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Picture Page

February 2014

.An early Union Metallic Cartridge Co .38 S&W box...

A box like the one shown here was included in a group of UMC boxes that I discussed on my September 2006 picture page. That box was empty when I found it, but I speculated at that time that it would have contained the early style .38 S&W cartridge, which had a folded unheadstamped head and a lead bullet with a long profile and a single exposed grease groove. This latest box still held 35 of it's original; cartridges, and as expected they were the of the early style.

This is an early .38 S&W box, based on the S&W 38 Single Action 1st Model (aka Baby Russian) Revolver that is pictured on it's top label. Smith & Wesson  introduced the Baby Russian revolver and the .38 S&W cartridge for which the revolver was designed in March of 1876. The Baby Russian revolver was dropped from from production by the company in sometime in 1877 when an improved version, the 38 Single Action 2nd Model Revolver, was introduced. The redesign of the cartridge box label would have quickly followed, with the illustration of the new revolver replacing the discontinued model. The box below, which was made in the early 1880s, based on it's rounded corners, the reference to the 'U.M.C.







No. 0 Primer' on its top label, and its early unheadstamped cartridges with grooved bullets, has the 2nd model revolver on it's label. This top label is probably very similar to the one that replaced the 'Baby Russian' label.

The top label of the earlier box references Albert C. Hobbs' October 31st, 1876 patent; this patent covers the positioning and securing of the primer anvil in the primer cup, which was much like they are produced today. The earlier primers used by UMC had a flat disk shaped anvil (and later an improved six or eight sided anvil) that was positioned on its edge in the cup. These anvils were not securely fastened in the cups and tended to tip to one side, often resulting in misfires. The 1876 patent placed the anvil flat on its side in the cup, with cutouts around the edge to allow the fire from the primer ignition to pass by the anvil, and with the sharp edges of the anvil holding it in place in the cup. The label shown below referencing the 'Wesson' primer is pasted inside the top of this early box. U.M.C marketed the Hobbs primer as the Wesson primer, and referenced the Hobbs 1876 patent on the labels of these primers. Considering that the .38 S&W cartridge was developed for use in the Baby Russian, and with the Smith & Wesson signature on both sides of the sealing label, I would assume this ammunition was made especially for them, perhaps to be sold exclusively by the retailers of their revolvers. 


Here's one of the cartridges from the early box that has been sectioned, showing the details of the head and the primer. The head is of two piece construction, with a sealing piece that has been slipped down against the head on the inside, which increases the thickness of the head and keeps most of the gasses produced during firing away from the folded rim, which is the weakest part of the case. This sealing piece also provides a bottom for the primer pocket, against which the primer sits. The primer anvil has been sectioned through the hole on it's left side, making the anvil appear as the square object in the right half of the primer cup. The grease in the groove of the pulled bullet has turned green as a result of contact with the brass case. The base of the bullet is hollow.