February 28, 2020
Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper opened “Cooper on Handguns” (1974), an out-of-print special issue published by Guns & Ammo,
“An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it. This book will examine one particular form of weapon: the handgun. The handgun is an interesting artifact, and its mastery is a notable accomplishment. Those who master it achieve a peculiar satisfaction, for they partake in some measure of one of the attributes of the gods: The ability to point the hand and smite at a distance. This idea existed millennia before anyone ever saw a pistol. So, it must be an innate human aspiration, independent of technology. It is obviously the basis of the pleasure we take in pistol craft. As the handgun has no evil of its own, it has no skill of its own; however, in a master’s hands, its efficiency is almost unbelievable. As with all instruments, it is the man, not the tool, that makes the difference. The more subtle the tool, the greater the difference. Skill with a shovel makes less difference than with a violin. The handgun lies somewhere between.”
Appearing since Guns & Ammo’s first issue in 1958, Cooper penned reviews and thought-provoking commentary. I met him on two occasions at his home adjacent to the Gunsite Academy in Arizona and was privileged to discuss The Modern Technique, as well as study his collection of small arms and books in his library. My lasting takeaway has been that Cooper was well read with deep interests in classic literature, early automobiles, firearm development in addition to military and world history. His use of the written word reflects that of a master who benefited from a thorough education and a love for reading. Combined with his service as a U.S. Marine officer during World War II and the Korean War, his experiences and understanding of human instinct made him a writer with few peers.
Cooper believed in deductive logic, the process of reasoning to reach a definitive conclusion. This is most apparent when considering his recommendation of the .45-caliber Model 1911A1 as the preeminent defensive handgun. Forever a student, Cooper continued to consider and evaluate new models as they were introduced but felt that all other handguns, though they may be deemed “adequate,” fall short of the 1911’s standard for one reason or another.
When Cooper passed away at the age of 86 on September 25, 2006, the industry mourned with his family and friends. We all did. Ed Brown collaborated with Cooper’s surviving family members to develop an authentic pistol that would honor him with proceeds benefiting the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation. Janelle, Cooper’s wife, and Lindy Wisdom, Cooper’s daughter, provided the Browns access to his collection of 1911s, as well as to his collection of personal notes. One year after Cooper’s passing, Ed Brown introduced the Jeff Cooper Commemorative 1911 with a ship date of September 25, 2007. Brown announced that after September 25, 2008, “no more will ever be made available for order.”
Never Say “Never”
More than a decade after the original Ed Brown Jeff Cooper Commemorative went out of production, the company decided to update and produce another low-production Jeff Cooper Commemorative. In truth, the latter is not exactly the original, and the differences are in the details. In 2007, a limited run of leather-bound copies of Jeff Cooper’s must-read, “Principles of Personal Defense,” was included with the gun. For this new commemorative, a leather-bound copy of “The Yankee Fist” was produced by Cooper’s family. This was originally an article that appeared in Guns & Ammo’s February 2003 issue and highlights Cooper’s reflections on the Model 1911. To add, Ed Brown ships the new edition with a leather-bound, red-felt-lined case that appears as if it were a large bible when closed. Inside is a certificate of authenticity, patch, challenge coin, and lapel pin each featuring Cooper’s “JC” pen-and-sword logo.
The new pistol also differs from the original Jeff Cooper Commemorative in that this one wears a brilliantly polished blued slide with a gold-inlaid signature. (Slightly different than the signature engraved on the original with matte finish.) The original pistol also sported a three-hole Videki-style aluminum speed trigger, while this new pistol features a long, solid aluminum trigger. Ed Brown’s Chainlink texturing dressed the frontstrap and mainspring housing, while the new pistol has also been cut with 25 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering, perfectly executed.
I’m sometimes asked, “What makes a Model 1911 worth more than a standard Colt?” As a school-trained pistolsmith that once specialized in building custom 1911s, I appreciate time-consuming handwork labor, flawless fitting and attention to detail. For example, on Ed Brown’s 1911s, there isn’t the usual line or two of checkering that hangs outside of the textured box. When you begin to see the flaws in another 1911, you appreciate the man hours invested and intensive training that went into fitting parts and blending crisp edges to every contoured line.
Like the original, the new Cooper commemorative is complete with cocobolo wood grip panels, smooth except for the JC logo laser engraved on each. Modern Allen-head screws secure each panel to the forged steel frame, which is also machined in-house. I’ve visited Ed Brown’s shop in Perry, Missouri, and remember being taken back by how much of the pistol was made right there from raw materials and forgings. This shouldn’t surprise the custom pistolsmith because we’ve been using Ed Brown’s parts such as the legendary Memory Groove Beavertail Grip Safety ($70) for more than 20 years. For those unfamiliar with the history of Ed Brown, he got his start in the 1970s as a competitive shooter that would perform trigger jobs after competing in matches. He then invented part designs still imitated by other brands today, and supplying improved parts for the 1911 ever since.
Inside Ed Brown’s shop is a unique broach machine that was sourced long ago from a World War II-era U.S. Navy ship. Brown retrofitted it with a long string of cutters that gradually increases the size of a hole. This one-of-a-kind machine is used for the otherwise complicated process of boring a perfect hole to accept a magazine. This machine is an example of the unique tools of the trade that make Ed Brown’s products so precise.
