350095, only 63 numbers later does have a lanyard ring. I speculate that the very earliest frames did not have a lanyard ring accommodation, and it apparently changed very quickly.
The fire-blued pin holding the magazine safety and spring is different than on later M300s. The pin on 350032 is approximately 6 mm long and has a mostly parallel orientation to the slide in the left image below. It looks very similar to what is observed for the same pin on the M400. 350095 also has the same pin design. On later M300s the pin is 10 mm long and is oriented downward, as shown in the right image below.
Researching the Serial Numbers
As I said in the beginning, not much is written on these very early M300s. I tried to research the serial numbers. Dr. Leonardo M. Antaris excellent book titled Astra Firearms and Selected Competitors has been my “go to” Astra book for many years. Unfortunately, even it didn’t include either serial number in his table of selected M300 destinations. That suggests that the destination could be an individual or small order from a retail gun shop. Perhaps additional records could still surface.
These are very early Astra M300s, the 32nd and the 95th made. M300s from 1923, 1924, and 1925 are rarely seen and I was extremely fortunate to acquire them. The fit and finish are as good as any Astra I have seen. The original rust-bluing, fire-bluing, and polishing are all very high-quality. The inside of the frames and the underside of the slides are “in the white” as they were when shipped from the factory. Both are very well‑preserved for guns approaching their 100th birthday.
Prior to the discovery of 350095, it was difficult to defend and impossible to explain the oddities of 350032. With 350095 as an additional data point, it is clear that the very early production guns have legitimate differences from mainstream volume production, and it was a time of change in M300 evolution. As best I can tell, these differences have not been previously documented.
What We Can Reasonably Deduce
- Very early M300s carried only one external serial number on the slide. The matching frame serial number we are accustomed to seeing on later M300s is absent. When this practice ended is yet to be discovered, but certainly in play for approximately the first 100, perhaps more.
- There were at least two early revisions to the M300 frame. The first to add the provision for a lanyard ring. The second was to modify the frame for a longer reoriented magazine safety and spring pin. The addition of the lanyard ring provision was very early, in the first 100. The timing and purpose of the longer reoriented magazine safety and spring pin is unknown and to be discovered.
- Very early M300 s were marked internally with an assembly number that did not share any commonality or linkage with the external slide serial number. A “matching” number gun would have all the assembly numbers match, regardless of the external serial number. When this practice ended is also yet to be discovered, but certainly in play for approximately the first 100, perhaps the first couple of hundred.
I believe that 350032 and 350095 are both 1923 originals, as shipped from Astra. If you have or know of any more of these early M300s, drop us an email. These two from the first 100 found their way to the U.S.; how many more of these early Astra M300s are out there and yet to be discovered?
Sometimes trusting your instinct to take a risk can pay handsome dividends.
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