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Picture Page

November 2007

A busy year for Portugese headstamp bunter makers..

1907 was a year that the headstamp bunter makers at the Arsenal do Exercito (army arsenal) in Lisbon, Portugal would probably recall as one of their most challenging, if any were still around to recall. This was not due to the large quantity of ammunition produced, and the resulting worn out or broken bunters that needed to be replaced, as the country was enjoying a relatively peaceful period preceding the chaos it would experience two years later by the ouster of its royal monarch, Manuel II. Instead, the bunter makers were called upon to produce at least three completely different 8 x 56R Kropatschek headstamps, as shown below.





Why three headstamps would be required in a single year is anyone's guess, but it is my opinion that things happened in early 20th century Portugal very much as they do here in the United States. That said, it is possible that the change may have coincided with the replacement of the director of the Arsenal do Exercito in early 1907, at which time he not only threw out the old letterhead, but decided the arsenal's headstamp could use a change as well.  In all seriousness, in1907 a new factory was established in conjunction with the Arsenal do Exercito called the Fábrica de Material de Guerra em Braço de Prata (factory of war material); it is possible that the headstamp change may have had something to do with that. The headstamp on the left in the picture above was also used in 1906. The one on the far right continued in use up through at least 1928. As far as I know, the middle headstamp was used only for the one year.



.44 Henry Flat - the long and the short of it.....

The seemingly endless number of variations of the .44 Henry cartridge make it a great candidate for assembling an interesting single caliber cartridge collection. Unfortunately, such a collection should have been started years ago, before the prices of even the most common examples of this cartridge rose far beyond what the laws of supply and demand might suggest. But disregarding the cost factor, focusing on a even single headstamp can offer enough confusion to frustrate even the most enthusiastic collector at times. These two pictures shows just a handful of the raised 'H' examples of the .44 Henry flat. Not only are there differences in the case lengths and the bullet weights and profiles, but even variations in the headstamp itself help to increase exponentially the number of variations to be found.

This first picture includes short cased examples. The most obvious differences in these are in the bullets, the first being a relatively light, single groove bullet, while the other two have flatter noses and are heavier with two grooves, and even these exhibit some differences in the spacing and depth of the grooves. In addition, the headstamp of the second example is in a circular depression in the head, while the others are simply applied to the flat surface of the head. Note the four 'tic' marks on the head of the first cartridge, something else that distinguishes it from the others and provides another variation to look for. These small machine marks were made in the processes associated with forming the case and crimping the bullet in place. The second cartridge does not have any of these marks, while the third has just two which are barely visible.    

The cartridges in this second picture are long cased examples, again showing bullet and headstamp variations, as well as tic marks on a couple of the heads. It should be pointed out that a cartridge used in the Henry and Winchester Model 1866 rifles cannot have an overall length of more than about 1 3/8". Beyond this length, the cartridge cannot be lifted up to chambering position by the rifle's carrier, and the cartridge then gets classified as a .44 Long by collectors.

The fired cases in both pictures were found at western sites. The long case example in the lower picture is interesting, as it clearly shows ten firing pin marks on the head. As the marks are oriented in pairs on opposite sides of the head, it would appear that this case was fired in a Henry rifle or a Winchester Model 1866 rifle, both of which employed firing pins with two tips that struck the rim of the cartridge at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions. I'm sure this firing pin design was intended to reduce the chance of a misfire, but it apparently wasn't much help for the individual needing to shoot this one, as he had to try five times before it finally fired. I hope he was only plinking and not having to count on this particular cartridge to save his life, otherwise, his intended target got much closer to him than he had planned. Note that, aside from those near the 9 and 3 o'clock positions, the firing pin marks are light, and all are positioned inside the rim, rather than being on it. Compare these with the sold strike that shows on the fired case in the upper picture. These light marks indicate that the tips of the firing pin were damaged or worn, the rifle had a weak mainspring, or dirt and grime were limiting the hammer fall.  




An intriguing group of cartridge cases and bullets...

.I recently stumbled across a rather interesting group of cartridge cases and related items, most of which appear to have all been produced at Frankford Arsenal in 1942. This was the year when the push was on to perfect the processes for producing steel cartridge cases and bullet jackets, in order to allow the large quantities of copper and brass that were being consumed in ammunition production to be used in areas where they were more critical to the wartime effort. Among the items are sixty .45 ACP cartridge cases. These include twenty of unplated brass, twenty four of tinned brass, and nine of copper washed steel. All of these cases are headstamped F A 42, and many are unfinished, most of these lacking only the flash hole. Tinned cases were typically used for dummies and proof loads. All of the copper washed steel cases are complete with flash holes, and may have been from a stage in the production process prior to being plated with a rust inhibiting material. Seven additional unplated brass cases are headstamped F  A  *   42. This headstamp was used on cases that were made with a softer than standard anneal and were intended for tracer loads. The tracer composition had a tendency to swell in humid climates, which caused the bullet jackets to expand and resulted in split necks on the cases with the harder anneal. Four of these appear to have been fired, one is a finished, unprimed case, one lacks a flash hole, and one is a shortened primed case about .430" long. Other cartridge cases include five .30-06, three of these unplated brass and lacking flash holes, one with tin plating as on the .45 ACP cases and lacking a flash hole, and one worn and fired which appears to be brass with a gilt-like finish, much of which remains. Two of the unfinished brass .30-06 cases are headstamped F A 43, being the only cases in the group that don't have the 1942 headstamp. These two cases have been fitted with unfinished copper plated steel bullets that can be removed without a great deal of effort. Each of the bullets measures 1 7/16" long and is open at the bottom, revealing the base of what appears to be a lead core about 3/4" up from the base of the bullet, held in place by three crimps formed from material scraped down from the inside of the jacket forming a triangular opening at the base of the lead core. The remaining 3/4" of the jacket is hollow. Other items include seventeen .45 ACP brass case draw pieces, two .30-06 brass case draw pieces, and twenty eight copper and six copper plated steel bullet jackets in several different stages of completion.

I assume that the person who collected these was an inspector or machine operator at the arsenal, and pulled them from the items he dealt with on a daily basis. I would appreciate any information, thoughts, or speculation regarding them.