Of course, precision is held to the tightest tolerances with regards to the barrel, slide and frame-rail relationship. To my surprise, the engineering and precision machining is so good that little hand fitting is required during the assembly process. (This is unlike other 1911 makers I’ve observed having to marry oversized parts.) There exists the slightest amount of movement at the rear of the slide on Guns & Ammo’s test sample and none along the slide rails or between the barrel, bushing and muzzle of the slide. However, unlike other tightly fitted 1911s that need to be worn in, Ed Brown’s 1911s do not.
At the Range
I suspect most who seize the opportunity to own this collectible will keep it ready for display in its leather-bound case. As nice as this pistol is, it seems sacrilegious to shoot it — but somebody had to.
I fired a little more than 500 rounds through the new Jeff Cooper Commemorative 1911 with my mind drifting off to memory lane. If you’re a fan of Cooper or have trained at Gunsite, you’ll understand. Blasting through and reloading the two supplied magazines — Ed Brown mags, mind you — I chuckled as I remembered shooting steel pepper-popper targets in the Donga at Gunsite where targets were rigged not to fall as authoritatively when struck by the puny 9mm. It’s just another insight into Cooper’s personality and his favoritism toward the .45 ACP.
Recoil is stout when shooting +P loads through any 1911, but it’s very manageable for experienced pistol shooters and an all-steel gun like this. I didn’t clean the pistol or prep it with oil, and still, there were no malfunctions during this evaluation under sloppy skies and over muddy earth. I introduced a personal target handload for the accuracy test, which featured mixed cases, Winchester primers, a light charge of Winchester WSF ball powder and Sierra MatchKing 230-grain full-metal-jacket (FMJ) round-nose (RN) bullets. The powder produced a fair amount of filth throughout the gun, but the tightly built Ed Brown pistol kept running and shot this load incredibly well.
The bead sight up front isn’t brass; it’s real 14-carat gold. It offers adequate contrast, though isn’t as easy to discern in certain lighting conditions as fiber optics or the latest night sights with brightly colored day-glow rings. This contemporary approach to sights became popular at the end of Cooper’s career, and he was more traditional with his sight choices. I noted that a couple of Cooper’s Colt 1911A1s were equipped with this gold bead sight, so Ed Brown’s choice is appropriate for this model. The rear sight is the drift-adjustable Novak ramp with a black square notch. This set-up is great for carry and keeps the shooter’s focus on the front gold bead rather than superfluous dots at the rear.
Cooper didn’t believe in left-handed controls on guns used by someone who wasn’t left-handed, so it’s no surprise to me that this pistol continues the tradition of right-hand-only buttons and levers. However, what’s there is Ed Brown’s extended thumb safety that is great for pressing down on with your thumb to aid recoil management. However, there’s no risk in unintentionally activating the thumb safety on any of Ed Brown’s 1911s; to push it up and engage the slide requires considerable force. When it’s time to send the cocked-and-locked hammer forward and engage targets, deactivating it requires only moderate effort by contrast.
The trigger experience is also incredible. To shoot an Ed Brown 1911 is to remember why we all love the feel of a single-action trigger. The raceway in the frame is like that of a fine watch as the trigger bow glides through it to push against the sear. There is no binding that causes stuttering. To fire the pistol required less than 4 pounds of smooth pressure and there was no hiccup to start, grit in the middle or overtravel at the end. Seriously, the trigger felt flawless.
A great trigger like this can bring out any pistol’s accuracy potential. In a Ransom Rest, this is a 1-inch gun at 25 yards. At the bench at the same distance, I managed to fire a several groups that measured between 1.04 and 1.45 inches. (It wasn’t as hard as it sounds.) On average, I could free-hand 1.8-inch groups standing perpendicular and bladed to the target as if I were shooting in a bullseye match. I’ve forgotten how rewarding it feels to repeatedly win the struggle to print small groups. You can’t help but to love a gun that shoots this accurately.
The acronym “DVC” appears on both the original Ed Brown 1911 and this remake. The letters stand for “diligentia, vis, celeritas,” Latin for “accuracy, power, speed.” Cooper popularized this phrase as the goals of learning defensive shooting. Given this pistol’s extraordinary accuracy, the .45’s power and the speed of employing a single-action trigger with short reset qualifies this pistol as a sidearm Cooper would approve of.
Ed Brown said they wouldn’t make a Jeff Cooper Commemorative again after September 25, 2008, so I called and spoke to John May, Ed Brown’s sales and marketing director, to ask why they would reintroduce this model.
“Do you know how many shooters I speak to who have never heard of Col. Cooper?,” May replied. “Too many. The original pistol was designed to honor Cooper’s legacy and all that he had done for our industry. We have so much to be thankful for. For the next generation to go without his Cooperisms, reading his writings or learning The Modern Technique, we would have forfeited his memory. It’s important for us to keep Cooper’s history and teachings alive. A portion of the proceeds from this project will go to the Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation to help continue their work in letting the next generation know what this man meant to all of us.”
Ed Brown Jeff Cooper Commemorative Specs
- Type: Hammer fired, recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .45 ACP
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 5 in.
- Overall Length: 8.7 in.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 6 oz.
- Finish: Blued; polished (slide), matte (frame)
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 11.5 oz. (tested)
- Sights: Novak Low Mount; gold bead (front); drift-adj. square notch (rear)
- Safety: Manual, single sided
- MSRP: $3,170 (pistol only); $3,420 (pistol and Commemorative package)
- Manufacturer: Ed Brown Products, 573-565-3261, edbrown.com
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