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Picture Page

 November 2006

A progression of U.M.C. .38 S&W boxes, Part 3:


This box pretty much matches the last box shown in the October pictures, with the exception of the ends of the side sealing label, which now include the words 'INSIDE LUBRICANT'. The headstamp on the illustrated cartridge includes the 'S' and 'H', but the cartridges themselves do not include them. This headstamp with the 'S' and 'H' removed first appeared about 1910, and was used until the merger with Remington around 1912. I believe this box was produced very shortly after this headstamp change was made, probably in 1910, at which time the label revision had not yet been made. The guarantee label on the bottom continues to list the same makes of firearms as were listed on the earliest of these labels. Note that the guarantee applies to the listed firearms when being used with U.M.C. cartridges, and no longer extends to the shells themselves. At the point this box was made, smokeless powder had been available for about eight years, and could not have been used safely in the many firearms intended for use with black powder that were still in use at that time. Several of the companies that are listed on the label didn't survive long enough to make the transition from black powder to smokeless. The Smith & Wesson signed statement is now gone from the side of the box, replaced by one which 'unhesitatingly and strongly' recommends the use of the cartridges in the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver and with a Union Metallic Cartridge Co. signature. The orange label inside the top of this box continues to read 'Use only U.M.C. No. 1 PRIMERS in reloading these Cartridges'.



This is the earliest of the .38 Smith & Wesson smokeless boxes that I have, which also probably dates to around 1910 based on the lack of the 'S' and 'H' in the headstamp of the cartridges as well as the illustration. The illustrated cartridge includes the word 'smokeless' on the side of the case, and the side, end and bottom labels also state that the cartridges are smokeless or 'special smokeless'. In addition to the labeling, there are a couple of other characteristics of the illustrated cartridge and the cartridges in the box that indicate they are loaded with smokeless powder. These include the 'U' on the primer and the case cannelure, both of which were used only on smokeless loads.

A second UMC 'lozenge' logo has been included to the right side of the cartridge on the label for the sole purpose, I think, of filling the space where the powder charge and bullet weight information are included on the black powder labels. It is interesting to note that the bullet on the illustrated cartridge on this label is longer than those on any other UMC .38 S&W labels that I have, including those for the externally lubricated cartridges. Perhaps the intent was to give the perception that everything about these smokeless cartridges was more potent, including the bullet.

The guarantee label on the bottom of the box is marked 5-B, and has changed the makes of arms that the cartridges are guaranteed for use in, having excluded Ballard, Bullard, Whitney, and Wesson, and added Savage. The excluded companies were no longer in business at the time this box was made, and the firearms they made were produced only for use with black powder. The Colt name has been changed to Colt's, and the order of the remaining company names has been rearranged from the order that they were on earlier labels. There is no label inside the top that indicates the primer to be used in reloading the fired cases.


An assortment of .50-70 Government cartridges.....

The .50-70 cartridges shown in these two pictures were all probably made at the Frankford Arsenal between 1867 and 1882. The first of these is Martin's bar-primed, taken from an 1867 dated five round Frankford Arsenal box. The copper cases on this and the other three cartridges in this picture appear to be rimfire, due to the lack of an external primer in the center of the head. The manufacturing processes for the cases themselves were exactly the same as for the rimfire cartridges that were produced at the arsenals during and shortly after the Civil War, but these are all center primed, with the components of the primers on the inside, held in place against the heads by the grooves visible at varying heights on the sides of the cases. The bar-primed cartridges were the first center primed service rifle cartridges adopted by the Army, and were intended for use in the U.S. Model 1866 Springfield rifle. Around 25,000 of these rifles were produced and distributed to the frontier troops by mid-1867 to replace the muzzle loading rifles they were using that had proven inadequate in fights with the Indians. In March of 1868, the Benet cup-primed cartridge replaced the bar-primed as the government standard; the remaining three cartridges in the picture above are all Benet-primed. The first of these had a deep cup situated in the case with the bottom of the cup up against the head, acting as the anvil. The earliest cups were made of iron and can be detected with a magnet; later cups were made of copper. In late 1871, the deep cup was replaced with a shallow one, which is easily recognized by the lower grooves in the case, as seen on the last two cartridges in the picture above. Although the .50-70 was replaced by the .45-70 in 1873, limited numbers of the 50 caliber Benet primed cartridges continued to be produced at the Frankford Arsenal at least until September of 1882, as the headstamp on the third cartridge indicates. These Frankford Arsenal headstamps are rare on .50-70 cartridges; the only ones I am aware of are F  A  6  82 and F  A  9  82. The last cartridge is a .50-55-430 intended for the lighter carbines and cadet rifles. In addition to its smaller powder charge, it has a lighter bullet than the standard 450 grains, both of which helped to reduce the recoil when fired in the lighter firearms. The blunt shape of the bullet allowed the carbine cartridge to be differentiated from the standard rifle cartridge.    

This second picture includes four other examples of early .50-70 cartridges made at the Frankford Arsenal. The first is based on patents issued during the Civil War to two Ordnance officers, Silas Crispin and Thomas Rodman, versions of which were produced at the arsenal in limited numbers between 1867 and 1872. The case of this one consists of rolled sheet brass with a brass cup and iron head fitted to the base and held together by the primer, which acts as a rivet. The second cartridge is an example of another form of Martin's primer, this one having a large button-like primer formed in the head of the case which, while appearing to be externally primed, is actually inside primed. This one also has an improvement over earlier examples, that being a fold in the case visible just above the rim, intended to prevent the case from rupturing at the rim. The third cartridge may be one of the earlier Martin's examples, though the head with its narrow circular groove does not have the appearance of any I have seen before. These Martin .50-70 cartridges were made experimentally as early as 1869, with most of the production occurring in the latter part of 1871, ending in December of that year. The last cartridge, known as the Laidley snapping cartridge, was intended to be used for dry firing a rifle during practice. The bullet is black painted wood, and the 'primer' is a rubber insert intended to protect the firing pin of the rifle from being damaged. It is thought to have been made around 1880.



An uncommon Winchester box..........

This box of .32 WCF (.32-20) cartridges sports a label that indicates it is most likely one of the earliest boxes produced by WRA Co in this caliber. What distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill green label boxes is the lack of a headstamp on the cartridge illustrated on the label. The .32 WCF was introduced by Winchester for their Model 1873 rifle in 1882; it is likely that this box was made about that time. Another difference between the cartridge on this label and later box labels in this caliber is the shape of the head, this one having a significant bevel at the rim, while later boxes show a flat head. Unlike the illustration, the cartridges in the box are pretty ordinary, having flat heads with the W.R.A.Co. .32 W.C.F. headstamp.