Redefining the 1911’s Lines — Springfield Emissary

Springfield Armory takes 1911s seriously. The company has an odd catalog of guns—some polymer-framed handguns, a growing group of black rifles, and then there are the two really focused categories: the M1As and their 1911s. The Springfield Emissary fits squarely in with the 1911s, obviously, but its unique redesign takes liberties with the classic design and pushes the platform in a completely new direction.

The sides of the Emissary are slick and flat.
The sides of the Springfield Emissary are slick and flat.

What is an Emissary, exactly? The term typically denotes a person, most often of diplomatic persuasion, sent on a specific mission. Springfield Armory’s Emissary is certainly political, as all guns are, and it is a gun on a mission—one that a lot of other guns tease, but rarely fully embrace: changing the lines of the 1911. Springfield is taking huge strides in modernizing the old single-action’s looks.

Springfield Emissary 1911
The two-tone finish is hardly new for 1911s, but I’m more partial to it here than I am on most. The flat sheen on the stainless is striking.

What does this new look do for the design?

Take a look at the slide. The Art Deco lines of the classic John Moses Browning design are missing. The convex radius on the top of the slide is gone and three flat cuts give it a new look—what Springfield calls the Tri-Top cut. The slide, though is just the beginning.

The top of the Springfield Emissary 1911 slide has lines to cut glare.
The top of the slide has lines to cut glare. This combines well with the flat black to make target acquisition that-much faster.

Art Deco, a movement that had been building in the first decade of the 20th century, is defined by geometry, repeating patterns, and the graceful movement of curved lines. It was an art movement that embodied the industrial revolution—the movement away from the natural idiomatic motifs of the Romantic period. Art Deco, even when natural elements are invoked, has an overlay of highly intentional and stylized order.

In other words, it is about intentional control. Nature is chaos, but man triumphs over that chaos. And this is clearly evident in the exceptional lines of pistols of the time. Look at the 1911, or what would evolve into the 92FS (yes, the iconic slide-cut of the Beretta grew out of this same era). Look at later examples like the Mausers, the Lugers, and the PPK.

The Springfield Emissary 1911 hammer is skeletonized.
The hammer is skeletonized. From this end, the gun will look very familiar to 1911 fans.

How does it shoot?

I picked up the Emissary knowing full well that I’m a devoted Springfield Armory fanboy. I am a perpetual student of the 1911, and Springfield does 1911s well—across a wide swath of the economic breakdown.

The bull barrel and full length guide rod.
The bull barrel and the one-piece, full-length guide rod. This is a gun built for performance.

If you’re looking for an entry-level single-action, the Mil-Spec is a great place to start. There are less expensive 1911s, but this one is a solid value in a somewhat historically accurate model.

I’ve got a TRP that represents the middle to high end. The attention to detail on the TRP is on par with that of any other production maker.

Springfield U shaped rear sight.
Springfield makes great use of this U-shaped rear sight. Once you are accustomed to the design, it is super easy to use.

If you want to spend more, there’s always Nighthawk, Cabot, Les Baer, Wilson Combat, Guncrafter, Ed Brown… a long list of really top-notch 1911s. You’d expect that the more you pay, the more reliable the gun might be, but I’ve found price to be more reflective of scarcity, finish options, and odd-ball materials than performance.

shooting Springfield Emissary 1911
The feel in the hand and function will be very familiar to fans of the 1911 and those who choose one as their preferred concealed carry gun. This cuts down on the gun’s learning curve.

The Emissary, though, provides solid performance and a bold new look, without the custom price tag. The MSRP is $1,349. While that’s hardly bargain-basement, it buys some serious upgrades.

As far as shooting goes, I’d begin with the bull barrel. The Emissary weighs in at 40 ounces. The bull barrel handles heat well and adds some weight that helps hold down muzzle flip.

muzzle rise
The weight makes the pistol easy to hold down. Repeat accuracy is reliable, and speed is solid—making this a viable gun for everyday carry.

I found that the gun performs very much like other 1911s I’ve shot. I have a Springfield Range Officer in .45, and the performance is very similar.

A difficult Emissary to carry?

The most important element of this change is the difficulty you may have holstering the Emissary. The gun will fit in some leather holsters. A thinner leather is more likely to work. Kydex is right out—assuming that Kydex is molded for a 1911.

There are two—maybe three major points of departure. The Emissary is railed, so there’s that, but that’s not as unique as it once was in this design.

Springfield Emissary trigger guard
The trigger guard is squared off and the trigger has a nice flat face. It performs with the precision you’d expect from a Springfield 1911.

The big hang-up for form-fitting holsters is likely to be the Tri-Top slide. This is easy enough to jam into a leather holster, as leather has a bit of give—even really thick vegetable tans. Put the Emissary in the holster, work it in and out, and leave it in the holster. It will adapt to the shape of the slide.

rear slide serrations
The rear slide serrations follow the lines of the grenade serrations. They’re not as deep as some but are sufficient for a solid grip.

You will need to get it worked in well, though, or you will push the Emissary out of battery when your holster grips the slide. Those weight-relief cuts can catch in leather that’s too tight.

The trigger guard, though, has a corner. The rounded edge is far more angular. This may bottom out in a holster cut for the more rounded trigger guard of a traditional 1911.

The Springfield Emissary grips have a grenade-like pattern.
The grips have a grenade-like pattern. They’re not the most aggressive pattern, but they are comfortable in the hand and the motif continues on the front strap and back strap.

The last spot, and one I’ve yet to have difficulty with, is the redesigned angle just behind the muzzle. There’s more mass here than there is on some 1911s.

The pins and safety are finished in black and act as a nice counterpoint to the stainless.
The pins and safety are finished in black and act as a nice counterpoint to the stainless.

Solutions exist, though. DeSantis, WeThePeople, Vedder… More and more companies are providing options. It remains easier to holster a naked Emissary, though, than one with a light.

Other accessory options?

Well, that light is always helpful. If you intend to carry a gun, it should have a light.

Springfield Emissary accessory rail
There’s a short rail on the Emissary for accessory attachment.

And you’ll need some mags. Springfield includes two 8-round mags with the .45 ACPs. The 9mm versions come with two 9-round mags. These are solid options with nice bumpers. But any of the 1911 mags will work.

Final Thoughts

While I’m a sucker for a historical gun, I also like the wild new directions some companies go with their historical homages. After years of waffling and hands-on training, I am not carrying a 1911 as much as I once did. But designs like this make me second-guess those feelings.

The slide is blued, so use will show on the gun. This is a good thing--it shows character.
The slide is blued, so use will show on the gun. This is a good thing—it shows character!

The Springfield Emissary has enough about it that’s new that it warrants a close look for any fan of the platform. I have the feeling that the new lines are going to turn some die-hard fans off, but so be it. Change is like that.

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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