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 August 2016

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The Cartridges of the 19th Century European Big-Bore Revolvers

PART 3: The Large French Cartridges

11 m/m French Cartridge

 The 1870 Franco-Prussian war demonstrated a need to France and Germany for advancements in their military equipment. For France, these advancements included the adoption of the Model 1873 Chamelot-Delvigne service revolver. This was the first double-action revolver used by the French Army. It was produced by Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne, with nearly 340,000 made 1873 to 1887. The revolver was intended for use by the non-commissioned officers only, the field officers being armed, as was traditional in many of the European countries, with swords. However, just a year later, the Model 1874 revolver was introduced for use by field officers; it was a lighter version of the Model 1873 with cylinder flutes, and was given a blued finish. The Model 1874 revolver was also made by Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne, with 35,000 being produced. Both revolvers were chambered for the 11 x 17.8mmR cartridge, a short, underpowered black powder cartridge with a muzzle velocity of 550 feet per second; a smokeless load was developed around 1900. These Chamelot-Delvigne revolvers were widely used in World War 1, and even had limited use by reserve units, the police, and the French Resistance in World War 2.

The cartridge was manufactured only by French ammunition makers; the two examples below include one made in 1924 by Ecole Centrale de Pyrotechnie de Bourges, France (headstamp ECP | 3 | Bs | 24 |) and one made by Gevelot & Gaupillat or their successors Societe Francaise de Munitions (headstamp back-to-back GG logo GUERRE MOD 73).





     #1          #2

    .461"     .440"  Bullet

    .458"     .454"  Case neck:

    .465"     .464"  Case Head

    .491"     .499"  Rim

    .700"     .667"  Case length

   1.186"   1.125"  Overall length



12 M/M Revolver Cartridge

It has been said that the 12m/m French thick rim cartridge was developed during the US Civil War for use in Lefaucheux revolvers that had been converted from pin fire to center fire. While this cartridge may have been used in these converted revolvers, it was not developed for them. Instead, the cartridge had already been developed and patented along with the revolver that it was used in just before the Civil War.  An 1859 British patent was granted to patent agent A. V.  Newton, acting on behalf of Louis Perrin and a Monsieur Delmas, for a self-cocking center fire revolver and it's cartridge. The cartridge was a 12 m/m center fire with a thick rim. A Perrin  revolver is shown in the picture above; the inset of the cylinder shows two of the cylinder chambers which are made to accept the thick rimmed cartridges. The revolver was not much of a success but the cartridge was quite popular, resulting in Perrin's name being remembered more for his cartridge rather than his firearms.





     #3          #4         #5

     .438"     .438"    .431"  Bullet

      ??? "     .452"    .453"  Case neck:

     .461"     .470"    .456"  Case Head

     .506"     .522"    .502"  Rim

     .637"     .570"    .639"  Case length

   1.016"   1.000"   1.044"  Overall length


The first of the three inside-primed cartridge above is unheadstamped and by an unknown maker; the mouth of this cartridge has numerous lengthwise stress cracks which have resulted in the fanned out neck that is apparent in the picture. The bullet can be easily removed to reveal the interior construction of the case. The primer anvil has a round base which formed the thick rim of the cartridge when the brass head of the case was shaped around it. The portion of the anvil that extends up towards the case mouth has been 'squeezed', resulting in a tapered shape that terminates with a long, narrow top surface against which the base of the bullet rested when it was originally crimped in place.


The second cartridge above has what is called a Bachmann disk primer, which is characterized by the uneven, circular indentation in the head which shows the position of the internal priming disk. These will sometimes be found with a raised 'B' headstamp, but this one has no headstamp. 


The third cartridge above is one of a large quantity of similar thick- rimmed cartridges that were imported during the Civil War by both the North and South for use in those converted Lefaucheaux revolvers mentioned earlier, as well as a number of Galand and Perrin revolvers. The headstamp PERRIN BTE S.G.D.G..PARIS., indicates that it was produced by or for Louis Perrin. Perrin was a gun maker who was active in the Paris gun trade from 1823 to 1865. The 'BTE S.G.D.G' stands for Brevette Sans Garantie Du Government, which translates to 'patented without government guarantee', meaning the French government cannot guarantee the 'uniqueness' of the patented item as claimed in the patent application.


The four 12m/m cartridges in the next photos include three unheadstamped thick rimmed, externally-primed variations. The first appears to be Berdan-primed and may have a two-piece head, the second as a slight dimple on the primer (Berdan?), and the third has a two-piece copper and brass battery primer typical of British cartridges. The fourth cartridge is a thin rim cartridge and could probably be used in the 11m/m Model 1873 revolver. It is headstamped 12 M/M with a back-to-back 'GG' logo, indicating that it was made by Gevelot and Gaupillat, or possibly by their successor Societe Francais des Munitions (SFM).






     #6         #7         #8        #9

     .454"    .449"    .449"    .452"  Bullet

     .458"    .455"    .452"    .459"  Case neck:

     .475"    .469"    .476"    .465"  Case Head

     .521"    .519"    .519"    .499"  Rim

     .649"    .596"    .660"    .632"  Case length

   1.131"  1.061"   1.136"   1.076" Overall length



15 m/m French Revolver Cartridge

This was the largest of the French revolver cartridges, and likely the largest of all of the metric pistol and revolver cartridges. It was developed in France around 1890 and was intended for a six shot revolver. The 'GG' logo indicates that it was made by Gevelot & Gaupillat, or more likely by their successor SFM.


     .596"  Bullet

     .605"  Case neck:

     .610"  Case Head

     .678"  Rim

     .902"  Case length

   1.355" Overall length




Pistols of World War I, Robert J. Adamek,Pentagon Printing Corp, Pittsburgh, Pa, 2001

The Handgun, Geoffrey Boothroyd, Crown Publishers, Inc, New York, 1970

Photos of Perrin revolver, Horst Held Antique Handguns,

Photo of French Model 1873 Ordnance revolver: Internet Movie Firearms Database,

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